The LORD CHANCELLOR
presented a petition against the Bill for the Registration of Assurances of Land. In doing so, his Lordship, who was very indistinctly heard, stated that, while he approved of the principle of the measure, there were many portions of it which he thought liable to objection, and to which he was not prepared to assent.
expressed his disappointment at hearing these sentiments from his noble Friend, whose support he had expected to receive. The Bill was founded upon the recommendation of a Commission which had emanated from, his noble Friend; it had been carefully considered by a Select Committee of their Lordships, and had been received with approbation on both sides of the House.
§ LORD FEVERSHAM
said, that, although there had as yet been no division upon this Bill, it must not be assumed that there was no difference of opinion amongst their Lordships with respect to it. The noble and learned Lord was equally mistaken in supposing that the measure, as had been stated, was opposed only by the country solicitors; the small landowners were unfriendly to it, on account of the probable expense of lodging their title-deeds in a metropolitan registry office, if, as it appeared, that expense was to be borne by the landed interest. He hoped, too, that the noble Lord opposite (Lord Campbell) would be able to tell them what would be the size and expense, and where the locality, of a building capable of holding all the titles that now were or ever would be in existence? It must be one only inferior in size to the Crystal Palace, which was now exciting, and justly, the admiration of the whole civilised world.
§ LORD BEAUMONT
said, that the course taken by the noble and learned Lord on the woolsack appeared to him to be scarcely a fair one. The Bill was founded upon the report of a Commission appointed three years ago, and had been referred to a Select Committee of the House while the Bill was under consideration. The noble and learned Lord took an objection to the plan of registration by 1312 maps; upon this a discussion took place, and this having terminated in the rejection of the plan, the noble and learned Lord quitted the Committee without bringing forward any further objections, but leaving the Committee under the impression that he approved of the Bill. Now, he thought that the Committee was the proper place for the noble Lord to have brought forward whatever objections he entertained to the Bill, and he thought this mode of proceeding was not altogether fair. It was not intended by this Bill to bring the title-deeds of all estates up to London, as his noble Friend opposite (Lord Faversham) supposed. If his noble Friend sold his estate after the Bill passed, there would still be the same examination into the title as at present; but the purchaser would then gain such a title as would enable him hereafter to deal with the property much more easily and rapidly than the noble Lord could at present do, however long his family might have been in possession of the estate. In the North Riding of Yorkshire, where a system of registration existed, it was optional to deposit either the title-deeds or a memorial of them; but it had there been found convenient, in cases where largo estates were sold in small portions, to deposit the title-deeds, in order to avoid the expense of covenants to produce the title-deeds. That was a practical instance of what the working of the Bill would be.
The LORD CHANCELLOR
said, that had he been better known to their Lordships than he had the good fortune at present to be, he should have been contented to pass by the charge of unfairness which had been brought against him; but his recent introduction to their Lordships' House, and the respect which he entertained for them, led him to value their approbation too highly to allow any one to bring a charge of unfairness against him, for which there was not the slightest ground. He had too many duties to perform in his own peculiar court, and in the appellate jurisdiction of their Lordships' House, to allow him to attend on all the various Committees of the House. When, therefore, the Bill was brought into the House, and he was asked to sit upon the Select Committee to which it was referred, he declined on account of his public duties. In consequence, however, of a request from the Committee, he attended one of their meetings, to state his views with respect to a proposed system of registration, with the 1313 accompaniment of plans or maps; and also two other meetings of the Committee, when that subject was very fully discussed before them by two learned gentlemen with great learning and acuteness. Having heard enough to satisfy himself that the plan of registration by maps (against which he was informed that the Committee ultimately decided) was impracticable, and that its effect would be to mystify, complicate, and confuse, he did not attend any further sittings of the Committee; not because he was opposed or indifferent to the Bill, or because he had any covert objection to the Bill to bring forward at a future time, but because his duties in the Court of Chancery, and in the administration of justice in that House, rendered it impossible for him also to attend the Committee. Those who advocated the Bill were too much in the habit of speaking of the opponents of it as the opponents of the entire system of registration. Now, if the plan devised for a system of registration was calculated to accomplish the objects intended to be accomplished by it, he should be most happy to support it; but if a Bill were brought in imperfectly framed for those objects, it was not to be expected even that the friends of a system of registration should give it general support. If the Bill introduced by his noble and learned Friend would accomplish its objects, it would be a great boon to the landed proprietors, and would materially benefit their interests; but if it would not, it might be detrimental instead of beneficial. Why should he be reproached with unfairness in the Committee? Where was the unfairness of which the noble Lord (Lord Beaumont) complained? How did he support his complaint? He had only got the Bill, printed in its present form, the day before yesterday. Since then he had clone his best to examine its provisions, and he perceived that it required amendment. He would mention one clause which struck him as improper. It was proposed to be enacted that if a will be made, and be not registered within two years, and the heir-at-law shall in the meantime have disposed of the estate coming to him by descent, that in that case all the titles derived under the will were to be destroyed. Now by will, provision was made for unborn children the issue of marriages, and for absent persons, and yet this Bill would destroy all titles under a will not registered within two years, if some person having a colourable title to the property disposed of it in 1314 the meantime. It was true that, if a person was prevented from registration, he might make an affidavit to that effect; but the fact was that those to whom property was bequeathed did not always know of the will, while the heir had that advantage. And yet, because he had stated to their Lordships that he thought the Bill required amendment, his noble Friend who brought in the Bill said that he was surprised that he (the Lord Chancellor) should oppose it. He was not an opponent of registration; and he would assist him to the utmost in carrying a measure for that purpose, seeing, at the same time, that the measure introduced had not an effect exactly the reverse of that intended. He believed that no one was opposed to a general system of registration, if it could be practically carried out in such a manner that its advantages were not counterbalanced by accompanying disadvantages. But the difficulty lay in the details; and it appeared to him that this Bill left that difficulty still to be solved. It provided that certain things should be done by rules, to be framed by the Registrar General, with the approbation of the Lord Chancellor and the Master of the Rolls. Now, he believed those functionaries were incompetent to the performance of that duty, not from want of ability, but from the nature of the inquiry, and the labour that would be required. He thought that the whole question as to whether the Bill would be beneficial or mischievous turned upon the nature of the regulations; and he thought that Parliament should not entrust the framing of these to others. He thought that the Commissioners should have pointed out, not minutely but in substance, what those regulations should be. He could assure his noble and learned Friend (Lord Campbell), that although he might find him objecting to some of the clauses of his Bill, he would also find him giving assistance to him generally, for he was a friend to the system of registration.
§ LORD BEAUMONT
explained that, in what he had said about "unfairness," he did not mean anything personally offensive to the noble and learned Lord. He simply meant that the noble and learned Lord, being a friend to the Bill and of registration, might have done a service to the Bill by endeavouring, in Committee, to render it as perfect as possible, and that he did not think the measure was advanced by the noble Lord reserving his objections until it was before the 1315 House, instead of making them at the earlier stage.
§ LORD CRANWORTH
said, it had appeared to the Select Committee that to have waited until they had maps in existence to suit the exigencies of the case, would have been tantamount to postponing their legislation on this subject sine die. As to the details of the measure not having been provided, the nature of the machinery of the Bill was already pointed out, and also the modus operandi; but if they had delayed the Bill till the details were all drawn up, they might as well have postponed the question indefinitely. He felt, however, that there was great force in the objection that the Bill had only been laid upon the table yesterday, printed in its amended shape, and it might not, therefore, be expedient to go on with the Committee on the Bill that evening.