Orders of the Day — LAW OF PROPERTY BILL [Lords],

– in the House of Commons on 15th May 1922.

Alert me about debates like this

Order for Second Reading read.

Photo of Mr Leslie Scott Mr Leslie Scott , Liverpool Exchange

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

4.0 P.M.

This is not a party Bill. It raises no issue of party politics. It does not interfere between landlord and tenant. It leaves untouched the relations between the State and private owners. Members of all parties have collaborated in its production. In the remarks that I have to make, I shall address with equal hope Members in all parts of the House. Some Bills are so short and simple that the Government's spokesman moving the Second Reading is almost relieved from the necessity of explaining their provisions to the House. But, short and simple as is this Bill, and certain as I feel that every Member present has already read every word of it, I cannot feel entirely dispensed from the duty of offering the House some explanation of what it proposes, and, indeed, in making my explanation I feel fairly sure that I shall have need of that indulgent patience which this House is good enough to extend to a new and inexperienced Minister. May I, at the outset, be quite frank with the House I My task to-day is not an easy one, and for this reason. The greater part of the Bill is highly technical, and it is impossible to explain even its main provisions in other than technical language. I fear, therefore, that those hon. Members who are not learned in the law will find my story somewhat tedious if I have to embark on legal explanations. On the other hand, I feel that the House, as a whole, and in particular hon. Members who are learned, will expect, and rightly expect, from a Law Officer some legal explanation of an essentially legal Bill. In these circumstances, I will endeavour to combine simple language with legal accuracy, be as short as I can, and trust to the sympathetic and understanding tolerance of the House.

I believe this is the biggest Bill ever introduced into Parliament, and its very bulk appals. But there are two considerations for the encouragement of hon. Members. With the exception of the Conveyancing Act of 1911, there has been no legislation whatever on the main subject-matter of the Bill since the Settled Land Act of 1890, 32 years ago, and, apart altogether from the great reforms to be effected by the Bill, the experience of those 30 years has accumulated a mass of minor Amendments which are urgently needed. These minor Amendments are, of course, included in the Bill, and they account for a considerable portion of its contents. The other consideration is this: The very complexity of the Bill is the measure of its need. It is just because the system of real property law, under which we groan to-day, is so grotesquely complicated that its simplification inevitably involves a formidable total of detailed legal Amendments. There is only one alternative to the method of detailed Amendment, if you are to reform a complicated system of statute and case law—the growth of centuries—and that is to destroy completely and build afresh. But in this old civilisation of ours, which has been built up, certainly so far as the law is concerned, by evolution rather than by revolution, I do not believe there is anyone who would prefer the clean slate and a new code such as might be thought appropriate for a newly settled territory. On those two considerations those familiar with the subject will be in entire accord with me.

The Bill is not a brand-new invention. It is not a new-fangled, ready-made scheme of law. It is not revolution; it is evolution. It is also, I hope, full of wisdom, but it is not like Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, born fully grown. It is the slow and gradual product of half a century's work by legal reformers, building on existing foundations. In that work are associated the names of many Lord Chancellors—Lord Cairns, Lord Selborne, Lord Halsbury, Lord Haldane, and, last but not least, Lord Birkenhead. Let me here render tribute where, above all, in my opinion, tribute is due. It is to our present Lord Chancellor more than to any one man that the nation is indebted for the Bill as it appears to-day. It was his great knowledge, his grasp of the essentials of the Bill, and, above all, his tact and skill in piloting the Bill through the dangerous shoals of another place, in explaining its provisions, in considering and meeting objections, in assimilating and incorporating suggested improvements—it was these qualities of his which have made it almost an agreed Bill, at any rate, from most points of view, and enable me to-day to introduce it to the House almost as an old friend. But, however much others may approve it, and however familiar it may be to some hon. Members, the Bill comes before us now to be judged on its merits; and I think the House will desire that before dealing with its history I should explain its contents and justify its proposals.

Broadly speaking, the object of the Bill is to facilitate and cheapen all dealings in land, and in approximately its present form it was recommended unanimously some three years ago in the Report of a Committee appointed by the Prime Minister, over which I had the honour to preside. Our terms of reference were to adviee what action should be taken to facilitate and cheapen the transfer of land. Our Report is Command Paper No. 424, and I think copies are available in the Vote Office. The general reasons for the reforms in the Bill will be found in the Report. All Members are familiar with the simplicity of procedure which characterises the transfer of personal property, such as registered stock issued by companies. Many are familiar with dealings in ships, and know how simple they are. Land, of course, is not the same as stocks or ships. It is immovable, it is the subject of easements, of restricted covenants, can be split up vertically between surface and minerals, and has other characteristics which make it impossible in the nature of things for it to be treated exactly as personal property. But land in England to-day is the subject of strange and artificial rules of law; dealings in land are affected by mystic formulae of the conveyancer's art; and, in the result, those who want to deal with land often find in their way complications which are as unnecessary as they are costly. Do not misunderstand me. I do not say that all or anything like all transactions in land to-day are complicated and costly. All I say is that some are very much so; that many are more complicated and more costly than they need be, and that the great majority might be—and will be if this Bill passes—simpler than they are. Lastly, even the shortest conveyance today will be simplified. I observe that an hon. Member who is more familiar with the subject of conveyancing than I am shakes his head. I say to him, words of limitation are rendered unnecessary.

Photo of Sir John Butcher Sir John Butcher , City of York

Surely the settlement remains as necessary as ever.

Photo of Mr Leslie Scott Mr Leslie Scott , Liverpool Exchange

I will not answer that question now. I leave my hon. and learned Friend to ponder my remark. So far as is compatible with the nature of land, the main proposal of the Bill is to assimilate land, or real property as it is called, to personal property in regard to its legal incidents; or, putting it shortly, to abolish legal distinctions between real and personal property. The assimilation is achieved, not by adopting without alteration the existing law as to personal property, but by selecting from each system its best characteristics and applying those selected rules to both alike; although, in the main, I agree that it is the law of personal property which the Bill adopts. Having put real property under the same rules of law and equity in most respects as personal property, the Bill is then able to effect a resultant simplification in all dealings with land, which will be of great practical value. All trusts and most equities are taken off the title and can be put, as it were, behind a curtain, where they can operate in complete accordance with the intention of the parties, but will no longer concern a purchaser or mortgagee.

Another main proposal of the Bill is in connection with intestacy. One source of artificial complication introduced into dealings in land is the difference in the rules of inheritance between real and personal property where a person dies intestate. The Bill puts them both on the same footing, and provides, at the same time, for the re-enactment of the Statutes of Distribution, thus amended in accordance with modern needs. In connection with this subject, it is to be observed that women will, for the future and for the first time in English history, be placed on a footing of complete equality with men regarding succession on an intestacy. A surviving wife or mother, for instance, will have the same rights and privileges of inheritance and succession as a surviving husband or father.

Finally, a contingent provision is made for the possibility of a compulsory extension of registration of title 12 years hence, should experience then show that such an extension is desirable. Such is a rough outline of the plan of the Bill.

I will now briefly fill in the picture with a more definite indication of the particular reforms by which the Bill carries out its plan. It contains a vast number of Amendments of the law, particularly in its practical working, and on the side of conveyancing and procedure. In a sense these are all reforms. But in truth they are mostly the mere consequential applications of the major reforms on which the Bill is based. Putting the same thought in the converse way, there are a certain number of these reforms which are carried out consistently all through the Bill, and cause the whole of its provisions to dovetail into one another and to be mutually interdependent. I wish to emphasise that aspect—the mutual interdependence of all its provisions. Looking on the subject a little from an outside point of view, as all common law lawyers like myself must, I see seven of these main reforms.

The first is to simplify the tenure of land. This is effected by three separate changes. Firstly, the Bill abolishes altogether those curious survivals of feudalism like copyhold and customary land, or land subject to the custom of gavelkind in Kent. Incidentally, it also abolishes borough English and all the other hundred or so local customs which affect succession. They do not directly affect conveyancing, but affect succession. This reform, the abolition of copyhold, has long been advocated by every Committee and Commission appointed to consider the subject, and, indeed, the principle of it was in a tentative form embodied in the Copyhold Acts of last century and consolidated in the Act of 1894. The plan adopted by the Bill is that of the existing law in the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act. We follow that precedent. Where a public body acquires copyhold land under compulsory powers the land is converted automatically into freehold, and the compensation payable to the lord of the manor is worked out afterwards. The Bill provides a period of 10 years during which the compensation may be worked out by agreement or, in default, with the assistance of the Minister of Agriculture. Another five years are allowed within which either the landlord or tenant can compel assessment of compensation before the incidents are extinguished. The details as to compensation have been the subject of prolonged discussion between the Lord Chancellor and those interested, particularly the Land Union, and I believe that the arrangements embodied in the Bill are now, as a whole, considered fair to both sides; that is to say, both to the lord of the manor and to the copyhold tenant. At any rate, one friend of mine, who has more than 20,000 copyhold tenants on his estate, told me only yesterday that he was absolutely satisfied with the provisions of the Bill as a fair arrangement.

I hear a suggestion from the opposite side of the House that it is the tenants who have to complain. I think the hon. and gallant Member who interjected that remark will find that the complaint, if it comes from anyone, will come rather from the side of the Lords of the Manor than from the tenants. Should any question still be raised upon this in Committee, I can only say that I will give it the most careful consideration in order that in the result an arrangement in regard to compensation may be made that is really fair and workmanlike for both sides. I believe the Bill has already that result.

The second of the changes to effect the first reform is the abolition of perpetually renewable leaseholds, which are a useless and costly paradox. The Bill arranges for their conversion into terms of 2,000 years, the periodic fines for renewal being expressed in a proportionate increase of the annual rent. The third of the changes effecting the first reform is to do away with leaseholds for life, the existing ones being converted into terms of 90 years, terminable on notice by either side, on the falling in of the life on which the lease depends.

The broad result of the three changes is that for the future there will be only two systems of land tenure, freehold and leasehold for years, in itself, I believe, a far-reaching simplification, which will result in immense saving of costs.

The second main reform relates not to legal tenure but to legal estates, which, to those hon. Members who are not learned in the law, I may say mean approximately degrees of ownership. That is a very rough approximation, but that is the sort of thing intended by the phrase "legal estates." The Bill reduces legal estates in land, as distinguished from equitable or beneficial interests, to two, namely, the absolute fee simple and a term of years. No one has ever suffered by there being no legal life estates in shares or ships. The only permissible legal estate in such things is absolute ownership, corresponding to the fee simple in land. The Bill, accordingly, abolishes all other legal estates, such as estates tail or remainders and repeals the Statute of Uses upon which so top-heavy a burden of erudite law has been constructed by the Courts, to the detriment of the general public, if I, as a common-law lawyer, may say so. It may be asked why, if we are following the analogy of stocks and shares with regard to the abolition of legal life estates, the Bill does not follow that analogy in regard to leases. The answer is, for reasons of practical convenience. Land differs in this respect from stocks and shares, that one piece of land is individual in its characteristics. It is wanted by one man and not by another, and is not the equivalent of any other piece of land, and the leasehold system responds to a real need of the community. For a similar reason, the Bill preserves rent charges, or chief-rents, as they are called in the North. In certain parts of the country these rent charges or chief-rents are very widely used for estate development and investment purposes, and it would not be possible to take them off the title and turn them into equities without interfering with the business habits of certain sections of the community. In the Committee we discussed this question at considerable length, and we were absolutely convinced they must be kept for reasons of practical convenience. The reduction of legal estates to two is a far-reaching reform, but it must not be understood as damaging in any way beneficial interests in land. Trusts and settlements, existing or future, will be enforced in equity behind the curtain.

The third main reform relates to tenants in common. The proposal of the Bill is to prevent land being split up legally into undivided shares held in common. As there is no justification for splitting the legal estate in land as it were vertically into life estates and remainders, so it is an unnecessary complication by another legal fiction to split it up horizontally into legal undivided shares as is done to-day. Companies' stocks cannot be held in legal undivided shares and there is no need for land to be held in this way. Land held by tenants in common will be vested in trustees on trust for sale, with full power to postpone the sale, the trustees being given the statutory position of a tenant for life under the Settled Land Acts with power to dispose of the land and give a good title. This artifice, as the House knows, or at any rate those Members of it who are learned in the law, is frequently employed to-day in conveyancing in order to prevent the trouble which so frequently arises from land being left to a class of persons. The class, when land is left to it, may in course of time be-come very numerous and individual numbers may in their turn split up their undivided shares, and so on almostad infinitum, and in the result when it is desired to dispose of the land, it is almost impossible to obtain the consents of everyone interested, and proceedings under the Partition Acts have to be undertaken in the Courts with much consequent expense. The value of a share may even be eaten up in costs. The Bill, again, properly protects the beneficial interests of persons who to-day have undivided shares.

The fourth main reform of the Bill, which is rendered possible by the first three I have just described, is to keep all settlements and trusts and nearly all equities off the title, just as they are kept off the title to companies' stocks to-day, though not quite in the same way. As a result of these provisions, the purchaser of land will be relieved from by far the greater part of the burden involved to-day in investigating the vendor's title. To those who are familiar with the subject, a glance at the Eighth and Ninth Schedules to the Bill will show on the one hand how vastly shorter an abstract of title will be in the future than it has been in the past, and how much simpler the instrument effecting the transaction will become. The Eighth Schedule dealing with abstracts of title prints in italics the only items which will have to be present in an abstract in future, and hon. Members will see how much is cut out.

The fifth main reform relates to mortgages. Legal mortgages are to-day generally effected by conveying this legal estate to the mortgagee. This is in reality a legal fiction; in equity, as in business, a mortgage is nothing more than a charge for which the land is used as a security. The Bill proposes to mould the law to comply with the reality. Legal mortgages of freeholds for the future will, as is sometimes done to-day by conveyancers, take effect by means of creating a long leasehold term leaving the legal fee simple in the mortgagor until the mortgagee sells off or forecloses. Legal mortgages of leaseholds in a similar way will be effected by a subdemise and not by assignment. The mortgagor, who to-day, in business and in common sense, still remains the owner, though in law he gives up his ownership, will thus retain all his legal rights until the security is realised or, at least, possession is taken. The system is by making a long leasehold term. The term is vested in the mortgagee, the mortgagee will not, therefore, be entitled to the fee simple. He does not get the fee simple; it remains with the mortgagor.

Photo of Mr William Joynson-Hicks Mr William Joynson-Hicks , Twickenham

Is there anything to prevent the mortgagor, if he keeps the title deeds, from making another first mortgage by way of long term?

Photo of Mr Leslie Scott Mr Leslie Scott , Liverpool Exchange

I will answer that question subsequently. This new practice will also allow—and hon. Members who are solicitors will appreciate the value of this—a succession of legal mortgages to be made. An alternative method of mortgaging, which is very simple, is allowed by way of legal charge as it is called, whether of freehold or leasehold land. Such a statutory charge will have the game effect as a mortgage by demise or sub-demise, and by reason of its simplicity, I cannot help thinking, it will in the future gradually become the ordinary form of mortgage.

The sixth main reform relates to settlements. This will be achieved by adopting a plan often adopted to-day, namely, by means of a trust instead of the present system of a succession of legal estates, which shift, under the Statute of Uses, from one man to another without any evidence in writing. The tenant for life is, by the Bill, made the owner in law, as in business for most purposes he already is to-day, the settlement attaching to the moneys realised upon a sale, and the purchaser taking free of the settlement, provided he passes the purchase money to the trustees of the settlement. As a security against fraud—and I would say, generally, that the greatest care has been taken all through the Bill to make certain that frauds cannot even be attempted, and if any hon. Member sees a loophole in Committee, we shall give it the closest consideration—as a security against fraud, the Bill requires that if the trustees are individuals there shall be at least two, more than four are forbidden for reasons of practical convenience. One trustee is permitted if it be a trust corporation or a bank, and incidentally similar precautions are imposed where land is held on trust for sale. I desire particularly to make it clear that for family purposes settlements are left unimpaired by the Bill, which will still be effected in equity for all purposes, just as effectively as they are to-day. The arrangements which are essential in the ease of large estates, particularly where the head of the estate has a dignity or honour, for settling the property upon the head of the family and then upon his eldest son, and so on, will be achieved just as effectively in the future as to-day, only in equity instead of at law, and the complications of the settlement will be kept off the title to the land.

The seventh reform relates to intestacy. In a sense the provisions of the Bill relating to intestacy are collateral to the main objects of the Bill. But broadly speaking, they do affect the transfer of land and they do greatly simplify the title to land by bringing to an end the complications which flow from the existing state of the law, as, for instance, leasehold land being personal estate and not real estate. But as by these provisions beneficial rights are altered, the proposals must of course be justified also as fair and right on their merits. I believe there is general agreement that, judged by this standard, these proposals are right. It is Part VIII of the Bill which deals with this subject. That part assimilates the law of devolution of real and personal property in the case of an intestacy. Its main proposals are clearly summarised on pages 26, 27 and 28 of the Memorandum to the Bill. As they are so clearly summarised there I do not propose to delay the House with an enumeration of their details. They put the two sexes on an absolute equality, abolishing the preference which has hitherto been given to the male. Indeed, this equality is borne in mind throughout the Bill, and it is an interesting fact, referred to in the Memorandum, that the proposals of the Bill in regard to what is to be done with property on intestacy are, in the main, based upon an examination of a very large number of wills at Somerset House. The House is asked to do what that evidence indicates intestates would do, if they made their wills and did not die intestate. That scrutiny discloses the fact, ignoring intestacies of infants—putting them on one side—that about 98 per cent, of intestates' estates are under £1,000, and consequently the provision of the Bill that the surviving husband or wife should take absolutely the furniture and other like effects and a first charge for £ 1,000 will, in the great majority of cases, give the whole estate to the survivor absolutely. In those cases where the estate exceeds £1,000, the survivor will take a life interest in the balance if there are no issue, or a life interest in a moiety if there are issue. Power is also given to purchase or redeem the life interest with the consent of the tenant for life or with the leave of the Court.

The seven reforms which I have just shortly summarised I should like to regard as the seven lamps of the Bill, by which to light our path through what, candidly, have always appeared to me to be the somewhat gloomy and forbidding corridors of the Measure. I believe those seven main reforms will afford the clue to nearly all the provisions of the Bill. Ancillary to them are some minor reforms—a good many, but there are only five that I want to mention. When a tenant-for-life dies, the legal estate will pass on his death to the trustees of the settlement as his special representatives for the administration of the settled estate, and the trustees of the settlement will in writing vest the land in the person next entitled, the next tenant-for-life, and nominate the proper persons to be Settled Land Act trustees. The second minor reform I want to mention is this. As it is one of the main principles of the Bill that there always should be a person of full age, able to convey the legal estate, and give a good title to the purchaser, so during a minority the Bill vests the legal estate in Settled Land Act trustees, who have, of course, power to act on behalf of the infant.

The third minor reform is this. One of the greatest difficulties experienced in practice, I believe, in keeping trusts off the title, arises from the statutory charge on the land in favour of the Commissioners of Inland Revenue for Death Duties. For instance, if land is conveyed to a trustee on a secret trust and the trustee dies, the trust must be disclosed to show that no duty became payable on the death of the trustee. This difficulty is met by a provision in the Bill, to which the Inland Revenue have assented, that a charge for Death Duties is not to affect a purchaser unless it is registered as a land charge under the Land Charges Registration and Searches Act of 1888. It will, therefore, always be possible for a purchaser to know whether the landiefree from such a charge without investigating trusts. Questions may arise about that, which I shall be glad to deal with in Committee, but I believe it is a very substantial reform.

The fourth of the minor reforms is this: The system of registration of land charges is considerably extended in the Bill by making it applicable, on the one hand, to certain equities, such as restrictive covenants and contracts of sale, and, secondly, to charges for local expenses, such as street paving; and in future an official certificate of search at the local town hall or at the Land Registry, as the case may be, should give complete protection to the purchaser.

The fifth minor reform is this: In regard to real property the Bill preserves, a-s I stated, in equity the system of settlement and entail, and so it also extends that system in equity to all personal property, with the result that it will hereafter be possible to settle or entail personalty by the same words as realty, without any complex trust.

The last part of the Bill upon which I desire to say a few words is that concerned with registration, which is dealt with in Part X, and on this I want to make what I think a rather important observation. I want to clear up, in connection with registration of title, some serious misconception which there seems to have been on the subject. The merits of 99 per cent. of the contents of Part X of the Bill and the Sixteenth Schedule, dealing with registration of title, have been obscured by a controversy about the remaining 1 per cent. The vastly greater portion of Part X and the whole of the Sixteenth Schedule relate solely to amendments in the Land Transfer Acts which are intended to facilitate their good working in the interest of those who are already registered owners or may become so hereafter in the London area, where it is compulsory, or voluntarily outside it. These amendments have for the most part been long recognised as necessary or at any rate as very desirable; and were recommended, for instance, by Lord St. Aldwyn's Royal Commission in 1911 and by my own Departmental Committee in 1919. The remainder of the proposals in Part X and the Sixteenth Schedule, with the exception of the 1 per cent., are merely consequential on the reforms in the practice of conveyancing which I have already described to the House, and none of the amendments in question in Part X or the Sixteenth Schedule have anything whatever to do with the question of extending compulsory registration, which is dealt with exclusively in Sub-section (5) of Clause 181. Outside the Sub-section the amendments are, in my judgment—and I submit the view to the favourable consideration of the House—merely a measure of justice to registered owners already on the register. Their adoption will, in a substantial degree, facilitate and cheapen dealings by such owners and so improve their property; and the House should remember that a vast number of properties on that register are owned by or for the benefit of persons of small means in all classes of society.

I say nothing more upon the non-controversial provisions affecting registration of title, and I pass at once to the burning question of compulsory registration, upon which I want to say a little. Independently of Lord Westbury's Act of 1862, as the House knows, the first main Act on the subject still in force was passed in 1875, providing for a purely voluntary system. In 1897 Lord Halsbury introduced his Land Transfer Bill of that year, providing machinery for applying the system compulsorily in a county or part of a county. Under that Act registration was made compulsory in the County of London, but that Act prevented any subsequent extension of compulsory registration unless a county council, of its own initiative, met together, and with a meeting of two-thirds of its members passed a resolution asking for it. It is not perhaps surprising that no county council has actually taken the trouble to take that initiative, especially when we bear in mind that the Acts relating to registration of title have been, and still are, in serious need of amendment. In fact, no county has so asked, and the result is that registration is to-day compulsory only in the County of London. This fact led, in 1908, to the appointment of a Royal Commission, presided over by Lord St. Aldwyn—the present Viscount Cave and Lord Buckmaster being members—to consider the working of the Land Transfer Acts and to advise on the subject generally. They reported: (1) that the question was a national and not a local one; (2) that the system of registration under the Acts was imperfect and required amendment in a number of particulars; and they expressed the opinion that it was important to reform the law by assimilating real property law to that of personalty, as is now proposed by the present Bill. They further advised that the amendments should be made in the system of the Land Transfer Acts and the revised system tested by practice before considering any compulsory extension.

In 1919 the Committee of which I was Chairman in effect endorsed the view of the Royal Commission. As the other parts of the Bill carry out the reforms in the practice affecting real property and conveyancing, which were advocated by that Commission and that Committee, so Part X carries out their proposals in regard to the Land Transfer Acts. When the now practice under the first nine parts of the Bill is in force, and all the amendments in the tenth part, including the Sixteenth Schedule, have been effected, the public, both lay and expert, will have a real opportunity of judging how the simplified system of conveyancing without registration compares in working with the improved system of land transfer by registration. Expert opinion is to-day sharply divided, as we know, upon the comparative advantages and disadvantages of the two methods. The public is, of course, only concerned to get the system which is alike safer, cheaper, and more efficient, and without experience the final judgment must remain to some extent a matter of opinion. The Bill does not take sides in the controversy. It begs no question, but leaves the better of the two systems to prove its superiority. Hon. Members may ask how. I answer by saying that, whilst the Bill treats the extension of compulsory registration as a national rather than a local matter, it provides that there shall be no such extension till the Bill has been in operation for 10 years; and the Bill has not to come into operation till 1924, so that is 12 years from now; and then it imposes important precautions.

5.0 P.M.

The Lord Chancellor at that date must give six months' previous notice of any draft Order by which he proposes to extend it to a new county area. The Order can only apply to one county or part of a county, and on notice being given either the county council or the local law society may demand a public inquiry to be held judicially by some practising barrister or solicitor, to be appointed by the Lord Chancellor for the purpose—an independent person—whose report will be published, and that report has to state fully his findings and his reasons. If his report should be in favour of an extension, the Lord Chancellor then will have to lay the draft Order on the Table of each House of Parliament, but it will not take effect unless each House separately passes a Resolution asking that it should be put in force. Under this scheme—a 10 years' trial, with these seven careful precautions at the end of the 10 years—I submit that expert opinion will thus have the opportunity of really forming an opinion by actual experience. At the end of the 10 years opinion should have ranged itself definitely on one side or the other; but if at that comparatively distant date there should survive doubt as to which is the better system, the provisions of the Bill for a public inquiry will enable those, who desire to resist any extension of compulsory registration, ample opportunity for making good their arguments. At that distant day, each House will, no doubt, if the practice remains as it is now, be fully briefed by the partisans of the opposing views. Indeed, each House might, if it chose, appoint a Select Committee to hear evidence and report as to the working of the system or systems during the 10 years. It is plain that the present day opponents of registration have won for themselves a strategic position of great security, protected by ample safeguards. I would remind the House that the test period of the Bill was originally only two years, and was extended to 10 years because the Law Society said, that if it were, they would be satisfied. It is not for me to predict which school will eventually prove to be right. I understand that each school is confident of its ultimate success. Be that as it may, I think I can assert without qualification that the principle of the Bill is a fair field and no favour to either side in its 10 years' race for victory. I therefore confidently ask both parties to the controversy to support me in the Bill.

I have been long in explaining the Bill, but I can say in self-defence that I have not been as long as the Bill. I have observed from the OFFICIAL REPORT that most Second Reading speeches are longer than the Bill they introduce. By the indulgence of the House I would like to say a few words of the history of this really epoch-making Measure, because that history is material to the judgment of the House on the Bill. A series of great conveyancers of Lincoln's Inn, on instructions from the Law Society, have drafted various Bills, the main provisions of which now find a place within this Bill. They began with one, in 1895, drafted by the late Mr. Wolstenholme, that great conveyancer, and Mr. Cherry, the distinguished, though unofficial draftsman, who is mainly responsible for the present Bill, to whom Parliament and the nation owe a great debt for the skill he has shown in his draftsmanship and the devotion he has given to his task. That first Bill dealt with the subject matter of Part I of the present Bill, namely, the assimilation of real property law to personal property law. It was followed by draft Bills dealing with Settled Land, Conveyancing, Trustees and Personal Representatives similarly prepared. Then came Lord St. Aldwyn's Royal Commission, followed by two very large Bills subsequently amalgamated into one, and introduced by Lord Haldane into the House of Lords just before the War. Next came my own Committee, which included four equity counsel of great skill and experience, and three equally skilled and experienced solicitors, one of whom was the hon. Member for South Leeds (Sir William Middlebrook). In the earlier stages we had an hon. Member representing the Labour party, the hon. Member for the Ormskirk Division of Lancashire (Mr. Bell), who was not able, unfortunately, to continue to the end of our labours. Lastly, we had the most valuable services of the late Mr. Wilson-Fox, whose premature death deprived this House and his many friends of a character full of human sympathy, and a mind full of wisdom and shrewd common sense.

A criticism has been made to me of the present Bill that it would have been better to introduce separately the various Bills amalgamated in this Bill. My Committer discussed that question with Mr. Cherry, who was then assisting us, and we came unanimously to the view that the various parts of the Bill were so interwoven that they truly constituted one whole and could not be separated. We accordingly decided not to make several bites at the cherry, so we asked that distinguished draftsman to draft the forerunner of the present Bill for our consideration, and in 1820 the present Lord Chancellor introduced it in the House of Lords. After a Second Reading in the House of Lords it was referred to a Joint Select Committee of the two Houses. This House was represented by the hon. and gallant Member for Durham (Major Hills) who knows more about the subject than anyone else in this House; by the hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Betterton) who was a distinguished member of the Chancery Bar until he left it to devote his time entirely to public work; also by the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Hayward), and by the hon. Member for the Ogmore Division (Mr. Hartshorn), who have both been of the greatest help.

That Joint Committee sat for months, and amended the Bill with very great care. On its being committed in the House of Lords criticism was directed particularly to Part I by Lord Cave and others on the ground that the scheme required still further scrutiny. The Lord Chancellor, in order to make sure that time was given for mature consideration and discussion, allowed the Bill to stand over until the following year. During the interval a vast number of persons and bodies interested were consulted, with the result that when the Bill was again introduced by the Lord Chancellor last year the principles of the Bill had been practically agreed. It passed through its various stages in another place, but arrived in this House too late in the Session for it to be dealt with. Since last year further consultations have taken place, and still further improvements have been effected, with the result that the Bill has this Session passed through the other House in exactly the same form, the same words and language, as when it was read a First time The nation owes a great debt of gratitude to the Lord Chancellor for his extraordinary skill, knowledge and tact in bringing the Bill to this stage. As a result of his work I am now in a position to state to the House that the Law Society, the Association of Provincial Law Societies, and I believe with only two exceptions every local Law Society, the Land Union, the County Councils' Association, the Association of Municipal Corporations, and I think practically every body of persons interested have intimated their satisfaction with the Bill as it now stands, without prejudice, of course, to quite minor points that may be raised. Nothing of any importance was suggested in the other House this Session.

My own profession, the Bar, I have put last, because we are always suspect, particularly when we pose as law reformers; but in advocating the simplification of our land laws, the many distinguished conveyancing counsel who have helped us, in particular Mr. Cherry, Mr. Benn—who is well represented by his brother in this House—and Mr. A. E. Russell, who have taken so leading and so honourable a part, surely may be acquitted, even though they are barristers, of self-seeking. They live by that very complication which they have thus helped to simplify. Are they not, as Mr. Underhill, the senior conveyancer to the Court, has written rather like the eminent specialist on children's complaints, who, being asked by an anxious mother whether he objected to children's parties replied, with ingenuous candour: 'Object to them, Madam? Why, I live by them.' The conveyancers are truly unselfish. By the removal of technical pitfalls much of their existing work will be abolished. May I, in connection with conveyancers and equity lawyers, refer to the late Mr. Justice Peterson, whose recent and untimely death we all regret? He devoted months of his vacations to the close study of this Bill in order to help the conveyancing counsel who were responsible for its drafting, and we are greatly indebted to him.

I hope the House will share my view that for so vast a Bill such a consensus of expert opinion in its favour is truly remarkable. At the same time, I would not be understood as attempting in any way to fetter the free judgment of the House. I only submit this striking measure of support from outside as an important factor in the case where a technical Bill is in issue. I recognise that the House is the final judge of all proposed legislation, but I am sure that hon. Members will agree with me that the Bill, being of necessity highly technical, an amendment of one Clause may upset the balance of many, and that after so long a process of extraordinarily careful examination and improvement we should be very careful in proposing further Amendments. I remember a sentence of one of our greatest lawyers, Lord Macnaghten, in connection with one of our best drawn Acts of Parliament, the Succession Duty Act: In many ways the Succession Duty Act, 1853, is a remarkable piece of legislation. Drawn with consummate skill it avoids all technical expressions, and yet there is not a single word misused or out of place, nor any expression which it would be easy to improve. The Act was fortunate in its passage through Parliament. It was not mangled or marred or amended. The result is that it is consistent throughout, and as clear as the nature of the subject and the novelty of treatment which it required would permit.

Photo of Mr Leslie Scott Mr Leslie Scott , Liverpool Exchange

In 1853. This Bill, too, is drawn with consummate skill. Up to now practically every single one of the Amendments made between its first introduction in 1920 and its introduction this year—and they have been many—has been drafted by the expert draftsmen of the Bill, and as of the Succession Duty Act, I believe it is possible to say of this Bill that it is consistent throughout. I ask for the co-operation of hon. Members in the task of preserving its clear and consistent draftsmanship. The less it is amended the less fear will there be of creating ambiguities and inconsistencies, those twin fountains of litigation. A few minor Amendments have been suggested to me, which I shall table in due course. May I ask any hon. Members who have Amendments to propose to be so good as to table them at the earliest possible moment? Some might have preferred to have the Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House, but time forbids, and we have to go upstairs. The Government is anxious to get the Bill through Committee as rapidly as is consistent with what is right, and the services of myself and Mr. Cherry will be at the disposal of any hon. Member who cares to discuss any question that has occurred to him, or any proposed Amendment, both unofficially outside the Committee as well as in the Committee itself. In these times of financial stress the country cannot afford to lose the immense saving in unnecessary labour and costs which will result from this Bill.

Photo of Mr Donald Maclean Mr Donald Maclean , Peebles and Southern

I am sure the House will desire me to express its thanks to the hon. and learned Gentleman for the lucid way in which he has expounded, as well as it was possible in the ambit of his speech, a very highly complicated Measure. He confesses that he is what is known as a common lawyer. I, therefore, am able to congratulate him that he kept in deep waters and avoided the shoals and shallows which he might have been tempted to navigate. He has laid a very complicated scheme before us in such a way that those of us who have some acquaintance with it are very grateful. The result of this Bill, if passed—as I hope it will be—will be undoubtedly to clear away a vast amount of unnecessary verbiage and tortuous forms, the growth of centuries in the history of this country. The House is indebted to the hon. and learned Gentleman not only for what he has done in connection with this Measure itself, but also for the very able and learned Report, which hon. Members will find in the Library, Command Paper 424. The hon. Gentleman was the Chairman of the Committee, and this, I hope, is not to be the only fruit of the very useful and learned labour of himself and his colleagues.

I noticed, in glancing at one of the pages of the Report, that an interesting reference is made from one of the scenes between Hamlet and Horatio. The former lifts a skull and soliloquises upon it. It may be that many years hence, when another Hamlet arises, he may pick up the skull of some learned conveyancer of this day and use these words—this Act having been in useful operation on the Statute Book: This fellow might be in's time a great buyer of land, with his statutes, his recognisances, his fines, his double vouchers, his recoveries: is this the fine of his fines and the recovery of his recoveries, to have his fine pate full of fine dirt? Will his vouchers vouch him no more of his purchases, and double ones too, than the length and breadth of a pair of indentures?"—{Hamlet; Act 5, Scene 1.] So the grievance we are endeavouring to remove to-day is, at any rate, some hundred years old, and is very clearly ripe for effective dealing with by the Houses of Parliament. Our system of conveyancing to-day is undoubtedly too cumbrous, though nothing like as cumbrous as it used to be. I cannot go so far back as some hon. Gentlemen present in close acquaintance with the law, but those who remember what conveyances used to be prepared up to the great Act of Lord Cairns 1882 will know what a great deal of improvement has been effected from that date. But the transfer of land is still too cumbrous. It is too expensive, and its transfer speaking generally is not nearly so expeditious as it might be. On that point of expedition I would, from my knowledge, say with great confidence to the House that a vast number of transactions relating to land—very complicated interests indeed—are dealt with with great swiftness and efficiency. I have myself known matters of great importance dealt with in 48 hours. Sometimes I have handled them myself within a working day in the office, the matter being carried right through; and the reason was that the title, however long it might be, was a simple one, and not encumbered with all the traps and pitfalls that this Act seems to fill up, and in great many respects move. There is another feature of this Act, and that is that many of the old rules of equity have been removed, while others, I hope, will be. Take, for instance, Shelley's case. If I am asked what Shelley's case was, I am tempted to answer in the language of the law student who was being examined when he replied: That the rule in Shelley's case is the same as in anybody else's case, the law being no respecter of persons. I should like to say a word or two, as briefly as I can, on the rather vexed question of registration. It is probably a matter on which much public interest has been evoked. As to whether compulsory registration is successful or not is a sub- ject on which there is very great difference of opinion. I do not myself see any real use in registration unless it is compulsory. A voluntary system of registration is not really very satisfactory, and it is, so far as I have been able to judge, very much open to doubt whether a compulsory system of registration to title in land will tend either to the swiftness or the economic handling of the transfer of property. I cannot go into that now, because this Bill really does not raise the issue as to whether there shall or shall not be compulsory registration of land. But there is one really valuable result which may come out of this Bill, if it becomes an Act and is operative, and that is that a competitive system will be set up. It is utterly impossible to have a real trial of strength and efficiency on the issue unless this Bill passes. If this Bill passes there is no doubt at all that there will be quite a good answer on that point, and the transfer of land will become—whether cheaper or not, I cannot say—certainly much more simple. If one assumes the necessary knowledge of the working of it it will, on the whole, be much more expeditious; and for those who are responsible for the working of the voluntary system will be put on their metal. The great body of solicitors in whose hands this matter lies will have to show by the way they use the new advantages—or weapons, may I say—of this Bill, to cut away the former hindrances to the swift and economic handling of property, whether that system is better than the compulsory registration of land.

Here is a perfectly fair trial for 10 years. At the end of that decade there will be a very large accumulation of experience, and then it will be for the public—not the lawyers—and this House —to judge which of the two systems shall be adopted. That will be the chance to make registration compulsory and national. That is the only way to deal with it. After 10 years we will know where we stand in regard to this very important matter. Anything which tends to the ease with which land, and the complicated interests on land, are handled will have its reflex in the commercial and general business interests of the country. The days have long gone when a business man had nothing to do with land. All great corporations and all great indivi- dual interests in business are in respect of 90 per cent, interested in one form or another of land and its transference, so this is not only a matter concerning those who hold land, but it is really the great commercial and industrial interests with which we are dealing here to-day. I would leave the question of registration and the case for its treatment at that, but would express the hope that when this Bill goes upstairs that point of view will be kept fairly in mind by all parties. It is a very vexed question. It has been agreed to make an experiment for 10 years. Let there be an open field for this. I hope, with great submission, that hon. Members when upstairs will remember this, that the framing of the Clauses of this Bill has been done with the greatest possible care by men who thoroughly understand their business, and, while I do not for a moment say we do not understand our business here, it might very easily do harm to a very valuable experiment if, so to speak, we spatch-cock into this Measure any Amendments which have not been really thoroughly considered, not as to their immediate effect on the particular Clause, but on the framework of the Bill as a whole.

On the question of the assimilation of the law of personal and real property and its transfer, I should like to say a word or two. I cannot help expressing my regret that it was not possible to bring within the compass of this Bill the law of settlement. There is no doubt at all that the tying up of property of either personal or landed property works sometimes very great disadvantage to the community. It has its advantages, I quite agree, in the protection of the interests of daughters and others. I do think that the time is not far distant when perhaps the State may have to intervene in the interests of the community as a whole, and to go into a very careful examination as to whether the time has not arrived when there shall be some further limitation placed on the powers of settlement. I will put it no higher than that for the moment. Another point. I hope one of the consequences of the passing of this Bill will be that we shall attempt some codification of the law of the transfer of property.

Photo of Mr Leslie Scott Mr Leslie Scott , Liverpool Exchange

The natural corollary to the passing of this Bill will be a care- ful consolidation of the law on the different topics affected by the Bill.

Photo of Mr Donald Maclean Mr Donald Maclean , Peebles and Southern

I welcome that answer. It ought to be done pretty quickly.

Photo of Mr Leslie Scott Mr Leslie Scott , Liverpool Exchange

Arrangements are being made.

Photo of Mr Donald Maclean Mr Donald Maclean , Peebles and Southern

I am very glad to hear that arrangements are already being effected for the carrying out of some such proposal as that which will be a great advantage, not only to practitioners themselves, but also to the general public. Finally, I commend the Second Reading of this Measure to the House on a ground which may arise some suspicion in the minds of some hon. Members as coming from lawyers, viz., that there is a remarkable consensus of opinion behind this Bill. It has not been achieved without a great deal of care and trouble. I notice that some hon. Friends of mine have put down notices for the rejection of the Bill. I would like to refer to the services of the hon. Member for Central Portsmouth (Sir T. Bramsdon), who has taken an immense amount of trouble in this matter. I know that last year he discussed the proposal with me and I was in favour of the Second Reading of the Bill then, as I am now', and I think he is probably the only hon. Member of this House who has read every word of this Measure.

Photo of Mr Donald Maclean Mr Donald Maclean , Peebles and Southern

At any rate, I can say that I have looked at every Clause, but my hon. Friend went to his own local law society, and a correspondence took place, and from that there arose a further inquiry with many provincial law societies, and the result has been that on the whole the general opinion is that this is a sound Bill, and ought to be put on the Statute Book. That is the kind of examination through which this Bill has passed. It is backed by the Bar Council and supported by the Law Society, the Land Union, and the Provincial Law Society, and they are al] in favour of it after the reiterated examination to which I have referred.

It is also supported by the Institute of Conveyancers. I think it is an entire mistake to assume that lawyers are opposed to law reform, because all the great law reforms have been carried out by lawyers; in fact, most of our great social reforms have been initiated and carried through by lawyers, and no greater folly could be perpetrated by any intelligent body of men than to put obstacles in the way of business being done. This Bill means now only the removal of a great mass of technicalities which have now become almost grotesque, but, properly considered, it is a great Measure from which will flow great commercial and great social advantages to the community.

Photo of Mr Ernest Pretyman Mr Ernest Pretyman , Chelmsford

I rise with very great diffidence in dealing with this Measure. I can assure the House that I do not propose to deal with the technical side of this very difficult Bill, but I am sure I shall be saying what everybody feels when I endorse what my right hon. Friend the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean) has just said as to our admiration of the very clear and brief manner in which the Solicitor-General has explained this Bill. We are fortunate in having a Law Officer, who has given so much previous attention to this Measure, to guide it through its subsequent stages. I do not think it will be possible for a layman to oppose this reform, because he cannot understand the terminology of the Bill. One thing that I feel rather anxious about is how long it is going to be before the advantage in celerity and economy will be obtained. The experience of all laymen who have had experience of law is that when new legislation is introduced it is not only a question of the law as passed by Parliament, but also what is known as "case law."

While I agree absolutely with all that has been said on both sides as to the extraordinary care devoted to the drafting of this Measure, and the skill with which is has been drafted, the great attention paid to all the criticism, and the endeavour to meet them all fairly and in no sort of niggardly spirit—after allowing for all that, it is hardly conceivable that such a vast change in the whole principle of the transfer of land from a system of conveyancing and practice, to which all the legal profession and laymen have become accustomed, to a totally different system can be effected without causing some inconvenience, and, however simple it may be to lawyers, it is still very com- plicated as far as laymen are concerned. That change cannot be brought about without creating many preliminary difficulties in the transition stage from the old to the new system.

It is a great advantage that there is an interval allowed until 1924 before this Bill, if it passes, will come into operation, and I should like to emphasise the necessity for that interval being as long as that, because, as somebody has already stated, there has been an orgy of legislation within the last few years which the legal profession has had to assimilate, and many of them have had great difficulty in keeping pace with the legislation. From what I have heard, I should be inclined to wonder whether any large proportion of those interested in conveyancing law will read or master the details of this Measure until it becomes an Act. I do not think they have had time to do so, and it will take a long time before they are able to assimilate all its provisions. I attach great importance to the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Peebles as to the necessity for a codifying Act at a later stage, because the Measure contains a great deal of the evil of which we frequently complain, namely, legislation by reference. Necessarily, as long as old Acts remain on the Statute Book you can only legislate on the subjects to which they refer by reference, and that practice in a long and complicated Bill of this kind will create very serious difficulty.

Therefore on the ground of legislation by reference, and on the ground of the great length and complexity of the new Clauses, and the additions which will be made to the subjects which a lawyer has to study, I am rather afraid that in the early stages it may be that this new legislation will cause more rather than less expense, and more difficulties rather than less, but we must accept those disadvantages if in the end we are going to get a method of transferring land which will be simpler and cheaper to the community. It is from that point of view that the Land Union approach this question. Being mainly laymen, we have felt that it was up to us in protecting the interests of those interested in real property to do our best to see that in the widest national interests this Bill should at any rate do no harm.

We have taken every possible step to get advice and form an opinion upon it. May I say first that there are certain points on which we say the Bill would be advantageous. It was obviously desirable that the Settled Land Acts should be simplified and improved. The Bill did that, and it had our support. The same applies to the Trustees Acts and the Conveyancing Acts. There were other proposals, in regard to which we had a great deal of doubt, and one of them has been referred to by the Solicitor-General and by the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Peebles, and that is compulsory registration of title. I agree with what has been said on this point. That was a subject on which the Land Union felt great doubts, and on which we found it absolutely necessary to have something to say. As the Bill was originally drawn, the method described by the Solicitor-General was not the method adopted. We have to thank the Lord Chancellor, Mr. Cherry, and others who assisted in the preparation of this Bill, that as the result of our conferences we have achieved the position so accurately described by my right hon. Friend as being entirely non-partisan, and it is because of this agreement between the advocates of compulsory registration and those opposed to it that this happy position has been secured. I attach very great value to the provision that the approval of Parliament is necessary to any Order for compulsory registration in any county and that it shall not be a merely negative approval providing that the Order shall lie on the Table of the House. On one occasion I remember looking for one of these Orders, and I found it in a very remote place in the farthest corner of the Library. This is now a case of positive approval by Resolution in both Houses before compulsory registration can be adopted. I thank my right hon. Friend and those who have worked with him for having arrived at that decision.

The next point on which we felt some doubt is the Clause about access to commons. On that we had doubts as to the advantages to be given to the public. Therefore we took steps to call a conference with the Commons and Footpaths Preservation Society who look after the public, and those interested from the point of view of the commoners. A unanimous agreement was arrived at, and the Clauses in the Bill embody that agreement, and I hope they will be satisfactory to all concerned. I need not go into the details. The third point on which we felt doubts is one of much complexity, that is, the enfranchisement of copyholds. That is the only point where there is any question of a transfer of interest or of value from one individual to another. At present in copyhold tenure the interest in a property is divided between the Lord of the Manor and the copyholder. There are two classes and in one class the interest practically resides in the copyholder. The Lord of the Manor's interest merely consists in what is called a fine "certain"—it may very often be a fine of 6d., or 2s., or 2s. 6d., which has to be paid on certain occasions. Its value is almost entirely sentimental, and where complications are caused by procedure of that kind, I think it is in the public interest that simplification should take place and that that kind of tenure should be abolished. It might easily be that the cost of assessing the compensation in such cases would be far greater than the value of the compensation.

But there is another kind of copyhold, where the fine is not a fine certain but a fine arbitrary, and where there is a real division of interest in the property between the Lord of the Manor and the copyholder. The Lord of the Manor is entitled on every change of ownership— by passing on death or by passing on sale—to a certain number of years' purchase of the whole annual value of the property, and the copyholder has power of compulsory enfranchisement on payment of a certain fine, which is also represented by a certain number of years' purchase of the property. That means simply that where you have property which, freehold, would be worth £5,000, and where one-fifth of the interest passes to the Lord of the Manor and four-fifths to the copyholder, when the copyhold, is purchased it will only fetch £4,000, and the remaining £1,000 will be vested in the Lord of the Manor and would be inherited by him when he succeeded to the Manor. Therefore, when you are abolishing that class of copyhold and declaring by this Bill that from the moment it passes you are converting that copyhold into a freehold, you are actually transferring an interest of considerable value from one person to another. The Bill recognises this and endeavours—and in using the word '' endeavours" I do not suggest it does not do so, but I cannot say, from my own personal knowledge that it does, and that matter will have to be carefully examined in Committee—it- endeavours to secure the full right in the case of the Lord of the Manor and his share of the interest, and it does that by converting the interest into an incumbrance or charge on the property, and on the coming into operation of the Bill it becomes merely a charge on the property to the extent of the interest.

That would be all right if that were the end of it, but there is a consideration which is very important and which takes it out of the ordinary category of an incumbrance, and that is that these manorial rights have passed to the lords of the manor during very long periods and most of them consist of plots of ownership of which there are no plans and therefore identification is extremely difficult. Under the present system there has not been any practical difficulty, for the simple reason that whenever a fine has been payable it has only come into operation on death or sale and the copyholder could only get his title through the Lord and could not obtain the money for the property which he is selling until he has got his title through the Lord. Therefore he has not been in any way interested in raising difficulties about the boundaries of the land and the transaction has always proceeded simply enough. I live in a part of the country where copyholds are very numerous and have been affected by them personally to a considerable extent. I have owned manors and also certain copyhold lands for a considerable number of years, and during that period I have had to pay fines for admission and enfranchisements to the about of about £4,600 while I have received as lord of the manor from other persons as fines for admission and as fines for enfranchisement £4,400, so that it will be seen that the sums that pass are considerable. Obviously it is undesirable in a Bill of this kind that any property should be transferred from one person to another without the person whose property is transferred, or who has any interest in it, being secured the value of it in some form. When the property becomes an incumbrance the copyholder will have no interest whatever in getting a title and he will be able to sell the property, as there will only be an incumbrance upon it. I think that in Committee that matter will want very carefully watching.

On this point, I may say that, except in certain details on the last matter which will require to be raised in Committee, the proposals and suggestions we put forward were met by the Lord Chancellor and his advisers in every possible way. But we were not satisfied even then as regards Part I. That is a matter, of course, of the greatest importance and as to it we felt the gravest doubts. I have tried my best to really understand what Part I of the Bill means, but nothing could be more difficult than to assimilate the methods of the transfer of realty to the methods of the transfer of personalty. I could not understand this proposal, and I think every layman must be thrown back in this matter upon legal advisers in whom he has confidence. That was all the Land Union could do in the interest of the property owners of the country. We had a conference with the Law Society, and Mr. Cherry and the other advisers and draughtsmen of the Lord Chancellor were good enough to attend. The conclusion of the conference was favourable to the Bill. But even then the Land Union were not satisfied, and we took the case to one who, hon. and learned Members will, I suppose, agree, is a very high authority on this subject—Mr. Benn, the conveyancing counsel. He expressed the view, after careful examination of Part I of the Bill, that, although he did not entirely approve of the Bill, it contained so many good points he would advise us, if we could come to terms upon the question of the compulsory registration of title, to withdraw our opposition and support the Measure. This is the opinion of a man in whose judgment we had great confidence, and we found, in fact, that all authorities whom we approached one after another had very great doubts and some feeling in their mind that there was some snag in the Bill and that they would like to abolish it, but after they had gone into the matter, after they had conferred with Mr. Cherry and those who had been helping in the drafting of the Bill, they advised us unanimously in the same way as Mr. Benn did. They told us that the Bill will prove to the advantage of the community and of those interested in land and in realty, and that, on the whole, it is desirable it should become law. I apologise for having attempted to intervene on such a highly technical question, but I felt bound to express the opinions of the Land Union and to acknowledge the great courtesy and consideration we have received in the matter. I, for one, shall certainly support the Second Eeading of the Bill.

6.0 P.M.

Photo of Colonel Josiah Wedgwood Colonel Josiah Wedgwood , Newcastle-under-Lyme

The Land Union has spoken and blessed the Bill, and, naturally, those who have not always seen eye to eye with the union become more suspicious of it. T think we may take it on this occasion, and I hope on this occasion only, that the Land Union and the opponents of the Land Union are agreed that it is desirable that land should be transferred as easily as possible, and that both those who use the land and those who own the land would have an enormous advantage if land could be easily transferred. I have lived for many years in countries where the registration of title is in operation, and the simplicity with which land was not only sold, but also mortgaged and leased, under the registration of title, and the ease with which bargaining was eliminated, because the previous price at which the land had been transferred was open to the purchaser, made the land as marketable as socks and shirts, and, certainly, gave the best and quickest use of the land. Nothing could transcend the value of the registration of title so long as it makes land readily marketable. I gathered from the speech of the Solicitor-General that we are very far from getting under this Bill any registration of title whatsoever. We are indeed, apparently, at the behest of both the Law Society and of the Land Union, postponing the introduction of the compulsory registration of title till 12 years from now. That seems to me to be a great drawback in this new edition of the Bill. When the Bill was first brought in by Lord Haldane in 1914, we were going to have registration of title in two years. Now it is proposed to postpone it for 12 years, and even then it will be a long time, probably a generation or two generations, before all land will be compulsorily registered. The process is going to be very lengthy, and I submit to the House that there are better methods than this very lengthy and slow registration of title, which would give us the same results and be infinitely more quick in operation. Like the last speaker, I am addressing the House as a layman and not as a lawyer. The position we take up is, that the title should be securable simply by payment of the taxes on the land. It would follow that any person who has paid the taxes on his land would thereby automatically acquire a title to that land, and anyone who disputed that title would have to repay the land taxes that had been paid at compound interest. In 20 years or so, therefore, the title would be secured definitely to the people who had paid the taxes. In that way we should secure not only registration of title but an absolute right to a title, which would be indefeasible by any action unless the person bringing the action was prepared to pay the large sum, mounting up at compound interest, which had already been paid in respect of that land.

Apart from registration of title, there is no doubt that that part of this Bill which will attract most attention in the country, and which will be the most valuable to the majority of people, is the copyhold enfranchisement which is involved. Copyhold enfranchisement does not concern purely agricultural land, but in my part of the country whole streets of houses over whole boroughs are owned by copyhold tenure. It is those small people, with properties the value of which is anything between £150 and £1,000, who are going to be involved, and we are looking forward to this Bill with great hope that they will thereby be protected from all those damaging incidents to which copyhold tenure inevitably subjects the tenant. Of course, it is well known that in copyhold tenure the principal curse is not so much the heriots, not so much the charges on admission and at death or on sale, but the fact that the sub-surface is retained by the lord of the manor, and merely the surface is transferred by copy of court roll. It should be made quite clear at once that that, unfortunately, is not affected by this Bill in any way whatever. The minerals still belong to the lord of the manor, and the lord of the manor is still entitled under this Bill, as at present, to get all the coal from under the surface and let a man's house in— [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—as has been done all over North Staffordshire and a great deal of South Staffordshire as well. Unless you have some definite arrangement with the lord of the manor, you are still liable to that. I should be very glad to hear that it was not so, but if coal is got from underneath your house and if that house tumbles in, you have no opportunity of getting compensation for the damage done. That is the most serious element in copyhold tenure; and it is altogether untouched by this Bill.

As regards compensation, I regret that a big, cumbrous Bill of this sort has to be introduced by consent of all the vested interests concerned before it can be passed into law. This Bill has been navigated through very difficult waters. There have been vested interests on every side. There have been rocks belonging to solicitors, there have been the rocks of the Chancery Bar, and the rock of the Land Union. Every vested interest in this country has gone through this Bill with a microscope, and a legal microscope at that. The Bill has emerged as a Bill introduced by consent, a Bill that has nobody against it now. I should prefer a Bill of this sort to have the vested interests against it, from the point of view of real, useful work for the people of this country. On this question of copyhold the vested interests have combined to bless the Bill. They have got their compensation. I should very much like to know whether that compensation will work out, in the long run, to the advantage of the Land Union or of the tenants. I have no doubt that it will really result in compensation going to the Land Union at the expense of the tenants, and that the vast majority who have no organisation to back them will find that those interests who have organisations to back them have got the best of the bargain. There is compensation to the lord of the manor, and there is also, I understand—I should like to be clear on this point—compensation to the steward of the manor, who makes such a very useful livelihood out of copyhold transfers at the present time. I cannot imagine that when this Bill was introduced the organisation of the law, speaking in the name of the stewards of manors, did not secure that any enfranchisement of a copyhold was also going to endow them for life with what they, their children, and their grandchildren might have made out of the transfer of copyhold property.

Photo of Mr Arthur Samuel Mr Arthur Samuel , Farnham

That is the most irritating of all the charges

Photo of Colonel Josiah Wedgwood Colonel Josiah Wedgwood , Newcastle-under-Lyme

It is the most irritating charge both to the purchaser and the seller, but it is a very interesting and pleasing charge to the profession of steward of the manor. I hope they are not being compensated for loss of work. Compensation for vested interests is apt to leave very little interest to the public, and I think we shall want to see, when this Bill is in Committee, and when even laymen can understand its Clauses, how far the vested interests have been squared before the public is allowed the bone of the Bill. For the public, no doubt, registration of title and the enfranchisement of copyhold will be the most important features of this Bill, but I think the public will also want to know something about the enfranchisement of leaseholds, and leaseholds have been pro-served in the Bill. Leasehold tenure for a term of years is retained as one of the two sorts of land tenure allowed, and yet, if you asked people who have to live on the land and who have dealings with real estate what it was that most required doing in the direction of alteration in the law of real property, they would tell you that enfranchisement of leaseholds was the most important thing of all—that the falling in of leases, and the handing over to some landlord, at the end of 99 years or some shorter period, of all the buildings and all the goodwill that the tenant of the property has built up, was the most unjust thing in our present law, and that any Bill dealing with land which did not give to the leaseholder the opportunity of enfranchising his leasehold, and forcing the landlord to accept compensation, would be of very little value to the vast mass of the population.

It is not, however, merely an advantage to the holder of a lease that he should be able to enfranchise his property. It is also an enormous advantage to the people of the country as a whole. What happens at the present time? As the lease nears its termination, the leaseholder naturally does not effect any improvements in his property, because he would merely be improving it for other people's benefit. As the lease runs out, the property falls more and more into disrepair, and one piece of bad property in a road makes bad property on each side of it. It would be an advantage, to the whole of the public that these leaseholders should be able to enfranchise their property, and should be able to put their money and their brains into improving that property and employing labour upon it, so that it would be able better to fulfil the purpose for which it was intended. The injustice of taking improvements and good will, and the inconvenience to the whole public of the leasehold system, puts a premium upon dilapidations. All these are arguments that make it extremely urgent that that side of the land question should be dealt with as well as the enfranchisement of copyhold and the assimilation of realty and personalty which are effected under this Bill. It is in those directions that I should have hoped that the learned Solicitor-General would have moved, but from a Coalition Government we must, I am afraid, expect very little advance as regards the land question. They are, naturally, more or less at the beck and call of the Land Union; they have to consider the vested interests and to subordinate the public interest. In regard to that position we have no possibility of effective criticism or control at present. This Bill, 30 or 40 years hence, may be regarded as having established once and for all registration of title. I hope it will. That is the best thing we can expect from it, and if it does that, then at any rate the Attorney-General and the Lord Chancellor may congratulate themselves that they have at least effected a reform which centuries of lawyers in this country have seen to be necessary, but from which they have shied off, and have left to successors with sufficient courage and sufficient time at their disposal to bring before the House of Commons and, I hope, to pass into an Act of Parliament.

Photo of Mr John Hills Mr John Hills , City of Durham

The hon. and gallant Member who has just sat down will forgive me if I do not follow him into a disquisition on leasehold enfranchisement or on the even more thorny subject of land taxes. On the first I could say a good deal, and with a certain amount of what the hon. and gallant Member said I am not in disagreement; but it would have been absolutely impossible to get through any agreed scheme of leasehold enfranchisement, and, unless you have an agreed scheme, the Bill would not have any chance of passing. The question of the abolition of copyhold tenure is an entirely different one, for the enfranchisement of leaseholds, good or bad, is a social question. It is not a legal question at all. The law enfranchising leaseholds would be a very short and simple law. Here, however, we are dealing with a legal title to land, and we are trying to cheapen and make more speedy the sale and devolution of land. For this reason it is absolutely essential, as every practitioner knows, to get rid of this cumbrous, mediæval and, though very picturesque, entirely out of date system of copyhold tenure. As to land taxes, I know that the hon. and gallant Gentleman likes to bring them in on all occasions. If he really means that in his plan, which, I suppose, one day we shall see presented to the House, anyone who chooses to pay the land taxes on any land can have the title of the land, I am not sure that I shall not come forward and pay the taxes on his land. The learned Solicitor-General made such an admirable statement on the Bill, and its purpose is so clearly explained in the Memorandum that has been circulated, that I do not propose to go into the general question, but I want to say just one word about it, and then, if I may, to deal with some of the criticisms that have been raised in this Debate.

I have practised for many years as a solicitor, and have had a great deal to do with the transfer of land, and for years past I have been convinced, as everyone must be, that a large amount of our real property law is entirely unnecessary. Reformers for the last century have been trying to separate such parts of our law as come down from feudal times, from the schoolmen, from the ecclesiastics, and is very beautiful and intellectual, but nevertheless quite unadapted to modern conditions, from the real, essential necessities of law dealing with land. You can never apply to land a system of registration as simple as that which you apply to stocks and shares. Land is an individual property. You may want one special piece of land, but no one wants one special stock certificate. If he should lose it, or if some mistake should be made which necessitates compensation, he can easily be paid in money or be given a similar amount of stock. There is no special magic in one stock certificate. But land is a special property. A man may want one particular piece of land, and it may be that no money can compensate him for the loss of it. Then, when he buys his land, he finds its boundaries are indeterminate. Other men may own the right to work coal under it, as the hon. and gallant Member has just said, and to the very air that passes over it, and the sunshine that shines upon it, someone else may have a right. All people who have studied this question have been trying to find a system that comes as near to a stock register as possible, and yet allows for the essential character of land. When you look back for the last 100 years, the years are strewn with the wrecks of schemes that have been tried and proved abortive. Some have come to fruition and have not reached the hopes that were felt about them, and, of course, it is open to anyone to say that this is one more scheme that will be tried and will fail. I do not believe that. I believe that this Bill very wisely steers the middle course, and when the hon. and gallant Member talks about vested interests, I would have him remember that all experts are not vested interests, that you must go to people who know, and obtain from them the best opinion that you can. If the hon. and gallant Member includes in vested interests the profession to which I belong, namely, that of a solicitor, I can assure him—and I speak from an experience of 30 years—that this question has been discussed as a public question, and that the Law Society have always recognised that a big question of public policy was involved.

I do not, however, want to go too far afield. I support the Bill, although the scheme which I fathered and of which, being its parent, I see the merits, would have gone further and have moved more quickly than the present Bill. My own view, which I have always held, is that the only real solution is compulsory registration of title. I think that that is the only way in which we can get cheapness and expedition and avoid mistakes. When, however, you have a great country, with all the great commercial interests concerned in land, and when you have seven centuries of law behind you, you cannot move quickly. The twelve years for which registration is postponed is a very short time in the life of a country, and, in that twelve years, there will be a chance to see the two systems—the voluntary system and the system of registration in London—side by side, and to compare them together under fair conditions. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman), while blessing the Bill on the whole, raised two objections to it. His first objection, which was not the stronger one, was that a vast change of this sort must entail more expense and difficulty than the system which is being abolished. Of course, you cannot make an enormous change of this sort without a large amount of complication. Barristers and solicitors have to relearn their law, and it was for this reason that a certain delay in the coming into operation was laid down. I think the real answer to my right hon. Friend's objection is that if you think a thing is bad you must change at sometime. Whenever you change you have to meet the evil which he pointed out, and on the question of adapting the new system the people chiefly concerned are, first of all, the Bar Council and, secondly, the Law Society, and they are both satisfied that the delay in the coming into force of this Bill until 1st January, 1924, is sufficient for practitioners to learn the new procedure. The next objection my right hon. Friend took was as to copyhold. He quite rightly said the system proposed in the Bill as to enfranchised copyholds was that the freehold should be given to the copyhold tenant, and the lord's interest should be treated as a charge upon that freehold interest. He did not disapprove of that, but he said the copyholder then had no interest in getting a title. I am not very sure that I know what he meant, but the copyholder then holds the freehold, upon which there is a mortgage, the mortgage being for the lord's compensation. He cannot sell without dealing with or disclosing that mortgage, and as long as the lord of the manor has got a clear charge for such compensation as the Bill gives him I do not think he can complain, and I am fortified in that by the analogy of what has happened in regard to railways. Where a railway buys copyhold land exactly the same process occurs, for the land is treated as freehold and the interest of the lord of the manor becomes a charge upon the land.

The last point I want to deal with is that raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) who objects to the postponement of registration. I think he rather under-estimates the case. He talks as though all people except vested interests were agreed that registration of title was the only method. I agree with him that we must slowly come to a system of registered title, at least I think we must and I think we shall. A very long fight has been waged between those who quite honestly think that the system of private conveyancing is better and those who support registration of title. We now have a definite step in advance and yet we have not pre-judged the case. I, like the hon. and gallant Gentleman, support registration, but supposing he and I are both wrong? I have not sufficient confidence in my own judgment to be sure that I am always right, and I am sure he has not either. If we are both wrong then we should have imposed upon the country a system which would not be necessary, but now no one is hurt except for the eleven and a half years during which registration is postponed, and they are not hurt unless you beg the question, and so, although I think registration has got to come, and when it comes it has got to be compulsory, for you cannot have one little bit of a country standing out and refusing to accept the national system, I believe the Lord Chancellor and the promoters of this Bill have chosen the wisest course.

I do not believe any layman has any idea how complicated and obsolete our law of property is. It has been hand ad down from generation to generation, tinkered at now and again, sometimes made better, often made worse. Now at last we have a chance of putting it on a modern system. We have been working under an antiquated and unreal system, and it is only because the people of this country have such an extraordinary facility for working quite unworkable institutions that the thing has run at all. It simply has run through the skill of our lawyers, and a large part of their time has been wasted for them in learning knowledge that need not have been learned. It is all that that I want to abolish, and no one who has not been through it knows what a vast system has to be learned because it is the law. But it need not be the law. It protects no one. That is the real justification for this Bill. The law of personal property was founded in comparatively modern times, and is comparatively simple, but the law of land goes back to the 13th century and earlier, and a great deal of it comes down straight from those early days. It is all crazy patchwork. It is quite time that it was abolished, and something more substantial and modern put in its place. I welcome the Bill, and I hope it will pass smoothly through Committee.

Photo of Sir Thomas Bramsdon Sir Thomas Bramsdon , Portsmouth Central

I should like to add my mead of praise to the learned Solicitor-General for the splendid way in which he has introduced this Bill, lucidily, comprehensively and well, and, considering the small time he took up, I think his explanation was—I was going to say marvellous—extremely good, and we ought to congratulate him. He pointed out that this Bill will be the largest Bill on the Statute Book. I take, it he means the largest public Bill, because I think I am right in saying that some Private Bills—Consolidation Bills—of some of our great corporations are, perhaps, larger than this. He also pointed out the great amount of consideration which this Bill has received at the hands of various bodies, and I agree with most of the remarks he made; but I think he rather overstated the value of the Joint Committee of Lords and Commons which was held last year. My hon. and learned Friend said that they were months in their consideration, but he did not tell us how many sittings they held during those months. I think it is a matter of record that the number of times these eight Members sat was seven, so that there must have been some distance of time between the meetings. Then my hon. and learned Friend referred to the consideration of the Bill in the Upper House, and I think I am right in saying that the amount of actual time spent on the Bill in that House was not so exhaustive as he himself suggested. It was brought up again there this year, and it is interesting, I think, to read in the "Times" newspaper what took place on the 28th March: The House went into Committee on the Law of Property Bill, the Earl of Donough-more, Chairman of Committees, in the Chair. The Bill contains 189 Clauses and 16 Schedules, and, with the prefatory Memoranda showing the alterations made in the Bill of 1921, and explaining the objects of the present Bill, consists of 355 quarto pages. There was some laughter when Lord Donoughmore put the question, 'That Clauses 1 to 137 stand part of the Bill'— a motion that was at once agreed to. Then a Noble Lord ventured to move an Amendment, and the Lord Chancellor suggested they should avoid that, as the Bill was going to another House, where Amendments would probably be made, and it was a pity to disturb the Bill. And so the Bill was passed through the other House. I am not mentioning that in any hostility, but only to show that this is a Bill of immense magnitude, and it is difficult to find anyone, except the Solicitor-General and the draftsmen of the Bill, who really understand it. It has chaos and complication galore. It comes down to us in this way, and we humble Members of the House of Commons are expected to understand and grasp this enormous Bill. It is suggested that we should pass this Bill, and that then it should be consolidated. I should have been much happier if the Bill had been consolidated first, and brought down to us in a way we could understand. I am going to say something a little later about legislation by reference, a subject in which I have taken a deep interest for many years, and have brought up on several occasions in this House.

I want to take one or two subjects upon which the learned Solicitor-General has not fully touched, just to show possible difficulties, perhaps, in connection with this Bill, and, while. I do so, I want to be understood that I am not opposing the Bill. I am only offering friendly criticism. I want, if I can, to improve the Bill, and by that means to make it a better Bill. That reminds me that the Bill has been a number of times considered. Last year it was brought down to this House rather late, as has been stated, and this year it has been reintroduced. The Memorandum has 21 pages explaining Amendments made in the Bill since last year. Those Amendments in themselves are enough for a Bill, and each one of the subjects upon which we are touching is big enough for a Bill itself. Arrangements have been made to deal with these various subjects in the Schedules, and it does seem to me there is enough law here to comprise at least some twelve or fourteen Bills. We are asked on a night like this to grasp and deal effectively with a subject like this, and understand its main principles. I am not finding fault with the Solicitor-General, because he has given a lucid explanation, but, necessarily, he has been obliged to omit some of the points. He has pointed out that the Bill abolishes gavelkind. Gavelkind exists mainly in Kent, and, under it, instead of the land going to the eldest son, it goes to all the sons. Borough English is an entirely different thing. Under Borough English the property goes to the younger son, and I have often wondered why this was so. If you read your history book, you will see it stated that Borough English was so established because, in barbarous times, barbarous and feudal lords claimed the right of concubinage with his vassal's new wife on the day of her marriage. Strangely enough, grand and petit sergeanty are retained. Grand and petit sergeanty are such as those under which the Duke of Wellington holds Strathfieldsaye. On the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, the Duke of Welling ton has to present a British flag to the King for holding Strath-fieldsayc, while the Duke of Marlborough, on the anniversary of the Battle of Blenheim, has to present a French flag to the King for holding Woodstock. Those are retained in the Bill.

Now we come to the question of descent, to which the Solicitor-General has referred, and I want to criticise, again in the most friendly spirit, the Bill in this respect. My hon. Friend, perhaps, may consider whether some Amendment ought to be made in connection with this subject. He has said that under Clause 148 the residuary state is to be held on trust as follows—a spouse takes all personal chattels, plus £1,000; if no issue, then to surviving spouse for life, and if issue, half to surviving spouse for life, and balance for issue. The first point I will take is that the personal chattels consist of furniture, motor cars, pictures, and all other personal things like those. If, therefore, we come to consider this point, together with the £1,000, two views of the case may present themselves. A person may leave behind him a very handsome amount of personal chattels and a small amount of money, and in that ease the husband or the wife, as the case may be, takes the whole. In another case there may be a man or woman who has very few chattels and a large sum of money, and in that case all that is taken over is the small amount of furniture and £1,000. That opens up the question whether some hardship would not arise by the person taking those personal chattels, and my reason is this. Personal chattels may be very valuable. There may be a motor car of great value, pictures of great value, furniture, and so on, and it may be that the whole of that might go to the husband without the children joining in, which is a point that may be open to some amount of criticism. If a man leaves behind him a sum of money, the spouse takes what I have mentioned, and if ho has no issue then the spouse takes the whole for life. If there be issue, then she only takes a half. The House knows perfectly well at the present time, if the woman dies, her husband takes the whole of the chattels straight away, and the whole of the personalty. Under this Bill—and I think this is one of the objections to it—the life interest has to be taken, and in that case I suppose you have to discover the person who is entitled to that money, and that applies not only to the sum, but it applies to half of the balance taken over in case there are children. If there is, we will say, £1,000 over and above the chattels, £500 would go to the husband or the wife for life, and the other £500 would be distributed. This sets up what we conceive is throughout the Bill an objection. You have trusts created, it may be, for a long period of years, and therefore, to my mind, it is unwise. My hon. and learned Friend might say it is in the power of the life tenant to purchase the other portion, and so be able to get rid of the remaining sum. But we who have to deal in practice with these things, know that does not arise, and there is a great deal of indolence in a matter of this sort. It is therefore hung up for years, and so the time comes when you have to distribute it, and then trouble and expense are caused. That happens very often, and it is very much better to deal with this question at once and distribute rather than keep about these life interests.

It is very advisable, and I cannot emphasise my argument too strongly, that we should do all we can to cheapen and simplify the transfer of land. I say that as a lawyer of forty-four years' standing, and I may say, without criticism I think, that I have had a great amount of experience on this question. I have very complete knowledge of the ordinary practice attending the voluntary transfer of land, and a fair sprinkling of knowledge with reference to the registration, and I say without any hesitation that in the great mass of cases the volun- tary system works satisfactorily and well. If there are any complicated cases, then they gravitate to the chambers of eminent counsel. Therefore, I say that those who are framing this Bill get the views from the knowledge that they receive in their chambers that the present system is altogether complicated. Why, it is infinitesimal compared with the enormous amount actually transferred. During the past year I put a question to the Secretary to the Treasury asking how many cases there were in England in the preceding year in connection with increment duty, and I was told there were no fewer than, roughly, 500,000 cases. I wonder how many of those cases gravitate to the chambers of the eminent counsel who framed this Bill, and who have come here to-day and pointed out its complications. I am not saying that this system should not be carried out. I am only pointing out that there is a very much exaggerated notion in the minds of some people as to the serious difficulties of the transfer of land. We want, therefore, to be careful that we do not spoil that simplified system. I can imagine hon. Members dealing with these complicated things and making a great point in connection with them. But the present simple conveyance and the present simple mortgage cannot be shortened. A statutory mortgage at the present day is as short as could be desired. It is only when you have varying circumstances and conditions coming in that you have trouble.

My next point will be in connection with registration and the searches that have to be made. Here we have to be careful. I have explained my views to the Solicitor-General. I know that he appreciates my difficulty and I am sure that ho will do all he can to remedy it. Let us imagine a case of a restrictive covenant, and perhaps a right of way over some other person's land, at present you find all that in the deeds. The whole of the information is there. As regards these easements and rights of light, if they are to be held effectually against third parties, they are to be registered, and registered at the search office, and to that office will also be referred other questions to which my hon. Friend has referred. That means that there will be very much more work done through the search office than there has been heretofore. I put down a question in the House on this subject, and I found that the number, compared with the number of transfers which had taken place, was relatively small. The effect of all this is that there will be trouble, delay and expense in searching the registers.

At the present time, owing to arrangements which we are able to make with each other, and information which we are able to obtain, it is not necessary to search in a large number of cases, though when it is necessary solicitors always search, but in all new transactions when new estates are laid out the duty will be cast on the solicitor. That means delay and expense, and not merely the searching, but the obtaining of information and the information so obtained will have to be paid for, and I am in doubt whether the result will not be, instead of simplifying the system of conveyancing, to render it more complicated. It is not merely the preparation of the document itself. That is nothing. The document may be a very small matter, but the institution of inquiry and the finding of the facts which have to be ascertained in order to pass the title and to see that it is correct. Surely it will be the same whether there is this system or not. You will still have to search.

I think that the public has a great objection to officialism. I think they would like to settle these points themselves. It is a very easy thing at present to go into your solicitor's office and arrange a transfer, and then to be able to carry it out simply. If inquiries have to be made they may delay the matter, but I am very anxious to do all that I can to simplify procedure and if possible to improve on any of the suggestions contained in this Measure. I am wondering whether we should have to make all these inquiries in a central place in London, or whether some opportunity will be given for searching in various districts, because if we have to send to London we shall find that it will mean expense and delay. I understand that it is suggested that this can be all arranged through the post. That is all very well in theory, but when we come to put it in practice we find it a very different thing. Besides, if it is all done through the post, then they must have a much larger staff in the Registry in London to cope with the large volume of inquiries which will have to be made sooner or later.

Passing to Clause 105 I find that the Lord Chancellor may from time to time prescribe and publish forms of contracts and conditions of sale of land, and the forms so prescribed and for the time being in force shall, subject to any stipulation, modification or intention expressed to the contrary, apply. In other words, it means that the Lord Chancellor can make new laws. He can, if he likes, exclude those, but you do not exclude them when they apply. There would be no objection to giving persons who contract an option of adopting such forms.

I was going to make a great point of the idea which has often been repeated here that the transfer of property can be made as simple as the transfer of stocks and shares, but so much has been said about it that very few remarks need be made now. You cannot compare the transfer of stocks and shares with the transfer of property. Still, it is advisable to hear the words of Lord Haldane in the Debate on the Second Reading last year: I doubt whether land can ever be a very simple thing to transfer. When you owe a sum of money one sovereign will do as well as another when you are paying. When you own a share one share will do as well as another, but in a piece of land you have a specific thing. It may be a piece of land that can be replaced by no other. There will be springing up with regard to it all sorts of rights of neighbours and all sorts of complications. Therefore we can dismiss from our minds the notion that it can be expected that property or land can be treated in all respects like stocks and shares. One objection which I have to this Bill is the number of trusts which it sets up, and the number of trustees which will have to be obtained. We all find in practice great difficulties in getting persons to act as trustees, and often when you get them they do not take much interest, and they leave things to the solicitor. That is wrong. Every trustee is expected to take a reasonable interest in his trust. But not only that, but you get a greater number of cases where these trusts are set up. My Friend has spoken about undivided shares in land. I am sorry it has been found necessary to alter that and to do away altogether with the undivided shares in land, because if you are to argue that you must put it as much as possible on the basis of stocks and shares, it follows that if trusts are set up even still the purchase-money value of it is dealt with rather than what is called the legal estate.

There are many cases in which it is very much better to leave things as they are at present. When a man has now got a legal interest in a portion of a piece of land, it is simple and effectual, but instead of that it is going to be an interest in a trust, and if I know anything of these cases people have an abomination of too many trusts. It would be very much better to do without it. To get over the difficulty in connection with these trusts which you have in the Bill you call in the aid of the Public Trustee whose work will be doubled or trebled by the provisions of this Bill. The question of banks does not arise on this Bill in the ease which I am suggesting. The Public Trustee gets vested in him certain things automatically, and the Bill says that the Public Trustee is to do these things without charging anything, and thus the cost will fall on the Exchequer. That means increasing expense for the Department of the Public Trustee. Then he is to be a sort of legal holder of the trusts for the time being, and he is to be the holder of them until he is divested of them by the various people concerned. I do not know how under this Bill that can be altered. I only throw it out in this connection in the hope that something may be done. I think that I am right in saying that last year, or the year before, the office of the Public Trustee was not a financial success. It costs the country something like £100,000 each year. If that be the case we shall have to consider the question seriously from the financial point of view.

I ought to have mentioned the subject of descent. The Bill provides that property shall descend in the way my hon. Friend mentioned, except in the case of a lunatic or defective living and of full age at the commencement of the Act, and who is unable by incapacity to make a will. Why should it be different when the person who is possessed of the land is of unsound mind? When we are dealing with property we shall have to consider whether a man is a lunatic or defective, and this may throw extra work upon the draftsman and the investigator of the title, because, bear in mind that the lawyer will still have to investigate the title. He will still have to make inquiries into all cases. They will not be so automatically simple as some people think. The reason given by Dr. Underhill for this is that it will prevent the break-up of large estates. If my hon. Friend the Member for New-castle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) were here, he would say that it would be a good job if we could break up the large landed estates.

Tucked up in the Bill is a Clause which provides that where two people die by accident, and it is not possible to say which is the survivor, as in the case of a shipwreck, the younger will be declared to have survived. Lawyers often have these cases cropping up, and a great deal of litigation follows in order to ascertain who is the survivor, but our friends the ladies will, perhaps, be pleased with this proposal, because generally in those cases the survivors will be women, as the younger of the two, and so we may have land going in a direction which we did not anticipate. I want now to deal with a subject in connection with trusts as they affect infants. I have prepared this little note so as to be able to deal fully with this difficult subject.

7.0 P.M.

It is not disputed that by the effect of Clause 13 of the Bill, page 9, and the Sixth Schedule (page 223), the legal estate in land belonging to an infant beneficially, if there are no trustees, becomes vested in the Public Trustee. Although the Public Trustee is not entitled to act until requested so to do, yet the legal estate of the infant will remain vested in the Public Trustee unless and until considerable expense has been incurred in appointing trustees by an application to the Court, or otherwise, under paragraph 1 (1), (iv) of the Sixth Schedule (pages 223 and 224). At the present time parents and others cause land to be conveyed direct to a son or daughter under 21, without the intervention of any trustee whatever. This, of course, is generally done only in the case of small properties, and it is the case of small properties which do not come before the notice of conveyancing counsel of eminence. Clause 51, Sub-section (7), page 36, has no application to the point, it applies only to a settlement created by a will or an intestacy, but see Sub-section (8), which may help.

I should like to point out, therefore, that at the present time you can convey land to infants and vest lands in infants who, on attaining their majority, 21 years, become the legal owners of the land. I do not see why they should be deprived of that. I have a pungent article on the subject of legislation by reference, but I will not read it to-night because it would take up too much of the time of the House.

Photo of Mr Leslie Scott Mr Leslie Scott , Liverpool Exchange

May I interrupt the hon. Gentleman? As a sequel to this Bill, as I said—

Photo of Mr Leslie Scott Mr Leslie Scott , Liverpool Exchange

—we hope to introduce a series of consolidating Bills with the express purpose of avoiding legislation by reference.

Photo of Sir Thomas Bramsdon Sir Thomas Bramsdon , Portsmouth Central

I quite understood that, and I was going to speak about that also. No doubt it must be so, but here we are with this gigantic Bill; very few people know anything about it, and we are asked to consider it. I question whether anyone, except the Solicitor-General, the draftsmen, and one or two others know anything at all about it. It would have been very much better to have brought this Bill to us as a consolidation Bill, complete, so that when we had finished it we should have been able to complete the work and put the Measure on the Statute Book. I am very interested in this point because I am a member of the Joint Lords and Commons Committee on Consolidation Bills, and I look forward with no great pleasure to having to settle this question of consolidation later on.

I wish to deal with the subject of land registry. I do appreciate the arrangements that have been made in connection with it and with the subject of compulsory arrangements hereafter. The Government have behaved very handsomely and fairly to the profession in the arrangements that they have striven to make to attain fairness in connection with this subject. I believe, with the simplification of titles and the long period of ten years all working harmoniously and well, that there will be no necessity to put this on the Statute Book. The House, however, will have appreciated the fact that before the Lord Chancellor can declare that this should be put on the Statute Book an inquiry must be held. That inquiry must be held by a member of the Bar or of the legal profession, and it must be made and reported to the Lord Chancellor. I do feel, and I hope that my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General will treat this as a suggestion from me that what we want to do is to make sure that that inquiry will be a perfectly fair and independent one. If that is done and if the inquiry is conducted fairly and gives satisfaction all round I do not think there will be any objection if for argument's sake as a result, compulsory registration comes into force. I would ask the hon. and learned Gentleman to consider the possibility in the interests of the profession which I represent of suggesting to the Lord Chancellor that before he appoints that person to hold the inquiry he should communicate with the Law Society. I do not think that is an unreasonable suggestion, at any rate it is not meant to be one. If that could be done it would give confidence to the lower branches of the profession to which I belong rather than leave it in an unsettled condition. The Law Society may possibly have some suggestion to make in connection with this matter.

Just one other point in conclusion. I said in an interview that I had with one of my hon. Friends, that when this Bill became law the lawyers would have again to learn their law. I am pleased to see that my words are included in the Memorandum of the Bill. I still think so. Lawyers will not have the smallest idea of the state of the law as it will exist when this Bill is passed and consolidated, and it will be a harvest for experts and authors and, with all deference, I think it will be a harvest also for the gentlemen of the long robe. I remember some years ago when the then Member for West Birmingham the Right Hon. Joseph Chamberlain brought in a Bill called the Workmens Compensation Bill. He then said that there were to be no lawyers engaged in the future, and no complications and no work for them. I think I am right in saying that there never was a statute passed which has given the lawyers such a harvest as the Workmens Compensation Act. So great has it been that I understand that in London there is a separate library now of the cases which deal with workmen's compensation. I would say to the Solicitor-General, "Beautifully as this Bill may be drawn and beautifully as I hope it will be consolidated do not be too certain that it will avoid litigation." As a rule litigation follows as a matter of course. I have criticised this Bill in the friendliest possible spirit. I am in no way hostile to the Bill, but am out to make it a better one. Although I put down on the Order Paper an Amendment to the effect that the Measure should be read this day six months I did so only to catch Mr. Speaker's eye in the early part of the proceedings, and I shall not move my Amendment.

Photo of Sir Henry Betterton Sir Henry Betterton , Rushcliffe

As I was a member of the Joint Committee to which this Bill was referred two years ago, I should like to say a word or two. I think we may congratulate the Solicitor-General, not only upon the admirable lucidity with which he introduced this very complicated, and necessarily complicated, Measure, but also to congratulate him upon the reception the Bill has had from all parts of the House. The hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir T. Bramsdon), whose name appears on the Order Paper as having given notice of his intention to move the rejection of the Bill, has given it his blessing, and I am sure he will forgive me if I do not follow him in the various technical points to which he referred, many of which, I think he will agree, are purely Committee points. One thing he said to which I must take exception. The object of this Bill is to simplify conveyancing, and he mentioned one matter in which, above all others, I think the law needs some simplification. I refer to the point to which he alluded, namely, the case of land held in common amongst many people. There is no one who has had any practical experience at all who has not come across cases where what is called the equitable estate, in either a piece of land, or perhaps a farm or a house, is split up, the legal estate being goodness knows where. The equitable estate is split up amongst 40 or 50 people, and in order to make a title to that land and to sell the house or the field, as it may be, it is necessary, under the present system, to bring a partition action. That means that all those people are represented, Borne may be infants, some mortgagees, and some trustees in bankruptcy, and the result is that the whole of the value of that particular property may go in costs before a title can be made.

Photo of Sir Thomas Bramsdon Sir Thomas Bramsdon , Portsmouth Central

Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to say that, as an old practitioner, partition actions are unknown in practice as far as I am personally concerned?

Photo of Sir Henry Betterton Sir Henry Betterton , Rushcliffe

Partition actions unknown in practice! Why, they are started every day. I myself have taken part in a number of partition actions, and I have seen what I would call the scandal of the estate being swallowed up before you could make the title clear. If this Bill is to cure what I regard as a very great abuse, that is almost sufficient to merit its passage.

Speaking quite broadly, it is not too much to say that not only the profession itself, but business men and the outside public are perfectly determined that these obsolete formulae and useless technicalities, which are still necessary in the conveyancing of real estate in this country, shall come to an end. This aspect of it, and this question from first to last, has been examined, as we know, with the greatest possible care by the Committee, of which the learned Solicitor-General was the Chairman: and the main principle on which this reform is proceeding and is embodied in this Bill has received the approval and the sanction not only of the Conveyancing Bar, but of the Incorporated Law Society and every provincial Law Society in England except, I believe—I am not sure—the two provincial societies of Kent and Hampshire. This Bill, therefore, has as its main object the brushing aside of those technicalities which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Major Hills) said, are the accumulations of seven centuries of English law. In brushing them aside I believe the Measure will do a very great service, not only to the general public, for that is undoubted, but also to the profession itself. When this Bill passes into law, as I sincerely hope it will, I believe the comment of all those who are interested wall be that of surprise that we tolerated so long these fantastic absurdities. I will not take up the time of the House any longer, but I should like to associate myself with the tribute which has already been paid to the draftsman of the Bill, and to the Lord Chancellor, for this Measure is a monument of learning and is a tribute to his ingenuity and skill. Many other gentlemen have been associated with him and have helped. To one of them, Mr. Underhill, the Solicitor-General has already referred. He is a gentleman of the highest possible eminence in his profession and fully deserves every word of the tribute paid to him. If I may, I would like to associate myself with what was said.

Photo of Sir John Butcher Sir John Butcher , City of York

The one aspect of this Bill which has filled me with most admiration is the extraordinary skill, tare and learning with which the Bill has been drafted. In regard to that aspect I associate myself with the tribute which has already been paid, and I most heartily congratulate the draftsmen of the Bill for the great skill with which they have dealt with an extraordinarily difficult matter. The only contentious part of this Bill is the main part of the Bill—the assimilation of the law of real property to the law of personal property. Before I deal with that, I will refer briefly to one or two of what I might call the non-contentious portions of the Bill. There are, first, the amendments proposed to the general law embodied in the Trustee Acts and the Settled Land Acts. Speaking generally, these amendments are entirely good, but there are certain powers given for applying capital moneys of estates to what appear to me to be most dangerous purposes, and in Committee I hope the Solicitor-General will look into the matter with great care. I pass to the question of the compulsory registration of title. That is a matter upon which experts differ very widely. I think the Solicitor-General has done wisely in not deciding the matter in this Bill. As I understand the Bill, the question is left open for 12 years. For that period of time matters will be left in exactly the position they occupy now, and before the end of the 12 years there will have to be a public inquiry, Parliament will have to assent to any order for compulsory registration, and even then the owner will not be obliged to register compulsorily except on sale. I think that is a fair compromise.

As to compulsory abolition of copyhold, I believe the proposals of the Bill are entirely right. As the hon. Member for Durham (Major Hills) said, copyhold tenure is extremely picturesque. It is quite right to have this compulsory enfranchisement. The provisions for the compensation of the lord of the manor seem to me to be fair. The lord of the manor will, notwithstanding anything in the Bill, retain all his existing mining rights, quarrying rights, right of fairs, markets, and shooting and fishing rights. That will be satisfactory to the lord of the manor, and I think it is the proper way to deal with the question. At any rate, I am glad to find that there has been no suggestion so far to deal with rights except as rights, and if you take them away to make compensation. There is the alteration of the law proposed in cases of intestacy. It is proposed to assimilate the law of intestacy in the case of real property to the law as it exists in the case of personal property. How the old law governing real property has gone on as long as it has, it passes my comprehension to understand. It was all right in feudal times, but has long since ceased to be the least applicable to our present social system. On the whole the Bill skilfully provides for a new scheme of distribution of intestates' estates amongst the next-of-kin. There is one point which I would ask the Solicitor-General to consider again before the Committee stage. The Bill divides up estates to second cousins. I suggest that it would be better to provide for the next-of-kin up to uncles and aunts and brothers and sisters.

Photo of Mr John Hills Mr John Hills , City of Durham

And their descendants?

Photo of Sir John Butcher Sir John Butcher , City of York

Yes, and their descendants. I would not go beyond first cousins. When you come, in the absence of near next of kin, to give estates to great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers—there would be eight of them— and great-uncles and great-aunts and first cousins once removed, and second cousins, there I cannot follow my right hon. and learned Friend. I will tell the Solicitor-General of an experience I had many years ago in the case of a testator who was foolish enough to give his estate to his second cousins. It was not a very large estate, unfortunately for the profession; it was about £1,000. There had to be an inquiry to find out who the second cousins were. It so happened that the family was extremely prolific, and it was necessary to go back to the great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers and to trace descendants down to find who were the second cousins. The inquiry went on for two or three years and it was found that there were something like 300 or 400 second cousins. Unfortunately the funds would not last long enough. The £1,000 was expended in finding out the names of about 300 persons, but there were many others to be ascertained and the inquiry had to be dropped. I think that is a good illustration of the absurdity of giving to second cousins. I would urge the Solicitor-General not to go beyond brothers and sisters and uncles and aunts and first cousins at the most, and if there are no next-of-kin within that limitation, let the property go to the State, and the Crown will be able, as it always does in such cases,ex gratia, to make a present to dependants, although they are not kindred with the deceased person.

After all, is this assimilation of the law of real and personal property to be of any good? Is it going to create any simplification? Is it going to create any economy? I have the greatest doubts. Assimilation of the law of real and personal property theoretically is delightful, and everyone would agree to it in theory, but when you come to practice it is a matter of the greatest complication. I ask anyone who doubts that statement to look at the Bill. Two hundred pages are required to suggest how it can be done. They are not like two hundred pages of a novel. They are about the most difficult 200 pages ever penned by the hand of man. Ordinary laymen—I know many of eminence in the law—tell me that they cannot understand a word of it. The ordinary lawyer—in that statement I must enumerate most of them—tells me that even he finds the greatest difficulty, without extreme attention and long application, in following the Bill. If this alteration had to be made I must say it could not have been better done. Every pos sible difficulty has been overcome and nearly every possible problem anticipated, but when I have said that, I ask: Is it going to produce any good? The Solicitor-General referred to great names in the law, Lord Cairns, Lord Selborne, Lord Halsbury. I certainly never heard that any of these three great and eminent Lord Chancellors was in favour of the assimilation of the law of real and personal property.

What they did was this: they introduced reforms into the existing law of real property to enormous advantage. They simplified the law, they facilitated the settlement and transfer of real property and did incomparable service towards the amendment of the law. I may be wrong, but I do not know that any of them was desirous of assimilating the law or real property to that of personal property. The hon. Member for Central Portsmouth (Sir T. Bramsdon) made a true remark when he said that the existing law of real property in the vast preponderance of cases is administered without any difficulty whatever. That coincides entirely with my own experience. Owing to the simplification of the law and the rules of conveyancing, and owing to the fact that members of the profession who deal with these matters are well acquainted with their subject, there is no difficulty, except in extreme cases, and extreme cases must occur whatever your law may be. Under the proposed new law I am confident that for a very considerable time, so far from simplifying the Bill will create complication, and so far from cheapening it will add enormously to the cost. I am not a prophet, but it may be that the time will come when the new law will be simplified, owing to the increased knowledge of it possessed by the profession, and that the costs will be less, but in the meantime, for ten or fifteen years to come, perhaps, what will happen will be this.

In the first place, no solicitor will dare to deal with real property without consulting counsel. The alterations are so enormous, that I am confident that every solicitor who is wise will, in almost every case—in cases where he does not dream of doing so now—go to counsel for his own protection, and counsel, of course, will claim that honorarium which is so worthily and well earned. It may be said by some member of the profession that I should welcome that result and that it is a strong argument for the Bill. I am not putting it forward, however, as a strong argument for the Bill, but as a great objection to the Bill. That is not all. For many years to come, undoubtedly, there will be increased litigation. The learned Solicitor-General referred to an Act, which he said was described by the late Lord Macnaghten, as one of the best drawn Acts on the Statute Book —the Succession Duties Act, 1853— but he did not tell us this, which is nevertheless, true, that it is to be doubted if there is a single Act of the same length, dealing with real property, which has caused such a crop of costly litigation as that same very well-drawn Succession Duties Act, 1853. Case after case has gone up to the House of Lords in order to determine the meaning of this extremely well-drawn Act. When I am told that the Bill before the House is so well drawn that we need not fear litigation, I point to that former Act. A Bill like this, which upsets, or at any rate entirely remodels, the Statute law under which land has been dealt with for several hundred years past, and also the case law under which land has been dealt with for hundreds of years; a Bill which alters the whole existing law and sets up a new, a very complicated, and, in many cases, an extremely artificial code, inevitably leads to a large amount of litigation.

From the two points of view, of practical simplification and economy, I am sorry I cannot find myself in agreement with those who think we are entering on the Millenium. Hon. Members have referred to what they regard as the terrible evils of the existing law, and one phrase of the Solicitor-General's struck me as remarkable. He spoke of "the mystic formulæ of the conveyancer's art."

The hon. and learned Gentleman spoke of that art as though it were some sort of black magic. If the hon. Gentleman would spend a little more time in studying modern conveyancing he would find that it is a relatively simple thing. The hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Betterton), who knows all these things extremely well, exaggerated a little the difficulties of modern conveyancing. If I were satisfied that the Bill would lead to economy and simplification, I should welcome it wholeheartedly, but, believing as I do, that there is very grave doubt as to whether this alteration is going to effect either of those professed objects, I think it right to make my protest, for what it is worth, and when the Bill goes to Committee, if it is possible in any way to ensure that simplification and economy which we all desire, I shall be only too glad to help in doing so.

Photo of Mr Edmund Royds Mr Edmund Royds , Grantham

I find myself very much in agreement with the views of the hon. and learned Member who has just spoken. There is a great deal in this Bill which will commend itself to almost every Member of the House, including the provisions with regard to undivided property and copyhold. In regard to these and kindred matters which entail expense, I warmly approve of the proposals in the Bill. The proposals made in these particular directions have been most carefully considered, and I do not think they can be improved upon, but when we come to consider whether the assimilation of the law as regards real and personal property and the abolition of primogeniture will cheapen or facilitate the transfer of land, I have very grave doubts. It is said one of the objects of the Bill is to diminish the cost of the transfer of land. It seems to be assumed that the cost of transferring land at the present time is too great. Let us consider what it is in ordinary cases. In extraordinary cases such as those of copyhold and undivided property, I agree it is much too costly, but when we come to consider the ordinary transfer of land, what is the legal cost? I should say, on an average, it does not exceed 1 per cent, of the purchase money. The general public do not know that, because, in addition to that one per cent., they have also to pay one per cent, of the purchase money in Stamp Duty to the Government. If you want to cheapen the cost of transferring land, the best way is to reduce the Stamp Duty. That will cheapen it straight away without involving these new and complicated proposals about which some of us have considerable doubt. The suggestion is made that it should be as cheap to transfer land as to transfer stocks and shares. I question very much whether it is not as cheap to do so now I question very much whether in an ordinary case the conveyance of land costs any more than the conveyance of railway shares. I have no very great knowledge of the Stock Exchange, but am I not right in saying that a stockbroker's commission is 10s. per cent, on the transfer of shares? The Stamp Duty is £1 per cent., and I think cases of the ordinary transfer of land, especially large cases, compare very favourably with that.

Photo of Mr John Hills Mr John Hills , City of Durham

I think my hon. Friend is making a mistake. The broker's commission is one-half per cent and the scale under the Solicitors' Remuneration Act is £5 per cent.

Photo of Mr Edmund Royds Mr Edmund Royds , Grantham

I should like to point out that I said in large cases the costs would compare favourably. In large cases the legal costs are not as much as a half per cent. In small cases my hon, Friend says they may be as high as five per cent., but there is not a single case in which they are five per cent. They are limited, I should think, to one and a half per cent, at the outside in ordinary cases. In regard to the costs on the sale of land, the main charges go to the Government or to the auctioneer. He gets 5 per cent., or two and a half per cent, or one and a half per cent, as the case may be. I am not saying he gets too much, but I want the House to realise that if they imagine they are going to cheapen the transfer of land to any material extent by passing this Measure— except in so far as it abolishes copyhold and so forth—they art under an entire delusion. It will make very little difference indeed in the cost of the transfer of land and I doubt whether it will facilitate the transfer of land. The present system is thoroughly understood. It has been much simplified by a number of Acts passed in recent years, and it has become a very simple matter indeed. If this system of registering charges and searching out encumbrances and rights of way and other things affecting property, has to be carried out before land is transferred, I question very much whether the transfer will be facilitated. I think it will be delayed. Although I approve of the greater part of the Bill, and consider that in the directions I have mentioned, the Bill should have general support, I cannot at present bring myself to see that there will be any advantage in assimilating the law as to real and personal property, and I am inclined to think it will be the reverse.

Photo of Mr Dennis Herbert Mr Dennis Herbert , Watford

As one who was strongly opposed to the Bill, in the form in which it was first introduced, I wish to make my confession, that I have been converted into a wholehearted supporter of it, even including the first part, the assimilation of the law as to real property and personal property. The hon. and gallant Member who spoke last, referred to the cost of conveying and transferring land and the question of whether or not that cost is now too high, and whether it will be cheapened by the Bill. I entirely agree with what he said as to these charges not being so high as is generally supposed. He was more accurate than he himself thought, in regard to his comparison with stockbrokers' charges. I may remind the hon. and gallant Member for Durham (Major Hills) that the charge of a stockbroker is over five per cent, when it comes to purchasing industrial shares which are standing under par, and there may be a charge of sixpence per share commission on the purchase of shares. Where a saving will arise under this Bill in the future, will be in the fact that apart from the question of the scale fee, we get rid of those cases where the solicitor is unable to do the work at the scale fee, because of the complicated nature of the title, and has to incur counsel's fees or give notice, as he is compelled to do, that he intends to charge by items. Moreover, it will relieve the landowner of a great deal of expense arising from time to time, when questions crop up in connection with remedying some blot upon the title, which he has to get right before he can get his land properly marketed.

A good deal has been said about what is to happen when this Bill goes to Committee, and the hope has been expressed that it will not be spoiled by Amendments. From the lawyers' point of view that is most important I am one of the last to try to put any obstacle in the way of the freedom of Members of this House to deal with the questions which arise on a Bill of this kind. I would urge, however, on Members who are taking an interest in the Bill that if they wish to move Amendments in Committee they should deal with them in the way in which those who opposed the Bill in its earlier stages have dealt with them hitherto. They should get to close quarters with those who have worked so hard on the Bill and submit their Amendments to them, unofficially or outside the Committee, with the object of getting their points recognised and their Amendments settled by conference. I would also urge that these matters should not be pressed in too great a hurry, but that every member of the Committee should be allowed to give expression to his opinions on any point which he thinks requires alteration, because this Bill is not wholly and entirely a technical Bill. There are changes, such as those dealing with the changes in the law of intestacy, which are matters on which every Member of this House has a perfect right to his opinion, and to express it although he may be the most ignorant, in the matter of legal knowledge, of any Member of this House. Again, even on legal questions, there are a number of points which will occur to a lawyer which might be argued and on which there might be wide differences of opinion, and where, I think, they would not interfere with the structure of the Bill. There is one point in particular I would ask the Attorney-General to consider, and that is the question of limitation of the number of trustees. The proposed limitation of trustees of land held in trust for sale is four, and I submit that it is not advisable to put in a limitation of that kind unless you can really and in fact enforce it, and it seems to me that a coach and four might be driven through that provision in practice by a settlement providing for some sort of advisory committee. A possible objection in some cases to there being only four trustees is the number of interests concerned, who may be, as, unfortunately, is the case in families sometimes, very hostile to one another, and it seems to be a question whether it is worth while putting in that limitation unless there is some advantage in it, which I, for one, have not been able to realise.

With regard to the question of compulsory registration, I submit to those who are so in favour of that particular system of land transfer that the only way in this country in which you can get a satisfactory system of compulsory registration is after a simplification of your law of real property, which must come, and which, I believe, will be effected very considerably by this Bill, and I think it is not at all impossible that instead of getting rid of compulsory registration because this is successful, you may ultimately, some time after those ten years, get a system of compulsory registration grafted upon this amended form of real property law, and then we shall get to something very much simpler. When hon. Members, like the hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Col. Wedgwood), who spoke representing the Labour party from the Front Opposition Bench, speak of the simple way in which they would introduce compulsory registration and sweep away all the cobwebs of this real property law, they fail to realise that you cannot get rid so easily, however you may try, of the history of the world in the past. I would like to quote one little case which might be rather interesting to some who have taken that view. Some five-and-twenty years ago I happened to be concerned for an Englishman who had a claim to a large amount of real estate in the Sandwich Isles—a new country, if you like, for all practical purposes—land which had belonged within the last 100 years, and much less than 100 years, to one of the first white men who ever settled and lived permanently in that country. That claim was upheld. The action was fought about the time when the Sandwich Islands were taken over by the United States of America. It was fought through the Sandwich Islands Courts to the Federal Court of the United States, and decided in favour of that Englishman, on the basis of real property law earlier than the Statute of Uses in this country, on cases which were supplied to me by some of the most eminent conveyancers at the English Bar, cases decided in 1396—and that was in a new country, where you could have a clean sheet and apparently compulsory registration and no difficulties of land transfer at all. I merely quote that as against the ideas of some hon. Members opposite, who seem to think that reform of the land law is so simple, to prove that it really cannot be done, even if they had their way and were able to carry such a Bill as they might think would effect that purpose.

In conclusion, I do not want to waste the time of the House in adding my tribute to those who have been mainly responsible for this Bill, except that it is a personal pleasure to me to add my tribute to the skilful draftsman who is mainly responsible for this Bill, and whose interest in the subject I have known well from the days when I worked with him, when he was a young student, as I was—the days of the Land Transfer Act of 1897. The work which he has done and the time that he has given to this question of the reform of real property law is now, I hope, bearing fruit, and I have the greatest pleasure in supporting the Bill.

Mr. FOOT:

I came to the House to-day intending to support my hon. Friend the Member for Central Portsmouth (Sir T. Bramsdon), who had a Motion on the Paper to reject the Bill, but having regard to the explanation that has been made, I shall take the same attitude that he has taken, in giving friendly support to this Bill to-day, so that, at any rate, when it gets upstairs, there may be friendly criticism brought to bear upon its many Clauses. I certainly wish to join in congratulations to the learned Solicitor-General upon the very luminous speech which he gave in explaining this very voluminous Bill. The Bill is amazing in its scope, and I think it goes a great deal further than the public are thinking. I saw in one of the newspapers to-day that it is described as a codifying Measure, but, as a matter of fact, it is nothing of the kind, and I think the interest in the Debate to-day would be very much keener if the public knew how far it went and how that all the property in this country is being immediately affected by its Clauses. If the Bill passes Second Reading, as I anticipate it will do, it will be a great act of receptive faith, because there are very few outside the House who have read it, and probably fewer inside the House, and it would be interesting to know how many hon. Members could stand up and, with their hands on their hearts, protest that they have read this Measure through from beginning to end. It is a case of opening our mouth and shutting our eyes, and relying, not on the Solicitor-General only, but upon those very able advisers he has behind him; and probably if there is a Division the Whip will call into the Lobby support for a Bill which might contain his death warrant, for all he knows to the contrary.

The only hon. Member I have met who has read this Bill from beginning to end has studied it carefully and has had it rebound and interleaved, and that brought home to me the fact that the Bill would be probably twice as large if it were not for the legislation by reference that is adopted in it. If only it were a straightforward Measure and did not make it necessary to refer to about 20 other Acts, we should have a Bill not merely of two or three hundred pages, but of four or five hundred pages, and that is not the worst part of it, because in the course of the Bill certain rules are referred to. There are rules to be prepared by the Board of Agriculture, rules to be prepared by the Land Charges Department, rules to be prepared by the Lord Chan- cellor, and so forth, so that if we take the Bill itself, running to 300 pages, and the rules that are to be prepared under it, and the other Measures that are brought in by reference, we shall probably have as big a Measure brought before this House as ever we have known. I do not envy those hon. Members who will have to consider this Bill upstairs, if they are going to try and cut all these gordian knots of the past and deal with all the problems that have been raised. My right hon. Friend the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean) quoted some words of Shakespeare. I think one might, when thinking of the experience of those who will serve on the Committee, fall back on those lines of Milton— Who shall tempt with wand' ring feet The dark unbottom'd infinite abyss? Who is going to have the temerity and the patience to go carefully through this Bill, as it deserves to be gone through, unless the Committee goes on the same principle as this House this evening and opens its mouth and shuts its eyes, accepting in complete faith a Bill brought before them into the particulars of which they have not gone? In my opinion the Bill is too long. It is too ambitious. It seeks to do too much in one Measure. There is a great deal that is non-controversial in the Bill, and it is a great pity that we could not have got in one Bill what is non-controversial. We have a great deal of common ground, as has been declared here to-day. We are all agreed that as far as possible there should be an assimilation of the law dealing with real and personal property, and we are all agreed that, whatever may be the interests of any profession, it is right that we should expedite and cheapen the conveyance of land. There are other ample grounds for agreement which would have given a Bill big enough for the ambition of any Minister or any Government, but there have been introduced certain elements that are controversial, and I share the opinion of my hon. Friend the Member for Central Portsmouth in declining to believe that the passing of this Bill is going to bring about a conveyancing millennium.

I have had experience for some years past in earning my living at the law, and it is well known, as far as the ordinary provincial practitioner is concerned, that there is no difficulty in regard to conveyancing in 19 cases out of 20, and probably in a bigger proportion than that the conveyance is simple. It is open, as I think the right hon. Member for Peebles himself said, in cases of emergency to carry through a conveyance in practically two hours, if necessary. What has been the effect of the action of the Government in insisting upon maintaining the delivery of particulars of every conveyance and the "particulars delivered stamp" on the deeds? That has often held up the completion of the conveyance for three or four days, and the Government is persisting in that attitude in spite of requests to the contrary. I hope there may be an answer to the question put by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir W. Joynson-Hicks) as to mortgages. The question was put to the Solicitor-General whether a mortgagee under the now Act would keep the mortgage deeds. The circumstances of the creation of the new mortgage are to be entirely different from those which have obtained hitherto. At present the mortgagee keeps the deeds, but that may no longer exist under the new conditions, and I am sure it will be a great discouragement to any proposed mortgages if the mortgagee cannot hold the deeds. Upon the question of intestacy, I believe, as far as I can read the Bill—and I have made an honest effort to read it, although it has given me a sort of mental indigestion—that one of the results will be that if a wife should die, and there should only be left the husband and no next-of-kin, the husband would only get a life interest in a part of the estate, and upon his death it would pass to the Crown. That is how I read it.

The Department of the Public Trustee will assume immense proportions under this Bill. He will bestride the narrow world like a Colossus. 8.0 P.M.

He will have passed to him immense powers, so far as I can sec, and where at present interests are held in undivided shares, these shares are to be passed over to him in default of the appointment of some other trustee. That gives him, of course, a very considerable power, and it enlarges the sphere of the activities of that Department, a Department which has already, during the last few years, brought a considerable burden on the Exchequer itself. One question that I should like to refer to further, which I think is one of considerable importance, not merely to lawyers, but to the whole of the country, is this question of registration. There has been a difference of mind expressed to-day, and there is a difference of opinion between the right hon. Member for Peebles and myself, as to the question of registration. The hon. and learned Member for York (Sir J. Butcher), in referring to compulsory registration at the end of the period of 10 years according to the Bill, said that there must be a public inquiry before a system of compulsory registration is established. There need be no such public inquiry. A public inquiry will only arise if a local authority takes objection to the Order in Council made by the Lord Chancellor. At the end of the 10 years, if the Lord Chancellor at that time decides upon the application of compulsory registration to any given county, that application will be forthwith made unless the local authority for that district raises an objection. That may put a very serious responsibility upon the local authority. Who is to bear the expense of the inquiry? If a county seeks to protect itself from a system to which it objects, why should it be put to cost because of raising that objection? When this matter came before the House in 1897, the Leader of the House at that time made a pledge that, for all time, the initiation should rest with the councils concerned, and that this House and no other authority should ever force upon any county a system of compulsory registration unless the county itself asked that such registration should be imposed. Apparently that pledge has only lasted for a number of years, and the effect of the Bill will be that at the end of 10 years a local authority, in spite of their opposition, may be entirely over-ridden. That is an objection which is held in many parts of the country to the system of compulsory registration.

If compulsory registration would cheapen and expedite transfer, I should be all in its favour, and I believe the profession would be all in its favour. So far from cheapening and expediting the transfer of property, I believe the result will be to extend the territory of officialism and to put the burden of bureaucracy upon it. I do not know why we should not leave this matter entirely open. Why should we say that at the end of ten years it should be left in the hands of the Lord Chancellor to deal with this matter? Surely, at the end of ten years, if we are here, we ought to have more wisdom than we have to-day, and if we are succeeded by others they are likely to be as wise as we are, and perhaps wiser. Why not leave it entirely open, so that if at the end of ten years there is a demand from the public and from the local authorities the way would be quite easy for this step to be taken? I think it is a great pity that the Clause relating to registration cannot be eliminated. I believe the Bill would not be touched in its vital part. If there can be some provision upon the lines indicated earlier this afternoon, that the nominee of the Lord Chancellor for the time being shall be a perfectly independent and impartial person, some of the objection would be removed. I hope that when the Solicitor-General replies he will be able to give us some assurance in that respect.

Photo of Colonel Sir James Greig Colonel Sir James Greig , Renfrewshire Western

The Solicitor-General and his experts are to be congratulated on the reception which has been accorded to the Bill. The criticisms are mainly such as may be met in Committee. There have been some observations which seem to indicate that some hon. Members have not quite realised what the Bill actually does, or what the history of it has been. The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot) suggested that the Bill was far too ambitious, and that it contained three or four Bills which might very well have been dealt with separately. That was one of the points which was thoroughly discussed by the Committee over which the Solicitor-General presided, and upon which this Bill was more or less founded. They had before them a series of Bills, substantially comprising what is in this Bill, which had been drafted from time to time, and brought up to date as a result of various investigations and consultations, and they came unanimously to the conclusion that it was far better that the matter should be dealt with as one Bill. That is why it has come before the House in its present form. The hon. and learned Member for York said he thought that when this Bill became law, every solicitor would be running off to his counsel to consult him as to what it meant, and that that would mean greater expense and trouble than was incurred in carrying on the existing system. What has been the experience of solicitors as a result of the amendments of the law made in the Settlement Act of 1882 and other Acts It is this: that the solicitor branch of the profession has largely now taken over the conveyancing, because of the simplification of the law. We think that will happen now, and that there will not be the increase of expense which some hon. Members seem to anticipate.

The hon. Member for Watford (Mr. D. Herbert) said he did not understand why the number of trustees was limited. The answer is, that if you have an unlimited number of trustees, there may be delays in getting agreement. Under the English law—you are not so wise as the Scotsmen in this matter—you have to have unanimity amongst the trustees, and if you have a large number of trustees your hands may be tied, and you may not be able to deal with things at all. If yon had the Scottish rule of the majority prevailing, that difficulty would not occur. That is why there is limitation of the number of trustees. As to whether this Bill simplifies conveyancing, I do not know whether hon. Members have seen the very important speech delivered by the President of the Law Society at the provincial meeting held last year. The Law Society had carefully considered this Bill, which had been before the country for some years, and the speech of the President of the Incorporated Law Society expresses a very important view in regard to this Bill. He said: Referring to the Law of Property Bill, I do not propose again to deal with its provisions in detail, as my predecessor, Mr. Morton, in his address to us at Liverpool, gave us a valuable exposition of its main provisions and effects. I think, however, that a short summary of the Bill which, if passed, will cause a very considerable alteration in and simplification in the practice of conveyancing, might he useful. Therefore, in his opinion, this Bill is a simplification of the practice of conveyancing. He goes on to say: I regret that owing to pressure of time it became impossible to pass the Bill through the House of Commons during the recent Session of Parliament. That was 1921. As to the question of compulsory registration, this was before the Incorporated Law Society and the President goes on to say: The council informed the Lord Chancellor that they and the Provincial Law Societies were opposed to the extension of officialism and bureaucracy and the great expense they would involve, and that they hoped before the ten years expired it would be established beyond question that the law, as amended, would meet every requirement, and accordingly that the compulsory registration provision might be repealed. They stated also that they would be content at the expiration of the trial period to abide by the result of a full inquiry into the merits of the two systems. The Bill deals with this question something on these lines. Two persons are started off on a race, with certain physical advantages, and at the end of 10 years we shall see whether the ordinary system of conveyancing as amended by this Bill is a better system than the registration system. That is the reason why it has been kept in the Bill and put off for 10 years. In the meantime the country will have an opportunity of seeing whether or not this amelioration and simplification of the law will be an advantage or not. The hon. Member for Bodmin asked why the provision that the existing law should continue as to a lunatic is retained. That only occurs in the case of a person who is a lunatic when the Act passes. It does not disturb vested interests which may have arisen. The practice of the Lunacy Commissioners who have had the control of the estate of a lunatic is to allow the next heir to manage the estate. It would be hard upon him to alter the law as to his position, when he has probably been expecting in the long run to succeed. With regard to the views expressed from the Labour Benches by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood), his main criticism was that the Bill did not go far enough so as to enable leaseholds to be enfranchised. The Labour party has a Bill before the House for the nationalisation of the whole land of the country. Under the operation of that Measure what would happen would be that the whole land of the country would be vested in the State, and anybody who might he permitted to use it would not be a leaseholder but a tenant at will, liable to ejection when the State thought fit. My hon. Friend could scarcely have recollected what he was committed to by the Labour party Bill in that respect. The Bill now before the House is a really good Bill. The assimilation of the law of real and personal property is good. I am certain that the Amendment made as regards intestacy and so on, which will put men and women on the same footing, is a fair and proper one. When we have had experience of this Bill we shall come to the conclusion that it is a sound, reliable Measure.

Mr. L'ESTRANGE MALONE:

I am afraid that very few Members have read all, or any, of the 310 pages of this Bill. I do not believe that there are many Members of the legal profession, outside the officials and committees of the societies concerned, who have studied the Bill. I have only had time to read a few of the first hundred pages or so. The chief criticism which I have to make is that no attempt has been made by the drafters of the Bill to put it into language which is understandable to the ordinary-man in the street. The Solicitor-General has told us that in drafting this Bill it will entail a great deal of re-learning by the legal profession. No doubt it is very well drafted from the legal point of view, but I should have thought that this is an opportunity when the land laws of the country are being revised to try to get rid of some of the fantastic phraseology and complicated formula which puts legal business entirely into the hands of certain professional people. We are here to protect the public against any form of trusts or combines, and by putting or keeping law transactions hedged round with old-time phraseology we are giving too much power to the barristers and solicitors. The legal profession has, I think, one of the strongest trade unions in this country, and it has all the vices which hon. Members opposite allege trade unions have, but, unfortunately, we, the general public, who in this respect are the employers of those trade unionists, have not got the method which employers have in other industries, that is, to enforce a lock-out against trade unionists when we do not agree with them. By giving them this power, it gives a monopoly to the lawyer.

Property does not all belong to the legal profession. I submit that an attempt ought to be made now to make this Act, and this branch of legal work, more understanable to the ordinary person, thereby reducing the costs which we have to pay. It has already been said by several hon. Members that this Bill will undoubtedly entail counsel in many cases, and that will mean more costs and more expenditure; even those Members of this House whom I might term experts in legal work who have read this Bill have not agreed as to what it really means.

So far as the Bill itself is actually concerned, I do not think it goes far enough. Property is the root of most of the social evils in this country. When this Bill goes to Committee, I hope to be able to put forward some Amendments which will make it more equitable to the people of this country. I should like to know a little bit more about the working and abolition of the law of primogeniture in France. I believe that the law of that country provides for the distribution of property equally throughout the families and as between male and female, and that seems to me to be a much more democratic method than in this country. When the Solicitor-General replies I should like to know from him, if he will be good enough to say, what is the result of his researches into the laws of the neighbouring country. I think the Bill might also have brought about more drastic regulations in regard to the restrictions of charters, I mean both as to the sale of land and also the charges made by solicitors and counsel dealing with these transactions. The chief point I desire to raise, though, is this: I do not think people either inside this House or Members of the House connected with the legal profession outside—I do not mean officials of the Law Society or of institutions of that sort—I refer to the ordinary practising solicitor or junior counsel— have really had time to study this Bill. Before I finish I would like to make the suggestion to the Solicitor-General that he should follow the example of all other Government Departments when introducing estimates or legislation, and that is to issue a short concise memorandum or account explaining what this Bill does, what Amendments it really makes, so that it will be more generally understandable

Photo of Sir Gerald Hurst Sir Gerald Hurst , Manchester Moss Side

I am glad to join with other hon. Members in acknowledging the luminous and convincing exposition of this Bill given by the Solicitor-General to-day, together with the great industry and learning of those who have taken part in the draughtsmanship of this Measure. This Bill is really a great and courageous proposal on behalf of the Government. Probably history will much more than ourselves put this Measure in its proper proportion in relation to the law of the country than we can do at the present time. It will loom large. The industry and learning of those who have put their hands to it will be acknowledged when a great many more immediately interesting and debatable Measures of our days have passed into oblivion.

Like most lawyers—I fancy this applies to many hon. Members of the House who are lawyers—one approaches this Bill with a certain amount of diffidence and distrust, because as a body lawyers object to innovations, and I feel at least as conservative as other hon. Members. One has a very great and natural reluctance to re-learn our law long after the days when we learnt it originally. At the same time, these objections and those feelings of diffidence and distrust will be overcome when we realise it is for the public interest that a Measure of this type should be passed. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyne (Colonel Wedgwood) spoke as if the only point in the Measure which affected the public at all were those provisions which deal with leaseholds and registration. As a matter of fact, that is a very narrow view, for the public has an enormous interest in this Bill in so far as it modernises our law and simplifies it, and makes conveyancing cheaper and easier than at the present time. Nothing has been said by any critic of the Bill against its modernising tendencies. It is a great advantage to assimilate the law relating to real and personal property. It is a great advantage to place men and women for the first time in our history on exactly the same footing in respect to the law relating to intestacy. It is an enormous step forward to do away with primogeniture, which, originally, owing 1o the feudal system, may have been very desirable. In the interests of continued military service, it was desirable that there should be no breaking up of estates; it was an advantage that one man should hold possession, and that land and estates should not be broken up. These original reasons, however, are absolutely obliterated today, and it is absurd that primogeniture should have survived so long. By will a man, of course, will still be able to leave, as he always could do, his property to his eldest son, but in actual fact a man who dies intestate is usually a poor person. How many cases there have been where a man of very small means, possessing a small freehold plot of land or house, died intestate, and that land or house passed, contrary to what may well be supposed to be his intentions, to the eldest son to the exclusion of the other children?

It is high time that primogeniture in that sense was destroyed. That is a point in the Bill which I believe men of all parties must welcome as a real reform. In regard to the simplification of the law, that is an advantage. It can never be absolutely simple, but it can be infinitely more simple than it is now. We have to-day a great deal of mediævalism in the sense of lore and legal tradition, and we must get rid also of the glosses which eighteenth century lawyers placed upon mediaeval tradition. It will be a great thing to get rid of these incumbrances at the present time. With regard to conveyancing, my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot) raised an objection that this Bill would, in his judgment, deprive mortgagees of the custody of title deeds. That is a misunderstanding of the Bill, because it is made quite clear by the memorandum and the Second Schedule that the mortgagee will still be enabled to hold title deeds. Therefore, that objection is entirely unfounded.

I do not want to go over ground which has already been traversed by various hon. Members with regard to the question of partition and the position and powers of trustees during the minority of infants. All those provisions are intended to make icgal estates more easily dealt with. There is one suggestion which I should like to make, and it is with regard to the date at which the Bill is to come into force. At the present time, as provided now, it comes into force on 1st January, 1924. I do not know whether the Solicitor-General has received representations from law publishers on that point, but I think it is an element which is deserving of consideration that a considerable number of text books are now in the press which would mean the expenditure of something like £5,000 on printing and paper. The suggestion has been made that possibly for two years from the beginning of this year might be substituted two years from the passing of this Act. As a matter of fact, one firm at present is about to publish new text books, all of which will require a sale of over 18 months if publication is to be remunerative. Another advantage of giving a few more months would be that it would enable writers of legal treatises more time to have their standard text books ready, which are essential to practitioners when, the law actually comes into force.

I disagree with the criticisms which have been made as to the provision in Part VIII with regard to the law of intestacy. The idea of giving the charge to the extent of £1,000 and all the personal chattels to the wife of the deceased is a great advantage. It is very easy, I know, to criticise this Bill upon the ground that it is an enormously long and ambitious Bill. It has been said by the Member for Portsmouth (Sir T. Bramsdon) that 14 separate Bills ought to have been brought in for the same purpose. It is obvious that we cannot discuss this Bill in the same way that we should discuss ordinary Measures brought forward in the House of Commons, but such critics must recognise that no reform on this scale would ever get through piecemeal. The one chance is to get it through as a great Measure in its present form. There must always be a lack of popular knowledge in regard to the subject matter in a Bill of this proportion and much pro fessional apathy, and therefore a Hill of this kind cannot be considered in great detail.

It is wonderful that there is such a great consensus of opinion in regard to this Bill amongst all classes, and that so much agreement from those professionally interested has been obtained. It really looks that, we shall now be able to have a code with regard to real and personal property as clear and satisfactory as that which now relates to partnership, trustees, and bankruptcy, and that is an enormous step forward. Instead of having the law and practice on this question in such a form that you have to seek for it in thousands of reported cases and innumerable treatises on the law of real and personal property and text books on conveyancing, we shall have it in a much more simple form based upon a bed-rock of learning and long experience.

Photo of Mr Evan Hayward Mr Evan Hayward , Seaham

As a Member representing this side of the House who sat upon the Joint Committee on this Bill, I wish to add my words of congratulation to the Solicitor-General for his most lucid explanation, and I also want to add my word of thanks and congratulation to Mr. Cherry and others who assisted in the preparation of this Bill. As a member of the Committee, I particularly want to express my thanks to Mr. Cherry for the work which he did upon the Committee and for assisting the Committee. One hon. Member has said that that Committee only sat seven times, and I believe the deduction which he wished us to make from that argument was that the Committee therefore could not have gone into this Bill in any very great detail or very carefully. Upon that point I only wish to say Mr. Cherry gave some splendid assistance to the Committee, and we were able to get through the work so much more quickly than we otherwise should have done.

I do not propose to say anything about the details of the Bill. This Measure has been received in principle with very general approval, and such criticisms as have been made have been entirely upon details which are purely matters for Committee. It has been said that past efforts in reforming our conveyancing system from time to time have, as a matter of fact, very much simplified {he whole system of conveyancing, and that is perfectly true. Conveyancing to-day, as we know from various inquiries, is nothing like it was 30 or 40 years ago. It has been said that the system now is as simple as it need be. In a great majority of cases it may be so. I believe it is quite true that in a case where the same solicitor acts for the vendor and the purchaser, as he often does, it is not so difficult, but there are other cases where the titles are complicated, and where the position is very difficult and very different indeed, and if this Bill achieves the object of simplifying this procedure, as I believe and hope it will, it will make the present complicated system of conveyancing a simple one. I have very great pleasure in supporting the Second Beading, and I hope that it will go to a Committee. On this point we have been warned by the Solicitor-General, and I hope the Committee will not exercise too much activity in regard to the Bill, and that any Amendments which are proposed will be very well considered, and not such as might damage the balance and poise of the Measure.

Photo of Sir Gerald Hohler Sir Gerald Hohler , Rochester Gillingham

This Bill seems largely to have been accepted with gratitude and pleasure. I have endeavoured personally to master it, and all I can say is I wish there had been some Chancery counsel a Member of this House who could have explained it. Although it is suggested that this Bill will make for cheapness, in my judgment that is the greatest possible mistake, and I do not hesitate to say that when it becomes an Act of Parliament everybody will have to consult his solicitor about it. Everything is changed by it, and so far from being content with taking the opinion of counsel I believe every trustee concerned in a trust will be advised by counsel that it is a matter on which he had better take the opinion of the Court. I do not doubt that the expense will be enormously increased. We now find under this Bill that legal estates are limited to an estate in fee simple in possession or a term of years absolute. When I raised a point as to the interpretation of the Clause I suggested that the Bill did not recognise either a yearly tenancy or a tenancy for less than a year as a legal tenancy. I am told to look at the interpretation Clause. In my opinion no help is to be found there, and consequently a yearly tenancy or a tenancy for any less term is not a legal estate preserved by the Bill as drafted. What is the inner meaning of the Bill? I am not now dealing with the parts which relate to the Settled Land Acts, the Trustees Acts, or the Conveyancing Acts. So far as I can judge these parts seem admirable. But we have these things all blended together, and it is unfortunate that the Schedule to the Bill contains the most important part of it. Immediately one comes to an important Section one is referred to the Schedule in order to find out what it means, and nobody will be able to understand it with clearness until the matter has been fought, out before the Courts.

I understand that the principle of the Bill is to limit legal estates to a term of years absolute or to a fee simple in possession. We are told that an easement is a legal estate. In my opinion, you never could acquire a legal easement under a lease except by way of grant from the grantor of the lease. You can have an easement by way of grant from the freeholder who grants the lease, but apart from a freehold estate an easement cannot exist at law. You cannot have an easement in gross as this Clause seems to suggest. This Bill will give rise to a great many difficulties. It preserves the rentcharge and the condition of re-entry, but added to that rentcharge there is the right of distress as a legal right. Does this Bill preserve that right of distress? Does it preserve the right of distress incident to a lease? Again under the Judicature Acts a man entered into an agreement to give a lease for 21 years, and equity regarding what had agreed to be done as done the man could sue on the agreement as if it were a lease with all its incidents. Is this right preserved? He could sue on that agreement as being a lease, but, so far as I can judge, under this Bill great difficulties will arise out of that. It is said that a lease for lives, or any other legal estate, cannot exist at law, or, if it does exist, it does so only as an equity. What is the object of that? As I understand the scheme of the Bill, the scheme is it sets up roots of title under Clause 1 (a) legal estates in fee simple in possession and term of years absolute, and under later provisions roots of title are created under settlements or under a will, and if there are no trustees for sale appointed they have to be appointed. Two deeds have to be created—the vesting and the trust deed—and the title the purchaser will have to consider is that shown by the vesting deed. Under the vesting deed nearly all equities are over-reached, but they will remain to be determined under the trust deed. Altogether the Bill sets up three or four roots of title.

I ask myself this question: Where is the economy? Where is the cheapening of conveyancing under this Bill? It is true that a person can get a comparatively easy title, for under the later Clauses of the Bill substantially all equities are over-reached. It may be true thatqua the purchaser my abstract of title would be simple, for a great many of these equities are over-reached, but under the trust deed there will be the same hard fights in regard to the equities and rights created by the trust. I was surprised to hear the hon. and learned Member for York (Sir J. Butcher) talking about the result on either tenancies in common or joint tenancies. He said how when the titles had to be investigated £1,000 was soon swallowed up. He told us he was glad that all that was now to go. But it is not to go. It will still remain in this Bill, the only difference being that it will have to be fought at the expense of the fund produced by sale instead of on the preliminary question as to who have the title to sell. The expense is only postponed. The £1,000 will still disappear in litigation. If it be the case of a settlement by will, it will have to be fought out as between the trustees and those claiming, and it will have to be fought either in a court of law or otherwise. To say that this is cheapening conveyancing is to make a statement which I for one fail to understand. I was unfortunately prevented from hearing the opening statement of the Solicitor-General. I have no doubt the congratulations which have been tendered to him for having made a clear and lucid statement are well deserved, but I should like to know whether the suggestions I have put forward were dealt with by him. One thing strikes me as strange. Everyone knows the difference between a legal mortgage and an equitable mortgage.

It is quite true that under this Measure an equitable mortgage is preserved so that you can still get your equitable charge upon the deeds. But suppose that I am the owner of a legal mortgage, and have conveyed to me the legal estate, subject to the mortgagor's equitable right. What is done under this Measure is that my mortgage will be transformed into a term of 3,000 years, and under the mortgage Schedule I can make a declaration, apparently, in my own favour, which gives me the legal title, and then I appear first on the title in priority to my mortgagor. I do not understand why that is done. I can only assume the reason to be that it is thought that there may be some conflict as to who makes the root of title, but as regards the question of expense I am quite satisfied that every layman will be well advised, and, indeed, will find it absolutely necessary, if he has to deal with such property, to consult solicitor and counsel, and he will probably be advised to take the matter to the Courts. This is the most difficult and complicated Measure that I have ever seen. Take the case of a joint tenancy. A joint tenancy often exists for partnership purposes. The partners are joint tenants of the freehold of the buildings in which they carry on their business. Why is it that, under this Measure, that vests either in trustees appointed by them for purposes of sale or in the Public Trustee? It seems to me that that is quite unnecessary and will create a great deal of difficulty and expense. In the case of a tenancy in common, it may be possible to make a simple title under the trustees for sale, but you have still to find out who are the tenants in common and who are entitled to the money Then, again, I cannot trace what is really the position of a mortgagee of an undivided share in a joint property or tenancy in common. Apparently his right in reference to the land is absolutely taken from him under this Measure, and he is simply remitted to the fund in the hands of the trustees for sale. The powers of sale are extremely difficult to understand. In some cases there is merely a power of sale and in other cases the trustees have a discretion to postpone.

I do not believe that this Bill will cheapen conveyancing. It may be that the conveyance of a title to a purchaser will be cheapened, but the estate will still be left saddled in the hands of the trustee, or other owner who makes the title, with more expense than ever. I agree with those hon. and learned Members who have spoken of the difficulties they have experienced in the case o£ tenancy in common, in the case of a copartnership or the like, but I agree with the hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir T. Bramsdon) that in practice these, difficulties are very rare. There is only one such case in about 10,000, and, on account of the difficulty, the case generally goes to the Courts, and we lawyers spend the money very quickly. I speak on behalf of the solicitors of the Law Society of Kent, and I doubt if there is any body of men who have had greater experience of tenancies in common and undivided shares, owing to the prevalence of the custom of gravelkind in Kent. There is no question in such cases about the fee being vested in the owner. On an intestacy now, under the custom of the gavelkind, the property is equally divided between the males, and failing males between the females. I do not suppose there is a body in the country who have more experience in the matter of these intestacies where the property is sub-divided in this way than the solicitors of Kent. I saw three of them. One was the chairman of the Solicitors' Association. They tell me that in practice they never have a difficulty at all. Therefore I think when this is applauded on that ground it is that in practice these eases very seldom arise. I cannot understand why leases for lives, which are not uncommon, should be abandoned. I suppose it would seldom come in conflict with tenancies for an absolute term of twenty-one years. There must be a great many leases on these terms, and I should like the Solicitor-General to tell us what will happen to them when this Act becomes law. I am satisfied that when one looks into the Bill and considers the cases it bristles with difficulties.

I pass from those parts of the Bill in which, speaking for myself, it seems to me that amendments of the law in regard to the conveyancing of property and the like are really feasible. I am in favour of maintaining, in regard to real estate, the doctrine of primogeniture, but I can see I am quite out of date. I believe one of the reasons why in France the population has gone down so much is that that doctrine does not exist, and you get land cut up into little properties until they are not useful. I am, therefore, in favour of it, and I believe really the public at large are in favour of it. I will give an illustration from the county in which I live. Take Kent. Of course, a man may die unexpectedly now, and there is an intestacy, and it must go according to custom. But, as a matter of fact, solicitors in Kent will tell you that their experience is that nearly all these people make wills and leave the property to some individual. What is the result if they do not? Has that been considered? There are people who would split up estates, but have they considered how this is going to hit the poor? Take a man with a little house—his own freehold. What will happen? It is a strange thing, but it is a fact that many people are averse to making wills. The property will have to be sold by the personal representative, there will be solicitors' and auctioneers' charges, and great expense will be incurred. It would have been infinitely in favour of the family if the house could have been kept as a home for the mother, or it may be for infant children orphaned by the loss of the owner. I am in favour of it, but I can see from observations which I have been made that I am out of date, but I do not hesitate to state my view. My own view is that it is a great mistake to think these great estates have not been for the benefit of the country, and I believe many a farmer who has bought his freehold would be glad to be back under the landlord again. On this question of devolution I was surprised to hear that a relation, however remote, may be passed over. The Clause I think it is about 141—as I read it is most ingeniously drawn. Speaking broadly, after you have passed from near relations it only goes on the terms of a statutory trust to another. This statutory trust is a most ingenious idea. It will only give life interests, and then the property passes to the State, and we are told in this Memorandum which commends the Bill to us that the Treasury will act as they have hitherto done and give us something. I would rather take it by law. It seems to me those statutory trusts are a way of depriving many a man of property which would vest in him absolutely at present under the Statute of Distributions, and I think that is very unjust.

The only other part of the Bill to which I propose to refer is compulsory registration. I might detain the House, but I will not, on the question of the Public Trustee and how large and rooted my objection is to him—a most expensive body and a most expensive person. To the costs of the solicitor in dealing with these matters, which are reasonable and right, you super-add the cost of the Public Trustee. I object to this part of the Bill entirely, and I can speak in the name of the solicitors of Kent. I should like to see struck out of the Bill entirely this question of registration. Why not let it be dealt with when it arises? Why are we to legislate for ten years hence? We can do it perfectly well then. Why not repeal it all and see what the opinion of the country is then? I do not know who will be the Lord Chancellor ten years hence. I do not know whether I shall be hero myself. It may be that it is immaterial, but I want to protect the coming generation from this Lord Chancellor. We must not mention names, but he might be a Labour Chancellor, and quite right. A nice little billet it would be! You are leaving the whole discretion to a Lord Chancellor, who is X, ten or tweve years hence, to nominate some qualified person to hold this inquiry on a petition by the county council against the registration in their county. I believe I could find many Members of the House, I am certain I could find people at the Bar, who would report one way or the other, and I would know which way they would report when I sent them. If you are going to retain that part of the Bill that appointment should be vested jointly in the Lord Chancellor and, say, the President of the Incorporated Law Society. He is a great person, though he is not necessarily a Member of the House, and he exercises great functions. Let it be their joint appointment. Give us some guarantee that when this time arrives and X is Lord Chancellor, at any rate X who is President of the Law Society, elected by a great body, who greatly respect him, should also have a voice in the matter.

9.0 P.M.

There is another thing I noticed about this Clause, if I have rightly read it, and I think I have. The Land Transfer Act of 1875 is amended. The difference is this. Under the old law the council of a county can get rid of any proposal; in other words, it would be for them to decide whether or not an Order should come into force. That is no longer the case. It is a most ingenious Amendment. I will tell you how I read it. I wish I could have thought it out myself. As I read it it is this. The Lord Chancellor or the Crown, on the recommendation of the Government of the day, give notice that they propose to make an Order for a county. The council can, within six months, request an inquiry, and then someone is sent down to report, and on this report the Order is made or not. It has to lie on the Table of both Houses. It is passed by Resolution of both Houses and becomes law. I know how that is done in this House. They do not tell you it is coming on. They put it on at 11 o'clock, and it goes through like a shot. It is no protection of any kind. We have seen it done over and over again. We have made our stand, and I thought the Government understood how much we object to legislation by Order in Council. In my view, that is not where the matter rests. One Clause in this part says that no more than one county can be included within an Order made within eleven years, so you will start with one county. Everyone knows perfectly well that registration, if for no other reason, is as dead as Queen Anne if you limit it to one county. After the eleven years, as I read the Clause, an Order can be made as to the whole country.

Photo of Sir Gerald Hohler Sir Gerald Hohler , Rochester Gillingham

Sub-section (5) (ix) of Clause 181 says: Not more than one such Order shall be made within the period of eleven years from the commencement of this Act. That is the limitation, and I can find no other. I may have overlooked it. My brain was in a whirl when I read the Bill. I know a little about conveyancing law, but when I got hold of this I was done. Under this Clause, Lord Chancellor X, in the year of Grace, 1934, can first of all select a county. If there is no objection, the Order goes through. If there be objection, there is a report, and then the Order may go through. Where is the limitation to making the Order for the rest of the country immediately afterwards? I say all that is perfectly illusory. I did try to understand the Bill, and I examined it with the language of the earlier Act, and asked what all this alteration meant. If we pass this Bill as it stands, 12 years before our time, we are binding ourselves as clear as clear can be to universal registration of title. I say that is very dangerous.

I am very sorry about this Bill. I think that we ought never to have had presented to us a Bill which is an Amendment of at least five other Acts, each of them separate parts with which we could have dealt, and, if I may say so, understood. I never pretend to be a conveyancing barrister, but one does learn something about it in my profession. No doubt there is a great scheme worked out, but the difficulties are immense. Each subject could have been brought in as a codifying Bill, but here we have new legislation, and, with great respect. I doubt if there are 20 Member? in this House who have read this Bill. I have read it more than once, and it is difficult to grasp the principle, although I have had the most generous assistance from my learned Friend Mr. Cherry. I honestly believe he is the only man who understands this Bill, and, if it goes through, he will make a fortune out of his book. But, speaking broadly, I shall listen with a mixture of admiration and doubt to anybody who tells me he understands this Bill. I say it will involve immense expense, and great difficulties will arise. You are creating a purely artificial system of legal titles and roots of title. You are leaving to be fought out all the difficulties of the existing system, and you are telling us you are endeavouring to assimilate real property to the sale of stocks and shares I daresay many others, like myself, are trustees for a number of people. I can always get along with my solicitor, and there is no difficulty. I now say to the solicitor. "You had better go to a court to take their opinion." That is the only wise and sensible course. It is like one of the re-settlement Bills. I do not believe it will be any advantage, and I believe the expense will be enormous.

Photo of Dr Thomas Worsfold Dr Thomas Worsfold , Mitcham

We have listened to criticisms, some informing and some destructive, but it seems to me the critics on both sides of the House have been so very much occupied in contemplating certain stunted trees, or some that have not grown right, that they have omitted to appreciate the value of the whole forest. We have two main points in connection with this Bill, and I am speaking as one who, for 30 years, in the humbler branch of the profession, has had to live by the law and the profits—such as they are. Here we have an honest, straightforward attempt to codify the difficult and complex branch of the law of property. That alone deserves a welcome, even if it is to be altered, and, perhaps, criticised upstairs, and brought into a little more adaptable form. In the second place, there is one thing upon which I should like to congratulate the authors most cordially, and that is the absence, relatively, of a tendency to legislate by reference, and I do sincerely hope that my hon. and learned Friend in the further conduct of this Bill will do all he can to purge that most pernicious habit, which is growing in legislation to-day, under which one has to look up at least 6 or 7 other Acts and Subsections to be seized of the facts, and to know where one really is in construing a statute.

My hon. Friend just now spoke somewhat dismally of the future, and others also have so spoken, but there is a familiar echo in their cries. I seemed to be hearing the loud wails of many practitioners in the lower branch of the profession, when we had the Act of 1871 coming in and knocking the old Common Law Procedure Act into pieces with a half dozen ways of special pleadings which absolutely confused the law. We were then told it was a revolution in law, and that the law would never survive it. In those days prophets arose to speak in dismal tones of what would happen in ten or fifteen years, and yet, I think, everyone will recognise that the Judicature Acts to-day form a very workable basis for litigation in chambers. Then, again, there was a loud outcry, I think, in 1880 when the Conveyancing Act came in. It has all faded away. The whole point is that we have to find out the way by walking along, and I am very much impressed by the Memorandum in the Bill, in which it is stated that it is not revolutionary, but evolutionary. The Stoneman of about 4,000 years ago and the Lord Chancellor are both men. In those days the law of property was maintained by the flint and the claw—by the law of might and force. Evolution has brought us this law, and I welcome it for what it is, first, as an attempt to codify, and, secondly, because of its absence of reference to other legislation. I hope that those two points will be maintained. Then we shall have at last something approaching what obtains in France and I should think in nearly every civilised country in Europe except ours—a less complex form of dealing with property. I would give heart of grace to those who ask where lawyers will be if this Bill is passed by reminding them that the greater the facilities for dealing in any commodity the greater will be the occasion for the services of those who are concerned in these transactions.

Photo of Mr Leslie Scott Mr Leslie Scott , Liverpool Exchange

I thank the House for the very warm reception given to this Bill, and for the very kind things which hon. Members have been good enough to say about both myself and the draftsman of this Bill. I have taken a careful note of a number of extremely interesting points that have been raised, which are mostly matters which can be considered in Committee upstairs, and if I do not make anything in the nature of a general reply, I am sure that the House will be only too glad to accept my decision in that respect. In reference to the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Gillingham (Mr. Hohler), who unfortunately, as he said, was not able to hear my opening statement, nor a large part of the Debate, and who, unfortunately, is not here to hear my reply, possibly some of those remarks would not have been made had he had the advantage of hearing what had been said before he came in. Incidentally, it came out in his speech, that he represented the Kent Law Society, which is one of the two provincial law societies, out of all the provincial law societies of the country, which have not yet expressed approval of the Bill. I believe that there is an answer to every one of the points raised by the hon. and learned Member, but I need not go into those now. There is one point in regard to searches which I think is important.

I do not think that any difficulty or any expense will be involved by the searches which are necessary under the Bill to give to the purchasers the protection which the Bill contemplates. When we go into the Committee stage, I shall be able to give interesting information on that point. Complaint has been made that leasehold enfranchisement has not been dealt with by the Bill. The Bill carefully avoids dealing with any controversial question. It is an attempt at law reform and law reform pure and simple, with the exception of the Amendment in regard to the law of intestacy. In regard to the question of registration of title, it is, as I stated in opening, the intention of the Bill that there should be complete freedom for a fair decision at the end of the period, and that that decision should not be in any way prejudiced.

The hon. and learned Member for Portsmouth (Sir T. Bramsdon), who has been good enough to give us a number of valuable suggestions, which will be most carefully considered, raised the question as to whether it was possible to add anything for the purpose of making doubly plain the intention of the Bill to ensure that the inquiries which might be asked for should be completely independent. This appeal will receive favourable and sympathetic consideration to see if it is possible to arrive at a form of words which I hope will ensure that result. I should be glad to consider any suggestion that any Member would be good enough to put before me, even before we get to the Committee stage, in order, if possible, when we arrive at the Committee stage, to come to an understanding as to the points which are left at issue. In a subject like this, which is so difficult, it is most important that, if possible, we should have some unofficial discussion of Amendments, if Members will be so good as to comply with the request which I make to them, to give to those of us who are in charge of the Bill the opportunity of considering, even before we reach the Committee stage, what are the points on which they desire either explanation or amendment. I beg to close in thanking the House again for the reception which they have given to the Bill.

Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.