HC Deb 22 October 1973 vol 861 cc913-5

Lords Amendment: No. 65, after Clause 225, in page 140, line 6, at end insert new Clause D: D.—(1) The courts for striking the fiars prices for the counties of Scotland shall no longer be held, and accordingly no payment becoming due after the appointed day shall be calculated by reference to fiars prices. (2) Subject to the provisions of section 12 of the Conveyancing (Scotland) Act 1924 (abolition and commutation of grain, etc. feuduties) the amount of any periodical payment becoming due after the appointed day which would, if it had become due immediately before that day, have fallen to be ascertained by reference to fiars prices, shall be a sum in money representing the average value of the payment due during the last three years before that day. (3) In the event of the parties failing to reach agreement as to the commutation into money of any payment by reference to subsection (2) above, either party may apply to the sheriff for a decree declaring the commuted value in money of the payment. (4) Where any payment, the amount of which falls to be ascertained by reference to subsection (2) above, is exigible from any person by virtue of an interest in land, the title to which may be recorded in the Register of Sasines, any agreement relative thereto and any decree pronounced under subsection (3) above shall, on being duly recorded in the appropriate register, be binding upon all persons having interest. (5) Any valuation or question mentioned in subsection (4) of section 75 of the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act 1949, falling to be decided by reference to a date after the appointed day, which would, if it had fallen to be decided by reference to a date immediately before that day, have been decided by reference to fiars prices, shall be decided in such manner as the parties may by agreement determine or, failing such agreement, shall, notwithstanding the provisions of that subsection, be decided by arbitration under that Act. (6) In this section "the appointed day" means the day appointed under section 235 of this Act for the coming into operation of this section.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we are to take Lords Amendment No. 169, in Schedule 28, page 287, line 25, column 3, at end insert "(4),".

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

This may be said to be not the fish that got away, but the bushel or sheath that almost got away. The clause makes provision for the abolition of fiars courts for counties and the determination of the amount of payment by reference to fiars prices. Fiars prices struck for any county in Scotland—if I may explain, particularly to those not from country areas—are the sheriff's assessment of the average prices of the different sorts of grain produced in the county at the last harvest.

Here I must declare an interest as one who is duty bound to make his return to the sheriff each year of the bushel weight of the grain crop and the price at which it is sold. The prices struck by the sheriff in each county are relevant only to the county for which they are produced and the year in which they are struck. They are used to calculate the current cash value of various payments which were once made in kind—a very old basis—but are now made in money.

While they are still used for a variety of purposes, and are still struck, the occasions when they are used even for these purposes are not many, and are becoming rarer each year. Because they are at present struck in respect of each individual county, the disappearance of counties as administrative units in the reorganisation to which the Bill gives effect entails that alternative provisions are required. The Schedule 28 repeal is consequential to that.

I could, if the House wished it, go through the subsections of the new clause, but I think that they are clear. They give effect to the general purposes which I have mentioned. I shall be delighted to answer any specific questions about how the clause will work.

Mr. Ross

The nub of the matter is that the prices are to be struck on the basis of the average value for the last three years. Once that is struck, I presume that it will become fixed. The hon. Gentleman has long experience of farming. Can he give the House any indication of how this has worked during the last 10 years? Has the figure gone up during that time? Does he consider that this will be a good bargain from the point of view of himself and others, in that at last they will have some finality in the matter of increases?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

With the leave of the House, I must make it clear, first, that the only benefit I shall receive from this—I imagine that this applies to you, too, Mr. Deputy Speaker—is that I shall be saved the trouble of having to make returns to the sheriff when requested each year.

It is true that over the last year or two there has been an increase in the level of prices. It is not for me to comment on what might have caused that rise in the level of prices. This has been a trend over a period. There has been a slight upward trend in the price of grain. It may mean that we shall leave the fiars striking a price at a rising level compared with what they were a number of years ago. However, this must be seen in perspective. The number of calculations based on fiars is becoming much more limited as each year passes. Solidifying and holding it at a certain level instead of varying the level according to prices at each harvest will not be wholly unfair.

Question put and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to.

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