HL Deb 08 April 1895 vol 32 cc1121-5

in rising to move the Third Reading of this Bill said: I did not intend to make any observations at this stage, the Bill having already been before your Lordships more than once, but my attention has been called to some remarks recently made with regard to it which, I think, require an answer and explanation. The President of the Incorporated Law Society has recently been examined before a Committee of the other House with reference to the expediency of appointing a State trustee, and in the course of his evidence he said:— The present idea is that the employment of the official trustee by the public is to be voluntary, but there is very little doubt, judging by our experience in the past, that an effort would be made to extend his employment in every possible way. Now, this is the passage to which I specially take exception:— I see the Lord Chancellor, in his evidence before the Committee, objects to the term 'attracting business,' because it looks as if the official trustee would attempt to get business. The Land Registry was established as a purely voluntary system. In that capacity it failed; and, having failed to attract business, the officials have induced the Lord Chancellor in seven out of the last nine years to bring Bills into Parliament to make the use of the registry compulsory in a district to be named, with a view, of course, to make it compulsory throughout the country. I am, no doubt, responsible for some of those measures, and I desire to state that these statements have been made under a complete misapprehension of the facts. The Bills which I have introduced have not been brought in by me at the instance of the officials of the Land Registry. My noble predecessor is responsible for the other Bills, and I have his authority for saying that, in his case also, no opinions of the officials of the Land Registry influenced his action. I have every desire to see reform and improvement in the transfer of land, but I certainly should not, at the instance of the officials of the Land Registry, and with the view of increasing the fees there, have put myself to the trouble of introducing measures such as this, nor should I have dreamed of inviting your Lordships to pass into law a measure of this importance merely that the fees of the Land Registry might be increased. Nothing of that has operated on my mind or, I am assured, on that of my predecessor in office. We have believed—we believe now—that a system of land registration would be of great advantage to the people of this country—to the owners, purchasers, and sellers of land—and it is in that belief that we have asked your Lordships to pass this measure through your House. I have, I own, very considerable sympathy with the objections taken by solicitors and others to what is called "officialism." Speaking generally, I do not think it desirable that the State should, through its officials, compete with professional people of any description, or that they should do the work which would otherwise be done by professional men. But I limit that expression of opinion to the cases where professional men can do the work. In founding this system, we are dealing with a proposal which solicitors cannot give effect to. A system of land registration can only be established by the State, and the State, in establishing it, is not competing with professional men, but is undertaking a work in the interests of the public—a work which it is quite impossible that professional men can give effect to. I have formed a decided opinion that a measure of this kind would be advantageous, and I think I can appeal to broad experience in its favour. Almost every country, including many of our own colonies, has adopted a system either of registration of title or registration of deeds; and in some countries—Germany and Hungary, for instance—that has been done after experience of the working of similar measures in those countries. I cannot doubt that what has proved beneficial in so many parts of the world, under so many systems of government and administration, and with differing laws, would be found applicable in this country also. The system has worked well in our colonies, and I have not heard a suggestion that it would be well to revert to the system in use in those colonies before. That appears to me to be an overwhelming body of testimony in favour of a measure of this sort. It has been said that the change would give facilities for fraud. I am not of that opinion. At least, I have this to appeal to—that in the colonies which I have referred to an insurance fund has been established. The calls on this insurance fund have been altogether without importance; and that, I think, affords one good evidence for saying that that apprehension is not likely to be well founded. The opposition to this Bill, no doubt, has been strongly urged by the solicitors in this country. I do not for a moment mean to indicate or to suggest, from knowledge or experience, that they are consciously actuated by any motives of self-interest. I believe they are perfectly honest in the opposition which they have raised; but it is a striking fact that it is only, as far as I know, from them that any opposition to this Bill proceeds. I have received many letters on the subject of the Bill. I have received many encouragements to proceed with it, and many expressions of a hope that it will be passed into law; but, except from solicitors, I have not received any note of opposition or hostility to it. No doubt there have been many suggestions for its amendment, and for the making of the system more perfect. Although I do not for a moment intend to say that the solicitors in their opposition are actuated by any conscious self-interest, yet undoubtedly some of them are very fully alive to the impression that the result of passing the Bill would be very disadvantageous to them. I have received from a solicitor in the West of England a letter, in which he reproached me bitterly for having invited your Lordships to pass such a Bill. He called my attention to the fact that it was to the solicitors of this country I owed my present position, because without their having favoured me with briefs I should not have occupied it; and he thought it a very poor return for this that I should strive to work a deadly injury by such a measure. I believe that this impression is exaggerated, but, nevertheless, one finds in certain quarters those who entertain it, and it accounts for a certain amount of opposition, unconsciously dictated, no doubt, by feelings of that description. Of course I do not pretend that this measure is perfect. It is intended, in the first instance, to be tentative only. There are already two counties in England where registration of deeds is compulsory; and I think everyone is agreed that it is a system which has not proved altogether satisfactory in its working. The object of the Bill is to enable a trial to be made of the system of registration of title in lieu of registration of deeds, and it is a system justified by the experience of other countries and of our colonies. I believe that when the system comes into operation it will be found to be very beneficial. One word as to the observation that the Bill is being introduced because land registry under a voluntary system had failed to attract business. I do not think that is altogether an accurate description. There has been a very considerable amount of land registration in the land register under a voluntary system; but I think this is an instance in which it is impossible to conclude that the fact that a small amount of land has been, registered has resulted from dissatisfaction with the system. The truth is that those who, I believe, would be benefited by the system—namely, the owners of land—have been largely unaware of the advantages of the measure. They purchase a piece of land, or some transaction takes place with reference to land; they leave the whole matter to be carried out by the solicitors; and the fact that there is a land registry, and that the land might be registered occurs in truth to very few owners indeed. I have already quoted my own case. I purchase a small piece of land. I should have been glad if such a measure as this had been in force, where, as a matter of course, the land passed on the register in consequence of the transaction; but one has many things to think about, and the idea of the land register only occurred to me when the transaction was in progress. Therefore, all I venture to do is to utter a protest that the extent to which the land registry has been used is no evidence of the extent to which it would be used if its advantages were known and realised, as I am quite sure they would be under such a system as is proposed by this Bill.

Bill read 3a.


I propose an Amendment in consequence of a suggestion made by my noble Friend Viscount Cross, in order to meet a point raised by him in the Standing Committee, and which I promised to consider.

Amendment agreed to, and Bill passed.