HC Deb 19 February 1963 vol 672 cc315-8

The periods specified respectively by—

  1. (a) paragraph 6 of Schedule 6 to the Agricultural Holdings Act 1948 and paragraph 5 of Schedule 6 to the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act 1949;
  2. (b) paragraph 13 of Schedule 6 to the said Act of 1948,
as the period within which the parties to an arbitration are to deliver statements of their cases and the period within which the arbitrator is to make his award shall each be extended by fourteen days; and accordingly
  1. (i) for the word "fourteen", in both places where it occurs in the said paragraph 6 or the said paragraph 5, there shall be substituted the word "twenty-eight";
  2. (ii) for the word "forty-two" in the said paragraph 13 there shall be substituted the word "fifty-six".—[Mr. Morris.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Morris

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

Although the new Clause appears to be complicated, the point is quite simple. In arbitration proceedings, the parties have to prepare their statements of case and submit them to the arbitrator within 14 days of the appointment of the arbitrator. We seek to extend the time from 14 to 28 days. In Committee, we discussed the matter at considerable length on an Amendment, and I am grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for the understanding way in which he has approached the object which we have in mind.

Fourteen days is far too short a time for the parties to prepare their cases. A farmer may have to go to see his adviser, a professional adviser, perhaps his trade union representative, an auctioneer or an estate agent. In difficult and complicated cases, the assistance of counsel may have to be sought. Difficulties sometimes arise—I have had experience of this—when a large number of people have to be consulted. Sometimes, a further opinion has to be sought. All this takes time.

The period of 14 days is fixed and the arbitrator has no power to extend it. If one of the parties fails to submit his statement of case within that time, he is out of court and is limited in the subsequent arbitration to cross-examining the other side. Difficulties and injustices may arise in this way.

I should have preferred the arbitrator to be given a discretionary power to extend the time. However, short of that, the proposal in the new Clause to extend the time from 14 to 28 days is the best way to amend the law. I am supported in the new Clause by the views of a committee which considered the matter as far back as 1943. It was the unanimous opinion of a committee which considered the working of the arbitration provisions of our agricultural holdings legislation that 14 days was too short a time and that it should be extended to 28 days.

The latter part of the new Clause makes the necessary consequential change in the time allowed to the arbitrator to come to his decision. At present, the period is 42 days after his appointment. If the time given to the parties for the submission of statements of case is extended to 28 days, the arbitrator must of necessity have his time for coming to a decision extended. I commend the new Clause to the House.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. James Scott-Hopkins)

The hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) has explained the object of the new Clause very clearly, and there is little I need add.

The parties to an arbitration in an agricultural holdings matter have 14 days, starting from the time when the arbitrator is appointed, to formulate and deliver to the arbitrator statements of evidence and the arguments which they wish to adduce. This time limit of 14 days was introduced by the Labour Government in 1948 with the object of reducing the delays which had been experienced under pre-war legislation By and large, the period of 14 days has proved sufficient, as the hon. Gentleman knows, but those who have to work these provisions are agreed that there is a case for extending the time, and they suggest that an extension to 28 days would be right and proper. Although this is not something on which the Government would have felt constrained to act of their own motion, I consider that the new Clause would make a useful improvement, and I am very willing to recommend its acceptance by the House.

Mr. Peart

I am grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for what he has said, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris), who pressed this matter in Committee. As the Minister said, proceedings on arbitration are covered by legislation introduced by the Labour Government in 1948. The detail is to be found in the Sixth Schedule to the Agricultural Hold- ings Act, 1948. Although we are always very proud of the legislation passed then, which was taken through the House by Lord Williams of Barnburgh, we recognise that the 1948 Act, although it improved landlord and tenant relationships and gave a measure of security to all concerned, has been found to be defective here and there after the passage of years.

My hon. Friend cogently argued his case in Committee and he has convinced the Government. I congratulate him. I am glad that the Minister has responded on this occasion, and we are delighted that at least this part of the Bill is to be improved.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.