§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I beg to move to leave out the Clause.
I have a number of Amendments on the Order Paper, dealing with the Keeper of the Registers and Records, the office of Keeper of the Minute Book and the Appointment of Assistant Extractor and Clerks. This is the first and the most important; all the rest are consequential. This is a Bill for the reorganisation of offices in Scotland, and, differing from other hon. Members who have spoken, I think it is a necessary Measure. One of the features of a Council of War is that it never does anything. Similarity, if you have boards, it must be very difficult for the Secretary of State to do his 2002 job. It must be infinitely better to communicate with one man than with a committee, but as the Office of Deputy-Clerk Register, and the Keeper of the Registers and Records, have nothing to do with the Scottish Office they should not be in the Bill at all. The views that I am expressing are views that have been communicated by the Law Agents' Society of Scotland and the Glasgow Faculty of Procurators, a large body of solicitors dealing with property. These gentlemen object to this particular Clause, and I will state shortly why. For 300 years there has been a Register of Deeds in Scotland, in which all the deeds dealing with Scottish property have been recorded, giving absolute security to those who registered. The registers have been open to the public, who could search them 2003 and find out anything that they wanted to see. One of the fundamental features of that was that one man prepared the deeds, and when he had finished another man took possession and he was the Keeper of the Deeds. They never had the two offices combined in one because the functions were different. The one man might make some mistake and he might put it right in his own hand. Once it came into the hands of the second man he would never put it right except with the permission of the Court of Session on special application. The Law Agents of Scotland feel that there has been greater security under the present system.
I notice, on reading the Financial Memorandum, that there is a reference to the saving of money. Whose money? Not the money of the State. Who pays for the Register House? The law agents and solicitors pay for it. The Register House is a self-supporting body; it pays for itself, and more than pays for itself. What does the Treasury seek to do? It says: "Here is an opportunity for taking a little money from Scotland." They will save so much a year by depriving those who own heritable property in Scotland of one of the safeguards and securities of their property. It will not be saving money at all, but taking the money that belongs to other people. They have no right to come along and persuade the Secretary of State that this new scheme will make for efficiency. It is not going to make for efficiency. It is going to be attended by what the law agents of Scotland consider to be a certain amount of risk. Nor does the Bill provide that the new Keeper, who is to be both Keeper and Register, is to be a qualified conveyancer of 10 years' standing, as has been the case hitherto, nor has his staff to show that it possesses some knowledge of conveyancing law. They have only to pass a Civil Service examination. That will impair the efficiency of Register House.
At any rate that is the view of those learned gentlemen of the different faculties both in Glasgow and Edinburgh. It is their clients' money that is to be disposed of. They have made representations to the Scottish Office but without success. The Secretary of State for Scotland is the most hard-worked member of the Cabinet and has far too much 2004 work to do. I hope that under this Reorganisation Bill he will get his work much more within his grasp. I feel that these particular Clauses have been imposed upon him by the Treasury with the idea of saving some money. I cannot see that he or any other person in his Department knows about the Scottish system of registration. Even in my own business I was not fully apprised of the effects of this Bill. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend because I was busy trying to protect the small shopkeepers against the joint depredations of the Socialist party and the Home Secretary. I take it, however, that one of the reasons for having a Report stage and a Third Reading of a Bill, is in order that those who have not been able to express their views in Committee may have an opportunity of doing so at one of the later stages. I urge on the Secretary of State that he should take into consideration the fact that the powerful bodies I have mentioned are opposed to these proposals. I ask him respectfully to withdraw them at present and to consult the bodies concerned.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL for SCOTLAND
This Amendment cannot be accepted. The Government propose to appoint a Keeper of the Registers and Records instead of a Deputy Clerk Register. The Deputy Clerk Register has not been in existence for several years, and what is proposed is to appoint an officer who will take his place, and who will be over the three principal departments, namely, the Records, the Sasines and the Deeds. These departments are all closely related and ought to be co-ordinated, and the proper person to do that is the Keeper of the Register and Records. This proposal is approved, I think, by the legal authorities in Scotland, and, what is more important, it also has the approval of the people of Scotland.
§ Amendment negatived.