HC Deb 02 May 1944 vol 399 cc1256-72
Mr. Ness Edwards (Caerphilly)

On 16th March the Minister of Agriculture answered a series of Questions put by myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Jackson) in relation to the eviction of a tenant from Ty Gwyn Farm, Gilwern, near Abergavenny. These Questions related to the right hon. Gentleman's action in so far as he had agreed that the tenancy of this farm should be terminated by the tenant. In order that this rather sordid story shall be made plain to the House I propose to indicate the facts of the case, so that Members may have the chance of judging for themselves. This farm was taken over by the father of the present tenant in 1896 and it has been in the family ever since. When the father died, in 1920, the present tenant took over and has farmed it up to date. The farm consists of 164 acres, part being in Monmouthshire and the other part being in Breconshire. The rent of this farm is £350 a year—an extremely high rent for a farm of this size, and, so far as my knowledge goes, a higher rent per acre than is paid anywhere else in that Vale. Throughout the period that this tenant has had this farm he has never once been behind with his rent, not even during the bad years. What sort of farmer is this man who is to be kicked out of his farm?

The Minister of Agriculture, in his reply to the questions which were put to him, hinted darkly as to his qualities but, as I have said, what sort of man is this farmer? He holds 14 first prizes for ploughing in three counties. Many Members will remember Sir John Herbert, who sat in this House as the Member for the Monmouthshire Boroughs. This tenant farmer holds the "Sir John Herbert" silver cup for the best ploughing horses. He also holds a number of prizes for hedging and ditching and, in general, is regarded in that neighbourhood as a first-class farmer. It is of interest to note that both the Brecon and Radnor and Monmouthshire County War Agricultural Executive Committees have not made a single complaint against the quality of the farm or against its production. Never once has this man failed to exceed the quota of ploughing laid down by both these County War Agricultural Executive Committees.

Last year this farm was sold over his head, not to another farmer, but to a bus proprietor, for over £6,500. This is a rather fabulous price to pay for a farm of that size in that area. My hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor can tell the House that this price is twice the average paid for farms of that size. This bus proprietor bought the farm over the head of the tenant farmer and within a week he had resold it to a building contractor for over £8,000. Here is speculation. Why did the building contractor buy the land at this inflated price? Did he do so in order to farm it, or as a speculation? This is certainly relevant to the argument about that portion of the farm which is in Monmouthshire, and which is adjacent to the main Gilwern-Abergavenny road overlooking the Usk Vale. This postwar building site has been bought at this inflated price, and the Minister has agreed that this tenant farmer shall be kicked out in order that the post-war profits of a building contractor shall be safeguarded.

The new owner, the building contractor, served a notice to quit upon the tenant, who refused to accept it. With amazing rapidity, within two weeks, the Minister had acceded to the request of the contractor to serve this notice. It is astonishing how rich men can work their way through regulations to the penalty of poor men. What steps had the Minister taken, as I understand he is obliged to take? He is obliged to ask the County War Agricultural Executive Committee for their advice. He asked the Brecon and Radnor Committee for their advice, and they unanimously recommended that the tenant should be allowed to stay. He then asked the Monmouthshire Committee for their advice, which was that the tenant must stay. Yet, despite the recommendations of these two statutory bodies, both charged with the responsibility of advising the Minister, by some hook or crook the right hon. Gentleman consented to the turning out of this tenant. As a result of his action resolutions of protest were passed by the local authorities, the Food Executive Committee, and branches of the Farmers' Union in Breconshire, Radnorshire and Monmouthshire. They were sent to the Minister but with no effect, and particulars of the case were then sent on to my hon Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor. My hon. Friend corresponded with the Parliamentary Secretary. I do not wish to deal with that correspondence, but it is astonishing how easy it is for some of us to become indifferent to injusiice when we get promotion—

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. Tom Williams)

Will the hon. Member quote from that correspondence to justify his statement about indifference?

Mr. Ness Edwards

I would do so if I had the correspondence with me, but neither the right hon. Gentleman nor myself knew that this Debate was coming on at this time and I am afraid that I have not the correspondence to hand at the moment.

Mr. Williams

Then please do not repeat the charge of indifference.

Mr. Ness Edwards

Thanks to the courtesy of an hon. Friend who is sitting near me I shall be able to get the correspondence in a few minutes, and then we shall be able to chase what might after all be a red herring in this business.

Mr. Williams

No personal charges.

Mr. Ness Edwards

I will support them. As a result of the Questions which were put to the Minister on 16th March he said that he was not satisfied that any speculation had taken place. Will my right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary say that a farm which is sold by one person to another, and then to another, within a space of one week, at a profit of £1,500, is not speculation? This is a sheer case of speculation.

Mr. Williams

We will see.

Mr. Ness Edwards

Yes, we will see. Let us go one step further. How many more farms has this building contractor to buy during this war before the right hon. Gentleman will accept it as speculation? The Minister of Agriculture was asked how many farms this man had bought and he said he did not know. I challenge the Parliamentary Secretary to say that this is the first farm which has been bought by the building contractor. Why has he bought it? Why is he amassing building materials on the farm now if it is not for the purpose of building?

The Minister then tried to defend himself on another count, and that is that the change of tenancy would not reduce food production. Who is going to farm this land? Does the Minister know? Does my right hon. Friend know? Is this man going to leave his palatial residence in Cardiff to farm the land, or is he going to live on the other farm that he has bought since the war? He is going to put in as bailiff a building contractor's foreman who has not spent a day on a farm in his life, to farm this land, and this is the man who is to replace the champion, farmer of the Vale of Usk. Does my right hon. Friend say there will be no reduction in food production? The Minister suggested in his reply to my hon. Friend that the advice that this owner would get from other farmers would enable him to maintain food production, and even improve it. Are relatives in high places of such great consequence as that? Is their advice so valuable as that? How is it that this man has been able to manoeuvre getting consent to turning out a yeoman farmer in order to put an Irish day labourer on his farm?

The Minister sought to stave off this Debate by dark hints as to the quality of the farming of the present tenant. I challenge my right hon. Friend to produce a better farmer, or a better farm in the district. Only last week my hon. Friend walked over every field there. He can tell the House that this is a successful and prosperous farmer with a scientific knowledge of farming. From the point of view of farming the Minister has no case. These dark hints about this Grade B farmer, as the Minister described him, are very interesting. He was Graded B in 1940, and no regrading has taken place until recently he was unanimously recommended as a Grade A farmer. Here is a Grade A farmer to be put on the road and an Irish labourer put in to run the farm. [An HON. MEMBER "By a C3 Minister."] I do not want to be offensive about the Minister. I could not be offensive about the matter if I wanted to. My hon. Friend and I went to the farm together. The Minister's conversation with me behind the Speaker's Chair gave me some doubts. The correspondence between my hon. Friend and my Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor also gave me some doubts. We decided to visit it and my hon. Friend was highly pleased with it. It was producing first rate results. It had a better corn production per acre than any farm in the district. For its size it is carrying a heavier stock than any farm in the district. As we drove up to it we saw two big lorries conveying bricks, pipes, cement, tiles and cement posts, and 12 building trade operators riot residing in the locality. I should think there was nearly, £2,000 worth of stuff, all for the purpose of erecting under the terms of his licence a temporary hut for workmen. What are permits, what is petrol, what are materials, what is labour to a man who has got rich on Government contracts? I do not know how he has been able to ride rough shod through this. As a matter of equity this is a damnable thing. The word is not sufficiently severe to describe what has taken place. I hope my right hon. Friend will not attempt to draw a veil aross the indecency of this incident or try to defend the Minister for the very tragic mistake he has made in consenting to turn out this very decent farmer.

Mr. Jackson (Brecon and Radnor)

I thank my hon. Friend for having taken up this case during my absence, and I congratulate him on having dealt with such great ability with what I feel must be somewhat strange material for him. I hope I should be able to establish such a case if I had to deal with coal mines. I should like to confirm broadly all the facts my hon. Friend has mentioned, especially his description of the farm and the farmer. I am satisfied, as a farmer, that it is a very good average farm and that the tenant should never have been disturbed. I have examined every single field on it and found the crops very good. I have looked through the stock averages far past years, and they were good. I can find nothing which does not prove that this man is an able and efficient farmer. I agree that more could be produced pro- vided he could have all the capital and equipment that he wanted and provided he could get all the things which, speaking from practical experience, are not available for ordinary farmers but seem to be easily available to amateurs who have plenty of money. The House may think that there is something behind this and that this man is not a first-class farmer because he was graded B. In the early days of 1940 the Breconshire War Agricultural Executive Committee, rightly or wrongly, decided to be very strict, and only farms which it could honestly be said could not produce more stuff were graded A. A very small percentage of farms in the county are graded A, but I am certain it would never be suggested that the farms they graded B were inefficient. I believe it was their intention by grading farms B to ginger them up to increase production.

The War Agricultural Executive Committee advised the Minister not to turn this farmer out, and the Minister's refusal of their recommendation has caused a great deal of heart-burning in this district. I hope, now that they have heard what we have to say, the whole thing will be reconsidered, the notice to quit will be withdrawn, and Mr. Llewellyn will be allowed to remain on the farm, the only home he and his wife have ever known, at least for the duration of the war, because of they are turned out, with the present stigma cast upon them—because there is no doubt that the excuse is that they are not efficient farmers—it will break the hearts of two very fine and much respected people.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. Tom Williams)

I am quite sure that no hon. Member in the House who has listened to the two speeches will envy me my job at this moment. I want to say at the outset that I quite appreciate that there must be local feeling in this matter, but neither local feeling nor the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Edwards) will inspire me into making any statement which might in the most remote way reflect upon the tenant farmer, whose notice to quit is expiring slowly but surely. The case I have to answer, however, is the decision of the Minister in this particular case, and that answer I hope to give without either feeling or adverse reference to the tenant farmer at all. I have certainly no knowledge of the person who bought the land, who is about to farm the land. Therefore, I can declare that I am strictly impartial in anything I may have to say.

This is a case which comes within Defence Regulation 62 (4A). That Regulation provides that where an agricultural holding is subject to a contract of sale made since the outbreak of war or has been sold since the outbreak of war, any notice to quit the holding given to the tenant shall be null and void unless the Minister of Agriculture consents to the notice. The Minister explained to the House on 11th November, 1941, that the primary object of this Regulation is to provide a deterrent to speculation in agricultural land. That is well known by hon. Members. Before we go further let us be quite clear in our minds as to what is meant by speculation. My right hon. Friend has never taken the view that this particular Regulation should prevent ordinary investment in agricultural land in the ordinary way. I think that the House of Commons clearly understood the statement when made on 11th November, 1941, that the Regulation was designed to respond to a feeling expressed in all parts of the House on previous occasions that where speculation was the object of a purchaser of land, then the Minister should have the power to prevent the buyer from giving notice to the sitting tenant, in other words to prevent speculation in agricultural land at the expense of the sitting tenant. My right hon. Friend did not then, and still does not, wish to prevent investment in land in the ordinary way by persons who wish to put the land to its proper function, namely, the production of food.

The object of the Regulation was definitely to prevent a speculator from aiming at a quick turnover and quick profits—I shall reply to the hon. Member for Caerphilly on this later—either by buying an agricultural holding, giving notice to the tenant and selling at a higher price with vacant possession, or inducing the sitting tenant in order to save his farm and his home and his living, to pay a much higher price than would otherwise be the case. This Regulation effectively enables the Minister to achieve that object. It is of the greatest possible importance that this Regulation should be administered impartially, and for that purpose a very careful administrative procedure has been followed in every case, including the case of the Ty Gwyn Farm. In the first place an application for consent to a notice to quit an agricultural holding is referred to the appropriate War Agricultural Executive Committee for investigation and report, and two specific questions are put to the Committee; one, is the case one of potential speculation, and, two, if the notice to quit takes effect, is there a likelihood of an increase in the production of food from the holding? If the answer to the first question is "Yes,' namely that there is a potential speculation, or to the second, "No," namely that there is no likelihood of an increase in food production, then consent to the notice is refused, and the notice therefore becomes null and void.

Some hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Caerphilly, think that no reasonably good farmer ought to be disturbed from his holding during the course of the war. Other hon. Members hold very different views. I personally have my own view, and it may be that I agree or disagree with my hon. Friend, but we are not discussing that question at this moment, and that is the point I must emphasise. We are not discussing whether a tenant farmer should be displaced or not. We are simply discussing now action taken under Regulation 62 (4A). We are discussing, as it were, the merits of the decision taken by the Minister on the Ty Gwyn Farm case. In this case the normal procedure was applied. We sought to ascertain what the intention of the purchaser of this farm really was, that is, the person applying for consent to the notice. We learned that the present owner purchased the farm from a previous owner, who had himself purchased the farm when it was sold by public auction. Would my hon. Friend suggest that a farm put up for public auction is purchased exclusively for speculation? Hon. Members who heard the speech of my hon. Friend are entitled to know this. This farm was put up for public auction. I understand that the sitting tenant was present at the auction. [An HON. MEMBER: "And bid."] Unfortunately for him, and I have the fullest sympathy with the individual, he was unable to rise to the final bid. The farm, therefore, was purchased at public auction by a new owner.

Mr. Ness Edwards

Let us have the facts.

Mr. Williams

As far as the facts can be given I hope they will be laid bare. The farm was purchased at public auction. Is that denied?

Mr. Ness Edwards

No, but what I am asking my right hon. Friend is to state the facts, and are not the facts these: The tenant went up to £6,000, which was too high a price, in his view, for the farm, and a 'bus proprietor bid £6,500, and then he again sold the farm privately for £8,000 odd? These are the facts.

Mr. Williams

If my hon. Friend would contain his soul in patience for a moment I had intended to relate all the facts as I know them. Either the decision of the Minister was right, according to the Regulations about which we are speaking, or it was not right, and the withholding of facts will in no way affect the matter. The farm was put up for sale at public auction. It was purchased at a price which was not notified to the Department. The individual who made the purchase—

Mr. Craven Ellis (Southampton)

The right hon. Gentleman has not yet made it clear whether the owner put up the farm for auction prior to the Department consenting to the notice or subsequent to it.

Mr. Williams

If the hon. Gentleman would have waited perhaps it would not have been necessary for him to make that interjection. The farm was put up for public auction. It was purchased by some purchaser or other, whether he was a 'bus proprietor I have no means of telling. I take the hon. Member's word for it. It was purchased, I am now told, at £6,500. No notice was given to the tenant by the first buyer. Therefore, no infringement took place. No action could be taken under the Regulations. None was called for. Subsequently, however, the 'bus proprietor, if 'bus proprietor he was, sold the land to a willing buyer, the present owner of the farm, and, so we are informed, made a quick profit of £1,500. I do not know the figures, we were not notified [Interruption.] I listened to the hon. Member make his case, and I listened to the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Jackson). If hon. Members do not wish to listen I do not mind in the least.

The first purchaser took a step which is permissible for any person in this land with a sum of money at his disposal. Anybody can buy land if they have sufficient money. If somebody wants to sell it there is no power in the hands of the Ministry of Agriculture to prevent it, and no power under this Regulation to prevent it, unless it is purchased expressly for speculation and the buyer tries to interfere with the tenant. My hon. Friend is bound to agree that the first buyer did not interfere with the tenant. So far as the first purchaser is concerned the Minister of Agriculture was not involved; that is clearly understood, so that a charge of speculation under the terms of Regulation 62 (4A) cannot be sustained. It is true that the person bought the land at a price and sold it at a profit, but so far the Ministry of Agriculture did not enter the scene at all.

Mr. W. J. Brown (Rugby)

He speculated, but it was not a speculation?

Mr. Williams

Not covered by Regulation 62 (4A). That is the only Regulation there is on the matter. The second buyer, however, proceeds to give notice to the sitting tenant, and only at that point does the Minister of Agriculture enter the field. The second buyer seeks permission to give notice to his tenant. He must apply to the Minister of Agriculture for consent. The Minister must be satisfied, I repeat, first that the land has not been purchased for speculation, and secondly—

Mr. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)

It all turns on the interpretation of "speculation" or "investment." How does the Ministry of Agriculture know that this farm will not be run and improved and then turned over again as an investment, with the sitting tenant already gone?

Mr. Williams

Neither the Minister of Agriculture nor, in fact, any other Minister, is expected to be a prophet. He can only act upon available information and the advice of those on the spot. When the two specific questions are put to a County War Agriculture Committee the advice given to the Minister on the first question "Is it felt that this is purchased for the purpose of speculation?" enables him to decide yes or no. The advice was sought and the replies given were to the effect that the second purchaser, the present owner of the land, had not purchased for the purpose of speculation and that, in fact, all his intentions were to farm the land himself.

If, therefore, that is the expressed intention of the new owner, to farm the land himself, the only other question which the Minister has to answer is "Is it possible that the new tenant will improve the production of food from the farm?" If the Minister is satisfied that there is a likelihood of an increase in the food production, then he has no power to withhold his consent to the notice. The Minister is expected, having received the information sought from the War Executive Committee, from his Land Commissioner and from any other source, to reach his decision. In this case the Minister reached his decision after having taken into consideration all the relevant factors.

Mr. Stokes

Except speculation.

Mr. Williams

If the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) would be decent enough to sit and listen for a minute, he might learn what the subject is about. It is neither about tanks nor banks; it is about farming. If the hon. Member will do me the favour of listening for a few moments he will see that I am trying to make the best answer I can to the question. The Minister received all the information that could be obtained. The first thing he found was that the sitting tenant was a B farmer. [An HON MEMBER: "What is a B farmer?"] There are three categories, A, B and C, and B means that he is neither A nor C but happens to be B. In other words, there is a chance for improvement and that category was not imposed upon him by the Minister, but by the War Agriculture Executive Committee.

Mr. Ness Edwards

In fairness, will you agree that the man has been classified A?

Mr. Williams

No. If the hon. Member will not exaggerate his case, he will, in fact, improve it. The War Agriculture Executive Committee placed this farmer in category B and it is true to say that he is still in category B. The hon. Member spoke heatedly about this farmer who is in Category A. I said in my opening sentences that nothing I should say here would adversely reflect upon the farmer. I do not want to say an unpleasant word about him. All I am trying to say is that the Minister is called upon to reach an impartial decision upon the basis of the facts as known to him, and the facts as known to him in October, 1943, were that this farmer was a category B farmer. He also knows that, on the general evidence, including a report on soil analysis of the farm, that that was a fairly correct category to place him in. Whether the new owner of the land can produce more food or not is one of those questions that time alone will answer. All we know is that it is assumed that he has plenty of capital—he would not have bought the farm otherwise—and he has available to him the excellent assistance of a brother-in-law who farms almost next door. [An HON. MEMBER: "Next door?"] This farm covers two counties, so the next county is not very far away. It is almost next door. I am only submitting to the House that it is assumed that this person has plenty of capital and has expert assistance available to him and, from all the information at our disposal, it is a reasonable assumption to declare that the answer to the second question, namely, "Can food production be increased on the farm?" would be "Yes."

Mr. Jackson

To go back to category B for a moment. This farmer is not able to get another farm because he is in category B. They will not reply to his inquiries. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to realise that category B in Breconshire may not be category B in other counties.

Mr. Williams

That is perfectly obvious. There are 62 counties with perhaps a different basis in each county as to soil, climate and all the rest.

Mr. Jackson

They have been strict in Breconshire.

Mr. Williams

We have got to take the decision of the County Executive Committee when they place a farm in category A, B or C. We simply take their standard.

Mr. R. J. Taylor (Morpeth)

The right hon. Gentleman is going on to the probability of improvement in production. Is it the case, as my hon. Friend stated, that the two Agricultural Committees were against the tenant farmer being removed from the farm?

Mr. Williams

I understand it is quite true that the Brecon and Radnor War Agriculture Executive Committees suggested that the notice to quit ought not to be permitted, but there was also, I believe, in their minds at that time an element of doubt as to the possibility of speculation. Be that as it may, the War Agriculture Executive Committee, who are only invited to investigate and report, are not entitled to take decisions. The final decision, after careful examination of all the data, must inevitably be left to the Minister who accepts full responsibility for any decision he takes in any individual case.

Mr. R. J. Taylor

I would like to intervene because I know the right hon. Gentleman is very anxious to get the whole of the facts. I take it that it is on the advice of the War Agriculture Executive Committee that the Minister must form his opinion, and, possibly his decision. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to one committee. Will he now tell us about Monmouthshire?

Mr. Williams

I have no reason to disagree with the statement made by my hon. Friend. The farm crosses over into two counties and there is undoubtedly a good deal of local feeling about the matter. I have already admitted that the recommendation of the War Agriculture Committee was to the effect that consent ought not to be given to the notice to quit, but I would ask hon. Members to understand that there are other sources of information called upon by the Minister other than the War Executive Agricultural Committee. There are, for instance, those who conduct the soil survey and are able to give a technical description, field by field, of the lime, fertiliser or other deficiencies. There is the report of the Land Commissioner. The Minister is finally responsible, after a careful examination of all the data at his disposal, for any decision that is taken. Although there may have been a change since last October—I cannot argue that there has or has not been—when the Minister's consent was obtained it is true to say that in October of last year the category of that farm was B. There was room for improvement. It was felt that that improvement could and would take place and, therefore, the answer to the second question was "Yes"—that an increase in food production could be obtained, and he had no alternative under the terms of Regulation 62 (4A) but to give consent to the notice.

My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly appealed to me, because we were members of the same party, to view this thing from the same angle. All I can say to him is that it pleases me not at all to see any solitary farmer disturbed from his tenancy when he is trying to do the best he can with his land and with the capital at his disposal, but when a Minister is compelled to take action under a Regulation of this kind he has no alternative but to sift the information at his disposal in the best possible way and reach the most impartial decision it is possible for him to reach. I think that in all the circumstances I have no alternative but to say that nothing has happened since last October to change the decision then given by the Minister.

Mr. Ness Edwards

Do I understand that the permission to serve this notice was given upon two grounds? First, that there had been no speculation, and, secondly, that this building contractor was himself going to farm the land? Do I understand those to be the grounds upon which permission was granted?

Mr. Williams

I thought I had explained the position very clearly. I said that, as to the first buyer, the question of speculation did not crop up so far as the Minister of Agriculture was concerned. He was not involved until the owner of the land gave notice to the tenant. Therefore, speculation by the first buyer did not affect the Minister. When the second buyer gave notice to the tenant then the question of speculation cropped up and it was the duty of the Minister to ascertain whether, from all the signs, there was speculation in the air. The answer to that question was in the negative—that the owner wanted to farm the land himself. Therefore, speculation was not in question. The only other question was, "Could food production be increased?" And, from all the information available, the answer was "Yes."

Major Procter (Accrington)

I rise in order to point out, if I can, some of the lessons which should be derived from what we have heard to-day. Many Regulations have been passed by this House which have pressed very sorely upon individuals—farmers, working people and others—and if we allow the lessons to be lost sight of, then we fail to do our bounden duty. I should like to point out that the first lesson we have learned from this story is that, evidently, there is a new type of landlord springing up throughout the country. It is a very sad loss to the country that the old type landlord—the old squire has often been derided in this House—is dying out and the nouveau riche are taking over the land much to the detriment of the tenants who have farmed it most successfully for many years.

In the second place, this Regulation was evidently designed to prevent farmers being dispossessed by speculators. What is happening up and down the country to-day is this: A speculator buys up a farm and puts in another man to hold until the time is ripe to build. A man who speculates in land in this way can drive a horse and cart through the Regulation provided that he sells the land to some apparently bona fide farmer, who promises to carry on the farm and produce better than the former tenant, whereas in fact the purchaser is in reality a builder. That is the weakness of this Regulation. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will see whether the Regulation can be amended in some way.

Why cannot the Minister of Agriculture have regard to methods which will reduce speculation? I would ask whether the Minister denies that speculation has taken place during this transaction. True there have been no final profits out of the speculation at the hands of the latest owner, but if ever there was a case of flagrant speculation surely it is that in which a man has bought a farm for £6,000 and a week later has sold it for £8,000. What other word is there but "speculation"?

Mr. Tom Williams

My hon. and gallant Friend will understand that the farm was sold originally at public auction. Any person could have purchased it. If some person came along later and offered the buyer a huge profit on his purchase there is no power in our possession to prevent him.

Major Procter

I cannot understand that argument at all. Just visualise this case. I know of a certain speculative builder who wants a choice piece of land on which to put up a row of houses. I therefore go to the auction. The sitting farmer who wants land for his legitimate purpose also goes to the auction but he has not the knowledge which I have. I know that my man will pay £8,000. The poor fanner has no such knowledge and can pay only £6,000. I can beat that man step by step and force the price up to £7,000, if necessary. Does not the Minister say that that would be speculation? The fact that the farm was put up by auction does not alter the position one bit. You can speculate at an auction especially if you have prior knowledge that you can sell at a profitable price. Any speculative David can acquire a Naboth's vineyard provided he follows the procedure of the builder who bought this farm.

Lieut.-Colonel Dower (Penrith and Cockermouth)

Since the tenant fanner wanted to sell his farm by auction, does not my hon. and gallant Friend think it desirable that the farmer should get the proper value for it?

Major Procter

I am not disputing that he should, but we are not discussing that point. I am not saying that speculation took place by the man who sold it, but it was speculation by the man who bought it for £6,000, and sold it for £8,000. It was also speculation when the builder paid a building price for farm land.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, South)

Surely the man who paid £8,000 was a mug that he did not buy it first.

Major Procter

That is a good point, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for pointing it out. If the builder had done so, without an intermediary buyer it would have been obvious what he wanted the land for. He would have come within the terms of this Regulation. [An HON. MEMBER "No."] Yes, because he would have shown himself as a speculator by paying £8,000 for a farm that was not worth the money as a farming proposition.

Sir H. Williams

Why did he pay it?

Major Procter

Because it was worth the money from a builder's point of view. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to see whether the Regulation, which was designed to prevent speculators from oust- ing honest farmers from their homes, can be strengthened so that if, at any stage in a series of transactions, speculation had taken place, the Minister could come out on the side of the dispossessed and not on the side of the so-called builder-farmers, who buy farms for holding and use them for building purposes afterwards.

There is one other point. In a series of transactions like this, in which farms may be bought for subsequent building operations, does the Minister assure himself, does he take any pledge from the buyer of the land, that there will not be any change within a period of years, from a farm to a building site? When the Minister agreed to this transaction—prima facie it seemed a very shady transaction for a so-called farmer to put £2,000 worth of building material on the site—what assurances did he get? It looks as though a speculative builder bought it, although he put forward the excuse that he was going to farm it. And in this way got round the Regulation.

Mr. MacLaren (Burslem)

Perhaps he is a member of the local council.

Major Procter

I do not know what he is, but I am not at all satisfied. He put his £2,000 worth of building material on the site and said it was for the purpose of putting up a temporary hut. I implore the Minister to re-examine this case and to see whether the wool has not been pulled over his eyes. Will the right hon. Gentleman make a fresh examination and see whether the Regulation has been broken in any respect, and, if it does not do what it set out to do that is to protect the sitting tenant, will he come to the House again to strengthen the Regulation so that these new types of landlord—

Mr. MacLaren

Are they not all like that?

Major Procter

—who put their money into land in order to escape inflation and dispossess farmers up and down the country, shall be prevented from putting legitimate farmers out of their tenancies? I hope in the case which has been raised to-day he will be able to restore the original farmer to his holding and thus prevent a grave injustice being done to a deserving man.