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Wednesday, June 30, 1999 Published at 15:04 GMT 16:04 UK

UK Politics

Feudal system faces axe

Scotland's ancient feudal system is set to be replaced

Scotland's 700-year-old feudal system could be abolished within four years and replaced by a simple system of land ownership.

The Scottish Executive has announced it is to put forward a Bill which will end the "outdated and archaic" system which dates back to the Middle Ages.

The announcement coincided with the announcement from Deputy First Minister Jim Wallace that a Land Reform White Paper is to be published next week.

Specific legislation on the current feudal system will be put before parliament after the summer recess.

It will be based on a draft Bill on the Abolition of the Feudal System produced by the Scottish Law Commission.

Feudal change

Under the feudal system, property ownership is divided between superiors and vassals.

Most homeowners are vassals and may have conditions attached to their property - such as not being able to park a caravan in the drive.

About 10% still have to pay nominal duties to their feudal superiors but that system has been gradually phased out since 1974.

Only properties which have not changed hands since then will be affected and although owners will have to pay compensation to their superiors, the government says that will be typically less than 100.

[ image: Jim Wallace unveiled proposals]
Jim Wallace unveiled proposals
The reform will do away with abuses of the system which had allowed some people to profit from long-forgotten feu duties.

Although the feudal system will be replaced by one of simple ownership, certain aspects will be retained such as common ownership of a tenement roof.

In announcing the proposed changes, Mr Wallace said: "It is ludicrous that as we approach the millennium we still have in place a system of land tenure which is based on medieval rules of society and which can still be used in an oppressive way.

"It is time for this outdated and archaic system to go."

But Scottish Landowners' Federation Convener Andrew Dingwall-Fordyce said: "Although actual cases are bound to be frew and far beteween, the proposal carries serious implications for the market in land."

'Famine' warning

He said it had the potential to cause an "investment famine" at a time when the economy was most in need of capital, irrespective of source.

"A basic human right is at stake, of individual liberty to offer a legal good for sale and allow normal operation of the market to determine price," Mr Dingwall-Fordyce said.

"We shall consider how to challenge the assumptions behind government thinking on this."

In a separate move, a White Paper on Land Reform will be published next week.

It will set out detailed proposals for allowing communities to buy land and giving the public a "right of responsible access" to land and water.

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