HC Deb 07 July 1874 vol 220 cc1226-64

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, its Preamble was concise, but expressive. It declared that it was expedient to make further provision for the simplification of the title to land, and for facilitating the transfer of land. Public attention had been for years directed to this subject. The importance and necessity of legislating with respect to it had been almost universally recognized—it had been inquired into by Royal Commissions and by Committees of both Houses of Parliament, and their Reports abounded in information of the most useful character; but their recommendations and suggestions had not as yet been adopted to an extent that had led to any substantial benefit to the public. Throughout the many years that this subject had been under consideration, the establishment of a land registry had been the prevailing idea that had influenced the various schemes that had been brought forward. Upwards of 200 years ago, in consequence of the then depreciation in the value of land, a Committee was appointed by the other House of Parliament for the purpose of investigating the general question of the tenure of land. That Committee made its Report in 1669, and stated that, in their opinion, the chief cause of the depreciation in the value of land was the uncertain state of the titles; and they recommended, as a measure of precaution, the adoption of a system of registration. And here he would request the House to bear in mind the distinction between the registration of titles and the registration of deeds and assurances. The latter system was that, for the adoption of which all the earlier proposals were made. An example of it was furnished by the Acts, passed in the first part of the last century, for establishing registers for the county of Middlesex and the West Hiding of Yorkshire. The objections to such a system were obvious; it tended to accumulate the entries affecting the properties in question to such a degree as to make the difficulties of search great, as well as to increase expense, the difficulties and the expense becoming augmented in proportion as the register was made more complete. They had to search, not for one entry, but for several entries, and they had to put their own construction on the combined effect of several entries. To some extent, no doubt, additional security might be obtained by a registration of deeds and assurances; but as that security was increased, the greater became the difficulties in the way of the transfer of land. The system of registration of title, on the other hand, was, or ought to be, of the most simple character. By means of proper classification and indexing, the entry of the title to any particular property ought to be capable of being at once found. Having once found the entry relating to the property, the ownership and the character of the ownership would be at once ascertained, and all further information might be obtained which might be required by the intending purchaser or mortgagee. The system of registration, which it was proposed to establish by the present Bill, was a register of title, as distinguished from a register of deeds and assurances. But before referring more particularly to the provisions of the Bill, he might be allowed briefly to advert to the various steps which had been taken during the last 20 years, in the way of inquiry, suggestion, and legislation, towards devising and perfecting a satisfactory system of registration. He took that period because the Report of the Commission appointed in 1854, to which he was about to refer, contained a large portion of the materials on which the Bill before the House was founded. The Commission of 18S4 was constituted in a manner to secure the confidence of Parliament and of the general public; it comprised among its Members the present Lord Chief Justice, the late Lord Westbury, Sir Joseph Napier, his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Spencer Walpole), and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London (Mr. Lowe), and several others who were chosen for their professional experience or practical common sense. The leading views put forward in the Report of the Commission, which appeared in 1857, were that the fee simple title should alone be registered, and that charges and leases should form the subject of a separate register; that the title to be shown and registered was not necessarily to be a Parliamentary or indefeasible title; that equitable interests should be secured and protected by a system of caveats, or notices placed on the register; that it should be competent to a landowner, if he desired it, to register with a statutory or indefeasible title; and that both central and district registries should be established. There were besides a variety of other recommendations, to which he did not think it necessary to draw the attention of the House. This Report was followed by the introduction of two Bills by the present Lord Chancellor, then Solicitor General, the one for the simplification of the title to landed estates, the other to establish a register of landed estates. Those Bills were substantially founded on the recommendations of the Commission of 1854, and great care was taken that the register should not become a register of deeds, as distinguished from a register of titles. In one material respect only did the Bills introduced by Sir Hugh Cairns differ from those recommendations, and that was, that appreciating the great benefits which had been conferred by the Landed Estates Courts in Ireland, he proposed to establish a new tribunal, to which should be confided the duty of dealing with titles to property. The Dissolution of Parliament in the early part of 1859 put a stop to the further progress of those measures, and the subject was, for a time, dropped; but in 1862 Lord Westbury brought in and carried the Act, which bears his name, and which is still in force. In that Act the noble Lord aimed at a great deal more, both as regarded the nature of the title to be registered and the multiplicity of the interests to be noted, than had been recommended by the Report of 1857, or attempted in the Bills of the present Lord Chancellor. Lord Westbury endeavoured to procure the registration of almost every species of title, and to show on the face of the register almost every encumbrance by which it could be affected. That Act, however, had proved a failure, for in the first six years after it came into operation, not more than between 500 and 600 applications were made to register under it, whilst during the last two years of that period there had been a marked falling off from those in the earlier years, and such falling off had continued since 1868. Now, in the Australian Colonies a system of registration, following as nearly as possible the recommendations contained in the Report of 1857, had been established. It had been introduced into South Australia in 1861, and at later periods into New South Wales, Tasmania, and Victoria; and he found that, within a period of barely nine years, nearly 20,000 titles had been registered, representing property to the amount of something like £13,000,000 or £14,000,000, whilst the total number of recorded dealings with property approached 90,000. Those facts showed, he thought, that a system of registration was not likely to interfere with dealings in land. With so marked a distinction between the results of the working of the systems adopted in Australia and England respectively, it was not to be wondered at that another Royal Commission should be appointed to consider the defects in the working of Lord Westbury's Act. That Commission was appointed in 1868 and reported in 1869. As the Bills introduced by Lord Hatherley in 1870, and by Lord Selborne in 1873, as well as that before the House, had been severally based upon the views taken by the Commissioners and set forth in their Report, the House would excuse him if he very briefly alluded to the opinions expressed by the Commissioners as to the causes of the failure of Lord Westbury's Act, which were stated by them to be—first, the delay, trouble, and expense of registering titles; secondly, the fear of litigation during the process; and, thirdly, the sense that a registration of all interests in the land would neither protect owners nor facilitate transfers, but prove a hindrance and a burden. Moreover, the Commissioners came to the conclusion that these causes of failure were entirely due to the structure of the Act itself. They were to be attributed to three defects in the Act—first, that it required all titles to be without blemishes, whereas purchasers and mortgagees were willing to overlook small blemishes; secondly, that it required all titles to be of 60 years' length, whereas purchasers and mortgagees were content with less; and, thirdly, that it required that the description of the land should bind strangers, whereas purchasers were content to make their own inquiries into such matters. Having thus indicated the causes of past failure, the Commissioners stated that, in their opinion, the problem was, not to find a perfect system of land transfer, recording with mathematical accuracy the nature and extent of the land and every interest in it, so that the record should absolutely dispense with the necessity of ordinary examination and inquiries, but, to find a system which, not impairing the pre-sent security of owners or purchasers, and not exonerating a purchaser from the easy and obvious task of looking at the outward and visible state of the property, and making inquiry of persons in outward and visible possession of it, should enable the legal ownership to be readily passed from hand to hand, and dispense with the necessity of inquiring after invisible equities and interests, whoso only evidence was contained in private documents. The Commissioners then proceeded to make a variety of suggestions with a view to future legislation. In the Bill now before the House an attempt had been made to give effect, in a clear and straightforward manner, to those recommendations. It was, substantially, to the same effect as the Bill introduced last year by Lord Selborne, but in the interval it had been examined in all its parts by Vice Chancellor Hall, than whom no person could be found more competent for such a task. This had been done for the purpose of assisting the late Lord Chancellor, by whom, no doubt, but for the change of Government, the present Bill would have been introduced. With that zeal for the public interest and that courtesy for which he had always been distinguished, Lord Selborne at once, when the change of Government occurred, handed over the Bill and all the information he possessed connected with it to the present Lord Chancellor. In so doing he reciprocated the courtesy and loyal support which he had himself received from the present Lord Chancellor, when the measure was before Parliament last year. A Bill so prepared, and the principles of which had received the sanction of so many well qualified to judge of its merits, came before the House with much to recommend it; but, in saying this, he (the Attorney General) must not be understood as deprecating criticism. On the contrary, he cordially invited it, and would give his best attention and consideration to any suggestions that might be made. They had first to consider what quality of title it was proposed to register under the Bill. The great defect of the Bill of Lord Westbury was the attempt to register only marketable titles. Under this Bill, it was proposed to make provision for the registration of titles of three kinds—first, titles that were marketable or indefeasible in the strict sense; secondly, titles that were marketable or indefeasible as for a period less than the time hitherto recognized; and, thirdly, possessory titles. Power would be given to a Judge to dispense with what might be looked upon as merely technical objections to title; as, for instance, the absence or loss of a covenant to produce deeds, or the possibility of a woman of advanced age having a child. A similar power would be given to the Registrar to reduce the period, for which it was necessary that an indefeasible title should have lasted, from 60 to 40 years; it was further intended that it should not be essential to fix the boundary with accuracy before the registration. They had next to consider with what interests it was proposed to deal. The Bill proposed to deal with the following interests in land:—First, fee simple titles; secondly, leasehold titles having a certain number of years to run, and, thirdly, charges upon estates, including mortgages. All trusts and unregistered interests were to be protected by caveats, or stops. For the present it was intended to make use of the existing registry, but, no doubt, it would eventually become necessary to establish a number of district registries throughout the country. There was one subject, dealt with in the Bill, to which he must particularly advert, as there had been considerable controversy about it out-of-doors, and as to which he had received a large number of communications. He referred to the system of compulsory registration. It was proposed by the present Bill to make registration compulsory, in the case of any sale taking place after three years from the commencement of the Act, with an exception as regarded properties of less value than £300. A considerable amount of objection had been taken to this system of compulsory registration, but a great deal of it was due to misapprehension as to what the proposed compulsory registration really was. In order to satisfy the provisions of the Act of Parliament, all that would be required would be to register the possessory title, and any additional expense occasioned by this process would be small, and not largo as some objectors believed. Compulsory registration did not imply, in this Bill, an indefeasible registration, involving a vast amount of expense before it could be ascertained whether a property was free from incumbrances. To deprive this Bill of its compulsory character would be, as he believed, to take from it its chief advantage. He might add that a further, and not immaterial, advantage, to be derived from registration under this Bill, would be that a conveyance or mortgage might be made in the short and inexpensive form, set out in the Schedule to the Bill. He would not refer, in further detail, to the provisions of the Bill, but would ask permission to refer to two other Bills which stood next among the Orders of the Day, and which, if passed, would, he thought, do much to aid the satisfactory working of the larger and more important Bill. One was intituled the Real Property Vendors and Purchasers Bill. The object of that Bill was to make that law which heretofore parties had frequently made law for themselves—to make rules which should be binding between vendors and purchasers, unless the parties had made different arrangements among themselves. In the absence of any express agreement to the contrary, it was proposed to substitute 40 for 60 years as the period during which a title had to be shown; to make recitals of facts in deeds 20 years old primâ facie evidence of such facts; to enable the legal personal representatives of a mortgagee to convey the legal estate, when all money due on the mortgage had been paid. It further contained a very useful provision that where any question arose between the vendor and purchaser, a decision might be obtained from a Judge in Chambers. The object of the third Bill, which was entitled. "The Real Property Limitation Bill," was to shorten the periods of limitation. By the existing Act, 20 years was the period given to any person who was dispossessed of his property, and not under any disability, within which he might take proceedings to obtain possession of land or rent; a like period was given to remainder men and mortgagors under circumstances which need not be particularly alluded to. Under this Bill, the period was brought down to 12 years in each of these cases. In like manner 30 years instead of 40 was to be the utmost allowance for disabilities. In asking the House to read these Bills a second time he expressed the belief that they would achieve a work of considerable usefulness with regard to the transfer of land.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Attorney General.)


moved, as an Amendment— That this House, whilst fully recognizing the importance of facilitating and cheapening the Transfer of Land, is of opinion that those objects would not he accomplished by the measure now proposed. The hon. Member said, he hoped that his having practised for 10 years as a conveyancer might be considered as an excuse for his thinking that he could give the House some information on this important subject. If it was regarded as presumptuous to criticise the Lord Chancellor's measure, his apology was that he had equally high authority on his side—namely, the Lord Chancellor himself. The addition to the 27th clause, made, at the noble and learned Lord's suggestion, on the third reading in the House of Lords, of a direction that compulsory registration should not apply to estates sold at a price not exceeding £800, clearly signified, and could only signify, that the new method of making out titles would be more expensive than the old. The Lord Chancellor might still think the new method more secure; but he was evidently of opinion that security obtained in the way proposed would be a luxury too expensive for small transactions. If the Commissioners appointed in 1870 to inquire into this subject had been unanimous, the recommendations of the Commission might have deserved much weight. But of the twelve, one (Lord Westbury) seemed to have taken no part in the proceedings; three only signed the Report in the ordinary way; two would not sign it because they were unable to concur in its recommendations, and the remaining six affixed to their names ominous asterisks referring to papers of dissent, which in some instances qualified, and in others almost annihilated, the effect which would otherwise have been attributable to their signatures. Therefore, those who opposed the Bill had not much to fear from the Report of the Commissioners of 1870. He would refer, besides, to the Council of the Law Institution, comprising many of the most eminent London solicitors. They were convinced that the Bill would be useless, but not having the courage to act on their opinion and to recommend that it should not be passed, they merely prayed that alterations should be made in the clauses. Their plan of trying an experiment which they were convinced would fail, might be admissible if it would only do no good; but in his belief it would be mischievous. The Bill, whether with or without the 27th clause, would leave for an indefinite period two systems of land titles and transfer to go on side by side. It was evident that this would add to complication and expense. One deed would have two different operations if it comprised registered and unregistered land, and a buyer would have, first, to search the register to ascertain that the land he had contracted for was unregistered, and then to go through the same formalities as at present. Such a mode of simplifying titles and facilitating laud transfer would be little short of grotesque. To ascertain what was hoped for by the advocates of registration, it would be well to look at what they had said in the last debate in that House on the subject, which took place on the 16th of February 1872. Mr. Wren Hoskyns remarked that— In every nation in Europe but this, land was now bought and sold with the utmost promptitude, cheapness, and simplicity," and that "the demand was, in fact, no longer that land should be 'as transferable as the Three per Cents,' but as it was now in every other country of Europe."—[3 Hansard, ccix., 566–569.] Mr. R. Torrens said, that— The principle of his measure was taken from the Shipping Law. There was no diff- iculty in transferring the largest interest in shipping; any merchant's clerk or shipbroker could do it with little delay and at small expense."—[3 Hansard, ccix. 570.] Lastly, Mr. W. Fowler stated that— If he went to the Bank of England for a transfer of stock, the stock was transferred and no questions were asked as to the trusts on which he might hold it. The only questions put were—Are you the owner of the stock, and do you want the transfer?' Why should the owners of land in this country not he able to get it transferred as the owner of personal estate could get that transferred? "—[Ibid, 574.] Obviously, the idea of those who proposed registration was that, perhaps, without, but certainly with a solicitor's aid, the purchaser might, by merely looking at the register, at once ascertain whether the vendor could give him a perfectly clear title to the land contracted for. Let any one still entertaining such romantic notions read the 36th section of the present Bill, where he would find interests and charges which need not be put on the register, and to which the land might be subject though the register looked perfectly clear, arranged under nine heads. Six of these were not very important, comprising tithe-rents, to which a purchaser know that the land was probably subject, and other charges and rights not ordinarily of a serious amount or character. But what of rights of common, rights of way, and tenancies not exceeding 21 years? If land were bought for building a house or row of houses, and the purchase was completed in reliance on a clear register, and then the buyer found his purchase made use-loss by a right of way running just whore he had meant to build, what kind of blessing would he bestow on the advantages of a register? Similar difficulties might arise from rights of common. As to "tenancies not exceeding 21 years," he believed, but was not sure, that the phrase was meant to include under-leases. If so, the plan would not relieve purchasers from the principal difficulty in buying plots of land in London and probably in other largo towns, where half-a-dozen leases, one under the other, were of frequent occurrence. At all events, a lease for 20 years at a peppercorn rent, where the lessee was the occupier, was not required to be registered, and as the lessee was not obliged to state his interest to a person who had contracted to buy, the latter might find the value of his purchase reduced by an unregistered lease by about one-half. The Bill was put before the House as one likely to simplify matters; but he believed that the 12th clause, separating titles to minerals and to surface, would have a contrary effect. The 13th clause, which prevented the register from being conclusive as to boundaries, was probably necessary; but such a provision had been declared by Sir Robert Torrens, a gentleman with wide Australian experience, and who formerly had a seat in that House, to be certain to make a register useless. It was clear, also, that under the provision in the Bill relating to boundaries, a sixth, a fifth, or even a fourth might be pared off a man's estate. He would next refer to the strange way in which, as it seemed to him, settlements were dealt with. In order to simplify titles, it was proposed that successive interests, such as those of tenant for life, or in tail, were not to appear on the register, but were to be reduced to equitable estates. One or more person or persons were to be registered as proprietor or proprietors in fee simple who might dispose of the settled property, leaving the equitable owners nothing but a money claim against him or them. These provisions appeared to be founded on a theory that settlements were the main cause of the complication of titles. He doubted whether this theory was correct. He was old enough to remember Irish titles before the Encumbered Estates Act, and even West Indian titles before the slavery compensation money was applied towards discharging the encumbrances on West Indian Estates. He had never known any titles comparable with these for complication and entanglement; and that entanglement was produced, not in any appreciable degree by settlements, but almost wholly by multifarious encumbrances, aided in Ireland by a bad register. He hoped that there were now no titles at all like his old friends from the West Indies and from Ireland; but his impression was that even now settlements were a less prolific source of complication than the multiplication of encumbrances, and with the latter the present Bill made hardly any attempt, certainly no effective attempt, to deal. On the other hand, the security of persons interested under settlements would be most seriously impaired by the pro- visions to which he had referred. As the law now stood, they were, except in rare cases, sure to enter into possession of their estates or interests when the periods fixed for that purpose arrived. As the law would stand under the provisions of this Bill, they might, on becoming entitled in possession, find that their lands had been sold and that they had nothing left but a money claim against an insolvent estate. He would, however, assume that Parliament considered that public utility required that the security of persons interested under settlements should be sacrificed to the simplification of titles, although, considering how commonly a power of sale was to be found in settlements, he thought the hope of simplification of titles to arise from the proposed change was exaggerated. But at least it would not be disputed that the interests of the persons entitled should not be needlessly endangered. For this purpose it was essential that the person to be registered as proprietor should be the one most likely to be trustworthy; and he could not understand why a tenant for life was in this respect to be preferred to trustees having a power of sale. He next desired to say a few words as to the proposed modes of effecting mortgages and charges, which were to be of three kinds. In the first place, came mortgagees, where the mortgagee appeared on the register as an absolute owner, and if the analogy of stock had been followed, no other mortgage of registered land would have been allowed. But the Bill proposed, besides, charges by deposit of land certificates—which were not to be registered—and registered charges. The mortgage by deposit of land certificate was analogous to the present equitable mortgage by deposit of title deeds; but it appeared to him to be entirely inconsistent with the principle of the Bill; that principle being that the title to registered land was to appear on the register. The confusion likely to arise from this, it was attempted to obviate by directing that, on the registration of charges, the land certificate was to be produced. But where the Registrar consented to its non-production for reasons which proved to be false, most serious difficulties as to priority might arise. The Report of the Royal Commission of 1870 had, for the purpose of simplifying titles, proposed that no charges should be registered. But the Bill followed the recommendation of a most able Commissioner (the late Mr. Waley), that for the sake of convenience there should be a registration of charges. This was one evidence of the truth—too much lost sight of in considering questions of this kind—that the complication of titles arose not so much from the state of the law as from the complexity of transactions, and that the choice often lay between, on the one hand, allowing persons to deal as they pleased with their property, and so make titles complicated, and, on the other hand, restricting dealings for the purpose of making titles simple. This Bill wavered between the two principles, and the result would be most unsatisfactory. He had thought that it might be interesting to the House to know how many different registered titles with respect to different interests in the same piece of land might arise under this Bill, which was to make the title to land so simple, and which for that purpose made so extensive a change in the law. They would be as follows:—Freehold in surface of land, freehold in minerals, freehold in rent, leasehold in surface of land, leasehold in minerals, leasehold in rent, any number of subleases in every one of the three before-mentioned particulars, estate by curtesy in every one of the before-named freehold interests, estate by dower in the same, and any number of registered charges on any of the before-mentioned interests. Besides all these registered titles affecting the same piece of land, there might be the unregistered charge by deposit of land certificate on every one of the before-mentioned interests, whether freehold, leasehold, by curtesy, or by dower. The "leading journal" had clone him the honour to refer to his Notice of Motion, and had treated it as the expression of a cautious and doubtful opinion on the success of the measure. He hoped it was cautious, for he had fully considered before expressing it, but it was certainly not doubtful. He had no doubt that a measure which, in attempting to remove old complexities, introduced so many new ones, could not succeed. He saw on the benches opposite a powerful Government which might, he presumed, carry the Bill if they liked. But one thing was beyond the power of that or of any other Government—to make such a Bill, if passed, conducive to the public convenience. It was natural that the Lord Chancellor should feel an honourable ambition to connect his name with the solution of the problem, so long debated, of establishing in England a really useful land registry. But this Bill would not solve it; and it was much to be desired that he should, for this Session at least, satisfy himself with what would be no mean achievements—the completion of the Judicature Act, and the passing of the two Bills relating to vendors and purchasers and limitation of suits, which were among the Orders of the Day that evening—Bills small in size, but likely to be great in utility. The hon. Baronet concluded by moving his Amendment.


, in seconding the Amendment said, he thought the Bill had been properly described by the Prime Minister as one of first-rate importance. It was difficult to over-estimate the social advantages that would arise from a measure which would simplify and cheapen the means of acquiring land, especially in the interest of the humbler and the lower middle classes. Though he felt bound to oppose the Bill, he admitted that it contained a very great deal which was most excellent and desirable. The evil under which they laboured arose from the fact that the law of England, in the gradual evolution in land of those estates and interests which the growing wants of landowners and of the commercial community had made it necessary to create, had uniformly adhered to the principle of treating those interests as attached to and coming out of the land itself, and had never been satisfied only to look for protection to the persons in whom the land might be vested. It was absolutely unsafe for any person to enter into a contract to sell land without professional assistance—a state of things not creditable to our civilization. There had been persons who had made a living by buying estates at public auctions and then making such requisitions on the parties who sold them as induced the vendors to give money in order to get off the contract rather than comply with the legal necessities of carrying it out. The appropriate cure for the existing evil was that there should be found, or created if necessary, a person or persons who should have such an ownership as would enable them to convey the land to a purchaser without the concurrence of all the persons who up to this time had been obliged to be made parties to the conveyance. That was the first great principle to establish under a system of land transfer, and it was to be found in the present Bill; but that principle must be practically carried out by suitable machinery, and there it was that he felt bound to quarrel with the measure. He thought its machinery altogether inadequate. Bad as the present system was, if they put upon it a compulsory system obnoxious to the criticism of the hon. and learned Member for Reading (Sir Francis Goldsmid), they would really create a greater evil than the one they had cured. He still hoped that the day would come when the transfer of land would be as easy as the transfer of ships or of stock, and he believed that to be perfectly attainable, though not without considerable effort and considerable pecuniary sacrifice. Given a registered owner, they must give the purchaser, the lessee, and the mortgagee proper facilities for ascertaining where the estate was, and what was its nature. For that a cadastral map was necessary, and of that they had the germ in the Ordnance Survey, which when finished would answer all the purposes of such a conveyancing system as the Bill contemplated. Out of the 58,000 square miles of which the surface of England and Wales consisted, upwards of 22,000 had been surveyed and planned on the 25-inch scale, and about 160 towns had been surveyed and mapped on the scale, some of 10ft. and some of 5ft. to the mile. When that survey was completed they might have a system of land registration as easy as the Custom House registry of ships. If the measure should be a success there would be such a mass of business as would stagnate the operations of the office; but if it should be a failure, great harm would be done by placing an enormous expense on an unwilling country. It was said that the Bill would provide for the enlargement of the Registrar's Office and for the establishment of auxiliary registries from time to time; but was that expressed in the Bill in a way to which practical effect could be given? It was proposed that the Lord Chancellor, with the consent of the Treasury, might appoint the necessary officers. But it was not by arrangement between the Lord Chancellor and the Treasury that such a thing ought to be done; the plan ought to be worked out by the Government of the day in the House of Commons. The Attorney General admitted the inevitable expense which must be entailed by forcing registration upon purchasers, lessors, and mortgagees, except as to the mere proprietary title. But in the latter case this enforced registration would only show that A. B. had a proprietary title, and the only result would be that A. B. would have to deduce the earlier title, and, in doing so, to go through a greater amount of officialism than would, at present, be necessary. One part of the Government scheme was that every title tendered for registration should be accompanied by a description of the land, and an accurate map or plan of the land. Now, the preparation of a map would be a serious tax on the owners, for it appeared from the Report of the Royal Commissioners that the maps to 27 titles, there referred to had cost £271, being an average of £10 for maps alone. The Attorney General took great credit for the fact that this Bill was based on the Report of the Commission of 1868, and he told the House that the compulsory clauses were, if not the essence of the Bill, at all events, its greatest ornament. Now, he had carefully looked into the Report of the Commissioners, and not one of them had suggested that there should be any compulsion; on the contrary, their recommendations were entirely confined to something which should be tentative and experimental. The Commissioners had not called one witness who had gone into the probable amount of business to be done or the staff which would be necessary. In fact, as he had stated, it never occurred to their minds that the measure should be other than experimental. The hon. and learned Member for Reading had approved the limitation of the compulsory power to proprietors below £300. If anybody required improvement it was not the rich man, but the poor man who wished to become a landowner, and wanted to make the land a merchantable commodity at a small cost. Sir Hugh Cairns in 1859 brought in a Bill corresponding in many of its provisions with the Bill now under consideration, and speaking of a registry of deeds, he said that— The objections are so manifest that hardly any person in the present day would venture to propose it. Those objections are of this kind: To be worth anything a register of deeds must be made compulsory, and you must have it for the whole country …. Moreover the cost to the country of the establishment by which a registration of deeds could be managed would be something which, I should think, none of us would like to contemplate. I believe the calculation is, that for this country you must have the materials for registering a thousand deeds every day."—[3 Hansard clii. 298–9.] In the same speech Sir Hugh Cairns said— I am persuaded that a system which introduces itself without compulsion, by degrees, and just and only just in proportion as it is suited to the objects it professes to attain, is the system best adapted for the tastes, the prejudices, and wants of this country."—[Ibid. 304.] Again, when Lord Selborne proposed the Bill of 1873, the present Lord Chancellor said— He did not think that their Lordships would do well to impose as a matter of compulsion registration on landowners."—[3 Hansard, ccxvi. 344.] and he was therefore surprised at the entire change which the views of the noble and learned Lord on this subject appeared to have undergone. He was, he might add, expressing the opinions of a great number in the profession, when he said that compulsion would have the effect which had been predicted by Lord Cairns—that it would produce great soreness, great cost, and would not tend to facilitate, but rather encumber and impede, the transfer of land. If, then, the Bill would be a good Bill without compulsion, it would not, he thought, be too much to ask the Government to have confidence in their own measure. The Attorney General had referred to South Australia, and had stated that there, in the absence of compulsory registration, so great an amount of business had been done, that every piece of land had been turned over six times. If that were so, why, he would ask, not leave the system to take gradual hold on the people of this country, who were better judges of what would be useful to them than any amateur or lawyer in that or the other House of Parliament? If the Bill should go into Committee he trusted that these matters would receive full consideration. In that case he should not ask his hon. and learned Friend to press his Amendment. But if the Bill was to be compulsory, it would be his duty to oppose it in every constitutional way.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House, whilst fully recognising the importance of facilitating and cheapening the Transfer of Land, is of opinion that those objects would not he accomplished by the measure now proposed,"—(Sir Francis Goldsmid,)

—instead thereof.

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


said, he thought the grounds of opposition to the Bill, as they had been stated, in the course of the discussion, resolved themselves very much into questions of detail, which could be dealt with more conveniently in Committee than on the second reading. The hon. Baronet the Member for Reading (Sir Francis Goldsmid) had cited against it the authority of the Lord Chancellor; but he believed that noble and learned Lord was of opinion that it was likely to be a most useful measure, although, speaking individually, the noble and learned Lord would prefer the establishment of some Court such as the Landed Estates Court in Ireland. The country, however, was not prepared, he (Mr. Marten) imagined, for the establishment of such a Court at a very great expense, or to throw upon landlords the burden of making out titles of an indefeasible character. If we were now originating a scheme, everybody would, he supposed, be inclined to adopt the principles in force with regard to stock in the public funds, or the hundreds of millions invested in railways; but we had to deal with an existing system, and the practical difficulties which had to be met required that a register should be established which by its gradual operation would bring land so within its scope that it might be dealt with in the same way as stock or ships. He did not hesitate, he might add, to express his confidence that if the Bill were to pass, that result might, with regard to the great bulk of land, be attained in the course of a few years. The hon. Member for Reading went on to urge it as an objection to the Bill that under the value of £300 there was to be exemption from the compulsory clauses; but there was a fallacy in arguing that, because small transactions—as in the cases of small incomes under the Income Tax Act—were made the subject of exemption, that exemption should be extended to transactions of a larger character. Reference had been made to observations of the council of the Incorporated Law Society, but that council had expressed a decided opinion that an efficient system of land transfer would be an invaluable boon to the country, and had therefore assented to the principle of the present Bill. The probable difficulties of search had been greatly exaggerated, for the properties would be divided into convenient districts, and every parish would have its land separately designated. It had been contended that Section 36, which contained a list of charges and interests that were not to be incumbrances within the meaning of the Act, would lead to considerable difficulty; but the matters in question—namely, tithes, land tax, liability to repair highways and churches, rights of common and fishing, tenancies of less than 21 years, &c.—were such as were sure to be similarly treated in the ordinary particulars and conditions of sale. With regard to the provision that the registration of land should not be considered to include mines and minerals in the property unless they were expressly mentioned, he was inclined to think that in these days, when mines and minerals were almost always the subject of separate dealings, the course proposed was the more convenient one. It might be objected to the plan of registration proposed by this Bill that it was not founded upon maps upon a large scale. Not half of this country had yet been surveyed upon a large scale. According to the Census taken in 1801, the number of inhabited houses in this country was 1,571,923; but, according to the Census taken in 1871, the number of inhabited houses was 4,259,117; and his opinion was that any system of registration founded on maps would be totally inadequate to meet the changes which were constantly being made in this country, binder these circumstances, he thought they might dismiss the question of maps. This Bill provided, wisely, in his opinion, that on the sale of an estate the parties to the transaction might or might not adopt the map system. One of its objects was to secure the accomplishment of what public policy required—namely, the rendering of the sale or mortgage of land of an easy and simple description. Under this Bill dealings with land would be placed on the same footing as dealings with the public funds, with ships, or with stock or shares in railways. The principle of the Bill, instead of being in the slightest degree novel, had been in operation for many years in regard to large estates, and the other classes of property he had mentioned. Every settlement and mortgage of land, according to the common forms in use for the last quarter of a century, at least, contained a power of sale framed on the principle adopted in the Bill. By this form the seller was enabled to convey the land absolutely, free from all claims to which it might be subject under the settlement or mortgage. The land could not be followed in the hands of the purchaser; and the remedy of anyone aggrieved by the exercise of the power would be personal only against the person exercising the power. This power prevailed already at that moment over a vast number of estates, and, in practice, was not found to be abused. The object of the measure was to put into a convenient and easy form those powers which were now laboriously given, for the purpose of facilitating dealings with property, and, therefore, he earnestly hoped the House would assent to the second reading.


expressed regret at being obliged to offer even a semblance of opposition to a Bill which had been revised by Vice Chancellor Hall and adopted by two of the most eminent of living lawyers. He confessed he entertained rather sceptical opinions on the subject of land registration. For the last 200 years the idea of a perfect land registry had been a sort of philosopher's stone after which English conveyancers and real property lawyers had been searching in vain. He remembered six Bills which were introduced for the purpose of establishing a land register, but of these only one survived its birth for more than a few weeks—namely, Lord Westbury's Land Transfer Act of 1862, which was now admitted on all hands to have proved a complete failure. The opinions of the Royal Commissioners were as varied as the number of the Royal Commissioners, and he was not asking too much when he asked them to pause before adopting a measure that bristled with so many difficulties. The present measure pro- vided for three different kinds, or rather degrees of registration—namely, of absolute, of limited, and of possessory titles. With regard to the first two kinds of registration, this Bill was simply a re-enactment of the Act of 1862, with only two important differences. One was that a 40 years' should be sufficient, instead of a 60 years' title; the other was that under this Bill the Registrar was not required to ascertain boundaries. These two provisions undoubtedly rendered registration much more simple, but, at the same time, far less effectual, inasmuch as it would bind no one except the person who applied for registration. Lord "Westbury's Act had been a conspicuous failure. The present duties of the Land Registry Act Office in Lincoln's Inn Fields consisted not in putting titles on the register, but in taking them off. He had been in the habit of passing it daily for many years, and in that long course of time he never saw a single person enter it. The court-yard leading to it was a wilderness; it was covered with grass and weeds—weeds, he might say, grown as high as a man—and was as desolate in appearance as any property that had been in Chancery. The Commission appointed to inquire into the operation of the Act of 1862, reported four years ago, that since its establishment the office had had only 507 applications for registration, and had only completed the registration of 209 titles. Thus, in six years, it had registered rather less than half of the whole number of titles accepted in England and "Wales in one day. This office, with its cumbrous machinery and its highly paid officials, had been created and allowed to subsist for the benefit of one purchaser in 5,000. What had led to this conspicuous failure? It was a popular fallacy that titles to land in England were not safe. He believed, on the contrary, that land was about the safest kind of property a man could hold. During an experience of 20 years he had only come across three cases in which a purchaser, taking ordinary precautions and employing a respectable solicitor, had been disturbed in the holding of an estate under the present system. One was a case of forgery, and the other two cases of fraud. No doubt, the Act of 1862 would give a still greater security in the form of a Parliamentary title; but even security might be purchased too clearly. He had obtained some figures which showed that, without registration, purchases were completed at a cost of about 1 per cent upon the purchase-money, while, in one instance a purchaser who registered his title under the Act of 1862 was over two years in completing his purchase, expended a sum of about £1,000 in the course of the transaction, and, in the end, registered a title with a blot upon it. What was wanted was a cheap and expeditious system; but, instead of securing this, the present Bill bristled with clauses containing the germs of enormous expense, and was, in addition, full of complication. He strongly advised his hon. and learned Friend in charge of the measure to discard from it all the unworkable provisions it contained, and content himself with a simple Bill enacting the registration of possessory titles; for if compulsory registration was to become the law, these were the only class of titles which persons could, with any show of justice, be called upon to register. How did the Bill conform to the standards of uniformity and cheapness, which ought to be the tests of a measure of the kind? With regard to the first point, he could not conceive greater complexity than the Bill would bring about. Estates under £300 were to be exempted from the operation of the Bill. Now, supposing a man purchased an estate for £2,000 or £3,000, and then sold it in smaller lots of £300 each or less, would the subpurchasers have to be registered under the Bill? If they would have, those unfortunate people would have to search the register, and would not be relieved at all. Then with regard to cheapness, the Attorney General seemed to think the expense of registering a possessory title would be next to nothing; but the various formalities which would have to be gone through in complying with the provisions of the Bill in regard to those titles would probably involve considerable expense, and certainly a great deal of delay. Then they were obliged to have recourse to an elaborate system of caveats, because they were the only safeguards they had for persons outside of the register. Anybody who put in a claim to an estate had a right to be served with a notice of an application for its registration, and that system of caveats would open the door to an enormous amount of inconvenience, and also much expense, because many claimants would have to be bought off. It had been suggested that the difficulty might be got rid of by making the 27th clause voluntary only and not compulsory. Now, if they took the system proposed by that Bill, and had to elect between compulsion and permission, he said, by all means, let them make it permissive. But he wished to see a really good workable system established, and then it should be made compulsory. His objection to that Bill was that it was neither permissive nor compulsory, but a sort of hybrid, which was neither one thing nor the other. He did not blame the Government nor their Law Officers altogether for that, because they were approaching a question which was surrounded by difficulties, arising not merely from the nature of the subject, but from the associations which had grown round it like the moss round an old tree, which it was almost impossible to separate from the tree itself. No doubt it would be very easy in a short Bill to assimilate the transfer of land to the transfer of stocks or ships, but would the House of Commons pass such a measure? Before they could arrive at such a simple system they must get rid of many things with which land was associated—jointure portions, entails, and the like. Besides, we had now arrived at a period of the Session when it was hardly respectful to the House to press the Bill on. It could not possibly come on for discussion for another fortnight, at a time when nearly all the legal Members of the House would be absent, and when it was a farce to suppose it could be adequately considered. Under those circumstances, he would appeal to the Government to be content with the passing of the other legal measures which stood on the Paper, and to which there was little or no opposition, and to withdraw the Bill before the House for the present Session.


said, he had for a, long time been conversant with the transfer of land, and had looked into the Bill with the greatest care. The result, he regretted to have to add, was that he thought it would, as it stood, be practically unworkable; and more, that it would be hardly possible to put its provisions in a workable shape. Under the existing system the public had great security for the property which any one of them happened to possess, and before that system was destroyed the Government were, he contended, bound to show that the security which they were about to give was equal to that which it would replace. The Bill merely provided that after going to considerable expense and trouble a prima facie title was to be obtained—a title which it would be open to every one to attack. Now, its provisions were founded partly on the Act of Lord Westbury and partly on the Australian Acts; but the good portions of the latter Acts, which worked very successfully in Victoria because of the admirable system of registration, though not so well in the other Colonies, were, so far as he could see, omitted from it. The Bill did not fulfil the promise held out in the Preamble, that it would simplify title and facilitate transfer. In the method it proposed for the simplification of title, it really held out a great temptation to fraud. If the Australian system had been fairly adopted, then they would have had something like a workable scheme. This Bill, however, mixed up Lord Westbury's Act, which had been a failure, and certain provisions of the Australian Acts, and in truth reduced the whole thing to a muddle. There were some circumstances in which, it appeared to him, that it would be absolutely dangerous under the present Bill for a man to take out a certificate of registration. He contended that the proceedings would involve unnecessary publicity, and give persons opportunities of harassing the owners of property by discovering and taking advantage of defects of title. Hardships might arise from the circumstance that when once an application for registration was made, it would be out of the power of the applicant—no matter what reasons he might have—to withdraw it. In the Australian Colonies it often happened that the Registrar, or the examiner of titles, volunteered the suggestion to the applicant that it might be better for him to wait two or three years before registering. Even after the proprietor of an estate had gone through the troublesome ceremonies laid down by this Bill, he would still have under it only a primâ facie and not an unimpeachable title. In fact, the provisions of the Bill, in the matter of securing and simplifying title to an estate, amounted to nothing. It ought not to be hurried through the House at the end of the Session. It ought to be postponed till next Session, but in the case of bargain and sale it gave the purchaser either a clear and absolute title, or the man who registered himself on a less perfect title so that in the interval between now and next Session, the Members of the legal profession, who were a high-minded body, and at whose suggestion the legal reforms made during recent years had been proposed, should have a full opportunity of considering the subject, and of pointing out the difficulties and dangers which would arise if the Bill passed in its present shape.


said, the first question was, was this Bill called for? It appeared to him that some such measure was not only called for but needed. English conveyancing and the system as regarded purchases and the expense accompanying either the borrowing of money on mortgage or the selling an estate, was much the same as the system which obtained in Ireland prior to the establishment of the Encumbered Estates Court and the Landed Estates Court. Lawyers, thinking it was necessary to guard against every conceivable contingency, often investigated titles in such a way as to lead to great expense, and it was extremely desirable that the cost of these transactions should be lessened. This could only be done by means of the system adopted in the Irish Landed Estates Court under which deeds were prepared bearing absolute finality and indefeasibility of title upon the face of them, or certificates were granted declaring the existence of a good title and imparting equal indefeasibility and finality. The principal objection urged against the Bill had rested upon the compulsory clause; but he failed to see any valid ground for objecting to a clause which would only affect vendors and purchasers, would tend to greater security of title, and would, therefore, increase the value of landed property. Why should not the purchaser have a document which would give him absolute finality? Estates in Ireland sold with a Parliamentary title brought one or two years' more purchase than they would if sold with an ordinary title, and that was because there was finality in the transaction. He believed that the compulsory clause would really raise the value if the estate came to be re-sold, aad thus be one of the greatest benefits that had ever been conferred on purchasers in England. It did not compel the large landowner to go and register, but in the case of bargain and sale it gave the purchaser either a clear and absolute title or the man who registered himself on a less perfect title, made an assertion before the world that he was the owner of the property which he had purchased, and by the mere lapse of time acquired a good title. He submitted to the House that when these solid advantages were given, they ought not to be thrown aside because it was possible that a more perfect system might be devised, which would not pass either the House of Commons or the other House of Parliament. He hoped the House would agree to the second reading.


said, he thought the Bill would prove a substantial though not a very large reform of the law relating to real property, which at present imposed artificial and needless costs upon the owners of land. It had, indeed, been estimated that these costs were equivalent to a tax of 10 per cent on the value of their estates—a burthen which, of course, pressed most heavily on owners of small properties, and caused the land to be mainly held in large masses by rich men, whilst bankers and other dealers in money shrunk from making loans on landed property, owing to the state of the law, which impeded and delayed the realization of such securities. Now, without entering into the vexed question of small proprietorships of land, he should like to see all artificial restrictions removed and this and other cognate questions left to solve themselves. He objected in principle to needless obstructions, which answered no good purpose, and were a heavy tax on this species of property. If the transfer of land was very much cheapened, it might, perhaps, tend also towards the attainment of another object—namely, the better cultivation of the land in England. In 1871, Lord Derby, speaking at a public meeting, stated that the land of England did not produce one-half of what it might be made to produce if sufficient capital were invested in the soil, and an opinion to the same effect was subsequently expressed by Lord Leicester. That difficulty might, perhaps, be solved if tenant-farmers were enabled to buy land, or, at all events, if the transfer of land was perfectly free, and things were allowed to find their level in whatever way the convenience and interest of the people might suggest. The present Bill appeared to be exceedingly well drawn, as might have been expected from the hands through which it had to pass. He likewise regarded it as a distinct advance, to extend, as proposed, the operation of the system of registration beyond absolute and marketable titles to titles limited to a certain date, and also to simply possessory titles. At the same time, looking to the very limited area of the field which registration of any kind covered, he thought the measure fell far short of what the public interest required. He could not see why, in the public interest, which, after all, was paramount on this question, the operation of the Bill and the very gentle compulsion it applied to make persons come upon the register should be confined merely to sales. Some years ago a Committeee of that House, presided over by Mr. Pusey, brought out the remarkable fact, that the proportion of land under settlement in England and "Wales was 70 per cent of all that fit for cultivation. This proportion had probably not decreased since then, and therefore nearly three-fourths of the land in this country was at once exempt from the operation of the Bill. Now, every well-drawn settlement gave powers of sale under proper conditions to the trustees; and why, he asked, should these trustees be precluded from going on the register as owners for the purpose of dealing with the land? Ample securities might easily be obtained against any fraudulent, or indiscreet exercise of such powers; and there was, he submitted, no reason why land in settlement, as well as land out of settlement, should not be put on the register in the names of persons, who, according to the arrangements of the parties themselves, had the power of selling. With regard to the provisions to compel registration, it seemed to him that they were not sufficiently stringent. There were various ways—as, for instance, by the vendor appointing a trustee, and thus divesting himself of the legal estate—in which it would be very easy to evade completely the operation of the clause with regard to compulsion. The provisions on this point of the Bill of last year were of a much more stringent character. But further, whilst property under settlement—that was to say, nearly three-fourths of all the land of England—would be wholly exempt from the operation of the Act; and the futile compulsion provided for the remainder would apply only as it was being sold; it was still more disappointing to find that there were no provisions securing that even the small extent of land sold and then possibly placed upon the register should, if when so placed, remain there. By one of the later sections of the Bill a registered title would, on the owner's death—and that, at all events, was a pretty certain event—be legally devisable, transmissible and transferable just as if it had never been registered at all, so long as the new owner was not entered on the register. This, however, need never be done, and thus it was plain that the measure must largely fail to attain its object, even as to the inconsiderable number of titles within its operation. In order, too, that the Bill should work efficiently, it would, he thought, be necessary that some machinery should be provided similar to the Landed Estates Court, which had worked very satisfactorily in Ireland; and that had hitherto been the view of the present Lord Chancellor. He desired, now, to add that an efficient measure for registration of titles and transfer of land was greatly needed in Ireland, and it was to be hoped that Her Majesty's Government would, during the recess, consider this matter with the view of taking action upon it. The system at present in operation in that country had not been successful; for out of property to the value of £45,000,000 sterling, sold under the Landed Estates Court, and its predecessor the Encumbered Estates Court, only about £2,000,000 worth had been recorded under the Re-cord of Titles Act. It should also be borne in mind that the provisions of the Irish Church Act and Land Act for facilitating the purchase by tenants of their holdings imperatively required to be thus supplemented. There would probably be, by the end of next year, some 6,000 or 7,000 small fee-simple properties thus created; to these the present system would be simply ruinous. To return, however, to the Bill now before the House, although he thought that it might with advantage go much further than it did, he hoped it would now be read a second time, and that all parties would join in an effort to make it as good a measure as possible.


remarked that they all seemed to be pretty well agreed with the Preamble of the Bill, and the only question they had to discuss was that which they were now discussing. If the people of England were to believe that this was the first time they had had an opportunity of having land conveyed to them at a very small expense they would be much mistaken. There was nothing new at all, for it had been possible to transfer land by the simplest words since and before the passing of the Statute of Frauds. Being at Oxford the other day he went to the Bodleian Library, and the very courteous librarian showed him a conveyance of the time of Henry I., conveying to the nuns of Littlemore to hold for ever on condition of their praying for the souls of himself, his father, mother, and blood relations. The conveyance was signed by five witnesses, and the whole was contained in three lines. Any measure that would facilitate the transfer of land, and would popularize the holding of land, would be a great benefit to the public. The present Bill aimed at giving a certified title and proprietorship. The register of proprietorship was a thing which they must look to. If we had. had that some time ago, our titles would have been in a very different condition from what they were in now. For facilitating the transfer of land and simplifying the title only two things were required—one was to register the proprietorship, and the other to endorse the register and the encumbrances. There was no necessity for anything further, so long as there was a strong compulsory clause which would give authority only to registered proprietorships. Did this Bill do that? He submitted that it did not. Reference had been made to eminent lawyers from whose hands the Bill had come, but when Vice Chancellor Hall was included among them it should be borne in mind that since he had considered the measure many strange alterations had been made in it; and the exemption of properties under £300 was an admission that its operation would be attended by great expense and delay. Much had been said about the care and accuracy with which it had been drawn, and upon that point he would remark that he had felt it necessary to give Notice of between 40 and 50 Amendments. He thought there would be little delay caused if the measure were to stand over for more careful consideration, and he was convinced it would make it a Bill more worthy of the noble and learned Lord from whom it came, and of hon. Members who sat on the Ministerial side of the House.


was of opinion that a registration of title such as was contemplated by the Bill could not be carried out in this country; and that if it were possible, it would be, to a great extent, useless. Before a title could be registered it should be shown to be indefeasible, and in how many cases could that be the case considering the number of complicated interests and incumbrances which existed in respect of most landed estates? The right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Law) had suggested that there should be a Judge appointed for the management of all landed estates in England, because the Encumbered Estates Court in Ireland had worked well. But the circumstances of the two countries were so different that if anything of the kind were attempted a strong cry would next be raised of Home Rule for England. In his opinion, this measure would not improve the position of either the purchaser or the vendor of real estate, because there would still have to be an investigation into the title even if it were registered, inasmuch as it rarely happened that a freeholder ever had complete control over his land, which was usually more or less encumbered. The best thing would be to have a registration of deeds as was the case in all other countries in Europe. Deeds might be printed in the register-book, and printed copies of them, duly stamped, might be given to the owners of the property. If a man had a good title he would be satisfied with it without going to the expense of registering it, and if he had a middling or a mere holding title he would not register it in order to give every one an opportunity of finding out blots in it fie further objected to maps being required to be made of each property that was to be registered; and, in conclusion, he advised Her Majesty's Government not to go on with this Bill, but to re-consider the subject and bring in a good sound measure for the registration of deeds next Session.


said, he thought that the idea of the registration of deeds had been exploded more than 40 years ago. Our chief conveyancing difficulties arose from the nature of our real property tenure, and if we were to begin again, without doubt, we should adopt some system for the registration of titles, and not encumber ourselves with these complicated deeds which the hon. and learned Baronet opposite (Sir George Bowyer) proposed to perpetuate by having them printed on the register-book. The hon. and learned Baronet had urged as an objection against the registration of titles that some one might be tempted to pick holes in them; but surely the best way to induce persons to take such a course would be to register the deeds on which they depended. The expense of registering such deeds would be very heavy. The great vice of the present system was that they had deeds which recited former deeds, which again recited former deeds, which again recited former deeds; and he did not know if all the sheepskin which came into the market would be able to supply the parchment which would, in time, be required for the enormous recitals of these deeds. For many years efforts had been made to get some briefer mode of conveying property, and the tendency had been to recommend the registration of titles, and not the registration of deeds. In 1857 the present Lord Chancellor brought forward a Bill by which he proposed the registration of titles. In 1862 a Bill was introduced by the late Lord Westbury, and passed into law, under which a system of registration was created which proved to be an utter and complete failure. That failure arose from two causes; first, nothing but marketable titles could be registered; and secondly, that the man who wished to register his title was obliged to inform all his neighbours what he was about to do—to proclaim it in the market-place by a process of horning which prevailed in Scotland, and to challenge any of them to say that any of the property did not belong to him, thus exposing himself to a shower of lawsuits. The consequence was that no man in his senses went to the Registrar. What was proposed by this Bill? Pre- cisely what had been proposed by the Commission of 1870 who sat to inquire into the causes of the failure of the Act of 1862 and pointed out what, in their opinion, would be the proper remedies. They recommended, among other things, that there should be a registration of possessory titles or proprietary rights. Many holding titles were not marketable titles, but the effect of registering proprietary titles at a small expense would by this Bill be that a man putting his title on the register and going back, say, five or ten years, might say from that moment he had registered his title, and in process of time he would find that, without the assistance of a single deed, without anything but the registration of a proprietary title, every day would improve it, and in a certain number of years he would have a perfect title, and might burn his title deeds, so far as security was concerned. On the face of this Bill there was a most valuable provision in the interest of vendors and purchasers of land, a provision which conveyancers, perhaps, might not like to see, but which he was delighted to see—the doctrine of actual and constructive notice was by this Bill swept away. In one point he regarded the Bill as more or less experimental, because, knowing as he did that for 40 years past, at least, the wisest of the lawyers had been trying to make a perfect system of registration, they certainly had not up to the present moment succeeded. He did not say that the present Bill would provide for every emergency which might arise; but it was a step in the right direction. Power might hereafter be taken, in the event of the London Registry proving insufficient, to extend it to the country. If it were felt necessary to do so, and such a step were taken, a great part of the objection which now existed to compulsory registration, such as it was, would at once be got rid of. Another question was, whether it should be made compulsory? It was said that this Bill was at fault because it was compulsory. He agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Alfred Marten) that the compulsion in this case was of the mildest description. What was the compulsion? It was this—that after a certain period, if a person did not choose to put his title on the register, the title which he conferred would be simply and solely an equitable title. That was the whole amount of compulsion proposed in the Bill, and although it might very properly be considered in Committee, he did not think his noble and learned Friend (the Lord Chancellor) could fairly be twitted upon that score. He saw in this Bill advantages which had certainly been pointed out for more than 40 years; he saw that the Act of 1862 had been practically a dead letter; he saw that, since that Act had failed, the general outline suggested by the Commission of 1870 was carried out by the clauses of this Bill; and he could not help thinking that, if it became law, a great step would be taken towards that which had been desired for many years, and that it would increase to a considerable extent the value of land in this country. He trusted therefore it would pass during the present Session.


noticed that throughout the whole course of the debate on the Bill no person save those who were Members of the legal profession ventured to express an opinion on the subject. He was certain that the House would have been pleased to hear the opinion of some hon. Gentleman who was not connected with the legal profession. Why was it that during the six hours the debate had lasted not one landed proprietor not connected with the legal profession had attempted to offer an opinion on the subject? It was not to be supposed that the landed proprietors who were Members of the House took no interest in the question of the transfer of land. Why, then, did they not display that interest by an expression of their views? He believed that the reason why they had not done so was that the details of the measure were so complicated that they could not master them fully, and that they could not, therefore, trust the mselves to take part in a preliminary discussion respecting it. The Bill, he believed, would sadly disappoint the hopes of many who anticipated that it would simplify the title and facilitate the transfer of land. While it ought to be read a second time, and while severe criticism at the present stage ought not to be applied to its details, it would disappoint those who expected much from it. He should offer no captious opposition to the Bill. It might be said that vested interests, in a professional point of view, would create a difficulty in the passing of the Bill. He would rather discourage than encourage such opposition. They had not to look to vested interests that did not favour simplifying the transfer of land, but rather to the interests of those who held land, with the view of simplifying the title and facilitating its transfer. Putting aside all captious objections, and dealing with general matters rather than with details, he asked what they had hoped this Bill would perform connected with the conveyance of landed property, and what was the effect of the Bill? He feared that this Bill would do nothing in the present to simplify the transfer of land, and it was doubtful whether it would do anything in the future. Some persons objected to the Bill because it had compulsory powers, and there were others who objected to it because it was not more compulsory. What would be the effect of the voluntary powers given under this Bill? He thought it would very likely meet with the same fate as Lord Westbury's Bill of 1867. That Bill gave not only an indefeasible title, but settled the boundaries of the owner's estate, yet, because it was only a voluntary registration, the Act of 1862 had been virtually a dead letter. The present Bill, by the 35th clause, placed an owner in a better position than he was at present, but only to a certain limited extent. Whether an owner registered under this Bill or not, he obtained, after 20 years, a possessory title, and after 60 years an indefeasible title. The only advantage of this Bill was that registration marked the point of time for which the Statute of Limitations ran, and made it start from a certain instead of a doubtful time. An owner would, however, be unwilling to make it patent to the world that he required a good marketable title. The compulsory portion of the Bill was good, yet it was threatened with the opposition of those who disliked compulsory registration. He earnestly hoped his right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, if he had to go through the arduous task of passing the Bill through Committee, would not consent to giving up this part of the measure, and he also hoped that estates under £300 would be included in these compulsory provisions. In his opinion, no class of estates stood more in need of registration and a means of cheap transfer. Such a Bill as the present ought to have an influence upon the land rather than the holders; but the blot of this measure was that it gave a benefit to the individual, and was not an adequate record of the land. He was afraid the Bill had come before them too late to be made so useful as might be desired, and he could almost hope that it might not be passed this Session, with the design that when the question came to be treated hereafter, it should be dealt with comprehensively.


responded to the challenge which had been made to the landed proprietors to take part in the debate, and said he believed they always trusted to the honourable conduct of the solicitors of this country. He had not taken part in the debate because he did not profess to understand the subject as he was not a lawyer, and, for himself, the only pecuniary privilege he derived from sitting in the House was that by listening to a debate like this he could get a legal opinion without paying for it. He did not think landed proprietors had clamoured for this Bill, or cared much about it one way or another; but, for himself, he should be glad to see a recurrence to small deeds. He feared that in this country we should never see land transferred in a simple and cheap manner. Those who clamoured most for cheap land were probably those who had no land and did not care about it, and he doubted whether they would gain anything from the change. It was a mistake to say that there was no land for sale, because plenty of it was advertised for sale every day; and, indeed, he believed that the great difficulty in obtaining land consisted in finding the money to pay for it.


said, he believed the question had a wider significance than the legal one, and that no measure would produce a greater effect in the direction of true conservatism and reform than a measure to simplify and cheapen the transfer of small properties, which would encourage thrift and independence among working men by encouraging them to become the proprietors of their own houses. This it would not be safe for many to do until it was cheap to buy, sell, and pawn houses, because the fluctuations of trade rendered it imprudent for them to invest their saving in a form which could not be easily real- ized. He regretted the Government had consented to the withdrawal of the compulsory clauses, because they really formed the best parts of the Bill. The desire to acquire land and to possess houses of their own was as strong among the poorer classes as among the rich, and there was a practice which very largely prevailed of persons giving up their houses which they rented at the end of a very few years in order that they might get into other houses newly fitted up. That was a most wasteful practice, which ought to be discouraged. Desiring a complete measure for the cheap transfer of land, he would advise the Government, possessing as it did the confidence of the landed interest, to wait until they could pass such a measure, which he was assured by leading solicitors need occasion them no concern, for confidence would still be reposed in them, however simple transfer was made, while the facility of transactions would inevitably increase the number of them.


said, he had desired too long an amendment of the system of land in this country, to offer any opposition to a Bill which professed to amend that system, which was in a state about as disgraceful as it was possible to conceive. It had been stated that night that the transfer of land added about 10 per cent to the price of land. If the country gentlemen would pay the same percentage to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the form of succession duty, our Budget might be very much amended. Although the House was full of Gentlemen possessing property, there were few of them who know what title they had to it; and if they consulted any experienced conveyancer, he would tell them that most of them had no title at all. He said that for this reason—that at every auction of land there were conditions of sale of this character—the person selling made it a condition of sale that the purchaser should take a bad title—that was to say, a title less than a good one. He ventured to say that that was an absurd state for the land of a country like England to be placed in. He had always held the opinion that there would never be any real simplification in the system of the tranfer of land until they began by simplifying the tenure and title, and that the mere attempt to simplify registration was of no use. This Bill did not touch the root of the evil, which lay in the complication of the tenure of land, and in the multitude of estates carved out of the land. Whatever was the system of registration established, it would always be a complicated system, and as long as there was a complicated tenure, no system which might be adopted would give that simplicity of transfer in land which was desired. He agreed with the Attorney General for Ireland that the proper criticism upon this Bill was that it did not go half far enough. He also agreed very much with the present and the late Attorney General for Ireland that if we could have a little of that justice to England which was sometimes demanded for Ireland, and have the benefit of the Encumbered Estates Courts in this country, it would be a good thing for this country. Having regard to what the Bill professed to do, he was afraid it would cause great disappointment to those who desired simplification in the transfer of land. If that was so, it would add to the many failures we had had on the subject, among which the Act of Lord Westbury was the most signal. He agreed also with his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Taunton (Sir H. James), and his right hon. and learned Friend sitting near him (Mr. Law), that the fault of this Bill was not that it was too compulsory, but that it was not half compulsory enough. They were applying compulsory registration, because they thought registration a good thing, because they thought it was an advantage. If registration was an advantage to the general public, what was the meaning of a system of registration which, as his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Law) had pointed out, would omit at least throe-fourths of the land of England? If registration was a good thing, why was it not to apply to the large class of land which was held in settlement, and to that held in mortmain? But, above all, why in the name of all that was wonderful was it not to apply to estates under £300? The introduction of that exception was the most extraordinary thing in the history of the Bill, and was introduced at the last moment upon the third reading of the Bill in the House of Lords. If there was any class of property to which the benefit of registration ought to be extended, it was to the small estates. If the Government had proposed this Bill—as they ought to have done—with a proper district register, there would not have been an outcry against it. A man who bought a field of five or six acres, for which he gave £300, was under the same conditions with respect to the difficulties of title as a man who bought an estate of 4,000 or 5,000 acres, and no one could tell what it would cost him to complete his purchase. The Government should take time to consider the Bill, and produce one which would deal more effectually with the evil. He feared that the Bill, instead of settling the question, was only a pretext for not doing thoroughly that which had been so long waited for; and he believed that if the Government would take a little more time to consider the matter, they would find themselves largely supported by public opinion, in making it a much more effectual and extensive measure. Sooner or later they would have to deal with it in a far more extensive manner than the present Bill contemplated.


could not concur in the wish that this measure should be postponed. It was the outcome of much thought and grave consideration; and although it might not be all that they desired, it was, at any rate, an attempt to deal with a very important question, and the community at large, having had the measure announced for many months, would be extremely disappointed if the House did not attempt to make it a useful one. Whatever alterations might be required in the Bill could be made in Committee. He joined in the regret expressed, that properties under £300 had been struck out of the Bill; but believing that the measure would be the beginning of a series of enactments which would afford the working man an opportunity of investing his savings with security at a fair rate of interest, he gave his support to the Motion that the Bill be read a second time.


regarded the Bill as a proposition to simplify the Law of Real Property, and one which, if carried out in all its details, would confer material benefit on landed proprietors. The registration of deeds was universal in Ireland, but was confined in England to the counties of York and Middlesex; but registration of titles was at present untried in this country. With regard to the exclusion of small properties under £300 in value from the operation of the Act, he pointed out that in the present complicated state of our law such exclusion was a necessity.


, in reply, remarked, that in moving that the Bill be read a second time, he had invited criticism, and that his invitation had been very largely responded to. Much, however, that had fallen from hon. Members was worthy of the careful cousideration of the Government, and should receive that consideration when the Bill got into Committee. He was desirous, however, of removing one misapprehension. Several hon. Members appeared to think that properties under £300 would be excluded from the operation of the Act. This was not so; they were only exempted from the compulsory provisions, and, so far as the advantages of registration were concerned, they would be quite available in the cases of those small properties.


, being satisfied with the discussion which had taken place, said, he would withdraw his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Thursday 16th July.