HL Deb 21 February 1890 vol 341 cc849-62

In rising to call attention to the subject of record of title of land in Ireland; and to ask the Lord Privy Seal whether—(1.) It is intended to re-introduce the Bills for the local registration of title and the registration of assurances in Ireland, which were laid before Parliament by the Government last Session. (2.) Whether, if the Bills are re-introduced, the Government will consent so far to extend the former measure as to include within its provisions titles to the estates of vendors which have been made in the Courts of the Land Commission since 1881. (3.) Whether Her Majesty's Government will give facilities for passing a measure for the better making of title to land in Ireland. (4.) Whether the Government is prepared to press on the completion of the 25-inch ordinance survey of Ireland, said: My Lords, before I draw your attention to the subject of record of title in Ireland, I wish, in the first place, to say a very few words as to the reason why, I, a person who has not had the advantage of a legal training, have undertaken to deal with a rather complicated and difficult legal subject. Possibly some of your Lordships may be aware that about three years ago an association of persons connected with the ownership of land, and which is called the Landlords' Convention, was formed in Ireland to watch and to deal with the numerous questions which affect Irish land. That Convention consists of representatives from all the different counties of Ireland, and it has an executive committee, which is partly elective and partly co-optive. Upon our Executive Committee we have not the good fortune to have any noble Lord who is learned in the law, or who, as far as I know, has had any legal training; and, therefore, the committee have been, perforce, obliged to entrust to a person who is not learned in the law the task of bringing before your Lordships this important subject at this early period of the Session. My Lords, there are two systems established by law in Ireland dealing with record of title or registration of title. The first is the old system, which is known as the system of registry of deeds. That system was instituted as far back as the reign of Queen Anne, in the year 1708, and by it every deed connected with land (with the exception of some deeds of a minor character, such as leases for terms of years and other things which I do not think arise now) take priority not according to the date of execution, but according to the date of registration, and consequently a system of registration is, in point of fact, although not in point of law, compulsory as regards all deeds of that sort; and even a, will dealing with land may, if the owner of the land likes, be registered. This system necessitates, when you want to make title to land, a series of very troublesome and expensive searches in the Registry Office. For instance, by way of illustration: Supposing an estate passes to me under a marriage settlement, and I want to sell that estate, first of all a search must be made by the purchaser in reference to the original deed of settlement at all events, and possibly he may have to go further back. Then, he must search for all dealings with the land by way of mortgages, charges or anything of that sort down to the present time. So that to make a title upon sale even of an acre of land in Ireland you may at the present time have to search for perhaps 15 or 20 deeds, or even more. I need not go more particularly into the registration of deeds at the present moment, but I will pass to what I may call the more modern system which was established in connection with the, Landed Estates Court about 25 years ago. In 1865 an Act was passed called the Record of Title Act, and under that Act it was open to any person who obtained a conveyance from the Landed Estates Court, and which, of course, gave him an indefeasible title to the land, to record that title in an office which was opened in connection with the Court. This record was entered in a book they called a "Folio," and a space was left for entering below or alongside of it all subsequent dealings with the recorded land. A "Declaration of title" might be obtained by any person who chose to bring in his title and get it approved by the Court, and then that Declaration of title might be entered in the Record of Title Office, and would of course be treated in the same way as Landed Estate Court titles. This proceeding was quite optional on the part of owners of land, whether they were purchasers or otherwise. A provision was made for recording titles in that way according to law. But, unfortunately, this system of registration of title has been very little made use of, and I will tell your Lordships the reason why. The first thing we are always told is that solicitors did not like it, and I suppose they did not; but the solicitors no doubt had their reasons, and one of the reasons, I am told, was the absence of an Insurance fund against fraud, such as is provided for by the Lord Chancellor in the Land Transfer Bill, and they thought their clients would not be safe in using this record in the Landed Estates Court. Another reason was that persons who were not purchasers would be very slow in going to the trouble and heavy expense involved in getting a title put upon this record; and a third reason may have been the very heavy scale of fees charged for recording titles under the Act. Under that scale of fees, which were ad valorem, in the case of a person whose estate would be worth, say, £200,000, which would represent an income of, perhaps, £9,000 or £10,000 a year, a Stamp Duty of £300, if not more, would have to be paid. Whatever the reason is, this Court has been made very little use of. At the end of last Session the Government laid before the other House of Parliament two Bills. One of them I need not touch upon at all, as I have nothing to do with it at this moment; but the other I will refer to in connection with this matter. It was entitled the Local Registration of Title (Ireland) Bill. This Bill was, I suppose, merely laid upon the Table in the other House for the purpose of showing what they propose to do this year, and, as your Lordships are aware, one of the questions which I desire to ask of my noble Friend is whether the Government intend to re-introduce that Bill this Session. Reverting for a moment to the Record of Title Act, 1865, besides those provisions which I have already mentioned, there was to be an index; there were to be provisions for giving land certificates and certificates of charge, also provisions for the transfer and transmission of recorded estates under settlement, for recording judgments on estates and other necessary provisions for dealing with recorded land. Lastly, there was a schedule in which were given forms of transfer, forms of charge, forms of transfer of charge, and forms of powers of attorney in reference to transfers of charge. That Act which has unfortunately not been very much made use of for the reasons I have given, was a very good Act indeed, and if it could be amended, or if this Bill, which is probably to be undertaken, can improve the state of things which that Bill established, I think it would be of very great benefit to the owners of land in Ireland. Now, my Lords, the Bill that I am asking about was intended, according to the Memorandum affixed to it, to simplify the means of registration. I have not got the Bill here, so that I cannot refer to it more particularly; but it was called the Local Registration of Tithes Bill, and it was intended to provide a simple, inexpensive, and easily accessible means of registration for all occupiers of land who under the Ashbourne Acts, were to be brought under its provisions with regard to the registration of deeds. One of the main objects was to deal with those tenant-purchasers who are now purchasing their farms or who have agreed to do so, I believe, in about 12,000 instances. The Memorondum pointed out that unless something of this sort were done, great confusion must inevitably arise. The old expensive sort of conveyance which they now get would oblige them to register, and the old system of registration of deeds which I have described would be quite unsuitable and a great deal too expensive for the purpose. It was, therefore, necessary that a simpler and better form should be adopted. Then, my Lords, the second object of this Bill is stated to be to substitute for the Record of Title Act, 1865, an improved system of registration for those who may prefer registration of title to the registration of assurances, which means, in point of fact, the old form of registration of deeds. As far as I can understand this Bill, it is intended to merge the Record of Title Office in the Registry of Deeds. I am now upon rather difficult ground, because I confess, when I come to look at the Bill, I find a good deal of difficulty in understanding it. I think it is rather an obscure Bill, and I do not think it is very well arranged. At the same time, it may have been intended to merely transfer the record of title with all its advantages into the new system of registration of deeds, to allow of declarations of title being given by the Landed Estates Court, or by some other Court which possibly might be substituted for it, and to permit of the Record of Title being carried out under a new name. However, my Lords, I think that is not very clear from the Bill itself. As one reads the clauses of the Bill they seem to me to deal almost exclusively with the tenant-purchasers under the Ashbourne Act. However, I may be wrong in what I have said with regard to it. It is for the purpose of obtaining information with regard to it that I have put my question, and I hope I shall get a satisfactory answer from my noble Friend. This Bill for registration of title is intended to apply, not only in Dublin, but it is also intended to have a local application. It is already provided by the Land Purchase Act that when a tenant purchases his farm, the Land Purchase Commissioners are to draw up a certificate of title and to transmit it to the Clerk of the Peace for the county in which the farm is situated. But there is no machinery for carrying the matter further. This Bill provides for a head office in Dublin, and that a branch office shall be opened in every county town, and the Clerk of the Peace is to act in the capacity of Sub-Registrar in connection with the head office in Dublin. What I am anxious for is that, as far as may be possible, those persons who have sold land to the tenants through the Land Commission Court, should be in a position to also go on with their estates with a clear root of title and be brought under the same provisions. I would even go so far as to say it would be no hardship upon them, because they would have already gone to the expense of making a title; and if the Government would only consent to moderate the scale of fees, which I think from what I see of the Bill they really intend to do, I do not think that any hardship could ensue to any one, and I think great advantage would accrue to owners of landed property in Ireland. With regard to the Guarantee Fund, a new Court is proposed to be established, as proposed by the Lord Chancellor in his Land Transfer Bill, which is a very great improvement. It is also provided that the ad valorem fees shall not be higher than is necessary for the purpose of providing for the expenses of the Court. That, I think, is fair enough, but I wish the Government could see their way to abolishing the ad valorem fees and fixing the scale at a more reasonable rate. I quite agree that an estate of £1,000 a year should pay less than one of £2,000, but I think that in the case of really large estates the ad valorem fees are quite out of proportion to the necessities of the case, and that a sum, of say £50, or £100, might be fixed as a maximum. That, I believe, would encourage and assist the new work very much. My Lords, I have now dealt with the first two questions which I have to put to my noble Friend. The first is whether the Bills are to be re-introduced, and the second is whether, if the Bills are to be re-introduced, Government will consent to so extend the provisions of the measure as to include the estates of vendors who have been through the Courts of the Land Commission since 1881. And now I come to the third question, which is whether Her Majesty's Government will give facilities for passing a measure for the better making of title to land in Ireland. The last Return I can find which shows the number of estates in Ireland under the old system, and the number of occupiers, is 20 or 21 years old; but I think it may be taken that, except for the sales under the Land Act of 1881, and under the Ashbourne Act, that number has not been much altered. The number of landlords was returned at that time as under 20,000, the number of occupiers was returned at 660,000 in round numbers. We know now that the number of owners under the recent legislation has increased by about 12,000, and it is increasing every day. It seems to me there is no good reason why, if you are to have 12,000 persons put upon the record, the old owners should not come under the same system, too. I need hardly say that the making of title is a very troublesome, slow, and expensive business. It has been estimated that since the establishment of the Landed Estates Court in 1849, and the Courts of the Land Commission, those Courts have never been able to deal with more than £2,500,000 worth of property in one year, owing mainly to the great delay in making searches in the office. Those estates are not recorded as estates, but the various deeds affecting them are entered chronologically through a vast number of books; and if two or three persons are having searches made against their estates which happen to be entered in the same book, of course only one person can see the book at a time, and the others must wait. Supposing we had in Ireland a form of compulsory purchase of land such as has been advocated in some quarters, whereby, under a single clause in the Act of Parliament, by a stroke of the pen simply, the legal estate in the land would be transferred from the present owners, and the purchase money paid into Court until the persons concerned could make title to it, let me show your Lordships what in that case would occur. It is supposed that the present rental of Ireland is about £9,000,000 a year. Even at 20 years' purchase that would exceed £150,000,000 capital value. At the rate of £2,500,000 worth of property passing through the Courts in making title, it would take at least 60 years before £150,000,000 could be dealt with. The only way of dealing with this matter would be to establish some system which, of course, must be paid for in some manner, whereby a staff of examiners could be appointed, and some arbitrary limit should be placed to the extent to which searches should go back. I do not expect that the Government, either in the present Session or in the Bill to which I have referred, will go to such a large expense as that. We do not expect that so large a subject will be dealt with all at once, I can only say that we shall be thankful for small mercies, and be satisfied to go by steps. But while asking the Government to modify the Bill of last year so as to deal effectually with this great question, I would also ask them to say whether, if we should be able ourselves to introduce a Bill later on in the Session, they will give it favourable consideration, of course judging it by its merits. My Lords, there is only one other question on my Paper about which I need say a word, and that is, whether the Government will take steps to press on the completion of the 25-inch Ordnance Survey of Ireland. That survey has made very little way yet. When we make inquiries at the Ordnance Office we are told, with a smile, that in the course of 25 years or so it may be completed. If we were told that in five or six years it might be done, that might be not unreasonable; but to put it off for another generation is, I think, very unreasonable indeed. I should be glad, therefore, if the Government would take that matter into consideration, and if they would start an independent survey in each of the four provinces of Ireland with the view of pushing it through in a few years. I think we are entitled to ask for the consideration of Parliament, both as regards survey and registration of title, because they are really at the very root of everything that may be done with regard to improving matters as connected with land in Ireland. I am not now talking of political matters, but of some system which will enable incumbrances to be more easily discharged, and matters of that sort. Last year I brought in a Bill, which I do intend to re-introduce, with regard to the redemption of charges, but the matter may, probably, in some other form, come before Parliament. We ground our claim upon a very simple thing. We say that by the legislation of the last nine years, beginning in 1881, you have entirely revolutionised the conditions of property in Ireland. Of course the object of the legislation has been to benefit tenants; but I think I may admit that Government, and particularly the Government of that day, wished to do so without doing injury to the landowners. I remember a speech made by the noble and learned Lord who was then on the Woolsack) the Earl of Selborne), which clearly showed that the wish of the Government was to benefit the tenant without injuring the landowners. I have since looked at the remarkable words he used, and if your Lordships will allow me I will read them— The more prosperous a tenant is the better will be his relations with his landlord, and the better is the landlord's interest secured; and unless you show that you directly take from the landlord something which is his, and give it to the tenant, then I say the more advantages you can confer upon the tenant the more benefits you also confer upon the landlord. Has this idea been realised? We know quits well that it has been entirely the reverse; we know that it is almost impossible to sell land except to tenants, or except in rare instances to borrow money upon it, and we say this state of things has been brought about by legislation the result of which, was not foreseen, and on this ground we have a claim in justice to ask that Parliament shall take such steps as they can—I will not say to put things entirely right; I admit that cannot be done; but to make things easier, and to try and restore the market value of land. I will not occupy your Lordships' time any further, and I must ask you to forgive me for the imperfect manner in which I have endeavoured to bring before you this difficult and complicated subject.


My Lords, before the noble Earl replies, I may perhaps be allowed to make a few remarks in support of the appeal which has been made to the House by the noble Lord who has just sat down. I suppose we may fairly expect that the answer of this Government will not be unfavourable to the questions which have been put. I need not occupy your Lordships' time in presenting any lengthy arguments to the House, but I may perhaps be permitted, as there are not many present representing the opinions I hold on this side of the Honse, to offer one or two remarks. My Lords, this happily is not a Party question, and I am sure that if the noble occupant of the Front Opposition Bench addresses himself to it he will not treat it in that light. It is certainly not exclusively a landlords' question, either, though, of course, the landlords are largely interested in it, and I am glad that the noble Earl has treated it as a higher question than as one affecting merely class interests. But I would venture to remark that even from the narrow point of view of the landlords' interests I believe that the promotion of this good object, the registration of title in Ireland would be one of the most effective means, in the long run, of promoting the transfer of land from landlord to tenant, and certainly one of the least objectionable. The leader of the Opposition on the opening night of this Session remarked in regard to the passing of the Bill dealing with the subject of purchase of land in Ireland, that he hoped the Government would give it due consideration, and that it would be carried out, though with due caution. I think the noble Earl will agree that any means by which you can improve the status of the tenant must fulfil the latter condition, and that it will be in the interests of all classes in Ireland, and will promote the public good. My Lords, I believe the experience of what has occurred in reference to this subject in Australia, as the noble Lord who has put this question is no doubt well aware, has shown that by compelling parsons who are coming forward as purchasers, or who are seeking to occupy the position of landowners, to register at the very threshold, you will establish the advantage of that system so clearly that voluntary registration will be thereby very much promoted, and whether Her Majesty's Government assent to the second question of the noble Earl—whether they will consent to compel the registration of their titles by vendors who have sold portions of their estates, or not, I believe those vendors will soon see the advantages of registration, and that whether they are compelled to register or not, they will follow suit. I do not dwell upon the advantage to the State as creditor under the Ashbourne Act. It is obvious to everybody that the ready realisation of land must be of advantage to the creditor, and it will also be found, I think, to be an advantage to the present owner himself, as well as an advantage to society generally. In conclusion, there are only one or two points which I would venture to press upon Her Majesty's Government in dealing with this matter. I am glad to see that they desire to deal with it in its local aspect. Though it is, of course, a matter of great concern to the landlords, it is chiefly as a matter affecting the peasant ownerships that have been created so rapidly under Lord Ashbourne's Act in Ireland that it is of importance, and for that purpose, however well registration on a large scale in a central position might answer for the larger estates, for the purpose of promoting registration in the case of smaller estates it is obviously important that the registration should be local. I venture also to express a hope that the compulsion which is put upon the purchasing tenants will be made as effective as possible. This is a vital matter to the whole Bill; the entire success of your system will depend upon whether you succeed in compelling the tenant in the first instance to register, and if any option is left to the tenant as to whether he may consider it advisable in his own interest to do this, I should fear the whole thing might break down. It should be made absolutely compulsory upon the tenant in the first instance, and having once done that, I believe that voluntary registration would follow in other cases. Then I hope the Government will secure that the conveyance of laud will under the new system take place by registration and not by deed. If you once allow deeds to be employed there will be great danger of the system breaking down; because you must remember that in future yon will not be dealing with solicitors in large practice in Dublin, but that you will be dealing with a large class of local solicitors all over the country, who would not perhaps possess the same high education or high standard in all matters, who might not have the same regard for the public interest, and who might seek to defeat the object of your Bill by keeping deeds in existence. There is only one other matter to which I wish to allude, and that is with regard to the fourth question of the noble Earl as to the completion of the Ordnance Survey. I hope that in every possible way the Government will make use of maps for the purpose of registration instead of recitals defining boundaries in words. It is in itself obviously a great simplification to have a map which any one can see at a glance instead of having to read through a long description, and then to refer to some map, or even to go upon the ground. I believe that the completion of the 25-inch Ordnance Survey, which is essential for utilization of maps, is, from this point of view, extremely important. My Lords, I hope I have not delayed the House too long upon this matter. I beg earnestly to support the appeal of the noble Earl.


My Lords, I have listened with attention and interest to the remarks which have been made by my noble Friends, who are so well qualified by their knowledge of all matters referring to Ireland to speak on this question, but I hope I may be forgiven if I venture to enter a respectful yet very earnest protest against the course which the noble Earl has taken on this occasion. He asks me whether it is the intention of the Government to re-introduce certain Bills upon a certain subject during the present Session, and then he proceeds to ask whether, if those Bills were introduced, we should make in them special provisions of the character which he intimated in his speech. I must venture to submit that if, particularly upon a question of this sort, we are to discuss Bills which have not yet been brought into Parliament, we shall be, if not wasting time, at all events not promoting the best interests of legislation. In answer to my noble Friend's question, I may say it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to re-introduce the two measures, one for the local registration of title and the other for the registration of assurances in Ireland. They will be drawn mainly upon the lines of the Bills to which my noble Friend has alluded, but I am not competent at the present moment to give the exact details of those Bills. With regard also to the special points of which my noble Friend has spoken, I do not myself feel able to pledge the Government at this period of the Session. Upon the third question, whether Her Majesty's Government will give facilities for passing a measure for the better making of title to land in Ireland, I may say it was the desire of the Irish Government that the two measures to which allusion has been made should have the effect to a great extent of facilitating the making of title to which my noble Friend refers; but as regards giving facilities for any such Bill, it is impossible that I can say what the Government may do until they have had the opportunity of seeing the Bills to which my noble Friend alludes. I do not know whether he meant to indicate an intention of bringing in a Bill himself, but I am quite sure if he does so, when Her Majesty's Government have an opportunity of considering it they will, unless there are strong reasons against it, give him every facility for its introduction and discussion. Then, with regard to the last question, whether the Government are prepared to press on the completion of the 25-inch Ordnance Survey of Ireland, I may say that the Government have already caused special provisions to be made in the Estimates of 1890 and 1891 to expedite its completion. I can only hope that that being the case the delay will not be so long as that anticipated fey my noble Friend in his speech. I am sorry that I cannot give more detailed answers to my noble Friend's questions, but I hope he will accept the assurance of the Government that they fully realise the importance of the questions to which he has alluded, and that they do intend to legislate upon them during this Session.


My Lords, on the whole I am very well satisfied with the answer which has been accorded to me by my noble Friend, and particularly as regards the last question. Of course I do not expect him to tell me that Government assents to a Bill which they have not seen, and I am not able to say whether I shall be able to bring in such a Bill this year or not. I can only say that at any rate it does not exist at present. With regard to the second question, I thought I had guarded myself against discussing the provisions of any particular Bill. We want to know whether the provisions of the Bill of last year are to be extended, but it appears that the Government has not yet made up its mind about the matter. At any rate I am much obliged to my noble Friend for the answer he has given me.