§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT HAILSHAM)
My Lords, the Bill to which I am asking your Lordships to give a Second Reading this afternoon is a Bill whose genesis lies in the Report of two Committees, one known as the Land Transfer Committee and the other as the Dormant Funds Committee. Each of those two Committees was presided over by my noble friend the late Lord Tomlin, of whom I should like at this moment to say he was a man whose character and abilities had marked him out for outstanding public service, and whose premature death inflicted a grievous loss on the judicial strength of your Lordships' House. The two Committees were both appointed to deal with matters arising out of the Land Registration Act, 1925. By that Act the compulsory registration of land was introduced, and it was provided that there should be no extension of the system beyond the County of London, except on the request of a given county council, before the expiration of ten years, which happened at the end of December last. Accordingly before that date arrived my predecessor had appointed the Land Transfer Committee to report whether the machinery provided for the extension of the system by Section 122 of the Act required modification, and to what area the system ought to be extended first.
The Committee reported that the extension ought first to take place to the County of Middlesex, for reasons which 373 are, set out in their Report, and accordingly that suggestion was adopted. All the steps which are possible without legislation have been duly set on foot and I hope that the Order in Council, the draft of which was approved by your Lordships' House a few days ago, will probably be made within the next day or two, so that the system will come into force on January 1, 1937. But there were two matters which required legislation. First of all the Committee reported that the limit of eighteen months, which was the longest time permitted by the Act of 1925, should be wiped out because that really did not leave sufficient time if there were any need for an inquiry or negotiation. Secondly, they recommended that, since compulsory registration of title was to be introduced, the Deeds Registry which has long been condemned but which still continued in Middlesex, should be abolished after the new system came into effect. Clause I of the Bill gives effect to the first proposal; Clause 2 of the Bill gives effect to the second proposal.
Then I come to the Dormant Funds Committee. Your Lordships may remember that under the Land Transfer Act, 1897, a fund was set up, an insurance fund, which was fed by fees on registration. That fund has grown until it reaches a sum of £488,000. The total claims on it have only been something under £1,200 and there was considerable discussion as to the necessity for maintaining a separate fund at all, having regard to the fact that there is a guarantee given by the Consolidated Fund under the 1923 Act. The Dormant Funds Committee recommended, for reasons which appear in their Report, that the fund should be continued but that it should be limited to £100,000, and Clauses 4, 5 and 8 of the Bill give effect to that recommendation. They also recommended two or three minor alterations in the law to clear up points of doubt, which have been included in Clauses 3, 6 and 7, in regard to which I do not think I need give any detailed explanation, but in regard to which of course I shall be very glad to answer questions if any noble Lord wishes to investigate them further. That is the whole purpose and effect of the Bill. I venture to think it is a useful and non-controversial measure, and I beg to move that it be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
My Lords, I would like to ask the Lord Chancellor one question, if I may. The alleged surplus of the insurance fund, which will now be some £380,000, goes to the reduction of the National Debt. I should like to congratulate the Government on their financial purity in this matter, as rare as it is refreshing. But I see that in Clause 5 it is stated that:If at the end of any financial year the value of the assets of the insurance fund exceeds the standard value an amount equal to the excess shall, at such time as the Treasury may direct, be paid out of the insurance fund into the Exchequer:I do not see that that has to go to the reduction of the National Debt. It may be so, but the wording is a little obscure. It may be that it automatically goes to the extinction of debt, and if so I again congratulate the Government, but if not then I would like to make a protest.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I think my noble friend will find that in Clause 5 of the Bill there is a proviso that if any part of the excess is attributable to reduction of the standard value in any particular year so much of the amount as is equal to that part of the excess shall he paid "at such time and in such manner as the Treasury may direct towards the redemption of the National Debt." I hope that that meets the financial purity of my noble friend's financial conscience.
It is not absolutely clear even now, but of course I take the Lord Chancellor's assurance.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.