HC Deb 28 January 1948 vol 446 cc1104-24

8.30 p.m.

Mr. Turton

I beg to move, in page 8, line 29, at the end, to insert: (2) The following provision shall be substituted for paragraph (c) of Subsection (1) of Section two of the Act of 1939: (c) In a case where the land is, or includes, an agricultural unit or part of such a unit

  1. (i) a sum equal to the amount (if any) which might reasonably have been expected to be payable in addition to rent by an incoming tenant, in respect of things previously done for the purpose of the cultivation of the land, and in respect of seeds, tillages, growing crops and other similar matters, under a lease of the land granted immediately before possession thereof was taken in the exercise of emergency powers; and
  2. (ii) a sum equal to the amount by which the net profits obtainable by the occupier of the agricultural unit therefrom will be reduced by reason of the requisitioning. For the purpose of ascertaining the said amount there shall be estimated (as at the time of the requisitioning) the annual amount by which the net profits will be so reduced and the amount of compensation shall be proportionate to the period for which possession of the land is retained."
I hope that, notwithstanding the interruption in the harmony of our proceeding by the Patronage Secretary, we shall be able to have a calm and dispassionate discussion, without party prejudices, on this Amendment. This Amendment seeks to replace Section 2 (1, c) of the 1939 Act. The old Subsection dealt with compensation in respect of seeds, tillages, growing crops and consequential losses which the occupier of agricultural land suffered by reason of requisitioning.

First, it may be said, "Why are we introducing this new principle for compensation in respect of agriculture?" There is no suggestion that compensation for consequential loss should be for any other purpose than agricultural loss. I submit that in the case of agricultural, there is a good case for consequential loss to be compensated. Where an agricultural holding under the Agricultural Holdings Act has a tenancy terminated by Section 30 of the Agricultural Act, 1947, two results follow: First, the incoming tenant has to pay compensation for cultivation which the departing tenant has put into it. Secondly, the landlord has to be compensated for disturbance up to two years' rent. Let us apply this in the case of land that is requisitioned. The tenant has to move out of the holding. He gets from the Government what the incoming tenant would have paid for the cultivation, but he does not get a penny compensation for disturbance. I claim a priori that for agricultural land the 1939 Act leaves a gap that we should now try to bridge. It may be said that the position is mitigated by the compensation increase to 60 per cent. over the 1939 value under Clause 7. I am not at all sure about that, and I should like the Financial Secretary to apply his mind to it. I am not sure whether, although that compensation is handed to the tenant, it will not, in fact, have to go back to the landowner, but that in itself is not consequential loss compensation.

I think that Members of all parties will agree that the need for Clause 10 is heightened at the present time in cases where land is requisitioned for opencast coal working. In these cases the farmer loses part of his holding, and all the compensation he receives is limited to that part of the holding that is requisitioned for opencast coal working. As the 1939 Act is drafted, he is completely cut off from any compensation for consequential loss which he may have suffered from this requisitioning. There has been a number of cases brought to my attention in which this loss has been considerable. I have the names and I could, if the Govern- ment doubt the authenticity of any of the cases, give them full details, but I think that it is desirable for the purposes of Debate to call them anonymously by letters of the alphabet.

Let us take the case of Mr. A. He had a farm of 99 acres, 45 acres of which were requisitioned for opencast coal working. As a result, he had to reduce his herd by one-quarter, and discontinue his milk round. That meant that part of his livelihood disappeared. Under the existing legislation, not a penny piece of compensation for that loss can be given. Mr. B had a farm of 35 acres. It is notable that these farmers who have been hit by opencast working are usually men, farming a few acres, who have limited resources. Mr. B had 26 out of his 35 acres requisitioned. He had to sell the whole of his livestock, except his poultry, owing to loss of feed. That man lost practically the whole of his livelihood in order to give the rest of the community coal from under his land. All we wish is that the rest of the community should give him adequate compensation.

Let me close my examples with a case from Northumberland, of a farmer whom I will call Mr. C. He had in 1944, 135 acres of his 315 acre farm requisitioned. I am purposely giving the Committee an illustration of a larger farmer whose land has been requisitioned for opencast coal working. He was making a profit margin of £1,000 a year from that holding. In 1945, his profit of £1,000, in consequence of the requisitioning, became a loss of £84. In that one year, to say nothing about succeeding years, he suffered a consequential loss of over £1,000. Every penny of that loss had to be borne by him, because under the 1939 Act no provision is made for consequential loss. This is a very real grievance to a number of farmers, not only affected by opencast coal working, but by similar requisitioning by Government Departments. I think that the House should try to meet it in some way.

I am not wedded to the form of words which I have put down. They are the best that I can devise to meet the point. If the Government can tell me of a better form of words, I am ready to fall in with their wishes. It is not easy for a man who loses his livelihood in agriculture today to get somewhere else where he can farm, without very considerable expense. If one has one's home requisitioned, and there is another house to which to go, the only expense incurred is for removal of furniture. That does not apply to the farmer. It may be that if part of one's factory goes, all one need do is to transfer the plant to another spot, but the farmer has built up a livelihood on his farm that cannot be transferred.

There is a further point in the Amendment. It is vital for British food production that these men who have had their farms chopped about by opencast coal working or by requisition for aerodromes should continue doing their best, however hampered by requisitioning, to produce food for the people of this country. Notwithstanding the loss they have suffered and notwithstanding the difficulties of these farmers of whom I have been speaking they go on doggedly trying to get over their difficulties, but farmers are not sufficiently wealthy to suffer this heavy consequential loss. I would ask the whole nation to contribute to help them in their dilemma.

Mr. W. Roberts

I hope the Government will give some assurance that they will favourably consider this Amendment, and if they cannot accept the wording proposed by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) they will at least think well about this real and genuine grievance which many farmers had to put up with during the war but which it is not reasonable to expect them to put up with now. The campaign for working opencast coal will add a great number to those who have already suffered injustices during the war. I understand that about 35,000 acres for opencast coal workings have already been dealt with, and another 35,000 acres will be used for the same purpose in the near future. Thus, this Amendment does not affect merely a small minority, but a very substantial number of farmers in various parts of the country. Therefore, the grievance, if it is a substantial one, as I think it is, is one to which the Government should give careful attention.

If this Government stand for anything, they stand for giving those who are earning their living in a reasonable way security against the hazards of life. There is now another hazard in life if one happens to be a farmer. It is that there can be coal under his land. If he happens to have the misfortune to have such coal beneath the land he is working, and the Government decide to work it, his livelihood may be completely taken away and all the compensation he will get is the rental value which he would be paying to his landlord, plus some other item. As the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton said, the chance of his being able to go elsewhere and purchase another farm to make his livelihood is not very great in these days of keen competition for land.

There are a variety of ways in which this may affect particular farms and holdings. One can take the example of where the whole of the holding is taken, and that is really what I meant in what I have just been saying. The farmer thereby is also deprived of his livelihood and the profits and the living he would make on that farm, but he could take his capital away and try other areas. Perhaps the hard type of case is where only part of the holding is taken. The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton has given concrete examples of a man's livelihood being completely destroyed or tremendously limited simply because a part of his land has been taken and the rest is not an economic unit. There may be left buildings and 10, 20 or 30 acres on a farm that ought to have 100 or 150 acres. That farmer cannot make a real livelihood on that, and yet he hesitates to go away, as the farmers did during the war, because they hoped the war would soon be over and they would get their land back from the camp or the aerodrome for which it had been taken.

8.45 p.m.

They may eventually get it back but what are they going to live on in the meantime? They get compensation for what they would pay out in rent and restoration of the land. If the private landlord has to pay tenant right in full the State, when they disturb the farmer, should do so in full on the same basis as a private landlord. Those farmers get no compensation for consequential loss. I submit that while it is something which it may have been reasonable to expect a small part of the community to bear in wartime, it is not reasonable to expect the unlucky individual who happens to have his land selected either because it has got coal or because it is needed for some military purpose to bear the whole of the weight of this burden. After all, it concerns a relatively small number of people chosen by chance. This charge should be put upon the cost of producing opencast coal. The cost of producing such coal is not merely the rent of the land and the cost of the restoration of the land to its former position, but the cost to society of using the land for opencast coal and also the loss of food and the livelihood of people who would have worked it had it remained agricultural land. It is perfectly fair and reasonable that if the community want this coal, they should compensate the people who lose their livelihood by its working.

Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)

I should like very briefly to put a few points about this matter. I believe we have had this case put in a non-partisan way by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) and by the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts). I should like to mention the matter as regards my own district, where opencast mining is spreading. Particularly will it touch the small hard-working farmer in some cases, and maybe in the not too distant future the hill farm country where the farmer, his wife and son may be responsible for working a small acreage of land. Therefore, I should like to emphasise the facts put by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton that the complete balance of a healthy farm or the complete balance of a small farm may be gone if only five or ten acres of that unit of agricultural production is taken for opencast mining.

I beg the Minister to look at the small farmer or, indeed, whatever farmer it may be, from a realistic point of view, because he is in an entirely different position from the shopkeeper who may be moved by the local council and put into another shop where he can still sell his goods. On the other hand, the farmer loses a unit of production during the transitional period while the opencast coal is being worked. Therefore, I believe there was much substance in the point which was made that we have this issue of balance of whether we shall win the coal or whether we shall produce food. It may be that here is something which the Coal Board itself should consider in relation to the farmer when we are winning opencast coal.

Prospecting for this coal is going on in the hills at the back of the Leek district in North Staffordshire, and some small farmers wonder what the position will be. I hope that the Minister will make some concession on this issue. If necessary, the Coal Board should be approached. The cost of the disturbance and upset caused to farmers, who will lose in this transitional period what would be a fair profit on the work they put into the land, should be distributed throughout the nation.

Major Legge-Bourke

The case has been put very well by the hon. Members who have spoken, but I would like to add one or two things. I hope the Ministry of Fuel and Power are being warmed by the burning of the Minister's ears, and I wish he had a representative here to listen to what is being said about opencast coal. The Ministry of Fuel and Power do not fully appreciate how severely farmers are hit by this tearing up of land. One farmer I know has been turned out no fewer than three times as the result of this work. Each time he has had to sacrifice everything. On each occasion the whole of the farm has been taken. His case is by no means unique, and there may be individuals who have been turned out more often than that. It is most distressing if we have to rely on 10 million tons of opencast coal each year whereas before the war we had not to rely on any, but that is a matter for the Ministry of Fuel and Power rather than for this Debate.

It is right, first of all, that farmers affected by opencast coal mining should benefit from this Amendment. They are a completely special group of people. It is also highly desirable that others who have had their land requisitioned should benefit, but no form of requisitioning can compare with the appalling results which come from opencast coal mining. It is no criterion to say that only half a man's farm has been taken and, therefore, only half his livelihood has been lost. That does not follow; his water supply may be cut off and it may wreck his plans, or his cropping rotation may be upset, which will alter his programme for the year. We must not rely too much on facts and figures in regard to averages because averages are very dangerous in such a matter. We must realise that the anomalies which have arisen from opencast mining are the cases at which we must look, and they are as plentiful as the deep-mined coal is scarce.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

On the previous Amendment we were dealing with the subject of compensation for the use of land. Now we turn to something very different. The effect of this Amendment is to permit compensation to be paid to an occupier not for the use of land, but for the loss of the profits which would have accrued to him if he had remained in possession of the land and it had not been requisitioned either in whole or in part. As I read the Amendment, it stipulates that those losses which are made in the future are to be computed at the time the requisition takes place and, although this is a small point, I may as well deal with it in passing and say that it would be completely impossible for such a thing to be done.

The difficulty with farming is that it is at the best of times a gamble. Unfortunately, a farmer can never tell whether he will make a profit or a loss. The weather, the way wages go, up or down, the cost of seeds, all sorts of things enter into it, and it is quite impossible today to say whether he will or will not make a profit on a particular piece of land next year. Therefore, if that part of the Amendment were accepted, it would be physically impossible for anyone to compute at the time of requisition what loss or profit a farmer might make on a particular piece of land which he was to lose.

Mr. Turton

Has not the Minister left out the word "as"? Should he not have said, "as at the time of requisitioning"?

Mr. Glenvil Hall

Yes. As at the time of requisitioning one would have to compute a sum on the basis of some forward event and that would be very difficult to accomplish. However, I am only pointing that out in passing. There are more serious objections to the proposal put forward here which I must present to the Committee.

Up to now it has been fundamental, and agreed by all parties in the House, that compensation for temporary disturbance due to the war emergency cannot take into account consequential losses. They are so varied that it would be difficult, and for that reason if for no other, it has been agreed by general consent that it cannot be done. During the war, hotels were requisitioned, rental compensation was paid, and eventually terminal compensation for the use of the hotel for national purposes during the war period, but no allowance could be made in monetary terms to the proprietor for the loss of custom and profit from not running it as a hotel during the war. It was the same with a shop or a factory—one could not reimburse the proprietors or owners for loss of profit due to the fact that their buildings had been requisitioned, turned to some other use, and they themselves temporarily turned out.

The most obvious case of all is that of the individual. It was one of the pathetic things of the war that men who had been in little one-man businesses were caught up in the war, had to close down and, after years of building up, their businesses simply went to nothing, and nothing any of us could do could repay those individuals for the loss of profits they might have made during the years when they had to serve on a soldier's pay in the front line. Therefore, it was physically impossible, and the sum would have been colossal if it had been possible to pay anybody for loss of profit during the war period.

The question arises when we come to the farming community, not in time of war but in time of national emergency while the nation is getting back to normal, whether we can abrogate that principle, which is a fundamental one, in order to help them in the direction suggested by this Amendment. If we gave way on this, and tried to compute the loss of profits in regard to land taken from them, we should be opening the door quite wide to all sorts of other claims—by farmers, for example, during the war, and certainly by other interests who would feel that, when it came to the distribution of the taxpayers' money, they had just as much right to be refunded for loss of profits as farmers have now. For that reason, after very careful and sympathetic consideration, we have to reject it as a possibility. The effect of it would be beyond all calculation.

9.0 p.m.

The question arises whether there is anything we can do. We have been approached by the National Farmers' Union. Hon. Members on this side of the Committee are disturbed about this matter. Many of them sit for rural areas. There was a time when the rural areas were almost entirely in the hands of hon. Members opposite, but now the party on this side of the Committee seems, to an increasing degree, to be favoured by the rural areas.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston upon Thames)

We will soon get back to normal.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I am very hopeful that when the policy is worked out, we shall get even more support from the country districts. That being so, we have every reason, on purely material grounds, to listen to what farmers have to say. When it comes to doing justice, I am sure that all parties are as one. We want to deal justly with the farmers and rural workers who have their land disturbed owing to the immense need for getting coal wherever we can get it. Many farms are closely balanced units, and although in many other cases if we took land it would not interfere too much with an industry, or the work carried on by an organisation, that is not so in the case of many farms. Although they may be losing only a few acres, it may make all the difference to a particular farm. We are up against a very big problem. Some people might say, "Do not take the coal. Food is just as much needed as coal, and if you cannot get both, let the coal go, and do not take the land." That is a view which has much to commend it, but nevertheless, the need for coal is so enormous, and the disturbance so temporary, that it is felt that where coal can be got we should do our best to get it. Then we should recondition and rehabilitate the land as quickly as possible, and put it back to agricultural use.

Meanwhile, we want to do something for the farmer who has been disturbed. We must not forget that under this Bill, by general consent, we are increasing the compensation terms paid under the 1939 Act. The rental compensation under Section 2 (1) (a), the terminal compensation under 2 (1) (b) and the tenants' right under 2 (1) (c) have all been put up to a considerably higher level than was the case before the Measure was introduced. We must remember that, so that when farmers suffer owing to the nation's desire to take the coal, it will be seen that they will receive more by way of compensation than if this Measure had not been introduced.

We cannot go back on the fundamental principle of not making allowance for profits. Nevertheless, it may well be that with the help of some other enactment—it may be well within the law—we can by general consent in all quarters of the Committee do something for farmers finding themselves in this position. We now have on the Statute Book the Agriculture Act, 1947. It seems to us some help might be forthcoming on the same lines. I would also remind the Committee that Section 2 (1) (d) of the 1939 Act entitles the farmer to compensation in respect of expenses. That may have been overlooked by some Members of the Committee. Already, and it will be increasingly so in the future, it is Government policy, I think with the general consent of the House, that we should treat expenses on reasonably generous lines.

Major Legge-Bourke

Is that expenses for disturbance?

Mr. Glenvil Hall

The Section in the 1947 Act which deals with disturbance is Section 30.

Mr. Harold Davies

If the 1947 Act is to be applied in respect of opencast mining, do I understand that the Government are trying to find an avenue by means of which it can be called disturbance, because five, 10 or 20 acres are taken and used for opencast mining, and that the Act would apply in that case? Is that the concession?

Mr. Glenvil Hall

That is roughly what we are trying to do, if the Committee agrees. We cannot pay compensation for loss of profit. To do that for one section of the community and not for another would be unfair. We realise that farmers are in a peculiar and particular situation because of the operations for taking opencast coal and taking it quickly. Therefore, we feel we should do something quickly, if we can, to help. We are putting up the general level of compensation under Section 2 (1, a), (b) and (c) of the Compensation (Defence) Act, 1939. We are also treating far more generously than might otherwise be the case the amount which can be granted by way of expenses under Section 2 (1) (d). In addition, it is our hope that we can call in aid at least Section 30 of the Agriculture Act. 1947, which deals with disturbance.

Mr. Turton

Might I get this point quite clear? Section 30 deals with compensation for disturbance. In a case in which five acres is taken from a holding of 30 acres, would the limit of compensation be the two years' annual value of these five acres? The point I tried to make, supported from all sides of the Committee was that that bears not the slightest relation to the consequential loss suffered, because by being deprived of the five acres one loses effective use of the whole farm. Does the right hon. Gentleman mean two years' rent of the holding or two years of the annual value of the severed land?

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I must mean what the Section allows me to mean. It is as the hon. Member has indicated. Under that Section that interpretation enables an amount equal to two years' rent to be paid; one year can be paid without proof of loss.

It is our view that we can explore that between now and further stages of the Bill, and that with the aid of that particular Section treated generously as far as we can—certainly the expenses under Section 2 (1, d) of the 1939 Act have been treated generously—and with the increase in the ceiling of compensation under this Bill, something like justice can be done where farmers find themselves in difficulties as a result of the taking of part of their land for opencast coal.

There is one other concession with which, if necessary, my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture will be only too pleased to deal later in this discussion. It has occurred to us that where a farmer may say that the taking of part of his land has made it completely impossible for him to carry on, it would be quite open to the Ministry of Agriculture to take over the rump of that farm and run it and, if necessary, put him in temporarily—until the whole farm could be reconditioned—and let him run it, so that he would not have to farm at a loss. That is one way, and in our view some tenant farmers might be willing that that should happen. The farmer would continue to live there and farm what was left, and what loss eventuated—as perhaps some loss would because some of the land had been taken and the farm had become unbalanced—he would not have to stand. The State would stand that loss because it would be essential (a) that the coal should be taken, and (b) that the rest of the farm should be cultivated in order to provide food for the nation.

If the discussion continues, and it is necessary for further elucidation, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture will be only too willing to reply. I am sorry that we cannot go further. I know it is easy for me to say that we sympathise with the farmers over this business; but we do sympathise, and we have tried to find a solution. If there is some further solution which can be suggested, and it can be operated without wrecking the fundamental principle which I have enunciated, we shall be willing to consider, and, if possible, to accept it.

Mr. Alpass (Thornbury)

Some of us think the Government have endeavoured to meet the situation in as fair a way as possible. Does the right hon. Gentleman really mean that the farmer who is dispossessed will be entitled to two years' rent for his disturbance, payment for his acts of husbandry, seeds, and the expenses he has been put to in cultivating the land? In addition, does he mean that if it is necessary the county agricultural committee will take over the farm, and will the farmer be assured of a position as bailiff, with a satisfactory salary under the committee?

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I am not sure if my hon. Friend, in that rather long series of questions, has not swung me a little too far out to sea. I do not want to commit the Government without further consideration of some of the questions which he has put to me, but generally, what he has said is our intention, within limits. Obviously, if the farmer stays on the farm we cannot pay him for leaving it. It would be a matter of arrangement between him and the Ministry of Agriculture as to what salary should be paid to him for acting as their bailiff during the time of disturbance. As to expenses, if he incurred expenses they would be paid up to the extent of one year's rent without question. If he had expended more on the changeover, due to the requisition, and he could show good cause, he could get up to two years' rent in respect of that. I think that when the figures are examined they will be found to be not ungenerous.

9.15 p.m.

Mr. Thomas Macpherson (Romford)

This Amendment has the strong support of all sections of agriculture and, as evidenced by the Debate, it is supported by hon. Members in all parts of the Committee. My right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary said that it is impossible to compute profits. I agree. That is one of the weaknesses of the Amendment; but that is not what we are concerned about. We are concerned about the losses which a farmer suffers during the few years when his farm, or part of it, is subject to opencast mining. Generally only part of the farm is affected. In the case of a farm of 160 acres, where 60 acres are requisitioned for opencast mining, it means that during the three or four years in which that operation is in progress, not only has the farmer probably lost his livelihood, but also several hundred pounds a year.

I do not see why any farmer who has opencast mining operations on his farm should be out of pocket to any substantial extent during these few years. We are glad to have this evidence of the contribution which opencast mining is making to the coal supply position, but I am sure that our mining friends would be the first to admit that it is unfair that those operations should go on with damage and loss to another equally deserving section of the community. It is just as important to win food from the land as it is to win coal. We appreciate the concessions which the Financial Secretary has made. Whatever proposals the Government have for dealing with this matter, I suggest that it would be manifestly unfair if they did any less than ensure that on any farm during the years when opencast mining is in operation, the farmer should suffer financially.

Mr. Vane (Westmorland)

I am not sure that the Committee should be so appreciative of what the Financial Secretary has said. I hope that all hon. Members realise that the concession he mentioned under the Agriculture Act of 1947, which he called in aid, is not really as generous as it sounds. My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) made the point that where compensation for disturbance is payable, it can only be paid in respect of the part of the land which is actually taken.

Mr. Paget

Is that correct? I am speaking from memory, but surely the position is that if one gives notice as to part of a farm, then the farmer can claim compensation as to the whole of the farm. Is not that the position in regard to this coal mining? Does not the compensation run to the whole acreage of the farm, and not merely to what is taken?

Mr. Vane

Since we have the hon. and learned Solicitor-General with us, perhaps he could make that point clear. I do not think that it applies in all cases. I have not had time to read the whole of the Act since it was mentioned by the Financial Secretary. Speaking from memory, I think that it applies only where the notice to quit part of the farm is in respect of a large, substantial part of the farm. It does not always apply in respect of the small pieces of farms which we have been considering, the loss of which may affect the work of the whole farm. I hope that hon. Members will realise that, whether the compensation for disturbance is in respect of the part or the whole, it is one claim only and cannot possibly represent a sum which one could calculate as a loss of profits calculated for a period of years. However generous this compensation for disturbance may be made out to be, it cannot possibly amount to the sort of figure which we have in mind when we are thinking of something which represents a loss of profits.

There is one other point which I do not think has been mentioned. No doubt, the learned Solicitor-General and other Members of the Government have seen the memorandum which has been submitted to the Chancellor of the Exchequer by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, in which they make the point that a man who loses part of his farm may not only lose the production represented by the particular acreage which he has lost, but may be made to lay out a great deal more money in order to maintain the same level of production on the acreage which remains available to him. That might arise, particularly, where a farm road is concerned, and where the whole of his transport, instead of having a short section of good road available, is compelled to go round by a circuitous route over very bad roads I hope the Committee will realise that this problem is an extremely tricky one, and that it also deserves more generous treatment than, up to the present, the Government have given any indication of applying to it.

Mr. Dye (Norfolk, South Western)

I raised this matter on the Second Reading of this Bill, not because I or any of my farming friends in my division are interfered with by opencast coal mining, but because, as farmers, we have a fellow feeling with farmers in all parts of the country. I am glad the Government have given consideration to this matter, and I think they are wise in trying to deal with the agricultural situation arising out of opencast coal mining under the Agriculture Act and not under this particular Bill.

I think that the alternative open to the Government through their agricultural executive committees will, it applied generously, enable them to deal justly with all farmers who are affected. The Government, in deciding to take over either part or all of a farm, can give the farmer adequate notice, so that he can decide himself whether it is worth while to continue farming the portion of the farm still left to him, or whether, on the other hand, if the Government want to requisition the whole of the farm and will pay him compensation for disturbance, taking his tenant-right and all his stock into consideration, he should hand the farm over to the Government. They would perhaps use him for a time to manage the farm until, at the Government's expense, it is rehabilitated to its full agricultural use, then I think we can deal justly with the situation on any given farm. Unless the Government are willing to take full responsibility for opencast coal mining and the rehabilitation of farm land, I do not think we can deal justly with the farmer, and if that is what is meant by the concession which the Government have announced, it does seem to me that we can, in that way, get the best solution to this problem. I would commend it to the Committee.

Mr. Assheton (City of London)

I am very glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Mallon (Mr. Turton) raised this important matter because it is clear to hon. Members on all sides of the Committee that it is an important matter that should be raised. I understand the arguments which the Financial Secretary put forward regarding his difficulty in accepting this Amendment in the terms in which it is drawn, but I am bound to say that I am not wholly satisfied with the suggestions made for meeting the situation. I hope that, between now and the Report stage, the Financial Secretary and his advisers will think about it again and see whether they can find some Amendment to put into this Bill to deal with the matter on a better basis, because I do not think that the proposal to use Section 30 of the Agriculture Act, 1947, meets all the difficulties that have been put forward.

I do not know whether the hon. and learned Solicitor-General will agree with me, but it is not only the question of the loss of profit which has been so ably put forward. There is also the question of severance. I understand the term "severance" well enough in the case of the ordinary purchase and sale, but when it comes to acquisition, compensation for severance is not appropriate in the same way. Many hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have pointed out how important one particular field may be to a farmer. Anyone who has ever had experience of trying to pursuade a tenant to give up a field to his neighbour because it was thought more appropriate to both farms that that should happen, will know that it is always said to be the only place where there is a nice bit of bielding or where there is water, or access to the road. The amount of land taken bears no relation whatever to the value of that particular bit of land to the farmer. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman—who has now gone out, I think, to get some well earned refreshment—will think of this matter again, and I have no doubt that the Agricultural Departments will urge upon him the importance of this.

I know how difficult it is for an agricultural Minister to sit on a Bill promoted by the Treasury. He has a very awkward situation to meet. He is trying to do his best for the farming community, and, all the time, has the Treasury at his side—on this occasion, the joint Parliamentary-Secretary, not the Financial Secretary—seeing that he does not give anything away. Therefore, I am not going to press him to say anything which might be difficult for him. I want him to urge his colleagues to think about this again before the Report stage, and to see it they cannot come to some better solution. We all want to do something to meet the case. We on this side of the Committee are not satisfied that the proposals made by the Financial Secretary will, in fact, meet the situation. I do not know whether my hon. Friend is going to press the Amendment to a Division or not, but, whatever he does, I beg the Government to think about this matter very carefully, and to see whether, when the Report stage comes along, they cannot find some rather better solution than the one they have put forward.

9.30 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary-Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. George Brown)

I was sorry to hear the right hon. Gentleman the junior Member for the City of London (Mr. Assheton), who has been speaking on behalf of the farmers, be, so it seemed to me, a little ungrateful about the good deal of work that has been done on this matter. We will certainly think again between now and the Report stage as to whether there is any way by which we can deal with the point, but I ought to tell the Committee that a good deal of thought and worry have already gone into finding a way in which to deal with the matter. As my right hon. Friend said, we all have the very greatest sympathy with it. In the county which I have the honour to represent, it is a very great problem, and, therefore, is always present with me. The difficulty is to find a way out without admitting a principle which gets us into a lot of difficulties outside this field altogether. I have no doubt that the right hon. Member for the City of London realises that.

I hope that other hon. Members will also, between now and the Report Stage, think about the value of the suggestions which my right hon. Friend has thrown out. On the point made by the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane)—which I think was taken up later by another hon. Member—about the value of the concession, to which my right hon. Friend referred, of paying for disturbance along the lines laid down in Section 30 of the 1947 Act—I say that because the actual Section in the 1947 Act does not apply to this particular case—we do not rely on that as going any long way in dealing with the loss of profits. What we are saying is that we feel it goes some little way in the case of a farmer whose actual expenses—which is the term used—arising from the disturbance were very small. It may be that they are merely valuers' fees, and so on. In that case, the one year will give him some help unless the part taken is only small, in which case it may be that it does riot seriously affect the rest of his holding. The compensation can be for one year's rent with no questions asked, or it could be up to two years' rent on some evidence; and while we do not rely on that to meet the arguments about loss of profits, we put it forward as one way in which we think we can do a little to help.

Mr. Paget

Is it rent on a whole holding or part of a holding?

Mr. Brown

As I understand it, it is rent for the part taken. Provided that the rest of the holding is reasonably capable of being farmed, it is rent for the part taken. We can think about that again. The real concession is the one to which my hon. Friend the Member for South-Western Norfolk (Mr. Dye) referred, Which will, I think, give us considerable room to help. The difficulty is to find a legislative way of doing it in view of the principle involved. It does not seem possible. What we do think is that administratively we can do something where the farmer is left with an uneconomic unit, which has less capacity for growing feed, so that the farmer has to go to buy feed; the case in which the farmer has had part of his land taken and what is left to him is an uneconomic holding. In that case we think we may be able to make arrangements whereby we can offer to him the possibility of having the whole of his holding requisitioned at that time.

Colonel Dower

We feel very strongly on this point. Is the hon. Gentleman making the suggestion that he will try to find a formula of words before the Report stage to give effect to this, or is he merely expressing a pious hope that in actual practice something may be done?

Mr. Brown

To be frank, I think it is unlikely that we shall find a form of words to put into the Bill to deal with this matter. On the other hand, I am not giving merely a pious hope. I am giving a firm hope that, subject to our being able to work it—and I hope that by the Report stage we shall be able to be a little more specific about it—we shall devise administrative means whereby we can deal with the problem, and deal with it in this way: we would first requisition the whole holding by agreement; we would get agreement about the subsequent management of the holding; we would pass the holding to the agricultural executive committee; if what is left were an uneconomic part, we might be able to offer to the man concerned the opportunity to leave that holding, if he wanted to, and to go elsewhere, or alternatively we could leave him there on licence from us as a bailiff or manager at a fee which would be rather less than the profits he would have had from the whole holding but rather more than he would have been able to make from the uneconomic part.

Mr. Assheton

What would be the suggestion with regard to the stock, implements, and so on?

Mr. Brown

That would be part of the administrative detail that we hope to work out. We do not believe that raises any insuperable objection. If we are anxious to get round this problem, while not admitting the wide principle of compensation for loss of profits, we must do something a little unorthodox and which is administratively difficult; but we should and the way. It may be that between now and the Report stage we can get that far. It is our intention, by hiring the men or by some other way of that kind, to keep them on their farms.

Mr. Vane

It does not seem particularly helpful to take away the best part of the farm and to leave a farmer with the uneconomic part that remains to be worked under the uneconomical direction of county committees or the Ministry. It does not seem to be very helpful and will probably cost more in the end than paying proper compensation.

Mr. Brown

There is the difficulty. We are pressed from all sides to do something about this. Both Front Benches have admitted the impossibility of dealing with the question legislatively. We have tried to find an administrative way round it but have only run into further trouble. We will do our best, and I think we shall find a way out along the lines I have suggested. We will try to think of other ways, and if hon. Members opposite can think of another method we will be very glad to hear it.

Mr. York

Would the Parliamentary Secretary assure us that the 1947 Agri- culture Act applies to a tenant losing any land by requisition? I rather think it does not; I do not think that under that Act he can get any compensation for disturbance.

Mr. Brown

Perhaps I might have time to think about that. We have gone as far as we can on this. I am sure we can make some progress and give considerable help, and I should hope to be able to give more details on Report stage. I have seen it suggested in various circulars which have gone out that what has been happening in regard to opencast mining reflects lack of earnestness on the part of His Majesty's Government in regard to their food production programme. I assure the Committee that we are in earnest, and are determined to press on with the food production campaign and expansion programme; but the Government have to balance varying needs against one another. We will do our best to meet legitimate difficulties without casting the net so wide that we run into further trouble. I hope that the agricultural community will not regard this as any obstacle in the way of giving us full production. With that assurance, I hope the hon. Member will agree to withdraw his Amendment.

Mr. Turton

In view of the assurance we have received, and in order that we may have time to reflect on the matter between now and Report stage, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.