HC Deb 27 July 1944 vol 402 cc982-7
The Attorney-General (Sir Donald Somervell)

I beg to move, in page 1, line 7, to leave out "create," and to insert "grant or provide for the grant of."

This Amendment, and a number of others which stand in my name, are really to meet a drafting point. We thought we would use words which cover both cases, but they were not absolutely clear, and this and the ensuing Amendment are designed to meet this.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 1, line 8, leave out "take effect as an agreement for," and insert: have effect as if it granted or provided for the grant of."—[The Attorney-General.]

Colonel Clarke (East Grinstead)

I beg to move, in page 1, line 23, to leave out paragraph (c).

In moving this Amendment, I feel I ought to disclose my interest in the matter by saying that as a landowner I may possibly be affected at some time by the Bill. I move this Amendment with a certain amount of diffidence because I know that this Bill has come from another place, and has been fully considered by a number of capable people. In fact, when I saw the names of those who had debated it, in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I felt a very small David with a very inadequate and smooth stone. Further, this Clause was meant to be a present to the agricultural industry. One does not like looking a gift horse in the mouth, but at the same time one knows the embarrassment of receiving a very large present one has not room for, so that it would have been better in some ways not to have received it at all. I feel that this may be a larger present than the industry really wants.

The Clause as it stands is rather 100 comprehensive. I understand that under Sections 23 and 25 of the Agricultural Holdings Act any lease that has been made for the duration of the war, and which has been run for upwards of two years, will be terminable only by due notice and after an interval of 13 months. The Clause says not less than one year or more than two. Probably, in practice, it will run to the nearest quarter day or to Michaelmas, the usually accepted end of the agricultural year, and if the date decided upon by Order in Council for the end of the war was 1st February it might be a year from the following Michaelmas before the lease was terminated. I feel that that might be an onerous condition in many cases, particularly in connection with leases entered into during the war period. My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton Turton), in speaking on this matter on the Second Reading, quoted an instance which I beg leave to repeat. It may be that a farmer has had part of his farm, including the homestead, taken over by some authority like the War Department, and that the holding is unworkable because the buildings are not usable. In order to prevent as much land as possible going out of cultivation he gets a neighbour to take it over and cultivate it, probably at a considerably lower rent than is normally paid because there are no buildings with it. As soon as the war comes to an end, and the War Department hands the farmer back his farmstead, he naturally wants to start farming as quickly as possible. He would not want to wait 13 months or 20 months or more if the war officially ended in December. Under Section 23 it appears to be impossible to contract out, to be able to make any conditions whereby it should be varied. It was suggested on the Second Reading that the question of compensation might come in, but I do not think that that is the case. Only Sections 23 and 25 of the Act are referred to.

I feel that this Clause would not altogether have the effect intended, particularly as regards the intention of the parties when the agreement was entered into. The converse case is that of a man who takes over an allotment or smallholding to produce food during the war, either for his family or as part of his war effort for the community. He would probably not want to carry that on for a long time, and it might be economically impossible, after the emergency was over. It was never the intention that he should do so. If the intention was in either case that this should be an ordinary year to year lease I think it would have been made out in the ordinary form and then, of course, the Agricultural Holdings Act is designed to control the running of leases of that sort. But these are exceptions and for these reasons I ask that this Clause be omitted or, better, that other words be inserted which will cover a number of cases it is intended to cover, but will also cover the possible hardships I have referred to.

Mr. Manningham-Buller (Daventry)

I desire to support the Amendment, although not on quite the same grounds, of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke). It seems to me that in one respect paragraph (c) is unnecessary, and that if it remains in the Bill its operation will be obscure. I express the opinion on the paragraph as it stands with a great deal of diffidence as it was introduced by a Noble Lord of great legal eminence in another place. If I understand the decision in Lace v. Chandler correctly that decision applies to agricultural holdings in a rather remarkable way. It appears to me that the lease of an agricultural holding for the duration of the war, under that decision, would take effect as a tenancy at will. Its operation as a tenancy at will is affected by the Agricultural Holdings Act, and without anything being put into the bill it appears to me that 12 months' notice, would, in view of the provisions of that Act, be required to terminate this tenancy so that agricultural holdings, having the protection of that Statute, appear to come into a quite different category from any other form of tenancies for the duration of the war or hostilities.

I think it is unnecessary to provide for having one month's notice on top of that. This paragraph says: … this Subsection shall apply to that agreement subject to the provisions of Sections twenty-three and twenty-five of the said Act. That seems a little obscure. Does it mean that 12 months' notice under the Agricultural Holdings Act will suffice, or mean that you have to give 13 months' notice under that Section of the Agricultural Holdings Act and not Sub-section (1) of this Clause? I should have thought that all you would have required to state in regard to this was that instead of a month's notice there must be the same notice as you get under the Agricultural Holdings Act.

Mr. Moelwyn Hughes (Carmarthen)

I hope the Attorney-General will reject this Amendment. Although I speak with some diffidence, as I have not the same contacts with the land and its tenancies as the hon, and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) and the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller), I want to point out that the idea that paragraph (c) involves an addition to the ordinary agricultural notice is entirely misconceived. The term "subject to" is common enough in legislation and cannot be read as "in addition to." "Subject to" means that the ordinary terms for notice in agricultural tenancies will apply, and this provision was inserted for the protection of those who have taken tenancies of this kind. There can be no greater upset to anyone involved in the working of the land than to have his tenancy determined in between the seasons. The whole object of agricultural leases and terms for notice, and the period at which they may be brought to an end, is that you can have a change-over from one occupier to another at a time that fits in with the working of the land. This Sub-section, which it is now desired, for reasons that I cannot appreciate, to remove, is designed in order that, whenever a tenancy is determined, it shall be at a time which suits those working the soil.

The Attorney-General

To some extent my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) answered my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke). This Sub-section is not in any sense intended as a special gift to the agricultural interests. It was inserted in accordance with the general principle of the Bill, which is that agreements for the duration of the war should have the effect which they would have had if they had not been held to be invalid in form under the decision of the Court of Appeal. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry that, if there had been an agricultural lease for the duration of the war—I very much doubt if there are any such—the provisions of Sections 23 and 25 of the Agricultural Holdings Act would have applied and that there was to be 12 months' notice taking effect at the end of the tenancy. We inserted this Clause because under an earlier part of the Section we had made a statutory provision for a month's notice. When that was put in we had in mind the ordinary residential lease, and not the agricultural lease, but we thought there was a definite danger of someone saying, "As the Statute provides for a month's notice, that overrides the statutory provisions of the Agricultural Holdings Act with regard to notice for agricultural leases." We, therefore, thought it right to make it clear that the provision as to one month's notice shall not have that effect and that agricultural leases for the duration of the war shall take effect subject to those two Sections, as they undoubtedly would have done if it had been a valid agreement ab initio. Therefore, I think the Committee would be unwise to accept this Amendment. It really restores the status quo on the basis that the agreement is invalidated. Once the point was taken and it was pointed out that this one month's notice might create a difficulty, we thought it right to make an express provision to this effect.

Colonel Clarke

The matter is clearer to me now that I have heard my right hon. and learned Friend's explanation.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: In page 2, line 31, leave out "create," and insert "grant or provide for the grant of."

In line 33, leave out "create," and insert "grant or provide for the grant of."

In page 3, line 1, leave out "creating," and insert "granting or providing for the grant of." In line 12, leave out "take effect as an agreement for," and insert: have effect as if it granted or provided for the grant of. In line 13, leave out "for."

In line 20, at the end, add new Subsection: (6) In this section the expression 'agreement' includes an agreement in the form of a lease."—(The Attorney-General.) Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.