HC Deb 02 February 1832 vol 9 cc1186-92
Lord Morpeth

said, he had been requested to present a very large number of Petitions from the county of York, of great weight and importance (a statement which, he believed, would be conceded to him, when he mentioned the parties and places from whom and which they proceeded), against the bill of the hon. member for Stafford, for establishing a general office for the registration of deeds in London. He was sorry, the hon. member for Stafford was absent, but that was not his (Lord Morpeth's) fault, as he had given notice that he meant to present those petitions. The Bill of the hon. Member had occasioned very great excitement in Yorkshire, and the hon. Member must be responsible for the consequences. The measure was viewed with the utmost disapprobation in the county of York, by every class of persons that was likely to be affected by it. They were satisfied with their now local registry, and were disposed to adopt any regulations to improve the operations of that, but they objected strongly to a general system by which their own local regulations would be abrogated. The hon. member for Stafford had stated, that he had received communications from individuals in Yorkshire, highly approving of his plan; but hitherto those persons were totally unknown, and even their existence was a matter of conjecture. The hon. Member had also asserted, that the opposition to the bill was got up by attornies, and other interested persons. But from whom did the petitions which he now produced emanate? From the great landed proprietors, from the most eminent commercial men, and from the whole body of the yeomen of Yorkshire. One of the petitions was from the owners of real property in the West Riding of Yorkshire,—a second from the owners of real property in the North Ri- ding of Yorkshire—a third from the Magistrates of the North Riding of Yorkshire, assembled in quarter sessions at Northallerton, signed by forty Magistrates; and a series of petitions from the bankers, &c., owners of real property in the following places, viz. Huddersfield, Leeds, Barnsley, Sneith, Shipton, Doncaster, Orsett, Selby, Cawood, Brayton, Sherburn, Stanfield and Langfield, Todmorden and Walston, Pudsey, Tadcaster, Calverley, Bingley, Bawtry, Tickhill, Shapton, Harbury, and Settle. They were all expressive of hostility to this measure.

Mr. Strickland

seconded the prayer of those petitions with great satisfaction to himself, because his opinion entirely coincided with that of the petitioners. This Bill, which might properly be called a Bill for the collection of original title-deeds or copies, emanated from a commission that had cost the country 33,000l. It was now 133 years since that eminent judge, Sir Matthew Hale, brought forward a plan of the same sort. But he thought that the Law Commissioners had, in their proceedings, lost sight of the cautious recommendation which that great man had adopted. He said, "If it be found, on inquiry, that the plan is likely to be attended with greater evil than advantage, let it be avoided." In every reign since, a similar proposition had been made. This he believed, was the sixteenth time. The last effort was that of Mr. Serjeant On-slow; but his Bill did not receive a second reading. It most clearly appeared, by the petitions presented this day, that the, plan was universally opposed in the comity of York. It was a curious circumstance, that the learned Gentleman who had introduced this measure had himself changed his opinion on the subject. He had, three years ago, signed a report, in which it was stated that a general registration would be fatal to commercial credit, Another fact which bore upon this subject was, that there were a certain set of persons resident about the metropolis, who, under various pretences would ransack title-deeds in the hope that if they could discover a flaw in any title, and thereby wrest property from the present holders, they would obtain a valuable compensation from the party who might succeed to it.

Mr. Hume

knew not whether the learned gentleman alluded to had or had not signed such a report as had been slated; but he thought that in his absence the hon. Member should not have made an attack on that learned Gentleman's professional character. The hon Member had also attacked the gentlemen employed in the law commission, but he was conscious that good would result from their inquiries fully adequate to the cost of their labours.

Mr. Ramsden

stated, that he would strenuously oppose the Bill, as it appeared to him that it would establish an inquisition into every man's private affairs, and tend to expose arrangements never intended for the public eye.

Mr. Spence

thought, that the Bill, as it stood, would be a most inestimable benefit to the landed interest. The expense of the transfer of landed property, particularly in the administration of estates, was enormous, and much of that would be spared. A general registry would enable all men to ascertain more easily than at present whether titles were good or not. At present that was almost impossible. He hoped that, nothing would prevent his hon. and learned friend from bringing the Bill to a second reading, and have its provisions fully and fairly discussed, in order to get rid of the erroneous impressions now entertained on the subject by the landed Gentlemen.

Sir John Johnstone

said, the gentlemen of Yorkshire did not object to registration, but they thought that all the advantages of the general Bill might be obtained by local measures similar to those which already existed in the Ridings of Yorkshire, and he knew the persons connected with that registry were most anxious to adopt any improvements with regard to it that could be suggested.

Mr. Sadler

supported the prayer of the petition from Leeds, having been requested so to do, and he begged to corroborate the assertion, that the proprietors of landed property in Yorkshire were almost to a man opposed to the measure.

Mr. John Campbell

said, that the hon. member for Yorkshire was quite mistaken in supposing that the first report of the Real Property Commissioners was adverse to the Bill. It approved, not, condemned, the measure, though the Commissioners only weighing the arguments on both sides, had not recommended the measure. The report said, "But no measure has been suggested to us from so many different quarters, or has been so earnestly pressed upon us, as a general registry of deeds, whereby it is contended that every transfer of land, and every encumbrance upon it, would be placed within the means of the knowledge of every person having occasion to deal with it; all rights might be suffered to prevail (as natural justice requires) according to their priority; the use of outstanding legal estates, and the expense of keeping them on foot and transferring them would cease: the investigation of titles would be materially abridged and simplified, and fraud, in all transaction respecting real property, would be effectually prevented. We are aware, however, of the numerous and weighty obstacles which present themselves to the establishment of a plan so extensive, and, in order to make it effective, so novel in this country. The experiments which have been tried on two English counties and in Ireland, have been so imperfect, both in principle and detail, and have been so marred by the doctrine of equitable notice, that they afford no criterion of the utility of the measure, or the means of accomplishing it. We found, that information upon this important subject must be sought, not merely from the practitioners of English law, and from English treatises, but from Scotland, where a general registry has been long established, which is the great boast of the law of that country, and from the Continental States, in many of which a similar institution has been introduced with more or less success. We have taken steps for obtaining this information in the most authentic shape; and we shall anxiously consider whether the plan can be safely adopted in a country of so great extent as England, where transfers of land are more frequent than in any other part of the globe, where the law of real property must ever remain a peculiar and complicated system, and where the disclosure of private affairs may be dangerous to commercial credit." The only imputation that could with justice be thrown on them was, that they did not at once recommend the measure. They had weighed, as they said they would, the arguments on both sides. With respect to the petitions, he had received information that the Attornies of Yorkshire had got up many of those petitions, and had hawked them about for signatures. The emoluments of the profession of the law, would indeed, be diminished by the Register Bill; but, in so far would that be a benefit and gain to the landed gentlemen, The Bill would be altogether to their advantage. Titles would be easily verified, and a great sum saved in every transfer of landed property. It would relieve the landed property of the country from one of the heaviest, taxes to which it was now subject. It would be a benefit to the landed gentlemen, and an injury to nobody but the lawyers.

Mr. Trevor

denied, that these petitions had been produced by the intrigues of interested persons. All the landowners of Durham were against the measure, being confident that it would promote delay and vexation in the transfer of landed properly, He was certain that if the Representatives of the North of England were guided by the wishes of their constituents, they would oppose the Bill at every stage.

Mr. Stephenson

said, the provisions of the Bill were misunderstood by those gentlemen who asserted that it would afford facilities for prying into private concerns for the purpose of vexation. He begged to assure hon. Members no such effects could attend its operation.

An Hon. Member

, connected with the North of England, declared, that he could not concur in the prayer of the petitions. He believed that the measure would be beneficial to the landed interest. The local registers were badly conducted, the offices were nearly sinecures, and to show their management, one of their charges was for expedition money, which meant that the registrars demanded fees above those allowed by the Act of Parliament.

Mr. John Wood

said, that the present expense of registering deeds in Yorkshire was most, enormous. He was convinced that if the provisions of the Bill were generally known, much of the clamour that now prevailed (for it was clamour resulting from ignorance) would be done away. He recommended Gentlemen to read the report of the Commissioners, and they would see that nine out of ten parts of their law expenses on the transfer of property would be saved.

Lord Milton

admitted, that there was a division of opinion in Yorkshire, but that related to the question merely whether the registration of Yorkshire should be retained or not. His own opinion was against the Bill, but he was open to conviction.

Mr. Sanford

said, he knew many places in which the people were nearly unanimous against the Bill, and he thought it would be impolitic, unjust, and even mischievous, to attempt to force it on those who were not inclined to consider it a benefit.

Colonel Trench

also knew, that many persons objected to the Bill. Within a few days he had seen a protest signed by the ship-owners and other respectable inhabitants of Scarborough against it. It was therefore very incorrect to assert that the Bill was opposed only through ignorance, many persons were of opinion there was something of a job connected with it.

Lord Morpeth

assured the hon. and learned Member for Stafford that most of the petitions he had presented were adopted at public meetings, and they were not got up under any influence, but spoke the genuine feelings of the subscribers.

Mr. John Campbell

said, he held a letter in his hand, which distinctly stated that the petitions were hawked about from door to door, throughout the county, for signature. The opposition to the measure was chiefly made by those who were incapable of appreciating it. Most of the publications which had appeared on the subject were decidedly in its favour, and so were all the great law authorities in the kingdom.

Mr. Strickland

assured the hon. and learned Member, that one of the petitions presented to the House could not, at any rate, be liable to his imputations, when it was signed by Lords Harewood, Stourton, and Howden, and many more Gentlemen of nearly equal rank in life, as well as the highest mercantile authorities; who were all convinced, that it would most unnecessarily expose every man's private transactions, and promote litigation and expense.

Mr. Schonswar

observed, that he had presented a petition from Hull against the Bill, which was adopted at a public meeting, and signed by all the respectable inhabitants of the neighbourhood. The lawyers in the House were in favour of the Bill, but all the clients in England were opposed to it.

Mr. Hunt

said, it was very whimsical that the lawyers were so anxious to force a benefit upon the landed interest, which benefit the landed interest was so anxious to reject. He could assure the hon. and learned Gentleman, that the small proprietors had the same feeling against his Bill as the large ones.

Mr. O'Connell

observed, that he was an ardent supporter of the Bill, from knowing the good effects that had been produced in Ireland by a similar measure. It was wonderful to him that country gentlemen would persevere in upholding a system which obliged them to go to market, and buy a commodity, without knowing whether they got the full value for their money. It was the duty of every professional man to do his best to remedy such evils.

Sir John Johnstone

said, the "expedition money" which had been mentioned was paid for work performed in extra hours, in consequence of the business of the registry having much increased.

Lord Sandon

observed, that at one time it was one of our principal quarrels with Lower Canada, that the legislature of that province would not adopt a general registry—a system which, in his opinion, was good in principle, and which he hoped to see carried into effect.

Petitions laid on the Table.