§ Order for Committee read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."— (Mr. Courtney.)
§ MR. ARTHUR ARNOLD
said, that upon the second reading of this Bill he had asked his hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury if he could offer any serious justification for going forward 1741 with the measure; but he had failed to obtain any information on the subject to convince him that the measure was of the slightest value. Since that time he had put a Question to the hon. Gentleman, pointing out that the Land Transfer Commissioners in their Report had unanimously condemned the proposal, and had recommended that the Middlesex Registry should be abolished. When, he put that Question to his hon. Friend he was very properly told that it was an argumentative Question, and that was the only answer he got. His hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hastings (Mr. Ince) then put a Question, asking whether under the Bill any economy was effected by the Government; and to that Question his hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury had not been able to give a satisfactory reply. Having regard to the fact that the proposal of the Bill to make the Middlesex Registry a Government institution had been unanimously condemned by one of the most learned Commissions on the subject of Land Transfer, and also having regard to the fact that his hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury, on being interrogated as to whether any economy would be effected by the Bill, had failed to give an affirmative answer, he was unable to see why the Bill should be recommended to the House. He imagined that the only reason why Her Majesty's Government intended to pass this Bill was that they might shovel the Middlesex Registry of Deeds into the Office of the Land Registry in Lincoln's Inn Fields. Surely it was a very mischievous policy to retain a useless institution simply because they had in one Office a Registry of Deeds and in some other Office a Registry of Titles. Her Majesty's Government did not propose in this Bill to carry out any reform whatever, either in the direction of economy or as to the mode of registering deeds. On the contrary, the Middlesex Registry had been condemned by an important Commission, and, during the interval which had elapsed since, it had grown worse instead of better. The decision of the Commission as to the mode of registering deeds in this Court tended to show that it was absolutely worse than useless, because it put persons to a very large and unnecessary expense. The Secretary to the Treasury 1742 had assigned no reason for pressing the Bill forward; and he imagined that if his hon. Friend had really any reason to assign he would have stated what it was upon the second reading. Failing any satisfactory explanation tending to show that the passing of the Bill would be useful in point of economy, or in reference to the Public Service, he should feel compelled to move the adjournment of the debate, or to oppose the Motion for going into Committee upon the Bill.
§ MR. GREGORY
said, that, having taken some interest in the question, he would make a suggestion to Her Majesty's Government as to the mode of dealing with the Bill. He was not opposed to the Bill as it stood; but he wished to see the measure carried further, and to have a Registry of Deeds for the county of Middlesex placed in the same position as the Registry which was proposed for the county of York—namely, a real practical Registry, not only for the purpose of deeds, but for the purpose of titles. He had taken a somewhat active part on the Committee which had been sitting upon the Yorkshire Bill, and he thought the Bill which had now come out of that Committee would be a working measure, that would have a real and practical effect upon the landed property of that county. He did not see why this Bill should not be made equally efficient with that which was already proposed for the county of York. He should like to see Middlesex put on the same footing and enjoying the same advantages in regard to the registration of deeds as were afforded to the county of York by the Bill now before the House. There was another Bill extending the registration in Middlesex, which had been brought in by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Launceston (Sir Hardinge Giffard). He believed that his (Mr. Gregory's) name was at the back of that Bill. At all events, he was prepared to support it, and it certainly went very much beyond the Bill which had been introduced by the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury. What he would suggest to the hon. Gentleman was this—that both Bills should be referred to a Select Committee to be dealt with in the same manner as the Yorkshire Bill. That Committee would take 1743 the whole subject into consideration, and would introduce such Amendments into the Bill as would provide an efficient registration, dealing not only with titles, but with every question of detail which could only be properly settled by a Committee upstairs. Nor did he think the reference of the Bill to a Select Committee would involve very much delay. The Yorkshire Bill only took up three or four Sittings of the Committee, who went through the provisions of the measure with a considerable amount of care and with great deliberation. He thought the Government could easily find Members who would devote a few days to the consideration of questions of this kind, and who would approach the subject with an earnest desire to deal with it properly and efficiently. He did not know whether his services would be of any value to the Government; but such as they were he would readily place them at their disposal for the purposes of such an inquiry as that which he suggested. He hoped the Government would entertain the suggestion he had thrown out, because he believed its adoption would really render the Bill an efficient measure, and one that would be of great benefit to all parties interested in the transfer of land in the county of Middlesex.
§ MR. INCE
said, that all he asked of the Secretary to the Treasury was to allow the debate to stand adjourned. It appeared to him that the Bill, as it stood, was utterly useless. Either the Middlesex Registry was a good institution or it was a bad one. Either it worked well or it did not. If it worked well, then why not leave it entirely alone? If it worked badly, they would do no good by simply transferring it to "another place." He could not help suspecting that at the bottom of this Bill there was something else. Everybody knew that the Land Registry in Lincoln's Inn Fields had been, more or less, impracticable, and that the people who were employed in the Office there had little or nothing to do. It seemed to him that the object of this Bill was to provide them with something to do, in order to show some reason for retaining their services; but he hoped his hon. Friend would not persevere with the Bill simply for that object. He believed himself that the system carried 1744 on in the Middlesex Registry at the present moment was carried on very efficiently by the gentlemen connected with the Office. Since the Bill had been before the House he had made it his duty to inquire, and he found that there was no cause of complaint as to the manner in which the business was conducted. On the other hand, he quite agreed with the hon. Member for East Sussex (Mr. Gregory) that the system of registration was itself capable of great improvement; and he thought the House ought to take advantage of this Bill and the Yorkshire Bill being now before the House, either for referring them to a Select Committee and dealing with them, in the same way, or, at any rate, for making the Middlesex Registry as efficient as possible.
§ MR. COURTNEY
said, he was not at all wedded to any particular manner of proceeding with the consideration of the subject; and the suggestion of the hon. Member for East Sussex (Mr. Gregory) was undoubtedly one which deserved attention, especially if the hon. Member would give the House the benefit of his very valuable assistance upon any Select Committee that might be appointed to consider the subject. There was no necessity for adopting the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member for Hastings (Mr. Ince) and adjourn the debate. He would withdraw the Motion for the Speaker leaving the Chair, and would move instead—"That the Bill be referred to a Select Committee."
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be referred to a Select Committee."—(Mr. Courtney.)
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
remarked, that this Middlesex registration constituted one of the greatest humbugs that existed in the country. It simply existed for the benefit of lawyers and nothing more. It was objectionable whether in regard to the registry of titles or the registry of mortgages. No doubt, a lawyer, when anybody bought a piece of land in Middlesex, in order that he might get a fee for himself, sent some person or other to inquire whether anybody had registered a mortgage, and in that way put his client to unnecessary expense. The whole thing was a perfect farce, and the whole object of the present Bill was to perpetuate a farce, and to secure 1745 compensation to certain persons who had very little work to do, and to others who had good salaries and no work at all. He would ask the House to look at the 7th clause of the Bill, whore it was provided that certain persons, who were connected with the Middlesex Registry Office, on the passing of the Act should be entitled to compensation. The present Registrar was the son of a Lord Chancellor, and he had observed that Lord Chancellors, more than any other persons in this country, seemed inclined to job. They were constantly looking up some member of their family and giving him a fat sinecure. ["Oh!"] Hon. Members said "Oh!" but what were the facts of the case? He believed that Lord Chancellor Truro was a very excellent Chancellor, and he was also an excellent father. Lord Truro had a son, and he put that son into the Middlesex Registry Office, where he had received in fees for a considerable number of years something like £5,000 per annum; and what for? For doing absolutely nothing. Indeed, he suspected the noble Lord was never inside the Office in his life; but that he employed some sort of deputy to do the work. Nevertheless, he had received from the Office a net income of £5,000 a-year. If the Government would make an alteration, they should put an end to the Registration Office altogether, and not allow this money to be paid. Was it a reasonable thing to say that Lord Truro should have received £5,000 a-year for a considerable number of years for doing nothing? Surely it was not the mission of the House of Commons to provide this large outdoor relief for pauper Peers. He could not say whether Lord Truro was a pauper; but, at any rate, the House ought to take this opportunity of declaring that no more money should be given to Lord Truro in this way. Nevertheless, there was a positive clause inserted in the Bill—the 7th clause—which provided that because Lord Truro had received £5,000 a-year for 16 or 17 years, he was, therefore, to receive a similar annual grant for the rest of his life if they did away with the Office. The proposal was simply one for retaining the salary of Lord Truro, who was to be allowed to continue to eat into the Treasury to the extent of £5,000 a-year. What was the use of putting the country, at a General Election, to the trouble 1746 of returning people who called themselves Liberals and Radicals, when they wore found persistently perpetrating these jobs. Politically bad as right hon. Gentlemen opposite were, he was certainly of opinion that right hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Ministerial side of the House were just as politically bad as the Opposition so far as the expenditure of the public money was concerned. He should certainly like someone on the Treasury Bench to get up and explain why Lord Truro was to have £5,000 a-year for the rest of his life. If no satisfactory explanation was afforded—and he did not think it possible to give one—he should oppose this Bill, which he regarded as a simple job, in every stage.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, the only Motion before the House was that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee. His hon. Friend had wasted a good deal of indignation and abuse upon the Treasury Bench, because, as a matter of fact, the real effect of the clause to which his hon. Friend had referred would be to reduce the emoluments of Lord Truro by one-half.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
remarked that the result of rejecting the Bill would be to give Lord Truro the whole of the sum he was at present receiving.
§ MR. WARTON
said, there was a conflict of opinion between the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) and the Attorney General as to the effect of the Bill. The hon. Member for Northampton contended that it would give Lord Truro his full income, whereas the Attorney General said it would only give him one-half. After what had been said by the hon. Member for East Sussex (Mr. Gregory) he hoped, if the Bill went before a Select Committee, they would have power to consider the possibility of creating a Registry of Titles for the county of Middlesex; and he trusted that the Bill of the hon. and learned Member for Launceston (Sir Hardinge Giffard) would be referred to the same Committee.
§ MR. ARTHUR ARNOLD
said, he could scarcely have believed that the Secretary to the Treasury could have 1747 been challenged to get up in his place and state one single reason why this Bill, which was a Government measure, should receive the sanction of the House, either on the ground of economy or of advantage to the Public Service, without being able to make a response. His hon. Friend had been challenged both by himself (Mr. Arnold), and by the hon. and learned Member for Hastings (Mr. Ince); but he had maintained a complete silence. He thought it was discreditable for the Government to attempt to pass measures in this way. If the Bill was really wanted, his hon. Friend ought to explain the reasons for it; and, if not, it ought to be rejected by the House.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 126; Noes 33: Majority 93.—(Div. List, No. 144.)