§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
said, he had thought it would be more convenient that he should explain the nature of the Amendments he intended to propose in Committee; but a question of very great importance—the question whether there should be introduced into the Bill a provision to render the registration of title compulsory—having been raised by his noble and learned Friend (Lord Selborne) he thought it would be more convenient that it should be brought forward on the Report rather than in the Committee. He had no objection to that course; and as the Amendments which he himself intended to propose in Committee were not such as to require explanation, and had been made in deference to suggestions from his noble and learned Friend and other quarters, and were in entire accordance with the provisions of the measure, he would move them without further observation.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
said, he thought that there were two conditions essential to all legislation on the title and transfer of land—first, that registration should be compulsory; and second, that a title once placed upon the register should be irremovable. In both these respects the present Bill fell short of its predecessors. He regretted that the noble and learned Lord had given no further explanation why the present Bill differed in such important points from those of 1873 and 1874. By the former it was proposed that after a period of two years, registration should be compulsory; while the Bill of 1874, which extended the interval from two years to three, was still a Bill for compulsory registration, although on its 1042 last stage the noble and learned Lord had introduced a provision to exempt from compulsory registration properties under £300. The Bill now before their Lordships fell short of these two Bills in two respects—namely, in not providing for a compulsory registration; and next, in containing a clause—the 21st—under which land placed on the register might be withdrawn at a subsequent time. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, in explaining his reasons for withdrawing the clause for compulsion said, that any compulsion provided by a measure of this kind must be at best only an imperfect one: but, as his noble and learned Friend behind him (Lord Selborne) had pointed out, it would be a compulsion co-extensive with the necessity of the case—namely, a compulsion applicable to all property coming into the market. If a property did not come into the market, it mattered very little whether it went on the register. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack had said that the expenses of registration would press severely on the parties in the case of small transactions of sale and purchase, and that it was customary in some parts of the country to transfer small parcels for building purposes absolutely without any title whatever. He would ask whether it was not the present unfortunate condition of the law which drove the parties to the contraband practices which the noble and learned Lord had described in introducing the Bill? He was, however, unable to understand why registration should necessarily be made so expensive as the noble and learned Lord had described. The House had now an opportunity of removing a blot by doing away with the complicated arrangements connected with the tracing of title, and at the same time of removing an unfounded but widely-spread impression that real property was fenced round by artificial restrictions which were mainly in the interest of the class to which their Lordships belonged. Would this Bill effect that object? In 1859, Sir Hugh Cairns said that the grievance of the present system of tracing title had been felt for 200 years before. After 200 years of suffering on the part of those who had to do with the titles of land, and 16 years of consideration on the part of the noble and learned Lord, he thought they had a right to expect something more than 1043 this Bill. He hoped it would be amended, and that it would become law in the present Session. The Bill of last year, having passed through their Lordships' House, was dropped in "another place" to give way to a re-actionary measure, the greater part of which was, in its turn, subsequently abandoned. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack seemed to be playing towards the Prime Minister the part which the Sibyl played to Tarquinius Superbus. There was, however, this difference between the two cases. Unlike the Books of the Sybil, the former Bill of the Lord Chancellor was not destroyed, but reposed in the pigeon-holes of the noble and learned Lord, from which he entreated him to produce it, and to place it once more on the Table of the House.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
said, he was not surprised that the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Lansdowne), who brought so much intelligence to bear on all subjects in the discussion of which he took a part, should have desired to say something on this Bill; but as the noble Marquess had not refrained from introducing a matter which belonged to the domain of Party politics, and had stated that the Bill of last year, after passing their Lordships' House, had been withdrawn in the other in order to the introduction of a re-actionary measure, he would say that that Bill was not abandoned in any sense. What prevented the Government from proceeding in the House of Commons with the Land Transfer Bill of last year was the time occupied in the discussion on the Public Worship Regulation Bill. As to the Bill which he introduced into the House of Commons 16 years ago, the noble Marquess forgot that it was a Bill not for compulsory, but for voluntary registration. The more he considered this subject, the more convinced did he feel that in its voluntary character a measure of this kind would have the greatest chance of success, and in making a provision for compulsion in the Bill of last year, he did so rather out of deference to the course which was pursued the previous year by his noble and learned Friend (Lord Selborne) in the Bill introduced by him. When introducing the Bill now before their Lordships, he explained at some length why he did not make the Bill compulsory, and he was quite prepared again to state his reasons 1044 for that course when the distinct issue was raised. But, as he had understood from his noble and learned Friend that it would be more convenient for him to raise that issue on the Report, he had refrained on the Order for going into Committee from discussing the point in the manner suggested by the noble Marquess. With regard to the provision in this Bill for allowing lands once put on the register to be removed from it, he had no strong feeling on that point. He did not attach much importance to it; and therefore, if their Lordships should be in favour of striking out that provision, he should make no objection.
THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
thought that in consequence of the provision in the Bill which would enable persons to register a possessory title, the difficulties arising from a compulsory provision would not be at all so great as the noble and learned Lord seemed to apprehend. Looking at the Bill from the landowners' point of view, he thought the Bill would prove inopportune. No doubt, they had a strong desire to see titles simplified, and the expense of the transfer of land diminished; but, on the other hand, they had a very natural fear that any measure passed by Parliament would have the effect of superadding further trouble and expense to those which already existed. If only an absolute title could be registered, a great many would consider the inquiry incidental to placing the title in the register would be little different from involving themselves in a law suit; but he believed there would be an anxiety on the part of many of those persons to register a possessory title, with the view of obtaining the absolute title which registration for a certain time would confer. The noble and learned Lord was a high authority on these subjects; but, as a landowner, and one who knew the sentiments of landowners, he greatly regretted that the noble and learned Lord had abandoned the compulsory provision; and, without assuming the character of a prophet, he ventured to predict that a few years would show that the Bill would not effect the object the noble and learned Lord had in view.
§ LORD SELBORNE
said, that he would give due Notice of the Amendments which he intended to propose on the Report.
§ House in Committee.1045
§ Amendments made; the Report thereof to be received on Monday, the 15th instant; and Bill to be printed, as amended. (No. 27.)