§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (Lord HALSBURY),
in rising to move that this Bill should be referred to a Select Committee, said, he had some difficulty in introducing the Motion to their Lordships, as he was not certain in what way it was going to be met by his noble and learned Friend (Lord Herschell). As far as his researches extended, he believed it was absolutely without precedent that a Minister of the Crown in charge of a Bill should be refused the opportunity of sending that Bill to a Select Committee. If, however, he had understood him correctly, the noble and learned Lord on the Front Opposition Bench rather intimated on a former occasion that he intended to resist the Motion for the reference to a Select Committee. What had happened had a little surprised him, and he thought that a Motion should have been made on the second reading to reject the Bill; but instead of that being done, criticisms had been made on clauses of the Bill. The Bill passed through that House last Session without any serious objection to any principle in it. It was said, that the drafting of the Bill was defective; if that were so it should be sent to a Select Committee, where all points could be discussed across the Table, and he hoped that his noble and learned Friend would assent to that course. He believed it would be possible in a Select Committee to mould the Bill, if objectionable, into such a form as would produce a great improvement with respect to the expense, facility, and speed of land transfer. There were some who took the view that registration should 140 be confined to sales; but if it were so confined the result would be simply to add one process to the mode in which land is transferred. Last year in "another place" Mr. Fowler thought it necessary that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee of their Lordships; and he had received representations to the same effect from almost all the law societies in the country. He hardly thought that the noble and learned Lord appreciated the difference between the Act of 1875 and the state of things now existing in consequence of the Settled Land Act and the Conveyancing Act. He believed that if the principle of compulsory registration both on sale and succession were agreed to, a Select Committee would be the best body to carry that principle into effect. Some noble Lords had been prejudiced by previous attempts at legislation in this direction. He believed one cause which had prevented the success of those efforts had been undue timidity in shortening the period for showing a good title. He was extremely anxious that the Act when passed should not be a mere barren addition to the Statute Book.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be referred to a Select Committee."—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ LORD HERSCHELL
said, that he had not the slightest intention of dividing the House on the question, as he knew it would be absolutely useless to do so; but in spite of his noble and learned Friend's lecture he must renew his protest against referring the Bill to a Select Committee on the ground that it would not be for the public advantage. The Bill was one of great importance, and did much more than embody any single principle. The House might be agreed on the general question of registration of title. But it was another matter to insist on registration both in transactions inter vivos and on successions. The House had expressed no view on that extension. Their Lordships would be as well able to deal with the important questions raised by the Bill as a Select Committee. The Committee was to include four lawyers, the rest being laymen. No doubt the House would not be bound by the determination of the Select Committee; but there was a natural impatience in the House 141 to discuss a matter which had been referred to a Select Committee. There were several important questions which would have to be considered; whether the owner would have to register before transfer to a purchaser; whether registration was to be compulsory on every succession or only when transfer took place; and whether a distinction should be drawn between a possessory or qualified and an absolute title. There was, further, the important question of succession on intestacy, which certainly ought not to be decided by a Select Committee. Then, if the Select Committee were intended to revise the drafting of the Bill, he should certainly decline to take part in so dangerous an operation. He believed that after a Select Committee had tinkered with the Bill, it would be found when it came into operation that they had created confusion instead of avoiding it. Besides, the legal Members of the House had not time to spare from their judicial duties to deal with a Bill of this character in a satisfactory manner. It was perfectly true, as his noble and learned Friend had said, that the law societies were in favour of referring the Bill to a Select Committee; but it was with the proviso, which had been rejected by his noble and learned Friend, that evidence should be taken by the Committee.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
said, he was very far from differing from all that his noble and learned Friend who had just sat down had said, and he quite agreed that there were several important questions to be considered, which it was not to be assumed that the House had decided, if the Bill went to a Select Committee. On some of those questions he had last year expressed his opinion, and, if he had not then pressed his views on all those points to a division, he had not changed them, and should feel quite at liberty to urge them now. But he did not think that his noble and learned Friend had done justice to the arguments in favour of the course recommended by the Lord Chancellor. He certainly should not join the Committee for the purpose of any mere criticisms upon the drafting of the Bill. But there were questions of machinery, on which the success of the Bill would largely depend, and of the relation of the Bill to the previous Acts dealing with the question, with which 142 a Select Committee would be eminently qualified to deal. Last year he had urged the consolidation of those Acts with the Bill, which was now done, with such changes in and Amendments of them as the Settled Lands Act, and other intermediate legislation, had rendered necessary. This alone, in his judgment, was a sufficient reason for the course which the Lord Chancellor now proposed. The Bill ought to receive, in all its details, careful consideration; could that be done in that House? There was no doubt that a Select Committee, including much of the legal strength of the House, besides lay members, was exactly the body to deal with such work, which the House could not possibly do. He quite agreed that there were several important questions which could eventually only be determined by that House, and that those questions must be considered in the House; but surely it would be more convenient to consider those questions without feeling that it was necessary for the House to go into every other question as well. Even with regard to those questions which the House itself must consider, he had no hesitation in saying that he thought that the House would be assisted in that consideration when the Bill had come back, and was re-committed, by knowing what had been the opinions expressed after full deliberation and consultation by the noble Lords, both legal and others, who might compose that Committee. The great argument in favour of a Select Committee was that in it a discussion of this character could be carried on under conditions under which it was impossible for a legal argument to be carried on in that House. He did not mean that they could not speak as often as they chose in Committee; but in a Select Committee there was an interchange of ideas which could hardly take place in the House. If the majority of the Select Committee, after full consideration, returned the Bill to that House, recommending changes which perhaps the Government might not have been disposed to accept, he felt sure that those changes would stand a better chance of being adopted than they might otherwise have.
§ LORD THRING
said, he was opposed to the Motion to refer the Bill to a select 143 Committee. The important points of the Bill could only be decided by the Whole House; and, in his opinion, a Select Committee was the worst tribunal that could be imagined for the consideration of a Bill of this kind, which hung together like the links of a chain.
§ LORD ESHER
said, it seemed to him that this was a Bill which more, perhaps, than any other required that it should be sent to a Select Committee. It bristled with technicalities; and, speaking for himself, having read it very carefully, there were some pages of questions which he would like to have solved before he could understand the wording of the Bill. How those questions were to be asked across the Table of the House passed his comprehension to know. The real working point, the backbone of the Bill, was the compulsory registration of possessory titles. If that registration could be made at little or no expense, and with little or no delay, it seemed to him that the objections which had been stated to compulsory registration would almost fall to the ground. The answer to that question depended on the amount of evidence which they should require in order to put on the register the possessory title. If the Bill went to a Select Committee it would. be possible to put into the Bill the amount of evidence which should be deemed necessary. The question whether noble Lords would agree to compulsory registration or not would depend greatly upon the matter of evidence. Another point requiring to be carefully looked into was a so-called "Interpretation Clause," which was really a misinterpretation clause, because it put an almost impossible meaning upon words which were used in the body of the Bill. That circumstance afforded another reason why the Bill should go to a Select Committee.
THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
said, he would point out that last year their Lordships had a Bill of the same kind before them, and it never seemed to occur to anybody then that the Bill should go to a Select Committee. Moreover, some of the questions raised in this Bill had on a former occasion been debated in the House and divided upon. He rather supported the suggestion of his noble Friend behind him that the Bill should be partially dealt with in 144 Committee of the Whole House, and afterwards, if necessary, referred to a Select Committee, because ho did not see how the Bill could be sent, in the first instance, to a Select Committee until the wide and important questions involved in certain portions of the Bill had been determined upon. As had been pointed out, the Bill did not contain the materials on which the House could form a judgment—namely, as to whether the scheme of the Bill would involve serious expense and delay, which depended not upon any provisions in the Bill, but upon provisions which were to be made on Orders under the Bill; and he submitted it was the duty of the framers to put those provisions into the Bill, and not to leave the House in the dark as to material points.
§ THE PRIME MINISTER AND SECRETARY OF STATE von FOREIGN AFFAIRS (The Marquess of SALISBURY)
said, it was necessary that the Bill should not only be intelligible and clear to those who made it, but also that its clauses should not be ambiguous, either in the minds of those who interpreted it in the Court of Law or of the landowners, whom it would affect so largely; and it, therefore, became a matter of careful discussion to know whether the clauses as they stood had a thorough application to all the detailed objects the Bill had in view. There seemed nothing more unsatisfactory, as a general rule, than the manufacture of the clauses of an Act of Parliament across the Table of the House, and there was no subject on which that was less satisfactory than where it affected the pecuniary rights and. the very existence of a very large and important interest in the country. In his opinion, some other machinery must be found for framing the Bill than that which consisted in a debate between the two sides of the House. Select Committees did not appear to enjoy the admiration of the noble Lords opposite, who seemed to regard with scorn anything that was done in the way of framing a Bill by anyone except what they termed a competent draftsman. In his own opinion, the best course would be to refer the Bill to a Select Committee.
§ Motion agreed to; Bill referred to a Select Committee accordingly.