First, I would like to congratulate the Scottish Law Commission for an excellent Report, covering a very complex and difficult area of law reform. I believe that they have tackled it in a thorough and imaginative way. I wish to give a clear endorsement of the substance of the Commission’s recommendations and to make plain to Members that we intend to lay before Parliament, with only minor modification, the draft Bill which is attached to the Commission’s Report.
In his statement on the Partnership’s legislative programme, the First Minister announced that we would be introducing early legislation to abolish the feudal system. That is a long-term commitment of both of our parties. The feudal system is outdated and archaic.
The main provision of our proposed legislation will be the abolition of the feudal system and its replacement with a simple system of land ownership. Feudal superiorities will be abolished, and vassals will own their land outright. Any remaining feu duties will be abolished, but compensation can be payable.
The Commission propose that the abolition of feudal superiorities should not take effect until a further Bill, which makes arrangements for all real burdens, including the saved feudal burdens, has been enacted. The Government agree that it is important that the arrangements for the abolition of superiors’ rights and for real burdens should be co-ordinated. We therefore intend to introduce a further Bill on real burdens after the Commission has produced its report on that subject.
The Commission recognise that some feudal burdens are useful, and they recommend that these should be retained, and that they should be classified in four categories: common facilities burdens, neighbour burdens, maritime burdens and conservation burdens. We agree that the proposed categorisation of burdens is sensible. We believe, however, that there are difficult areas, both in relation to burdens which would be abolished and also in relation to the precise qualifications which are proposed to enable burdens to remain in force as neighbour burdens. These are areas which will no doubt be considered carefully by the Justice and Home Affairs Committee.
The Commission have made a number of recommendations in relation to compensation. They recommend that compensation should be paid for remaining feu duties, and for the superior’s loss of certain real burdens which reserve development value of the land. They do not recommend that compensation should be paid for the loss of the superior’s right to charge vassals for waiving feudal conditions. The Government believes that this is a balanced package, and we are disposed to accept it. We will, however, be considering further whether there are any European Convention of Human Rights implications to what is proposed.
The proposed legislation will also abolish some other archaic forms of land tenure and types of payment. It will not, however, abolish udal tenure, which is already non-feudal.
Entails will be abolished, and the title of baron will be separated from the land. Many obsolete Acts and provisions will be repealed.