§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD ATKINSON
My Lords, this Bill is designed to meet difficulties that have arisen in the administration of the Labourers Act by some local authorities in Ireland. These difficulties have been caused owing to the unfortunate omission, on the part of the solicitors for the bodies concerned, to register the conveyance of the lands purchased for the purpose of the erection of labourers' cottages. The Bill was approved by both sides in the House of Commons, and the circumstances out of which it arose are these. There is in Ireland a register, kept in pursuance of the Local Registration of Title (Ireland) Act of 1891, which is working well, and conferring great benefits on the inhabitants, and it is provided that when a conveyance is registered the registration is conclusive proof of title. Any intending purchaser, therefore, has merely to search the register, and if he does not find the entry of any encumbrances upon the land, he may purchase with complete security, or, if he does find an encumbrance registered, he can be sure that that is the only one by which he can be affected. Under the ordinary law of the Court of Chancery, if a man purchased land knowing at the same time that the person from whom he purchased it had either already sold it to another person or created encumbrances upon it, the land in the hands of the new purchaser would not be free from these charges; but in order that this register should work effectively it was necessary to abolish that doctrine, and this was 1231 done by Section 34 of the Act of 1891, the entry on the register being made conclusive evidence of title in the absence of absolute fraud. What happened in several cases was this. The local authority purchased land and paid for it, but unfortunately omitted to register the conveyance. The Irish being a simple people, it thereupon occurred to the vendor that he might do a stroke of business by selling the land a second time. This he did, the purchaser knowing perfectly well that the land had already been disposed of to the local authority. But inasmuch as the statute enacted that the register could not be corrected except in the case of actual fraud, and the vendor could not be held to have been guilty of fraud, owing to the purchaser having had notice of the conveyance to the local authority, it became necessary, if the local authority were to obtain the land for which they had paid, for a way to be made whereby the omission to register might be rectified. The Bill, therefore, provides that where any rural district council shall have omitted to register, pursuant to the provisions of the Local Registration of Title (Ireland) Act, 1891, its ownership of any parcel of land acquired by it under the powers of the Labourers (Ireland) Acts, 1883 to 1906, and it shall be shown to the satisfaction of the Court that the registered owner of the lands of which such parcel forms a part had, at or before the time when he was registered as owner, notice of the acquisition of such parcel by the rural district council, or was otherwise in equity bound to give effect thereto, the Court may, upon the application of the rural district council, and after such notices as it may direct, order the register to be rectified by inserting therein the district council as registered owners of such parcel, and amending registration as to acreage or otherwise as may be just and necessary, and upon such terms as to costs as to the Court shall seem just. Before, however, consenting to take charge of this Bill in your Lordships' House, I informed the persons interested in it that in Committee I should move an Amendment to provide that it should only apply to transactions which occurred before 1st March, 1908; for although I admit the necessity for 1232 this Bill in order to enable local authorities to get land for which they have paid, I am quite confident that it is not a good precedent.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(Lord Atkinson.)
My Lords, after the very clear explanation which the noble and learned Lord has given of this measure, I do not think it is necessary for me to enter into any detail upon it, or to make any comments of my own upon the simplicity of certain persons in Ireland which has rendered the passing of this Bill necessary. I will only say that the Government offered no opposition to the Bill in the House of Commons, and therefore they do not intend to put any obstacle in the way of its passing through this House.
§ LORD ASHBOURNE
My Lords, after the statement made by my noble and learned friend Lord Atkinson I shall not offer any opposition to this Bill., But, none the less, I regard it as a very great misfortune that such a Bill should' be submitted to Parliament, and I am quite sure the learned Judge at the head of the administration of the Act of 1891 deeply regrets that Parliament should be invoked in reference to this matter. It is really a serious and dangerous blow at the administration of local registration of title in Ireland. The Act of 1891 was a clear and useful measure, requiring that all transactions in relation to land in Ireland should find their place upon the register, and declaring that any person dealing in land could be satisfied that he was in an invulnerable position if he found no record to the contrary on the register. That got rid of the doctrine of notice, which had been carried to a vast extent in reference to previous Acts and which left no one at all certain as to how he stood. If once you depart from the clear requirement in the Act of 1891 that the register must show all the dealings with land, you introduce great uncertainty. My noble and learned friend Lord Atkinson, who is as familiar as anyone with the administration of this legislation, has given the weight of Ms, high authority to the Bill, but I did not 1233 gather that there was any enthusiasm in his mind in reference to it; and I think the Amendment he foreshadowed is wise, as showing that no loophole will be left for any suggestion that this is to be regarded as a general opening to a loose construction of existing legislation. I hope the passing of this Bill, even in its amended form, will not be looked upon in any part of Ireland as evidence that the stringency of the administration of existing Acts of Parliament is viewed at all lightly in either House of Parliament.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Tuesday next.
§ House adjourned at twenty minutes before Five o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter past Four o'clock.