HL Deb 18 February 1859 vol 152 cc498-501

presented petitions from Landowners of Aspatria and Plumland, and from John Fawcett, Esq., barrister-at-law, in favour of the Transfer of Real Estate Bill. His Lordship said the petitions had reference to the present state of the laws for the conveyance of land. He had himself frequently brought the subject under the attention of their Lordships, and they might not unnaturally object to his continually making these statements to the House. But he must be forgiven. He recollected some years ago, when Lord Cottenham brought forward some grievance, the Duke of Wellington on the Treasury bench said, that he had heard it eleven times; to which Lord Cottenham retorted, "Don't be surprised if you hear it a twelfth." He (Lord Brougham) was in the same position as Lord Cottenham; he was obliged to press this question again and again on the attention of their Lordships, and he should continue to do so until it had attained the practical consideration of the Legislature. Their Lordships would recollect that he introduced a Bill last Session, which he had reintroduced about a week ago, for the purpose of applying to all kinds of laud the system by which copyhold lands were ransferred—a system of local registration, of plans, and a central record of index only, and not of title or deed. Petitions in favour of that measure had been sent up by all the magistrates and landowners of the counties of Cumberland and Westmoreland, who had constant experience of the system, and his Bill would accord well with the measure recently introduced into the other House by the Solicitor General. No one could doubt that as the petitioners averred, the law relating to the transfer of real property was in a most unsatisfactory state, and something was required to be done to make conveyances more cheap, expeditious, and secure; and the Master of the Rolls. when examined before a Committee, had declared that had the law been expressly devised for the purpose of making land an unmarketable commodity nothing could have been so effectual as the provisions which at present regulated conveyances. The petition he now presented was from Mr. Fawcett, a gentleman of thirty years' standing at the bar, and who had been for the greater part of that time steward of a manor court with 500 tenements. During that lengthened period there had been numerous transfers of the copyhold property, by sale, devise, descent, exchange, mortgages, some tenements having changed hands more than once, all of them once at least, and he assured the House that during all this period there had never been one single dispute, not to say lawsuit. The history of every tenement could be traced for 150 years; that the number of words in each deed was under 200; and that the cost of effecting each change did not amount to more than about 7s. He thought, therefore, that the general system of the transfer of land should be assimilated to the system adopted in the manor courts, and he believed that the Bill which he had introduced, and which all the numerous petitions from the Northern counties prayed might pass into a law, would be found well worthy the consideration both of their Lordships and the other House of Parliament. Before introducing that measure he had taken the opportunity of asking when they might expect a Government Bill on the subject, and he was cheered by hearing his noble and learned Friend on the woolsack say that it was preparing, and would shortly be brought before Parliament. Since then the Solicitor General had introduced a Bid into the other House, and had accompanied its introduction by a speech which was an event in the history of Legislation, and an event in the history of the amendment of the law. He (Lord Brougham) only regretted that his hon. and learned Friend had not thought fit to give that speech in an authentic and corrected form to the world, for it was a speech the importance of which had rarely been exceeded. The measure which he had propounded was in no way inconsistent with the Bill of the Solicitor General, but would, on the contrary, work harmoniously with it. Some of the objections which had been raised against the measure of the hon. and learned Gentleman did not apply to the Bill which he supported. Registration was a principal point in both measures, and the expediency, not to say the necessity, of some such provision became every day more apparent. He would take that opportunity of entering his protest against dilettanti legislation in dealing with the great question of the transmission of property. Some persons were desirous of altering the laws relating to land by attacking the law of primogeniture; but he thought that law was sound in principle, and any alteration of it would inflict a fatal blow upon the British constitution. That law was well suited both to give proprietors a power of dealing with their property, and to support the aristocratic branch of our mixed constitution, by a power of entailing within certain not very large limits. He was not apt to be an alarmist, but holding our constitution to be essentially a mixed one, and whatever any one might think of the possibility of getting a better system and a better or purer constitution, he was perfectly certain that the system as it now stood had worked well, and did still work well, to secure at once the liberties of the people and the stability of our institutions. Any interference with the law of primogeniture would inflict an injury upon our mixed constitution, which those who aided or permitted such an attempt would probably be the first to repent of having either helped or suffered.


rejoiced to find that the noble and learned Lord approved the measure which had been introduced into the other House by the Solicitor General, although he entertained a not unnatural preference for his own production. The present was hardly the moment to discuss the merits of any particular measure, but he would observe, with regard to his noble and learned Friend's plan of taking the manor courts for their model, that that was a good system as far as it went; but he was unable to see how that small system was capable of receiving the extended application which the noble and learned Lord contemplated. It was admitted on all hands to be desirable that there should be increased facilities provided for the conveyance and transfer of land, but the mode in which that end was to be attained was still a subject for discussion. He had only risen to make those few remarks because he fancied his noble and learned Friend was desirous of forestalling the decision of the House upon a particular question hereafter to be introduced to their notice.

The petition was ordered to lie upon the table.