HL Deb 30 April 1903 vol 121 cc918-21

Order of the Day for the House going into Committee read.


My Lords, I do not propose to ask the House to take this stage of the Bill to-day, but I did not take the Bill off the Notice Paper because I desired to make a very short statement to the House as to the course which I propose to pursue in regard to it. Some petitions have been presented against it, notably by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, who is in the House, and one by Lord Shand, and various objections have been laid before me at the Scottish Office by the legal societies. As I explained to the House on a former occasion, the Bill is of a highly technical character, and the arguments on the one side and the other with regard to some of the clauses, require most careful consideration, and, indeed, an amount of technical knowledge which I myself do not possess, and which I fancy few of your Lordships would lay claim to. I see my way, I hope, to meet a good many of the objections urged to the Bill as it now stands. Some, I am afraid, it is not possible to meet. They must be argued out and Parliament must decide. The course I propose to pursue, and which I think will be for the convenience of the House, is this. I propose to postpone the Committee stage till Tuesday and then to pass the Bill through that stage pro forma, inserting a number of Amendments which, I hope, will make the Bill agreeable to some, at any rate, of those who at present have stated objections to it. After that I propose to recommit the Bill, either to a Committee of the whole House or to a Select Committee, or to take it in any other way that may be most convenient to the noble Lords, allowing ample time to elapse for the legal societies in Scotland to consider it in its altered form. I have no desire to take anybody by surprise in regard to the Bill, or to rush it through. I believe it contains some clauses which are very distinctly in the public interest, and I should be sorry if it failed to pass altogether; but I recognise that it touches a very important part of the Laud Register system of Scotland. This is a matter which the legal profession take a very great interest in and have a right to watch very carefully, and therefore, though I think there are some reforms eminently desirable, I do not, as I have said, desire to take anybody by surprise, and if the course I suggest is agreed to I will undertake between the stages to give ample time both to the House, and to those in Scotland interested in the matter, for the consideration of the Bill in its altered form.


My Lords, I am glad to hear the statement which has just fallen from my hon. friend the Secretary for Scotland, because it was my intention, if he had not made the proposal he has now made, to offer the suggestion that for the purpose of considering this Bill it would be more satisfactory that it should be referred to a Select Committee of your Lordships' House. We have many Scottish noble Lords in this House, expert in the law, and others who would be able to give a thorough consideration to the Bill and who would, I think, be able to amend it so as to make it a useful measure for us in Scotland. I think at first we were under a little misapprehension with regard to the scope of the Bill—I mean before it was printed. The noble Lord when he introduced the Bill—the only occasion on which he has made a speech on it—produced to us a most interesting volume consisting of the photographic copies of various deeds. I confess I was very much taken with the appearance of the volume, and I think the general idea was that the whole purpose of this Bill was to replace the system of copying deeds in the office by a system of photography. But when we come to examine the Bill we find that it proposes nothing short of a complete revolution of the system of land registry as it exists, and as it has existed in Scotland for 300 years.

May I venture, in a few words, to describe the process of registering a deed in Scotland at this moment? A deed relating to heritable property is presented at the Register House and entered in a book by the presenter, wherein is stated his name, the name of the parties, the day and hour of presentment, and the county to which the deed applies. It is left at the Register House and thereafter engrossed by handwriting in a bound volume which is issued by the Deputy Clerk Registrar, who has charge of the Records and is responsible for their proper and safe keeping. The volumes are issued by the Deputy Clerk Registrar, bound up to prevent any tampering with the Records either by leaving out sheets, or introducing sheets, or' otherwise manipulating the Records. A short abstract is there upon prepared, giving the names of the parties, a short description of the property, the nature of the deed, and the date thereof. This abstract, which is termed an abridgment, is thereafter printed, and a copy is sent to the Sheriff Clerk of each county in Scotland, for reference, or to be consulted by any party desiring to do so. The deed is thereafter returned to the presenter thereof, or the agent who has charge of the matter. An index is then prepared stating the name of the parties to the deed, which is kept in alphabetical order, and a similar index giving the places of the property in like alphabetical order is also prepared. These indices are written in the Register House, and by statute are open to the inspection of the public on payment of a small fee for the purpose of enabling either the abridgments or the proper Record to be examined. That system has worked well. Now, my Lords, the effect of this Bill is to do away with these indices and abridgments altogether. I maintain that for the purposes of the public in Scotland these indices and abridgments are the most important part of our whole Record Office. I do not think the ordinary public want to go into the details of all the various deeds. What they want to find out is, whether a particular property has been dealt with in any particular manner, or whether there is a charge on any property or deed. That they find out by consulting these indices and abridgments, and if you abolish these conveniences to the public in the Land Registry Office you really destroy a great deal of the utility of that Office. I do not think we in the least understood that that was going to be the effect of the Bill; and the inclusion of such a provision is all the more extraordinary from the fact that Lord Low's Committee (paragraphs 164 and 181) strongly recommended the retention of the indices and abridgments in any future arrangement. I will not go into any of the other details of the Bill. I think it is open to doubt whether, after all, these photographic reproductions of deeds are likely to be so necessary as may appear. I think a certified copy of a deed in a particular place, for reference by parties interested, amply meets the case, and I do not think it is desirable that we should have a perfect shower of facsimile copies of deeds scattered over the whole of Scotland. I would like to remind my noble friend that the Court of Session has not had any opportunity of fully considering the Bill. The Committee of the Society of Solicitors in the Supreme Court prepared a report on the Bill, and on April 9th a special general meeting of the Society approved that report. In that report they strongly recommend that the Bill should be opposed, and that, in any event, the section as regards repeal of the Land Registry Act must be omitted. I have received a number of letters on the subject of this Bill, in which it is stated that no demand has been made either by the public or the legal profession for the measure; that Scotland has enjoyed, in consequence of the present admirable system of registration, remarkable immunity from forgery and fraud, and that to circulate facsimiles of deeds and the signatures would be practically offering a strong inducement to fraud, besides distributing needlessly information regarding the rights of landlords to their property. I am quite sure there is a great improvement possible in the present system, and that we are all anxious to secure that improvement, and I hope my noble friend will see his way, when he comes to deal further with this Bill, to refer it to such a Select Committee of this House as I have ventured to indicate, rather than attempt to discuss it in Committee of the whole House.

Committee of the whole House put off to Tuesday next.