Three first Resolutions agreed to.
(4.) That, in addition to the sum of £14,118, already granted to Her Majesty, to defray the salaries and expenses of the several Offices in Her Majesty's General Register House, Edinburgh, to the 31st day of March, 1859, the sum of £1,000 be granted to defray the salary of the Keeper of the General and Particular Registers of Sasines, making together the sum of £15,118.
§ MR. CRAUFURD
said, he rose to object to the reception of the Resolution, as some papers had been laid upon the table since the last discussion which had a material bearing upon the subject. He should propose to reduce the Vote by £1,000, being the amount of the salary of the Principal Keeper of the Registry of Sasines, and he did so without intending to adopt a personal course towards the present holder of the office, who, being entitled by Act of Parliament to receive fees, could not be without remuneration. The office was one which the Treasury in a Minute, passed some years ago, had recommended should not be filled up without holding previous communication with them, with a view to reconstituting the office. It became vacant on the 2nd of September, 1857, and on the 23rd of February last a Mr. Brodie was appointed to it. Now, in moving the reduction of the Vote, he merely sought to learn the grounds upon which the former Minute of the Treasury had been disregarded. He wished also to draw the attention of the House to a letter contained in the papers he had referred to, in which Mr. Brodie recommended Mr. Fraser, the Assistant Keeper of Sasines, to the favourable consideration of the Lords of the Treasury for an increase of his salary. In that letter he admitted that Mr. Fraser had performed the whole duties of the office to the satisfaction of the profession and the public. He wished, therefore, to hear from the Government any reason they might have to offer why on that occasion the offices of Principal Keeper and Assistant Keeper were not consolidated, which would have put an end to the objectionable practice of performing the duties by deputy, while by having one gentleman to fill the office, at a salary of £1,000 a year, a saving to the country of £500 a year, would have been effected.
§ Question proposed, "That fifteen stand part of the Resolution."
§ MR. G. A. HAMILTON
said, the hon. Gentleman had admitted the importance of the office and the efficiency of the gentleman who filled it, and he (Mr. Hamilton) could not believe the House would adopt so strong a measure as to deprive that gentleman of his salary. That gentleman filled the position in question when the present Government came into office, and it would have been a manifest dereliction of their duty if they had not included his salary in the Vote. Besides, on the vacancy occurring, an investigation was instituted by the then Lord Advocate and the Secretary of State, the result of which was, that it was thought essential to the public interest that the office should be filled.
stated, he had been asked a question on a former occasion, whether the Marquess of Dalhousie drew his salary as Principal Keeper during the time he was Governor General of India. He was now enabled to state, from inquiries he had made, that in 1847, when his Lordship received that appointment, he caused a communication to be made to the Government, that during his absence he should not draw that salary, and accordingly he had not drawn it. When the late Government left office arrangements as to the office in question had so far proceeded that it was intended to reduce the salary of the Principal Keeper from £1,500 to £1,000, and to increase that of the Assistant Keeper from £500 to £800 a year. He could bear testimony to the merits of Mr. Fraser, the Assistant Keeper, and he hoped the present Secretary of the Treasury would keep that arrangement in view, seeing that the Treasury could carry it out without any application to Parliament, as the office was paid by fees, and an increase of salary would throw no burden on the country.
§ SIR WILLIAM DUNBAR
I rise, not with the object of expressing any opinion of my own, for I feel that I am not competent to give an opinion as to whether or not the office under discussion could have been consolidated or abolished with advantage to the public interests, but simply for the purpose of explaining what is the nature, and, to a certain extent, the responsibilities, of the office in question. The office of Keeper of the Registry of Sasines is that in which all conveyances of land, 1638 mortgages, burdens, and transfers relating to land are registered, and upon their registration these instruments depend for their efficacy. In every purchase or mortgage of land, the purchaser or mortgagee searches the register to discover if there are any encumbrances or burdens affecting the land; and when the House considers the magnitude of the interests involved, and that the Principal Keeper of the Registry is personally liable in the consequences of any inaccuracy arising either from his own fault or that of his subordinates, I think it will appear sufficiently plain that such an office cannot be an unimportant one—far less a sinecure. The office itself is paid by the fees derived from the public for the privilege of searching the register. It is a patent office, the Principal Keeper receiving the fees, and accounting for the balance to the Treasury after paying the expense of the department. It never was upon the Consolidated Fund, and the only reason for its appearing in the Estimates is, that the Treasury draws the reversion of the fees, which, instead of being so drawn, ought, in my opinion, to be applied to the reduction of the charges exacted from the public. At one time the salary drawn from the fees used to be £3,000, and the duty was to a great extent performed by deputy; but by a statute passed early in the century, the office was prospectively put on regulation. In 1845, the whole subject was, as I am informed, fully considered by the present Lord Justice General—then Lord Advocate M'Neill—along with the right hon. Member for the City of Oxford and the late Sir Robert Peel; and I understand that the Lord Justice General retains the opinion that he never came to a Resolution with more certainty that he was right than in fixing the salary of the office at £1,000 a year, and keeping it on that footing. [An hon. MEMBER: £1,500 a year.] Mr. Pringle was appointed to the office in 1845, and held it till his death last year. In the interval, I have the authority of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leith for stating that important reforms were under consideration. It was intended to remove the local registers to Edinburgh, to improve the system of the indices which are essential to the operation of searching, and to alter materially the system of transfer of land, which the late Lord Advocate has now carried out. All this required considerable skill and ability in the department. On the death of Mr. Pringle, various applications 1639 for the office were made to my hon. Friend the then Lord Advocate, and among others, from persons holding subordinate offices in the Register House. Of these, Mr. Fraser was undoubtedly the best qualified, having done much of the duty of the department during the lifetime of Mr. Pringle. Knowing Mr. Fraser, and bearing willing testimony to his qualifications, I should have been glad if the late Government had considered it consistent with their duty to promote him as a deserving public officer. At the same time, common justice requires me to say that they could not possibly have appointed any one to the office more competent for the discharge of its duties than Mr. Brodie. From personal acquaintance with that gentleman, I am enabled to assure the House that there are few men more able, and none more eminent in the profession to which he belongs. With regard to the recommendation to fill up the office in October or November, 1857, to which the hon. Member for Ayr has referred, I think it is abundantly evident that that recommendation could have no possible connection with the change of Government which took place in the subsequent February. At that time Mr. Brodie was Crown Agent, a scarcely less responsible office, which he held from 1846 to 1858; and I believe I am right in saying that the present Lord Justice General, the late Lord Advocate, the Committee of the Faculty of Advocates, and also Mr. Cosmo Innes, than whom, I believe, on such a subject there is no better authority in Scotland, were all in favour of maintaining the office. With such a weight of authority, concurring, no doubt, with his own sentiments, I think it is not surprising that my hon. Friend the Member for Leith should have decided in keeping up the office; and whatever difference of opinion there may be as to the person who should have been selected to fill it, I think no one can doubt that it has been placed in hands fully competent to discharge its duties with efficiency. For these reasons, I cannot assent to the withdrawal of the Vote.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Subsequent Resolutions agreed to.