§ Mr. William Brougham
rose to move for leave to bring in a Bill to establish a general Registry of Deeds and Instruments relating to Real Property; and said, that the importance of the question rendered it necessary for him to trespass on the attention of the House, for a short time, by entering into some details. No measure proposed for the Reform of the Law, was of greater importance than that which he was about to propose; and there was none, he was convinced, which would lead to greater benefits. He should feel considerable hesitation in grappling with so important a matter, did he not know that it had already been under the consideration of Parliament, and discussed with a minuteness which left little either of information or of argument to be supplied. The question was brought before the House of Commons in the time of the Commonwealth, and was then defeated. Cromwell then stated, that he must abandon the measure, because the sons of Zernich (meaning the lawyers) were too strong for him. Subsequent Parliaments had noticed the matter, though nothing was done until the appointment of the Real Property Commission in 1828. That Com-mission consisted of eight distinguished members of the legal profession, with the present Solicitor-General at their head, and, after investigating the subject with 1045 the greatest possible cure and minuteness, they drew up a Report, in which they recommended that a general registration of all deeds in the kingdom should be adopted. In conformity with this recommendation, and for the purpose of carrying it into effect, his hon. and learned friend, the Solicitor-General, brought in a Bill last Session, and the measure which he rose to ask leave to introduce, differed only in a slight degree from that Bill. His hon. and learned friend's Bill arrived at a second reading, and was referred to a Committee up-stairs. That Committee, of which he was Chairman, sat twenty-nine days, and called before them the most eminent members of the profession resident in London, and requested persons interested in the question, but especially those opposed to it, to come forward, and state their opinions. After maturely considering the evidence, the Committee drew up a Report, in which they state as their unanimous opinion that a general register of all deeds and instruments affecting land, would be of decided advantage, as regarded large purchases; and with respect to smaller transactions, they considered that if the cost of registration could be so adjusted as to be comparatively small upon purchases below a certain value, the system of registration would be made perfect, by being made applicable to all lands without reference to value, The subject having been thus maturely considered, he was relieved from much of the embarrassment he might otherwise labour under, for he felt that he was only urging the adoption of a plan which had already obtained the sanction of persons the most capable of forming a correct judgment upon the subject. At the same time he was bound to admit that the change which the plan would introduce into the law of Real Property was so great, that Parliament ought not to sanction it, except upon the most ample proof of its utility. He put the case upon that issue. If the House of Commons did not think the objections to the present law sufficiently powerful to warrant the adoption of this measure, let them reject it; but as far as his own opinion went, it was in accordance with that of the Committee. The doubts which daily arose in all questions of title, and which would go on increasing, if the law, relative to the transfer of real property, should continue in operation, amounted to a great evil, and appeared to him to call for a remedy. Among all the plans which had yet been proposed, there was no one which 1046 would completely answer the purpose, except the adoption of a general registry of all title-deeds. The heavy expense which the existing law entailed upon every man who purchased land, had long been felt as an intolerable grievance, and he believed that no measure could be devised which would more effectually tend to shorten deeds, and facilitate the transfer of property, than the measure which he had undertaken to re-commend to the House. One of the grievances connected with the present system which had been put most prominently forward, was that of the accidental loss or wilful concealment of deeds. When a man made a purchase, an abstract of the title was delivered to him in which reference was made to all the deeds in the possession of the vendor; but it repeatedly happened that deeds were noticed in the abstracts which the vendor had it not in his power to produce, or, having it in his power, chose to conceal. The professional gentlemen with whom he had conversed on this subject, had stated to him that they had found cases of fraudulent concealment of deeds comparatively rare. One gentleman who had been fifty years in the profession, said, that in the course of his practice, he had not met with more than six cases of that description. It was fair to state that fact, because it made against his case; but he had reason to believe, that wilful concealment of deeds occurred more frequently than that Gentleman supposed. He could not give the House a more convincing proof of this fact, than by stating that a practising barrister of the Court of Chancery, who, not being a conveyancer, had comparatively few titles brough tunder his eye informed him that during the short period of five weeks from the 11th of March last, to the 15th of April, no less than five such cases had fallen under his notice. The first was a case of property, mortgaged under two different titles, without notice to either mortgagee. In the second, a sum was borrowed on the security of an agreement for a lease—the lease itself being afterwards taken, it was mortgaged, suppressing the transaction on the agreement. The third was a case of a mortgage in fee, by a tenant for life, under a settlement—the settlement being withheld. The fourth, was the ease of land, settled on a man for life; he suppressed the settlement, and devised the land, as if he had been tenant in fee; the settlement afterwards came to light, and the devisee was ousted. In the fifth, the laud was mortgaged, and then 1047 sold for its full value; a settlement was afterwards discovered, which has destroyed the title both of the mortgager and purchaser; because, there were grounds for fixing them with constructive notice. Now, with five cases of fraud, in as many weeks—coming under the notice of a gentleman, whose chief business was not the investigation of titles, was it possible to believe, that if the attention of professional men were directed to the subject, they would not find cases of fraud far more numerous than they were now apt to suppose? Although that ground, by itself, might not be sufficient to make them change the whole system of the law in transferring lands, yet, it being of no unfrequent occurrence, it was one ground for legislating; and undoubtedly, if they were to devise a cure for this evil, there was no one sufficient to meet every possible case of fraudulent concealment, except a general record of every deed and instrument, relating to land—open to the inspection of those who were about to deal with the property, and furnishing the surest safeguard, that no other deed or instrument, affecting the title, could by any possibility, exist. But it was not from causes of fraudulent suppression of deeds alone, that the greatest inconveniences arose; by far the most numerous—the daily cases which occurred to defeat or embarrass titles—were those which he had continual opportunities of seeing—he alluded to the great difficulty which almost every seller found in producing or obtaining the deeds necessary to verify his abstract of title. The first step taken by a vendor was to deliver to the purchaser, or to his attorney, a document containing a statement, of the different deeds by which he deduces the title to himself. Presuming the title to appear good in law, upon the face of this abstract, the next process was, to verify the different steps in the title, by comparing the deeds at length with their contents, as abstracted. Now it scarcely ever happened, that there was not some deed missing, lost, or mislaid, or in the hands of a mortgagor, or other person having some interest, and who would not produce it—or, when the deeds mentioned in the abstract were produced, there might be a recital which disclosed the existence of some other deed; and as such disclosure fixed the purchaser with notice of its contents, it was necessary, for his security, that he should see it, in order to be satisfied that it contained nothing affecting the title; and it would not do to rely upon length of time as a bar; for, there 1048 were cases of estates recovered after an adverse possession of a century and a half, and even longer. So that there was no safety unless the purchaser could see the actual contents of all the deeds which had ever been executed with reference to the estate he was about to buy; and the difficulty, or the impossibility of doing this, was not the worst part of the case; for the attempt was attended with delay, expense, and vexation, harassing beyond all conception. A man anxious to become possessed of the land, might accept what conveyancers call a tolerably good holding title; but was that enough? Ought not every man to have a right to a good marketable title? Was it enough to say, "You may safely buy this—the chances are 100 to one against this or that deed being found—against any adverse claimant starting up under this settlement or that will, of which we know nothing except that it exists somewhere." Had a purchaser a right to no more than this? Had he not rather a right to a clear and unimpeachable title, such as he might carry into the market, and transfer, as a fund holder transferred his stock? This vast and daily occurring evil, arising out of the non-production of deeds, was only to be cured by having a public record of all instruments, to which the purchaser might be referred, where he might at a glance see the whole of every transaction which had ever been had, relating to his purchase—and might buy, with the full assurance that no other deed could by possibility exist, to defeat or affect the title. The saving of expense in all transfers, too, would be great; for a general registry would not only make titles safe, but would enable men to transfer their property with facility, and at small cost, compared to what they paid at present. When a man wanted to sell his land, he took his title deeds to an attorney; purchasers too would not buy except through the medium of a professional man. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, both parties employed professional men. The attorney for the vendor made out an abstract of title, for which he charged a certain sum; this abstract was delivered to the purchaser's attorney, who scrutinized it with a jealous and watchful eye, from a laudable desire to protect the interests of his client. First, there was the examination of the title, to see that it was properly deduced; then came the verification of the abstract, with all the difficulties he had referred to; then came professional charges for time, and correspondence, and 1049 journeys, and attendances, and fees to counsel, and opinions of conveyancers as to the necessity of calling for this or that deed, or whether they might be safely dispensed with—and negotiations with the vendor's attorney as to who should pay for office copies of certain instruments, or who should be at the expense of searching for others, as to abatement in the price, because a deed was not forthcoming, or a slight taint is thrown upon a portion of the title, with various other things; incurring an expense large in every purchase, and in many little short of the whole value of the property! If all deeds were registered, these evils would be avoided, for a purchaser could go to the office without a solicitor, and compare the abstract with the deeds themselves, and learn, to a certainty, the nature of the title which he wished to obtain. He was aware that the remedy which he proposed would be important in its consequences and expensive in execution; but the question to be decided was, whether the evil was of sufficient magnitude to justify them in resorting to the remedy. And he begged leave to call the attention of the House to the safeguards at present afforded by law with respect to the title to real property. Many members of the profession contend that there was, under the present system, a sufficient security for titles afforded by what are called outstanding terms. He was aware that, in touching upon this branch of the subject, he should find it difficult to mate himself intelligible to those who were unacquainted with legal technicalities. An interest in land might be severed into two estates; the one—called the legal, the owner of which was the only person recognised on the common-law side of Westminster Hall: while another man might be the equitable owner, and alone entitled to the beneficial enjoyment of the estate, and its rents and profits. The rights of this person, who was, in fact, the real owner, were recognised in Courts of Equity alone. Now, take the case of a mortgage, in which the mortgager created a term of 1,000 years, on condition that if the money be paid back within a certain time, generally six or twelve months, the term should cease. If this were done, the legal estate in the term becomes united with the equitable estate, but if the mortgage money were not paid off within the time, the legal estate in the term became absolute, and could not get hack to the mortgager without an actual reconveyance. Here, then, the legal estate was in the mortgagee, the 1050 equitable in the mortgager, and so it continued, although the money might be afterwards paid off. Suppose the mortgager to sell, a purchaser would require a conveyance of the legal, as well as of the equitable estate, and he would, therefore, insist upon having the outstanding term of 1,000 years conveyed either to himself, (in which case the two estates became again consolidated) or to a trustee for himself, in which case the two estates were still kept apart. The latter course was always recommended by conveyancers, because the legal title, which had its origin from the date of the mortgage, becomes, by a rule of law, paramount to every charge, or alienation, or incumbrance, which might have been made by the mortgager, between the date of the mortgage and the time of the sale; and, consequently, if the purchaser had the equitable interest transferred to himself, and the legal estate conveyed to his trustee, he might set at defiance all mesne incumbrances, the equitable interests of which are equal to his own in justice, and prior in point of time, but who had not the good fortune to be possessed of the legal estate, and who were, therefore, defeated by the last purchaser, under the maxim, "that when the equities are equal the legal estate shall prevail." Hence, in all transactions relating to land, is was the first duty of a purchaser to get hold of all the outstanding terms in order to protect himself. But this was only to be done at an expense, which was frequently enormous; the title to the legal must be deduced as much, at length, as the title to the equitable estate; and, as this applied to every outstanding term, there might be one equitable, and a dozen of legal titles to be investigated. He had seen upon the table of a conveyancer one abstract of the equitable title, and twenty-five abstracts of different outstanding terms, and so necessary were those to the goodness of the title, that the purchaser Would have been most unwise if he had omitted to get in any one of them. These outstanding terms undoubtedly afforded a great protection to purchasers, at the expense of much trouble and money, and of no little injustice to any unfortunate man whose purchase or charge was prior in point of time, but who had omitted to get hold of the legal estate. But the protection which costs so much time, and trouble, and expense to maintain, might not, after all, be worth the parchment it was written upon; for, from the lapse of time, a court of law might presume a surrender of the term, or, what 1051 was more likely, the purchaser might have either actual or constructive notice of any one of the prior charges or incumbrances, in which case his turn went for nothing, and he must take his place according to the date of his own transaction, under the maxim qui prior est tempore, pallor est jure; was the House aware what constituted notice? It was not alone what a man had seen with his own eyes, or heard with his own ears, but it was what his attorney might have known, or ought to have known; and if he employed a country attorney, who transacted the business through a town agent, then whatever the town agent, or the town agent's clerk knows, might have known, or ought to have known, was notice to the unfortunate purchasers, whose title might thus be defeated, notwithstanding all the boasted protection of the outstanding term which he had got in at so much labour and cost. This safeguard might then turn out to be, when obtained, very inadequate, and it would give little real protection, as compared with that which a general registry would afford. Besides, legal terms were by no means universal; there were many properties, particularly house-property, where the legal was not severed from the equitable estate, so that at best it was but a partial protection. There could not be a doubt that there was no greater benefit likely to be conferred by the adoption of a general registry than the getting rid of these outstanding terms; conveyances would be shortened, expense diminished, and, above all, security given, by the removal of every doubt or taint that could in any way affect the title. Another great evil which would be cured by a general registry was this: A person might mortgage his estate to A, afterwards to B, and subsequently to C. Suppose the estate would not bear the whole of these three charges, according to justice and equity, C, who lent his money last, ought to suffer, because he had lent upon an insufficient security. But he might save himself from this predicament by paying off A, and taking A's mortgage to his own, by which he got hold of the legal estate; and sqneezed out the unfortunate B, who had nothing but his prior equity to depend upon. It would avail him nothing, however, because a subsequent, but more active incumbrancer had got hold of the legal estate, and could use it as a means to deprive him of his security. That was an evil of every day occurrence. It is obvious that, a register of deeds would 1052 prevent that mischief; because both A and B's mortgages would have appeared upon the title; C, before he lent his money, would ascertain whether money had previously been advanced; and finding that there were already two charges, he would not lend at all, except he had ascertained that the estate was of sufficient value to pay all three incumbrances. The opposition to the measure had chiefly arisen from solicitors, for whom he entertained the highest respect, and who were a most useful and honorable class of men, but he must protest against the misrepresentations which had been made by some of that body, both as to the nature and object of this measure. It had been stated, that it was the object of the Bill to have all existing title deeds sent to London, to be there deposited. His hon. friend, the member for Yorkshire, had endeavoured to alarm the country gentlemen, as to the consequences of carrying this Bill. His hon. friend seemed to suppose that all title-deeds were actually to be sent to the register-office. His hon. friend might set his mind at rest on that subject, as there was no intention of touching a single existing deed. The measure was altogether prospective, and was only to take effect as regarded deeds executed after the establishment of a general register-office, unless, indeed, parties chose to register their old deeds. He had no doubt that this would be done in many instances, as it would serve as a protection against loss—and in cases where one man holds the deeds when several besides himself are interested in the property, it would be of the greatest possible advantage for such of the owners as could not command the originals, to have a duplicate deposited in the office. The deeds to be registered were those made after the passing of the Act; and, as it was the very nature and chief object of the plan that deeds should be registered at full length, so it would be found unnecessary, after the system had been some time in operation, to disclose more of the title than the simple fact of the conveyance, whether by sale, mortgage, or otherwise; which would tend to shorten, as well as simplify, all deeds. It had been stated, that to put on record all deeds connected with land, would expose a man's affairs, which might be attended with serious inconvenience to him. It would undoubtedly be a serious objection if a number of idle persons could go into the register-office and examine what incumbrances a gentleman had on his property. But before a person would be allowed to 1053 examine the register, he must show that he had an interest in doing so, and he would subject himself to a penalty if he proceeded to search having no such interest. But such an evil was more in imagination than reality. No inconvenience had ever resulted from the existence of a register of ships, in which mortgage transactions of the most delicate nature, as affecting a man's credit, were exposed. No evil resulted from a public register of annuity deeds, or of wills, by searching which, any one might for a shilling learn how a man had disposed of every shilling of his property. Another objection had been stated, that by establishing a register-office, the greatest impediments would be thrown in the way of the transactions of country bankers; and it would prevent persons borrowing sums of them by depositing their title-deeds. He should be unwilling to dispute or disparage the value or convenience of that security, although it was a means of getting rid of the Statute of frauds, and evading the Stamp-duty. It was a transaction which constantly took place, and was often attended with considerable benefit. But what was the nature of the transaction? At present the money was advanced on the reliance that the party applying for it was a man of honour, and not on the title, which, after all, might turn out to be no title. It was advanced on the confidence which the lender had in the honour of the borrower, that he would not give him waste-paper instead of real title-deeds. If a general register of deeds were to take place, the country banker would lend upon the assurance of the party borrowing, that no subsequent deed had been registered, as he now lent upon the assurance that the title-deeds he produced formed the whole title to the estate; but with this additional advantage, that, by writing to London, the banker might ascertain, in two or three days, whether there were any charges on the estate in question. If there were not, he might lend his money in perfect security, and, at the same time, the registration of his deed would prevent others advancing money on the property. If the transaction was not likely to be temporary, he would save the expense of a regular mortgage, but retained his full security, by simply entering a caveat on the register, which would forbid any dealing with the property until the caveat was withdrawn. So far from doing any injury to the borrower, it would be of the greatest service to him, as a man would more freely land his money when he 1054 knew that no one else had advanced money on the estate. The only effect the establishment of a register could have would be, to give a great collateral security to the lender; and he was satisfied, that in such transactions, a very great and extensive benefit would result from the adoption of such a measure as that which he recommended. The plan which he intended to propose, he was aware it was supposed to be intricate, but nothing could be more simple. As an index of names would, in a very few years, become too voluminous for convenient reference, it was proposed that the names of the owners who first deal with the property, should alone be indexed; and that all subsequent transactions should be referred to this head, which was called in the Bill, the "roots of titles;" such reference being made by a number, or letter, marked upon the deed itself. In fact, the plan was a classification of title-deeds; so that all deeds relating to any particular estate might be found under the symbol of that estate. It was an index to lands, and not to the owners; and, therefore, all that was required was, to get the names of the owners who first dealt with the lands, upon the index; and it was obvious that, even this index, which was so limited ill its extent, might, in the course of time, be dispensed with; for as soon as a title had been sufficiently long on the register to be good by length of time, it would not be necessary to carry the search so high as the root. Mr. Bell a learned gentleman of great professional attainments and of high reputation at the bar, was formerly opposed to the establishment of a general register, on the ground of the difficulty of finding a practicable plan; but a full examination into this plan has induced Mr. Hell entirely to alter his opinion, and he was satisfied that the scheme of the Commissioners was quite easy, and would certainly be completely successful. A great deal had been made of the mysterious words, as they bad been termed, by which the plan had been described in the Bill, and it had been said that a masonic system of symbols had been adopted, with a view to mystify titles and make the index unintelligible. Now, really, it was wonderful to see how sensible men could be led away by a sound. The symbols proposed were, in fact, nothing more than an easy means of reference, so as to prevent the complexity of long and endless indexes. For instance, if there be a deed registered by John Brown, as first owner, the index, 1055 letter B, is searched, and the reference found to be letter A, folio 100. The letter A was the symbol, and all subsequent deeds, registered either by John Brown or his successors would appear under that symbol. No name ever appeared but John Brown's because whatever was afterwards done with the estate, was found by referring to letter A, folio 100. That referred to a book in the office, in which was found, fairly written out, every deed, from the one first registered by John Brown to the one last put on the register. So the deeds, as they were registered, would be indorsed with the letter A, folio 100: and this was the reference by which the owner, or any body he was dealing with, was directed to the whole history of the title, as appearing on the registry. He hoped, therefore there would be no more alarm excited by the fear of masonic symbols, or other mysteries. The measure of registration was no novelty; it existed in Yorkshire and Middlesex, although the systems there were extremely defective. The registration in Scotland, was found to work extremely well. That system differed, in many respects, from that which he proposed should be adopted for this country. In France, Switzerland, Germany, Prussia, Denmark, Holland, in Norway, in Sweden, in Italy, in America, and in the West-India Islands, also register of deeds existed. If, therefore, such a plan existed in so many countries, and was found to succeed, surely it could not be very dangerous to adopt the principle in this country. No country that had adopted a plan of registration had seen reason to abandon it. It had been suggested that, in the place of a general register, in London, there should be a number of register-offices in various parts of the country; but there were a variety of objections to this. By having an office in London, the expense would be much less, a more able body of men would direct it; and the facility of searching for deeds would be greatly facilitated, as they would all be brought under one head. By the adoption of the simple mode of registration which he suggested, any one would be enabled, in the course of an hour or two, to search out for and discover the nature of any deed; so that, if an instruction was sent up to the keeper of the register-office in London to give information as to a deed, an answer might be sent back by return of post; and the rapidity of communication between London and every part of the country was so great, that a search would be sooner 1056 made and answered, than if there was a register-office in every county in England. He was fully persuaded that, if Parliament should think fit to entertain the proposition, it would, by establishing a general record of all title-deeds, confer a benefit upon the country more enduring, more widely beneficial in its effects, than would ever be afforded by any other legal Reform which the ingenuity of man could devise. The hon. and learned Gentleman concluded by moving for leave to bring in a Bill "to establish a general registry of all deeds and instruments relating to real Property in England and Wales."
had thought, after the general opposition manifested to this measure last year, that all idea of proceeding with it, had been abandoned. He did not mean to say that the attornies in the metropolis might not be favourable to it; but the opposition to the scheme through the rest of England, was powerful and universal. He could not imagine for what object it had now been brought forward, unless it were to throw out a tub to the whale, and divert public attention from such unpleasant subjects as the repeal of the House and Window-tax, and the Maltduty. As for carrying it, he was satisfied that the hon. and learned Gentleman knew that it was impossible. A proposition for the establishment of a general registry was made in the time of Oliver Cromwell, and all the lawyers then in the House were strongly opposed to it; now, however, many of the learned profession were in favour of a scheme of the sort. In those days, the lawyers were actuated by different motives from those which influence them now, they were then only excited by patriotic feelings to bring forward those plans which they thought would be beneficial to the country, but now they must be paid high salaries for acting as Commissioners, and they exerted themselves to carry measures, the only effect of which could be to increase litigation. The present measure was the first-fruits of a law commission, which had cost the country 28,000l., and it was impossible to tell what further expense might attend it. If any of his Majesty's Ministers had been present, he should have impressed upon them the necessity of at once getting rid of these Law Commissions, which kept the country in a state of agitation, and did great injury, by exciting general apprehension respecting the rights of property. The noble Lord the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the 1057 question of the currency, proposed a Motion to the effect that this House would not consent to alter the standard of value, as any proposition for that purpose would shake the stability of the money-market. He had no hesitation in saying, that the proceedings of the Law Commissions excited a general anxiety among all the holders of landed property; for every man felt, that they were proposing measures which rendered property uncertain and insecure. He regretted that the hon. and learned Gentleman should have taken up this Bill, after it had been judiciously dropped by the hon. and learned Solicitor General. The hon. and learned Gentleman in the course of his speech, said, that the country attornies and solicitors had been guilty of gross misrepresentations on the subject of this Bill. It was very easy for a Master of Chancery to abuse country attornies when they were not here to protect themselves, but he must say, that the attack was altogether uncalled-for. The opposition to the Bill, however, came from the landed proprietors and gentry of England who were all opposed to it. He had himself presented a petition to the House signed by a very large portion of the landed proprietors of Yorkshire, and, amongst others, by Lord Harewood, Lord Howden, Lord Mexborough, Sir Francis Wood, Sir W. Cooke, and Sir John Ramsden, and by a numerous body of bankers and merchants. The hon. and learned Gentleman said, that the opinions of various lawyers were united in favour of his Bill. He also said, that Mr. J. Bell, a distinguished Chancery lawyer, who was formerly opposed to this scheme, had recently seen reason to alter his opinion. Now he had heard that Gentleman say before the Committee up-stairs, that he did not know of any evils that had resulted from the want of a system of registration. It appeared, however, that the lawyers had obtained new light on the subject, and had found that the greatest evils resulted from the concealment of deeds. It had been stated that a great discovery had been made in a mode of keeping an index by "roots and symbols," which would prevent the recurrence of any confusion or loss of deeds by registration. Mr. Bell however when examined before the Committee above-stairs, when asked whether he understood this method of "roots and symbols "answered "I think I understand it, but I am not sure that I comprehend it." And this was the opinion which was quoted as being decidedly in favour of the proposed measure. If his opinion were 1058 asked as to the probable results of a general metropolitan registration, he could not express it more distinctly than in the words of the hon. and learned Solicitor-General, in the First Report of the Commissioners on the Law of Real Property, in the year 1829, and before he must be supposed to have changed his opinion. The passage to which he alluded was this—'We are aware of the numerous and weighty obstacles to so extensive and novel a plan, in a country of so great extent as England, where transfers of land are more numerous than in any other part of the globe, and where the disclosure of private affairs may be dangerous to commercial credit.' But one word more respecting this supposed discovery about "roots and symbols." The Solicitor-General, in the Chair of the Committee undertook the explanation of the system. But he soon became so entangled amongst these roots, that he seized a favourable opportunity to desert the Committee, leaving the Chair to the more youthful energies of the master in chancery. He, however, was likewise shortly lost and enveloped amidst the mazes of these roots and symbols. At last one of the paid Commissioners—the supposed author and inventor of this discovery—was called in: but after a careful investigation the whole scheme broke down—the supposed discovery turned out to be no discovery at all, but only a very confused and unsatisfactory method of keeping an index. Now, if all title-deeds were to be sent up to this great mausoleum—to this immense building,—where would be found law Latin, Norman French, and conveyancers' English; and which, therefore, might more properly be called this Tower of Babel;—there would be an enormous charge on the public for keeping up the establishment. Independent of the salaries and fees to be paid to the officers, upwards of 500,000l. would be required for the purpose of defraying the expense of the building. [The Solicitor General 20,000l.] He had heard that Lincoln's Inn-square was to be purchased, and that an enormous building was to be erected to cover the interior of it: a building sufficiently capacious to contain all the title-deeds, mortgages, wills, marriage settlements, and legal instruments of England must be of enormous magnitude. By the Yorkshire scheme of registration there were deposited only memorials and an Index. But in the proposed plan there were to be deposited not only memorials, but the whole original title-deeds or copies of them. He 1059 had witnessed a settlement of a considerable estate, and the writings, from their bulk and weight could not consist of less than a hundred skins of parchment, and yet a deed of that nature was to be sent up free of expense by the mail-coach, to this great mausoleum of parchment. It had been said, that the deeds were not to be retained but copies of them were to be taken; but were the originals to be returned free of expense to the owners? He said it was a lawyer's Bill; the head of the office was to be a serjeant-at-law, and a number of barristers, of four years' standing, were to hold office as deputy registrars, and clerks without number. And these serjeants-at-law, and experienced lawyers, were to put their learning into their pockets, and be reduced to the drudgery of taking copies and keeping an index. As the Bill originally stood retiring allowances were to be granted; but in a subsequent edition of the Bill the word "retiring" was omitted; but pensions were still to be granted. The serious objections, however, were to the principle of the plan. The very circumstance of sending title-deeds up to London, which might be lost, would throw property into utter confusion. A gain, a man's title-deeds would be exposed to the examination of any person who chose to investigate them; by this means big property would be rendered insecure, and he subjected to vexatious litigation. He might be told that means would be taken to prevent any one from searching for or perusing a deed without being really interested; but how could that be accomplished? Then it was provided that should a title-deed be lost, or injury sustained by any neglect of duty, the person who might thus be reduced to difficulties or ruin, might bring an action against the chief registrar; but what chance of redress would any gentleman have in pursuing that course; he would have to contend with all the power and influence of the Government, as the action was to be defended by the Attorney-General, and the expense of this defence was to be paid out of the public purse. And what was it short of an insult to tell a person that be might seek redress by contending against such fearful odds, in a system which was thus to tax Ireland and Scotland for registering the title-deeds of English proprietors, or paying damages for their loss. Should the measure be persevered in, that certainly would not be the last time that the House would have to direct its most serious attention to the subject.
§ The Solicitor-General
thought, that the 1060 member for Yorkshire had advanced nothing like argument against the Bill. The hon. Gentleman taunted his hon. and learned friend with having adopted this measure after he (the Solicitor General) had seen reason to abandon it. He had not abandoned the measure, and he had the most perfect confidence in the benefits which would result from its adoption. The only reason why he did not proceed with it was, because he was connected with his Majesty's Government; and it was not desirable that the subject should be brought forward as a Government measure. He believed, that all the members of the Government were favourable to it; but it was considered better that the measure should be brought forward by his hon. and learned friend than by him. He anticipated that the opposition to this measure would be extremely slight. It would be recollected that the matter was referred to a Committee up-stairs, which consisted of Gentlemen of all opinions and very many of them directly hostile to the principle; but, after a long and deliberate inquiry, the Committee, with almost the single exception of the hon. member for Yorkshire, all concurred in the propriety of the principle of the measure. He would venture to assert, that a majority of the landed proprietors of the country were agreed in the principle of the measure, in holding that it would tend much to their interest if there was a registry of deeds in this country. And, notwithstanding the hon. Member was pleased to designate the register-office as a "mausoleum of deeds," he believed that the general feeling was in favour of one office in the metropolis, rather than of having a number of offices scattered over the kingdom. The chief opponents of the measure were those very active persons, the country solicitors. He was not surprised that these persons should be opposed to the establishment of a general registration, and prefer a number of local registers; if the latter plan were adopted, they would expect to become registrars; and then all the business would be in their hands. He had no doubt that they would be most active and zealous advocates for a local registration. He was not astonished at the opposition of the country solicitors, but he was utterly at a loss to account for the opposition of the hon. member for Yorkshire, and other country Gentlemen. He could not understand upon what principle they acted. It reminded him of the observation of the conveyancer, who said, that he would rather submit to 1061 have his bowels dragged out by wild horses than agree to the abolition of fines and recoveries. So the hon. member for Yorkshire in his warmth against a system of registration, would rather submit to anything than consent to support this measure. At present a man could hardly toll whether his title were good or not, as a deed of which he was previously ignorant might be brought to light at any time. What, then, was the object of registration. A man would be able to learn at once whether there were any deeds in existence connected with a property he wished to purchase, or which he inherited? If the deeds did not appear to exist on the face of the register, they would not be allowed. Of course as was said by his right hon. and learned friend, this enactment would have reference only to deeds executed after the passing of the Bill. There were many grievous cases constantly occurring to show the oppressive operation of the present state of the law, as regarded property; his hon. and learned friend had adverted to some cases of this kind; and there would be no difficulty in adding to the list. The great opponent of this measure, before the Committee, was Mr. Preston, the eminent conveyancer; but his opposition was rather to the details, than to the principle. He dwelt on the necessity of being cautious of guarding against alterations in the law relative to real property; but he did not point out any evils that would result from the adoption of this specific measure. The hon. member for Yorkshire, had stated, that he had seen a marriage settlement of 150 skins of parchment. Now, it would be necessary to take a copy of all this; but with a register, he would reduce the abstract of the deed to little more than half a folio. All that was necessary might be described in that space, so that the expense of registry would not be so great as the hon. Gentleman imagined, even in so extreme a case as that. The hon. Gentleman said, this was a lawyer's Bill, and that it was brought forward for the purpose of creating offices with large salaries. He could only declare, that as fir as he was concerned, he was not in the slightest degree interested in the matter; for, if he had the opportunity, he would not become registrar, or deputy-registrar, or clerk, in this "mausoleum." The present system was so full of difficulty and risk, that borrowers on real security had to pay much more than they otherwise would. The amount of this tax, which such borrowers had to pay, was much more than a set-off 1062 against those evils which the hon. member for Yorkshire said would follow the adoption of the measure before the House. A system of registration already existed in Ireland; now, if it were found to succeed in that country (and there was no doubt that such was the case) there was no reason why it should not be equally successful and advantageous in England. Similar registers existed in France, Germany, America, and other foreign countries, and in each of these States the plan was found to answer. It must, therefore, be shown that there was something peculiar to the people or Government of England which would prevent its being advantageous here. The hon. member for Yorkshire said, that, calculating from the expense of the Yorkshire register, the charge for a general register for the whole of the country would be enormous. He had no hesitation in affirming, that the Yorkshire register was full of jobs; it annually cost not less than 20,000l.; but he would venture to say, that, for less than that amount—and with the exorcise of a proper economy—a general register-office for the whole country might be maintained. Again, so far from such an institution causing delay, it would prevent delay, in transferring property. Those protracted and tiresome inquiries which it was now necessary to institute would be avoided, as the necessary information could be immediately obtained at the Register office. So far the disclosure would be wholesome; and at the same time, the utmost care would be taken to prevent any information being given to any person who could not show that he had a real interest in the matter. He did not see why England should not have a general system of registration as well as almost every other civilized nation on the face of the earth. All countries where it had been once adopted had uniformly adhered to the principle; and therefore he said that experience afforded every evidence of its utility. The hon. member for Yorkshire referred to the Law Commissions, and the expense attending them, hinting that the proposals for reforms in the law originated in the remuneration given to the Commissioners for their professional aid. He had no hesitation in saying that, as far as regarded himself, the compensation he had received for his services on that Commission, fell far short of what he should obtain for similar professional exertions between individual and individual;—that, in short, if he looked at the matter merely in a pecuniary point 1063 of view, he made a very bad bargain in holding the post at all; as it was, however, he was influenced, chiefly, by the anxious desire to do that which was of the most essential importance to the well-being of the country; namely, to amend the laws; and he had laboured night and day for that object. If he should succeed, that alone would be a sufficient reward for his exertions.
asked the hon. and learned Gentleman to exclude Yorkshire from his proposed Bill, because he felt satisfied that its operation would not be beneficial to that county. He would not oppose the measure in its present stage, but he should do so afterwards, if Yorkshire was included in it.
§ Leave given to bring in the Bill.