§ Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.
The LORD CHANCELLOR
moved that the Bill be now read 3a. Having already addressed their Lordships twice on the subject of this Bill at considerable length, he should not now think it necessary to detain their attention for any great period of time. The objections to the measure had been mainly urged by his noble and learned Friend (Lord St. Leonards). To those objections he had given the best attention in his power, and he had, in every case where he deemed them to be of importance, endeavoured to meet them. One was certainly a most material consideration, namely, the question of costs. This was a subject to which the attention of the Select Committee had been specially directed. It was said that in consequence of the proposed registration additional costs would be thrown upon the purchasers of small estates; and this objection, he thought, had been met by the Bill as it now stood. Undoubtedly, before their Lordships passed the third reading they ought to be satisfied that the measure was essential, or at least important, to the security of titles generally; and if they were so satisfied, then, though they might regret that the necessary charges would press more hardly on small purchasers than on the larger, still that would not constitute an insuperable objection to the proposed amendment of the law. The time was when landed property was transferred without any writing, but by word of mouth; and when the alteration was made requiring written evidence of the change of ownership, no doubt the effect pressed hardly on email purchasers. The change then made was of a much greater character than that now proposed; but the Legislature con- 1224 sidered that it had to deal with the whole community, and to protect all where all were in want of protection. Therefore the change was made. In like manner, as the object was to give greater security to titles, he could not admit the validity of the reason that, because there might be extremely small purchasers as to whom the costs would bear a larger proportion to the value of the property than in estates of greater magnitude, therefore the measure ought not to pass. Nevertheless, in order to meet the objection which was urged, the Committee came to the determination that, in all purchases where the purchase-money was under 200l., no fee whatever should be payable for registration. The noble and learned Lord (Lord St. Leonards) had argued that any such exemption would make larger purchasers unjustly pay for smaller. When, however, it was considered that the largest purchasers would not have to pay a fee above a few pounds, the alleged grievance was scarcely worth consideration. The calculation showed that if there were only half of the 80,000 deeds registered in the year above 200l., the registration fees would pay all the expenses. Another matter for consideration was, that though the Bill would impose a slight additional charge of under 2l. on small purchases above 200l., yet, in respect to one-fifth of the population of the country, registration was now necessary. In Yorkshire and Middlesex the inhabitants amounted to more than one-fifth of the entire population, and in those counties there was now a charge for registration very much greater than would be payable under the proposed system, and as regarded these, therefore, the cost would be reduced. Small purchasers would also derive security from it quite as much as large purchasers. Since he last had the honour of addressing the House on this subject, he had received a letter from a gentleman of the highest respectability in Suffolk, stating that, as the owner of three-fourths of an estate in Warwickshire, he purchased the remaining fourth, and after it was conveyed to him, and before he was in possession six months, he was called on by a mortgagee who had a mortgage on the purchased property for half its value, which the purchaser was obliged to pay. Great security would be given by the provisions of the Bill in such cases as that. He had received communications to the effect that the Bill did not go far enough; and that the only real remedy for the evils 1225 complained of, in reference to this subject, was the simplification of the laws of real property, or, in other words, the doing away with the rights of property and settlement according to the existing laws. He was not prepared to introduce such a change as that; but the present Bill was the natural foundation for every further change or improvement. He had upon the report of the Bill moved the insertion of certain words giving compensation to the clerks of the Master with whom judgments were registered; but, on consideration, he concurred in the opinion expressed by his noble and learned Friend (Lord St. Leonards), that they were merely the servants of the Master, and therefore he now proposed to strike out those words.
§ LORD ST. LEONARDS
said, that in rising to oppose the third reading of the Bill, he would so far imitate the conduct of his noble and learned Friend as not to fatigue their Lordships by any long consideration of the merits of the question of registration. He would assume, for the purpose of discussion, that registration would be beneficial if it could be put upon a system that would work well. But his objection was, that the Bill would not work for the purpose for which it was proposed. On a former occasion he had drawn their Lordships' attention to the remarkable circumstance* that for two centuries a desire had been entertained to have a Bill of this nature; but one had never passed, because nobody could ever hit upon a scheme which would be practical. The present Bill had been at least nine or ten times before Parliament, and it had never yet become law. Twenty-four or twenty-five years ago he had opposed this very Bill, which for many years had been regularly introduced into that or the other House Session after Session, under the belief that it was as perfect as it was possible to make it. In the year 1850 the Commissioners, who had had the subject under their consideration, presented a series of most elaborate reasons, which had never yet been answered, why the scheme would not work. A majority of them were of opinion that no scheme of registration would work without a map, which they recommended. They showed that without a map the scheme would not only work mischief, but that it would cost a million of money to bring it into operation within any convenient time. It would require years to make the map efficient. Now the present scheme being without a map would not work to any beneficial pur- 1226 pose, but would, he believed, increase the evils it was intended to prevent. Next arose the question of costs. His noble and learned Friend was of opinion that they would be very trifling. Why did he not venture to put them into the Bill? But the costs, and everything relating to the practical working of the measure, were kept out of the Bill. Five-and-twenty years ago it was intended to have a schedule showing what the expenses would be; but at present the rules and regulations to be observed were to be left to the registrar, to be propounded and altered according to his will; so that there was nothing to show how the measure would work. Now, he contended that the machinery requisite for working the Bill would prevent the possibility of the costs being low, independently of the objection that the scheme would not work well. Compensation would be required to be given to existing officers; and by whom would it have to be paid? By the landed interest. There was nobody else to pay them. And what was the estimate of the expense? The Bill contained none, nor was any given upon which reliance could be placed. His noble and learned Friend had said that only 100,000 deeds would be registered in a year; but the Incorporated Law Society, in their, petition to their Lordships, stated that the number could not be less than 300,000. On an average there could be 1,000 every day. Seeing that the whole property of England would have to come under the Bill, he believed that this estimate would be found moderate; at all events, the amount of business would be so considerable that the place would be in the greatest confusion, unless an amount of expense was incurred for accommodation, of which it was impossible their Lordships could have an adequate idea. The expense of this measure would not be less, he believed, than 1,000,000l. a year; but there would be, in addition to the expense of registration, all the costs of the solicitors employed. Let their Lordships consider, then, the great expenditure thus thrown upon the landed interest. In order to conciliate small proprietors, his noble and learned Friend had inserted a clause which exonerated purchases not exceeding 200l. from the fees of registration. If they exonerated the small holders, of whom there were tens of thousands, the expense must in that case fall upon the larger landowners. If his noble and learned Friend thought that good would be effected by diminishing the 1227 remuneration of the solicitors, he would find he had made a mistake, for nothing was clearer than this—that the work must be paid for, or it would not be done. But then, said his noble and learned Friend, the Bill gives holders the benefit of security for their titles. But this he denied, and they did not ask for it. All they wanted was to be left alone for they could take care of themselves. But, looking at the Bill in another light, it struck at the root of all rules of equity; and on that ground, too, he asked their Lordships to reject it. Their Lordships would shortly be called upon to pass another Bill which would have the effect of placing upon real property a present mortgage for a large amount, payable upon a contingent event, which might occur from time to time, with this additional inconvenience and difficulty, that a value will be placed upon every man's property by surveyors sent to every estate in the country. Now, let the House observe to what purpose the present Bill would be instantly converted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Her Majesty's Government contemplated a measure for taxing every man's real property. The real and personal property of the whole realm was about to be taxed—and the capital of it was to be taxed, for that was the real object of the Government; and it was proposed to tax every settlement of land. What an excellent measure the present was for carrying out this object!—no wonder it excited the admiration of the Government. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said, "I am going to tax settlements of land; how am I to know what land is settled?" "Oh," it would be replied, "here is a general Registration Bill, under which every man must register his settlements;" and the consequence would be that, every Monday morning, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would send his compliments to the Registrar General, and request him to furnish him with an account of the settlements of the last week, in order that in the ensuing week they might be regularly taxed. If their Lordships wished to give facilities for such a course of proceeding, they should pass the present Bill. The proposal of the Government to impose a succession duty was spoken of as a legacy tax. Now, however hard it might be, upon the devolution by law or gift by will, that a portion of the property never possessed should be taken from any person by the State, still he never possessed it, never had the money, and the 1228 hardship was the less felt. But what had such a proceeding to do with taxing the means already in possession—the settlement, for instance, that one of their Lordships might make on behalf of his child? Suppose that last week any noble Lord gave to his daughter a fortune, and settled it in the ordinary way upon the husband for life, then on his daughter, and the children afterwards—that would be a settlement of things in possession. The next week the son-in-law might die, and the father would see the property he had settled upon the young couple broken into by the tax, and might live to see it repeated even more than once. This was not dealing with the dead man's property when a portion of it was taken by the State before the property went over, but it was taking from the living man a portion of that which he believed he had settled. One odious thing connected with the proposal was its constant inquisition into property. Every arrangement and settlement connected with property must necessarily be submitted to Government. But did any of their Lordships suppose that the proposition would rest with settlements upon real estate? Would not that proposal be followed up by another Bill to register every settlement of personal estate, in order that the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the day might be enabled to tax personal as well as real estate. In conclusion, he entreated their Lordships to consider whether this was the proper time and these the fitting circumstances for passing a measure of this sort.
§ On Question, their Lordships divided:—Content 57; Not-Content 29: Majority 28.
§ On Question "That the Bill do pass;"Resolved in the Affirmative.
§ Amendments made.
rose to express his unbounded thanks to their Lordships that a cause for which he had been fighting for twenty-four years appeared at last to be about to have a successful termination. He trusted that when the Bill which had now received the sanction of their Lordships should be sent to the other House, the fact that it carried with it the unanimous opinion of two Royal Commissions, the opinion of a Committee of the House of Commons, as well as of a Committee of their Lordships' House, in which there was a large majority of Conservative Peers, who thought that better legislation on this subject would be the best remedy for the 1229 burdens on land, and the opinion expressed by their Lordships on the same subject in a former Session, would have due weight in the House of Commons. There were, he believed, in that House a most respectable and influential body opposed to the Bill, and who would probably represent it as a mischievous Bill; but there was also a large majority who would not be subject to be influenced by these representations, and who, exercising their own judgment, would approve of the measure, and he trusted that with their support it would soon become law. If it should turn out that the lateness of the Session should prevent the measure passing into law, he would respectfully suggest to the consideration of the Government, that if there should be so important a measure as that of the registration of deeds, or any other important measure for the benefit of the public, that could not properly be considered during the usual limits of the Session, that, instead of a prorogation, there should be an adjournment of the House, in order that when it met again such measures might be taken up at the stage in which they were left.
§ LORD LYNDHURST
said, that two years since he supported a similar measure to the present, which passed their Lordships' House without a division, and he had attended the Select Committee on this Bill regularly from its commencement to its conclusion; and everything which had passed before that Committee had satisfied him that the course pursued on the former occasion was the correct one, and everything he saw during that investigation satisfied him that there was no foundation whatever for those calculations and the results from them to which his noble and learned Friend (Lord St. Leonards) had referred.
§ LORD ST. LEONARDS
, in reference to the statement of the noble Lord (Lord Campbell), said that it was incorrect to say that this Bill was founded upon the report of the Royal Commissioners.
§ LORD BEAUMONT
said, that it was precisely the same as that recommended by the Commissioners, with the exception of the indexes and maps.
§ LORD ST. LEONARDS
said, that the point of difference mentioned by the noble Lord was a cardinal one, and the foundation of everything. The second Commission were of opinion that the plan would riot work without a map; and he repeated, 1230 therefore, that the Bill before the House had not received the sanction of two Royal Commissions.
§ LORD OVERSTONE
expressed his cordial concurrence with the objects of the Bill, and trusted that the measure would speedily become law. He believed that it might be passed with most perfect safety to the landed proprietors, and the highest authorities of the law had pronounced it as the only true and solid foundation upon which they could hope to build up further improvements in the law of real property. He believed that no measure had ever passed their Lordships' House with a more general sanction of the highest legal authorities, for against the single authority of the noble and learned Lord they had the opinion of the most distinguished men in the country, and the highest legal authorities in the House.
§ Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.