Second Reading Committee


19 February 1987




Second Reading Committee


Thursday 19 February 1987


RESOLVED, That the Chairman do now report to the House that the Committee recommends that the Reverter of Sites Bill [Lords] ought to be read a Second time.

COMMITTEE rose at sixteen minutes to Eleven o'clock.



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The Committee consisted of the following Members:


Banks, Mr. Robert (Harrogate)

Beaumont-Dark, Mr. Anthony (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

Bowden, Mr. Andrew (Brighton, Kemptown)

Brown, Mr. Nicholas (Newcastle upon Tyne, East)

Carlile, Mr. Alex (Montgomery)

Cockeram, Mr. Eric (Ludlow)

Dickens, Mr. Geoffrey (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

Faulds, Mr. Andrew (Warley, East)

Freeson, Mr. Reg (Brent, East)

George, Mr. Bruce (Walsall, South)

Griffiths, Mr. Peter (Portsmouth, North)

Howarth, Mr. George (Knowsley, North)

Hoyle, Mr. Doug (Warrington, North)

Lord, Mr. Michael (Suffolk, Central)

Maude, Mr. Francis (Warwickshire, North)

Page, Mr. Richard (Hertfordshire, South-West)

Solicitor General, The (Sir Patrick Mayhew)

Sumberg, Mr. David (Bury, South)

Mr. R. I. S. Phillips, Committee Clerk

3 Second Reading Committee Thursday 19 February 1987

[MR. DAVID CROUCH in the Chair]

Reverter of Sites Bill [Lords]

10.30 am

The Solicitor-General (Sir Patrick Mayhew): I beg to move, That the Chairman do now report to the House that the Committee recommends that the Reverter of Sites Bill [Lords] ought to be read a Second time. Our Victorian Predecessors numbered among them philanthropic benefactors who donated parcels of land for worthy purposes—education, libraries, and so on. However, there was a need for legislation to provide that if the intended use should cease at any time, the land should revert to the donor or to his successors. Acts to that effect were passed, but problems have since arisen. First, as many of the grants were made long ago, it may be difficult or impossible to identify those people who are entitled on reversion. Secondly, the grantees no longer have any powers over the land once the original use has ceased; they cannot sell it or use it to raise money to pay bills. So it may be left derelict and in a dangerous condition. There are about 5,000 such sites in England and Wales, of which about 2,000 were once schools. The Bill solves the difficulties by giving the grantees the status of trustees for sale of a piece of land, once the relevant use has ceased. That means that the grantees have the power to manage the land and sell it with a good title. If the true owner can be traced, he will be entitled to the land or the proceeds of its sale. If he cannot be traced, the Bill allows the grantees, now the trustees, to use the land or its sale proceeds for charitable purposes, including purposes determined under the Education Acts by the Secretary of State for Education and Science. Those purposes are to be as similar to the original purposes as the Charity Commissioners think practicable. The Bill is technical, but I shall not detail the effect of each clause. It owes much to the work of the Law Commission and completed its passage unamended in another place. It was welcomed on all sides as a useful measure of law reform which would clarify the law of reverter. I commend it to the Committee.

10.33 am

Mr. Nicholas Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, North): With the exception of a few minor inquiries about drafting, which could more usefully be explored in Committee, the Bill is to be warmly welcomed. It remedies problems that have arisen under some 19th century statutes relating to the reverter of property when that property ceases to be used for particular purposes. The Bill resolves a complex problem effectively and imaginatively. 4 Some 19th century statutes—particularly the School Sites Acts, the Literary and Scientific Institutions Act 1854 and the Places of Worship Sites Act 1873 provided a way for individuals to donate property for charitable purposes on the condition that, should the land cease to be used for those purposes, it would revert to the donor or his successors. That method of donating property was commonly used, but problems arose when the property ceased to be used for the stated purpose. The land should revert to the original owner or his successors, but, as many of the grants were made so long ago, it proved difficult or impossible to find those people. As a result, the property falls into disrepair as the occupiers, not being the true owners and being unable to show good title to the property, cannot sell or mortgage it to pay for any necessary repairs. In any case, they are reluctant to pay for repairs on property that does not belong to them. I have the same figure as the Solicitor-General. It is estimated that there are 5,000 such properties, and there may be more in future if nothing is done as buildings cease to be used for the purposes for which they were given. The Law Commission established a working party to investigate how these matters could be resolved. It published a report entitled "Property Law—Rights of Reverter" in which the principal recommendation was that the true owners should register their claims to such land within three years, failing which such rights would be extinguished. That recommendation was not accepted, and is not proposed in the Bill. The Bill is a useful and well-drafted measure of law reform which appears to cover all the possible complexities. It has evidently been subject to detailed consultation and careful preparation. It will do much to relieve the present problems. It does so in an imaginative way which protects the rights of potentiual beneficial owners and takes into account the interests of members of the local communities. I hope that the properties involved will now be put to good use in their local communities.

10.37 am

Mr. Andrew Bowden (Brighton, Kemptown): My right hon. and learned Friend will be pleased to know that I shall not oppose the Second Reading. Clause 3 is important because it "prescribes the steps to be taken by the trustees to trace beneficiaries." It states that appropriate notices will be placed "in two national newspapers". But there are different types of national newspaper. Although some have a national circulation, they can be described as comics rather than as serious newspapers. Can the Solicitor-General take steps to ensure that the notices are placed in at least two different groups of newspapers so that the widest range of people in various parts of the country see them? The clause also states that a notice must be placed in "a local newspaper circulating the locality where the relevant land is situated." It is sad that many people do not buy local newspapers. I suspect that, in many parts of the country, only a small proportion of people read their local newspapers regularly. I am lucky because in Brighton there is a local evening paper which is widely read. Most of the country is not as fortunate. More people read the increasing number of free 5 weekly newspapers. Perhaps an appropriate notice could be placed in one of them. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend would want to ensure that anyone who might be affected by a notice could read it.

10.39 am

The Solicitor-General: I am most grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden). He has raised two points about the practicable steps that should be taken to ensure that the owners of revertive rights can be located and that they do not find that they may have lost their entitlement because they did not know what was proposed for their properties. Clause 3 requires an advertisement to be inserted in two national newwspapers and a local newspaper. There are no definitions of "national newspaper" and "local newspaper" in the Bill. However my hon. Friend raises an interesting and, no doubt, important point. Perhaps it would be sensible to look at it and find some way in which his anxieties could be allayed or satisfied by some other means. I guess that legislation connected with charities requires advertisement in a fairly standard form. I guess that the requirement to advertise in two national newspapers is standard form. If that is the case, I doubt that it would be politic to make a special provision here. As the local newspaper—

Mr. Andrew Bowden: Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it would not be desirable for the advertisement to be placed in the Financial Times and The Daily 6 Telegraph or The Sun and the Daily Mirror? That would not give the widespread opportunity for it to be seen by anyone who might be affected.

The Solicitor-General: Yes, I see that. However, both the Charity Commissioners and the trustees for sale have an interest in securing the fulfilment of the purpose of the Bill. The purpose of the Bill is to ensure that all practical steps are taken to inform the beneficiary. Therefore, I think that it is unlikely that they would select a combination such as The Daily Telegraph and the Financial Times. As this is a Second Reading debate, I shall look carefully at my hon. Friend's point. I understand what he said about free newspapers. In many areas the free newspapers circulate more widely than the old-established sold newspapers. We shall look carefully at that, and perhaps I can solve the matter by writing to my hon. Friend. I see that a communication has arrived. It says that trustees should not rely on advertisements. They must consider other steps to trace a beneficiary. That is the point that I made. The trustees have a duty to use their heads and to take practical steps. That is set out clearly in the Bill, but we shall look at it.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Chairman do now report to the House that the Committee recommends that the Reverter of Sites Bill [Lords] ought to be read a Second time.

Committee rose at sixteen minutes to Eleven o 'clock.


Crouch, Mr. David (Chairman)

Beaumont-Dark, Mr.

Bowden, Mr. Andrew

Brown, Mr. Nicholas

Dickens, Mr.

Griffiths, Mr. Peter

Maude, Mr.

Page, Mr. Richard

Solicitor General, The

Sumberg, Mr.