HC Deb 14 July 1885 vol 299 cc744-58

(4.) £9,530, to complete the sum for the Wreck Commission.

(5.) £366,087, to complete the sum for County Courts.

(6.) Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £3,442, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1886, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of Land Registry.


said, that in various Sessions of Parliament he had troubled the House to go to a division on this Vote—as he intended to do that evening. The sense of the Committee in favour of economy was shown to be increasing year after year, because the majority against his Motion for the reduction of the Vote had been steadily decreasing, until last year he was only beaten by nine votes; and, inasmuch as last Session he had the pleasure of receiving the support of the hon. Baronet who was now Secretary to the Treasury (Sir Henry Holland), he felt confident that this evening he should accomplish the distinction of really saving £2,000 of public expenditure, because, though the hon. Baronet himself might be in a position that would not enable him to give his support to the Motion, yet he (Mr. Arnold) felt quite confident that every other Conservative Member present would remember that the hon. Baronet was no more responsible for the Estimate presented to the Committee than he was himself, and would be able to follow the good example of the hon. Baronet last year when he joined him (Mr. Arnold) in protesting against the Vote. It was not necessary to go into the history of this unhappy Office. Hon. Gentlemen were aware that the Office of Land Registry was established to carry out the Land Transfer Act of Lord Westbury and the Act of Lord Cairns, so that it had the full sanction of both sides of the House, and hon. Gentlemen could look on the failure which had been experienced with impartial eyes. Many hon. Members were aware that the business of this Office had now dwindled down to a degree at which it had almost vanished. Within the past two half-years the number of new estates registered in this Office had been six— two in one half and four in the other; so that this fact came out—that the taxpayers of this country had to pay £1,000 for each new estate registered in this Office. Hon. Members would see at once what a scandalous, extravagant, and wasteful expenditure of money there was in this Department. What, then, should be done? Here was a Registrar receiving £2.500 a-year; an Assistant receiving £1,500; a Chief Clerk receiving £400; and other clerks getting £350, and so on; while it was a matter of notoriety that those gentlemen had nothing whatever to do. Then came the question why had not the Treasury —not this year, but years ago—dealt with this scandal? He (Mr. Arnold) did not think it passed the ability of the Government to find occupation for those gentlemen in some other quarter; but if that were not done he would say in the words of the hon. Baronet last year, when he was supporting the Motion so eloquently—"Deal with one or two of these gentlemen by superannuation at once." Let them do that, and terminate some of the expense against which he was complaining that night. He could not do better than make a further quotation from the words the hon. Baronet used last Session; and he trusted they would have an effect, not, perhaps, on the hon. Baronet's own mind, but, at all events, on the mind of every other Member of the Conservative Party now present. Last Session the hon. Baronet used these words— He hoped that the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. W. Fowler) was going to remain faithful to the opposition to this Vote, that was to say, last Session he hoped the hon. Member for Cambridge would give him (Mr. Arnold) his support, "because" he went on to explain— When hon. Members crossed the floor of the House they often gave up the views they had maintained so stoutly in Opposition. And then the hon. Baronet, after warning hon. Gentlemen not to forget their economic ideas when they crossed the floor of the House, concluded with these words—and he (Mr. Arnold) could not do better than conclude his observations with them that evening— And now the Committee were asked again to vote in support of this Office, which had been proved to be practically useless. It could hardly be contended," said the hon. Baronet, "that, at all events, some considerable reduction might not be made in it, and he should support the proposed reduction" moved by the hon. Member for Salford "as a protest against this continued waste of money."— (3 Hansard, [291] 387–8.) With those words he would conclude his observations, and he begged to move the reduction which stood in his name on the Paper.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £1,442,be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 18S6, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of Land Registry."—(Mr. Arthur Arnold.)


said, it was not always satisfactory to have a former speech quoted, and words spoken on one side of the House, when one had crossed over to the other side; but he might frankly state at once to the Committee that he had in no way changed his view with respect to this Office. With regard to his (Sir Henry Holland's) action that night, the hon. Member had admitted that these were not the Estimates of the present Government, and that he could not expect to receive support from that Government for his Motion at this time. It was not quite the case, as the hon. Gentleman had stated, that no work at all was done by this Office, although he confessed he was of opinion, with the hon. Member, that not enough was done to justify the largo expenditure upon the Office. He found, however, from a Table he had been furnished with, that six now estates had been placed on the Register for the year; 244 had been placed on it on transfer or will; 195 had been planed on it by way of mortgage or charge; there had been 155 dealings with estates on the Register, and there had been 15 removals of estates, or parts of estates, from the Register. Now, although that was not a large amount of work done in the year, still it showed that the statement of the hon. Gentleman that no work was done was hardly justified. There were three questions which could be put as to the course to be adopted with this Office — first, whether the work of it could be developed; secondly, whether the staff could be reduced; and, thirdly, whether it should be abolished. Opinions differed in regard to which course it would be best to follow; but there could be no doubt that legislation would be necessary whatever plan were adopted. It had been contended that the Office could be developed, and different modes of doing that had been suggested. It had been proposed that an Act should be passed based upon Sir Robert Torrents Act, which had worked well in the Colonies, to make the registration compulsory. At present it was only permissive. He was not sure, however, whether that proposal would meet with the approval of the House. Last year the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Arnold) had been inclined to think that the House would be in favour of such a view, if proper safeguards were adopted so as to make it fair to all parties. He saw nothing in the working of the Act in the Colonies which should prevent it from being made compulsory. Then the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Sussex (Mr. Gregory) had said that the Office should be made an Office for registering deeds, and not titles. Measures had been introduced more than once for the purpose of effecting that object, but they had failed; and it would, in any case, be impossible to propose legislation of that kind this Session. There had been an attempt made to develop the work of the Office by putting under it the Middlesex registration, and a Bill had been introduced for that purpose, but had also failed. He must admit that he was not sanguine about the development of the work of the Office. Turning, then, to the second point— namely, the reduction of the Office, he had said that legislation would be necessary to effect a reduction, and he was afraid little would be saved unless the Act was of a very sweeping character. Under any circumstances, some kind of office would have to be kept up, because there would be dealings with estates which had already come under the Office. He would cite a passage from a Memorandum he had received from the head of the Office on this subject. The writer said that— Parliamentary provision would have to be made for titles already registered, now amounting to nearly 3,000, comprising land of very considerable value; and provision would also have to be made in such a case for properly compensating the officers. The reduction which would be effected in the National Expenditure by the abolition of the Office of Registrar would be very small, as that gentleman was entitled to his Office for life, and, on the abolition of his Office or his retirement, was entitled to two-thirds of his salary. That would only leave £833 per annum to deal with, and, as he had said before, they must keep up the Office for some time at all events; and they could hardly put any gentleman at the head of the Office to deal with so large an amount of property as was there involved at a less salary than that. He was afraid that the reduction in the Office which it would be possible to effect would be very small indeed. Then, the third question was whether the Office could be abolished. No doubt the compensations which would have to be paid—and he had ventured to make some remarks on that head last year—would necessarily be very heavy. The gentleman at the head of the Office had been taken from the Legal Profession. He was a barrister who had to abandon good professional prospects on accepting the office; and if, therefore, his Office was abolished, he would have to receive large compensation. And the same observation, though to a less extent, applied to those working under the Registrar. He had ventured to state these points, because, fully believing that some change should be made in the Office, and admitting that the subject would receive full consideration, still, though he was able last year to vote with the hon. Member (Mr. Arnold) as a kind of protest against the continuance of the Office, it was necessary for him to point out to the Committee that it would be impossible for him to vote for the Motion that night, not because he had changed his views as he had changed side of the House, but because his position was necessarily affected by the fact of his having to bring forward the Estimate. Every Member must vote according to his view of this Office; but, for his own part, he was bound to say he felt a difficulty in dealing with the subject, and it should receive every consideration. He trusted that by those observations he had justified himself in the eyes of the Committee for what might be called a change of position.


said, the hon. Baronet was still of the same opinion with regard to this Vote, although he had been constrained by the change which had taken place in his position to alter his intention on the matter. In that he (Mr. Gregory) sympathized with the hon. Member. It was a matter of regret to him that they had any debate this Session on the subject; but he considered it very much due to the neglect of the late Government to deal with it. He had been struggling with this subject for years and years, and had watched the course of legislation upon it. They had had, amongst other measures, from the Conservative Party, three most important measures on the subject of the transfer of land—namely, the Limitation of Actions Act, the Conveyancing Act, and the Settled and Landed Estates Act, and he only wished the late Government had followed those up by some Act which would have regulated the registration of deeds. He had sat with his right hon. and learned Friend the late Judge Advocate (Mr. Osborne Morgan) on the Committee which had investigated the matter very fully, and which had suggested a scheme analogous to the Scotch system for the purpose of registering deeds. He believed that if that scheme had been carried out—and he still hoped it might be—in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee, this Office could be utilized, and would be found of great value. He thought, therefore, with this object, that the Office should still be kept alive. He hoped that another Session of Parliament would not be allowed to pass without this matter being dealt with. It was well before the country, and people had now their minds set on the great question of simplifying the titles to land. He was. advised that the best course to pursue would be to follow the precedent of last Session. He had had the pleasure of taking part in the consideration of the Yorkshire Registries Act, which had been dealt with with great care and consideration, he hoped that something very useful to the county of Yorkshire would come from it. They had adopted this legislation for the county of York, with a view of its forming a precedent for general legislation on the subject, and he had great hopes that it would work successfully. He trusted that with this legislation before them they might look forward to something in the same direction in the next Session of Parliament.


said, he should be glad to vote for the Motion of the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Arnold) for the abolition of this Office, but that he thought it would only lead to the multiplication of the number of officers, and that in the course of six months they would be called upon by the hon. Member, or someone else, to create a new-Registry Office to carry out some fresh idea, and to give them a number of new officials who, in course of time, would require to be paid pensions. There was great difficulty in the matter of the registration of land, as the following incident would show. Ten years ago he remembered asking a solicitor whether it would not be a good thing to put an estate he was buying through the Office now under discussion, in order to obtain a more perfect title. The solicitor laughed at him, and asked him what was the use of doing that at great expenditure of money, when, in the course of 20 years or so, time and Parliament would have done it for him. What was wanted was a compulsory system much less expensive than the present, which would not frighten buyers and deter solicitors from carrying out what he believed to be the will of the nation. At the present time he considered it a matter of little concern how hon. Members voted, because they, of course, knew that there would be no change made in the Office. It would be better for the hon. Member (Mr. Arnold), instead of urging the abolition of the Office, to endeavour to make it useful.


said, there was another course which might be pursued, and it had the advantage of being a practical one. If his hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury (Sir Henry Holland) would assure the Committee that in case of any vacancies they should not be filled up unless it was absolutely necessary, that would be a practicable way of meeting the case. Probably the Department would allow these vacancies to lapse, and some arrangement made to limit the number of officials in that way until more could be done.


said, he had one short practical suggestion to make. Work might be found for the clerks in the Office for many years to come in connection with the alterations to be introduced into the Law of Copyhold.


said, the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton) could only be used by transferring the clerks from Lincoln's Inn to St.James's Square. He (Mr. Arnold) had not referred to the question of the registration of land, because that was not connected with the proposition he now made to the Committee. The Motion was purely one of economy, and he was dealing with the saving of public money, and not with the registration of landed property. The Secretary to the Treasury knew as well as he did that the development of this Office by the officer now at the head of it was an impossibility and an absurdity. Everyone who knew that gentleman knew that that was out of the question altogether; and, therefore, the development of the Office in its present condition was not to be entertained. The Secretary to the Treasury had spoken of reduction. The reduction of the expenses of the Office was one of the simplest and most practicable things in the world. There was no reason why the Government should not superannuate the Head of the Office, and transfer some of the subordinate officials receiving high salaries to serve Her Majesty in some other capacity. He hoped hon. Members would vote, not as had been suggested by the hon. Member for Kendal (Mr. Cropper) for the abolition of the Office, for that was out of the question, but for the reduction of the Vote. That would show that they had some regard for the interests of the taxpayers.


said, he was one of those who had always been opposed to this Vote from the very first, for, so far as he knew, all those gentlemen had had nothing to do. What he compained of was that the late Home Secretary, the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, other hon. and right hon. Gentlemen, and his hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury (Sir Henry Holland), had always invariably opposed this Vote, and yet nothing was done. What he wanted to have was some distinct declaration from the Government. He wished to learn from the Treasury Bench that something would really be done with regard to this Office. It was an absurdity to say that it should go on from year to year with all these complaints against it, and that nothing should be attempted to be done. Surely those gentlemen might be employed in some other way to do work for the country. The Office ought to be abolished. What would be the modus operandi to pursue for its abolition he could not say; but it was absurd to have an Office of this kind, which was every year brought under notice and objected to. Yet neither side made any real attempt to remedy such a state of things. He should like to hear from the Homo Secretary or from the Attorney General that something would be done, for it was a matter that wanted seeing to. It was not for him to say how it should be dealt with, but dealt with it ought to be in the interests of the general public.


said, the hon. Baronet the Secretary to the Treasury had admitted that he last year divided against this Vote as a protest against it altogether, and with a view to bring about its reduction. He (Mr. Fowler) would that night follow that admirable example, and would vote against it as a protest which he hoped would be of some avail. He would quote a precedent. It was in regard to the Office of Public Prosecutor. There was a feeling of dissatisfaction with that Office, and a Departmental Committee was appointed and a great reform effected, whereby the expense was materially reduced, and the public dissatisfaction was, as he hoped, being removed. As to the Office now under discussion, he did not hesitate to say that in all the Estimates, from the first page to the last, there was not a more perfect case of a sinecure than the case of the Office for Land Registration, which had £5,000 a-year spent upon it, while the fees received. did not amount to more than £800 for work done. The suggestion made by the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Salt) was a fair one; and the Government should give a pledge that in the event of a vacancy occurring they would not fill it up, but give Parliament an opportunity of pronouncing upon the merits of the whole question. He (Mr. Fowler) spoke with great respect of the present Registrar; but he was not going beyond the bounds of propriety when he said that that gentleman should retire upon the pension to which he was justly entitled, and which he had fairly earned in having devoted his time to the service of the country, even though the country had not seen fit to occupy that time. When a man was paid by the Government for his time, the Government should determine how it was to be occupied. When an Office was abolished, everybody who served in it was entitled to compensation, or to be supplied with equivalent work at the same salary. There were, no doubt, plenty of other Departments of work which could be greatly increased, and in which all the staff of this Office could be merged; but he believed that it was useless to hope that any scheme of the registration of titles or deeds would be carried out by this Office. He should divide against the Vote as a protest.


, in reply to the suggestion of the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Salt) that the Government should give an undertaking that no vacancy should be filled up, said, he thought he was justified in undertaking that no vacancy should be filled up; and he could add that he was allowed by his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary (Sir R. Assheton Cross) to say that there should be an inquiry, as in the case of the Public Prosecutor, into the Office. The matter would therefore receive careful consideration; and he hoped that by next year he should be able, if he then continued to hold Office, to show some more favourable aspect of the question. He trusted that, under these circumstances, the Committee would vote the sum now asked for.


said, he hoped the Committee would not think it necessary to divide, for it was quite clear that the officials in this Office were entitled to their salaries for the present year, at all events. He could not understand how the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) could divide against his own Estimates.


said that, considering that there was some contest across the Table as to who was and who was not responsible for the Vote, he felt that it was absolutely necessary to take a division.

Question put.

The Committee divided: — Ayes 32; Noes 75: Majority 43. — (Div. List, No. 226.)

Original Question put, and agreed to.

(7.) £25,200, Revising Barristers (England).

(8.) Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £10, 320, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1886, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Police Courts of London and Sheerness.


reminded the Committee that the late Home Secretary (Sir William Harcourt) last year informed hon. Members who raised objections that the Vote ought to be supported because there was a London Government Bill somewhere in or about the House. The Committee were aware that not only had that London Government Bill entirely disappeared, but the Government who proposed it had also disappeared from public view; and therefore the reason which led the late Home Secretary to urge the Committee not to disagree with the Vote no longer had an existence. The Committee were, of course, well aware that in all the large towns throughout England—Manchester, Liverpool, and the other great towns —the cost of the administration of justice in the Police Courts was borne by the local rates. There might be something to be said for charging the cost of the Royal Parks upon the taxpayers at large; but there was no hon. Member— certainly not a Member of the straightforward character of the Secretary to the Treasury—who would get up and justify the imposition upon the taxpayers of the country at large of the cost of the Police Courts at London and Sheerness. The visitors who came up to London from the country were not of the criminal population, and therefore there was no reason why the country at large should bear this purely local burden. When the late Home Secretary objected last year to the Motion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. II. H. Fowler), he said that if the reduction of the Vote were carried the consequence would be that there would be no Police Courts for London and Sheerness; but that was not quite accurate, because the salaries of the police magistrates were charged on the Consolidated Fund; and if the Committee were to reject this Vote, as he hoped they would, the result would not be that the magistrates would be left without their salaries. No hon. Member, therefore, could raise any objection on that ground. It was obvious that the Police Courts of London should be maintained by the rates of London, as was the case in all the other large towns; and he hoped he should have a large measure of support in voting for the rejection of this charge.

Question put.

The Committee divided: — Ayes 91; Noes 24: Majority 67. — (Div. List, No. 227.)

(9.) £294,840, to complete the sum for the Metropolitan Police.

(10.) £28,000, to complete the sum for Special Police.

(11.) £988,343, to complete the sum for Police — Counties and Boroughs (Great Britain).

(12.) £271,374, to complete the sum for Convict Establishments in England and the Colonies.


said, he had to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir R. Assheton Cross) a question with regard to this Vote. Could the right hon. Gentleman give the Committee any information as to the number of prisoners in the convict prisons at the present time; whether the number of convicts was still decreasing; and whether it was intended to close any of the convict prisons? He understood that it was intended to close one convict prison in the Metropolis. He would also ask the right hon. Gentleman if he could give any information as to the amount of earnings paid to the convicts?


said, he was happy to state that the decrease in the number of prisoners in the convict prisons continued. He held a strong opinion that in many cases the sentences were open to consideration, and he had been in communication with some of the Judges with respect to them. He hoped shortly to be able to give some further information on that point. It was true that it was in contemplation to close one of the convict prisons in the Metropolis. He was not in a position to give the exact figures; but he was told that when the Report was issued it would be found to be very satisfactory.

Vote agreed to.

(13.) £351,930, to complete the sum for Prisons, England.

(14.) £142,915, to complete the sum for Reformatory and Industrial Schools, Great Britain.

(15.) £20,417, to complete the sum for the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £39,093,. be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1886, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Lord Advocate's Department, and others, connected with Criminal Proceedings in Scotland, including certain Allowances under the Act 15 and 16 Vic. c. 83.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

(16.) £48,510, to complete the sum for the Courts of Law and Justice, Scotland.

(17.) £26,472, to complete the sum for the Register House Department, Edinburgh.


said, he had to make some observations on this Vote with respect to a grievance of some antiquity, which had been brought before the Committee year after year, but with respect to which no redress had been given. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir R. Assheton Cross) would, he believed, be acquainted with the case; because, if he was not mistaken, the right hon. Gentleman had instituted an inquiry into it under a former Government. There were three classes of clerks—first, second, and third. With respect to the first class, he had nothing to say; but the clerks of the third class contended that, although they did the same work as those in the second class, yet they did not receive the same amount of remuneration. He did not want to detain the Committee at length at that hour by entering into the details of the grievance of those public servants. But he repeated that the grievance complained of was one that had gone on for many years unredressed. All that those clerks contended for at present and all they had contended for during the last four years was that an inquiry should be instituted into their grievance in order that it might be seen whether they actually did the same class of work as the clerks above them, who were very much better rewarded. There was a Minute several times moved for on this subject, but it had never been obtained. His hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. DickPeddie) called attention to the matter on the 7th of August, 1882; and in doing so he was supported, amongst others, by the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury (Sir Henry Holland), who said he was pleased to support the hon. Member for Kilmarnock in his Motion for a Committee of Inquiry into the grievances of those clerks; he said that he thought the Secretary to the Treasury could not be averse to the inquiry; that of course it was possible that if inquiry was made it might turn out that there were too many clerks in the Office. Therefore, he hoped that a change of Government having recently taken place the grievance of this deserving body of public servants might now receive some attention; and as the hon. Gentleman who was responsible for the Vote had advocated publicly in that House an inquiry into their grievance he trusted that during the Recess some steps might be taken to carry out the object in view.


said, he had no intention to depart from what he had said upon former occasions on this subject. He had always taken a warm interest in the case put forward by the hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Buchanan); and the Office itself was one which claimed his attention on account of the enormous fees which passed through it, and from which it seemed to him they in Scotland derived very little benefit. It was, however, quite plain that nothing could be done in the matter so far as the present Estimate was concerned; but he thought that in the months following something might be done in the direction of obtaining the inquiry which the hon. Member for Edinburgh wanted, and to that end he could assure the hon. Member that no effort on his part should be wanting. That was all he was able to say on the present occasion.

Vote agreed to.

(18.) £77,501, to complete the sum for Prisons, Scotland.