HC Deb 03 May 1836 vol 33 cc580-6
Mr. Harland

was anxious to call the attention of hon. Members to the situation in which landowners and other proprietors were placed under the usual provisions of Railway Acts, and to state the grounds upon which he thought justice required that some alteration should be made in them for the future. At present any proprietor, whose property was taken by Act of Parliament, for the purposes of a railway, was liable to be called upon by the Company to furnish an abstract of his title-deeds, and to prove, at his own expense if required, their validity; and in case of his failing, to make out what was termed a marketable title, the company was empowered to withhold the payment of the purchase money from the vendor, and to pay it into the Bank of England, under the name of the Accountant-General. The object of the motion he was about to submit to the House was, to relieve the landowner from all expenses incidental to furnishing the abstract, and verifying his title, and to throw them in every case upon the party who came to Parliament to force the sale. There were so many hon. Members more conversant with the sale and transfer of property than he was, that he felt it unnecessary to dwell upon the difficulties which frequently attended deducing a marketable title, resting, as it often did, upon a proof of pedigree—requiring an examination of parish registers in different parts of the country, which was difficult, owing to the present defective mode of registration. Nor was it necessary to examine, in detail, the expenses which might arise in getting and assigning terms of years, in cases where the property was under the trust of a long and intricate settlement; it would be enough for him to remind hon. Members, that a title, which was a safe-holding title, might often be rejected as not marketable, and that the difficulties and expenses attending legal proof were often the greatest in cases of long possession, where the moral right that the owner had to his property was the most indisputable. He merely alluded to these considerations, in order to show how desirable it was that Parliament should endeavour, as far as possible, to protect proprietors from being put to unnecessary expense, from unreasonable objections taken to their titles on the part of Railway companies; and also, how necessary it was, that it should provide, as far as was possible, against the proprietor's being called upon to make an unnecessary exposure of title-deeds and family settlements, which had, in many instances, led to a ruinous course of litigation. The question was, how to effect the object he had in view. He begged to call the attention of hon. Members to a practice which of late years had been adopted in cases of voluntary sales, where, in order to protect the vendor against frivolous objections to his title, it had become the practice to fix the expenses attending the verifying of the abstract upon the purchaser; and he ventured to suggest, that Parliament could not do better than give the same protection to those, whose property it disposed of by its own act, as that which, in voluntary transactions, the vendor had found it necessary to provide for himself. This could not be looked upon as a mere shifting of the expense from the proprietor to the company who purchases; though, even if it were so, it is only just that these expenses should be thrown upon the company that forces the sale, and taken off the proprietor, who was an unwilling party to the transaction. But it would have a further, and a still more beneficial result, namely, that the company finding themselves saddled with the expenses, would rest satisfied, except under very peculiar circumstances, with a mere abstract of the title-deeds, and thus the-proprietor would be saved from an unnecessary exposure of his family affairs. Such a provision was necessary in order to secure the proprietor, in some cases, against downright pecuniary loss. Take, for instance, a case where only a small portion of an estate is taken for the purposes of a railway, and where the purchase money is of trifling amount, but where the title to the whole estate is involved in the title to this portion of it; and in order to substantiate it, the owner may be put to enormous expense, and be driven to the exposure of the whole of his title-deeds and his family settlements. He knew two cases in point, of recent occurrence. In the one case, the purchase-money was under 50l., and the expenses incidental to furnishing the abstract, and proving the title, amounted to 200l.; in the other case, the purchase-money was 100l., and the expenses were 200l. Here then, in one case, the landowner lost his land and 150l., and in the other, besides the loss of his land, he was 100l. out of pocket by the transaction. It was no argument to say, "Oh! these are extreme cases, and, consequently, of un-frequent occurrence." He should doubt that assertion, inasmuch as both these cases occurred at no great distance from each other, in time and space. But it was the bounden duty of Parliament, when it compels a person to sell his property,— (and rightly compelled him, where public advantage was likely to accrue from it),— and when it exposed him to many annoyances which he would gladly avoid, to take care, by every means in its power, to guard him against the possibility of his suffering pecuniary loss from the transaction. It might be objected, that the throwing this expense upon Railway companies might, in some instances, check speculation. The public, however, would suffer no loss in the suppression of those schemes, which could not bear this trifling expense. The bubble must be lighter than air itself that would burst under so slight a pressure, whilst this could throw no serious obstacle in the way of those well-digested and maturely-considered undertakings, which were likely to cause either great local advantage or great national benefit. The Clarence Railway Act contained a clause providing that these expenses should be borne by the Company, and he had so framed his motion as to make it equally apply to Canal, and all other Acts which provided for a compulsory sale of property. He begged to move, "That it be an instruction to all Committees on Private Bills to make provision, that all the expenses incurred in furnishing abstracts of titles to estates, and in proving the same, shall be borne by the parties requiring such proof."

Mr. Philip Howard

seconded the motion.

Mr. Brotherton moved, that the House do adjourn.

Mr. Arthur Trevor

trusted the hon. Member would not press the question of adjournment, as it was so highly important that the House should come to a decision upon the question which had been brought forward by his hon. Colleague.

Sir Robert Inglis

thought that, in the very exhausted state in which the House was, it was impossible that the question could be decided satisfactorily, even to the hon. Member who brought it forward. He trusted, therefore, that he would consent to the adjournment of the debate.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

entreated the hon. Member for Durham to take the course proposed by the hon. Member for the University of Oxford, and consent to the adjournment of the debate.

Debate adjourned till Thursday.