Tagged: Alan Beith

Alan Beith demands reform as homeowners discover they have a lord of the manor

An MP has called for an urgent review after thousands of homeowners were shocked to discover they had a lord of the manor – with the right to hunt on their property.

More than 90,000 properties, most of them ordinary residential homes, may be subject to archaic legal provisions dating back to before the Norman conquest , an inquiry led by North East MP Sir Alan Beith has warned.

It means the lord of the manor has the right to mine minerals beneath the property, hold fairs and markets on the land or use it for hunting, shooting or fishing.

Homeowners were astounded to learn that they were affected and feared property values could be hit, even though such rights are rarely exercised.

Sir Alan, Liberal Democrat MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed, is chair of the Commons Justice Committee which has held an inquiry into the problem.

In new report, the Committee called an independent review by the Law Commission into whether the rights should be scrapped.

The concept of a lord of the manor may sound old-fashioned but it still exists. Lordships can be bought and sold, and some are held by charitable and educational institutions.

Properties affected are not necessarily in rural areas, or anywhere near a manor house or similar building. Thousands of homes in built up, urban areas have a lord of the manor.

Most affected homeowners appear to have been unaware of the issue, until an attempt to update the law had unintended consequences.

Changes made through the Land Registration Act 2002 forced lords of the manor to register their claims by October 2013 – or lose them.

But it meant homeowners received letters from the Land Registry informing them that a claim affecting their property had been filed.

Around 90,000 claims were registered in the year preceding the deadline, with many people discovering for the first time that their properties may be subject to rights owned by a third party.

A claim may have no practical impact, as it is thought unlikely that a court would back a lord who tried to exercise their rights against the wishes of the property’s owner.

But it appears on the charges register held by the Land Registry, which can be consulted when a property is being sold to check whether there it is affected by statutory restrictions. This has led to fears it could cause problems for people trying to sell their home.

Sir Alan said:

“House owners were astonished to find manorial rights registered on their properties, and worried that this would affect them when selling the house or getting a mortgage. The lack of understanding of such rights, and the way the registration process was carried out and communicated, has led to understandable concerns and anxieties.”

“The Committee heard evidence about considerable problems with the registration process, and in particular the Land Registry’s notifications to owners, the burden of proof of the validity of claims, which falls disproportionately on the landowner, and the use of unilateral notices to register manorial rights.

“However, there was little evidence of problems actually being caused by the exercise of manorial rights in practice in the present day.”

Simply abolishing the system could be difficult, he said. In some cases, manorial rights could have a genuine value, such as when there was a real prospect of mining or extracting minerals from the land.

But Sir Alan said: “We nevertheless consider that the situation where a claim can be made over areas of dense residential properties – where rights are unlikely or impossible to be exercised – is anomalous.”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 22 Jan 2015

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SNP will not contest Berwick election seat

SNP politician Christine Grahame’s proposal to contest the Berwick constituency at next year’s General Election has been ruled out.

Ms Grahame, who represents Midlothian South, Tweeddale & Lauderdale in the Scottish Parliament, had previously expressed her willingness to be a candidate in the English seat currently held by long-serving Liberal Democrat Sir Alan Beith.

She felt it would secure the SNP leadership a place in any UK-wide television debates to be screened in the run-up to May. That way the SNP could claim to be standing right across the UK because it would have candidates in England as well as Scotland.

However, the idea has been rejected by the SNP executive.

Ms Grahame said:

“I am disappointed but not surprised that the SNP’s governing body has rejected my offer. I, of course, accept the ruling.”

The idea sparked debate among voters on both sides of the border.

The proposal certainly captured the imagination south of the border, with some predicting she could collect a significant numbers of votes from disaffected Berwickers.

While she was never likely to win a seat that is seen as a two-horse race between Conservative Anne-Marie Trevelyan and Liberal Democrat Julie Porksen, an SNP candidate might have been able to pick up support from voters disillusioned, most recently, by the failure of the coalition partners to commit to dualling the last 25 miles of the A1 up to Berwick.

Ms Graham’s proposal also received a favourable reaction from the North-East Party, which seeks greater devolution for Berwick and the north east of England generally.

She added:

“I have contacted Hilton Dawson, of the North-East Party, offering to assist them in their campaign if they think that would be helpful.

“But to stand in Berwick to promote devolution for the north east and to lay to rest the scare stories about Scotland cutting itself off from England in the event of independence (I am English born) I required approval from my party’s executive.”

Ms Grahame is no stranger to Berwick’s political scene.

In September she took part in the BBC’s pre-referendum ‘Scotland and Us’ debate at The Maltings, arguing that Scotland breaking away from England would be good for the area and would stimulate the case for devolution of powers to the north of England.

And in the run up to the 2008 general election she lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament calling for the town to “return to the fold” although politicians warned it would be too complicated and would cause major upheaval.

Source –  Berwick Advertiser,  12 Dec 2014

The Chancellor spoke more about Mars than he did about the North East

George Osborne insisted his plans to boost the North were “at the heart” of his Autumn Statement, as he announced plans for a science centre in Newcastle, a centre for advanced manufacturing in Sedgfield and a “Great Exhibition” to celebrate the great art, culture and design of the North.

But his key statement on the nation’s finances also confirmed that local councils face years of further deep cuts.

And the Chancellor’s big surprise, changes to Stamp Duty leading to lower bills for many buyers, will have limited impact on the North East because low property prices in the region mean many home buyers don’t pay the duty anyway.

The Autumn Statement also confirmed that outdated Pacer trains still in use on some routes in the North East will be replaced.

Mr Osborne told the Commons that his goal was to create “a more balanced national economy” and that meant creating a northern powerhouse “as a complement to the strength of our capital city, where we bring together our great cities of the North.”

He announced £20m for a Ageing Science centre in Newcastle, to “back the brilliant work on ageing being conducted at Newcastle University”.

There was also £28m for a world-class research and development centre, to be called the National Formulation Centre, that will specialise in the development of products such as medicines and chemicals, based in Sedgefield.

And documents published by the Treasury also revealed plans for a Great Exhibition in the north.

But local authorities face at least five more years of further dramatic cuts in spending, the Autumn Statement confirmed. Funding from the Treasury for local services is to be cut by more than a fifth by 2019-20.

The figures are included in forecasts published by the Office for Budget Responsibility, the official Treasury watchdog, as part of the statement. It predicted that the main grant provided to local councils will fall from £60.3bn in 2014-15 to £50.5bn in 2019-20.

Mr Osborne insisted: “I do not hide from the House that in the coming years there are going to have to be very substantial savings in public spending.”

This would mean cuts of £13.6bn in 2015-16, as previously announced, and “two further years where decisions on this scale will be required”.

He added: “We’re going to have to go on controlling spending after those years if we want to have a surplus and keep it.”

Another key announcement was a change to stamp duty, previously charged on homes costing more than £125,000.

Buyers eligible for the tax paid one per cent or more of the purchase price. In future, stamp duty will only be paid on the portion of the price which is above the threshold, leading to significant reductions for some properties.

However, an analysis of house prices shows that average prices in the North East are below the £125,000 threshold anyway, which means many buyers will not be affected as they pay no stamp duty.

Average house prices are £120,545 in Newcastle, £124,338 in North Tyneside, £123,766 in Northumberland, £99,837 in South Tyneside and £85,438 in Sunderland.

Nonetheless, buyers of more expensive homes will make savings as long as the property is worth less than £937,000.

Responding to questions from Conservative MP Guy Opperman, MP for Hexham, and Labour Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson, the Chancellor also said there would be help for airports in the North if they were hit by a potential cut in air passenger duty in Scotland, following the announcement that aviation duty will be devolved to the Scottish government.

Responding to the statement, Newcastle East MP Nick Brown pointed out that the Chancellor had announced Britain was awarded the lead role in the next international effort to explore the planet of Mars, adding:

“The Chancellor spoke more about Mars than he did about the North East of England. His Northern Powerhouse is located over 100 miles to the South of Tyne and Wear.

“His statement contained no commitment to any type of workable regional policy in the context of further Scottish Devolution. This is grotesquely one-sided. Even his stamp duty changes were focussed on London and the South East.”

But Liberal Democrat MP Sir Alan Beith, who represents Berwick, said:

“The Autumn Statement sticks to our strategy to deal with the deficit, enabling us to release funds for key Liberal Democrat priorities that bring fairness and a stronger economy.”

Source –  Newcastle Journal,  03 Dec 2014

Scottish Independence Referendum has Berwick braced for changes ahead

One week from polling day across the border, Berwick is braced for problems ahead if there is a Yes vote for Scottish independence.

With opinion polls indicating that next Thursday’s referendum is too close to call, the establishment of a separate sovereign state north of Lamberton has suddenly become a realistic prospect.

 Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith believes the result “could have profound consequences for Berwick and the Borders.”

But on a visit to the Berwick Advertiser office this week, Ayton-based Scottish government minister Paul Wheelhouse insisted cross-border ties would be largely unaffected by independence.

As media coverage intensifies and the referendum race enters the home straight, international journalists and TV news crews from around the world have been descending on Berwick in droves to gauge opinion in England’s most northerly town.

Business leaders in north Northumberland are waiting and watching with interest. Many of them fear for the future, but most are unwilling to comment publicly about potential problems independence would cause.

Sir Alan Beith, however, repeats Unionists warnings today about currency, border controls and cross-border public services.

There might be Scottish pounds after independence, but their value would fluctuate below or above that of the English pound,” he writes. “It really would be like changing holiday money, but on an everyday basis.”

He also warns that border checkpoints could not be ruled out if Scotland opts for independence.

If one of our two nations was in the EU and the other was not, border control would be necessary,” he writes.

“If the UK government had no confidence in the Scottish government’s immigration or security policy, border controls could become necessary.”

Sir Alan also believes cross-border public services would be put at risk.

He states: “It is quite difficult to overcome cross-border bureaucratic obstacles within a single state, but I believe it would be a lot more difficult across a boundary between two sovereign states.”

Mr Wheelhouse, acknowledges that cross-border concerns have been raised by voters on the Scottish side of the border. But the SNP politician, who says he often shops in Berwick, is confident existing arrangements between the Borders and Northumberland would be largely unaffected by independence.

We have a good story to tell in terms of those relations, and the continuing nature of an open border,” he said.

“Different tax arrangements are common place across Europe in terms of cross-border working and there have been no problems there.”

He also believes an independent Scotland would “hopefully” be able to continue the current relationship between the two health services on either side of the border.

But many members of the public in the Berwick area are unconvinced.

Andrew Martin, 46, from Tweedmouth, fears for Berwick’s economy.

“If Scotland gets its own tax raising powers and decides to set taxes at a lower rate or reduce its own VAT, goods and service would be cheaper just a few miles to the north,” he said.

Berwick has always been the communication hub for the north of Northumberland and the south east of the Scottish Borders. If things are different on either side of the border it causes a real issue.

“I don’t think the impact on north Northumberland has been properly explored.

“A Yes vote could benefit us on this side of the border. But a No vote and a new devolution plus arrangement could have a real impact.”

So Berwick would benefit from a Yes vote?

“It would really depend whether or not Scotland could raise the funds required to balance the books. If not, tax and VAT would go up. Alex Salmond looks towards Norway, but the have an income tax rate of 50% and a higher rate of VAT.”

Some small businesses in the Borders are understood to have already registered a new address in Northumberland to guard against the prospect of being entangled in red tape in the event of a Yes vote and the potential for economic problems in immediate aftermath.

But on the Northumberland side of the border, most business leaders are simply waiting and watching with interest.

Terence Pardoe is chief executive at Coastal Grains. Based at Belford, the co-operative stores and markets grain for members on both sides of the border.

We have no view on it until there is a vote one way or another and then have to see what transpires and how it may affect us,” he said.

If there is a Yes vote, there will have to be a period of re-organisation, and we do not yet know what will be involved in the transfer of centralisation. If there is a No vote, then the assumption is that nothing will change to affect the business.

“It would therefore be a waste of time planning something which we do not know how it will evolve.”

Very few business leaders are prepared to express their fears publicly. Indeed, one of the biggest employers in Berwick told the Advertiser this week that it was company policy not to comment about a “current political event”.

But the Scots who live in Berwick are happy to have their say.

Marion Black, 56, is a Scot who has lived in East Ord for 27 years. She would be undecided if she did have a vote. She also believes the potential implications for Berwick, if Scotland does opt for independence, have been exaggerated.

I don’t think much would change,” she said. “We’ve had stories like this before. When free personal care for the elderly and free tuition fees were introduced under devolution, people said there would be an influx of people moving from Berwick to Scotland and that house prices would up over the border. But it never happened. The impact won’t be as big as people say.

“In the short to medium term, I don’t think independence would have a big impact.

“I love Berwick and I love living in Berwick. People don’t always move or change their life solely for economic reasons.”

It’s nice in a way because I’m interested in the debate, but I don’t have the responsibility of making up my mind. My heart says yes, and my head says no. If I did live in Scotland I’d be torn.”

Stephen Hope was born in Edinburgh but now lives and works in Berwick. He is employed by his dad at the Sporran Gift Shop on Church Street, selling Scottish memorabilia to the tourists.

Independence could be bad for Berwick,” he said. “But it would depend on the strength of the currency Scotland chooses to use. If it is a weak currency, though, the Scots would come over the border to do their shopping, so that might benefit Berwick. it is hard to say. But if I was up there I’d definitely vote No.”

Source – Berwick Advertiser,  13 Sept 2014

Government again under fire over mesothelioma scheme

MPs have again launched a stinging attack on the Government following what they described as a “maladroit” review of claims for the asbestos-related disease mesothelioma.

A short inquiry by MPs on the Justice Select Committee found the consultation had not been prepared in a thorough and even-handed manner and it should be undertaken again.

Their report also called on the Ministry of Justice to work with the Department of Health to reduce delays in the production of mesothelioma victims’ medical records and highlighted the excessive average legal cost of £20,000 for every claim.

Middlesbrough Labour MP Andy McDonald, one of the committee members, said: “What is abundantly clear from our investigations is the Government never had any intention of retaining the exemptions they agreed to and which were secured by parliament for the benefit of mesothelioma victims and their families.

“The protective measures that were so hard won from the Government, which meant that victims didn’t have to suffer additional legal costs brought about by litigation funding changes introduced by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO), were simply a sham.”

Mr McDonald accused the Government and the Association of British Insurers of “dodgy deals behind closed doors”.

Last year, MPs from this region condemned a “roll over” to the insurance industry when they criticised weaknesses in the Mesothelioma Bill, legislation designed to compensate victims of mesothelioma who have been unable to trace employers who exposed them to asbestos.

Mesothelioma, a painful and almost always fatal lung disease caused 2,291 deaths in 2011, a higher number of which on average occurred in the North-East. This is thought to be because of the region’s background in heavy industry.

 The committee’s chairman, veteran Liberal Democrat MP Sir Alan Beith, who represents Berwick-upon-Tweed, said the Government’s approach had been unsatisfactory on a number of counts.

James Dalton, an assistant director of the Association of British Insurers, said the insurance industry had always been “open and transparent”, adding: “We make no apologies for negotiating with Government a scheme, paid for by insurers, that will compensate an extra 3,000 sufferers over the next ten years, who would otherwise go uncompensated.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said: “We are considering the best way to get claims settled fairly and quickly.”

We will consider the report’s recommendations and respond in due course.

 

Source – Durham Times,  01 Aug 2014