HC Deb 30 June 1831 vol 4 cc547-53
Mr. John Campbell

moved for leave to bring in his General Register of Deeds Bill. He would not trouble the House with many observations, as he had on a former occasion fully explained the nature and object of his Bill, but he had some reason to complain of the opposition which had been made to it by one class of professional men, who had endeavoured to excite a prejudice in the minds of the landed proprietors against the proposition of a General Register. They had not opposed it directly, and in person, but they had put others forward to oppose it; and for that purpose many unfair means had been resorted to. The Bill had been described as intended to bring all Title Deeds to London, and lodge them in one huge Mausoleum. Nothing was more false. He intended, that proprietors should still retain the custody of their own Deeds, though duplicates or copies of them might be lodged in the office. It was said, that it would be better to have offices in each county, and that if there were only one great metropolitan office, there might be some great calamity, and then all deeds would be lost. But what he had said, of the proprietors keeping their own deeds, was a complete answer to this; and if there were offices in different parts of the country, that would occasion great additional expense and inconvenience, and would prevent a uniformity of practice in registration. The advantage of a general collection of duplicates or copies of deeds would materially reduce the expense of the transfer of real property. The country Solicitors were afraid of losing their business; but their fears were without foundation; for, according to the Bill, not a single London agent would be necessary, and the correspondence would be direct between the country and the Register Office in London. Another objection had been found, in the publicity which such an establishment would give to titles and writings hitherto kept secret; that was, in his mind, an advantage, because it would prevent the possibility of fraud; and if secrecy were desirable, a provision might easily be devised to prevent impertinent searches. The Bill would certainly contribute to put an end to equitable mortgages; which were considered an evil, being the cause of much litigation, and the late Solicitor-general had brought in a Rill to prevent a mere deposit of deeds for money advanced, giving a lien on the land. He hoped that Bill would pass into a law, and that would effectually remove the evil he had just stated. He had been asked by the noble Lord, the Representative for Yorkshire, to exempt that county from the operation of the Bill. If the noble Lord should insist upon it, he would agree to a clause being afterwards introduced for that purpose; but he thought he should be able to show that the Yorkshire Register was a regular and gross job. It was of no use or benefit to any persons but the Attorneys. He was satisfied that the proposed Bill would be a great relief to the landed interest, and he should therefore conclude by moving for leave to bring in a Bill "to establish a General Register of Deeds and other Documents affecting Real Property in England and Wales."

Lord Morpeth

approved of the principle of the Bill, but as the county of York possessed already a Registration of its own, he hoped he understood the learned Gentleman right, when he said, it was his intention for the present to exclude that county from its operation. His hon. friend had found great fault with the practice of the Register-office for Yorkshire, but he must observe on that point, that all those with whom he had come into contact were of a different opinion. At all events, they were anxious to see the superior advantages of a general Register-office brought into practice before they gave up their own. Under such circumstances, he trusted his hon. friend would allow the experiment to be tried before its operation was extended to Yorkshire.

Mr. Schonswar

wished the hon. and learned Member would also suspend the operation of the Bill as far as regarded the town and county of Hull, where a Register-office existed already, and which, he assured him, was not so defective as he supposed that of Yorkshire to be. He believed, indeed, the hon. and learned Gentleman laboured under some misapprehension as to the practice of country solicitors. They were not the originators of the defects in the existing register, as he supposed. He therefore trusted the hon. and learned Gentleman would make more particular inquiries before he resolved not to exclude Hull and Yorkshire from his Bill.

Mr. Strickland

declared, he was not one of those who anticipated any great advantages from the establishment of a general Registry-office, as described by the hon. and learned Gentleman; on the contrary, he thought it would give rise to much inconvenience. Good indexes had always hitherto been kept in the different Register offices; and it appeared to him, that the only thing necessary to be done was, to pass a short Act of Parliament to make these more perfect. This would be better than to overturn a system which had existed many years. The Yorkshire Registers were such as were usually employed. In a general view there were many objections to the machinery proposed by the hon. and learned Gentleman's Bill, and, at all events, the proposition would require much consideration before it could become a law.

Mr. Littleton

thought, that the Bill might be productive of benefit; but the public was without the necessary information to come to a proper decision on it. He had taken considerable pains to ascertain the feelings of the landed proprietors, whose opinions were much divided on the subject. Few had been able to arrive at a definite opinion, while many had decided objections to the measure proposed. As the members of the legal profession were by no means unanimous as to its good effects; and as not more than one or two persons of those with whom he had conversed in his own county were in favour of it, he hoped that the hon. Member would allow the Bill to stand over until next Session, both to allow time for inquiry, and to enable the landed interest to satisfy themselves as to its propriety and advantages.

Mr. Blamire

said, that the Bill had occasioned the greatest alarm in the minds of all the gentry and landholders of the county of Cumberland, who considered it a most unconstitutional alteration, which would deprive them of the custody of the title-deeds of their estates. Instead of facilitating the investigation of titles, it would give rise to greater difficulties than at present existed. As to the advantage of publicity, he dared the hon. Member to bring forward any instance of individuals having suffered in fortune by surreptitious deeds. His constituents were unanimously opposed to the Bill; and they, therefore, prayed, either that the hon. Member would abandon it altogether, or exempt all the counties north of Yorkshire from its operation.

Mr. Spence

was of opinion, that while so strong a prejudice existed in the minds of the landed proprietors, it was not advisable to press the Bill forward this Session. He hoped, however, that this prejudice would be overcome; for, from his own experience, as well as from the opinions expressed in the Report of the Commission appointed to inquire, he was satisfied some alteration must be made in the system relating to landed property. No man could doubt the qualifications of the commissioners appointed to consider this subject; and, in the course of their inquiries, one gentleman in particular, who had previously been strongly opposed to the system of registration, became convinced of its necessity, and now heartily concurred in the measure brought forward by his hon. and learned friend. This circumstance ought to convince Gentlemen who would take time to consider this question, that there were not so many objections as they imagined. Upon every ground, therefore, it was expedient the measure should be postponed to another session, when he hoped that many of the landed gentlemen who now opposed it, from not being aware of its probable effects, would become its supporters.

Mr. O'Connell

bore testimony to the advantages of a general Registration Act, from what he had witnessed of the operation of the Registry Act in Ireland; where, owing to certain circumstances, he had been much engaged in the investigation of titles, and, upon all occasions, felt satisfied of the general benefit and convenience of the Register Act which existed in that country. Through its means, every man could at once ascertain the goodness of the title of that which he was about to purchase. He believed, if the Yorkshire Gentlemen would allow the Bill to be introduced, they would find, upon consideration, that it was in every respect calculated to do much good. He was not for introducing a complicated system of conveyancing, and was satisfied the measure proposed, instead of producing that effect, would tend to simplify titles, which must be beneficial to the landed proprietors in an eminent degree. The measure would be productive of the best consequences to the landed interest; and, for that reason, he hoped the House would receive it with so much consideration as to enable them to come to a correct decision upon it.

Mr. Cutlar Ferguson

said, that in the course of his life a general registry of deeds had occupied much of his consideration; and, from his experience of its working in Scotland, where such a system had long prevailed, he was satisfied it would be found beneficial in England. No one could doubt the advantages of such an institution to facilitate the transfer of landed property. Objections had been taken as to its publicity, but that was one of the best reasons for passing the Bill, since it would effectually prevent the possibility of any person being defrauded or imposed on by fictitious title-deeds. In his opinion, the public were much indebted to his hon. and learned friend for having brought the subject forward, for all those who had any practical knowledge on the subject were convinced of the advantage of Registration.

Mr. Lefroy

entirely concurred with those hon. Members who advocated Registration. From his experience of thirty years in the profession, he could declare, that nothing gave greater security to the purchasers of property than a public registration. All who had known the system in Ireland would strongly object to its being withdrawn. A similar plan in this country would be attended with advantages to both the buyer and seller of land, for each of these parties must naturally desire, that its full value should be ascertained, which it was almost impossible to do where the principle of Registration was not established.

Mr. John Campbell

did not think it necessary to take up the time of the House in replying to what had been said by hon. Members, as no solid objection appeared to exist to what he proposed. The hon. member for Cumberland, whose constituents appeared to have felt some alarm on the subject, did indeed make an objection, grounded on that alarm, but the whole of that arose from mistaken views of the measure. It was not difficult to account for this, or for the opposition the Bill had encountered. The grossest misrepresentations had been industriously circulated, respecting its object and operation. An hon. and learned friend of his had told him, since he entered the House, of a Resolution lately published in a provincial newspaper to the following effect: "Resolved, that Attornies, Solicitors and Conveyancers have a vested right in all the lands in England, which will be greatly prejudiced by Mr. Campbell's Register Bill, and that the said Bill be, therefore, opposed as tyrannical, unjust, and unconstitutional." If hon. Members looked at the reports of the Commissioners, they would find what enormous expenses attended the transfer of property. The necessity of keeping up terms of years, and sometimes three or four titles, increased the expenses of these transfers very considerably, and formed a greater tax on land than any that was levied by the Government. A great outcry had been raised at a proposal to impose a tax of 10s. per cent on the transfer of landed property, but the delays, doubts and difficulties in the transfer of landed property, arising from the present system of conveyancing, imposed a much greater tax. The whole of these expenses might be avoided by the measure proposed. A decided proof of the advantage of registration was, that in no country where it had been adopted had it ever been laid aside. In Yorkshire the existing system was defective; that in Ireland was also faulty, but it was admitted that, even in this imperfect state, great advantages were derived from each. There was scarcely a country in Europe in which Registration did not prevail: in France, Norway, Denmark, Sweden it was in use, and every State in the North American Union adopted the same principle. Under these circumstances he was disposed to leave the question to the good sense of the House, satisfied they would agree with him that it was a measure that could not long be delayed. He hoped, therefore, no time would be lost in passing the measure into a law. He was aware that no other question could claim any great attention while the all-absorbing subject of Reform was still undecided, but when that measure had passed this House, and was undergoing discussion in another place, he was of opinion the Commons would be usefully engaged in carrying forward this and similar measures.

Bill ordered to be brought in.