HL Deb 09 February 1875 vol 222 cc155-8

My Lords, I have now to ask your Lordships to give a first reading to another Bill which also, to a great extent, is one proceeding on the same principle as a Bill of last year passed by your Lordships' House, but stopped in its progress through the House of Commons—a Bill to simplify titles and facilitate the Transfer of Land in England. I say it is, to a great extent, the same; because when your Lordships have the Bill in your hands, you will find that the arrangements of the Bill of last year have been considerably altered; and that as regards the drawing, that Bill has been abbreviated and its enactments have been greatly simplified. But there is one point of difference between this Bill and that of last year, which I think I ought to at once notice and explain. The first Bill by which it was proposed to register title to land, which I had the honour to introduce in the other House of Parliament in 1859, did not propose to make registration compulsory in every case. It was voluntary, and left to the option of those who might think their title would be improved if registered. The Bill introduced two years ago by my noble and learned Friend who preceded me on the Woolsack (Lord Selborne) proceeded on a different footing as regards compulsion. It did not make registration compulsory in the case of an estate not changing hands, but provided that wherever, after the lapse of a certain time—I think two years—the estate was bought and sold, the title must be placed on the register. It further provided that if it were not so placed, the buying and selling would only be regarded in the light of a contract to buy and sell, but would not pass what lawyers call "the legal estate "of the land. When I introduced the Bill of last Session I followed the course marked out by my noble and learned Friend, but I extended the term within which the obligation was not to come in force from two years to three. As the Bill was in its progress through Parliament last year I had communications on the subject from all parts of the country; and on going into details I acquired a great deal of information of which I confess I had not been previously in possession. I will tell your Lordships what surprised me very much. In one particular neighbourhood—that of Birmingham, I think—there are in the course of the year a great many hundreds—I think I may say thousands—of cases of buying and selling pieces—or rather "parcels"—of land. Your Lordships would be astonished to hear how small are some of those transactions—how minute the portion of property, and how comparatively inconsiderable the amount of purchase-money. There are parts of England in which a great deal is done in buying pieces of land just largo enough to build a cottage on. It was made clear to me that these sales are not conducted in the way in which people make out a title to land—no title is attempted to be made out—they are transacted entirely on the faith of the solicitor, who has been conducting business in the particular neighbourhood for a long time, and is supposed to know it thoroughly. He draws up the deed on perhaps a sheet of paper, and besides the stamp, the purchaser has to pay but a very small sum in the way of law costs. I have heard of cases in which these latter charges are so small as 20s. or 30s. Now, it is clear that it matters not how cheap we make the cost of registration—if a title is to be put on the register, there must be some investigation of title, however small; and it would be impossible in a system of registry to compete with the small expense on which these minute transactions are now conducted. Therefore, before the Bill of last year left your Lordships' House, I proposed to exempt from the operation of the compulsory clause all cases in which the purchase-money did not reach a certain amount. I think £300 was the sum I named—but I was obliged to arrive at any conclusions in a rough form. Since last year I have given the subject much consideration, and I have arrived at the conclusion that it must appear somewhat anomalous to introduce a compulsory registry and then draw a line between a purchase of greater and one of lesser magnitude. It is extremely difficult to fix the point at which the line should be drawn. And there are some further considerations which have to be borne in view. I thought it ne-necessary to ask the question—What, after all, is gained by a compulsory registration of this kind? Your Lordships will observe that the compulsory registration proposed was not one of all estates, but merely of those which were the subject of bargain and sale. This would at once except from this clause of compulsion the great bulk of the landed property of this country; because we knew that the great proportion of the land never changes hands at all, and never becomes the subject of bargain and sale. Therefore, the course proposed would not effect the object we have mainly in view, which is, to have all the land of the country on the register. Then, again, even when dealing with those portions of the land which are the subject of bargain and sale, there must be exceptions, whether you fix the minimum at £300, £200, or £100. But there would remain still these sales of a class over those small limits; and in these, however stringent you might make your compulsory clause, the ingenuity of conveyancers would be able to defeat it. It is impossible—if persons are unwilling to register—to compel them to do so. Already, means have been suggested by which anyone who did not wish to come under the compulsory clause might escape it. It is necessary, therefore, to go somewhat further. Moreover, my Lords, there appears to me to be a further difficulty in making a measure of this kind compulsory at the outset. If you do so, it appears to me you cannot stop short of establishing all over the country district registries; because, obviously, it would be a great hardship for persons living in remote parts of the country, and who were anxious and willing to conduct a sale without coming to London, to have to come to London for the purpose of placing on the register the title of the land which is proposed to be sold. Of course, that difficulty could be obviated by establishing district registries; but then to establish registries all over the country would be a measure of fresh expense, and one in which we should hardly be justified without experience as to the desire of buyers to avail themselves of the register. These considerations, my Lords, have led me to think that the proper way is to proceed in the hope that the registration will commend itself to the owners of land as making the land more negotiable, and therefore more valuable. If that commends itself to the extent of making owners go to the register in that way, just as it is acted upon throughout the country, we shall be able to decide as to the places in which it will be necessary to establish district registries; and we need not incur expense in this way until it is required. For these reasons, my Lords, there is not in this Bill the clause of the Bill of last year which made registration compulsory. There will be no obligation on those who are buying and selling to register the land, the subject of the bargain and sale. With these observations, I beg to move the first reading.

Bill to simplify Titles and to facilitate the Transfer of Land presented by The Lord Chancellor; read 1a; to be printed; and to be read 2a on Thursday the 23rd instant,