HC Deb 24 June 1958 vol 590 cc309-41
Mr. Speaker

Mr. Hare.

Mr. T. Williams

With great respect, Mr. Speaker, may I ask whether none of the eight Amendments to Clause 2 is to be called?

Mr. Speaker

That is so. It is a tribute to the great thoroughness with which the Committee did its work upstairs.

Mr. Williams

Although we shall readily accept your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, I am sure that you will understand that we are disappointed, in that Clause 2 deals with rent. We had put down what we regarded as substantial Amendments—small but none the less important—and I would not want it to be felt outside the House that those on these benches had no interest in the question of increasing rents. However, we are bound to accept your decision.

Mr. Speaker

Anyone reading the Committee proceedings, as I have, would readily understand the interest of the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends in the subject.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland (Mr. William Grant)

I beg to move, in page 2, line 46, to leave out from "the" to the second "or" in line 48 and to insert: estate of which the land to which the notice relates forms part or which that land constitutes". This is a drafting and clarifying Amendment, to give effect to the intention behind the Clause. The House will remember that during the Second Reading debate my right hon. Friend explained that the Clause was designed to give effect to an agreement between the N.F.U. and C.L.A. in England. I stress "in England" because, as the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) has already said, we have not yet reached the same stage of agreement in Scotland. There is a certain amount of doubt, from a legal point of view, whether the Clause as it stands gives effect to that agreement.

The sort of case in which difficulty might arise is that where, for instance, a landlord proposes to amalgamate two holdings on his estate. Let us assume that it is a case where the amalgamation would be in the interest of both holdings, taken together, and of the estate as a whole. The intention of the agreement was that in such a case the notice to quit should operate, subject, of course, to the proviso at the end of the Clause. However, where the land to which the notice related was being well farmed, it might well be that the amalgamation would not improve that land, although it improved the two units taken together.

As the Clause stands, it could be said that in that case the provisions of the Clause would not operate. The intention of the agreement, however—and the N.F.U. and C.L.A. have agreed to this—is that one ought to consider the two units as a whole and not merely the single unit to which the notice relates. The Amendment is designed to give effect to that agreement and to the intention which underlay the Clause as originally drafted. It is to ensure that one considers the estate as a whole and not merely the particular unit to which the notice relates.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) has an Amendment immediately following this one which would fall if this Amendment is carried. However, if he catches my eye, he can make the points on this Amendment that he would have made on his Amendment.

Mr. Willey

On a point of order. Do I gather, Mr. Speaker, that the second Amendment would fall and that it would be impossible to save it if my hon. Friend felt that there should be a Division?

Mr. Speaker

I think that it would be impossible to save it. It would be difficult.

Mr. Willey

I wish to raise only a few points on the Government Amendment. I do not wish to say anything about the following Amendment until I have heard my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart).

If I have understood aright the explanation of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor-General for Scotland, this is little more than a drafting Amendment to meet the intention of the parties.

The first point that I should like to emphasise again is that it is not correct to say that the National Farmers' Unions have agreed to this Clause. The N.F.U.s' view was that the purpose of this Amendment could have been obtained by administrative direction. Their case is that they discussed the Clause, as it were, under duress. The Government said that they were proceeding to amending legislation, and I gather that the Solicitor-General is saying nothing to disturb that, but merely that the N.F.U. have taken part in the further discussions and believe that this Amendment would improve the wording.

Like myself, I assume that other hon. Members have received the informative document from the Country Landowners' Association, which, quite properly, has kept us informed of its point of view during the discussion of the Bill. The Association says: During the Committee stage a number of points were raised which the Government undertook to re-examine. These points have been the subject of joint discussions between the N.F.U. and the C.L.A. Agreement was reached between the two bodies on all the paints discussed, and it is understood that the Minister of Agriculture will make a statement on the agreement reached. One point requires re-drafting because there is doubt whether it gives effect to the intentions of the agreement originally reached between the C.L.A. and N.F.U. I put this matter to the Solicitor-General because I understand that he is speaking for the Minister of Agriculture. I am sure that this is a matter to which the Country Landowners' Association referred.

6.45 p.m.

Mr. Paget

This Amendment forms part of a Clause which both National Farmers' Unions would much rather be without. If they have to have it, they approve the clarity of the wording, but they would rather be without it. On the other hand, the Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) is one which equally plainly both National Farmers' Unions would rather have.

The effect of the Amendment is simply that a man shall not be ejected from his farm and home for reasons which are quite extraneous to that farmer. The consideration that his farm happens to belong to somebody who has some other land in the vicinity and that it would be for the convenience of the other person to get rid of the farmer is one which neither we nor the unions find attractive. We should like this proposal confined to considerations as to the farm itself.

My main disappointment regarding the Government's attitude to the Clause—I certainly have the impression that in Committee our arguments had moved them somewhat—is the manner in which estate management has been divorced from farming. Section 25 (1, a) of the 1948 Act states: … the purpose for which the landlord proposes to terminate the tenancy is desirable in the interests of efficient farming, whether as respects good estate management or good husbandry or otherwise. The dominating words are, in the interests of efficient farming". First, the Minister had to decide that it was in the interests of efficient farming, and it was only then that one turned to the consideration of good estate management. Considerations of good farming are eliminated by the present Clause, and this is taken even further by the Amendment. A farmer can be got rid of because it suits the estate, regardless of how it affects the farmer.

I quoted an example in Committee that was not challenged. It was this. Supposing I have a farm which is well farmed, but which has an old house that has become somewhat derelict and out of date, and that a tenant comes to me and says, "I will spend a large sum of money on the house. I will put in garages and a couple of tennis courts. So far as farming is concerned, I shall merely use the land for grazing and that will enable me to put up some stabling in the buildings. The result of my activities will be to increase the value of the estate". It cannot seriously be disputed that good estate management would involve accepting that offer.

I happen to be concerned with estate management as a trustee. If that offer came before me and my fellow trustees, our duty would be to the trust. It would be our duty so to manage as to increase the value of the income of the trust fund. We could not fail to accept that offer. Nor could it possibly come within the proviso, because nobody could say that in those circumstances we were not being either fair or reasonable as a landlord. We would, in fact, be doing our duty as trustees. We would be acting in the interests of good estate management.

Mr. T. Fraser

My hon. and learned Friend is wrong in constantly referring to good estate management in this context. "Good estate management" is defined in the Agriculture Acts. The reference in the Clause is not to good, but to sound, estate management. It is important to make the distinction.

Mr. Paget

I am sorry for the use of the words, but I do not think there is any distinction affecting my argument. I have put the point concerning a trustee which often arises. Nobody on the Government Bench, or, I am sure, my hon. Friend, would doubt that it is sound estate management so to manage the estate as to increase its value and its income.

Mr. Fraser

I entirely agree, but that is not good estate management as defined in the Agriculture Acts.

Mr. Paget

Oh, no. That is the point I am making. Under the Agriculture Acts, the only form of estate management that was relevant was estate management as an aspect of efficient farming. That provision has gone and now we have—I am grateful to my hon. Friend for correcting me concerning the words—sound estate management. As in the example I have given, which certainly is not farfetched and which often happens now as people more and more want farms for amenity purposes, sound estate management is, not exceptionally but quite frequently, in direct conflict with efficient farming and with high production. Now, however, that form of estate management is provided as a reason for getting rid of an efficient farmer.

If by using the land not primarily for an agricultural purpose I can improve the value and the income of the estate, for that reason I can get rid of the efficient farmer. That is something new and it is introduced by the Clause. I pointed that out in Committee. I certainly thought at that time that we would get an Amendment from the Government in very different terms from this one. The Amendment is profoundly disappointing. It will be for my hon. Friends to say whether we should divide against it, although I feel that the Amendment itself is fairly harmless, but as a protest at the manner in which the Government have failed to produce the sort of Amendment which they ought to have produced.

Mr. Peart

I support my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). The Government have been rather disappointing in this matter. We would have liked their Amendment to go much further. Our Amendment stresses the important point that a tenant should not be given notice to quit before the tribunal on matters which, as my hon. and learned Friend has said, are extraneous to his farming. To bring in other matters affecting the estate outside his farm or his holding is unfair. That is the main point and it has been stressed by my hon. and learned Friend, with his great experience, not only of law, but as a landlord, too. Therefore, we feel that the Government have been disappointing. Because of the principle involved, we should press the Amendment to a Division.

Here again, the Government are weighting legislation against the tenant farmer. We have stressed this over and over again. Our modest Amendment would have sought to protect the farmer in certain circumstances. The words in Clause 3, treated either as a separate estate or as part of a larger estate", are, in our view, unfair in the sense that they weight the tribunal against the farmer. We would like them to be deleted.

I hope that my hon. Friends will press this matter, because in the Clause the Government are weighting legislation against the tenant farmer who is anxious to do well, to have good husbandry and to farm his unit efficiently in the interests of himself and of the community.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

So far as I recollect them, the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) was right on both points. Concerning the National Farmers' Union Agreement, I should have said that the Union agreed that if a Clause was required this was the way to do it and that this wording improved the Clause as it previously stood. Equally, on the second point, I confirm that the drafting point in the quotation which the hon. Member made is now dealt with in the Amendment.

The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), like the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart), wishes to look at the land to which the notice relates in isolation and at that alone. That is a point which divides the two sides of the House rather like a gulf. Our feeling, on the other hand, is that although the individual must, and should, be protected, in the interests of efficient farming one must look not only at the individual unit, but at the estate as a whole.

Mr. Paget

The right hon. and learned Gentleman must be careful. The whole point is that the Government have cut out "in the interests of efficient farming."

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

Had the hon. and learned Member allowed me to proceed, I was about to deal with that. Various phrases have been used about sound management, good management, and so on. The phrase used in the Bill is "sound management of the land"—that is, particularly agricultural land, to which the Bill refers. Clearly, there can be cases when two units can be more efficiently farmed than one. Under the proviso, there is protection for the tenant.

The question may well arise whether a fair and a reasonable landlord would evict the good tenant and turn the whole lot over to the bad tenant. Clearly, he would not, and in the normal case what would happen would be that the good tenant would get the chance of taking over the bad tenant's land.

7.0 p.m.

Mr. Peart

What about the case where there might be an amalgamation of two units, and two people, one a reasonable farmer and the other one probably much better? Surely there would be a dilemma there.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

On this side of the House, we believe that the man who does the job better deserves a rather better deal, and the man who is the better farmer would get preference over the not so good farmer.

Mr. Paget

Where does the Bill say that?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

Under the proviso as to the withholding of consent, when it appears to the tribunal, or to the Land Court in Scotland, that a fair and reasonable landlord would not insist on possession. In that case, the landlord would have to go against the worst one and in favour of the good one, and that is the protection for the tenant, and that balances the interest of the good tenant as against the general national interest of efficient farming.

Mr. Peart

I must press this point, because there may be two cases in which those concerned may both be good farmers and farming efficiently. Surely, he will not apply that criterion in a case like that.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

The nearer one gets to equality in efficiency, the less likely is it that cases like this will arise. These cases will most likely arise where one holding is going down and the other one is going up.

Mr. J. Johnson

I have a constituent with a 40-acre farm. There was an amalgamation. What happens to the tenant who is dispossessed and who loses his holding? What appeal has he got over and above the landlord who dispossesses him?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

It rests upon the decision by the tribunal in England, or by the Land Court in Scotland. They are the people who have to decide it, and not the landlord. The landlord serves the notice to quit, but the consent to the notice must be given by the proper court in the two countries. For these reasons, I suggest—

Mr. Pagetrose

Mr. Speaker

Could we have more speeches and less argument? I think that it would be more appropriate to the Report stage.

Mr. Paget

The right hon. and learned Gentleman had given way, and when he is explaining a Clause a certain amount of question and answer is surely necessary Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

I think that the hon. and learned Member rather misunderstands the situation. The right hon. and learned Member who is addressing the House has given way a great number of times, but we cannot have a Report stage conducted in that way. There have to be speeches. The hon. and learned Member must give the right hon. and learned Gentleman a chance to develop his argument without being continually interrupted.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I am much obliged to you, Mr. Speaker. Perhaps I have been too generous in giving way. I was concluding my speech by commending the Amendment to the House, and was about to say, finally, that I would remind the House that the Amendment, at least in England, has the support of the interests concerned.

Mr. T. Fraser

The Solicitor-General for Scotland has put us in great difficulty. He admitted, to begin with, that my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) was right in asserting that the N.F.U. in England had been in consultation with the Country Landowners' Association on this Clause, as it were, under duress. It was not that it wanted this Clause, but if there had to be a Clause it was willing to sit down and discuss its terms with the Association. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman appreciates, the Scottish N.F.U. would not even sit down and discuss with the landowners the drafting of such a Clause as this.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman, in the course of his remarks, said that it is true that the Clause now refers to "sound management," and then he said that it is sound management of the land to which the notice relates and which is agricultural land, but his Amendment takes these words out. The Clause would then read: sound management of the estate of which the land to which the notice relates forms part or which that land constitutes. I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will not deny that there is a significance in the use of the words "sound management", instead of "good estate management". As my hon. and learned Friend has said, good estate management is defined and is related to efficiency in agriculture, so that here we are discussing in this Amendment sound management of the estate of which the land to which the notice relates forms part to quote from the Government's Amendment.

I would have thought that this is bound to influence the decisions by the tribunals and the Land Court contrary to the interests of efficient farming. The right hon. and learned Gentleman rested on the proviso, and said that it will be the tribunal or the Land Court that will take the decision, but the tribunal or the Land Court will only decide on the basis of the instructions which the Act gives them. It will be for them to interpret the Act, and if we can fairly accurately interpret the Bill now it is reasonable to assume that they, too, will find little difficulty in interpreting the Act.

There is little doubt that by this Amendment—it may be so both with the words proposed to be taken out as well as those proposed to be inserted—many farmers will lose what security they have hitherto enjoyed. My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. J. Johnson) mentioned a constituent who has a farm of 40 acres. Will not the right hon. and learned Gentleman, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, or the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland agree with this? If we take a large farm of, say, 250 to 300 acres, which may be well farmed or not so well farmed, and alongside which there is a farm on the same estate of 40 or 50 acres which is being very well farmed, but on which the tenant is in need of some additional fixed equipment, the owner of the estate might say that he would much rather provide the fixed equipment for these two farms as one, irrespective of the standard of farming on the bigger farm.

If this Amendment is made and this Clause goes through with that Amendment, the tribunal or the Land Court will not be able to judge this application objectively in the interests of agriculture if they are satisfied that it would be in the interests of the sound management of the estate.

Sir James Duncan (South Angus)

No, of the land.

Mr. Fraser

I am sorry, but it now reads: sound management of the estate of which the land to which notice relates forms part. If the owner says in his application to the tribunal or the Land Court that it is in the interests of the sound management of the estate of which this farm is a part that consent should be given to the notice to quit, and the tribunal or the Land Court is satisfied that this is a decision which could properly be taken by a reasonable landlord, as it might well be taken by a reasonable landlord—and I assume that there are some reasonable landlords giving notices to quit to tenants under the Rent Acts, and that the Bill that was passed through this House the other day will have its effect in cases where there are reasonable landlords who have given notices to quit to tenants—if the Land Court or tribunal is satisfied that notice to quit would be given by a reasonable landlord in the circumstances which I have earlier described it is obliged to give its consent. It is not obliged to make an objective analysis of the position in the interests of agriculture.

As I see it, my hon. Friends and I are in some difficulty. We are inclined to believe that the words proposed in the Government's Amendment are a slight improvement on the words as they are in the Clause at present.

Mr. Champion


Mr. Fraser

A slight improvement.

We have all been informed that the National Farmers' Union and the Country Landowners' Association take the view, too, that the words now proposed are a slight improvement on the words in the Bill, not because the policy has been changed in any way, but because the policy has been clarified. From a legal point of view, the new words would seem to be less ambiguous than the words in the Bill, but I believe that the policy remains the same. We for our part would much rather have the Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart), and we have every reason to believe that my hon. Friend's Amendment would be even more acceptable to the National Farmers' Union than the Government's Amendment. There is no doubt at all about that.

If we were to vote on the Government Amendment there is a slight possibility that the Government would win the vote and my hon. Friend's Amendment would fall. Even if we do not vote on the Government Amendment we cannot vote on my hon. Friend's because it will fall, the Government Amendment having been carried. Of course, in Committee we rejected the policy which is contained in the Government's Amendment and we are now discussing only an alternative form of words. We accept this form of words as being better than the original wording in the Bill, so it would seem unreasonable if we were to vote against it, since we cannot vote for my hon. Friend's Amendment. Therefore, we do not want to vote at all.

I am sure that if we were to vote against the Government's Amendment that would be misunderstood outside. We should like to vote for my hon. Friend's Amendment, but we cannot. Annoyed though I feel with the Government because of all this business, and though I think my construction of the Clause is right and that we are giving an improper instruction to the Land Court or the tribunal, I would advise my hon. Friends not to vote against the Government Amendment.

Mr. Peart

I reluctantly accept my hon. Friend's advice. I am sure that it is sound in the circumstances.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Willey

I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out lines 1 to 5.

I move the Amendment to seek an answer from the Government to the request I made to them in Committee. I suggested that the Minister might have a word with the Agricultural Research Association. He welcomed that as a helpful suggestion. I ask him whether he has had such consultation.

Mr. Champion

I beg to second the Amendment.

Mr. Godber

I gladly respond to the hon. Member's invitation to clear up points which were raised in Committee in relation to this subsection (2). I am quite sure it is not the hon. Member's wish to delete the subsection and that he moved the Amendment merely to obtain an explanation.

7.15 p.m.

It is quite true that questions about the adjective "agricultural" in the context of this subsection were raised, and I think it was my right hon. Friend who undertook to look into it. I am advised that it is quite clear that the word "agricultural" in this subsection qualifies not only "research" but also the words coming after it. The provision does not make sense unless one takes "demonstration", for example, to mean "agricultural demonstration." We must describe the kind of demonstration we mean, and the Clause does that here by using the word "agricultural."

I am advised that it is a general principle of construction that if there are two possible interpretations one of which is sense and the other nonsense we should prefer the one which is sense. It is clear, therefore, that "agricultural" must qualify "demonstration". It follows that "agricultural" must also apply to the intervening words as well. Even if it were not so most cases which involve non-agricultural education, experiment or demonstration would require planning permission. Of course, if this were obtained notice would be given under Section 24 (2, b) of the 1948 Act and would not go before the tribunal at all. If it were not obtained, a non-agricultural project could not proceed and the landlord could not support his case before the tribunal. So there is no need, I am assured, to make any alteration in the wording of the subsection.

The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) raised the point that under the new procedure notices under this subsection might need to be limited to research, education, experiment or demonstration advised or approved by the Minister. This has been considered, but we do not think it would be helpful to restrict the landlord's right to have his case considered under Clause 3 (2, c) by requiring that his intention must have been approved by the Minister. Hon. Members will see that this subsection specifies that the tribunal must consider whether the proposed purpose is desirable for the purposes of agricultural research, education, experiment or demonstration and the tribunal must rightly consider not only whether the land is needed for a specified purpose but also whether the purpose itself is desirable.

If we limited the Clause by the Amendment it would mean that unless the Minister had approved the purpose the tribunal would be powerless even to consider the case. This would tie its hands more than the present law does by making it impossible to admit evidence against the Ministerial view. Such restriction would not be reasonable or desirable. Therefore, we have decided that it is right to leave the subsection as it is.

I would remind the House that these, of course, are the words which were used in the previous Act and which have given rise to no trouble. In the light of what I have said and after we have considered the point very carefully and the arguments which were put forward, I hope the House will agree that this subsection should remain in the form in which it is at present.

Mr. Paget

The Parliamentary Secretary has given us two expressions on construction. The first one I do not disagree with. I think that "agricultural" probably must be interpreted as applicable to each of the words which follow, although if the purpose were, for instance, an equestrian demonstration, jumping, that sort of thing, I very much doubt whether the word "agricultural" would exclude that. I do not know. If the Minister wants to exclude equestrian demonstrations, I think that the words ought to have been chosen more carefully, because equestrianism is, in a sense, connected with agriculture.

Where we have a general adjective such as this applicable to the first of several words, it is rather an instance of what we lawyers call the ejusdem generis rule. Where one gets a category of things there is a presumption that they are all of the same sort, of the same genus; that rather than a general application of the adjective, the word "agricultural" in this instance. But I find his second proposition in interpretation very much more difficult to enter upon.

The hon. Gentleman says that the words "desirable for the purpose" mean not only that they are desirable for the purpose but that they are desirable in an abstract sense, that is to say, the word "desirable" is not the equivalent of "suitable for" but conveys an abstract quality of desirability in general which the tribunal would have to apply to the proceedings in general. In other words, the tribunal would have to decide not merely whether the provision of the land was desirable from the point of view of the research product which the owner had in mind, but whether the research product was itself desirable. I certainly do not think that is so.

When the hon. Gentleman says that this provision retains the words of the Statute, I say that that is not so, because hitherto this was not the Land Tribunal's decision; it was the Minister's decision. Therefore, it was clearly within the province of the Minister to withhold his decision unless the undertaking itself had his approval. But in this case the Land Tribunal can say whether it is an undertaking of the sort prescribed, that is, agricultural research, education, experiment or demonstration. Having decided that, the tribunal can decide whether, accepting the end—the desirability of which it cannot consider—it is necessary or desirable that the land should be provided to achieve that end.

We suggested in Committee that if we are to grant possession for this purpose the Ministry of Agriculture, which really is primarily responsible for agricultural research, education, experiment or demonstration, should be the people to decide whether this particular venture was or was not a desirable one. If the Ministry wants to wash its hands of agriculture to the extent that it now says it does, I should have thought it desirable that somebody should decide this point and that the Land Tribunal should at least assume the authority to decide whether the venture in research, education, experiment or demonstration was one which, from the general considerations of agriculture, was a desirable one. That decision is not left to the tribunal.

Once the tribunal finds as a fact that the project falls within these categories it can only look at it and then ask whether, assuming that this is the project, it is desirable from the point of view of the project that the land should be made available. That is all that the tribunal can decide. These words do not, as a matter of interpretation, give the tribunal any jurisdiction to decide on the desirability of the project itself.

Mr. Godber

The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) raised first the question of agriculture, in relation to which he gave as an example equestrian ventures. I thought it a little beyond the terms of what would normally come within agricultural research, education, experiment or demonstration, but I admit quite freely that some of us, when we become equestrian, look more agriculture than others. In this case, I do not think "equestrian ventures" to be a term which I would normally use in this context.

Mr. Paget

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has very rarely gone to an agricultural show which has not had an equestrian demonstration. Is not that part of an agricultural demonstration?

Mr. Godlier

Equestrian ventures one normally envisages as involving people on top of the horse and not leading it. Displays are given at agricultural shows, but I should not have thought that they became agricultural demonstrations by reason of that. I am willing to be converted when I see the hon. and learned Member on a horse. But I content myself by saying that that kind of thing is not intended here and that these are matters relating purely to agricultural demonstrations, designed to demonstrate to the farming community in particular improvements in our agricultural knowledge. I think that the hon. and learned Member is fully seized of that point.

On the question of desirability, the hon. and learned Member seeks to maintain that the tribunal is debarred from saying whether it is desirable that the land should be used for this purpose. He claims that "desirable" refers only to the actual project, and not to whether the tribunal shall generally be able to decide whether it is desirable that land should be used generally for the purpose. As I understand it, the tribunal will have full powers to decide whether this is a desirable project, and it is perfectly free to decide whether it be research, education, experiment or demonstration in relation to this matter.

Simply because the matter has been taken from the hands of the Minister and placed in the hands of the tribunal, I do not think that there is any need to change this form of words which, as I reminded the House, has stood the test of time in previous Acts and, as far as I can ascertain, never gave rise to any difficulty whatsoever when it was under the Ministry's supervision. I see no reason to suppose that it would give rise to difficulties if and when the matter comes under the supervision of the Land Tribunal. I do not think that a point of principle is involved here. I understand the hon. and learned Member's wish that the matter should be quite certain, but I have made inquiries and have reported to the House the result of those inquiries.

I hope, therefore, that the House will be willing to allow the words to remain as they are.

Mr. Willey

I am obliged to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for that reply, but it seems to me that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) was on a good point in criticising the word "desirable" as it appears at present. I hope that when the Bill is considered in another place this point will be looked at.

As my hon. and learned Friend pointed out, the other fact to be considered is that the tribunal is now to decide this matter and not the Minister. It is quite easy to allow it to be decided as desirable or otherwise by a Minister. It is a very different matter to expect a tribunal solely to decide, apart from looking at the word "desirable". I hope that the Government will look at the possibility of redefinition to provide some way by which the tribunal could be informed, by some other words, that the Minister considered the project one to be supported. With these reservations assured, I hope that the Government will consider these two points when the Bill goes to another place, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.30 p.m.

Mr. Willey

I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out lines 9 to 13.

I do this by way of proxy on behalf of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). The Minister will remember that in Committee the point of caravan sites was raised. The matter was left not entirely clear and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said that he would look into this further. It is for the purpose of clarification, therefore, that we have put down the Amendment.

Mr. Paget

I beg to second the Amendment.

Mr. Hare

There were two purposes for this Amendment, I think, and the hon. Gentleman has mentioned one. My hon. Friend said that at the same time he would consider the rewording of the last part of subsection (2, 1, c) so that the reader would not have to refer back to Section 24 (2, b) of the 1948 Act. I take it, therefore, that this Amendment deals with those two points.

It is true that it was the hon. and learned Member for Northampton who raised the first point I have mentioned, namely, whether we could simplify the present wording and avoid referring back to the 1948 Act. I had considerable sympathy with what the hon. and learned Gentleman said and so I considered his suggestion carefully. Again I took expert advice, and the answer I was given was that if we tried to do as the hon. and learned Gentleman suggested we would make the paragraph even more cumbrous and certainly not clearer than the present wording.

It might be of some comfort to those who will read this Measure that we intend to publish explanatory material for farmers and landowners, clearly explaining the effect of the Bill. Specialists and members of the legal profession will be concerned chiefly in consulting the detailed wording of the Bill. I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will accept as genuine my undertaking to see if I could simplify this paragraph, but the experts have told me that I would make it even more complicated if I adopted his suggestion.

On the question of the caravan sites, which is the second point, the law relating to them is fairly tricky, but in the present context I think it is not too difficult to explain. Firstly, permanent caravan sites are those which are used for more than three months in the year. These permanent sites require planning permission, and under Section 24 (2, b) of the 1948 Act, which is not affected by the Bill, a landlord who has planning permission to put his land to a nonagricultural use, which includes the use of caravans, can serve a notice to quit on the ground that he requires the land for that use and, therefore, need not obtain consent to the notice.

In cases where a planning authority has already decided that there is no objection to the land going out of agriculture, it would be unreasonable to alter the existing law and to require the landlord to obtain consent from some other body which, in effect, would have to reconsider the decision of the planning authority. The main point, however, is that the present Bill does not alter the existing law as regards permanent caravan sites, and I do not think a strong case could be made out that it should do so.

As regards the temporary use of land for caravans, that is for less than three months in the year, no planning permission is required but I think that the proviso to subsection (2) of Clause 3 will operate in these cases. If a landlord wanted to obtain a site for caravan purposes on a temporary basis he would have to come to the tribunal under paragraph (e) of Clause 3, and this is the same as paragraph (e) of Section 25 (1) of the 1948 Act. I think the House will agree with me that in such a case no tribunal could possibly agree that a fair and reasonable landlord would insist on obtaining possession in order to put caravans on the land for not more than three months in the year. We have never heard of a tribunal using its discretion in that way, and I do not believe that we ever shall.

The same argument applies where a landlord wants to set up a permanent caravan site but has not as yet had planning permission. No fair and reasonable landlord would insist on turning out a tenant until he knew that he had got planning permission for the caravan site. I hope I have made what is a fairly complicated subject reasonably clear and that, therefore, the hon. Gentleman will not press his Amendment.

Mr. Paget

With regard to clarity—

Mr. Speaker

The hon. and learned Gentleman has seconded the Amendment and has therefore forfeited his right to speak. He will have to ask the leave of the House if he wishes to do so.

Mr. Paget

I did so formally, Mr. Speaker, but may I ask the leave of the House to speak now? I certainly did not find the speech of the Minister lacking in clarity, but I found it highly surprising when the Minister said he did not think anybody in the House could conceive of a tribunal granting possession when it was desired to use the land for a temporary caravan site. I find it impossible to believe that a tribunal would not do so, or, indeed, if it did not do so, that it would not be required by the court to do so under the prerogative procedure.

Let us suppose that I have land—I am visualising land on the Dunmow Head, Isle of Wight—whose rentable value would be under £1 an acre as it is grazing land. For the three months of July, August and September that land could be let at £100 an acre at least. Is a court going to say—because this is a purely subjective test—that a fair and reasonable landlord would not insist on possession when he was offered rent for the non-agricultural use which was a hundred times more than he would get for the agricultural use? Could any tribunal conceivably say that in those circumstances a landlord was not a fair and reasonable person if he asked for the fields at that time for a non-agricultural purpose? Of course it could not.

I have given an extreme instance. There are circumstances in which the return obtained from land used for a temporary caravan site and the return obtained from its use for agricultural purposes would be so similar that it would be unreasonable for a landlord to disturb a farmer. But in most cases the return obtained from the use of the land as a caravan site in the summer months would be much larger than any return which could be obtained from its use for agricultural purposes and I should imagine it would be impossible for a tribunal to turn down its use for that purpose, and that the proviso here was irrelevant. A landlord would not wish to take action unless it showed him a substantial advantage, and, if it did, it is to me an entirely new doctrine that a gentleman is to be considered unfair and unreasonable unless he refuses to make use of his land for a purpose which would give him a substantial advantage.

Mr. Willey

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) has unearthed something of more importance than the Minister would appear to appreciate. Perhaps the general threat of caravan sites should be seriously examined. I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman will consider what he has said before this matter is considered in another place. I hope he will consider whether more effective means could be sought to deal with this threat to agricultural land.

Mr. Hare

I said that I hoped I had made the case clear to the House, but I am afraid that I did mislead hon. Members on the period which constitutes a temporary caravan site. It is four weeks and not three months. What constitutes a permanent site is a period of four weeks and over. I am sorry that in making my explanation I gave the wrong period for a temporary site. It should be four weeks, and to a certain extent that undermines what has been said by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). He talked about a landlord on the Isle of Wight who found that it would pay him to sell land for a caravan site on a temporary basis for three months. But that period would make the site a permanent one, and not temporary, and for that planning permission would have to be obtained.

Mr. Paget

When the right hon. Gentleman refers to four weeks, does that period apply to one caravan or to a series of caravans on the site? That is an important point. Where does the three months come in?

Mr. Hare

The four-week period applies to the use of the site, for a caravan on that site.

I think that a fair and reasonable landlord would consider the interests of his tenant as well as his own. If he could use the land only for a temporary site, even if he succeeded in turning out the tenant, surely he would not insist on possession. I do not wish to detain the House. I will certainly look at this again, but I will do without any commitment because I do not believe that the hon. and learned Gentleman has raised a point of substance.

Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)

I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to clear up a point which arises from this Clause. A case might arise where some good agricultural land has been in the possession of one landlord and his ancestors for a long time but, by reason of death, is put up for sale and bought by property developers. The new owners might then wish to turn this agricultural land into a caravan site. In such a case it is hoped that the provisions of the Bill will not provide them with a much easier method of obtaining planning permission than at present.

Mr. Hare

If my hon. Friend has any case in mind, I will look at it, but it is a little difficult to answer his point without full particulars. I will certainly undertake to examine any details, if he will furnish me with them.

Mr. Willey

In view of the assurance given by the right hon. Gentleman, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.45 p.m.

Mr. Willey

I gather, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that you would wish the following two Amendments to be discussed together, namely, in page 3, line 17, to leave out from "that" to the end of line 18, and to insert: it would not be fair and reasonable for the landlord to insist on possession". and, in the same line, to leave out from "that" to the end of line 18, and to insert: it would not be fair and reasonable to consent to the notice to quit".

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I think that that would be convenient.

Mr. Willey

Then perhaps it would meet the convenience of the House if I moved the second Amendment. These are alternative Amendments and the second is probably the better of the two.

I beg to move, in page 3, line 17, to leave out from "that" to the end of line 18 and to insert: it would not be fair and reasonable to consent to the notice to quit". We are here dealing with a matter to which we attach considerable importance. Everyone who took part in the Committee stage discussions recognises that the proviso to this subsection is of very great importance. At present, it provides that even if a tribunal be satisfied in accordance with the provisions set out in the subsection, nevertheless, to use the words of the proviso: … notwithstanding that they are satisfied … the Tribunal shall withhold consent to the operation of the notice to quit if in all the circumstances it appears to them that a fair and reasonable landlord would not insist on possession. We all recognise that this is a very important proviso and that it affects the whole consideration of these matters by the tribunal.

The Government spokesman described this not only as an umbrella proviso, but as a golf umbrella proviso. We are trying to make it a still better umbrella. I do not wish to pursue the argument at length, but it is clear from the present proviso that the test is a subjective one. The tribunal has to consider the case presented to it by the landlord, and if it decides in favour of the landlord it must ask the further question, whether a fair and reasonable landlord would insist on possession. That is a valuable safeguard to the tenant.

During the discussions in Committee we suggested that the test, rather than being subjective, ought to be objective. We wish to extend the scope of this proviso by bringing into consideration also the position of the tenant. At present, it is clear that although this is a valuable safeguard, the only regard to which the tribunal can give further consideration is the action that will be taken by a fair and reasonable landlord.

I do not wish to elaborate on this, because I think the point is clear enough, but we can envisage many cases in which a fair and reasonable landlord, particularly in the light of the new provision in subsection (2, b), might, nevertheless, act to the prejudice of the tenant. We think, therefore, that the proviso ought to bring into consideration further factors than merely the subjective test of a fair and reasonable landlord.

Another reason why we strongly press this Amendment upon the Government is that I am sure that all the Members of the Committee are disturbed by what the Parliamentary Secretary said about this Clause. He talked about "over-security of tenure" and used that term in a wide sense. As some of us said in Committee, whatever the case may be about over-security of tenure—the reference which I was making to the Parliamentary Secretary appears in c. 633—we have to recognise that this is a very broad matter which has many aspects and which will demand very careful consideration.

I do not think that we should accept the Clause if the Government were anticipating its use in the light of the statement of the Parliamentary Secretary. This is an added reason for feeling that the proviso ought to be made one which would be weighted rather more in favour of the tenant than the words as they at present appear. I hope, therefore, that the Government will accept this as being an Amendment designed to improve the Bill, not quarrelling with the principle of this Clause or with the proviso, but recognising that in the proviso as made we are asking the Government further to recognise that even with the consideration which is imposed by the tribunal of paying regard to what a fair and reasonable landlord would have done, nevertheless this can act to the unfair prejudice of the tenant. Therefore, it would be far better to accept the objective test which we suggest, that rather than the test of the fair and reasonable landlord we should have the test of what would be fair and reasonable in all the circumstances.

Mr. J. Johnson

I beg to second the Amendment.

In our debates upstairs and on the Floor of the House, it is not so much what the Government spokesmen say but how they say it that matters. Agriculture is entirely unlike industry inasmuch as it is a living thing and people gain their livelihood from it. It is their life. Those who are in agriculture are not like paid employees in a factory who may be dismissed at a moment's notice and then get another job.

We should look at this in no metaphysical or subtle sense but objectively, looking at it in the context of people working and living on the land. In Committee, the Government spokesman talked about a golf umbrella. That is giving the game away. I happen to play golf myself. On the golf course, whether at Westward Hoo or anywhere else, we use golf umbrellas, whatever their colour, in bad weather; we use them only in stormy times. We do not need a golf umbrella in fine weather, because then we set the umbrella and go down the course, whether like Joe Carr hitting the ball 300 yards or whether, like some of us, topping our drive off the tee.

What is going to happen even in mostly fine weather in the life of a tenant farmer? We say that it is not good enough to defend the landlord alone and say that the landlord shall be the judge. That is a purely subjective test. We say that although the landlord may be, in good weather and bad weather, a man who stands high in the opinion of the countryside—he may be a thoroughly fine man and, indeed, a very fine golfer and not need an umbrella—it is most unfair to allow him to be the judge in this case.

If we take an objective view on all this, we should forget the landlord who is objecting and who wishes to have his own way and take into consideration other factors, the heart of the land itself and the year by year financial position of the farmer himself.

When we look at this Bill and the behaviour of the Government we think they are an "economic Government". I read a book once in which the author talked about the "Economic man". Indeed, we have an economic Government. It seems that they merely have a balance sheet here of plus and minus and do not take into account the tenant farmer himself, his wife and family and his hope of being able to live on the land on which his people may have lived for half a century or a century. The landlord does not want a feather bed in order to look after himself and his famliy.

Let us look at the position of the tenant farmer himself. I think that the object of this kind of Clause is that the Government wish to drive out the mediocre farmer. It is very difficult to say what is a mediocre farmer or a farmer who is not yet up to the terms of the economic standards which the Government or the landlord desire to work a particular estate.

The Government have overlooked the fact that in parts of an estate wemay have tenant farmers doing a difficult job. They look at a large amount of land, the whole of the estate, and say that the parts do not matter, the fractions do not matter, whether they are farmed by good farmers or mediocre farmers.

The Government or the landlord look at a map and say, "Here is a large extent of land. How can we get a few extra pounds out of it? Can we do so by amalgamation of units or by joining together the smaller pieces?" It seems to me that the Government always take the landlord's interest into account. If he is a large man his overheads will be less and he may be more efficient from the purely mechanical and economic point of view, but from the Government statements all the time it seems that in their wisdom, or lack of it, they wish to eliminate the small units or the conservative—or even sometimes Conservative—small tenant farmers whom they consider uneconomic. It seems to me that the whole of the push behind the Bill is to eliminate the small man. We think that this is most unfair. We should like the wording of the Clause changed so that it would not merely pay attention to the landlord who wants a larger unit but would take a longer yardstick, a wider viewpoint, and look after the small man.

These words are not merely subtle and a little Machiavellian. The Government need terms like "umbrella" to pull themselves out of the mess when they start defining terms. They should look at the position more closely. They should say, "Here is a man who runs a small farm. He is of yeoman stock. We will look at it from his point of view, objectively, and we will not always get behind the big battalions of the landlords to see what they want or to commend what they have in view."

I fear that if the Government continue in this fashion they will not be more economic in their organisation, although they desire to be more economic, and, what is even worse, they will tend to knock the heart out of many small farmers in the countryside. At the moment, it is difficult enough for the small farmer to farm efficiently and in good heart. I think that it is very important to keep in the countryside what I like to regard as the good social fibre of the good yeoman stock farming the land. This wording and this type of Clause sooner or later will eliminate this old yeoman stock from the countryside. I ask the Minister to look again at the wording of the Amendment and consider whether it is not a fair examination of the difficulties of the small farmers.

We think that the scales are weighted on the side of the landlord. I do not want to repeat over and over again that the Government are behind the C.L.A. or that they favour the big man or the man with the more money, but we say to the Minister that he should think a little more often about the smaller farmers. We think that all the time in the Bill they are slowly but surely being squeezed out.

8.0 p.m.

Mr. Hare

We have listened carefully to the two speeches on the Amendment. I entirely agree with some of the words used by the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. J. Johnson), but he must not take unto himself the credit of being the sole protector of the yeoman farmer of this country. That sentiment is shared just as much on this side of the House as by hon. Members opposite.

I agree with the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) that the proviso is a matter of the greatest importance. He says that he wishes to strengthen the proviso and to make it clearer, but I am afraid that the Amendments which he asks us to accept would not achieve what he has in mind. I must ask the House to reject them because of their vagueness. Different people will have different ideas about what is "fair and reasonable." What satisfies this criterion in the eyes of the townsman, for example, may not satisfy it in the eyes of a man who understands farming and the problems of the countryside.

This difference will be particularly important when the assessment of fairness and reasonableness depends on weighing claims of hardship either by the landlord or by the tenant in considering the possible effect of the notice to quit on the farming of the land. The townsman, for example, would probably be much more influenced by considerations of hardship and a countryman by whether the operation of a notice would improve or lower the standards of the farming of the land or would rob the tenant of the fruits of his labour. There are many other examples of factors to which different kinds of people will give different weight when deciding whether the operation of a notice is fair or reasonable.

On the other hand, the landlord is a person with both rights and responsibilities. It seems to me that a tribunal which will include a farmer and a landowner amongst its members can reasonably be asked to judge what a "fair and reasonable" landlord would do in the given circumstances which the tribunal are considering. I am sure that the hon. Member will not quarrel with me when I say that it is essential to give the agricultural land tribunals clear principles to follow so that the farmers and landowners know where they are. My submission is that the Amendments would not clarify but would cloud and make vague the proviso.

The hon. Member for Rugby slightly astounded me by using as one of his arguments in support of the Amendment the fact that this was an effort on the part of the Opposition to prevent the Government from looking through the eyes of the landlord and that the Amendment will help the farmer and will make his position vis-à-vis the landlord easier. Before the hon. Member for Sunderland, North or the hon. Member for Rugby decide whether they wish to press the Amendment to a Division, I should tell them that the National Farmers' Union, which represents the very people whom the hon. Member for Rugby purports to represent in expressing his views, prefers the wording of the proviso in the Bill to the wording as it would read if amended. I am sure that the Amendments are put forward to be helpful, but in view of that information perhaps hon. Members

opposite would consider withdrawing them.

Mr. Willey

I am sorry that I cannot respond to the right hon. Gentleman's invitation. He made great play of the words, "fair and reasonable", but they are in the Bill; we have accepted his words. We have tried to make this objective test. There was a thorough discussion of this in Standing Committee, and I can do no more than ask my hon. Friends to support my views in the Lobby.

Question put, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 222, Noes 189.