HC Deb 15 July 1974 vol 877 cc200-4
Mr. Teddy Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)

I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 3, line 3 leave out from 'agent' to the end of line 5 and insert: 'notice of his desire to redeem the feuduty exigible in respect of such land as he sufficiently identifies in said notice'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker(Mr. George Thomas)

With this we are taking Amendment No. 4, in Schedule 1, page 19, leave out lines 4 to 19.

Mr. Taylor

The amendment deals with a point which we raised in Committee. The Minister was sympathetic and said that he would see whether an amendment could be introduced on Report. No such amendment has been introduced.

The object of the amendment is to ensure that when people come to redeem their feus they will not necessarily have to go through what appears to be the complicated procedure of completing the form set out in Schedule 1. We suggest that if people give notification in a reasonable and sensible way they should be able to redeem the feu. This appeared to be a sensible point, and I still think that it is. Will the Lord Advocate say why he has not introduced an amendment to this effect?

The Lord Advocate

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) has put his case very fairly. It was discussed in Committee and I was at the time sympathetic. I remain sympathetic to the purpose of the amendment, but cogent reasons can be given why this method of achieving the objective which he and I both seek to achieve—namely, simplicity and clarity—is not to be achieved by the amendment. The object of the amendment is to produce informality, and it is the danger of informality of this particular type upon which I must concentrate.

The amendment recognises that it is necessary for the proprietor to give notice to the superior but leaves it to the proprietor to devise his own way of making intimation to the superior. There are circumstances in which that would be perfectly proper, but here it could give rise to difficulty and, indeed, the complications would be greater than any apparent advantage that would be obtained through simplicity.

The amendment is in substantially the same terms as the one moved in Committee. It is improved to meet the criticism I then made in respect of descriptions of land. To that extent the amendment is better than the one we considered in Committee. It goes to identification of the property rather than a detailed conveyancing description, and that is all that is needed. I accept that the amendment so far is correct.

There is no dispute about the desirability of simplicity, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that I have taken fully into account the matters which were pressed strongly on me in Committee. I am satisfied, having looked into it with great care, that the Bill achieves all that can be done in this direction short of what I shall say in a moment about publicity and the availability of forms to be filled in by proprietors. They are preprinted forms which are as simple as possible, and they will be accompanied by a guide which sets out in great detail what needs to be done.

The form of the notice prescribed in the Bill in Schedule 1 is already extremely simple and requires only a minimum of essential information needed to enable the transaction to be carried out. I do not think that there will be dispute between the hon. Gentleman and the Government about the fact that this information is essential. The proprietor has to provide his name and address and the date of signing the notice; the name and address of the superior or his agent—normally the person to whom he pays feuduty; the term day on which he wishes to redeem the feuduty or other similar payment; the amount of the feuduty and so on; and sufficient identification of the land in respect of which the feuduty is exigible.

Those are, in effect, no more than the details which the proprietor would naturally include in even an informal letter, and there is nothing therein which should give him any difficulty at all. They are what we provide in the schedule and are obviously what any layman would include in such a notice. It achieves what we all want to achieve—simplicity—in giving due notice of desire to redeem to his superior.

I have considered this matter with great care, and it appears to me that the do-it-yourself proprietor who sought to write his own notice would write it best using the form proposed in the schedule as a model. He would not be tied down by technicalities. The Bill provides that the notice must be in the form included in the schedule or as near as may be. In other words, the proprietor has a guide in the schedule.

The amendment would mean, however, that the schedule would go and there would be no guide to which the proprietor might turn or on which he could rely in doing his own draft of a suitable form of notice to the superior.

It is essential that the proprietor should indicate, when he wished to redeem feuduty, the amount of the feuduty and the land. I have dealt with the question of the date and of identifying the correct parcel of land. I have no doubt that any person who wrote a letter including this essential information would have it accepted by the superior as a proper notice. Indeed, when a notice has been given to the superior it is for the superior to give a receipt in the prescribed form. When that receipt is given, the superior must comply with the proper formalities. That is provided for in the other schedules.

I take the case quoted in Committee and which exercised us all greatly and was the strongest point put to me. A letter in the form contained in Form 1 of Schedule 1 might be an informal letter by the proprietor to the superior and might not make specific mention of Clause 4. Considering the matter carefully, I think the answer is that if the informal letter mentioned the essential information the superior would obviously give the receipt lie has to give in the terms of Form 2 of Schedule 1, which would mention Clause 4 of the Bill: and once that stage had been reached the notice would be perfectly factually given and acted upon.

The more one thinks of it, the more obvious it is that a letter perhaps deficient in one item—perhaps something we would agree to be essential—could properly be admitted in layman's language, since it is possible that the superior would say "This is sufficient notice" and would reply in terms of Form 2 or would write back and say "You have sent notice of redemption but you have missed out such and such. Can you tell us what it is?" The answer would then come back in another letter.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Will copies of the printed forms be available to the public, and how much will they cost?

The Lord Advocate

I hope that forms of this kind and the guides to which I have referred will be available free at citizens' advice bureaux and public libraries. For the guide, we have in mind a booklet entitled "The abolition of feu-duties" and we hope that it will give people a clear guide what to do. Accompanying the booklet will be the forms, easy to fill in, to enable the layman to do a better job than by writing an informal letter.

I hope that the hon. Member for Cathcart will accept that his amendment is not likely to achieve the object that the Bill, unamended, will achieve.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

I am obliged to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, especially for the information that the forms will be readily available in citizens' advice bureaux and elsewhere. In those circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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