§ Order for Committee read.
§ SIR HARDINGE GIFFARD
I beg to move that the House go into Committee on this Bill—that you, Sir, do now leave the Chair.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."—(Sir Hardinge Giffard.)
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he was sorry to be obliged to oppose the Motion. He could not agree to it for the reason—as he had stated on the second reading—that the Government themselves proposed to bring forward a measure on the subject, and they could not allow the Bill of the hon. and learned Gentleman to proceed until the House had had an opportunity of considering that scheme. The question of Land Registry had been carefully inquired into by both Commissioners and a Committee, and it had been decided that the system in 1673 existence was injurious, and ought not to be extended. It had been his desire not to block the Bill of his hon. and learned Friend; but it had certainly never been expected that an attempt would be made to proceed with it at such an hour as this. He wished to treat the hon. and learned Gentleman with every courtesy in the matter, and to leave him at liberty to bring his Bill on at any hour, but he trusted that the debate would be now adjourned.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Attorney General.)
§ SIR HARDINGE GIFFARD
said, he should be content to meet the hon. and learned Gentleman (the Attorney General) by putting the Committee stage down for any day he thought proper. What he desired to do now was to get the Speaker out of the Chair on the measure, so that it would not be in anyone's power to block it. When the Bill was last before the House the Attorney General had quelled the discussion by saying he was going to assent to the second reading; and it appeared to him (Sir Hardinge Giffard) that the hon. and learned Gentleman's course to-night was an example of Obstruction which could not do good. The Bill did not come from one side of the House only, for the names of hon. Gentlemen on the Ministerial Benches had been on the back of it. It had been brought forward, but abandoned some time ago, because the Attorney General had undertaken to deal with it. He had not dealt with the subject, however, and he now sought to prevent the Speaker leaving the Chair, although the only reason it was desired to get the Bill into Committee was that it might be discussed. If it were discussed, and the Attorney General were able to show that it should not be passed, well and good; but what he (Sir Hardinge Giffard) objected to was that at this hour of the evening (1.20 A.M.), the hon. and learned Gentleman was endeavouring to block the Bill, and giving an example of Obstruction which was much to be deprecated.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL (Sir FAHRER HERSCHELL)
said, his hon. and learned Friend (the Attorney General) could have blocked this Bill any day; but he had not done so because he wished to show more courtesy than that 1674 to hon. Gentlemen opposite. Hon. Gentlemen opposite did not seem to believe in the possibility of such a thing as courtesy, perhaps because that was a commodity of which they did not possess very much; but when the hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir Hardinge Giffard) spoke of this being an example of Obstruction, unless he was very much mistaken the hon. and learned Gentleman had himself displayed Obstruction a short time ago by voting against further proceeding with the debate on the Address. The hon. and learned Gentleman thought it too late to go on with that matter; but now it was, in his opinion, not too late to go on with this important Bill, although he must know that this was no time at which a measure of this kind could be conveniently discussed. What had the hon. and learned Gentleman (the Attorney General) asked? He had already stated his objections to this Bill; and the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite must surely have realized that, but for the courtesy shown in not opposing this Bill, it would now have not existed. His hon. and learned Friend had taken a different course. What he stated was that, inasmuch as the Government were themselves intending to introduce a Bill dealing with the subject of this Registry Bill, he would not oppose the second reading; but he could not permit the Bill to go through the further stage until the Government had introduced their Bill, in order that the matter might be considered as a whole; and, surely, when the Government had a Bill dealing with the same subject, it was not unreasonable that they should ask that this Bill should be postponed to a later day. The hon. and learned Gentleman opposite urged that the Speaker should be got out of the Chair. Did he, then, wish to bring Members down every night by putting this Bill on the Paper, although he knew that the Government were not prepared to accept the Bill in its present form, and were prepared to deal with it? The Government desired to meet the hon. and learned Gentleman as far as possible by not opposing or blocking this Bill; but he did not think they had received much encouragement to pursue that course.
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR
said, he would not discuss the question of courtesy; but it appeared to him that the 1675 hon. and learned Solicitor General had rather forgotten his own character for that commodity, and also that he had failed in a quality for which he was generally remarkable—namely, fairness. He must have known that the hon. and learned Gentleman did not propose to proceed with this Bill further to-night than to secure the stage of Committee. It would be in the recollection of the House that the hon. and learned Attorney General gave them to understand that upon this stage he would be prepared to make a statement to the House with regard to the intentions of the Government respecting this matter, or, at any rate, in connection with the general question of the registration of deeds relating to land. If the suggestion of the hon. and learned Gentleman was not now adopted the hon. and learned Attorney General would not be able to make that statement at this stage, because he had already spoken; and, therefore, in the interest of the House, and to meet the desire of the Attorney General, it would be better that his Motion should be withdrawn, so that the House might get into the stage of Committee, and then be in a position to discuss this most important question, and arrive at some notion of what the Government proposed to do. This was one of the most important questions the Government could take up; but there was no assurance that the Government Bill would be brought forward. The House had had, in past Sessions, some experience of what they might expect of Government promises with regard to matters of this kind. The Rivers Conservancy and Floods Prevention Bill was brought in, but it was not proceeded with——
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR
said, he was sorry if he failed to make clear the connection in his own mind between his remarks and the Question of Adjournment. He wanted to show that if this debate was now adjourned the House would probably be deprived, for the rest of the Session, of an opportunity of discussing the subject-matter of this Bill. The Attorney General would not, of course, block this Bill; but the House had no assurance that hon. Members behind him would not do so. He was satisfied that if the debate was now 1676 adjourned and the Committee stage was not reached the Bill would not be proceeded with this Session. He was not speaking in favour of the Bill, but he thought it ought to be discussed, because it affected one of the most important questions that could be raised.
§ MR. ARTHUR ARNOLD
said, he rose with the Attorney General to make the Motion which the hon. and learned Gentleman had made; and if the request of the hon. Member for Queen's County (Mr. Arthur O'Connor) was complied with, he should himself move that the House be adjourned. The Attorney General had given a distinct pledge to introduce a Bill dealing with this subject on the part of the Government. That intention was very important for many reasons, and there were several objections to the Bill now under consideration. He was surprised to hear the hon. and learned Gentleman who had proposed this Bill speak of blocking, because there was a distinguished supporter of the hon. and learned Gentleman sitting behind him who for two Sessions had blocked this Bill. The hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to be unmindful of the history of this Bill, and he hoped the Motion of the Attorney General would be persevered in, and successfully.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, neither the hon. Member who had just spoken, nor the hon. and learned Attorney General, appeared to have been present when the Prime Minister, a short time ago, delivered some remarks upon the legislative enactments of this House. The Prime Minister pointed out, with his usual eloquence and force, that the House had been three weeks at work and had not yet got to legislative Business; and the right hon. Gentleman had not ceased those remarks more than four minutes, when up got the hon. and learned Gentleman on the Treasury Bench beside him, and suggested that the House should not enter on that legislative work which the Prime Minister was so anxious for. If the Prime Minister thought that a question exciting so much interest as the Amendment of the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) on the Address could be discussed with advantage at half past 1, he failed to understand why a measure, undoubtedly of great interest and importance, although it did not in- 1677 terest so large a number of Members, could not be discussed. If be might do so, be would point out to the Government that they could not again complain of any bon. Member getting up at 1 o'clock and saying it was too late to enter on the discussion of a Bill. If it was not Obstruction to take the course which the Government bad adopted he failed to see on what occasion there would be Obstruction. [The ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir Henry James): It is a bad Bill.] A bad Bill in the opinion of the hon. and learned Gentleman. It was a bad Bill in the opinion of the Government; but it was a good Bill in the opinion of his hon. and learned Friend (Sir Hardinge Giffard). In future, whenever hon. Members thought a Bill bad, they would be justified by the precedent set by the Attorney General in getting up at 1 o'clock to oppose the discussion of it.
§ MR. MARJORIBANKS
said, there was absolutely no parallel between the instances put forward by hon. Members opposite and this case. The hon. and learned Gentleman opposite brought forward this Bill, and the Attorney General said he agreed with the hon. and learned Gentleman that this subject ought to be dealt with, but in a different manner; and that he was ready to bring forward a Bill on behalf of the Government, and it would be fair that hon. Gentlemen opposite should wait and see what that Bill was He should most heartily support the Motion to adjourn the debate.
§ MR. HORACE DAVEY
said, he hoped the House would agree to the Motion of the Attorney General. He had strong objections to this Bill, and to going into Committee upon it. His objections were not to the mere details of the Bill, but went to the root of the Bill altogether. He was not at all averse to dealing with the question of the Middlesex Registry, but he thought this Bill dealt with it in the wrong way. At this time of the evening, notwithstanding the observations of the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. A. J. Balfour), he ventured to say that if the Attorney General withdrew his Motion, the House would still have to discuss the principle of this Bill, whether they went into Committee or not. It was true the Bill had been read a second time, but it was not unusual to discuss 1678 the principle of a Bill on the Motion to go into Committee upon it; and if the Attorney General withdrew his Motion he should still be disposed to oppose going into Committee on the Bill at this time of the evening, and he hoped the Motion would be persevered with.
§ MR. STUART-WORTLEY
said, the worst of the matter was that, in the position in which the House now stood, it was impossible to draw from the Attorney General or the Solicitor General their reasons for objecting to this Bill.
§ MR. STUART-WORTLEY
said, unfortunately that was the occasion on which the hon. and learned Gentleman had given his consent to the second reading of the Bill. If the Attorney General considered this such a bad Bill, and was supported by such high authorities behind him, he should withdraw his Motion, and take the sense of the House on the Motion to go into Committee on the Bill, so that the real opinion of the House could be obtained. There was a suspicion that the Government objected to the removal of these abuses in order that a cry might be got up in favour of questions of a more Radical kind; and, unfortunately, by the Rules which compelled them to keep to the Motion for Adjournment, hon. Members were forbidden to discuss the merits of the Bill.
§ MR. WARTON
said, he thought that the Attorney General bad forgotten that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Launceston (Sir Hardinge Giffard) bad mentioned a day for proceeding with the Bill in Committee, which would give the Attorney General ample time to bring forward his counter-scheme. He would suggest that the Speaker should now leave the Chair, and then, no doubt, the hon. and learned Gentleman would fix a day for further progress which would give the Attorney General abundant time to bring forward his Bill.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 78; Noes 29: Majority 49.—(Div. List, No. 19.)
§ Debate adjourned till To-morrow.
§ House adjourned at a quarter before Two o'clock.