HC Deb 03 August 1897 vol 52 cc292-306

(1.) General rules under Section one hundred and eleven of the principal Act stall be made by the Lord Chancellor with the advice and assistance of the Registrar, a Judge of the Chancery Division of the High Court to be chosen by the Judges of that Division, and three other persons, one to be chosen by the General Council of the Bar, one by the Board of Agriculture, and one by the Council of the Incorporated Law Society.

(2.) Orders under Section one hundred and twelve and one hundred and twenty-two of the principal Act shall be made by the Lord Chancellor with the advice and assistance of the same persons, and with the concurrence of the Treasury.

(3.) The fee orders relating and incidental to registration of title shall be arranged from time to time so as to produce an annual amount sufficient to discharge the salaries and other expenses (including the annual contribution to the insurance fund) incidental to the working of the principal Act, and this Act, and no more.

(4.) Subject to any alterations that may be made in accordance with Sections one hundred and twelve and one hundred and twenty-two of the principal Act and this section, the fees to be charged in districts where registration of title is compulsory shall, as regards the matters mentioned in the Second Schedule hereto, be as therein set forth.

(5.) Provision may be made by general rules under Section one hundred and eleven of the principal Act, as amended by this Act, for carrying this Act into effect, and in particular for the following purposes:—

  1. (a) For carrying out the provisions of this Act with respect to compulsory registration;
  2. (b) For adapting to the registration of proprietors of leasehold land the provisions of the principal Act, as to absolute and possessory titles, and as to land certificates;
  3. (c) For adapting to sub-mortgages and to incumbrances prior to registration the provisions of the principal Act with regard to charges;
  4. (d) For the conduct of official searches against cautions, inhibitions, and such matters of a like nature as may be prescribed, and for enabling the registered proprietor to apply for such searches by telegraph, and for returning the replies in like manner to him or to such other persons as he may direct;
  5. (e) For enabling cautions to be entered against the registration of possessory and qualified titles as qualified or absolute;
  6. (f) For enabling a mortgagee by deposit to give notice to the Registrar by registered letter or otherwise of the deposit with him of the land certificate, office copy of the registered lease, or certificate of charge. Provided that the fee for the entry of any such notice shall not exceed one shilling;
  7. (g) For applying to the grant of leases and dealings with leasehold land, the provisions of this Act with respect to compulsory registration;
  8. (h) For allowing the insertion, inserting in the register, and in land certificates, of the price paid or value declared on first registrations, transfers, and transmissions of land; and
  9. (i) For regulating any such matters as are authorised by this Act to be prescribed.

(6.) Provided that nothing in the rules under the said section shall extend to allow the inspection of any entry in the register, except by or under the authority of some person interested in the land or charge to which the entry refers.

(7.) Provision may be made by general orders under Section one hundred and eighteen of the principal Act, for modifying the provisions of that Act with respect to the formation and constitution of district registries, and for providing the mode in which district registrars are to be remunerated, but nothing in any such order shall affect the provisions as to qualification contained in Section one hundred and nineteen of the principal Act.

THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir RICHARD WEBSTER, Isle of Wight) moved a new clause to follow Clause 22, making provision for the Yorkshire registries of deeds.


said they were promised a statement with regard to this Bill by the First Lord of the Treasury. It was not a question of whether a new clause should be added so much as a question of whether the Bill should go on at all. In order to give the Leader of the House an opportunity of making a statement as to the future of the Bill, he moved to report Progress.


remarked that what he said yesterday was really only a repetition of what he had stated on previous occasions in connection with this Bill. What he then said was that the period of the Session was one at which it would be impossible to press hon. Gentlemen to make great exertions in order that the Bill might pass, but it appeared to him that they had now before them a period of time which might well enable them to deal with the Measure, which had been thoroughly threshed out in the Grand Committee. He hoped the House would see fit so to do. ["Hear, hear!"]

MR. J. G. BUTCHER (York)

said the fact was that this Bill had never really been considered very seriously at all, either in the House or in the country. He knew that a large number of people in the House were very much interested in the Bill, and they were extremely anxious, as every one else in the House was, that a Measure should be carried, if possible, which would have the effect of facilitating and cheapening the transfer of land. But there was a widespread feeling that this Bill, as framed, would not effect that object, and it was with a desire to reconsider the question that he asked the Government for some more time. The object of the Bill was to introduce a totally new system.


reminded the hon. Member that he would not be able to go into the merits of the Bill on the question that he should report Progress.


said he would ask the Government, having regard to the enormous magnitude of the interests involved in the Bill and to the fact that so many Members who were interested in the subject were not present at this period of the Session, to give the House and the country another opportunity of considering a Bill which was so far-reaching in its tendencies, and which, if it were a failure, would be one of the most deplorable failures that that House had had to record.


pointed out that the principle of the Bill was universally agreed upon, and the only questions in controversy were the details of the Bill. Those details were thoroughly threshed out before the Grand Committee, and it was the work of that Grand Committee, and not merely the work of another place, which they had now got to deal with. The Bill had come on somewhat unexpectedly, but he assumed that the Chairman would not very long remain in the Chair, and that there then might be an opportunity for some of the gentlemen who were interested in the subject but were not present now, to come back and give their views on the question.

MR. HALDANE (Haddington)

said he should like to add to what the First Lord had said, that this Bill had really been considered a very great deal more than his hon. and learned Friend the Member for York seemed to think. The old Bill was very carefully sifted out before a Committee in 1895. At that time the Incorporated Law Society suggested certain Amendments, and in the redrafted Bill the whole of these Amendments were embodied. The Incorporated Law Society was entirely satisfied with this Bill and had passed a resolution in its favour. The main body of conveyancers were also satisfied. The Bill had been minutely sifted in Grand Committee, and those of them who had spent a great, deal of time and trouble in trying to make the Bill uncontroversial and assist the Government were satisfied that this was a Bill which would work cheaply and well, and it would be a great pity if they were to lose an opportunity, which did not recur very often, of making substantial progress with the Measure.

Motion by leave withdrawn.

Clause read a Second time.


moved to amend the clause by inserting after "Acts," the words "and subject to the provisions of Section 20 of this Act."

Amendment agreed to; clause, as amended, added to the Bill.

On the Order that the Bill, as amended, be considered,

On the return of Mr. SPEAKER, after the usual interval,


moved "That this Bill be considered on this day three months." He said that his desire was to support any scheme which would cheapen and facilitate the tranfser of land; but he moved the rejection of the Bill because he had serious doubts as to whether the Bill would effect those objects. The first object of the Bill was to amend the method of registration of title to land which was introduced by the late Lord Cairns in 1875. That Act was not a success, and as far as this Bill sought to amend its provisions, he cordially supported it. But one portion of the Bill he could not support—that which made it compulsory upon the landowners of the country to register the titles whether they liked it or not. If the Government would give an assurance that that portion of the Bill would not be proceeded with, he would withdraw his opposition. If it were true that the principle of the Bill, as far as facilitating registration, was accepted, it was not true that the principle of compulsory registration was accepted. He was unconvinced that there was anything to justify Parliament in embarking on such a far-reaching experiment in connection with the methods of dealing with land. Compulsion could not be justified unless it were reasonably certain that it would lessen the cost. That was the vital matter in land transfer. There was a popular idea that the transfer of land could be made as easy as the transfer of stocks and shares, but that view was not held by those who had come in contact with the facts of the case. No doubt, in many cases, the cost of transferring land was too great, and he did not say that no scheme could be devised which would lessen that cost; but if this Bill were carried, for some considerable time, at any rate, the cost would be very seriously increased. This was not a question which could be decided by abstract argument or statistics. The only way of coming to a decision on such a difficult and complex matter was through the evidence given before a Select Committee of the House. In 1879, when it was found that the working of the Act of 1875 was not a success, the Committee was appointed and took a great deal of evidence, including that of Lord Cairns, perhaps the greatest authority of the century on the question. Lord Cairns said that, in his opinion, compulsion was both impracticable and improper in a matter of this kind; and the Committee reported to that effect. Matters have changed since 1879, no doubt, but they had changed in the direction of simplifying and cheapening the transfer of land. What grounds were there for going behind the decision of that Committee? In 1895 another Committee was appointed, and before it evidence was given to show that compulsion was still undesirable. But the late Government suddenly went out of office, and one of the results was that the Committee never reported. The Act of Lord Cairns was not the first Registration Act. In 1862, Lord Westbury carried a Measure providing for a system of non-compulsory registration. During 20 years of the working of that Act, 188 owners of cottages registered the title; and 131 had taken the properties off the register again. He did not believe that the only obstacle to success lay in the hostility of the solicitors. If a really good Act, which would cheapen and facilitate the transfer of land, were devised, the opposition of the solicitors, if it existed, would be powerless to prevent the adoption and success of the Act. Landowners would insist upon the Act being carried into effect. There was no reason to believe that the system of registration proposed in this Bill was any better than its predecessors, and yet the Government were asking the House to make it compulsory upon the landowners of the country. [The ATTORNEY GENERAL: "Nothing of the kind!"] If the scheme of the Government was to be experimental he trusted that Yorkshire would not be made the subject of the experiment. He urged the Government not to adopt this policy of compulsory registration of title without further inquiry. This legislation, if, as he predicted, it should be a failure, would inflict enormous inconvenience upon landowners in the county where the experiment was tried. For rash and hasty legislation of this kind a bitter penalty would sooner or later have to be paid. He concluded by moving his Amendment.

MR. BRYN ROBERTS (Carnarvonshire, Eifion)

asked Mr. Speaker whether the Report stage of a Bill could be taken immediately after the Committee stage without the general consent of the House? He pointed out that at least 10 Members had given notice of Amendments on Report, and that only one of those Members was present.


said that the Committee stage had been passed some time, and the Bill had been re-committed that evening only to consider a new clause, which was of such a nature that it could not be introduced on Report. The Motion that the Bill be considered as amended had been put without objection.


contended that the Order of the Day relating to this Bill was so worded as to amount practically to a notice to all parties concerned that the House would only be asked to deal that evening with the new clause.


maintained that it was a common practice to recommit a Bill in respect of one clause and then to take the Report stage.


asked whether the Report stage could be taken if objection was made to the motion?


thought it could, in the circumstances to which he had referred.


said that he recognised in the speech of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for York the views of certain solicitors—[cries of" No"]—who desired to oppose this Bill. He was informed, however, that in Yorkshire generally there was a desire that the Bill should pass. It was provided that if any County Council passed a resolution declaring that registration would not facilitate or cheapen the transfer of land in their county the Bill should not come into operation there.


said that that provision would be ineffective.


differed from the hon and learned Member. In conclusion, he stated that Yorkshire would not be the county selected. The Lord Chancellor proposed that the administrative County of Middlesex should be selected in the first instance.

* MR. HENRY KIMBER (Wandsworth)

wished to know why registration was to be compulsory. If it was to benefit people there was no need for compulsion? The real reason why the Measure was made compulsory was because a certain department constituted in 1875 for the registration of titles had proved to be an utter financial failure. [The ATTORNEY GENERAL: "It is paying its way!"] The people for whose benefit this legislation was said to be introduced did not appreciate it. Your argument was that the compulsory clause was necessary because the solicitors of the country disapproved registration. That was a very mean and unworthy suggestion for a Conservative Government to make against what was perhaps the most Conservative body of men in the whole country, and he repudiated it with scorn. As a matter of fact, the compulsory clause would at first be as big a bonus as could ever be given to solicitors by Act of Parliament. It meant an immense extension of the employment of solicitors. The experience of the two registering counties, Middlesex and Yorkshire, was that registration had largely increased the expense of conveyancing, and that system it was proposed by the Bill to make compulsory. He admitted that the Bill would make some very important and valuable improvements upon the registration under the Act of 1875, and would greatly facilitate and cheapen subsequent transfers of property. But if it would, why have this compulsory clause in addition? Was it not an admission by the Government that the benefits of registration were not sufficient to induce purchasers of land to avail themselves of it voluntarily and, therefore, a deterrent of registering?


supported the appeals which had been made to the Government to drop the compulsory clause. He did not contend that solicitors were above the weakness of mankind, each to do the best for himself, but he was satisfied that even if the solicitors believed it would serve their interests to have the new system introduced, they would be unable to carry out their views, for that could only happen if every solicitor acted in the same way, and if every solicitor had an overwhelming influence on his client. He was, however, perfectly certain that nine out of every ten solicitors would advise their client in the interest of their client alone. In fact every solicitor of any experience placed the interests of his clients over his own interests, because he knew that, in his profession, honesty was the best policy, and that the solicitor who advised his client solely in his client's interest was the most successful. Anybody who had had experience of the working of the previous Bill, felt that the old system was better than any Land Transfer Bill that had been passed. It had been found in practice, more especially in the case of small conveyances, that the cost of registration was too heavy, and when it was borne in mind that 25 per cent. of the conveyances of land in this country were small conveyances, it was obvious that a compulsory system of registration would increase the cost of working men's houses to an intolerable extent. He was in favour of letting both systems be tried together, when the rule of the survival of the fittest would obtain. ["Hear, hear!"] If the new system proved itself to be the fittest, he was sure that all solicitors in England and Wales would adopt it. On the other hand, if the contrary was proved, nothing would induce people to register. For these reasons he hoped the compulsory clauses would be dropped. He was sure that if at this late period of the Session the Government wished to get the Bill through, they would do so more readily if they dropped part 3. The other parts of the Bill were most valuable, particularly part 1, and he thought it would be a mistake that for the sake of retaining part 3, these provisions should be lost. ["Hear, hear!"]

* MR. ALFRED HOPKINSON (Wiltshire, Cricklade)

said that the present system was a bad one in three respects, in expense, in delay and in insecurity. He thought the House ought to see in this Bill a well-meant attempt to grapple with these evils and he hoped the Government were determined to deal with this question of land transfer and put it on a satisfactory basis. Registration of title was the only satisfactory way that had yet been proposed of getting rid of the three evils he had mentioned, and in that respect the Bill was certainly on the right line. Whatever the result of this Measure might be, he hoped they would not be put off working for a system of registration of title. It was a different question whether this ought to be proceeded with that night, and if so, whether the compulsory clauses ought to be included. The idea of limiting the application of the Bill to Middlesex in the first instance, made a very great difference, for in Middlesex there was a staff of capable officials accustomed to the system, which did not exist in other parts of the country. He would have preferred to see a system of registration of title introduced, not by means of compulsory clauses, but by offering some strong inducement to register. But, although preferable, that was not the scheme of the Bill before the House. He for one thought it would be worth while to try the scheme of the Bill in a limited area, and if it was found to work well, it might be extended over a wider area afterwards.


said he wished to give all possible credit to the Government for the great pains they had taken in preparing this Bill. He thought it would be better if the House really got to business and ascertained whether the compulsory clauses were to be gone on with or not. The Government had gone a good way in promising the Yorkshire Members that Yorkshire should not be the first county to be subjected to the experiment. They had gone further and had named the county where the experiment would be tried. The County Council was no doubt a very respectable body, but it did not represent the landowners. Could not the Government go so far as to say that the Order in Council under Clause 20 should not be made until there had been some public notice given or some attempt had been made to feel the pulse of those concerned, or would the Government go so far as to say that they would reverse the process under Clause 20 and say that the Order in Council should not be made unless the County Council moved in the matter? He wished to know whether the Government would assent to an Amendment which should require that the consent not only of the County Council should be required, but of some body representing the skilled opinion of lawyers throughout the country.

* MR. SYDNEY GEDGE (Walsall)

said that the subject was one in which he took a great interest, and he objected to the Bill very strongly. He thought it was exceedingly hard that such an important Bill should come on for discussion at that late period of the Session. About six-sevenths of the Members of the House had never had an opportunity of considering the Bill in detail. He complained that the promises which had been made; on the occasion of the Second Reading were not fulfilled in the Amendments which were now brought forward. He noticed that the Attorney General went very gingerly over the question of compulsion, but he had made several promises on that occasion. They found on looking at the Amendments that a clause was proposed which would compel the purchaser of land to see that the Succession Duty was paid before he could get a good title. On that point he thought the promise which was made had not been fulfilled. Then they were told that there would be a saving of at least four-fifths of the present cost. There was a very general idea that the cost of transfer of land was very high, but the law had been altered very much since the Bill of 1875 was brought in. Under the present system titles had been very much simplified. He argued that it was not the case that the legal profession were in favour of the Bill; nor, did they oppose it in their own interests. He objected to the County of London being the first place on which this experimental Bill was to be tried. Unless the compulsory clauses of the Bill were dropped he should oppose it to the utmost.


said he had listened with interest and attention to the Debate, and he gathered that the whole of the objection to the Bill arose from the compulsory Clause 20, Sub-section 8. It was impossible to drop that clause, but a modification might be possible which would conciliate opinion among the opponents of the Bill. The clause provided a period of three years' grace, as it were, during which the Bill would not come into operation unless the county council of the county so desired. The Government, if it would conciliate objectors to the Bill, would be prepared, if they would take this as a compromise which would enable the Government to get the Bill without undue discussion, to make the three years perpetual—in other words, to introduce an Amendment to Sub-section 8 by which it would be impossible to force on any county council against the wish of that county the provisions of the Bill. If that were accepted it would rest for all time with the county council to take the initiative in applying the provisions of the Bill within the area of its jurisdiction, and, in addition to that safeguard, the Government would be prepared to say that any Resolution that was initiated and passed by the county council should lie on the Table of each House for the usual period of thirty or forty days, and only become law if a Resolution was not passed against its operation. He hoped that Clause 20, safeguarded in the way he had suggested, would receive the approbation of even the most cautious experimenter.

* MR. AUGUSTUS HELDER (Whitehaven)

said he had had great experience in conveyancing, and believed it was far better to leave it to persons to carry out their conveyance as they might be advised. So strongly did he feel that to be the case, that he opposed the compulsory clause altogether. Originally it was proposed to deal with the clauses as to compulsory registration separately. He believed the Bill would be a good Bill without these clauses; and if at any time hereafter it should be found that landowners and others interested were anxious to register their titles it might then be desirable that clauses should be passed providing for such registration. He had been bombarded with telegrams supporting him in the views he had taken with reference to this matter. They came from, among others, the Leeds and Yorkshire Law Societies; the Stockport Law Society; St. Helen's Law Society; Sunderland Law Society; Westmoreland Law Society; Scarborough Law Society; Nottingham Law Society; Leicester Law Society; Bolton Law Society; Shropshire Law Society; Norfolk and Norwich Law Society; Blackpool, Fleetwood, and Fylde Law Society; Oldham Law Society; and Chester and North Wales Law Society. He repeated that if due consideration was given to this matter, it would be found that it would be far better not to embody the compulsory clauses in the Bill, but to take time, and perhaps next year or at some other time, after the matter had been properly considered, to bring up proposals on the subject. With regard to the proposal to experiment on the County of London, he fancied that when it was known that the conveyances for every small house in every small street had to be registered, there would be a perfect uproar on the subject, and it would lead to great expense, trouble and delay.


asked leave to say that, so far as he was concerned, he was willing to accept the compromise offered by the Government, and if this very important experiment was tried, he was willing that it should be made on the County of London. He suggested to the hon. Member for York that he should withdraw his Motion and accept the offer of the First Lord of the Treasury. He believed the country ought to have the opportunity of seeing the two systems tried side by side.

SIR HENRY FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)

thought that the First Lord of the Treasury had made a very fair and conciliatory proposal to the House. It would introduce an element of statesmanship into the Bill which perhaps had hitherto been regarded purely from a lawyer point of view. The First Lord's proposal would take the matter out of the hands of the lawyers to a certain extent, and bring the general mind of the country to bear upon it. The proposal, as he understood it was that in the first instance, the Bill was not to be imposed upon any county if a majority of the county council, at a meeting at which two-thirds of the members voted, objected to it. The first experiment was to be tried on the initiative of the Lord Chancellor under an Order in Council. That would not come into force for a fixed period, and then only if the county council, by a majority at a meeting at which two-thirds of the members voted, were in favour of it. He wished that Yorkshire had been kept out of the question, and when the proper time came he should certainly object to the new clause which, in his unfortunate absence, had been introduced to-night. He objected to Yorkshire, Middlesex, or any other county being compensated out of the taxes paid by the whole body of taxpayers for any imaginary loss they might sustain by the carrying out of this reform. They would establish a most dangerous precedent if, when a reform was proposed any local body were in a position to say, "By the introduction of the reform we may lose some part of our revenue, and therefore we must be compensated out of the Consolidated Fund." He had the honour to represent on this occasion, at their request, the Council of the Incorporated Law Society. Their desire was that this Bill should have a fair trial, and the proposition of the First Lord of the Treasury fully provided for that. From a House of Commons and Treasury point of view, and not as a representative of the Incorporated Law Society, however, he certainly must object to the wording of the new clause which had been introduced upon re-committal.


, after the very conciliatory speech of the First Lord of the Treasury, and in face of the substantial concession the right hon. Gentleman had made to meet the difficulty which had been pointed out, asked leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill, as amended, considered.


moved to leave out Clause 13, and to insert the following Clause:—