Manorial rights: MPs demand full review of 'impractical' powers that date back to feudal era

Report labels some assertions as aberrations which may no longer have 'practical significance'

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Manorial rights dating back to the feudal era which still grant their owners powers over swathes of Britain, affecting everything from the holding of fairs to mineral extraction, should be considered for abolition according to MPs.

The recommendation comes after thousands of homeowners from Anglesey to Hertfordshire received official letters last year telling them that powers held in their local areas by a Lord of the Manor, including the right to extract material from beneath their houses, were being asserted for the first time.

Around 90,000 such claims were laid down by the end of 2013 after the law stipulated that owners of these centuries-old rights had to invoke them or face losing them. But in a report, MPs have said the controversial registration had exposed flaws in the system and suggested that “all or some” categories of entitlement under the arcane rules should now be reviewed.

Manorial rights, long favoured by wealthy individuals seeking some seigneurial swagger in return for a cash payment, rarely bring with them physical property yet often still include powers over land owned or occupied by others. The rights can include access for sports such as shooting and fishing, the right to holds fairs or markets and the power to demand fees for maintenance of dykes or ditches.

Some of these rights, such as mineral extraction from a quarry site, remain valid and lucrative; the Church of England’s manorial mineral rights extend over 300,000 acres of land and generate “substantial” income. But MPs said others such as the assertion of shooting rights in once rural land now occupied by urban housing estates are aberrations which may no longer have “practical significance”.

The House of Commons Justice Committee is asking for the Law Commission, the body which scrutinises existing legislation, to assess whether the law should now be changed to compensate Lords of the Manor and remove entitlements dating back to the Anglo-Saxons.

The MPs’ report said it was understandable that holders of rights with commercial value should register their interests, but “we consider the situation whereby a claim to certain manorial rights can be made over areas of dense residential properties, where rights are unlikely to ever be exercised, is anomalous.”

It added: “We recommend that the Law Commission conduct a project assessing whether the law related to manorial rights should be changed, including the question of whether all or some categories should be abolished.”

The announcement was welcomed by campaigners who have been calling for a root and branch re-organisation of the system after residents in locations from Welwyn Garden City in Hertfordshire to Anglesey in North Wales were warned that manorial rights were being asserted on the land beneath their homes.

Amanda White, of End Manorial Rights, said: “Lords of the Manor used to have the right to take our daughters’ virginity but we got rid of that a long time ago. Why then do we still have powers from the same era which allow the holders of these titles to literally undermine people’s home ownership?”

Sir Alan Beith, chairman of the committee, said: “House owners were astonished to find manorial rights registered on their properties, and worried that this would affect them when selling the house. 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.”

My manor: Lords who asserted their rights

Anglesey

Some 4,000 residents received notices that Cheshire businessman Stephen Hayes, who had bought the title of the Lord of the Manor for 10,350 acres of Anglesey, had asserted his right to royalties from minerals extracted below their homes. Following an outcry, Mr Hayes said he was dropping the claim.

Welwyn Garden City

Lawyers acting for Lord Salisbury, the former Conservative Leader in the House of Lords, wrote to homeowners in the Hertfordshire commuter town “in respect of the mines and minerals”. Concerns that the dispute related to possible fracking proved unfounded.

Ireby Fell

A dispute over ownership of a 362-acre Lancashire fell between retired banker Peter Burton, who had registered himself as Lord of the Manor, and irate villagers led to a six-year legal battle ending in the Court of Appeal in 2013.

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