HC Deb 18 June 1951 vol 489 cc120-3

The following paragraph shall be substituted for paragraph (2) of Rule 8 of No. V in Schedule A (which grants relief in certain cases in respect of the cost of maintenance, repairs, &c.):— (2) For the purposes of this rule the term 'maintenance' shall include

  1. (a) the replacement of farmhouses, farm buildings, cottages, fences and other works where the replacement is necessary to maintain the existing rent;
  2. (b) additions or improvements to farmhouses, farm buildings, or cottages, but only if no increased rent is payable in respect of the additions or improvements and in so far as they are made in order to comply with the provisions of any statute or the regulations or byelaws of a local authority;
  3. 121
  4. (c) those measures which are necessarily undertaken on or in relation to agricultural land in order to secure and maintain that land free from infestation by the pests specified in subsection (4) of section ninety-eight of the Agriculture Act, 1947."—[Mr. Nugent.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Nugent

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

The effect of this Clause would be to allow the cost of pest destruction in a claim for maintenance under Rule 8 of No. V in Schedule A. The relief would be given in comparatively limited circumstances. Where land or woodland is being managed for commercial purposes, then, of course, the cost of pest destruction comes under the ordinary trading cost of the enterprise, but where land is waste land or scrub woodland under Schedule B, or amenity land, then pest destruction falls as a direct cost to the owner. It is to deal with that particular situation that this Clause has been put down. It is an unpretentious Clause, and has been drawn in very careful terms. It talks of pests and nothing else, whereas there might be a political significance if we put it down as vermin.

The principal pest with which we are concerned here is, of course, the rabbit. As the Economic Secretary will know, the rabbit has been a great pest to the growers of agricultural or horticultural crops in this country in the last year or two. Indeed, had it not been for the unfortunate circumstances of the meat shortage last Winter, which had the effect of raising the price of rabbits and thereby of giving extra incentive to the rabbit catchers, the pest would by this time have become very serious indeed.

Hon. Members will know that last year we were having conferences all over the country to consider ways and means of dealing with these rabbits. These pockets of land are particularly difficult to deal with because when one goes to the landowner to ask him if he will take the necessary measures for pest destruction he says he cannot afford it. If it were possible for him to make the cost of pest destruction a maintenance claim it would be easy to oblige him to take part in the general pest destruction campaign going on in his neighbourhood.

What it amounts to is that the more successful the Economic Secretary's ventures are in the Argentine in obtaining meat for us the more likely we are to have to cope with this very difficult rabbit problem. He, in particular, should have a special sympathy for the Clause, because if he has been as successful as he claims to have been then undoubtedly we shall have more trouble with these rabbits. Therefore, I hope he will look sympathetically at this Clause which is of real practical value within a limited field. It would do much to help the campaign for rabbit destruction and help the growing of food.

Mr. J. Edwards

As I understand it, it is paragraph (c) of the new Clause which really operates here, and I accept the definition of vermin given by the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Nugent). I think he and I are in agreement. The vermin to which the Section applies are rabbits, hares and other rodents, deer, foxes, moles and certain unprotected wild birds.

Earl Winterton (Horsham)


Mr. J. Edwards

As I think some hon. Members may know, this matter has been discussed recently between the Country Landowners' Association and the Board of Inland Revenue. Whilst it is recognised that the destruction of rabbits and so on is in the interest of food production, the practical difficulty is to draw the line in such a way as to admit necessary expenditure an owner is obliged to incur, either in response to notice under the Agricultural Act or in anticipation of it, or on the other side to disallow expenditure incurred purely in the exercise of sporting right.

It will be appreciated that the Clause sets no clear limit to the expenditure. On the other hand, it appears to the Board of Inland Revenue that reasonable expenditure on the destruction of pests can properly be regarded as expenditure on maintenance or management of the land, and that therefore it can be regarded and treated as admissible in the maintenance claim without express legislation.

Accordingly, the Board of Inland Revenue have written to the Country Landowners' Association saying that where an owner necessarily incurs expenditure on the destruction of rabbits or other vermin on his land, whether in response to a notice under Section 98 (1) of the Agriculture Act, 1947, or otherwise, the reasonable cost of such destruction, less any sums received from sales, may be admitted in a maintenance claim. I think this substantially meets the point made in the new Clause, and therefore I hope that the hon. Member will withdraw it.

Captain Duncan

Can that letter from the Board of Inland Revenue to the Country Landowners' Association be published so that it can be made available to those interested?

Mr. J. Edwards

I was very careful in the last part of what I have just been saying to give the precise form of words which of course will appear in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Nugent

At first sight those words appear to meet our point of view. We naturally reserve our right to put down an Amendment at a later stage, if necessary, after we have had an opportunity to study those words. Meantime, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.