HL Deb 13 June 1990 vol 520 cc373-8

7.52 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

This Private Member's Bill is designed to bring about a modest change in the law of Scotland. I hope that your Lordships will consider it useful to members of the public, lawyers and other professional advisers. The Bill was piloted through another place by my honourable friend Mr. Bill Walker, the Member for Tayside North. I and several other noble Lords present in the Chamber live in that constituency. In another place it received all-party and Government support.

The Bill is based on a report by the Scottish Law Commission published in October 1987 and numbered 108. The report followed extensive consultation by the Law Commission throughout Scotland. The aim of the Bill is to define for legal purposes the specific dates which are referred to when the traditional expressions Whitsunday, Martinmas, Candlemas and Lammas are used. Whitsunday and Martinmas are the term days and the four days are collectively known as the quarter days. I emphasise—and it is important—that the Bill defines the expressions for legal purposes only. It in no way affects the way they are used in relation to religious festivals, local holidays or for any other purpose. For example, it does not affect the date of Pentecost and so arrive at a fixed date for Easter, although I know that that is an aspiration of some Members of this House.

Noble Lords who live in Scotland will know that the expressions Whitsunday, Martinmas, Candlemas and Lammas are used in a number of contexts but most frequently used in Scots law in relation to the leasing of agricultural and non-agricultural subjects. The term days, Whitsunday and Martinmas, are often stipulated as days on which tenants take entry to or remove from the property being leased. Taken together the four days divide the Scottish legal year into four parts. Those quarter days are frequently used as the days on which tenants pay quarterly rents to the landlord.

The history of the development of term and quarter days, and the different dates that have been attached to them, is fascinatingly described in Part 2 of the Law Commision's report. I shall not now detain your Lordships with that story, interesting though it is. Noble Lords who are accustomed to handling such matters will know that history leaves us in Scotland with a problem. Currently there is no overall statutory definition of the term and quarter days. Different definitions are used for different purposes. That gives rise to some confusion and uncertainty for lawyers and for the rest of us. For example, there can be considerable disagreement about the precise date on which a particular lease begins or ends. The Bill seeks to clarify those matters.

Under Clause 1 it establishes a clearer, more logical set of dates. It defines Candlemas, Whitsunday, Lammas and Martinmas as falling on 28th February, 28th May, 28th August and 28th November respectively. That brings the term days, Whitsunday and Martinmas, into line with three current Acts; the Removal Terms (Scotland) Act 1886, the Argicultural Holdings (Scotland) Act 1949, and the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1955.

As regards the quarter days, the definitions in the Bill divide the year into quarter terms of equal length. That is far from the case at present. Under existing common law Candlemas is defined as 2nd February and Lammas as 1st August. Therefore, the quarters vary in length from 115 days to 65 days. Considerable inconvenience is caused, for example, when apportioning rents. The new definitions of quarter days falling on 28th of the month will make matters much simpler in that respect.

Clause 1 also provides that where existing leases use the traditional names and also specify a date other than that defined in the Bill—that is a date other than 28th of the month—the date specified will continue to be used. On the other hand, where an existing lease refers only to a term or quarter day by name the new definition of 28th will apply. But should a person have an interest in inserting another date a re-application to the sheriff can be made under the Bill for that purpose. As regards leases and agreements made after the Bill comes into force, the dates of term days and quarter days as defined in the Bill will apply—that is 28th of the month—unless a different date is specified.

Clause 2 provides that any notice given after the Act is passed but before it comes into force in relation to an existing lease which refers to term and quarter days but does not stipulate other dates shall be treated as though the Act had not been passed. Rights and obligations existing before the Act will not be affected.

Clause 2 repeals also the Act of 1693, the only statute with which this Bill conflicts. In a way that is sad, and I understand that it is quite unusual for public legislation to repeal a Bill which is nearly 300 years old. Clause 3 states that the Act will not come into force until a year after it is passed and that it is confined to Scotland.

I hope that I have made clear the effects of the Bill. It is slightly more complicated than appears at first sight and I hope that your Lordships will consider it a sensible and worthwhile measure. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Carnegy of Lour.)

8 p.m.

The Earl of Balfour

My Lords, this Bill removes certain anomalies which have existed in Scottish law for some time, as my noble friend Lady Carnegy said. Section 4, Chapter 50, of the Removal Terms (Scotland) Act 1886 states that the removal time, unless otherwise specified in the tenancy agreement, shall be noon on 28th May for Whitsunday and 28th November for Martinmas. Unfortunately, Chapter 40 of the Removings Act 1693 states that Whitsunday shall be in all time the 15th day of May. Candlemas has been 2nd February and Lammas, 1st August. That divides the year into uneven quarters.

This Bill repeals the 1693 Act and henceforth the quarter days will be on the 28th day of the respective month. I should add that the minimum notice for altering any rent agreement is 40 days before 15th May or 11th November under the said Section 4 of the 1886 Act which remains in force.

That is further confirmed by Section 37 of the Sheriff Courts (Scotland) Act 1907. Where land is involved, the notice must be six months under Section 36 or 12 months under Section 35 of that Act. This Bill does not affect any rent agreement which commences or terminates on any other date such as the first day of the month, which of course should be written into the lease.

The Bill merely defines that Candlemas shall be on 28th February, Whitsunday on 28th May, Lammas on 28th August and Martinmas on 28th November in respect of any lease or agreement, and so on. There is provision for an appeal to a sheriff court.

I should like to record my thanks for the useful letter which I received from my noble friend Lord Sanderson and the care and thought which has been put into this Bill by my noble friend Lady Carnegy and the Scottish Law Commission. The Bill does not affect any religious days. It deserves your Lordships' full approval.

8.3 p.m.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, I apologise for not putting my name down to speak in this debate, but I shall be brief. I wish to support wholeheartedly the Bill introduced by my noble friend Lady Carnegy.

My interest arises from the fact that I live in an area where very often agricultural cottages or premises are let. It will be much simpler if the dates and days in the Bill, which have been clearly outlined by the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, are accepted. I do not believe that it will create any difficulty or cause harm to anybody. It will be extremely useful. I believe that it simplifies many matters. The way the Bill was put forward by my noble friend Lady Carnegy was quite brilliant and I am sure that all of us, including the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, will support it.

8.6 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I rise to support my noble neighbour on this Bill. It is very practical and useful. However, I regret the passing of an era because the term days used to mean a great deal in Scotland. On 28th May and 28th November farmers moved round the farms. It was not bad for the single farmers. They gained a lot of experience and took stories of the meanness of farmers around the whole area in a very happy way.

However, it was bad for the married men because when they moved the countryside was full of carts loaded up with furniture. The departure of that custom is good. It meant that they did not attend to the gardens and the children did not get a chance to stay at one school. To bring the situation up to date, as the noble Baroness has done, is absolutely right and will make matters simpler. My lawyer friends all tell me that the different dates are a nuisance. While I normally do not have much time for lawyers, they have their uses. Their work should be facilitated, thereby enabling them to reduce their fees. That would be good. I too commend the Bill.

8.8 p.m.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, we are in agreement that the Bill is progressive. It repeals a 1693 Act. Therefore, we can all have faith in the idea of progress.

The noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, will not be disappointed, because I believe we should clear up these problems. We all have a certain nostalgia for the old terms. However, someone from the city, like myself, was not very well acquainted with, for example, exactly when Michaelmas was. I always remember Black Michaelmas. That was the only thing I learnt from my history lessons. I am not sure that the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, was absolutely frank with himself because I do not believe it was necessarily a happy time when people were uprooted and had to move around.

I believe that the Bill is a very good compromise. The noble Earl, Lord Balfour, raised a number of points which can be dealt with in Committee. We know that he looks through our Bills with great diligence and finds weaknesses which perhaps even the parliamentary draftsmen do not appreciate.

The Bill removed certain anomalies. The dates specified will continue to be used if necessary so that rights will not be affected if a specified date is in an old lease or document. However, it still allows flexibility which in time will lead to clarification of any new definition of quarter days, as the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, explained admirably in her opening remarks. I hope that those definitions will ultimately become universal.

For a long time other dates have been used for the convenience of very old leases or rents. However, it is better that all of us know that Candlemas, Whitsunday, Lammas and Martinmas are all on the 28th day of the month. It makes my life a great deal easier when people ask me, particularly from south of the Border, what we really mean by Lammas. I am grateful for that alone, but generally it is an improvement to the existing law and I certainly give every support to the noble Baroness and the Second Reading of the Bill.

8.10 p.m.

The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne

My Lords, I rise to express both my own personal support for this Bill and that of my right honourable and learned friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Government as a whole. I pay tribute to my noble friend for taking this opportunity to introduce this useful law reform measure and I congratulate her on an excellent and informative speech in moving the Second Reading of what should certainly be a welcome Bill.

The Scottish Law Commision, since its establishment in 1965, has made outstanding contribution to the development of Scots law. The report on the Scottish term and quarter days is an example of the sort of worthwhile modest reform that helps to keep the law relevant and useful; and there is a place for that in among the major law reform proposals which the commission produces.

The Bill will help to prevent confusion in the leasing and transfer of property, especially agricultural subjects. It will be to the benefit of both parties concerned in a transaction and their professional advisers. Noble Lords will of course note that the Bill prescribes the dates of the term and quarter days for legal purposes only, and it does not affect their use for other purposes such as denoting holidays or the Christian festivals associated with them. Nor does it interfere with specific dates already fixed in leases or agreements.

I do not propose to detain your Lordships by referring to the detail of the Bill, which is an admirably researched and thoroughly reasoned piece of legislation. The noble Baroness has already given a full exposition of the Bill's objectives and effects and I am confident that the House will approve of it on that basis.

8.12 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who contributed to this short debate. My noble friend Lord Balfour, with his usual assiduous attention to the detail of Bills, asked me a number of pertinent questions. He wrote to my noble friend Lord Sanderson, as he said, and received a reply which helped him and also helped me. We are very grateful for that.

I was glad that my noble friend Lady Elliot was pleased with the new arrangements. She has much experience in these matters and knows precisely how they work and the problems that the different dates can produce. It is excellent that she is pleased.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, also understands the problems that can arise. He regrets the passing of the arrangements and I am bound to say so do I. However, I have to inform him that before 1693, when Whitsunday was a movable feast seven weeks after Easter, it was even more inconvenient than now. When Easter and Whitsunday were late, the tenant who was leaving had already used up the spring grass so that when the new tenant arrived there was nothing left for his cattle to eat. That was the reason Whitsunday was initially fixed at the 15th May. Things were therefore more difficult for farmers in the early days than they are now.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael. He is quite right that it is proper that the flexibility remains under the Bill; that a different date to that of the terms and quarter days can be inserted if the parties so wish. That is an important feature and he was right to point that out.

Finally, I must thank my noble friend Lord Strathmore—he also knows and understands these matters personally—and the Government for their encouragement to my honourable friend the Member for Tayside North and myself. I also thank my noble friend Lord Sanderson, who is in his place on the Front Bench, for the help that his officials gave my honourable friend and I in the passage so far of the Bill.

I hope on hearing this debate and those explanations your Lordships will feel able to give the Bill a fair wind towards the statute book and will give it a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.