HC Deb 27 May 1864 vol 175 cc736-46

said, he rose to move that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, for a Commission to inquire and report as to the best system of registering titles to land in Ireland, to frame a measure for that purpose, and to consider and report upon the creation of transferable debentures upon land in Ireland. He had brought the matter publicly forward some fifteen years before; in fact he entered Parliament principally for the purpose of introducing the subject, and he hoped to remain in that House until his object had been attained. Although he had confined the Commission to Ireland, he should not have the least objection to extend it to the Empire. Ireland, however, had usually been the pioneer in these important reforms, and possessed some machinery for carrying them out that did not exist in this country. There was an obvious distinction between the registration of titles and the registration of deeds and assurances. The registration of deeds spoke for itself. One either put upon the register the entire deed, which was then called an enrolment, or an abstract of the deed, which was called a memorial. That system existed only partially in England—namely, in Yorkshire and Middlesex, but it was general throughout Ireland, and was found the cause of great expense. The registration of titles was a very different matter. It was known that in the case of stock and shares, certain persons were entered ns owners in the books of the, bunk, or of a company, and they could then transfer without any investigation of title. It hail often been asked why there should be more difficulty in transfering £ 100,000 of landed property than there was in the transfer of £100,000 invested in the funds or in railways. Well, in the Bill which he brought forward in 1853, he claimed to be the originator of a new system which was adapted, in his opinion, to supply that want, and which had formed the basis of the plans since submitted to Parliament He proposed that it should be open to the landowner to have his land brought under the operation of the Act, and submit his title to a preliminary investigation. If the Court were satisfied that a primá facie right to the land had been made out, a full investigation of the title might be ordered, and if that were satisfactory the owner obtained a declaration of indefeasible title, good against the whole world. The title would be registered, a certificate of his indefeasible title would be given, and then the land would be transferable, like money in the funds or railway shares, by entry in the books of the office, or of the tribunal constituted for the purpose of carrying out the new sys tern. The Bill was read a second time in 1853, and Lord Cranworth's Bill for the Registration of Assurances having come down from the Lords, both were referred to a Select Committee, That Committee could not go into all the details of the matter; but it distinctly condemned the proposal to register deeds, and recommended that a Commission should be appointed to inquire into the subject of registration of title. A Commission was accordingly appointed in January, 1854 Several plans were laid before the Commissioners, who sent out questions to leading members of the legal profession in this country and Ireland; but the Commission was not commissioned to frame any measure itself. There were three courses, any one of which might be adopted. First, the Government might bring in a Bill on their own responsibility; and if they undertook to do so he should leave the question in their hands. But he saw no likelihood of that. On the contrary, it seemed certain that they did not intend to introduce any measure on the subject, during that Session at least. The second course which might be adopted was that of bringing in a Bill himself. He did not, however, think that any measure emanating from a private Member would tie likely to be adopted. It might be read a first and second time, mid referred to a Select Committee. But could a Select Committee grapple with the details, and do the business in such a manner as to secure for the country a simple and useful measure? He feared not. There were hon. Members in the House fully competent to deal with the question in all its details; but could such men as the lion, and learned Member for Belfast (Sir Hugh Cairns) and the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. White side) afford the time necessary for the discharge of such a task in the middle of the Session of Parliament? Besides, by having a Select Committee they would exclude a number of very eminent men who were authoritative on the subject—the Irish Master of the Rolls, Mr. Napier, and Judges Longfield and Hargreave, for instance. The third course was the appointment of a Commission. What would a new Commission have to do? A very respectable amount of work. A good deal of experience had been acquired since the last Commission concluded its labours; and that Commission did not examine into the foreign systems of registration. The Commission might very well inquire into the foreign systems of registration, and before the next Session, by means of questions circulated through our diplomatic agents, they might obtain all His information necessary on that part of the subject. The Commissioners might also go through the different Bills which had been brought forward, some of which had passed into law, and some of winch had not. They might examine into the legislation of 1862, and see how far it was applicable for Ireland. The secretary of the Commission might be directed, under the superintendence of the Commissioners, to frame a Bill, He would probably do it as efficiently as any ordinary draughtsman, and the expense would be no greater. The House was perhaps not aware of the large number of Bills which bad been passed on the subject [the hon. Gentleman exhibited a large packet of them] but they were far too numerous for a Select Committee to deal with. A Commission alone could go through them effectively, selecting from each what was good in it, and framing a comprehensive measure. An important point for the consideration of the Commission—if it should be appointed—was how to combine complete facility of transfer with due protection against fraud, for he was quite ready to admit that, unless at least as much security were given as was now afforded, this country would not be prepared to adopt a system which would make land easily transferable, however desirable that system might be in itself. The Commissioners, however, who some years ago inquired into the subject, were of opinion that adequate protection could be provided, while he himself was of opinion that it could be better attained by other means than those which they had pointed out. It had, he might add, been said that there was no precedent for the issue of a Commission to prepare a Bill, but the mere fact of novelty was no argument. If a thing was right to be done, it ought to be done, whether the particular method was a novelty or not. But there was a precedent for his proposal in the Report of a Commission which had been appointed, on the recommendation of a second Commission on the subject, to prepare a body of law for India. He might quote many other eminent authorities in Ireland, but as most of them had given evidence before the Commission which inquired into the subject, he would not trouble the House with any further reference to their opinions. A movement had lately been set on foot in Ireland similar to that which commenced in the year 1851. Many large landed proprietors and eminent merchants took a great interest in the subject, and a short time ago a meeting was held in Dublin, which was largely attended, at which resolutions were passed declaring the necessity of the adoption of an improved system of conveyancing, and expressing approval of what was called the "Torrens system" of registration, which it was stated had succeeded very well in Australia. For his own part, he did not entirely approve that system, but thought that with certain improvements it might be made the basis of a good system of registration. At the time that the measure for which he was himself responsible was in preparation he issued a pamphlet—a copy of which was still available for any Member taking an interest in the subject, and among the replies which it elicited was one from an authority, if possible, higher than any he had referred to. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in acknowledging the receipt of the pamphlet on Free Trade in Land, said, that on his own limited scale he had every reason to desire a thorough reform and simplification of our system as to the transfer of real property, while, on public grounds, he felt the question to be not only ripe, but urgent. Justice towards the land demanded a change, and, as far as he was able to lend a helping hand in a matter beyond his immediate Department, assistance on his part should be freely and zealously rendered. He was quite sure that some day or other the question would pass into the hands of the right hon. Gentleman, and he looked with confidence for the fulfilment of that pledge. In the meantime, all he asked for was the appointment of a Royal Commission, which would investigate the different schemes, and report in favour of that which they thought most desirable. The Government would not be bound by their decision, but it would show the country that there was a disposition to give effect to its wishes, and he did not believe that any branch of the legal profession in Ireland would stand in the way. Objections might be urged to any scheme; if there were 100 clauses in a Bill, there would no doubt be 100 misunderstandings of them. But that was the true way to settle the question, and he cheerfully relinquished any preference he might entertain for his own measure, to which he had given years of thought and labour, besides submitting it to the most competent men. He had no personal interest in the matter, except as an Irish landowner anxious to improve the value of property. As regarded land debentures he did not ask the Government to bring in a Bill on that subject. But no measure for the simplification of title would be complete unless attention at least were given to the subject of charges on land. A step in the right direction had been made during the Session, when a Bill for the investment of securities was passed through that House and sent to the Lords, but Lord Redesdale stopped it, and very properly turned it into a public Bill. In conversation with his Lordship he suggested that the advantages of that measure ought not to be confined to companies. It was well known that men of great authority in Ireland had pronounced in favour of some such plan as he had suggested, and the Commission of 1854, although they did not recommend a system of land debentures, yet they pointed out that there were facilities for trying such a system in Ireland, where strong opinions had been expressed in its favour. The House would remember that in 1862 two Bills for the creation of transferable debentures upon land in Ireland were brought in, one by himself and the other by the hon, and learned Member for the University of Dublin. Both those Bills had relation to the subject which he had now brought under the consideration of the House, and they were read a second time and were then referred to a Select Committee, but, owing to some unfortunate fatality, that Committee never sat.; It was most important at the present time to inquire into the systems of land registration and of land debentures, and therefore he trusted the Government would consent to his Motion in its exact terms.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be graciously pleased to issue a Commission to inquire and report as to the best system for Registering Titles to Land in Ireland, and to frame a measure for that purpose; also to consider and report as to the creation of transferable Debentures upon Land in Ireland,"—(Mr. Scully,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, it was quite impossible to exaggerate the importance of the subject which had been so ably brought before the House by the hon. and learned Member. He thought, too, that the subject was properly brought forward by the hon. and learned Member, who had distinguished himself by his zealous and persevering efforts in support of a principle which at one time did not seem likely to obtain much support. He did not intend to follow his hon. and learned Friend through all the details of his speech, but he might say that there was scarcely a principle laid down, or a position taken up by the hon. and learned Gentleman in which he (Mr. O'Hagan) did not agree. He believed that the establishment of a system of land transfer in Ireland, making the conveyance of land simple, speedy, and cheap, was a great necessity. There might be differences of opinion as to the effects of free trade upon Ireland, but one thing was certain, that that country was entitled to the benefit of free trade in land. There existed in Ireland a strong feeling upon the subject. The corporations of Dublin and other towns were united upon it, and the landed gentry, with the Duke of Leinster at their head, had also discussed it. He might further point out that there existed in Ireland special facilities for trying an experiment such as that recommended by his hon. and learned Friend. There was there a Landed Estates Court, presided over by Judges as enlightened and as able as any in the world. That Court had worked effectively and well for the people of Ireland, and it had laid the foundation, and had supplied the machinery for working a system of cheap and speedy transfer of land. That being so, and the principle being generally accepted, all they had to do was to see whether the principle could be carried out safely and without injury to any interest of the country. The proposed system would produce a great social revolution as far as landed property was concerned, and it would change the relations of different classes in the country. It might be expected that one result would be that the capital which was dammed up in Ireland might be let loose, and that through the instrumentality of a system of cheap transfer of land, a class might be created which Ireland sorely needed—a class of yeomen having an interest in the soil. There were a variety of projects to be considered. There was the plan of Mr. Torrens, which had undoubtedly succeeded in Australia. But then it must be remembered that there was a great difference between the simple relations of property in a new country and the complicated relations of an old country. It was, therefore, necessary to observe great caution in applying the principle to Ireland. He did not say that Mr. Torrens's system was not applicable to Ireland, but that great care should be exercised in dealing with the subject. Then, again, there had been a Bill introduced which contemplated the creation of a new machinery, a recording court and officers. The Government must consider whether there did not exist already in Ireland machinery adapted to the purpose. The question which the Government had to consider was, whether it was absolutely necessary that a new Commission should be appointed. A Commission, composed of extremely able men, had applied their full attention to the subject fur a series if years within a recent period. He did not think they could constitute a Commission of more enlightened men, or that a Report could be obtained from those more deserving the confidence of Parliament and the country, than that they were already in possession of. It was the less necessary that they should go into any new inquiry, because measures had since been introduced in England by men of the highest ability, and they had an opportunity of seeing how these measures had worked. The matter then stood thus — a deputation had waited on the Lord Lieutenant for the purpose of impressing on his Excellency and the Government the necessity of considering the subject, and especially in connection with the scheme of Mr. Torrens. His Excellency had referred the memorial to the Law Officers of Ireland, and accordingly, along with his learned Friend the Solicitor General, he had been applying his mind as diligently as he could to the subject, and he was inclined to think it was quite possible to frame a measure with the information they already possessed, which might be satisfactory to the House and to the country. Perhaps, too, it would be more becoming, more according to precedent and principle, that such a measure, involving such large interests and consequences to the community, should be introduced on the responsibility of the Law Officers and of the Government itself. They had the matter under consideration; already a measure was more or less in progress, and he trusted, either before the end of that Session or at the beginning of the next, he should be able to introduce a measure at all events worthy of the consideration of the House. He had already enough of legal matters before him for the present, and it was manifest they could not reasonably entertain the hope of successful action that Session. It would be quite competent for the House to say when they saw the Bill, whether on the face of it there appeared any necessity for further inquiry. They would apply their minds to the subject as best they could, and submit their measure to the consideration of the House.


said, he entirely approved every portion of his right hon. and learned Friend's speech, except the last few sentences, which seemed to doubt the possibility of introducing a measure during the Session. The question had excited the highest interest not only of the legal profession, but also among the landed proprietors of Ireland, and considering the enormous importance of some measure for simplifying and cheapening the transfer of land, looking especially to the frightful emigration going on in Ireland, and the distrust and anxiety which pervaded the mind of everybody connected with land in that country, the subject ought to be taken up with as little delay as possible, to see if some means could not be suggested for increasing employment and developing the resources of Ireland. If his right hon. and learned Friend had, as he understood, the skeleton of a measure prepared, why should he not at once lay it on the table, with a view, after it was read a second time, to refer it to a Select Committee—not for the purpose of taking evidence, but to go through its various clauses and render it as perfect a measure as possible? A Royal Commission, he thought, would be the best mode of shelving the question.


said, he regretted that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should consider it necessary to oppose the issuing of a Commission. The question was one of the first importance, and any measure would require the greatest care and attention on the part of the framers of it. He wished, at the same time, to bear testimony to the great ability with which his hon. Friend had introduced the subject. He had himself been instructed by his hon. Friend in the true principles which ought to regulate their legislation on the subject. He had, many years ago, laid a Bill on the table which he was perfectly ready to submit again, and there was little necessity to make any changes in it, notwithstanding all the improvements which Mr. Torrens had suggested. He did not see why a Royal Commission should not be appointed, which might inquire into the subject and report long before the next Session, and then a Select Committee could be appointed to proceed with the inquiries, and perfect any Bill that might be introduced in that House.


said, it would be highly satisfactory to the public in Ireland if the Government would that Session lay on the table a Bill on the subject. He quite agreed that the thanks of the House and the country were due to his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cork for his exposition of the subject. He trusted the hon. and learned Attorney General would lay a Bill on the table during the Session that it might be considered during the recess. In the county with which he was connected there was hardly a landlord with whom he had had any communica- tion who had not urged him to support any measure that would lead to a proper registration of titles to land.


said, he had not stated that he would not lay a Bill on the table during that Session. On the contrary, he hoped to be able to do so; but he did not think there was any chance of the Bill being passed in the present Session.


said, he trusted that the right hon, and learned Attorney General for Ireland would consider the subject well before bringing in any measure upon it. The real difficulty in relation to the conveyance and transfer of land arose from the length of time over which the search had to be made. A great deal of confusion arose from a misapprehension of the parties who wished to have a rapid transfer of land. Persons who wished to raise money upon land by way of mortgage no doubt liked to have a rapid title deduced; but it was impossible to have great rapidity and equal security at the same time. An other purpose for which a rapid transfer of land was required was for small purchases and in investments of trust funds upon land. He thought all these legitimate purposes might be attained by making it compulsory that at short recurring periods the land should pass through some tribunal like the Landed Estates Court, so that the point from which the title had to be deduced should not be remote. After an indefeasible Parliamentary title was obtained, all subsequent encumbrances on the property must be put upon the register. He did not think it was possible to make the transfer of land for permanent objects so rapid and easy as the hon. Member for Cork desired, nor could he bind himself to that hon. Gentleman's views as to the creation of land debentures. In the nature of things land could not be treated like bank-notes or railway shares. Duties attached to the ownership of land which did not exist in regard to movable chattels; and those landowners who desired to enjoy all the prestige of territorial proprietorship, and at the same time to be able to transfer their property with the same facility as railway stock, resembled persons who wished to eat their cake and have it at the same time. He hoped that before any Bill was introduced on this question, a Commission would be appointed to inquire into the best mode of registering titles; and he thought that the inquiry might be advantageously extended to England as well as Ireland, as under recent legislation the systems of the two countries were very much analogous. He would suggest that a Royal Commission should be issued, which might investigate the system of registering deeds in England, and upon their report there would be no difficulty in drawing a Bill which would meet all the requirements of the landed interests in Ireland.


said, he was willing to withdraw his Amendment on the understanding that the right hon. and learned Attorney General would bring in his Bill as soon as possible.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.