Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I am most grateful for this opportunity to debate the matter of property boundaries and I thank the Minister both for his willingness to meet Charlie Elphicke, MP for Dover and Deal, and me on more than one occasion in the recent past, and for forewarning us of the Government’s scoping study published today. I am also grateful to other noble Lords, particularly noble and learned Lords, who are to speak today. I declare my interest as a practising chartered surveyor. I also chair the Boundaries and Party Walls Panel of my professional body, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. I am very much indebted to the groundwork of Mr Elphicke, who raised the matter in the Commons some time ago. Although his Bill did not progress, it triggered the formation of an expert panel of practitioners who took away the original Bill and have comprehensively revised it. The question now is whether the Government are minded to give this some time and support were it to be formally introduced.
An eminent boundary surveyor once prefaced a learned treatise by saying that when he met potential clients for the first time, he would advise how very expensive boundary disputes can be—so expensive in fact that for the money one could purchase a very good family holiday in the sun or even construct a swimming pool in the back garden. He would add that, fortunately for him, most clients ignored the advice which is why he had lots of foreign holidays and a large swimming pool.
Although the need for resolving boundary issues is most evident in the few cases that go to court, this is not representative of the whole picture. There is a hierarchy of needs in relation to boundary matters, which could simply be to facilitate voluntary registration at HM Land Registry, for the purposes of fence erection, because of a wish to transfer a property or sell it free from doubt as to where the boundaries lie, through to a wish to build or develop land in respect of which the boundary position may be economically important, the purposes contentious and the planning mechanism adversarial. Competing interests in land as to extent and intensity often breed acrimonious and hotly contested situations, although these remain a minority. However, as soon as you raise the issue of a boundary position quite innocently with a neighbour, the balloon often quite literally goes up. Innocent enquiry is fettered and the consequences can be very serious, if not disastrous.
Much of the problem lies in the distant past. Although the paper documents involved with the transaction of land have a long history in this country, actual boundaries are often extremely poorly defined. Maybe in the 19th century everyone knew where the boundaries of Farmer White’s property at Blackacre Farm happened to lie but later, when it mattered for other reasons, everybody seemed to have forgotten. Therefore, the legacy of poor descriptions and even worse plans drawn up by feckless trainees in surveyors’ or solicitors’ offices—I used to be one—adds to the problem.
More recent data are also at fault. Before the general use of digital survey techniques, properties were often sold off-plan and the interests of prospective purchasers and their mortgagees registered against a master plan before a dwelling was ever built. However, nobody thought to check the as-built result. The fencing sub-contractor, with his usual incomplete regard for the legality of boundaries, often added to the problems, as I have encountered professionally. Years ago, I attended a meeting of bigwigs to discuss e-conveyancing and the digitisation of the Land Registry and was unwise enough to suggest that this legacy would henceforward travel at the speed of light and be treated as holy writ thereby. Eyes narrowed perceptibly on the other side of the table. However, I pay tribute to the Land Registry for a remarkable performance in spite of this backcloth of defective raw data.
Land registration works to a general boundaries rule that gives an approximate boundary indication only, except for the very few cases where a formal determined boundary has been registered. The data are plotted on an Ordnance Survey base to either a 1:2500 or a 1:1250 scale, and it has to be noted that OS plans themselves are expressly not definitive of legal boundaries. Note, too, that for a 1:2500 scale a line 0.3 millimetres thick on the OS plan equates to 750 millimetres on the ground, and features closer to each other than about two metres are not shown as separate items on the OS plan at all. This begs the question as to what feature or part of it the OS plans were intended to represent. The Land Registry does not always hold adequate pre-registration documents and many original documents have either not been retained or worse—because they are part of social history—have been deliberately destroyed. Far from everything, of course, is actually registered; much uninterrupted historic ownership, along with a good deal of community, parish and highway land, never mind overriding interests of one sort or another, is simply not registered at all.
In many situations, the boundary may be physically self-evident and identifiably long-standing. Some lack of precision may even be of benefit in allowing a degree of flexibility and evolution, especially when coping with the work of garden fencing contractors. However, in cases of dispute, and especially on tight urban sites, matters are compounded by a substantial legacy of poor or simply inaccurate title documents. Boundary disputes have, I believe, been increasing over a number of years and although, as I say, relatively few cases get to the courts, those that do are often ruinously expensive. The problem of costs in the action frequently and rapidly outstrips the financial value of the disputed land, which raises the stakes and makes it ever more difficult for the parties to settle.
Many cases, of course, collapse without getting to court simply because one party can no longer afford to pursue the matter. That is not in the interests of justice and seems to me to be inherently unsatisfactory. If advice as to likely costs is taken on board right at the start, people often decide simply to accept the fact and roll over in the face of reality—something sometimes taken advantage of by aggressive neighbours. Moreover, in many non-contentious situations where there is just a simple need to know the correct boundary, even raising it with a neighbour can be dangerous. As I have said, planning applications often give rise to such queries.
Unclear boundaries—and, worse, unresolved boundary disputes—are, of course, a material barrier to sale. Nobody wants to buy a property where there is an unresolved boundary dispute. This can be deployed by unscrupulous owners against their neighbours. Then there is the mistaken belief that unregistered land is somehow ownerless—often aided and abetted by some unscrupulous companies, it has to be said—and therefore up for grabs in some way. That causes problems. Latent uncertainty impedes development or redevelopment proposals, as well as necessary alterations, adaptations and even basic maintenance. For instance, I know of situations where the ownership and control of historic ditches has importance for the long-term drainage of development sites or for preventing neighbours filling them with rubbish or building over them. As the eminent boundary expert David Powell said in an e-mail to me earlier this week, the visible instances of court cases are believed to be but the tip of a much larger iceberg.
Clear boundaries are as essential to property ownership and value as permitted use. Owners need to be able to rely on where their boundaries are situated and who owns a boundary feature or has responsibility for a hedge, ditch, boundary, retaining wall or roadside embankment. People often assume, erroneously, that formal land registration guarantees title; regrettably, it does no such thing. The matter is made worse by the law on adverse possession, with its combination of motive and opportunity, and the high costs of resisting it.
Australia recognised this problem long ago and although I believe that the matter is dealt with nationally under something called the Dividing Fences Act, an effective, workable system occurs on a state-by-state basis. The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, who is not able to be here today, was kind enough to obtain for me some information about this. At present, a formal determined boundary can be achieved only by mutual agreement between neighbours. This makes it impractical for cases where it is not in the collective interests of both owners from the outset. It is certainly of no use when a dispute has arisen. Land Registry adjudication, as I understand it, generally concerns only the accuracy of the register.
As properties become more valuable and urban space scarcer, the position of boundaries becomes more crucial. I believe that the mark 2 Bill that has been drafted, a copy of which I have circulated and placed in the Library, would solve this. I am aware that the Minister may feel that it is unnecessary. The same was said, of course, of the Party Wall etc Bill that I had the privilege of taking through all its parliamentary stages in this House back in the 1990s. The mark 2 Bill can and would be of assistance in removing many disputes from the courts and providing better self-regulation and a cost-effective starting point in the event of the court having to intervene. The formula that is proposed would enable the end product to be recorded without recourse to conventional litigation. It would start with a system of notification of a boundary proposal which, if disputed, would trigger a dispute resolution procedure. I believe that it is in the public interest and that it would be a good thing for the maintenance of property and the removal of contention from what should be the peace and tranquillity of people’s own homes.
My Lords, I begin by congratulating the noble Earl on securing this debate. I put my name down to speak because the issue he has raised is quite an important one and deserves to be broadened out a bit from the original list of speakers, which until recently was only three. Having looked more closely at the subject over the past two or three days, I am not sure that I am all that well qualified to express an opinion on the point. My background is that of a lawyer rather than a surveyor, and in this debate we are talking about English law, while my training and experience is largely in Scots law. One thing I learnt when I came south was that Scots law and English law differ most fundamentally of all in the area of property law, and it is very difficult for a Scots lawyer to understand the details, let alone the structure, of the way in which English property law operates.
However, I encountered quite a number of boundary disputes when I was in practice at the Bar in Scotland, and even one or two when I was sitting as a Law Lord here in this House and was introduced to, among other things, the wonderful presumption known as the hedge and ditch presumption, which I very much enjoyed examining. I also encountered a number of surveyors during the course of my practice, as a result of which I should say that I have a great deal of respect for the noble Earl’s profession. There were many cases on which we worked together as a team, although it is fair to say that they were largely in the area of valuation for rating rather than surveying in the more strict sense.
We are not being asked to consider the law of Scotland today, and in any case I am quite sure that the Minister would not wish to comment on it since it is a devolved matter. However, it may be of interest if I sketch in a little the way that issues are apt to arise in that jurisdiction. It does tend to show that the problem here in England and Wales is much more acute than it is under the system I was used to in Scotland, and that underlines the importance of the issue raised by the noble Earl.
Scotland has had a system of recording land tenure in a public register called the Sasine Register since the early 17th century. There were attempts to create a register earlier than that, but the position today is that for well over 300 years, every single property in the country has been the subject of a recorded title, or more accurately, a registered title, which can be examined by every member of the public on payment of a suitable fee. It is in the course of being replaced by a modernised system of registration of title, but the Sasine Register still exists and it is the source from which the relevant information can be derived when moving to the new system. There is a complete account of all deeds, which enables anyone to identify the extent of ownership of any holder of land, and includes all deeds which affect the security of land—the title to the land—that is, deeds which are in the form of security for debt, deeds that record rights of way, and what in Scotland are called servitude and England easements. Everything that affects a title has to go on to the register to be effective at all. It is therefore a very complete record of the present situation of any landowner’s title.
Every title that is put on to the register has to have a description. For a long time the practice has been to describe the property that goes on to the register by reference to boundaries. The early deeds did that by reference to natural features such as walls and gables. Occasionally resort was made to plans, which were always described as taxative—in other words, they were made to be definitive as to the extent of the title. Once a title containing the information had been registered, the titles that derived from it simply tended to refer back to the original deed, so that in practice one has to search the register quite diligently to find out the limits of where the property lie. The result is that from time to time mistakes occur. Someone sets out to design a new definition, but has not correctly recorded what was in the earlier deeds from which the title is derived. It is in that kind of situation that a boundary dispute arises.
Where mistakes of that kind arise there are two kinds of problems. First, there is the problem of searching the register and understanding how the titles have been defined. To some extent that is a task for a lawyer, given that a lot of work is being done through titles, which only lawyers can really understand. It may be that measurements and things of that kind are needed, for which a surveyor might be used. However, there is another aspect of this: in Scotland it is called positive prescription. The noble Earl referred to adverse possession and it is the same concept. If somebody has occupied land without objection for 10 years—“nec vi, nec clam, nec precario” is the Latin phrase—he has an absolute right to remain in possession, even if the description in his title conflicts with his neighbour and the neighbour can show that actually he ought to have been able to occupy that land himself. If he does not take the initiative within the 10 years, he loses the right to do so. In that sort of situation very difficult issues of fact may arise. The question is whether the present possession has been adverse for the necessary period, and in that situation a surveyor, frankly, is not the person to whom one would turn. It would probably be a solicitor instructing a member of the Bar to prepare and argue the case all the way through. Therefore the situation is quite complex. In Scotland, these issues can arise in various forms, but the basic situation is one of a complete register of all the land and we therefore do not have the problem that arises in England—and, no doubt, in Wales—where a substantial amount of property is not on the register at all.
What about England and Wales? My noble and learned friend Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood said to me this morning that the courts would be quite delighted were Mr Elphicke’s draft Bill to be enacted and the courts were relieved of the heavy responsibility, which he described, of having to deal with these cases. My own experience as an advocate was that these cases were really quite enjoyable and therefore I would be rather sad to see them go. There is a difference of view between counsel and the judge. However, I am not absolutely sure that the situation is quite as easy as the draft Bill is suggesting or that the public would be well served if the law were to be reformed in the way that it proposes.
I stress that I do not for a moment doubt that there is a problem. Indeed, since the pattern of land-holding in England and Wales is much less neat and accessible than it is in Scotland, the problem is indeed acute. But my impression is that the Land Registry does an excellent job. Having studied its website, it offers much helpful advice and guidance for people who find themselves in dispute, which they would be well advised to follow. There is the right that everyone has, under Section 73 of the 2003 Act, to object to an application for registration. If there is an objection, there is a tribunal to which the matter can go. No doubt, it will take many decades before the system can settle down to the extent that it has in Scotland; nevertheless, the Land Registry is there to improve the situation and assist the public, as I have attempted to describe.
My main point is that I am not entirely convinced that making it compulsory for every such dispute to be resolved by reference to a panel of surveyors and excluding the courts entirely—as I think the draft Bill seeks to do—is either necessary or desirable. There will be cases where the title deeds alone will provide the answer and it may be that agreements can be reached; but I am not entirely sure that understanding these deeds is within the exclusive competence of a surveyor. There is then the problem of how to deal with other evidence about the way the property has been used, which may be hotly disputed and requires analysis, presentation of evidence, cross-examination of witnesses and so on. There is also the matter of adverse possession, which could raise very difficult issues.
While I am absolutely sure that the noble Earl has raised some interesting and important issues, I am not sure that the suggested solution is the right one. I look forward very much to what the Minister has to say in his reply and, in due course, to reading the scoping study that has appeared on my BlackBerry, but which I have not yet had a chance to read.
My Lords, I start my remarks by thanking and paying tribute to the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for putting down this important question for debate today. In preparing for this debate, I read a number of very useful documents that gave sensible and practical advice on dealing with property boundaries. The overriding theme I picked up was the importance of discussion and communication with your neighbour, and of seeking to find a solution on a reasonable basis. The last place that anyone should want to find themselves in seeking to deal with these matters is a court of law. That, in my opinion, is very sensible advice. Every now and again a case is reported in the media in which a boundary dispute got completely out of hand, and both sides became involved in expensive litigation which cost far more than the worth of the boundary they were actually arguing about. This is, of course, in addition to the stress and anxiety people suffer in dealing with such matters.
In his remarks to the Grand Committee, the noble Earl highlighted the point that in many cases the boundaries for registered and unregistered properties are poorly defined. That is where the problems start. Relying on the Land Registry against a backdrop of Ordnance Survey mapping of the general position of the boundary may not provide the detail required to resolve the problem. I am an elected member of Lewisham Council, and at a recent planning committee meeting which discussed an application for an extension to a resident’s house it emerged that most of the garden was actually owned by Lewisham Council, which owned a long strip of land that went through a number of gardens behind properties. No one seemed to have any idea why the council owned the land or for how long it had owned it, but own it it did. It was not a huge problem in that case, but it illustrated to me how in many cases property boundaries can be ill defined and that, as the noble Earl said, can bring significant difficulties.
Clear boundaries are important, and it is good advice to get the boundaries of your property clear with your neighbours. As I said, and as the noble Earl mentioned earlier, relying on a Land Registry guarantee of title is not the protection that some people think it is. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, usefully outlined the position in Scotland. Not for the first time, we could learn valuable lessons from how property law operates in Scotland. To resolve any dispute, speaking to your neighbours is of paramount importance, as is not taking action that would be seen as inflammatory, such as submitting a planning application or using any other means to reclaim land. Reaching an amicable solution to the dispute is in the interests of all parties.
Problems can occur when boundaries are not clear or have become confused over time. Hedges, fences, stone walls or other physical barriers might not be the actual boundary at all but have become seen as the boundary. As I said earlier, minor disagreements can quickly escalate into major disputes involving solicitors and expensive litigation. When agreement cannot be reached between the parties themselves, the objective should be to resolve the dispute at the lowest common denominator. For example, that could involve chartered land surveyors or chartered surveyors who specialise in boundary work making an expert determination. That could be legally binding on the parties concerned if they agree that it is to be so. There are a number of advantages to this method, which is confidential, speedy, cost effective and final, but actually this procedure is not very popular or often used. I am not sure why that is. Perhaps it is because people are not aware of it, and by the time that professional people get involved lawyers are often needed, as it has come to a court action.
As with other disputes it is possible to go through a process of mediation, by which a settlement is negotiated between the parties that they can live with. However, for this to work there has to be a willingness to negotiate. That involves give and take, and being prepared to enter into the process with an open mind about the discussion and the options for reaching a solution. It is possible that at the end of a mediation process one party will feel that the outcome is unsatisfactory, but if people enter the process with an open mind it can resolve matters. It is also worth noting that the advantages of mediation are that the parties arrive at the agreement themselves, and in reaching that agreement hopefully get a better understanding of the position of the other side.
Moving on from these ways of seeking agreement, people can often find themselves at the land registration service of the Tribunals Service, the county court or the High Court, in certain circumstances. All those options begin to cost quite a lot of money. It does no good to enter into disputes before courts and tribunals that, in the end, cost more to resolve than the value of the land or boundary in question.
The Government need to act on this, and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, has made the case today with a sensible solution to the problem before us. We need an effective link between the public and the Land Registry so that, where required, the position of boundaries can be formally established and recorded without recourse to litigation of the type I outlined earlier.
As the noble Earl suggested, to achieve that there should be a system of notification of a boundary proposal to neighbours which, if disputed or ignored, would trigger a dispute resolution system backed by a requirement to register the outcome with the Land Registry as a formal determined boundary. It would be similar to the process that operates under the Party Wall Act 1996. It would ensure that the vast majority of boundary disputes were removed from the courts, but without in any way preventing an appeal in appropriate cases. We have only to look at how many party wall cases are appealed to the courts to see the effectiveness of such a measure.
In conclusion, I again thank the noble Earl for raising this issue and I look forward to the response of the noble Lord, Lord Faulks.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Earl for raising this important issue for debate and for the clear way in which he outlined the problem. I am grateful to him also for acknowledging the fact that he, I and Charlie Elphicke, who brought forward a Private Member’s Bill, had a number of meetings in which he helpfully outlined of the nature of the problem as he sees it, and the possible solution presented by the Bill. This has been a useful exercise informing the ministry and my officials.
Property boundary disputes relate to the legal position of a boundary between two properties and the ownership of the relevant land. There are many millions of boundaries between properties in England and Wales. This is not a hyperbola—there are 24 million registered properties. The vast majority are probably never the subject of a dispute. However, as we have correctly heard, where neighbours disagree about the line of the boundary, the disputes can be very difficult indeed to resolve.
We cannot realistically create a world in which neighbours do not from time to time fall out over the precise position of a boundary. There are all sorts of reasons for the disputes, not all to do with a precise evaluation of the boundary itself. What we can aim to do is provide effective ways to resolve the disputes that occur. A first step is to try to identify why they seem to be so difficult to resolve.
It is perhaps regrettable that boundaries are rarely precisely defined in England and Wales, and the standard of property descriptions in conveyances and the matching of plans to the situation on the ground has historically too often been poor. In addition, boundaries may be changed by the application of the principle of adverse possession, to which there has been reference in this debate. Those rules are complicated and the time periods applicable depend on whether the title to the land is registered but, basically, a person can become the owner of land by uncontested continuous use over a lengthy period of years. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, correctly referred to the Latin maxim. If this happens, the line of the legal boundary will change.
The fact that adverse possession involved evaluation of the facts is one of the reasons why the Government respectfully agree with what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, said about the difficulty in the otherwise initially attractive solution of having the matter determined effectively by surveyors. An undesirable side effect of this lack of precision is that, unless a certain give and take is observed between neighbours, the resultant boundary disputes are often bitter, protracted and expensive. On occasions, the costs, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, rightly said, can be out of proportion to what is at issue. There are all sorts of reasons for this.
As we have heard, it was concern about the disproportionate cost and bitterness of disputes based on the experience of his constituents and others that prompted Charlie Elphicke to bring forward his Bill. It proposed—if I may condense a 17-clause Bill, which I know has been amended—that disputes relating to the exact location of a boundary between adjoining properties in England and Wales must be referred to an independent adjudicator for final determination at the earliest opportunity, subject only to a right of appeal to the county court. In the light of the concerns raised, the Government decided to carry out an initial scoping study on the issue. The result of the study was published today; it is on the Blackberry of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, I think the noble Earl has received it, and if the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, has not received it, he will do so shortly. We have placed a copy in the Library, but I will briefly summarise its content.
The study took the form of interviews with a small number of key stakeholders and the distribution of a questionnaire to 30 organisations with an interest in land law issues involving boundary disputes. Input was also received during the period of the study from a number of individuals who had themselves been involved in such disputes. The study reflects the views expressed in the responses received on the nature, frequency and causes of boundary disputes, the effectiveness of the resolution methods, the problems that arise and what could be done to address them. It discusses a number of options for legal or procedural change. Incidentally, I accept that it is difficult to calculate quite how many disputes there are because they can vary between a full-blown boundary dispute which reaches the High Court and even beyond, and an initial disagreement which may be relatively easily resolved, and there are very many steps along the way.
Boundary disputes can be mediated by a range of methods, either through the county court or the land registration division of the Property Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal, as part of legal proceedings or separately by mediation, as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. Independent expert determination is also used in a very small number of cases. I noted from the RICS document, which was part of the very helpful Library Note put together for this debate, that there is a RICS Neighbour Disputes Service, which provides access to a specialist panel of expert members with experience of resolving neighbourly boundary disputes. The service can involve expert determination and mediation of a dispute, and therefore there is an alternative to formal litigation if any doubt or uncertainty exists between parties on the correct boundary line. The RICS advises those who might wish to seek a slightly cheaper way to resolve their problems.
The core conclusions reached in the study are that there is merit in the Government carrying out further work to assess the feasibility of improvements as regards a number of aspects of the current system, including the use of mediation and expert determination, the spreading of best practice and the provision of better information, but that more radical reform such as that argued for by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, would not currently be justified. The particular approach the noble Earl advocates is the introduction of a mandatory system for resolving disputes similar to that used under the Party Wall etc. Act 1996. That would involve the appointment by parties at as early a stage as possible of an independent expert, normally a surveyor, to determine the position of the boundary. In the event that either party was dissatisfied, it would be open to them to appeal against it to a court.
It will be useful if I explain why the Government do not consider that requiring everyone involved to follow such an approach would be beneficial. First, the determination of the legal position of a boundary in the absence of agreement is normally a matter for a judge, as it determines a person’s legal rights. A surveyor, no matter how expert in technical issues—I entirely agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, although my own experience with surveyors is that they very often are extremely expert and supplement the often inadequate understanding that lawyers have of these issues—will not necessarily have the legal expertise to deal with cases that involve more complex legal issues such as adverse possession. Allied to this is the fact that, unlike party wall cases, which are essentially based on a mutual need between the owners of the adjoining properties for work to be done efficiently, boundary disputes are much more likely to produce a “winner” and a “loser”. In addition, as contributors to this debate have acknowledged, boundary disputes can generate considerable bitterness.
The combination of these factors means that in our view the likelihood of appeals being brought against decisions would be high. It would mean that in many cases the suggestion would simply add a further layer to the proceedings, which would add to the costs rather than reduce them. In some cases the early appointment of experts could itself front-load costs where the dispute might have been resolved in other ways, and, perhaps, permit stronger and legally astute parties to steal an advantage over more easygoing neighbours. That does not mean that the Government are in any way complacent about the problems that can arise in boundary disputes, or about the possibility of improving relevant civil procedures more generally.
In the course of this Parliament, we have made considerable efforts to rein in the costs of civil litigation in general so that they are more proportionate, including through a new civil procedure rule to ensure that costs which are disproportionate will not be recoverable, even when they are reasonably or necessarily incurred. We have also introduced new provisions for costs management and costs budgeting. These and other steps should help to reduce the amount of costs so that they do not become disproportionate to the issue.
We believe that rather than restricting the flexibility of the current system and the range of methods that can be used to resolve these disputes, it is preferable for us to explore the feasibility of making further improvements. As I have indicated, there are a number of approaches we wish to examine aimed at developing and encouraging the use of mediation or other methods of alternative dispute resolution, supporting robust and timely case management and improving the quality and availability of guidance and information to increase awareness of the issues and the options available. I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, for reminding us of what the Land Registry provides by way of assistance to those who wish to have boundaries clarified.
On the question of general boundaries, which was referred to in the debate, I am advised that when land registration was first introduced there was an experiment with general boundaries from 1862 to 1875, when it was abandoned because it caused so many disputes.
On the question of what we can learn from Scotland, of course, it is always useful to learn from other jurisdictions. I am advised that a local deeds registry existed in Yorkshire and Middlesex until the late 20th century. We will consider, among other things, what we can learn from practice in Scotland, and, indeed, from practice in Australia. Our core aim will be to reduce the costs without in any way impeding the proper opportunity for people to dispute boundaries where they must do so. We intend to take forward consideration of how action can best be focused in these areas in the light of the findings of the scoping study in order to reach more definite conclusions on next steps in the year ahead. I thank the noble Earl for his contribution to the debate and all those who have contributed to our enlightenment on this important issue. As I have said, we are by no means complacent about this issue and the debate has been most helpful.