HL Deb 09 May 1974 vol 351 cc647-9

3.56 p.m.

Second Reading debate resumed.


My Lords, this feudal reform Bill, to which I am glad the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, has so firmly insisted on returning, has been agreed in principle between us all for a long time and any points that are likely to be raised in Committee need not take up more than a minute or two on Second Reading. I believe that my noble friend Lord Strathclyde wants to raise the question of long leases which may be of very serious consequences to some people. I look forward very much to hearing my noble friend Lord Balerno. I had thought that he was going to speak before me but I see that our places have been changed on the list.

The only point I want to make is one which I would certainly not describe as a major one and it would not merit anything like a speech, but it may merit a little consideration. The reason why I feel particularly interested in it was that I had two periods of Office long ago as Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. My second period was in the wartime Coalition. The Secretary of State who was my chief was Tom Johnston. He was a prominent member of the Labour Party in this Coalition and at that time there were an enormous number of people of Scottish descent coming over here on military business and serving in the armed forces of the United States, Canada and elsewhere. Tom Johnston was always tremendously keen and thought it was a tremendously good thing to maintain connections between Scotsmen in all the different parts of the world. He was very keen on history and used to read a great deal of it. He often used to tell me that the more history he read about Scotland the more he felt he knew what to do to help Scotland now in modern times. One of the small ways in which we can help the development of good relations between people of Scottish descent in different parts of the world—the United States, Canada and elsewhere—is connected with this question of blenching, although it may seem a little remote, which the noble Lord and my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton have mentioned. It does happen, not with tremendous frequency, but every now and then, that this nominal feuduty which can be created and which under the Bill in the last Parliament was going to have been continued, enables Scotsmen abroad either collectively or individually and who may not be able to live here—who are citizens perhaps of the United States or Canada—to buy old centres or family strongholds of the clan, or whatever name you may call it, to which they used to belong and towards which they still feel an affection. They can give it as a feu to someone who will work it for a nominal payment of a penny a year and all the members of the clan will still have the satisfaction—sometimes quite a lot of satisfaction—of being able to come over here, as some do now in enormous numbers by aeroplane or by ship, to visit Scotland and see the territory with which they and their forefathers were associated. One of the best known cases recently was that of the MacKinnon clan which has acquired by this method a permanent interest in the old territory around which the clan used to dwell.

This is not a question which lends itself to a long discussion in public, but we spent a lot of time during the last Parliament talking to the late Lord Advocate about it. Many of us were very glad that the Bill introduced by the last Government continued provision for this matter. I do not ask your Lordships to discuss it now, but I ask the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, whether we may have opportunities of discussing this subject with the present Lord Advocate, who I suppose is the chief legal authority involved in this Bill and who, I know, is a man of very great understanding and great good will. I cannot help feeling a little suspicion that one reason why this penny feu duty clause may have been dropped is that the bureaucratic mind is a little apt to regard this sort of thing as rather irritating and tiresome, and not quite in accordance with the ideas of people who think that our laws should be more uniform or put more in a straitjacket. I therefore ask this of the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, who said something on Second Reading, which I do not want to follow up now, to the effect that it might still be possible to go on feuing ground even without the feu duties, but I do not know whether that would last very long.


My Lords, I did not say that it might; I said that it would until the final Bill which will get rid of feudal conditions entirely. What will happen in that Bill I cannot predict, but under this Bill it will still be possible to feu a piece of land creating feudal land conditions, the only condition being that what one could do before and cannot do now is extract a new feu duty.


My Lords, one has to pay only a penny if one is asked and it costs 3p to ask for it even by sending the letter demanding payment by second-class post. I am grateful for the noble Lord's interruption, and what he said makes it all the more plain that this is not a question which we could usefully debate across the Floor of the House. I ask him to do what he can to arrange to make it possible for us to explain the real objectives we seek to the Lord Advocate and to the noble Lord's other colleagues who are concerned.

Forward to