HC Deb 12 March 1928 vol 214 cc1507-9
44. Mr. FENBY

asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is aware that a tenant of the Surrey County Council who relinquished his farm holding last Michaelmas and claimed compensation for improvements effected by him was kept waiting for five months before his claim was investigated; that four independent referees nominated by him were refused by the county council, and that the referee ultimately appointed by the Minister was the estate agent employed by the council for the letting of the farm in question; that the inquiry into the tenant's claim was carried out on a date on which he had been assured by the referee it would not take place, so that he was unable to lay before it evidence essential for the proper statement of his case; and whether, in view of these circumstances, he will cause the question to be further investigated with a view to ensuring an equitable settlement of the compensation claim?


As the reply is long, I propose, with the hon. Member's permission, to circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.


Will the right hon. Gentleman tell me whether he is satisfied with the arrangements made in regard to this arbitrator?


The hon. Member knows that since March, 1926, local authorities have had full control over these small holdings, but the details I have given in my answer will, I am sure, satisfy him that this referee was appointed in the ordinary way and that he is in no sense responsible as agent or otherwise for the letting of the holding.

Following is the reply.

With regard to the first part of the hon. Member's question, I would remind him that since the 31st March, 1926, county councils have been given complete responsibility for the management of their estates, and it would not be practicable or desirable for me to attempt to intervene in any matter between a council and its tenant. I received an application on the 31st December last to appoint an arbitrator in the case of Boundary Farm, Banstead, which is presumably the case to which the hon. Member refers. After notice had been given to the tenant and the proposed arbitrator had signified his willingness to act, the appointment was made 19 days after the receipt of the application, and I am satisfied that there was no unreasonable delay on the part of the Ministry. The arbitrator appointed was a local valuer selected from the Panel formed by the Lord Chief Justice under the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1923.

Before making the appointment the Ministry received from the arbitrator the usual declaration that he was not connected with either of the parties to the reference. I am informed that the Surrey County Council in July last sent particulars of the holding, which was becoming vacant at Michaelmas, to three firms of agricultural estate agents in the county, asking them to forward to the County Offices any inquiries they might receive from suitable small holding applicants. One of these estate agents was the firm of which the arbitrator appointed six months later was a member. Apart from this, the firm have no relationship with the Surrey County Council, nor did they introduce a tenant for this holding. I see no reason, therefore, why the arbitrator should not have been selected to deal with this reference. With regard to the last part of the question, I have no knowledge as to anything that has occurred since the arbitrator was appointed, nor am I in a position to intervene or take any action in the matter.