HC Deb 09 October 1946 vol 427 cc220-4
Mr. Baldwin (Leominster)

I beg to move, in page 4, line 5, at the end, to insert: Provided that where the person responsible for doing the work is the tenant in occupation of the land on which the work is to be done and the work consists solely of one or more of the improvements comprised in Part 11 of the First Schedule to this Act every person having an interest in the said land shall be under obligation as aforesaid notwithstanding that he shall not have joined in submitting the scheme or consented to the approval or variation thereof. The next Amendment on the Paper -in page 4, line 14, after "and," to insert: where it is requisite that any person should have joined in submitting a scheme or should have consented to the approval or variation thereof,"— and four other Amendments in my name at the end of the Amendments to the First Schedule, are all interrelated with the Amendment which I am now moving. The object I have in mind is to improve the First Schedule, and so improve the usefulness of the Bill to the hill farmer. We want to bring the Bill into line with the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1923, which is concerned with improvements which the tenant farmer can claim at the end of his tenancy. In Part I of that Act, major improvements are included, and the permission of the landlord is necessary before the improvements can be executed. In Part II, drainage is included, and notice to the landlord is necessary. Part III deals with minor improvements and matters such as artificial manuring, liming and so forth.

We think the Bill would be improved if the Schedule were divided into two parts, the first part to deal with major improvements to which the landlord should obviously be a party, and the other to deal with minor improvements in which we do not think the landlord should have any interest For instance, it seems rather trivial that before a scheme of manuring or liming, or for the removal of boulders, can be carried out, the landlord has to enter into the scheme. We feel therefore that the Schedule might well be divided in a way that would cut out the landlord from the small matters. It would help the working of the Bill and help the farmers to get their schemes through without having recourse to the landlord.

Mr. Vane (Westmorland)

I beg to second the Amendment.

I think it will be welcomed by hill farmers, and in particular by small tenant farmers. The practice has grown up in this country, as a result of long experience, that certain improvements relating to the equipment of the land are normally provided by the landowner and that others, relating to the routine operations of farming, are normally carried out by the occupier of the farm entirely upon his own initiative. In the Schedule appended to tile Bill, the items fall clearly into two parts. I cannot see any advantage in trying to relate the landlord to improvements such as the putting on of artificial manure, which is normally the tenant's job. In addition to that, as the Minister must give his consent before any such scheme is approved, I cannot see that any landlord could complain if he were not asked to give his consent in such cases.

For my own part, speaking as the owner of certain hill farms, I do not in the least wish any tenant to have to come to me or to my agent and to ask our consent before putting forward any scheme of that kind. If he chooses to come and discuss the matter with us, well and good, but the very last thing I should wish to see in the Bill is an extra burden suddenly put on him such as is not imposed upon the tenant in the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1923, with which we are all familiar. I welcome the emphasis which the Minister put upon cooperation. Throughout the Committee stage he mentioned repeatedly that he wished cooperation to be the basis for the working of the Bill. He must realise in this case that it is not cooperation which is being asked for, but an unnecessary additional obligation upon the farmer. I wish the Minister would accept the Amendment, and divide the Schedule into two, and so free the tenant from the burden of having to go to his landlord for improvements which are really nothing more than routine farming operations.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. Collick)

It is clear from what has been said that hon. Members opposite misconceive the purposes of the Clause. They assume that the Bill sets out to alter the Agricultural Holdings Act. It does not attempt to do anything of the kind. The point of the Amendment, and particularly of the reference to improvements and the proposed dividing of the Schedule into two parts, is to bring the Agricultural Holdings Act into this scheme in a way not at all intended by the Bill. We must understand that there are two rights and two parties involved in improvement schemes. There is the right of parties to do any- thing on land subject to the ordinary law, and the right of tenants under the Agricultural Holdings Act to obtain compensation on the termination of their tenancies for having lawfully carried out certain kinds of improvement. The only part of the Bill which has regard to the Agricultural Holdings Act is Clause 8. Nothing preceding it has anything to do with the Agricultural Holdings Act.

The whole scheme for improvements foreshadowed in the Bill is essentially voluntary. In no sense is it intended to interfere with the rights of either party. The Amendment proposes that we should alter those rights and forfeit the essential, basic, voluntary principle of the schemes. We have accepted that principle, which runs right through the Bill, and it would be wrong for us to alter it or to make adjustments in it in any way. The Amendment is therefore unnecessary. The question of obtaining consent to the carrying out of improvements for the purpose of obtaining compensation under the Act does not arise. I therefore ask the House not to accept the Amendment.

5.0 p.m.

Mr. Turton

I do not think the Parliamentary Secretary has put the position quite clearly. Perhaps the Minister would help us to elucidate it. There may not be a great issue between us. He will see. at the bottom of page 3 of the Bill: or consented to the approval thereof. It struck most of us who are not muddled up with the Agricultural Holdings Act and compensation—an entirely different point — that those words mean that the landlord would have to give his consent or approval if a tenant wished to carry out a scheme for reclaiming waste land, laying down permanent grass, liming, or fulfilling any other minor obligation of the tenant. If that were so that would be a great hardship on the tenant. It would not be a hardship on the tenant if he had a good landlord who lived near, but it might well cause great inconvenience to him in cases where the landlord was some distance off, like the landlord of a public company or corporation or the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. Then he would have to write up and get their consent. That is what we are trying to avoid. It is a very narrow point and it has nothing to do with compensation. Do these words: or consented to the approval thereof mean anything? Do they apply to a scheme where the landlord and tenant are both joined and also a scheme which is purely a tenant scheme? A matter of pest destruction, liming or reclaiming of waste land is entirely a tenant scheme and normally the landlord's approval would not have to be asked. No doubt it would be given but there would be delay. On the question of laying down permanent grass some landlords might object, but in my view, unless the tenant was bound to get the consent of his landlord by his farm agreement, it is wrong for the Government to impose a condition that a landlord should give his consent before a grant is given for the laying down of permanent grass. For these reasons, I hope the Minister will clear up the position a little more. There is a great advantage in the suggestion of the hon. Member for Leo-minster (Mr. Baldwin) that the Schedule could be divided up between those which are landlord's obligations and those which are tenant's obligations. We are well acquainted with these matters in other agricultural legislation. If that can be done clearly, it will enable a tenant to go in for a scheme without getting the landlord's approval where it is purely the tenant's obligation.

Amendment negatived.