HC Deb 09 August 1898 vol 64 cc759-64

Motion made— That this House disapproves of the Order of Council, made on the 18th day of July last, under the Land Transfer Act, 1897, and laid upon the Table on the following day, which directs that registration of title to land shall be compulsory on sale in the County of London."—(Mr. Gedge.)

MR. GEDGE (Walsall)

Sir, I am anxious not to detain the House very long, and the Attorney General, being anxious to catch a train for Scotland, has asked me, as a friend, to be as short as possible; but I ask for attention, because the matter is really one of some importance, and is similar to that involved in regard to the Bill last under discussion—namely, the extent to which the Government in another place are bound by what has been done by the Government in this House. I should not, of course, take up the time of the House by going into the merits of the Act, but I must just say a few words with regard to it to make my meaning clear. Objections to the Land Transfer Bill were met by two concessions, which were made by the Government when introducing the Bill—first, that it should in the first instance be tried as an experiment in one county only, and in no other county for three years, except at the request of the county. The second concession was that within an interval of three months from notice of the intention to put the Act in force being given by the Privy Council to any county in which it was proposed, first of all, to put the Act in force, it would be open to the county council of that county to pass a resolution preventing the Act being enforced. Well, last year it was proposed that the Act should be enforced in Yorkshire, but the Yorkshiremen offered such strenuous opposition to it that it was promptly withdrawn. Ultimately the county of London was selected as the subject of the experiment. I moved an Amendment to prevent this. In a population of five millions, and with enormous property of one kind only—namely, house property, and nothing else—there was not the opportunity for testing the Act that a smaller county with agricultural and a variety of other property would afford. I pointed this out two days before prorogation—it was on the Wednesday, and the House was prorogued on Friday—and vigorous opposition could easily have stopped the Bill. I showed that the notice would come before a moribund county council; and it seemed to me that owners and ratepayers should have the opportunity of expressing their views at the new election, to be held in March. The Attorney General told me that I had not read the Bill, and was altogether mistaken. He pointed out that the Act did not come into operation until 1st January, and stated that no notice could or would be given until January. Thereupon I allowed my Amendment to be negatived. Then came a clause which the Attorney General had forgotten, enacting that, not-withstanding the fact that the Act did not come into operation until the 1st January, all notices might be given as soon as the Act was passed. My honourable and learned Friend the Member for York and myself moved to omit the clause; and the Attorney General promptly agreed with me that the clause should go out, in order that effect might be given to the arrangement that no notice should be given before 1st January. There was a distinct pledge, and I am bound to say that it was broken.


No, no; I beg your pardon.


I assert that the pledge was broken. I do not say it was broken intentionally, but I do say that it was on the footing that no notice should be given until the 1st January that that clause was struck out. Everyone in the House went away with that impression on his mind. Now, what happened? On the 26th November the Privy Council, relying on an Act passed in 1888, sent to the London County Council the notice which they ought not to have given of this pledge—and the three months expired before that council expired. Consequently the matter could not be brought before the constituents at the election in March as was intended and promised, and the new county council had no opportunity of passing the statutory Resolution of disapproval. Therefore I say that the distinct pledge given by the Attorney General has been broken by the action of the Privy Council. It seems to me that we should take care that this House does not lose control of pledges given by a Member of the Government, upon the faith of which opposition to a particular Measure is withdrawn. On the merits, I wish to put before the House two reasons for disapproving this Order of Council. First, as I said just now, this enormous county of London is not a proper county in which to try an experiment of this kind; secondly, the way this Order is framed is peculiar. The Act will come into operation in different portions of the county at different dates, which must inevitably lead to the utmost confusion and difficulty. Therefore on the merits, and also because it seems to me that the promise that was given by the Attorney General has not been fulfilled, I ask the House to disapprove of this Order. I do not propose to move the Resolution exactly as it appears on the Notice Paper. The words;— on the ground (among others) that such Order was made in violation of a pledge given to this House by the Government on the 4th day of August, 1897, are not necessary. I beg to move the first part of the Resolution.


I hope that in less than half the time the honourable Gentleman has taken to bring this matter before the House I shall convince the House that he has made out no case whatever for this Resolution. The honourable Member has not even quoted his own words, or my words, accurately; he has not even taken the pains to read the Debate which took place on the last occasion. I will assume that there was a most distinct pledge given that no steps should be taken to bring this Act into operation until more than six months from the 1st January, and I will show the House that the honourable Member has altogether failed to establish any charge of breach of faith. The Act of Parliament contemplates that there shall be six months from the 1st January, and that there shall be a period of three months for the county council to exercise its judgment. I think the House will be with me when I say that the honourable Gentleman gave no dates whatever. This Order was never made until the 18th July——


I said nothing about the Order; I referred to the notice.


The honourable Gentleman might have abstained from putting a Motion of this kind on the Paper until he made himself acquainted with the facts. It came to the knowledge of the Lord Chancellor that the county council would go out of office on the 12th March, and that, therefore, unless they had some notice before the 1st January they would not have an effective interval of three months. In order to give the county council a complete three months' interval for the exercise of its judgment, notice was given on the 11th November. Then, in March, the old county council went out, and in May the Lord Chancellor formally communicated with the new county council, and asked whether they wished to pass any resolution to reject the Order, and the new county council replied that they had no such desire. Then the Order was laid on the Table for 40 days, down to the 17th July, and no one communicated with the Lord Chancellor or anybody else, or said a word to prevent the Order being carried into effect. Therefore the suggestion that there has been any attempt to evade the carrying out of the terms of the Act in the strictest way is absolutely without foundation. Now I come to the charge of breach of faith. The House will see how baseless is that charge if reference is made to the Debate on the 4th August of last year. Now, I may tell the House at once that I did not remember—and I do not suppose anybody remembered—that under the Interpretation Act, when an Act has been passed, which is to come into operation at a future date, "preliminary steps" may be taken; and it was under the powers of that Act, not knowing that I had said that no steps would be taken to bring the Act into force, that the Lord Chancellor gave the notice he did. But the honourable Member's statement, that I said that no notice should be served until the 1st January, is absolutely without foundation. All I said was that no steps should be taken towards putting those provisions into force until the 1st January, 1898. As a matter of fact more than the statutory time has been given, so that everybody might be Consulted. Everybody concerned has had notice, and has considered whether or not to oppose the Order. Nobody has; expressed a desire to oppose the Order. Yet, for the satisfaction of his own personal feelings, the honourable Member has thought fit to put down this Resolution, in order to covertly attack the Lord Chancellor, if he could not attack me. I think the House will be of opinion that he has failed in both.


Notwithstanding what the right honourable and learned Gentleman has said, I think there have been some rather unfortunate circumstances in this transaction. The honourable Member for Walsall had moved an Amendment to the Land Transfer Bill of last year, with the object of limiting its effect. That clause was withdrawn in consequence of a statement by the Attorney General, that the Bill as it stood effected the object my honourable Friend had in view. Now, it seems that owing to the Interpretation Act the Government are really able to put the Act into operation at an earlier date. I should be very reluctant to treat that as a breach of faith, but there seems no doubt that the statement made by the Attorney General, in forgetfulness of the existence of the Interpretation Act, led my honourable Friend to withdraw his Amendment, which he would not otherwise have done.

Question put, and negatived.

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