HC Deb 21 February 1968 vol 759 cc585-606

Amendment No. 44, in line 16, after 1926 ', insert: ', the Agricultural Wages Act 1948 and the Agricultural Wages (Scotland) Act 1949 '.—[Mr. Pear]

Order for Third Reading read

[Queen's consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified]

11.13 p.m.

Mr. Peart

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

When I commended this Bill to the House on Second Reading on 9th November, I described it as a workmanlike and useful measure. After the discussions which we have had and the changes which we have made in Standing Committee and at Report stage, I can now commend this as an even better and more useful Bill, and thank those who made constructive contributions.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber), and the right hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble), and their friends on both sides of the border have put a notice on the Order Paper which has made possible this debate on Third Reading. I hope, on this occasion, to set out again before the House the main objectives which we have set ourselves in this Bill.

The first objective which we have set ourselves is to take action on the Report of the Brambell Committee on animal welfare. This part of the Bill may not go as far as some welfare interests would wish, while some farmers may think they go further than is necessary or desirable. But we have tried throughout to avoid extremes and to retain a flexible approach. This we consider essential in the difficult and controversial field of animal welfare.

We set great store by the codes of practice provided for in Clause 3. As a preliminary step these codes are now being worked out by the recently established Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee and other experts. The aim is to make the recommendations in them clear, precise and reasonable. The codes will be circulated in draft to all the interests concerned before being submitted to Parliament for approval. They will be backed by free advice from our veterinary staff. In this way, we shall be providing the farmer with guidance on how to avoid unnecessary pain or unnecessary distress to his animals. Although the codes will not have the force of regulations, we confidently expect that livestock producers will welcome and follow the recommendations.

There has been some criticism of the width of the regulation-making powers being sought in Clause 2. We have met one criticism and accepted the proposition that these regulations should be subject to affirmative rather than negative resolution procedure. We believe that these powers are necessary because the agricultural industry is capable of rapid change and is quick to adopt new husbandry techniques. We therefore need to be able to deal quickly and effectively with any implications which these changes may have for farm animal welfare. In general, however, the use of regulations to provide for mandatory standards, particularly of accommodation, will have to await the outcome of research. This is why we intend at first to rely mainly on the codes of practice.

Apart from inspection and sampling in connection with diets and feeding-stuffs, in which local authorities will have a part to play, the main responsibility for checking on the welfare of livestock and on the observance of any relevant regulations will rest on our own veterinary staff. We think that this is right, because, as hon. Members will appreciate, much of this work will involve veterinary judgments. I know also that most farmers will welcome this.

My right hon. Friend and I believe that the Bill represents a reasonable but important advance in the welfare of livestock, and I am sure that the House will support it.

I turn now to payments by landlords to tenant farmers—Part II of the Bill— who are dispossessed in order that their land may be put to some non-agricultural use, or who are dispossessed at such short notice as to lose the profits which they would have been able to make if the more usual period of notice had been observed. It is widely agreed that tenant farmers have particular difficulties. The acreage of rented land is steadily falling. The pressure from such major land-consumers as new towns and reservoirs increases as our population expands. We cannot remove these pressures from the tenant farmer but we can, by the measures included in the Bill, assure him of a reasonable lump sum to help him while he is reorganising his life after leaving the farm or reorganising his farming practices after losing some part of his holding.

This part of the Bill has been welcomed, in principle, on both sides of the House. There has been some criticism, however, that it is unnecessarily complicated and that in basing the sum which the tenant farmer will receive under Clause 9 on the current rent of the farm, we have taken insufficient account of differences in individual circumstances. I do not think that the Bill could be made simpler without opening the door to uncertainties and leading to many more references to the Agricultural Land Tribunal or some other adjudicating body.

I recognise that the tenant who has been paying a high rent will himself be more highly paid on dispossession than the tenant whose rent has been low. But if the new payments are based, as the present disturbance compensation is based, on actual known rents, it will make for a simpler and speedier settlement for both landlord and tenant. Part II is in essence a first-aid measure to bring relief to a section of the community on whom the community's needs have been bearing with particular harshness. I know that hon. Members are in sympathy with this objective.

I shall not attempt a detailed statement of Part III. This is a purely Scottish provision and was introduced, as hon. Members know, in Committee. I am sure that my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Scotland, will be more than willing to answer any questions about it. Its main purpose is to restore to the nearer relatives of deceased tenant farmers in Scotland some measure of the security which they had under the Scottish Agricultural Holdings Act, 1949, but which they lost under the Agriculture Act, 1958. I am of course considering whether there is a case for something of a similar kind in England and Wales. I am very conscious of the concern of my hon. Friend, the Member for Cardigan (Mr. Elystan Morgan) about this. In England and Wales, however, it would be an entirely new departure.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman is referring to matters which are not in the Bill. That is out of order on Third Reading.

Mr. Peart

I accept your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was merely seeking to put on record that I was looking at this, and had earlier said that I would undertake a review. I leave it at that.

Part IV—land drainage—is the longest Part of the Bill but is perhaps the least controversial. It substitutes acreage for Schedule A as the basis for assessing drainage charges on agricultural land. It provides a new method for determining the amount of the general drainage charge which will make it more closely equivalent than before to the contribution which the general ratepayer makes to the river authority precept. It also enables internal drainage boards to remedy the more serious anomalies which have arisen from the use of Schedule A values as a basis of assessment for drainage rates. The proposals in this part both on drainage charges and on drainage rates have been generally welcomed by all the interests.

There remain the Clauses of the Bill which deal with a number of small but useful developments of Government policy. We provide help for the bacon curing industry. We take powers to give grants for break crops; on this we are indebted in particular to the hon. Member for Edinburgh. West (Mr. Stodart) for his suggestion that crops which are not harvested in the normal sense should not be excluded.

We have taken powers which will aid the process of co-operation in agriculture, forestry and fishing. It has been my consistent objective to stimulate this process. We have just agreed on Report a new Clause which is not far-reaching in itself but which will, I hope, make possible an agricultural wages structure, if this should be the wish of the industry. This is also an objective for which many have striven over the years.

I do not think that I need say more about the details of the Bill. I remain confident that it will aid the improvement of the industry for which I am responsible. I commend it to the House.

11.22 p.m.

Mr. Godber

I congratulate the Minister on having reached this stage. This is a useful, small Measure which, in the main, we welcomed when it originated and, in the main, continue to believe that it will serve a useful purpose. But when the right hon. Gentleman told the House that it was an even better Bill than when it: started he was stretching things a little far. I will elaborate that theme in a moment or two.

The Minister has paid his tribute to us on this side. We have tried to help to improve the Bill, and we are, of course, grateful for the way in which he has accepted a number of suggestions. To that extent, we agree that certain Clauses are better. We are grateful for the Amendment to Clause 2 introducing the affirmative Resolution procedure, because from the start we felt that the Clause contained very wide powers and that it was important to have greater restrictions on the Government of the day in bringing in regulations under it. Personally, I should have liked to have seen the Government of the day even more confined.

The right hon. Gentleman has gone a long way to remove our fears about Clause 6. It is better for the Amendments that have been made to it.

As regards Part I as a whole, we accept that it was perhaps wise to introduce legislation in some way following on the Brambell Report, and we believe that as long as the Minister adheres, as far as is practically possible, to the provisions of Clause 3 he will get the acceptance of the industry as a whole.

We welcome the general provisions of Part II. We are, however, still somewhat unhappy with the explanation given by the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretaries about the position of the landlord under Clause 9. This will be pursued in another place. We believe that there is still much confusion of thought on this question. The Minister made particular reference just now to the question of the tenant on a low rent. This is the point we raised on Second Reading and in Committee, and it is obviously still in the Minister's mind. A good case was made on this point by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) and others. I do not think that the Ministry has given sufficient thought to this question. In spite of what the Minister said about making the Bill more complicated, I believe that more could have been done to safeguard the position of the tenant on a low rental when he is dispossessed for development purposes. Subject to those comments, we think that Part II is useful.

We find Part III thoroughly objectionable. We have debated this at considerable length today. I do not propose to go into it in any detail. It was obviously a matter for my Scottish colleagues to deal with, because it concerns Scottish matters. Were I not barred by your Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, from venturing where the Minister sought to venture for a few moments, I would say that very dangerous precedents were being established here. If the Minister should be so unwise as to seek to emulate his Scottish colleagues, he will seek to emulate his Scottish colleagues, he will meet very stiff resistance from this side. We think that the Secretary of State for Scotland has behaved quite deplorably over this. By introducing a provision of this kind into a Miscellaneous Provisions Bill and by introducing it as late as he did in the Bill, he has treated the House with a degree of levity which is deplorable. The reasons which have been adduced in support of this provision have not been anything like sufficient to justify the measures the right hon. Gentleman has taken.

Looking at this matter from outside—I admit that it does not affect any aspect with which I am concerned, except in so far as it might lead to similar provisions for England and Wales—it seems to me that it has been introduced to try to serve some narrow political issue that may be confronting Scotland at present and is certainly not in the long-term interests of farmers in Scotland or anywhere else.

A few moments ago the Minister said that one of the difficulties was that the acreage of rented land was steadily falling. This is exactly the type of provision which will make the acreage of rented land fall. If provisions of this kind are in existence, if and when any farm comes to hand it will be either kept in hand by the landlord or sold off and will not be rented again. That situation will arise as a direct result of provisions such as this introduced by the Secretary of State for Scotland. What the Minister of Agriculture deplores the Secretary of State for Scotland encourages. There is a wide divergence of view between the two right hon. Gentlemen on this. I hope that the Minister of Agriculture will maintain a stout resistance to any temptation to follow the line taken by the Secretary of State for Scotland. It is unfortunate that this has been introduced into a Bill which otherwise is a useful one.

I agree with what the Minister said about Part IV. It is a helpful, though complicated, Part, but one which I hope will help to make the drainage charges work in a way which they have not done before and enable drainage rates in internal drainage board areas to be so modified as to remove the serious anomalies. I renew the plea I made on Second Reading that quadrainage boards this be regarded as an interim measure pending full revaluation. Until there can be a full revaluation, I do not believe that a real solution to the problem can be found.

We think that in general the miscellaneous provisions contained in Part V are useful. But a problem still remains in regard to Clause 42, and we shall have to return to it in another place. The Amendment which we put forward was a fair compromise, but the Parliamentary Secretary did not really face it. I hope that a solution can be found.

With those comments—apart from what I have had to say about Part III—I congratulate the Minister on the Bill, which, I hope, will prove of use to the industry as a whole.

11.30 p.m.

Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

I apologise to those of my hon. Friends who were members of the Standing Committee for coming in again at this stage, not having been on the Committee owing to other duties on Select Committees which I have to perform for the House. I shall confine my remarks, in view of the hour, to that part of the Bill which I discussed on Second Reading. The matter was discussed in Committee, but it has only been touched on tonight. I refer to Part IV, dealing with land drainage.

On Second Reading, I raised a number of matters on behalf of the Association of Drainage Authorities, of which I am an honorary vice-president. The Association is extremely grateful to the Ministry for the co-operation which it has received, but there are one or two points outstanding which still give it concern. I should be grateful if they could be cleared up tonight. As Scotland has no internal drainage boards, if the Minister would care to intervene, I shall readily give way so that he may give the assurances which I particularly want.

In replying to the Second Reading debate, the Secretary of State for Scotland gave an assurance that new arrangements would be made- … it will be necessary for owner-occupiers to have access to the register or rate book, and this is a matter which we have in mind. We are considering adding an appropriate provision to the Bill. I have studied the proceedings in the Standing Committee and, so far as I can see, no new provision has been added to cover that point. I shall be grateful to be corrected if I am wrong.

Mr. Hoy

I am not sure that I heard the hon. Gentleman's question. If he is asking whether we made provision for access to the rolls, this we certainly did in Committee.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

I am very glad to hear it. I know that there was an understanding that it would be done, but I could not discover the subsection which now covered the point. If we could be told that, I should be grateful.

The second matter was referred to by the Secretary of State for Scotland in his reply on Second Reading when he gave an assurance that, the Inland Revenue has agreed that local valuation officers may, if requested, give informal advice to internal drainage boards on apportionment of rateable values other than for public utilities."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th November, 1967; Vol. 753, c. 1361.] This matter has not been cleared up entirely, and the Association of Drainage Author ties, which is the collective body for the internal drainage boards, is still worried about it. Many public utilities go right across many drainage board boundaries, parish boundaries, and so on. Most rating assessments of public utilities are based on the profits of the utilities, and the consequence is that drainage boards are unable themselves to assess what would be a fair revision of an assessment where utilities go outside their own areas as well as lying partly within them.

I understand that valuation officers would be able to get at the full figures through the Inland Revenue, but the drainage boards themselves have no right to make inquiries outside their own borders. Therefore, a board can do nothing but make a wild guess, unless the Secretary of State is prepared to revise what he said on Second Reading. If the Government would agree to local valuation officers of the Inland Revenue being able to make available the facts in regard to all public utilities as well as others assessed for drainage rates, the difficulty would be removed. This is of considerable concern.

As the Parliamentary Secretary very fairly said in Committee, the Inland Revenue is under pressure. I made it clear on Second Reading, as the Association has to the Government, that there was no intention of asking the Inland Revenue to initiate this exercise. What is wanted is that if drainage boards approach the Inland Revenue, the facts and advice can be given on an informal basis. I do not think that there is any need to provide for that in the Bill, but we should like an assurance that in cases like this, where public utilities and others are affected, the facts can be given when they are known.

The Bill also deals with drainage charges. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) and the Parliamentary Secretary for recognising that I was among the few who foresaw that the general charge would probably not operate. I have been checking the facts and, as far as I can see, one of the river boards affecting my constituency levies a general charge and another does not, but none of them has levied a special charge. There is now a desire for the special charge to be used. It may interest the right hon. Gentleman to know that in its latest report, for 1966–67, the Nene and Welland River Board says: There have been representations and pressure that drainage improvements should be carried out on some of the lesser streams outside the internal drainage districts, and the matter "—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am having some difficulty associating what the hon. Gentleman is saying with the contents of the Bill. As he will appreciate, we can discuss only what is in the Bill. Perhaps he will help me.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

I appreciate that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I well remember a former Member of the House, the late Sir Ernest Shepperson, one of the greatest experts on drainage, telling me that as a young politician I would be well advised by an old one if I had nothing whatever to do with land drainage, because nobody would ever understand me. I appreciate that this is an immensely complicated matter, but I am now dealing with the special charge, which is definitely covered by the Bill and which is now to be increased to 2s. I was saying that the Nene and Welland Board says that it would be untimely to make this sort of charge while we are amending the principal Act by the Bill. As the Bill passes to another place, I hope that their Lordships will exercise expedition to enable the river board which concerns my constituency to get on with its work, as it is ready to do.

I am certain that it is wise, as the Bill does, to make the schemes under the special charges a practical and viable possibility, which they were not before, which is why the boards have not used them. I am convinced that the Bill will enable them to get on with their work and I and the associations concerned are very grateful. I should be even more grateful if before we part with the Bill we can have the assurance for which I asked about public utilities.

11.39 p.m.

Mr. Alasdair Mackenzie

The Bill contains a number of useful measures, such as those dealing with the welfare of animals, grants to drainage authorities and so on. Those dealing with the wel- fare of animals are very welcome. Farmers generally are lovers of animals and like to treat them well, but in recent years modern farming has changed the situation considerably. Keeping animals, whose natural instinct is to forage on a free range, closely confined is cruel, and I hope that the Bill will put that right.

A vital principle is involved in Part III, which deals with security of tenure and applies only to Scotland. I want to declare an interest here because I am a tenant farmer with a family. In Committee this Clause was fully debated and a number of hon. Members from south of the Border took part. While one may admire their sincerity and the manner in which they presented and argued their case, it was quite evident to me that they did not appreciate why we in Scotland attach so much importance to security of tenure. One of the reasons is that as a people we have suffered more through lack of security than any other people in any other part of Britain.

Landlords evicted their tenants by the hundreds from land which they had reclaimed from moor and bog, with much hard labour and without many of today's implements. If tenants showed any resistance, their homes were set on fire over their heads. I mention this in order to let those who are not acquainted with the facts realise why the very term "security of tenure" is so meaningful to the Highland farmer. The N.F.U. of Scotland have been pressing the Government for this legislation since the 1958 Act, notwithstanding the fact that the Landowners' Federation has consistently opposed it. I congratulate the N.F.U. on its successful efforts and assure it that it has earned the heartfelt thanks of a large number of tenant farmers in Scotland.

The Secretary of State and his hon. Friend who piloted this Clause through Committee have been criticised for introducing the Clause in Committee rather than on First Reading. Why should they be so criticised? The right hon. Gentleman has been pressed by his hon. Friends as well as the Liberal Members for this type of legislation since the Government came into power. I want to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on having the wisdom to bring this Clause into the Bill rather than waste precious time by introducing fresh legislation.

It should be made clear that this is not a Measure to set the heather alight in Scotland. It is a modest Measure, meaning that on the death of a tenant, a near relative, defined as husband or wife, son or daughter, will succeed to the tenancy. This is chiefly applicable to tenant farmers' sons who would wish to carry on in their father's footsteps. Not all sons would wish to do so, and in that case the farm would be available for letting.

I am amazed at the strange reasoning of the Landowners Federation. It has said: The urgent need for Scottish agriculture today is for a dynamic and efficient industry, able to achieve a continuously higher production of food at lower prices, and at the same time to provide a fair return on the capital employed in the industry. Agreed. But surely this cuts both ways. Tenants employ capital in the same way as landowners. Anyone who has experience of farming knows that security of tenure is one of the first essentials if we are to achieve good husbandry. At present, when many tenant farmers have to invest so much capital in farm improvements and mechanisation—and these amounts are increasing every year—it is more essential than ever that they should have reasonable security. It has been argued by some that, although the Government want expansion, this kind of Measure will have the opposite effect, and will lead to mediocre farming.

This is utter nonsense. The type of tenant who would benefit by this Measure is not in farming to play around, but in order to earn a living. Again, anyone with experience in farming is well aware that the inefficient farmer will not last the pace very long under present-day conditions. It may be that in some of the fat lands in South-East Scotland—where the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) farms—the mediocre farmers may last the pace, but those are very exceptional cases. The Landowners Federation appears to be greatly concerned about the number of students training at the colleges with a view to getting farmers. They ask what is to be done for them and where they are to get farms.

It may be that those modern seats of learning are bursting at the seams with able young men who wish to take up farming, and it is a matter of great regret that there are so few farms available to let, but I very much question the morality of turning out a hard-working and efficient farmer's son, who has worked all his life on a farm, in order to make room for a bright boy from a college. If the Landowner's Federation is so concerned about the availability of farms to let, it has at least part of the remedy in its own hands. I submit that it should consider the large number of farms that are kept in hand on many estates in Scotland today. In order to be consistent it might issue a directive to its own members, requesting them to offer some of those farms to let. I am satisfied that if it did the farms would enjoy a higher standard of husbandry.

Those who are so vehemently opposed to the Measure are magnifying out of all proportion the problems that may arise. I agree that a sound principle is involved here. Contrary to what the opponents of Clause 18 maintain, I say that the landlord will still have protection against the inefficient tenant under the provissions of the 1949 Act. It is no reflection on the good landlord—of whom there are many—who take pride in having several generations of the same family in their estates.

I was hoping that some Tories might see some merit in the Clause and support it, but I was disappointed. Tonight we saw history repeating itself. All the Tories went into the landlords' Lobby and all the Liberals into the tenants' Lobby. I support the Bill on behalf of the Liberal Party and wish it a speedy journey to the Statute Book.

11.49 p.m.

Mr. Hazell

I will not keep the House for more than two or three minutes. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on bringing this Measure to this stage of its journey. Part I caused considerable public concern prior to the setting up of the Brambell Committee, and the implementation of some of its recommendations in Part I will go a long way towards restoring public confidence in the ability of the farmers and farm workers to look after stock on which their livelihood obviously depends.

It is a fact that certain sections of the public concerned with the welfare of animals think that perhaps the Bill does not go quite far enough. Nevertheless, I am satisfied that my right hon. Friend has gone some long way towards meeting the objections there were in the public mind a year or so ago. It is recognised in the industry that if the vast majority of those having responsibility for the care of stock neglected the animals, then necessarily and obviously production would suffer. It came out very clearly in Committee that there is a good deal of considered thought given to the care of animals by those who have charge of them.

I am glad, however, that my right hon. Friend, under Part I, is to issue codes of recommendation for the welfare of stock, because these, I think, will be most helpful to new entrants to the industry. I think such codes should go a long way towards guiding youngsters taking agriculture as a career in the art which their fathers and forefathers acquired by experience. I am sure the new training boards will welcome these codes of recommendations the Minister will be putting forward as a means of assisting them in their obligations.

In view of the lateness of the hour, there is only one other matter to which I shall make reference, the new Clause the House so generously accepted relative to additional powers for the county agricultural wages committees. Although those new powers will do nothing about fixing rates of pay or categories of people and their rates, because that is the responsibility of the stautory Agricutlural Wages Board, the powers will enable the county wages committees to sort out difficulties which, during the early stages of the operation of the wages structure will occur between employers and employed where it has not been possible for mutual agreement to be reached without the intervention of the county wages committees. I thank my right hon. Friend for the Clause, and the House for the cordial welcome it gave to it, and I hope that when the wages structure is finally devised for the industry it will offer to the youngsters of the future a career which is lacking in British agriculture at present, when there is only one basic rate and anything above that is due to generosity, or recognition of workers' skill and effort, on the part of the best employers in the industry.

11.53 p.m.

Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe

It is late, and we have had a long discussion, and therefore I shall keep the House only a short time, and follow the example of the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell), who happens to be my own Member of Parliament. However, because it is late, I shall not follow him in many of his comments.

I think Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill is no misnomer, because today we have perambulated through various provisions ranging from security of tenure in Scotland, through the very happy fields of rose growers and breeders, to the problems of land drainage about which my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) spoke. It has been a varied discussion.

I am very glad my right hon. Friend said a word about the phrase, the very telling phrase, used by the Minister, in a sense, I think, by accident; at least, he did not understand the full implications of it. He said the acreage of tenanted land has fallen. Well, it has. It has fallen in England quite steeply, and my guess is—I would not venture to trespass on the preserves of agriculture in Scotland because I know nothing about them—that when Clause 18 and other provisions of Part III come into operation the acreage of tenant land in Scotland will fall even more steeply. The reason is that if there is over-security of tenure to the tenant, there is a point beyond which the landlord cannot move because he is tied up in so many knots. When a farm comes on hand for any reason, as my right hon. Friend said, the landlord is under almost irresistible pressure either to farm it himself, if he has the capital to do so, or, if he has not, to sell it, and less and less land will become available for letting.

This is the point which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Alasdair Mackenzie) missed. He disclosed that he did not understand the difference between the working capital which a tenant farmer has to find and the capital in respect of fixed equipment which the landlord has to find. I have rarely heard a more confused speech about the economics of the landlord and tenant system than that of the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty.

Mr. Alasdair Mackenzie

My point was that I know there are so many tenants who provide the equipment which the landlord ought to provide, but they have this agreement, and it has been going on a long time. Many landlords are not anxious to see a change in the tenancy system, because they know that they will have to pay substantial sums. If it is the case that in England the landlord provides all the fixed equipment, it is not so in Scotland.

Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe

As I was saying, if we overdo security of tenure in Scotland, as in England, it means that there will be less and less tenanted lands available to let. There is an argument for saying that this is a good thing. If so, let the right hon. Gentleman say so. It is no good making that sort of statement without realising the consequences.

I would make a plea to the right hon. Gentleman that between now and the time when the Bill gets to another place he should have one more look—could I have the right hon. Gentleman's attention? I want to make one more plea, either to the Minister of Agriculture—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Is the hon. Member asking the Minister to include something in the Bill which is not already in it, because this is out of order on Third Reading?

Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe

No. I am asking one or other of the right hon. Gentlemen opposite to stop talking and listen. I am making a plea, either to the Minister or to his colleague, the Secretary of State for Scotland, to have one more look at the tax implications both for landlord and tenant in respect of Clause 9. I cannot honestly compliment either of them on the amount of homework that they have done with their own Department and the Treasury. Anybody looking at Clause 9, even on Second Reading, must have seen that there are considerable complications and implications in respect of the various compensations payable by the landlord to the tenant. There were implications about a possible Capital Gains Tax and about a possible development levy.

When this was raised on Second Reading, neither the Minister nor the Secretary of State for Scotland had the faintest idea what it was about, and they said so. Second Reading was on 9th November. The point was raised again in Committee on 12th December. By that time the right hon. Gentleman had got it right in respect of the Capital Gains Tax, but he still did not know about the development levy. We have now got to Third Reading on 21st February, and the answer which the right hon. Gentleman gave to the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Sir Frank Pearson) concerning the development levy was so confused as to make almost no sense. The details are more suitably raised in another place, but I beg the right hon. Gentleman to try to put this clear between now and then. Otherwise, there will be great confusion and a tremendous amount of litigation, which is unnecessary if he clarifies his own intentions.

12 m.

Mr. Stodart

Our discussion on Part I might have taken a good deal longer, but, for reasons which the Minister will appreciate, we got through it fairly well. Complicated as Part II is, we elicited much that is worth while and nearly discovered what a shelter belt is. At least we now know that it is excluded from the increased compensation payments, which is a point which was worrying many people interested in forestry.

The longer that the break crop grant under Part V is limited to beans, the less value it will have for Scotland. In Committee, the Parliamentary Secretary said that no other crops were in mind, but the Under-Secretary said that discussions were taking place. There was slight contradiction, and our attempts to resolve it were unsuccessful. I hope that discussions are going on and that an announcement will be possible in time for whatever break crop is chosen for Scotland to have the full advantage this coming year. This means within the coming seeding time.

On Part III, I am very sorry to have to disagree with the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Alasdair Mackenzie), with whom I usually agree about. farming, but his doctrine will have exactly the reverse effect to what he wants, and those for whom we would like tenanted farms will find it much more difficult to get them.

I have inquired from what I believe are extremely reliable sources about the Inverness case and I regard it as a misuse of the landlord's right. It should not have happened, but that is not a sound reason for the step which has been taken tonight, because vindictiveness gets one nowhere. That was something which the landlord showed and should not have shown, but the Government have been vindictive in bringing in this Clause and it is the industry which will suffer in the end.

12.4 a.m.

Mr. Ross

I am glad that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) said what he did. I wish that some of his hon. Friends and some of the people in authority in the Landowners' Federation had spoken out earlier, as that might have helped the individual, but it does not remove the power to do it for other individuals.

I thought that the speech of the hon. Member for Windsor (Sir C. MottRadclyffe) savoured of arrogance when he spoke about the hon. Member from the northern county. If the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Alasdair Mackenzie) did not speak for Cromarty, he certainly spoke for Ross. The hon. Member's speech contained the reason why this means so much more to Scotland. Our land tenure system is different. Our whole history and traditions are different. This kind of thing happening in this kind of place creates the worst possible atmosphere for the sort of cooperation that is essential.

The hon. Member suggested that to bring that provision into the Bill at this time showed a measure of levity. I assure him that whatever the spirit with which I presented the new Clauses, it was not one of levity. He also said that it was an affront to Parliament. My feeling, I assure him, is that if, having made up my mind and seen my way to get workable Clauses which retained a certain measure of flexibility and balance, I had not taken the first opportunity, that would have been an affront to Parliament when dealing with an important matter. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty for the support he gave me in this matter because he has considerable knowledge as a tenant farmer in Scotland. I value his advice a little more than that of the hon. Member for Windsor in the way he spoke.

The hon. Member for Windsor and the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) spoke tonight about the tax position and seemed to think that there was confusion. They asked whether the position had been made clear. The tax position is that the tenant does not pay tax on Clause 9 payments; he pays neither Capital Gains Tax, betterment levy nor Income Tax. The landlord will be able to set off Clause 9 payments against his liabilities for Capital Gains Tax but will not be able to do so with betterment levy.

The right hon. Member for Grantham deplored the selection of "actual rent". This has been explained more than once. I remember trying to do it on Second Reading and it was done again in Committee. We could not provide for low rent resulting from, for example, a full repairing lease to be stepped up for the purpose of the new payment without adopting widely different arbitration procedures from those of the Agricultural Holdings Act. The point is that the actual rent is known. It is simple and certain and will make for simple settlements with a minimum of dispute.

My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell) praised us for our reasonable approach in Part I of the Bill. He will find that we have adopted a very sensible approach in using the code of practice and, now, with the affirmative procedure therewith and going on, we hope, as a result of having the advantage of research, to the position of regulation.

I noticed what my hon. Friend said about the new powers of the agricultural wages boards. As he knows, England and Wales arc a step ahead in having a new structure which, everyone thinks, is desirable. Scotland has not got as far as that. We felt it right to take the enabling powers to enable that to be done, and this has been done with a considerable measure of agreement.

The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) did not desert his drainage interests, and he pursued the matter right to the end. We appreciate that certain anomalies remain. When agricultural land and internal drainage districts are still assessed on the basis of Schedule A values, most of which have remained unaltered since 1935. there is bound to be an element of unreality and roughness about it. The Government accept that revaluation of this land is the only satisfactory solution for the long term. I would hope that circumstances might permit this, perhaps, by the time the next general valuation takes place, but I can give no assurance about that at present.

The hon. Gentleman taxed me further on what I said about public utilities. I know that he will appreciate the advantage of what we have done in relation to the local valuation office of the Inland Revenue giving informal advice to the internal drainage boards in the apportionment of rateable value other than this. The very real difficulty is that the rateable values of the public utility undertakings are assessed by statutory formulae which are very complicated indeed, as the hon. Gentleman will know if he has ever tried to work them out.

The difficulty is that these assessments are not made by reference to the value of the individual properties owned by the undertakings but are, generally speaking, based on output. That applies to both water and electricity undertakings, and there are variations even within that range. The information necessary for apportionment relating to output in specific areas is information that the valuation office would not have and does not require for its own purposes.

Valuation offices have no power to obtain the information, nor have they the staff necessary to collect it and process it. It is with considerable regret that the Inland Revenue is unable to provide help in apportioning the values of these utilities, so the internal drainage boards will have to continue as they have done in the past, and determine these values in consultation with the undertakings concerned.

The point raised about inspection is dealt with in Clause 35(1,b).

There has been a fairly general welcome for the Bill, with very considerable head-shaking over Part III. I am prepared to take that head shaking for Scotland. If the right hon. Gentleman disagrees with me on this point, he is disagreeing with the organised farmers in Scotland, and if it comes to the point where we as a Government should please the right hon. Gentleman or the Scottish farmers, our choice must be to please the Scottish farmers.

Let us be aware of the fact that there are people who are critical of this United Kingdom Parliament. They say that we are not adaptable enough to meet the needs and problems of Scotland; that this is, as they call it, a "London-based Government". Yet here we are, within the United Kingdom Parliament, with the Secretary of State for Scotland, with the support generally of the House of Commons, addressing himself to what has been a problem for Scottish farmers since 1958, and meeting it successfully. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman could not join in it with us.

This awful question of the adoption of middle-aged men has been referred to at an earlier stage, and was discussed on an Amendment that has now been made to the Clause concerned. Adoption can be done only under the procedure laid down in the Adoption Act, 1958. Those adopted cannot be middle-aged men—they must be under the age of 21—and the suggestion of bribery, of money passing that has been suggested, is also ruled out by that Act. I told hon. Members that I would look at that point, I have done so, and I will look at it again.

On the whole, the Bill is worthy of the support and attention that has been rightly given to it by the House.

Question put and agreed to

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed