HC Deb 13 June 1870 vol 201 cc1982-7

Order for Committee read.


said, it might be in the recollection of the House that early in the Session he called attention to the change that had been made in the administration of the law with regard to the stamping of certain deeds, and urged the necessity of immediate legislation. On that occasion he was supported in his views by several hon. Members on the Ministerial side of the House, and on his own, and there seemed to be almost perfect unanimity as to the course the Government should adopt; indeed, only three hon. Members differed from him, and the hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Kinnaird) urged him to bring in a Bill. The observations made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time showed he had not been correctly informed on the matter; but, as the subj ect was connected with finance, he (Mr. Bourke) waited until the right hon. Gentleman brought in his Bill, and it was not until he found it was quite inadequate that he placed a number of Amendments on the Paper and obtained leave to bring in a Bill himself. The Bill and the Amendments were substantially the same, and although sweeping in character, they were not more so than the Amendments placed on the Paper by the Secretary to the Treasury. During the past three months the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been urged to proceed with the Bill, but he had excused his delay by pointing to the Amendments. At the eleventh hour, however, he (Mr. Bourke) found the Secretary to the Treasury had put Amendments on the Paper giving everything he had asked for in principle, and justifying the course he had taken. He did not blame the Chancellor of the Exchequer; his multifarious duties prevented his making that full inquiry into the stamp duties the occasion required; but now that he had acknowledged the soundness of the principle he (Mr. Bourke) and his Friends had laid down, he asked the right hon. Gentleman to do justice to himself by permitting his Amendments to be clothed in workmanlike language. If the Amendments of the Secretary to the Treasury were passed as they stood the Bill would be a most miserable affair, creditable to none concerned. His (Mr. Bourke's) Bill, which stood for a second reading to-night, had been before the country three months, and had been approved by everybody who had given attention to the subject. Almost every legal society in the kingdom, including the Incorporated Law Society, had given to it the most cordial approval. The Bill of the Government, on the other hand, had gained no friends either in the House or the country, nor would it be acceptable to the public unless it was accompanied by his Amendments. The best course, however, would be to adopt his Bill; it consisted of only one clause, and would be intelligible to the meanest understanding. The 1st clause of the Government Bill was cut about in a most extraordinary manner, and the Secretary to the Treasury proposed to insert the words "or of any usual covenant" in the Bill. It was impossible to say what "usual covenants" were; they were most objectionable words, and no words had given rise to more litigation. With regard to the 2nd clause, about which they had been contending for the last three months, various Amendments had been placed on the Paper—one by the hon. Member for Stockton (Mr. Dodds), another by the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Hadfield), and a third by the Secretary of the Treasury (Mr. Stansfeld). There was no provision in the Bill relating to counterparts, which had given rise to much the same doubts. There was another very serious defect in the Bill. He had received a letter from the Secretary to the Law Society of Manchester, describing the kind of tenure which existed there, under which almost all building operations were carried on. That tenure was a grant in fee reserving a rent; and as this Bill was confined to leases, and grants in fee were not leases, it would give no relief to Manchester. Under these circumstances, he hoped the Government would either accept his Amendments which were on the Paper, or allow his Bill to be read a second time. By adopting either course the Government would earn the thanks of the country, which they could not expect to have if they passed this Bill in its present shape.


said, he must support the general argument of the hon. Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bourke). He thought this Bill very little creditable to the Government. It would not in its present shape remedy the grievance complained of. For 14 years after the Act of 1854 was passed by Sir Charles Wood, the Stamp Office did not know the meaning of their own Act, and hundreds of thousands of leases were granted in all parts of the country, which, by a recent decision, were invalid on account of the stamp. That was a serious state of things. The stamp duties yielded an enormous income—some £8,000,000 or £9,000,000 a year—and the Government ought to make the law clear and simple, so that everyone might know what stamps Parliament imposed on his transactions. The case at present was so complicated that, to learn what stamp duty the law required, a denoting stamp was permissible at 10s. or 20s. duty, to certify that full duty had been paid, and in this clumsy way prevent doubt on the validity of the instrument. Such a state of things was intolerable. He hoped the Bill of the hon. Member for King's Lynn would be adopted. It was good sense, good grammar, and good law. The present Bill was hastily drawn, thrown on the Table in a most imperfect form, and, if proceeded with, certainly must be revised.


said, he desired to thank the Government for having conceded all that had been asked for, and he also thought much credit was due to the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Bourke), without whose able advocacy it was doubtful whether so much would have been obtained.

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 1 (As to leases made before the 1st February 1870).


said, he must repeat that the case of the Manchester deeds was excluded from it.


said, the object of the Bill was to idemnify persons affected by the decision of the Court of Exchequer as to leases made before the 1st of February, 1870, and then to make the law the same as it was before. The hon. and learned Gentleman now wished to extend the operation of the Bill to transactions with respect to freehold, but that would be going beyond the intentions of the Bill.


said, those deeds had always been treated in the same way as leases.


said, that the decision of the Court of Exchequer was confined to the case of leases, and it was not intended by the Bill to go further than indemnifying parties from loss in consequence of that decision.


said, if the measure did not apply to the Manchester deeds, it ought to be made to apply to them.


said, he was not prepared to say that the decision of the Court of Exchequer did not apply to the Manchester deeds, as that question was not argued; but in his opinion it did not.


said, if the House did not legislate with respect to these deeds exactly the same doubts would arise in their case as in the case of leases.


said, the Bill was only intended to remove a grievance caused by a decision of a Court of Law; and he doubted whether it would be competent in them to insert such a provision as the hon. and learned Gentleman proposed without a special instruction to the Committee. If, as stated by the hon. and learned Gentleman, the Manchester deeds had always been treated in the same way as leases, then the case was met by the Bill.


said, he concurred in this view. This was a declaratory Bill. The Act 16 & 17 Vict, made the same duty payable upon a fee-farm reservation as was paid upon leases for 100 years; and, therefore the question raised was covered by this Bill. One objection of the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Bourke) was that counterparts were not provided for in the Bill. Had he, however, looked at the Stamp Act of the 13 & 14 Vict., c. 97, he would find that counterparts bore the same stamp as leases, except that in no case could the stamp on the counterpart exceed 5s. Everything had been provided for that the hon. and learned Member could desire. The same gentlemen who had waited upon the hon. and learned Gentleman had also waited upon him, and he had laid their grievances before the Government, whom he had to thank for the ready ear with which they had listened to his statement, and had agreed to remedy the defects in the Bill which he pointed out. The measure was a fair and liberal one, and the boon it conferred ought to be thankfully received.


said, he thought that the meaning of the Bill as it stood at present was rather doubtful, and that it ought to be rendered clear and distinct.


said, he also thought that the law ought to be clearly laid down upon the point.


said, that lands were granted at Manchester and the neigbourhood on fee-farm rent, with a covenant to build, and, therefore, he thought that the same question might be raised as in the case before the Court of Exchequer. He hoped that the Secretary of the Treasury would turn his attention to the subject.


said, he thought that the grievances that had been pointed out had been fairly met by the Bill. The decision in the Court of Exchequer was a most unfortunate one, and a society with which he was connected had been informed that it was very questionable. Some provision ought to be introduced into the Bill giving an appeal from the Court of Exchequer in such cases. He hoped that the question with regard to the Manchester deeds would be set at rest before the Bill left the House.


said, he had considerable doubts as to whether the Bill would meet the case of the Manchester buildings; but he would leave the responsibility of the matter on the Government, and not move the Amendment of which he had given Notice.


appealed to the Secretary of the Treasury to consider whether the effect of the Bill in that respect ought not to be made more clear and certain?


said, he wished to support the appeal of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Stapleton).


said, that after what had been said by the Attorney General, he had no doubt that the Bill would cover the case alluded to by the hon. and learned Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bourke); but the matter would be farther considered.


, who had an Amendment to Clause 2 on the Paper, said he thought the latter part of it might be more properly introduced as an Amendment to the 1st clause. He would, therefore, move to add the following words as part of Clause 1:— And any person who, on or since the said first day of February and previously to the passing of this Act, shall have paid, in respect of such further consideration, the said Duty of thirty-five shillings, shall be entitled to claim from, and shall be repaid by, the said Commissioners the difference between such last-mentioned Duty and the duty of ten shillings chargeable as aforesaid. He would not press the Amendment if the right hon. Gentleman would promise that the interest of those whom he wanted to protect would not be forgotten.


said, he could give his hon. and learned Friend the assurance he desired. As a matter of course the extra stamp duty, if paid, would be returned.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause agreed to.

Bill reported, with an amended Title; as amended, to be considered upon Thursday, and to be printed. [Bill 161.]