HC Deb 01 July 1897 vol 50 cc936-44

THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir RICHARD WEBSTER, Isle of Wight) moved "That the Bill be now read a. Second Time." He said that there was a consensus of opinion on both sides of the House that this subject had undergone so much discussion that it was now ripe for legislation. The opposition which had been shown by the legal profession to some of the proposals in previous years had been to a large extent met, and there was this prospect in favour of the Measure which had not existed in respect of earlier Measures—that the legal profession were in favour of the proposals as they came down from the other House. He could not say, however, that there was at present a unanimous feeling in favour of the Bill, because the bankers were not altogether satisfied that their transactions were sufficiently protected. Representatives of the bankers had been in consultation with the promoters of the Bill, and from a communication made to him that evening he believed that they were almost satisfied, and he had no doubt that he would be able to bring forward some clause to meet any objections that remained. The Bill, practically speaking, consisted of four parts. The first part, though not directly connected with land transfer or registration, was still a useful amendment of the law. At present, when real property had to he purchased from the representatives of a deceased person, it was necessary for the purchaser to satisfy himself as to the provisions of the will, and as to whether or not arrangements were made by the deceased with reference to the transfer of property, and whether any interests were to lie protected. It was proposed by the Bill to create a real representative—or, in other words, to make the personal representative also the representative of real property, so that he would have the responsibility of selling and conveying to the purchaser any real estate. On him would rest the responsibility of seeing that the purchase money given for the estate was devoted to its proper object and was received by the person entitled to receive it. This representative would also be able to give a good title. The next part of the Bill consisted of Amendments of the Land Transfer Act of 1875. They were designed with the view of establishing a cheaper and better system of registration. The principle which underlay the clause was that the registration of ownership and purchase, and, if necessary of leases, should he cheap, and that the certificate of registration in all transactions should be produced, that it should take the place of the cumbrous title deeds now deposited, and that the registration certificate represented the property which had been registered. It was in this connection that the banking community had felt some slight difficulty about the Bill. It had been represented that a large number of transactions took place in the course of a few hours, and that, persons requiring an advance at short notice brought their deeds to the bank. The bankers wished to see these transactions, which were of great importance, carried on with the same speed and with the same facilities as at present. The banking community had requested that there should be an express power inserted in the Bill to the effect that the owners of certificates should have the power to give a charge. They had also asked that certain information, kept at the register, and easily verified, should be forthcoming either on the certificate or by reference to the officials enabling the bankers to know what were the previous transactions, the amount of charges, and the amount paid on previous occasions. With regard to the case in which the register was in the same town as the bank which was asked or proposed to make an advance there was not much difficulty, and where the bank did not happen to be in the same town it was proposed to establish ready and cheap means of inquiry, and he believed that in this respect also they should be able to meet the wishes of the banking community. There were also provisions with regard to portions being put upon the register to protect persons who desired to be warned of any transfer or dealing that was going to be made in respect of the property, sad there were further provisions for the wiping off the, register of incumbrances which hail disappeared. These Amendments, speaking of them as a class, were improvements and amendments in the registration and transfer of land itself, and they were of course connected with the cheapening of the process. He thought he might say that, assuming the scale, of fees contemplated to lie adopted, there should be a saving of perhaps as much as four-fifths of the charges which existed at the present time. [Cheers.] With regard to the question of compulsory registration, having regard to the fears of the legal profession, it had been necessary to proceed cautiously, and the scheme in respect of compulsory registration differed front any scheme which had ever assumed the form of an actual proposition before the House. Power was taken under the 18th Clause for Her Majesty by order in Council to define an area or specify a county within which registration of title shall be compulsory, but power was reserved to the County Council to object and possibly to put an end to the system which it was proposed to establish. There was one point which was novel and which he commended heartily to the House, and that was that there was to be a provision for indemnity in the event of a mistake having occurred in the registry and loss having been occasioned. This system of insurance had existed in many of the Colonies. It was proposed that a certain proportion of the fees shall lie set aside and also that in the event of the fees being insufficient a fund shall be established, and any deficiency shall be a charge upon the Consolidated Fund, of the United Kingdom. He commended the Bill because he believed it was likely to be the one successful attempt to reconcile the varying views which had prevailed upon the question. He hoped this Session would see the Bill pass into law, because he was confident that a few years' practice under it would remove many of those fears which had been so freely expressed in years gone by. He asked the House to give a Second Reading to the Bill.


thought not the least satisfactory feature about this Bill was that it was not really a Measure that belonged to one side more than another. It was a Measure in which all were agreed. It was originally introduced in its main features by the late Lord Selborne, then by the present Lord Chancellor in the House of Lords, and reintroduced by Lord Herschell, from whose hands it came down to this House. Latterly the Lord Chancellor appointed a small Departmental Committee, of which he was a member, and they revised the draft with a view to meeting the various practical suggestions of commercial experts, and he believed the Bill was now a most satisfactory Bill alike to landowners, to the legal profession, and to the public.

MR. BRODIE HOARE (Hampstead) moved "That the Debate be now adjourned." He had no desire to oppose the Second Reading of the Bill, but, representing, as he did, large interests who rightly or wrongly considered themselves affected by the Bill, he hoped the Government would adjourn the Debate to a more "convenient season," when those who desired to discuss it would be there to do so.

*MR. GEDGE (Walsall)

supported the Motion. The Bill introduced important changes in the law which should be discussed before the Bill was read a Second time. People wrongly supposed that solicitors object to the purpose of the Bill. On the contrary, a compulsory system of land registration would make the fortunes of the present generation of lawyers, but they were not so sure of its being beneficial to their clients, and too great care could not be taken in framing its provisions.

MR. LLOYD - GEORGE (Carnarvon Boroughs)

said amendment of the system of land registration was highly necessary. The Bill required very careful consideration, but if the Debate were adjourned the Bill would probably not be passed this Session, and the present time, when the House was in a reasonable frame of mind and there was an absence of Party spirit—[laughter]—was a good time to consider it.


said he could assure his hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead that if he had the least feeling that ally harm would be done to the interests he represented, or that it was necessary for his hon. Friend the Member for Walsall to consider the details of the Bill which he believed he understood thoroughly at that moment—[laughter]—he would consent to the Adjournment. He could say without fear of contradiction, having read the Report of the meeting between the bankers and the representatives of the land registry, that there was not one objection which went to the Second Reading of the Bill. All the objections could be dealt with in the Grand Committee, and if not satisfactorily met in the opinion of those raising them, they would be able to oppose the Third Reading of this Bill. He was extremely anxious to get the Bill before the Grand Committee, where he was quite satisfied it would be discussed in a workmanlike way, and where ho would endeavour to deal with any objections that might be raised.


said that after this assurance he would ask leave to withdraw his Motion.

CAPTAIN BETHELL (York, E.R., Holderness)

thought it a great pity more notice had not been given that the Second Reading would be taken to-night, se that they might have heard the various points of view put forward, not only by the bankers, but by those representatives of the land and real property generally, which a great majority of the Members of the House had not the advantage of hearing at all. On the Committee which sat on this question, and of which the hon. Member for Haddington was a Member, there was a considerable amount of distrust of such a Measure as this, even by those conversant with conveyancing, and he was afraid if a matter like this did not come before a General Committee of the whole House, however acceptable might be legislation upon it, it could not possibly be understood.


desired to say that the objections taken in the Committee to which the hon. Member had referred were formulated by Mr. Benjamin Lake, one of the ablest opponents of the Bill. This gentleman was satisfied with the alterations that hail been made, and had written to the newspapers warmly endorsing the Bill, and the Incorporated Law Society had passed a Resolution approving of the Measure. ["Hear, hear!"]


observed that delay hail been suggested in this matter in the interests of the three parties who were concerned in the Bill, namely, the great body represented by the Incorporated Law Society, the bankers, and the owners of real property. So far as the Incorporated Law Society were concerned, he would point out that they were satisfied upon every question raised by the Second Heading of the Bill; the bankers were also satisfied on the understanding—which he promised to carry out on the part of the Government — that certain object ions which they had to the details of the Measure should be considered in the Committee. He would remind hon. Members that a Bill substantially like the present had been passed in the previous Session, therefore, Parliament might be considered to have already assented to the principle. Several Parliaments in his own recollection hail assented to it, and those who cared to go back into the dim vista of the past would find many Parliaments in which the principle hail been assented to. ["Hear, hear!"] Then there were the owners of real property, but if they were represented anywhere they were surely represented in the House of Lords, who had passed this Bill he was afraid to say how many times. ["Hear, hear!''] In these circumstances they need not, be apprehensive that they were taking any rash step Hint night if they accepted the Second Reading of a Bill the principle of which, in that House and out, of it, had received every species of sanction, assent, and approval of which a Bill was capable. ["Hear, hear!"] In Committee he thought they would be able to put the Measure into a shape which would command the universal assent of every section in every part, and he trusted, therefore, the Second Reading would be agreed to and the Bill referred to the Grand Committee on Law. ["Hear, hear!"]


observed that the fact that this Bill had passed through the House of Lords, and that it had been brought forward in such: 1, satisfactory manner that night, gave them some hope of its passing into law. He remembered how, ten years ago, Lord Randolph Churchill was sanguine of passing such a Bill, declaring that they had a Lord Chancellor who meant business. The long, delay led them to doubt this, but now they were approaching the matter with vigour and their hopes were revived. He could speak on this subject front experience. He happened to have been engaged all his life in matters connected with conveyancing in relation to both large and small properties, and had from day to day and week to week heard the objections of those who wished to deal with property of this class, as to the large expense and trouble that were connected with it. He did not think his hon. Friend was correct in saying that the expenses would be reduced four-fifths. That, he thought, was almost too much, but if any Member of his profession had a doubt about the Bill because it was going to reduce the scale of costs he might, surely be encouraged by remembering how very much larger the quantity of business would be and how the number of Snell land transfers would be increased. He hoped the Bill would receive the assent of the House and be placed on the Statute Book this Session.


said he should like some explanation with regard to the local registries. He understood that the fees, which were excessive, would be cut down, and if so that would be very satisfactory. He understood that it was intended to set up a system of local option, and that each County Council was to decide whether the Bill was to be made compulsory within its own area. He thought that would be a very confusing and complicated system, and as far as bankers were concerned, he thought it would he worthless. If the Bill were going to be compulsory in one area and not compulsory in another, it would involve such an investigation on the part of the bankers as would deprive them of the security which was necessary. He hoped the system would be made compulsory all round. He wished to know whether it was proposed to set up new registries in every county, or to utilise the present registries.


said this Bill came to the House supported by lawyers on both sides, and with the approval of the House of Lords, and any Measure which was brought there under such auspices he regarded with suspicion and jealousy. Moreover, the Bill was a comprehensive one, containing 25 or 30 clauses, and ought not, therefore, to be rushed through the House. He should oppose the Motion for the Second Reading.

MR. COURTENAY WARNER (Stafford, Lichfield)

urged that it was necessary when. a transfer took place that a certificate as to the boundary of a property should be given. He believed there was to be no map registered.

*MR. WILLIAM JONES (Carnarvon, Arfon)

asked whether the existing registries would be utilised or new registries established?


was understood to say that some new registries would be established.


said that as the Bill did not apply to Ireland, Irish Members might accept it on the responsibility of its eminent sponsors on both sides of the House.

Bill read a Second Time.

THE ATTORNEY GENERAL moved "That the Bill be referred to the Grand Committee on Law, Etc."

DR. TANNER (Cork Co., Mid.)

thought the hon. and learned Gentleman ought to be satisfied with having got the Second Reading of the Bill. He would warn all Members on both sides of the House of the danger of landing themselves into difficulties by going on with the business too quickly. It should go slowly if they would come to a safe end. He thought the Attorney General should postpone his Motion until to-morrow, in order that other Members might have an opportunity of expressing their opinions on the Bill.


hoped the. Attorney General would accede to the very moderate request of his hon. Friend.


considered the Grand Committee on Law the wrong Committee to which to refer a Bill affecting the landlords' pockets. He suggested that it be referred to the Grand Committee on Trade, and as the subject was technical that some lawyers should be added to the Committee.


asked his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House whether he would promise that ample notice would be given of the day the Bill would be reported to the House after the Committee stage.


said he would endeavour to see that his hon. Friend was not taken by surprise in the matter.

MR. W. E. M. TOMLINSON (Preston)

asked whether use would be made of the evidence taken by the Select Committee to which the last Bill was referred?


said that the Bill came front a bad quarter—namely, from the House of Lords—and it was supported by lawyers on both sides. Therefore, it would be most unwise to refer the Bill to a Committee of lawyers. It should be referred to a Committee of the whole House or the Standing Committee on Trade. Business men ought to be on the Committee.


said that this was a Bill which essentially required the consideration of the Committee on Law. The whole House could not deal with the minute but serious points involved. He had put on the Paper an. Amendment on behalf of the bankers, whom he in some sense represented. But after the promise of the Attorney General that all these points should be carefully considered, he should not think it necessary to move the Amendment.

Motion agreed to.

Bill committed to the Standing Committee on Law, Etc.

Whereupon Motion made, and Question, "That this House do now adjourn" —(First Lord of the Treasury)—put, and agreed to.

House Adjourned accordingly at Twenty Minutes after Eleven o'Clock.