§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. G. B. GREGORY
, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, its object was to abolish the Office for the registration of deeds, &c., in the county of Middlesex. The present Registration Office, he said, consisted of two Registrars—the office of the third being at this moment vacant—who were appointed by the Lord Chancellor and the Chief Justices of the Supreme Courts, a deputy registrar, and minor official. It was contemplated at the time when the Office was established that the funds which would be received would be sufficient to defray the expenses of it; but, in fact, the amount had risen far beyond what was contemplated. The income amounted in 1866 to £12,500, out of which the Office expenses amounted to £3,100 odd. The balance was divided among the Registrars, the actual share of each being, in 1866, £2,368. These 1155 Registrars were, in fact, absolute ciphers, and their duties were entirely carried on by the deputy registrar. So much was this the case, that the present Chief Justice had refused to fill up the third and vacant appointment. Moreover, so far from the Office proving beneficial, it had proved the very reverse—it embarrassed rather than facilitated the transfer of real property. Land in Middlesex had become so much subdivided that a search had become absolutely impracticable, and it was almost impossible to identify property when the name of the owner was found in the registers. All legal practitioners were desirous that the abolition of the Office should take place at once and entirely. Its abolition had been strongly recommended also by the Commissioners on Land Transfer, who declared the Office to be simply a source of trouble and expense to the vendors and purchasers of property. He proposed by the Bill that deeds and wills executed after January 1, 1871, should cease to be registered; but it was necessary that the Office should be kept going for searches affecting titles commencing before that date. He proposed that the fees receivable in future from the Office should be paid into the Consolidated Fund. According to an estimate taken he found that these fees would amount to £1,100 a-year, which would provide ample funds for carrying on the duties of the Office. He was prepared to give the Registrars compensation for the abolition of their office to the extent of three-fourths of the fees — not which they had received, but which they were entitled to receive—for the Registrars had, in fact, exacted fees which they were not legally entitled to exact, according to the construction of the Act of Parliament. He hoped to have an opportunity of suggesting a scheme for facilitating the transfer of land during the present Session; but the present Bill was a fitting remedy for the evils of which he had complained.
§ MR. LEEMAN
said, that having experience of a similar system of registration in Yorkshire, he could not understand how the registration of deeds in Middlesex should have been permitted to fall into the state described. The registration in Yorkshire, which he believed was very similar to that in Middlesex, worked well, and to the full satisfaction of the landed proprietors of the 1156 three Ridings. Property in the large towns of Yorkshire—forinstance, in Leeds and Bradford, was as much subdivided as in Middlesex, and no difficulty had been experienced in the working of the registers. The proper remedy for the abuses complained of was the reformation, not the abolition of the system. If this Bill was passed there was danger that it would be taken as a precedent, and that the registers of Yorkshire would be abolished too, and he protested against that being done. The hon. Gentleman had given an answer to his own Motion in his concluding remarks, that before the present Session was ended a general Bill would be introduced for the consideration of the whole question of land transfer. He objected to such legislation being proposed by a private Member, for surely it was the duty of the Government to undertake a matter of such importance. At present, in Yorkshire nobody could mortgage his property without the fact being within reach of the public, which gave the most perfect security to property.
§ MR. GOLDNEY
said, that the necessity of searching these registers for notices of mortgages was an evil which the two counties of Middlesex and York had inflicted on the whole community. The registration had been instituted to enable the citizens of London to ascertain that the titles of property on which they lent money were unencumbered; and the people of Yorkshire, who were interested in similar matters, finding that the plan worked well in Middlesex, adopted a similar plan for themselves. But it was for no benefit of the general community that these registrations took place, and great difficulties had arisen through them—to such an extent that many persons refused to incur the expense and inconvenience caused by making the necessary searches, and preferred to run a risk instead. The present Bill was a step in the right direction, giving greater freedom of action in the transfer of property. If the Middlesex plan of registration had been a good one, it would have been followed in other counties; but it had not been so followed, and instead of doing good it had done a great deal of harm.
§ MR. COLLINS
said, he did not care what course was taken with regard to the registration of deeds in Middlesex, but he had a strong objection to passing 1157 a Bill of this kind, if it was intended to serve as a precedent for a similar measure in regard to the registration of deeds in Yorkshire. The present system was a great safeguard, and enabled many persons to lend money when otherwise they would refuse to do so.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
stated that the Government intended to deal with the subject of the transfer of land, with a view to the simplification of the process. A Bill in reference to the matter was introduced in the House of Lords last Session; but the Government were unable to proceed with it at that time. However, if there should be any reasonable prospect of carrying the Bill in the present Session, it would be brought in again—at all events, it would be introduced, if not in this Session, at an early period in the next. The object of the Bill was to establish a new registry in accordance with the recommendations of the Land Transfer Commission of last year, with the view of simplifying the proof of titles, and of making as easy and cheap as possible the transfer of land. That Commission reported against the Middlesex Registry, and therefore, that system in its present shape, must be regarded as doomed; but it would be expedient not to abolish the existing system until something was prepared to be substituted in its place. The Bill of the Government would establish a registry for the whole of the kingdom, and the House would have an opportunity, upon the introduction of that Bill, of considering whether the Middlesex Registry should not be absorbed in the general registry. If the present registry were abolished before another was substituted for it, the officers must be compensated; whereas, if its abolition were delayed until a new registry was proposed in its place, the services of the officers might be utilized. He thought the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill would do well to be satisfied with the assurance that the matter was under the consideration of the Government. At any rate, he could not' assent to the second reading of the measure except upon the understanding that it should not be further proceeded with during this Session.
§ MR. JESSEL
thought it desirable that the Bill should be read a second time, for though, to his great credit the Lord Chief Justice had not filled up a sinecure 1158 office in connection with the Middlesex Registry, because he thought that it would not be to the public advantage to do so, there would be no security for the future against an appointment to such an office being made, unless the sanction of the House was given to the second reading of the present measure. In that case no one would afterwards venture to fill up the sinecure. Both branches of the legal profession were unanimous in condemning the existing Middlesex Registry.
§ MR. G. B. GREGORY
said, that he would take the second reading on the understanding that the Committee should be fixed for a distant day.
§ House adjourned at ten minutes before Six o'clock.