Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Bill 2006: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am pleased to introduce in the Seanad the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Bill 2006. The Bill contains proposals for a comprehensive, radical and far-reaching reform of our land and conveyancing laws, many of which date back to feudal times. Before outlining its main provisions, I wish to briefly explain the background to the Bill's preparation and publication.

The Bill is the outcome of an innovative joint law reform project — launched in late 2003 — between the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Law Reform Commission. Its primary purpose is to comprehensively reform and modernise all our land and conveyancing laws. It does so by repealing, in whole or in part, numerous pre-1922 statutes that still apply in this area, the earliest of which date from the 13th century. It replaces these statutes with provisions more suited to modern conditions. The joint project is part of a larger reform programme, which includes the modernisation of land registration structures and procedures under the recently-enacted Registration of Deeds and Title Act 2006, and which has as its ultimate goal the implementation of a comprehensive system of e-conveyancing of land.

During the Second Stage debate on the Registration of Deeds and Title Bill in this House last year, the Minister outlined his intention to reform and modernise both our land registration systems and structures and our substantive land and conveyancing laws. The Minister has already delivered on the first of these objectives, as that Bill has recently been enacted and it establishes the Property Registration Authority to manage and control the Registry of Deeds and the Land Registry as well as updating the law relating to the registration both of deeds and titles. This Bill delivers on the Minister's second objective, reforming and modernising the substantive law.

Given the scale and ambition of the joint project, a strategic and research-intensive approach has been adopted by my Department and the Law Reform Commission from the outset of the project. Its first phase involved the screening of pre-1922 statutes with a view to identifying those which could be repealed without replacement, and those which needed to be updated or replaced with provisions more suited to modern conditions. The results of this exercise, and the reform recommendations emanating from it, were published in the Law Reform Commission consultation paper Reform and Modernisation of Land Law and Conveyancing Law, which the Minister launched in October 2004.

Publication of the consultation paper was followed by an extensive consultative phase, which included a conference in November 2004 at which distinguished experts in land and conveyancing law, both from this country and abroad, discussed future reform options in the light of experiences gained from reform initiatives in comparable common law jurisdictions. Arising from publication of the consultation paper and the conference proceedings, valuable submissions were received from representative bodies involved in the conveyancing system and from other relevant stakeholders.

The third phase of the project involved preparation of a draft Bill to give effect to the reform proposals which had been adapted, where appropriate, to take account of submissions and comments received during the consultation process. The Law Reform Commission report, Reform and Modernisation of Land Law and Conveyancing Law, which the Minister launched in July 2005, contained the text of a draft Land and Conveyancing Bill.

With the agreement of the Attorney General, the Minister wrote to the president of the Law Reform Commission late last year suggesting that given the unique collaboration and expertise involved in preparing the draft Bill, finalisation of the Bill for publication and presentation could best be achieved through the good offices of the commission and the continued involvement of those most closely associated with its preparation. The commission readily agreed to this and the Bill before us today has been prepared by a drafting group which has met under the aegis of the Law Reform Commission.

The Minister wishes to place on the record of the House his sincere thanks, and that of the Government, to the president of the Law Reform Commission, the Honourable Justice Catherine McGuinness, and her predecessor in office, the Honourable Justice Declan Budd, as well as the other commissioners, for their enthusiastic commitment to and support for the joint project. Thanks are also due to Professor John Wylie, the foremost expert in the land and conveyancing laws of these islands, for his work and sustained interest in the project and Mr. Marcus Bourke, former Parliamentary Counsel, who assisted in the drafting process. The Minister also acknowledges the input of the commission's substantive law working group, which brings together many of the stakeholders and experts in the land and conveyancing law area.

I wish to speak on the general subject matter of the Bill and explain its scope and structure. Land is a finite and scarce resource and prior to the development of a money-based economy it was by far the most important source of wealth. Not only that, land ownership was a key determinant of social standing and political influence and power. Not surprisingly perhaps, the owners of land sought over the centuries to ensure that the land remained within the family from one generation to the next. However, a new class of wealth emerged in the aftermath of the industrial revolution and barriers to the operation of a free market in land were gradually removed. Eventually, by the end of the 19th century, land was seen as another, but no longer the pre-eminent, source of wealth and prestige.

It is hardly surprising that the development of land law and conveyancing practices over the centuries reflected these societal tensions as well as economic and social changes. Moreover, much of our land law can really only be understood in the context of our historical experience of dispossession followed by repossession. Conquest by the Normans in the 12th century led to the gradual introduction of the feudal system of land ownership and, eventually, by the beginning of the 17th century, displacement of the old Brehon laws. From the 16th century onwards confiscation of land from the native owners was accompanied by successive plantations of English and Scottish settlers. The late 19th century witnessed improvements in the rights of tenants and, eventually, restoration of much of the country's agricultural land to tenant farmers under various land purchase schemes.

While this Bill does not deal with the various land purchase Acts, one positive feature of that legislation is worth noting in the present context. The land purchase Acts provided loans for tenant farmers to purchase their holdings from landlords subject to annual repayments in the form of land purchase annuities. As these schemes involved the advancing of large amounts of public funds, it was considered that title to the lands in question — which formed the security for the loans and which might have to be sold in the event of default — should be secured by means of registration.

Arising from this, the Local Registration of Title (Ireland) Act 1891 established the Land Registry and provided that the registration of title was compulsory in all cases where land was purchased under the land purchase schemes. All of this land has remained within the registration of title system. The ongoing significance of the 1891 Act is that approximately 85% of land in the State — including almost all farmland — is now registered in the Land Registry. I will return to this registration issue in due course.

It is difficult in practice to draw a clear and rigid distinction between land law on the one hand and conveyancing law on the other. In general terms, land law deals with different types of ownership of land, and the rights relating to each type, while conveyancing law is more concerned with the transfer and disposal of land and rights relating to it, for example, by sale, lease or mortgage. In effect, they are two sides of the same coin and it makes good sense to deal with them in a single Bill rather than in separate sets of proposals.

Our land law and conveyancing law is a complex mixture of statutory provisions, common law and equity. Successive layers of statute law, the earliest of which dates back to the 13th century; common law, that is, the judge-made rules enforcing legal rights that emerged from the common law courts; and equitable rights and remedies developed by courts of chancery in response to shortcomings in the common law, have resulted in an unnecessarily complex code, much of which is difficult to apply to modern conditions. There is general agreement that the law needs to be reformed in order to meet the needs of a vibrant market economy in the 21st century.

This Bill does not set out to "codify" all our land and conveyancing laws into statutory form. This would have involved attempting to distil and convert all relevant common law and equity into legislation. Apart from the effort involved, such a project would have taken a considerable number of years and such a codification would increase the rigidity of the law and remove the flexibility and adaptability which is such a positive feature of our legal system. In particular, the ability of the courts to exercise their equitable jurisdiction in response to changing needs and circumstances must be preserved.

Moreover, while every effort has been made both to simplify the law and update its language, it has been necessary to bear in mind that many technical terms in this area of the law have acquired a specific meaning and are commonly used and understood as having that meaning. Changes in language could lead to confusion or, more seriously, have an impact on substantive rights in land law. It could also result in the abandonment of relevant case law and have other unintended consequences. As the Law Reform Commission emphasised in its report, Statutory Drafting and Interpretation: Plain Language and the Law, while the use of plain language is desirable, this end should not be achieved at the expense of legal certainty, especially where certain words and grammatical constructions, though not in common use, have acquired a fixed and clear legal meaning.

The radical and far-reaching reforms set out in the Bill have the following objectives: updating the law to accommodate modern conditions; simplification of the law to make it more easily understood and accessible; simplification of the conveyancing process, particularly the procedures involved, in order to reduce delays and associated costs; promoting extension of the registration of title system in the Land Registry; and, facilitating the introduction of e-conveyancing of land as soon as possible. Moreover, the draft Bill represents a substantial contribution to the process of regulatory reform — including the repeal of obsolete and outdated statute law — to which the Government committed itself in the White Paper, Regulating Better.

I do not propose to enter into great detail on the Bill today, not least because it is accompanied by a comprehensive and highly informative explanatory memorandum, at the request of the Minister. Those Members who may be familiar with Professor Wylie's texts on Irish land and conveyancing law will undoubtedly detect his hand in the memorandum.

Part 1, relating to preliminary and general matters, contains definitions of various terms used in the Bill and general provisions which are common in legislation of this nature. As I mentioned earlier, section 8 repeals — in whole or in part — approximately 150 pre-1922 statutes which are listed in Schedule 2 and which stretch back over the centuries to feudal times. It is a remarkable feat of drafting and legal expertise that the Bill, while repealing so many old statutes, manages to restate the new law in a Bill of 124 sections and a few Schedules.

Part 2, comprising sections 9 to 14, contains important provisions which reform and modernise the ownership of land. In particular, it removes the remaining vestiges of the feudal system of landholding introduced by the Normans to Ireland in the 12th century. For example, in so far as it survives, the concept of ‘tenure', whereby all land was held from the Crown, is abolished. This concept is not compatible with the relationship between the State and its citizens as set out in the Constitution. Also abolished are methods of landholding developed over the centuries to meet the needs of earlier times but which are no longer of relevance to modern conditions or will cease to have significance as a result of other provisions of the Bill. This applies to "fee tails", "fee farm grants" and "leases for lives".

On the other hand, the Bill retains the concept of an "estate" in land which was also part of the feudal system but which remains a central and useful feature of the modern system of land ownership. The idea of dividing ownership according to different periods of time is what makes land ownership under a common law system so flexible. It is based on the fundamental principle that what is owned is not the physical entity, that is, the land itself, but rather an estate giving substantial rights in respect of the land, such as the right to occupy and use it, or an interest giving less substantial rights in it, for example, a right of way over a road on the land, or a right to cut and take away turf. The full ownership of any particular area of land comprises these various estates and interests, including equitable interests such as those existing under a trust of the land. It is worth noting that Article 10.1 of the Constitution refers expressly to "estates and interests" in the context of natural resources.

The number of these various estates and interests that will exist in respect of a particular area of land will vary from case to case. As I mentioned earlier, as part of its objective of simplifying the law, the Bill substantially reduces the number of estates that can be created in future. For example, it provides that the only legal estates which may be created or disposed of are the freehold estate, meaning a fee simple in possession, and the leasehold estate, meaning a tenancy in the modern sense of a relationship between landlord and tenant.

Part 3 introduces a substantial simplification of the various rules concerning "future interests" in land and, in some cases, such interests in other property. Future interests are interests which do not "vest" in, that is, come into the possession of the persons entitled to them until sometime in the future, usually because the land or other property is vested in someone else in the meantime. The early common law had difficulty with what are referred to as "contingent" future interests where, in addition to prior interests having to run their course, some other condition had to be satisfied or event had to occur before any vesting took place. The disposition could not vest until that contingency had been met.

In early times, the common law was concerned that this might result in a period of time when the land would be vested in no one and so feudal dues payable in respect of the land could not be collected. This resulted in the development of complicated rules designed to avoid such a gap in what was referred to in feudal times as the "seisin" of the land. These rules were known as the common law contingent remainder rules. Later, as settlements and trusts of land and of other property became more sophisticated, the courts developed a range of other rules designed to restrict the ability of owners to determine the ownership of property far into the future.

The Law Reform Commission concluded in an earlier report that all these rules had served their purpose and that they now give rise to unnecessary complications in the law. It recommended that the various rules should be abolished, but subject to an important qualification. Given that the abolition of the various rules would enable owners to create settlements and trusts determining the ownership of property far into the future, there could be a risk that future owners might find themselves saddled with an unsuitable scheme of ownership. In order to provide a means whereby future generations might secure a modification to a scheme set up many years previously, the commission has recommended that abolition of the rules relating to future interests should be accompanied by the enactment of provisions to permit the variation of trusts. I intend to provide for the variation of trusts by means of an amendment to the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2006 which is currently awaiting Second Stage in the Dáil.

Part 4 provides for a radical overhaul and simplification of the law relating to settlements and trusts of land. Currently, many settlements do not involve use of a trust. Instead, the land is given by a deed or will to different persons in succession. Sometimes a trust is used and the land is instead given to trustees to be held by them on trust for the beneficiaries. The type of trust used may vary from one case to another. In some cases, the trustees may be required to retain the land, in others, the trust may require the trustees to sell the land at the earliest opportunity, invest the proceeds and hold those investments instead for the beneficiaries.

The law governing settlements and trusts has become complicated. One reason is that while the Settled Land Acts 1882 to 1890 apply to settlements without any trust — usually referred to as a "strict settlement" — and trusts to retain land, they do not apply in the same way to trusts for sale. Part 4 clears up this confusion by replacing the Settled Land Acts with a single and much more straightforward trust of land scheme. An important feature of the scheme is that the legal title to the land will always be vested in trustees and they will have full powers of dealing with it and using it for the benefit of the beneficiaries.

Part 5 deals with powers relating to both land and personal property, especially powers of appointment. These powers are commonly used in family settlements and trusts where, instead of allocating property directly to named beneficiaries, the owner gives another person — called the "donee" of the power — a power to "appoint", that is, select from a group of potential beneficiaries — called the "objects" of the power — which of them should become beneficiaries and in what shares. In general, this part does not deal with the other common power to deal with property, the power of attorney. The law on such powers was modernised by the Powers of Attorney Act 1996. Nor does it deal specifically with various powers to deal with property held by persons such as trustees, which is currently governed by the Trustee Act 1893; personal representatives, which is governed by the Succession Act 1965; and mortgagees, which is covered in Part 9 of this Bill.

Part 6 deals with the law relating to co-ownership of land, that is, cases where the legal title to the land is vested in two or more persons concurrently. Two types of co-ownership remain common nowadays — joint tenancy and tenancy in common. The key feature of a joint tenancy is the so-called "right of survivorship" whereby on the death of a joint tenant, that owner's interest ceases and the land becomes vested in the surviving joint tenants. This process continues until the land becomes vested in the last surviving joint tenant as sole owner and the co-ownership ends. In the case of a tenancy in common, on the other hand, each tenant has a distinct but undivided share which can be inherited on that tenant's death by persons named in his or her will.

One of the important aspects of the law of co-ownership is the right of severance of a joint tenancy, that is, when a joint tenancy is converted into a tenancy in common. Unilateral severance is permitted under current law. This has significant consequences because it means the tenants lose the expectation that one of them will, as the last surviving joint tenant, end up as the sole owner of the land. In order to remedy this, the Bill prohibits unilateral severance of a joint tenancy without the written consent of the other joint tenants. This part also updates the law relating to partition of land by co-owners.

Part 7 provides for a substantial overhaul of the law relating to appurtenant rights. These rights are extremely common with respect to land and usually exist as between neighbouring landowners. They permit one landowner to do something on a neighbour's land or entitle that landowner to prevent the neighbour from doing something on the land. The most common categories of such rights are easements and profits à prendre and these are dealt with in Chapter 1. An easement is a right such as a right of way or right of light over neighbouring land. Although the categories of easement are generally settled, courts have made it clear that the listing is not necessarily closed and new rights with similar characteristics may be recognised as changes in society require, for example, the right to park a vehicle.

A profit à prendre is the right to go onto someone else’s land and to take from it something which exists on it naturally, such as the right to mine or quarry, cut timber or turf, graze animals on grass, fish and hunt wild game. Such profits are frequently enjoyed by a neighbouring landowner and are therefore appurtenant, but they can also be owned “in gross”, that is, by a person who is not a neighbour and who may own no land other than the profit exercisable over someone else’s land.

Chapter 2 prohibits the creation of rentcharges, which is another type of right that may be owned in respect of someone else's land. A rentcharge, which is to be distinguished from a rent payable by a tenant under a tenancy, is a rent charged on land to provide an income or regular payments to the owner of the rent charge. In the past, rentcharges were created in family settlements in order to provide an income for members who were given no other substantial interest in the land, for example, the siblings of the family member, usually the eldest son, who was given a life interest in the land, but they are no longer common.

Chapter 3 provides for a new statutory system to deal with problems which frequently arise with regard to party structures such as party walls and fences separating neighbouring buildings or lands. It is designed to regulate the rights of the neighbouring owners, especially where a dispute occurs over repairs or works which one owner wishes to carry out. The provisions will also extend to situations where, strictly speaking, there may not be a party structure but the buildings are so close to the boundary line that work such as repairs cannot be carried out effectively without access from the neighbouring property. The provisions will enable one landowner to obtain a District Court works order permitting such access under certain conditions.

Chapter 4 remedies a long-standing defect in existing law, namely, the limited enforceability of freehold covenants affecting land. Such covenants are frequently entered into when a landowner sells part of the land to someone else. The purchaser will often covenant to restrict the use of the land purchased and to undertake various positive obligations relating to building and repairs. Unlike leasehold covenants which generally bind successors in title, freehold covenants are enforceable against successors in title to a limited extent only. In effect, only the burden of negative or restrictive freehold covenants pass to successors. Chapter 4 changes the law substantially to bring the enforceability of freehold covenants, whether positive or negative, into line with that of leasehold covenants.

Part 8 deals with contracts and conveyances relating to land and replaces the provisions of the Conveyancing Acts 1881 to 1911 and various other pre-1922 statutes with reformed provisions more suited to modern conditions. While it is designed to prepare the ground for eventual electronic conveyancing, this part of the Bill also contains provisions for the interim period before a fully electronic and paperless system of conveyancing becomes operative. Until then, written documents and deeds in the traditional form will continue to be used.

Chapter 1 contains detailed provisions concerning contracts relating to land, such as contracts for sale. Chapter 2 deals with title matters, in particular, the deduction of title by a vendor and investigation of title by a purchaser. Chapter 3 deals with deeds and their operation, including the formalities for proper execution of deeds and the effect of particular provisions in deeds. Chapter 4 deals with the contents of deeds, in particular, the statutory provisions to be implied in them, while Chapter 5 contains some general provisions concerning conveyancing.

Part 9 introduces substantial simplification and modernisation of the law of mortgages. In particular, it assimilates the law relating to unregistered land with registered land by making a charge the sole method of creating a legal mortgage. Mortgages by conveyance or assignment of the borrower's estate or interest in the land, or by demise in the case of leasehold land, are abolished. This does not affect the security interests of lenders. The Bill also introduces provisions to ensure that lenders' remedies to enforce security are exercised only when appropriate. Part 10 deals with judgment mortgages and replaces, with substantial modification, the provisions of the Judgment Mortgage (Ireland) Acts 1850 and 1858.

Part 11 contains substantial consequential amendments to the Registration of Title Act 1964. Schedule 1 contains various consequential amendments to other statutes, including the Registration of Title Act 1964. Schedule 2 contains repeals of numerous pre-1922 statutes falling into different categories in Parts 1 to 4 and some Acts of the Oireachtas in Part 5. Schedule 3 sets out the different classes of covenants for title implied in conveyances under sections 77 and 78.

I wish to explain why certain matters which featured in the draft Bill contained in last July's report are not contained in this Bill. Provisions relating to adverse possession of land, which we discussed here on a previous occasion, have been omitted in light of the United Kingdom's appeal of a European Court of Human Rights ruling in a case relating to adverse possession to that court's Grand Chamber. This case, in which the ECHR has reversed a House of Lords decision, raises important issues relating to operation of adverse possession law and may, depending on the Grand Chamber's ruling on the appeal, have implications for the operation of adverse possession law here. It would, therefore, be prudent to await the outcome of the United Kingdom's appeal against the original ECHR decision before proceeding with any reforms in this area.

Proposals relating to the sale of land by auction have been overtaken by the report of the auctioneering, estate agency review group which contains, inter alia, recommendations relating to the conduct of auctions and other sales of land. Proposals on these matters will be included in future legislation which will establish the property services regulatory authority to supervise and control the provision of property services by auctioneers, estate agents and property management agents. The Government’s legislative programme foresees publication of this Bill in 2007.

The proposed amendment to the Succession Act 1965, which was intended to clarify aspects of succession law relating to the simultaneous death of joint tenants, has already been included in the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2006. Various changes of a less substantial and technical nature have been made in response to various submissions received following publication of the draft Bill in the July 2005 report.

The reforms to the substantive law set out in this Bill will, together with those already enacted in the Registration of Deeds and Title Act 2006, provide a sound foundation for future e-conveyancing. However, the Law Reform Commission has concluded that an efficient and comprehensive e-conveyancing system can operate only in respect of registered land and the Minister agrees with that conclusion. One of the key tasks, therefore, of the property registration authority established under the Act will be to promote and extend the registration of title.

The Minister has extended compulsory registration of land to counties Longford, Roscommon and Westmeath with effect from 1 April last. Those counties have now joined counties Carlow, Laois and Meath as compulsory registration areas. Much more needs to be done, however, and the Minister will be asking the property registration authority to adopt a strategic and urgent approach to extending compulsory registration in its first strategic plan under the new legislation. Increased registration of title will, in turn, mean less need for, and the eventual closure of, the Registry of Deeds, the tercentenary of which falls next year. The registry has served a useful purpose for 300 years but e-conveyancing requires conclusive registration of ownership and that need cannot be met through the registration of deeds.

Concerns relating to access to documents in the Registry of Deeds and their preservation were raised with the Minister in this House on a previous occasion. Arising from this, he commissioned consultants to carry out an assessment of the building at Henrietta Street to evaluate its suitability for housing this valuable and irreplaceable archive and to identify options and make recommendations for improved access to, and better protection and preservation of, its documents. This exercise has been completed and the Minister intends to make the consultants' report available in the near future.

I thank the Law Reform Commission for its commitment and support for the joint project and all those who contributed to the preparation and publication of this Bill which will, when enacted, bring benefits for home purchasers and the business community alike by improving conditions for the purchase and sale of land and by reducing the delays and costs that so often accompany the conveyancing of land. I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, and his officials to the House. Fine Gael welcomes the introduction of this legislation. There can be no doubt that if any area of the law needs reform, it is that of conveyancing and property. We have long campaigned for legislation such as this, and I stress that we very much support this Bill. I am aware the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, has been a driving force behind this legislation since his time as Attorney General in 2002, and I also pay tribute to him. It never ceases to amaze me that in this country we continue to rely on archaic laws and statutes that not only predate the establishment of the State but stretch back to the 12th or even 11th century. The sooner that we legislators deal with that, the better for clarity and expediency.

Before I discuss the Bill, I would also like to pay tribute to the Law Reform Commission for all the work that it has carried out on the issue. I have said before in the House that I have great regard for the commission, a body from which many State agencies and State-sponsored bodies might learn valuable lessons. Under the Honourable Ms Justice Catherine McGuinness of the Supreme Court, as president, and her only full-time colleague, Patricia T. Rickard-Clarke, the Law Reform Commission has successfully implemented a programme of research and investigation into the law that has been second to none. Its rate of delivery of sound, considered and detailed reports on important areas of law reform has been admirable, as well as infinitely valuable to Members of the Oireachtas. I pay thanks to it.

The role of the Law Reform Commission was unfortunately highlighted recently in the controversy over section 1(1) of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 1935 and the Supreme Court judgment that struck down that part of the Statute Book. It behoves us as Members of the Oireachtas to ensure that the recommendations in the reports of the Law Reform Commission are more speedily and sincerely considered and implemented where necessary. I understand that Professor John Wylie, perhaps the leading expert on property in Ireland, is effectively leading the charge on this issue, along with the mammoth team of lawyers and researchers that form the land law working group in the Law Reform Commission. He has been responsible for the guts of the Bill, and I had the pleasure of hearing him before the Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights some months ago.

I am aware of the Trojan work being done on land law and conveyancing. This area of law is complex, and the Law Reform Commission's report does not make for easy reading. There very much remains a role for plain English in conveyancing. Despite the progress that we make in the legislation, it is still very heavy and complex, making it extremely difficult to peruse. Nevertheless, everyone will welcome the end of such terms as fee simple, fee farm grants, and the ruling in Bain v. Fothergill, which mean nothing to ordinary laypeople. None of us will miss the 150 statutes that this Bill’s passing will repeal, such as the Maintenance and Embracery Act 1634 and the Clandestine Mortgages Act 1697. I acknowledge that many of us would wish that our mortgages were somewhat more clandestine.

A reading of Schedule 2, which lists the repealed statutes, shows just how archaic Irish law has been in this area. When we find that we must abolish statutes that have been in effect since the time of King Edward I, we know that action is long overdue. I see that the Statute De Donis Conditionalibus 1285 is finally leaving us for good, along with the Statute Quia Emptores 1290 and the Illusory Appointments Act 1830. While it is easy to see how outdated many of those Acts are, some will ring true. One can only imagine what injustices were executed under laws with such names as the Tithe Arrears (Ireland) Act 1839, the Settled Estates Act 1877, and the various pre-Famine Crown Lands Acts. Those form part of our history, and the past is undoubtedly where they belong.

The Bill deals with so many different areas of land law that it represents a comprehensive review of Irish property law. I particularly welcome the proposed changes to land ownership in part 2. Extraordinarily, until this Bill passes, Irish people will not own their properties absolutely. Despite our now spending remarkable sums on houses and land in this country, when we buy a house, we still owe fealty to the Crown for ownership of the property. In essence, there currently exists no such thing as absolute ownership of land or property in Ireland, but fortunately the Bill will redress that situation. The State will now finally be enshrined as the alternative to the Crown in such matters.

Section 9 will abolish feudal tenure, a long-overdue and extremely important measure. Perhaps I might ask the Minister when it is intended to deal with the vexed question of ground rents, which still causes problems in many parts of the country.

There may be scope, in the aftermath of the Bill's commencement, for further review of the terminology used in legal matters in general and specifically as far as property law is concerned. Despite this reforming legislation, part 7 deals with an area with which the Minister even had difficulty, appurtenant rights and profits à prendre, terms that are a far cry from the kind of language that we would like to see in the area to demystify land law for ordinary people. Similarly, it is fair to say that a non-lawyer reading section 63, on escrows by bodies corporate, would be puzzled as to its meaning.

During debates in this House on the Registration of Deeds and Title Bill 2004, I raised the issue of land registration, introducing amendments on Committee Stage to encourage movement towards the eventual registration of all lands in Ireland. I believe it a very important goal on which the Minister might once again focus his attention after the Bill's enactment. I also welcome the abolition of the creation of rent charges and a clear statement that extant rent charges will now have the status of simple contract debts. Section 47 establishes an important change to the law regarding the enforceability of a freehold covenant, abolishing the ruling in Tulk v.Moxhay. I would also like to mention the new protections for purchasers laid down in section 57. In the light of recent examples of fraud and questionable practice, it is a very important section.

I look forward to examining some of the measures contained in the Bill in greater detail on Committee Stage. However, I warmly welcome it, both for its specific achievements and for the broader policy objectives that it realises. Fine Gael supports this legislation, which is practical, modernising, clarifying and pragmatic. We will support the Bill and look forward to improving it on Committee Stage.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and the Bill itself. The area is undoubtedly very complex, as Senator Cummins said. It requires simplification, and the Bill represents a step in that direction. The fact that 150 pre-independence statutes will be abolished by the Bill and that we are venturing back to early Norman times to bring about a self-contained statutory approach to land ownership and conveyancing is to be welcomed.

As the Minister of State noted, the Bill deals with various facets of ownership and transfer of land. Ownership is probably a critical area. Fee tail, the fee farm grant and leases for life are to be abolished. Fee tail, which was one of the last remaining benefits for the male of the species, is now being abolished as part of the overall thrust towards equality and will no longer exist to give preference to the male heir. The abolition of the fee farm grant is sensible because many solicitors have found it extremely difficult to identify the payee in many situations where fee farm grants applied. The abolition of this measure is a recognition of the need to update the law.

Senator Cummins addressed the question of ground rents. Legislation enacted in recent years has enabled people to purchase ground rents, often at a multiple of the annual rent. This measure was welcomed at the time and has been utilised since then. In many instances, the State, through its various agencies, including local authorities, would have commanded these ground rents in certain circumstances. Many, if not all, local authorities have now made moves to allow people to purchase their freehold.

However, existing legislation and this Bill do not address another issue which is surrounded by many difficulties, some of them constitutional. Much of the old commercial and residential property in many towns across the country, including my own town of New Ross, is owned by estates dating back to colonial days. The Tottenham estate was the local landlord in New Ross. Unfortunately, the fact that these properties are often owned by people who are absent from the area and, in many instances, the country, has given rise to dereliction, blight and a lack of development in many towns. These estates have no interest in or commitment to their properties other than obtaining the rent that is due and, occasionally, maximising the capital value through a sale.

I do not know how this state of affairs can be dealt with because discriminatory legislation, which is desirable, would be involved. I know of many people who have made considerable investments in properties they were renting from these estates only to subsequently find that the freehold reflected the increased and enhanced value which their investment brought about when they came to purchase it. Such a scenario is unfair and should be addressed because it gives rise to blight in many towns, particularly town centres. I am unsure of the best way to deal with this issue. It is possible the issue has not been addressed because it is so complex but there is a very strong argument for doing so to allow people to buy out the freehold of such properties at realistic prices rather than prices which reflect investments they made to enhance and protect the properties they rented.

There is a need to simplify future interest, which is dealt with in Part 3. I understand it may be dealt with under trusts of land. This relates to situations where landowners wished to pass land through the male members of the family to keep the family name on the land holding and would try to determine the ownership of the land indefinitely. It has also given rise to significant changes in the entire structure of agriculture, thereby, posing difficulties for people who were in possession of those farms and who may find it difficult to pass them on. Trusts of land, which in the past have been set up to ensure that land is held for the benefit of children, minors and incapacitated persons, will be simplified by the Bill.

Powers of appointment, which are used in family settlements, are reasonably uncommon. It is essential that co-ownership continues. I appreciate what the Minister of State said about the differentiation between joint tenancy and tenancy in common. I welcome the fact that the Bill allows for joint tenancy to be changed in this fashion, subject to the agreement of the various parties to the joint tenancy, so that any expectation an individual might have of acquiring the entire property can be addressed. Tenancy in common is necessary because many businesspeople and families deal with the matter in this fashion and it allows their property interest to be passed on to whoever they wish through their will.

I understand that the Bill will not interfere with the issue of appurtenant rights, although there might be a need to simplify it. Easements are a very common feature of all contracts, particularly where a considerable amount of land is now being released because of the wise decision of the former Minister for Finance to reduce capital gains tax. I believe this decision has released a considerable amount of land for both residential and commercial development and has been a significant driver of our economic development. It is important that legal effect can be given to easements across other parts of land which are retained in the ownership of the original landowner for various services.

It has been recognised that the fact that owners of apartments only possess a leasehold interest in the ground, a situation which management companies enforce through leasehold arrangements like leases relating to apartments, represents an anomaly. Varying conditions, which are enforced legally, can apply in these agreements. Difficulties arose in endeavouring to do this for successors in title for freehold property. This very obvious anomaly has now been corrected by this Bill. I believe everyone would welcome the fact that any easements or positive or negative conditions applying to an agreement would carry through to successors and assigns.

Conveyancing, which the Minister of State addressed at some length, has become exceptionally complex and there is a very compelling argument for simplifying it. The amount of legal documentation which must be completed to convey a house is very significant and the fees involved are commensurate with the amount of work involved. Any measure which simplifies conveyancing is a step in the right direction. In a previous debate in the House it emerged we should try to ensure that the conveyancing of property would not be the sole prerogative of the legal profession. It is undoubtedly an area of expertise, as significant investments are made because land is an expensive commodity.

We want to ensure that all documentation on transfers is correct and not open to challenge due to administrative errors. None the less, it is an area in which matters could be undertaken by others than just those in the legal profession. More than legal expertise is required, namely, administrative expertise. In the not too distant future, I hope this issue will be examined in the interests of bringing competition and consumer protection and choice to the area.

The statutory period of title to be shown on local contracts is to be reduced from 40 years to 20 years, which is a step in the right direction. The issue of mortgages and security thereof is fairly standard. Given the number of mortgages on properties, it is important to protect the financial sector. It is equally important to ensure as much simplification of the area as possible.

I welcome that the Minister of State signalled in his speech an emphasis on e-conveyancing, as there should be a greater drive in this regard. From the Law Reform Commission, we know that e-conveyancing can only be effectively done in respect of registered land. The compulsory registration of land, which has been extended to counties Longford, Roscommon and Westmeath from counties Carlow, Laois and Meath, should be accelerated to achieve full e-conveyancing. In conjunction with moving away from the registration of deeds, this would be ideal. Whatever resources are necessary should be invested because a considerable portion of the Exchequer's revenue is derived from property through capital gains tax, stamp duty and corporation tax on developments and the like. The funding stream derived from property should be invested to ensure we have a greater and more efficient system.

Like Senator Cummins, I wish to acknowledge the role played by the Law Reform Commission in this matter. I welcome that the Bill emerged from a partnership between the Department and the commission. Equally, I take on board the Senator's point about previous debates in the House wherein Law Reform Commission reports were not as fully embraced as people in the media suggested they should be. We should not accept willy-nilly everything that comes from the commission. It is imperative that policy is evolved from these Houses and the people elected by the public.

While the commission should have an input and its contributions should be carefully considered, I suspect that attempts are made not just by the commission, but also by some beyond it to define policy rather than having it formed in the Houses of the Oireachtas. I would resist such a step. We have read various reports of the commission that in my opinion were advisory instead of prescriptive in policy terms. We should be careful not to promote a situation in which we take on board everything the commission tables without using our own judgment.

I welcome the Bill, which is a good initiative. I have worked as a conveyancer, which was my main job while a solicitor, and I never encountered a fee tail or lease for life renewable forever. Despite studying them at length in Professor Wiley's book at college, I did not fully understand what they were.

Working with the Law Reform Commission and introducing this type of legislation is a good initiative. I also agree with Senator Jim Walsh's point that the commission's reports are generally advisory. They are to be taken on board and we can use the commission's expertise, but other aspects need to be examined. I made this point in respect of the recently publicised report on sexual offences, as I did not agree with much in that report. Often, the reports are made by professionals, but they do not receive the input of other people in society who have points of view that should be taken on board in terms of legislation. In legislation of this type, that requirement is lessened because the area of land law is specialised and can be complicated. As such, this was the ideal project for the Department to work with the Law Reform Commission.

I will not go into the specifics of the Bill, as they are matters for Committee Stage and I do not know whether I will table amendments. The general purpose of the Bill is welcome. There is a need to reform our land law, particularly the requirement to have as much land registered as possible. This would be one way through which to speed up and simplify the process of conveyancing.

When land is registered, it enables one to determine whether there are any problems with titles and to ensure the matter is dealt with as well as possible, as guaranteed by the Land Registry. When land is unregistered, one is not fully sure. Each time a conveyancer or solicitor deals with the land, the title must be checked and one cannot be sure that a problem has not been missed along the way that could subsequently arise. The more land that is registered, the surer one can feel about one's title, searches will become more straightforward and conveyancing should become cheaper, as solicitor's fees should be lessened. Whether this will be the case is another question.

Other important initiatives will include converting maps to on-line digital formats. Recently, I went to the Land Registry to try to establish the ownership of a number of properties registered therein, but I could not identify the plan numbers in several cases because they had deteriorated over time. I will probably return to the Land Registry. I was surprised, as I had not realised that I would have such a problem. This issue must be addressed, including going through as much of the process on-line as possible and the computerisation of maps to allow searches through them and folios.

On the question of how to have more properties registered in the Land Registry, one method to achieve such was the compulsory registration of land in certain counties. Once those particular counties received this designation, if land therein was exchanged, the next registration needed to be registered in the Land Registry. It has taken a long time for us to go anywhere with that system. In recent legislation, the Minister designated three more counties for compulsory registrations. I agree with Senator Jim Walsh that such actions will not get us anywhere. I am not familiar with the statistics but feel that most land registered in the Land Registry was, as the Minister said, as a result of compulsory registration under the Land Purchase Acts, or was registered by county councils and developers of housing estates.

We need to examine how to register the maximum amount of land in the Land Registry. Is it possible for the Land Registry to register land which is not owned by county councils or developers and is not in counties designated for compulsory registration or about to change hands? Could a project be initiated to register an unregistered part of Dublin, irrespective of whether it changes hands? It is something we should consider if we are serious about the project. Can the Minister, either in his reply or on Committee Stage, give any statistics as to where is the bulk of the 15% of unregistered land? That should be the next step in drafting the legislation.

There are many other issues in which the State needs to intervene to reform the system. For example, ground rents are a nettle that must be grasped, because they require attention in many areas. One is the fact that many people with leases on houses may not realise there is very little time left on the lease. A bank or financial institution does not consider a lease of less than 70 years to be good title. Many leases around the country are approaching that 70-year limit, but nothing is being done about it. I need to carry out more research but I believe South Dublin County Council transferred the ownership of its council houses on long leases to their former tenants, many of whom are in the category to which I referred. This will cause a problem when those owners sell their property or pass it on to relatives, or when people buy such a property without being aware of the situation. It might not be an immediate problem but could be so in the future, and possibly the not too distant future.

Senator Walsh mentioned joint ownership. When county councils sold properties to its married tenants it was very often to the husband, in accordance with normal practice. People's attitudes have now changed and many of those people are trying to put the house jointly in the names of the husband and wife, for various reasons which reflect the way people now think about house ownership but also to make it easier to pass the property on to relatives. It is much easier on a bereaved spouse if a house is registered in joint names because there is then no need to acquire probate to do so. Under present law, councils have to give their permission for the transfer of a property from the sole name of one spouse, usually the husband, into the joint ownership of the husband and wife, even though they both actually own the house. That is totally unnecessary and, if we want to encourage people to own properties jointly, that law should be repealed.

I welcome the proposals for mortgages to be a charge on a property, whether the property is registered or unregistered. I always thought it strange that a mortgage was registered as a charge on the property in the Land Registry but if it was unregistered the bank or financial institution effectively owned it while it was mortgaged. Can the Minister of State say, either now or on Committee Stage, if he has checked with the Attorney General whether the law which takes away the unilateral right to sever a joint tenancy is constitutional?

Senator Mansergh is present. I too have a degree in history and am very interested in the subject. The system of unregistered title and all the different documents showing conveyances, assignments, etc., provided a little bit of history to anybody who read it, and certainly more so than does a Land Registry transfer. Many of the documents look very nice, have lovely writing and contain nice language, even though it is archaic. It is important to preserve that heritage and I would be interested to learn if any steps are being taken to do so.

I assure Senator Tuffy that many modern legal documents contain an extraordinary amount of archaic language. One does not have to go into the Registry of Deeds to find archaic language.

I welcome the Minister of State and the legislation. It is another legislative incursion into medieval history and the extraordinarily complex accretion of different types of land law and tenure through the centuries. If one goes into old libraries one will find dusty volumes trying to explain the complexities of it all. On the surface it might look as if James Fintan Lalor's dream of the repeal of the conquest had come true but there are enough clauses to prevent that. Perhaps it will also bring about the abolition of feudalism. Admittedly it deals with the rights of rivers and waterways but I am reminded of controversies in certain parts of the country, such as County Waterford, where modern capitalism joins ancient feudalism to make a formidable combination, particularly as the revolutionary spirit has since died down again.

This Bill is of some personal interest to me. I suppose I am a descendant of one of the 17th century English settlers referred to by the Minister of State. When land was conveyed to myself and my brother 30 years ago, we were told by a solicitor that it was unregistered because, I believe, it was mostly tenant lands which were registered and not necessarily what remained, namely, demesne lands. In theory the land was a type of tenancy of the demesne but, nonetheless, it was unregistered. Obviously, it is sensible to rationalise and streamline these laws.

This brings me to more modern times. Having recently gone through the conveyancing process in respect of a couple of houses in this city, I was struck by how extraordinarily cumbersome it was. Suggestions in a policy sense that this might be simplified, modernised and rationalised were very firmly sat upon by a lately deceased leader of my party. Undoubtedly, it was a very nice earner for the legal profession at the time. It was a complicated process. Having had recent experience of conveyancing, I hope it will become more streamlined and less expensive. With modern technology, there is no reason large fees should be charged for conveyancing.

If I had a slight reservation about the Minister of State's contribution, it was that it was full of reform of the law, laws of conveyancing and so on. It did not spell out in any detail the advantages to the average citizen engaging in the conveyancing process.

Hopefully, less time and a reduced cost.

There is certainly an implication that there will be a time saving. Less clearly spelled out is whether there will be a saving of money.

It is important that purchasers, in particular, are satisfied and that there is no doubt about previous ownership. I do not dispute that involves some searches but as we know, with modern technology, searches should be rapid, inexpensive and should take relatively little time. I have a suspicion that the solicitoring profession probably makes something of a meal of this process because it is a nice tidy earner. I do not know whether I am representing the interests of my party in that regard but I believe I am representing the interests of citizens. The focus of reform should not only be how one streamlines the process and makes it quicker but it should also be on how one makes it cheaper.

Costs in many areas have come way down — for example, the cost of air travel and telephone calls, particularly long distance or international calls. As a result of modern technology, costs in many areas are now a fraction of what they were. I suspect that should be true of conveyancing. Sometimes one has the feeling that it is not only legislation going back to 1295 which we must address. I have many friends in the legal profession and I have much respect for them. In many ways, they provide a de luxe, Rolls Royce service except to the people who would like a simpler, cheaper service but as good and as an efficient a service in practical terms. These are the practices of centuries gone by. They are embedded and have never been subjected to the thorough-going reform which advances in modern technology should make possible.

I refer to history and echo the point made by Senator Tuffy. Places such as the Registry of Deeds, particularly given what happened to the Four Courts and the Custom House during the revolution, contain an enormous amount of social history. Like much of the archaeology being uncovered by road building, only a little of it has been explored. Local history has really only taken off in the past 20 years. There is undoubtedly enough material available to keep generations of historians busy. Those files or documents should be kept and made accessible.

Since the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, is in the House, I must also mention an irreplaceable historical repository about which we should think. Sensitive in its way as the bureau of military history was, the Land Commission registry contains an enormous amount of social history. As far as I know, it is still blocked and is not subject to a 30-year rule. It is subject to a 100 or 120-year rule and it is time serious thought was given as to how it should be made accessible because an enormous amount of local and social history is locked up in those records.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, and his officials. I very much welcome what was said by the Minister of State and by my colleagues, Senators Cummins, Jim Walsh, Tuffy and Mansergh. This Bill amply demonstrates the great value of the Law Reform Commission. It is a most valuable State institution on which, I believe, we would all agree. In fact, we cannot give it enough credit. It has proved its worth time and again down the years. I believe we would all agree the commission's reports have been excellent.

This is a gargantuan achievement and represents law reform on a massive scale. By simplifying land law, it will reduce the duration and cost of conveyancing. We have all had practical experience of the difficulties with that. It was good to hear Senator Tuffy comment on that as a practitioner. It reflects great credit on an expert and active Law Reform Commission and on a genuinely modernising and reforming Minister, and I salute them both and everyone who advised them.

The next step is to move from a paper based system to an electronic one. This Bill, sweeping away as it does seven centuries of outdated feudal laws and simplifying what should be retained, clears the ground for this. Owing fealty to the Crown has no place in our constitutional, democratic Republic. It never had as far as most of us are concerned but certainly not since the adoption of our Constitution in 1937 or perhaps even the earlier one. If any area of law was in need of reform, the law of conveyancing and property was crying out for it. As my colleague SenatorCummins said, we very much welcome it.

The Minister has been a driving force behind this legislation since his time as Attorney General. I pay tribute to him for that. I also wish to pay tribute to the Law Reform Commission for all the work it has carried out on this important subject. The commission has successfully overseen a major programme of research and investigation into the law that is second to none. Its rate of delivery is sound and, in addition, the commission has produced discerning, considered and detailed reports in so many important areas of law requiring reform. Everything the commission has done is admirable and valuable not only to the Minister and his officials but also to both Houses of the Oireachtas. I salute the commission for its great work. As Senator Cummins said, we should ensure that recommendations by the Law Reform Commission are implemented more speedily in future. If we do so, we would be doing a great favour to society as a whole.

This Bill is, of necessity, a complex one and for lay people like ourselves it is extremely difficult to peruse. The Minister of State will understand our struggle in that regard as we have not had the Bill for too long. Everyone will welcome the ending of terms such as "fee simple", "fee farm grant" and "fee tail", which meant nothing to the general public. What is being repealed is part of our history and that is where it belongs. With respect, it has been properly dispatched.

The Bill thankfully redresses the situation whereby ownership of land will be absolute for the first time. References to the Crown and other meaningless feudal tenure titles will be gone. We all greatly welcome that measure which is overdue. What is necessary is being retained, which is acceptable.

Section 57 is worthy of note for the new protection it contains for purchasers. Given that there has been a degree of fraud and questionable practice from time to time, the section is an extremely important measure.

The Bill updates the law to accommodate modern conditions. We must take it on trust that it will greatly speed up matters but I believe it will achieve that. It will make the law more easily understood and accessible. In addition, it will simplify the procedures involved in the conveyancing process to reduce delays and associated costs. People have had to put up with seemingly needless searches for title in transactions but in this day and age people need to get on with matters. Once ownership is properly recorded and registered, and we have clarity and expediency, that should be it. I travel in hope because that is what we all believe the Bill will do.

The Bill's provisions will extend the registration of title system in the Land Registry and will facilitate the introduction of e-conveyancing as soon as possible, which is to be greatly welcomed. I would sound a word of caution on e-conveyancing, however, which will not be deliverable overnight, or even in the next year or two. While it will take some time, it is to be welcomed as a goal towards which we are heading.

Property transactions are major revenue earners for the State, so the more we can do to speed up the process the better. Having all land, maps and folios on the one system will be a big relief compared to dealing with registered and unregistered land as in the past. Some counties had different systems, which I was unsure of until I heard some of the earlier comments. In a small country such as ours, we should be much tidier in these matters and, please God, we will be so. In any dealings with which I was associated, I never understood all the bundles of frayed, musty and mouldy documents wrapped up in ribbons. Solicitors took time to deal with them, which would drive one crazy. I would almost say it would drive one to drink. People want to get on with the job and once they are satisfied about it, they do not want their solicitors putting obstacles in the way, although the process was so archaic that is what people often felt was happening.

There is a famous story told about two solicitors who had a problem because of a bundle of documents. One solicitor was allegedly acting on both sides. Given our litigious nature, he saw the matter was heading somewhere else. Therefore, he wrote a note for one client to bring to a pal who was a solicitor colleague in the same town. The note stated, "Look, there's one for me and there's one here for you to pluck as well". When the client discovered it they went to a pub and I will not tell the House what happened after that. Hopefully we will get away from such situations as a result of this legislation.

We all have friends in the legal profession and, as I understand it, in fairness, they also welcome the Bill. Although I think Senator Mansergh was hoping otherwise, I have no doubt it will still be a nice earner in some way for most of them.

Senator Mansergh made an important point in talking about the great social history involved in land records. We must of course ensure that they are not lost. I have no doubt that historians and others in our museums and other great institutions will take care in that respect.

The Bill is practical, clarifying, pragmatic and modernising. We fully endorse this measure and wish it well.

I thank Senators for their contributions to the debate on this quite complex legislation. It is a large and technically complex Bill which manages to cover many important areas of land and conveyancing law in considerable detail. We all recognise the importance of the subject matter, as well as the need to bring this area of law up to date so that it can accommodate changing needs and modern conditions.

On Committee Stage, there will be an opportunity to delve into the detail in a manner which is not possible on Second Stage. Prior to Committee Stage, the Minister will give full consideration to the issues that have been raised here. Some of them may be more relevant to other associated areas of law rather than this particular Bill. In this connection, the Minister has asked me to say that he has already written to the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights, Deputy Ardagh, suggesting that the joint committee might welcome a technical briefing from the delegation, including Professor Wylie, which made a presentation on the earlier Law Reform Commission consultation paper in November 2004. Such a briefing would provide an opportunity to discuss and clarify aspects of the Bill prior to Committee Stage in the autumn.

Everyone who buys a house or an apartment gains experience of the conveyancing process. As Members have said, it is often a frustrating experience, marked by delays, inconvenience and unexpected costs. At this stage, however, I wish on my own behalf and that of other Members of the Oireachtas, to thank the personnel of the Land Registry for their courtesy and help in having matters expedited. Our experience has been that they are particularly helpful and I pay tribute to them in that regard.

The aim of the Bill is to simplify and clarify the law and streamline the procedures involved. This will help to demystify the conveyancing process and reduce the delays and costs involved for house buyers.

As Senator Coghlan noted, it is no wonder that as this subject is currently presented in feudal terms and, more particularly, presented in frayed ribbons, many stories are attached to it. Anyone who has been in either of the Houses for any length of time will have stories for their memoirs, most of which they cannot tell while they intend to be candidates as it might not be good for their political careers. There are wonderful stories. I can think of a particularly good one which involves two former Members of the other House. It is one of the funniest stories I have ever heard in regard to a Land Registry transaction.

As the Minister of State noted, the long-term objective is electronic conveyancing. Much work remains to be done before it becomes a reality but the combined impact of the recently enacted Registration of Deeds and Title Act 2006 and this Bill will go a long way towards making it a practical and feasible target. Ultimately, all those involved in transacting property-related business will have their business conducted much more quickly than heretofore and, hopefully, at more reasonable cost, which is an aim to which we all aspire.

The Bill, particularly taken in tandem with the Registration of Deeds and Title Act 2006, has the capacity to make a significant improvement to people's lives. For most people, this would apply when they are building their house and, therefore, would be a one-off event. However, the process was heretofore frustrating and expensive. The two pieces of legislation will serve to make it easier and more user-friendly.

I thank Members for their contributions. Undoubtedly, Committee and Report Stages will lead to further consideration of the issues involved.

Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 7.15 p.m. and resumed at 7.30 p.m.