Nothing like a proportionate part of the reduction in this case has come directly from the fact of the Six Counties being taken out of the jurisdiction. The reduction has been effected by a continuous campaign of economy which has been none the less effective because it has not been advertised in the newspapers or on the hoardings. Officers who were past their work were invited to retire; officers of ability who could be spared were transferred to other departments, where their services have been highly appreciated. An unsatisfactory system of copying by hand has been discarded in favour of typewriting, and in the unromantic region of cleaners, sweepers, porters, and housekeepers very surprising savings have been effected. In the same way great care was exercised as regards the appointment of new officers. The former practice of importing patronage nominees into the high positions has absolutely ceased. Appointments have been made only when absolutely necessary, and then only by promotion, and in the case of every such promotion the scale of salary formerly paid for the higher post has been revised. For example, when the post of accountant became vacant it was filled by promotion, but the salary was reduced from £1,000 a year to a scale of from £700 to £800 a vear. This process will continue according as the existing officers die or retire. When this process has been entirely completed numbers of salaries of £1,000—recently, in 1925, the number was fifteen and the number now is ten—will be further reduced to something less than half a dozen. Except for this gradual reduction, I think there is very little, if any, further economy to be looked for now. In fact, one or two of the offices, particularly the Examiner's Office staff, will probably have to be strengthened if the work is to be done as quickly and as satisfactorily as is desired.
I should draw attention to a small item on page 130, sub-head M. That is a new item appearing on the estimate. We are asking for a sum of £452 to cover certain specified expenses. The explanation is that these expenses were formerly defrayed out of certain fees or percentages collected by the Chief Justice from the estates of the persons under his charge. It is now thought more conformable with modern practice to vote these moneys in the same way as the travelling expenses of public officials generally, and the corresponding fees are now paid directly into the Exchequer.
The next item is the Land Registry and the Registry of Deeds. There are two offices here and they are under the same chief officer—the Registrar of Titles. The estimates for both offices were, until recently, included in the estimate for the High Courts of Justice, to which they were nominally attached, an arrangement which made it necessary for an inquirer to go to a great deal of trouble, and to do a good deal of addition, subtraction and division, before he could see how much the Supreme Court itself costs and how much was to be attributed to the other two offices. Now we show the two figures separately. It will be observed that there is a decrease of about £2,000 in the total cost—about £52,000 last year and about £50,000 this year. This has been caused largely by a reduction in the cost of staff of the Registry of Deeds, into which, as vacancies occur, a more economical type of staff has been introduced.
Perhaps I might say a few words upon these two particular offices. The Registry of Deeds is much an older office than the other. It is a very old office, dating back to the year 1708, and it was maintained out of its own fee fund up to the year 1864. The object of this Registry is described in one of the Statutes to be a well-indexed record of all deeds, conveyances, and wills which shall be made of any honours, manors, lands, tenements or hereditaments. The scale of fees charged is laid down by two Acts, II. and III. William IV., and the XI. and XII. Victoria, but some of these were increased in 1916 by Treasury order. About 20,000 deeds are registered every year, and it is estimated that the fees charged will reach about £14,000, that is to say, about 75 per cent. of the total cost of the office. In addition to fees, it should be borne in mind that this registry does certain work for public departments without charging any fee; for instance, searches ordered by the Land Commission and the registration of deeds of charge under the Land Law (Ireland) Act, 1881, when it is certified by the Board of Works that the registration of these charges is necessary for the public service.
The other office is the Land Registry, and this is the central office for the registration of titles to lands under the Local Registration of Title (Ireland) Act, 1891. There is also a local office in each county, but the cost of these local offices appears in another Vote, as part of the Circuit Court organisation, as they are, except in three cases, under the care of the Circuit Court officer of the county, that is the County Registrar. I fancy that most Deputies know something about the working of this office. It is to maintain a well-ordered, well-indexed and well-managed record of the ownership of lands. It is compulsory in the case of lands bought out under the Land Acts, subject to a Land Commission annuity, and it is voluntary in other cases. It is gradually superseding the older Registry of Deeds. More and more land is being bought out under the Land Purchase Acts; consequently, more and more deeds that used to be registered in the Registry of Deeds are now registered in the local Registration of Title Office. The main object of the Registry is to produce in one simple folio a complete and authentic record of the title to each farm in the country, of the exact extent and boundaries of each farm, illustrated by a map. So that in selling or mortgaging a farm the labour in connection with proof of title and proof of freedom from charge or incumbrance is reduced to the very smallest possible extent. Fees are charged for the registration of such transactions and for the supplying of folios but fees are not charged for the compulsory first registration of land bought under the Land Acts. The first registration is done automatically. When the landlord is bought out, the Land Commission passes the papers on to the Land Registry for that purpose. The fees for the present financial year are estimated to produce £16,600—less than 50 per cent. of the cost. If it were thought desirable that the fees should cover a greater proportion of the cost, that end would probably be best achieved by charging a fee on the first registration, and that is a matter to which we are giving consideration, turning the matter over in our own minds.
There has always been a considerable amount of doubt and discussion as to the extent to which the work of local registration should be done—as to how far it should be done in the central registry that is the subject of this Vote, or how far it should be done in the local registry. Neither practising solicitors nor experienced officials have been able to agree upon this question. The actual practice is that the local registry does very little except duplicate folios and the really serious legal work is done in the central office.
Now, persons whose opinion is supposed to count in legal matters have held that it was not the intention of the Act of 1891 that the central office should assume the powers and be developed to the size and importance that it has now reached, and that the local registries should have sunk down to be of very little importance. On the other hand, people whose opinion is justifiably valued have come to the opposite conclusion, and think the existing practice is the correct practice, and they maintain that it is the only practical practice if the records are to be kept in proper order and the work to be done fully and efficiently. I think if it is tolerably clear that at the present moment there is a certain amount of overlapping between the central registry and the local registry owing to this and the confusion caused by the disappearance of the judicial head of the office, because the land judge used to be the judicial head of the Local Registration of Titles Office, it is clear that the position of the Land Registry will some time or other have to be cleared up by legislation. I do not think there are any further remarks that could be usefully made to the House upon that particular subject.
The next head I want to deal with is the Circuit Court. Here we are asking for a gross sum of £76,000, less £16,000, Appropriation-in-Aid; that is a net sum of £60,000 to cover all the expenses of carrying on the office business of the Circuit Courts and certain other expenses, such as the judges' travelling expenses, which will be found on page 136, item B 1. These are really connected with the judges rather than with the office, but they are not charged upon the Central Fund, and that is the reason why they must be provided for here. I want to point out that under the Court Officers Act, 1926, the old office of Clerk of Crown and Peace was abolished and a new office of the County Registrar was substituted therefor. The difference between these two offices is that the County Registrar is a civil servant and must retire on reaching the age of seventy. He is paid a fixed salary, and he surrenders to the Exchequer the fees received by him, whereas the Clerk of the Crown and Peace held office for life; he received in addition to salary certain fees, principally in connection with electoral work. The former Clerks of the Crown and Peace, all but six or seven, have voluntarily declined re-employment as County Registrars, so that the great majority of the County Registrars are new appointees, and their salaries are considerably lower than the salaries paid to their predecessors. I do not know any class of men in the public service who really have given more satisfaction than the new County Registrars.
After the salaries of the County Registrars the next most important item is the salary of their staffs. Deputies will find this as item A 12, page 136. Prior to the Court Officers Act, 1926, these staffs were the private employees of the Clerk of the Crown and Peace. They made their own bargain with their own clerks, increased or decreased the staff, or their salaries, and engaged them or dismissed them as they wished. The State paid the Clerks of the Crown and Peace clerical allowance towards the cost of the staffs but this allowance was not intended to, and did not in fact, cover the entire costs of the staff, nor was the State interested in seeing how the clerical allowance was distributed amongst the staff, but since the Court Officers Act came into operation in September, 1926, the State assumed direct liability for the salaries of these staffs, the salaries paid by the State being the same as formerly paid. That is to say, the State ascertained the actual salary formerly paid to each man whether it came from clerical allowance or fees or out of the Clerk of the Crown and Peace's own pocket, but as a matter of fact the fees the Clerks of the Crown and Peace received over and above salary were always more than sufficient to make up the difference between the sums they paid their own staffs and the amount of clerical allowance. The total amount was fixed—the sum a man was getting was provisionally fixed as being his proper salary. Here and there we came upon cases of hardship where the salaries formerly paid were really impossible salaries, where a clerk was giving full time service for a figure something like £40 a year and therefore special concessions were occasionally made. The result is that the cost to the State of these clerks has risen considerably, firstly, because the clerical allowance formerly paid by the State was not sufficient to pay the salaries actually paid by the Clerks of the Crown and Peace and, secondly, because the salaries were so inadequate that even the Minister for Finance thought it necessary to increase them.
But against this increase we have benefited in most counties by a reduction of the salary at the head of the office and by the surrender to the Exchequer of fees formerly retained by the Clerk of the Crown and Peace. The cost to the State under the old régime of the entire office system of the county courts was about £63,000, a figure somewhat in excess of what is now asked for. Deputies must remember in this connection that the present Circuit Courts have taken over a considerable amount of business formerly transacted in the High Court and that there is an item of £3,300 for stenography. That is an entirely new charge not incurred under the former system. I draw attention to the fact that last year that figure was £5,500, so that we have succeeded in saving a sum of £2,200 which has been gained by paying these stenographers a fixed salary instead of piece-work by which they were previously paid.
I think the only other item to which I will call attention is item A 33—Summons Service, page 135. They are paid a retaining fee of £20 a year, but there are a great number of them—500 altogether. In the same item Deputies will observe that of court messengers mentioned. Most of the messengers are private employees of the under-sheriff and draw no salaries from the State, but there are two classes that do receive salaries from the State. First, if a court messenger happens to be also a summons server he is paid an additional retaining fee of £20 a year. There are comparatively few of these— 22 of them altogether—and the arrangement is a continuation of an arrangement which was in operation under the former régime.
In counties where the under-sheriff has died or retired, and where in consequence the County Registrar is now responsible for the execution of court orders under Section 54 of the Court Officers Act, 1926, we are now employing and paying out of State funds whole-time court messengers. The counties in which this applies are Waterford, Wexford and Offaly. The rate of pay is £3 per week without bonus. Deputies will notice that we anticipate an income of £1,000 in this connection. If Deputies look at page 137, item F, they will see that that will about cover our expenses. In the same item F it will be noticed we anticipate an income of £13,000 by the surrender of fees paid to the County Registrars in connection with the preparation and revision of Jurors' Lists and the Register of Votes.
As I explained, the sum of £13,000 under a former rule would have gone into the pockets of the County Registrars. As Deputies know, the County Registrar—I mentioned it on the last Estimate—in addition to his other duties, is the Registrar of Title under the Local Registration of Title Act, 1891. That is not so in three counties. There the registrar is a solicitor specially appointed for that purpose many years ago because the then Lord Chancellor was of opinion that the Clerk of the Crown and Peace was not in a position to do the work. The counties I allude to are Monaghan, Leix and Waterford. In item A 5, page 126, provision is made for the salary of those separate officers. I am not sure it is quite correct to charge the sum of £1,000 against the Vote for the Circuit Court Staff. It might be more properly put on the Land Registry Vote. It is the custom to do so for many years, and it still appears on the County Court Vote. There is no other item to which I wish to draw the attention of the House on this Vote. Shall I take the Public Record Vote?