(1) Part II of the Agriculture Act 1967 (which relates to grants in connection with alterations in farm structure) shall have effect with the amendments specified in the subsequent provisions of this section.
(2) In section 26—
(a) in subsection (1)—
- (i) for the words preceding paragraph (a) there shall be substituted the words "The appropriate Minister may in accordance with a scheme approve, and (subject to section 47 of the Agriculture Act 1970) make grants out of money provided by Parliament towards expenditure incurred in connection with the carrying out of—"; and in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) the word "of"' in the first place where it occurs in each of those paragraphs shall be omitted;
- (ii) in paragraph (a) (which relates to the carrying out of transactions for securing that agricultural land which is an uncommercial unit, but which together with some other agricultural land could form an intermediate unit or commercial unit, shall be owned and occupied with that other land), after the word "is" there shall be inserted the words "or forms part of";
- (iii) for the words "improvements and works which will be carried out" there shall be substituted the words "works and facilities which will be carried out or provided";
(b) in subsection (3) as amended by subsection (6) of section (Farm capital grants) of this Act (which defines the expenditure towards which a grant may be made under section 26 in connection with an amalgamation or boundary adjustment) for the words from "shall be" onwards there shall be substituted the words "shall be any costs of the amalgamation or boundary adjustment of any description specified in the scheme";
(c) in subsection (4) as amended by subsection (6) of section (Farm capital grants) of this Act (which specifies certain matters for which different provision may be made by a scheme under section 26) for the words from "amalgamations" onwards there shall be sustituted the words "different circumstances";1308
(d) in subsection (5) (which relates to the amount of a grant under that section) for the words from "shall be" onwards there shall be substituted the words "shall be determined in such manner as may be provided for by or under the scheme";
(e) for subsection (6) which relates to the matters by reference to which grant is to be payable under that section, there shall be substituted the following:—
"(6) A scheme under this section shall provide for grant in respect of such of any expenditure such as is mentioned in subsection (3) above as is approved for the purposes of grant by the appropriate Minister in connection with an amalgamation or boundary adjustment approved by that Minister in pursuance of the scheme, and any such approval—
and the appropriate Minister may, if he thinks fit, for the purposes of a claim for grant under section (Farm capital grants) of the Agriculture Act 1970 issue a certificate with respect to any work or facility that he considers it to be necessary or desirable as a consequence of an amalgamation, or to be necessary as a consequence of a boundary adjustment, approved by that Minister in pursuance of the scheme";
- (a) may be given either before or, in any case where the appropriate Minister thinks fit, after the expenditure has been incurred or the amalgamation or boundary adjustment has been carried out;
- (b) may be given subject to such conditions as the appropriate Minister may specify, and in particular subject to any condition as to the time within which the amalgamation or boundary adjustment is to be carried out or as to the carrying out or provision within a specified period of specified works or facilities appearing to the appropriate Minister to be necessary as a consequence of the amalgamation or boundary adjustment;
- (c) may be varied or withdrawn by the appropriate Minister with the written consent of the person on whose application the approval was given;
(f) in subsection (7) (which provides that after certain payments the provisions of Schedule 3 shall apply) for the word "or" in the first place where it occurs there shall be substituted the words "any grant under section (Farm capital grants) of the Agriculture Act 1970 in respect of any work or facility certified under subsection (6) above or any grant under";
(g) in subsection (7)(a) (which provides that the proposals for an amalgamation shall 1309 not be approved unless the appropriate Minister is satisfied that certain persons have given their consent to the application of Schedule 3) the words "the proposals for" shall be omitted;
(h) in subsection (7)(b) for the word "proposals" there shall be substituted the word "amalgamation";
(i) for subsection (7)(c)(i) there shall he substituted the following:—
- "(i) any such grant as aforesaid in respect of such expenditure as the appropriate Minister may certify as being expenditure related to the relevant unit, and";
(j) in subsection (8), after the word "section", there shall be inserted the words "or any such grant under section (Farm capital grants) of the Agriculture Act 1970 as is referred to in the last foregoing subsection" and for the word "proposals" there shall be substituted the words "boundary adjustment";
(k) in subsection (11), for the words "in consequence of the carrying out of proposals approved under this section" there shall be substituted the words "as a consequence of an amalgamation or boundary adjustment approved in pursuance of a scheme under this section or in consequence of the carrying out or provision of works or facilities certified under subsection (6) thereof".
(3) In section 27—
- (a) in subsection (1)(a) (which relates to certain circumstances in which a grant under section 27 may be made) for the words from "amalgamation" onwards there shall be substituted the words "amalgamation approved in pursuance of a scheme under section 26 of this Act, or";
- (b) after subsection (5) there shall be inserted the following subsection—
"(5A) A scheme under this section may make provision, in a case where a person who has submitted an application for a grant under this section, and who has in prescribed circumstances either relinquished or become under an obligation to relinquish occupation of the uncommercial unit of agricultural land in question, subsequently dies before the application has been dealt with, for the application to be proceeded with after the death and for grants under this section of such respective amounts as may be determined by or under the scheme to be payable either—
(a) by way of annuity—
- (i) in respect of any period after the relinquishment and before the death, for the benetfi of the deceased's estate; and
- (ii) in respect of any period falling after both the relinquishment and the death, to any person who was both at the date of the death and at the time when the application was made the spouse of the deceased; or
(b) by way of a lump sum payment for the benefit of the deceased's estate.".1310
(4) In section 28(1) (which relates to loans to assist amalgamations and boundary adjustments)—
- (a) for the words from "incurred" to "applies" there shall be substituted the words "incurred in connection with an amalgamation or boundary adjustment approved by the appropriate Minister in pursuance of a scheme under section 26 of this Act";
- (b) in paragraph (a), after the word "section", there shall be inserted the words "or incurred in the carrying out or provision of works or facilties certified under subsection (6) thereof".
(5) In section 35(b) (which provides that a scheme under section 26 or 27 may authorise the making of different grants in different circumstances) for the word "may" there shall be substituted the words "without prejudice to the provisions of subsection (4) of the said section 26 as to schemes under that section, may, in the case of a scheme under the said section 27".
(6) Section 37 (which relates to recovery of grant) shall apply in relation to the approval of an amalgamation or boundary adjustment in pursuance of a scheme under section 26 as amended by this Act and to that amalgamation or boundary adjustment as it applies in relation to the approval of proposals under that section as originally enacted or, as the case may be, to those proposals.
(7) Section 38 (which relates to the recovery of possession of farmhouses made redundant by amalgamation) or, as the case may require, Case 13 in Schedule 3 to the Rent Act 1968 (which replaces the provisions of the said section 38 for England and Wales) shall apply in relation to an amalgamation approved in pursuance of a scheme under section 26 as amended by this Act as it applies in relation to proposals for amalgamation approved for the purposes of a scheme under that section as originally enacted and, as so applied, shall have effect as if for references therein to the time when the proposals were submitted or the date on which the proposals were approved there were substituted a reference to the time when the application for approval of the amalgamation was made or, as the case may be, the date on which the amalgamation was approved.
(8) Subject to the provisions of any order under subsection (7) of section (Farm capital grants) of this Act, the provisions of this section shall have effect as respects any period beginning on or after the date appointed under subsection (6) of the said section (Farm capital grants); but the appropriate Minister for the purposes of section 26 may by order made by statutory instrument provide for any provision of this section to come into force from such earlier date as may be specified in the order; and the provisions of section 26, as amended by this section and the said subsection (6), are set out in Schedule (s. 26 of Agriculture Act 1967 as amended) thereto.—[Mr. Mackie.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ >Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)
With this new Clause, the House 1311 will also be discussing Amendment (d), to leave out subsection (2)(b), and Amendment (e), to insert at the end of subsection (2)(b):and the scheme may provide that any proposal for grant towards such expenditure shall not be eligible for approval unless it is submitted to the appropriate Minister before the end of two years beginning with the day after the completion of that transaction";and Government Amendments Nos. 18 and 55.
§ Mr. Mackie
I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.
The new Clause is essentially the same as the old Clause 32, which was omitted from the Bill in Committee because it lost a good deal of its meaning without the old Clause 29. On Second Reading, there was a general welcome for the proposed amendments to the farm structure provisions, so I am glad to propose the restoration of this Clause, now that the provisions of the old Clause 29 have also been restored.
The purpose of the Clause is twofold. First, it corrects some defects in the existing legislation and, second, it is intended to pay grant on remodelling works resulting from an amalgamation or boundary adjustment under the proposed farm capital grants scheme. So we are amending the farm structure provision to permit this. This will be more convenient for the farmer and will enable us to simplify administration.
During our brief discussion of the original Clause in Committee, the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) commended to us the Amendments put down by him and his hon. Friends, and hoped that I would manage to incorporate some of them at this stage. I have looked at this very carefully and I have revised the wording of paragraphs (b) and (c) of subsection (2) of the Clause to clarify them. I hope that the change has also achieved the objects of some of the Amendments put down by hon. Members opposite. Perhaps hon. Members might find it helpful if I comment in some detail on the provisions we have amended in order to try to meet them.
Paragraph (b) of subsection (2) removes from subsection (3) of Section 26 of the Agriculture Act, 1967, the list of incidental costs—these are such items as legal expenses, surveyors' fees and stamp duty 1312 —and substitutes for it a power to specify in a scheme what incidental costs are eligible for grant. The remainder of subsection (3) of Section 26, which deals with works and improvements eligible for grant, will be removed by a repeal in Schedule 4 of the Bill which I shall be moving later as Amendment No. 56.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ I know that there has been some concern about whether we intend to change the list of items eligible for amalgamation grant or the rate of grant. I, therefore, want to assure hon. Members that we intend to retain at least the present range of eligible items and the existing rate of grant, to which will be added, of course, the temporary 10 per cent. supplement which my right hon. Friend put on and which he announced in the Annual Review.
§ Paragraph (c) replaces a specific power in subsection (4) of Section 26 of the 1967 Act to make different provisions relating to intermediate units with a general power to make different provisions for different circumstances. This will enable us to make special provisions relating to, for example, statutory smallholdings as well as intermediate units. The amendments to the paragraph make it clear that the changes made by the paragraph apply to what is left of subsection (4) after part of it has been repealed by Amendment No. 56 to Schedule 4 to which I have already referred.
§ Paragraph (b) of subsection (3) has also been changed since Committee. This paragraph empowers us to deal with the situation where an applicant for out-goers' grant under Section 27 of the 1967 Act dies before his application has been dealt with but after relinquishing or becoming under an obligation to relinquish his unit for amalgamation. We discovered a defect in the provision as it appeared in the original Clause 32. To correct it and achieve our objective fully would have required a very complicated paragraph. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) sees this and he and I always try to avoid complicated paragraphs. We, therefore, decided it would be more appropriate, and in line with the present provision in subsection (5) of Section 27 of the 1967 Act, to put the detailed arrangements in the scheme. Our broad intention is, however, to pay the widow of an applicant for an annuity half the amount of the annuity 1313 her husband would have been entitled to if he had lived. Where an applicant for a lump sum dies in similar circumstances, the lump sum for which he would have qualified if he has survived will be paid into his estate. Subsection (7) of this clause has also been amended. It now refers to Case 13 in Schedule 3 to the Rent Act, 1968, which has replaced Section 38 of the Agriculture Act, 1967, as regards England and Wales. I know that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West thanks that I am simplifying matters but, as he knows, if one alters something one must put in the full wording.
§ The remaining provisions of the Clause are the same as they were in the Bill during Committee stage. I hope that the changes which we have made—and my assurances about the range of eligible items which I know some hon. Members were worried about—and about the rate of grant will have removed any doubts about certain of the original provisions.
§ Mr. Jopling
We are most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for explaining some of the alterations embodied in the new Clause. It is one of those fiendishly difficult Clauses which refer to previous provisions. It is difficult to follow in certain parts. I want to recall the speech which my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) made in our last debate, when he talked about the fallibility of parliamentary draftsmen, and in that context I can do no better than quote what my right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) said on Second Reading. Speaking of this Clause in its previous incarnation, he said:Clause 32 is an admission, if ever there was one, of the bad drafting of a previous Measure. It is a horrible conglomeration of things that ought to have been put right in the 1967 Bill. We certainly tried hard then to help the Government put it right."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th November, 1969; Vol. 790, c. 1213.]But in certain circumstances, of course, the Government were beyond help. The result is this ghastly conglomerate known as new Clause 2, which embodies about 20 alterations to the Agriculture Act, 1967.
However, I do not want to labour through all the Amendments being made to the 1967 Act. I hope that the Government will tell us a little more about some of these Amendments, but one point I 1314 must make is that here surely is an example of the parliamentary machine clogged up with legislation, with the consequence that Measures are pushed through and the resources of parliamentary draftsmen, the House and its Committees are seriously strained, the end result being that the Government have to come back two or three years later to have the thing put right.
I welcome the provisions of subsection (3) (b). This concerns the case where the applicant for a grant for giving up his holding dies after making the application and after he has given up the farm. This is a most humane provision which I very much welcome. It is something which perhaps we should have included earlier, but I think that none of us had thought of such a situation.
Amendment (d) is a probing Amendment. Section 26 of the 1967 Act is extremely specific about what qualifies for a grant for a farm amalgamation. We are told in that Section that qualifying costs include the costs of bringing about the amalgamation—for example, surveyors' and lawyers' fees, stamp duties, compensation for disturbance, and so forth; secondly, the costs of throwing together the units of land which apply to the amalgamation; and thirdly, the consequential costs of the amalgamation. I had intended to ask the Minister why it had been found necessary to throw all this overboard. It was specific in the Act and it seemed strange that these terms for qualification should go. The proposed definition in the new Clause is that it… shall be any costs of the amalgamation or boundary adjustment of any description specified in the scheme.Why has it been found necessary to change this? Since the scheme was so specific, will all the eligible work covered already continue to qualify? I understand from the hon. Gentleman that it is the Government's intention to retain the existing range for the time being. If that is so, it disposes quite reasonably of the point behind Amendment (d). It is really what we wanted to know.
Amendment (e) deals with a matter which I hope the Minister will look at very seriously. What we intend is to extend from one year to two the period after completion of a farm amalgamation or boundary adjustment during which 1315 applications for grant can be submitted. This suggestion was put to us by the Country Landowners' Association, which regards it as a serious matter. It has certain cases, with which I shall not weary the House now, which show that one year is in practice rather too short a time. I hope that the Minister will have discussions with the association before the Bill goes to another place, so that he can be fully apprised of its reservants on the matter. If the period could be extended to two years, it would be extremely helpful in certain circumstances. It is that undertaking that we seek from him.
Turning to the final point which worries me, I do not think it would be in order for me to refer to the Amendment we have on the Paper with regard to the income tests which are applied on grants to individuals who relinquish tenancies of uneconomic holdings under the provisions of the 1967 Act, but in Clause 27(2)(c) of that Act there is this limit; and no farm family is allowed an income from sources other than farming of over £400 a year. This can be extremely hard on some farmers, and I hope that the Minister will look at it and see—[interruption.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)
The hon. Gentleman said he would be out of order in discussing Amendment No. 4, and he was perfectly correct, but it seems that that is exactly what he is doing.
§ Mr. Jopling
My hon. Friend says I was foolish to alert you to the fact, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I sunk my own boat but I have made my point and if the Minister would look at this—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Gentleman is out of order in making it and the Minister would be equally out of order in replying to it.
§ Mr. Jopling
The final point I wish to raise is an extremely complicated one and it arises from Government Amendment No. 55. This is the Amendment which restores in a new Schedule the new Section 26 of the Agriculture Act, 1967, as it is amended by this new Clause. It is extremely helpful that we should have the proposed amended new Clause 26 in the Bill. In Section 26(3) of the Agricul- 1316 ture Act, 1967, we find there is a complication, because the new Clause 2 which we are now debating intends to delete in line 3 of subsection (3) all the words after the words "shall be". That seems clear enough and Amendment No. 55, to which I have referred—the proposed new Clause 26—follows that exactly. Subsection (3) exactly follows the Amendment which is proposed in new Clause 2. Subsection (3), as amended by new Clause 2, would read, as it appears in Amendment No. 55:The expenditure towards which a grant may be made under this section in connection with an amalgamation or boundary adjustment shall be any costs of the amalgamation or boundary adjustment of any description specified in the scheme.That is all very well until we turn to Amendment No. 56 which we debated on a previous Amendment, relating to the repeals. Here we find a discrepancy, a situation which really does not follow. I would refer the Minister to line 31 of Amendment No. 56. One sees there that in Section 26(3) of the Act of 1967 all the words from:'((b) in' to 'boundaries'are repealed.
So far so good, but boundaries do not take us to the end of the story, for the repeal in Amendment No. 56 does not include subsection (3)(a).
§ 8.45 p.m.
To simplify matters, it might help if I point out that new Clause 1 and the way in which, in Amendment No. 55, Section 26 of the 1967 Act is repeated make the matter tally. When we consider the rest of the repeals in Amendment No. 56, however, we see that it does not tally. Indeed, the effect of the repeals in Amendment No. 56 results in that provision of the 1967 Act being altered. It appears that there should be added, according to the repeals, to the words which I have read out the part of sub-paragraph (a) which begins
The cost of the amalgamation
while, at the end of that sub-paragraph, there should be added the words from the 1967 Act at the point I have described:
In this subsection and the following".
§ This is a basic discrepancy.
§ What I have said may sound gibberish, but I am sure that the Minister is aware 1317 of what I have in mind. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman has followed my argument; but if he has not, I am sure that, when he reads my words in the OFFICIAL REPORT, everything will appear logical.
§ Mr. Hawkins
I will be brief because, unlike my hon. and erudite Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling), I do not understand the new Clause at all. It is highly complicated and I admit that I could not completely follow the last part of my hon. Friend's remarks, even if they were intelligible to the Minister.
My impression is that not a lot of use has been made of the amalgamation scheme. I hope I am wrong because it could be of great benefit. Could we be given a progress report? How many schemes have been approved and are things going according to plan? Is it expected that the alterations which we are making by the new Clause and the Amendments will speed up amalgamations?
At the outset of the scheme a few cases were brought to my attention, considerable delays having occurred. Perhaps that could be expected at the start of a new scheme. There did not seem to be the staff available for many months even to inspect farms on the spot. This put some people in difficulty because they had agreed to sell and had given up farming. Purchases could not be completed until the schemes had been approved.
Does it appear that the vast majority of schemes which have been approved have been between large men swallowing up small men or smallish men getting together to take over one man's farm to improve the holding? I have heard of too many cases where, for example, a man with, say, 500 acres has taken over another 40 acres and has got a grant for so doing. That cannot be the purpose of the scheme. I do not know what can be done to prevent it.
I very much welcome the parts of the Clause which enable a widow to draw this grant. As my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland said, this is something which obviously we all forgot about. It is a very great improvement and I am glad that the Government have brought it into this Clause. I think the Minister 1318 said that this makes clear that statutory smallholdings can benefit under the amalgamation scheme. This has exercised the minds of the smallholdings committee, of which I am a member, and I am glad that the matter is being cleared up.
I shall be glad if the Minister can give us any information about how the scheme is working, the types of amalgamation taking place, and whether the provision is doing what we all hoped it would.
§ Mr. Alasdair Mackenzie (Ross and Cromarty)
I commend the comments made with reference to amalgamation by the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins). When the 1967 Bill was going through the House, my hon. Friends and I pointed out that there was always the danger of small units being swallowed by larger units. This is happening in some cases, and the time has come when it should be looked at seriously and necessary amendments made to stop it happening.
This is an excellent scheme. In my area it has already had good results. Small units have been amalgamated, enabling the tenant or owner occupier to have a viable unit.
There has been a reasonable trial period. It is a weakness of the Act that under the present regulations it is possible for a large farmer who has the means to buy up a small unit. I am not criticising the Measure—I have been all for it—but we should look at this aspect. I ask the Minister to look very seriously at it because the time has come for necessary changes to be made.
§ Mr. Anthony Stodart (Edinburgh, West)
There are three things about the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie) which endear him to the House. The first is the faith and the second the hope with which he perpetually goes about his exposition of complicated Clauses. The third is the charity with which we for our part accept nearly everything he says in that blind faith and hope.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for smiling when he said that this Clause simplified administration. That was a statement of faith and hope. One thing it certainly does not do is to simplify understanding of the original Section 26. When he said, looking at 1319 me, that he and I agree that we must always try to avoid a complicated paragraph, I felt that I should point out that he is urging us to adopt 20 or 30 of the most complicated paragraphs that it has been the job of this House to study.
I had always thought—not that I know anything about it—that reincarnation was supposed to be a rather pleasurable experience. Life was in the new spirit within the old body, or vice versa, and was supposed to be much better than it was before. But I am not certain that the Clause is much better as it reappears after its very short term of trans-substantiation from the Committee, where it suffered its demise.
My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) is very much to be congratulated on the superlative degree of lucidity with which he examined the Clause for us tonight. Perhaps it would be an exaggeration to say that he had a slight difficulty with the Chair, when he remarked rather sadly that he had sunk his own bacon. I wondered whether perhaps he meant that he had cooked his own goose, which he is well known to be very fond of.
To be more serious—and I hope that the Minister will take this in the spirit in which it is meant—I think that the Clause is an example of legislation at its very worst. The very nearly three pages it covers consist partly of a chopping and changing of a Section debated for three whole mornings only two years ago. It shows a considerable lack of foresight by the Government that they should have found it necessary to do this after such a short period, and demonstrates a great lack of consideration for those who have the appalling job of having to interpret it. It is a nightmare.
But I do not say that we cannot find anything good in the Clause. Both my hon. Friends have praised the new paragraph (5A), of Section 27. Undoubtedly we have something useful there for which many widows and possibly even widowers, may well be very grateful. If an amalmagation is put under way and the farmer dies before it is finished, the widow would almost certainly have to leave the farm. That is almost inevitable as things stand. But now she will get some benefit. The drafting is very complicated, though perhaps it is as simple 1320 as it can be. I accept the Minister's claim that it has been changed for the better since the original Bill.
Reference has also been made to the change in Section 26(5). This is not an improvement. In the section we have the amalgamation grant written in as half of the approved expenditure. I am well aware that the grant will be 60 per cent. for two years under the new announcement, but the Minister is seeking powers to vary this under a Statutory Instrument, which we shall be unable to amend. On the whole, I prefer to see a thing specified in the Statute and not left entirely to the Government's discretion.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Paragraph (b) is the most classic example of the asking for a blank cheque. As my hon. Friend said, everything was specifically detailed in the Bill, and it is quite right that should be, but subsection (3) of Section 26 of the 1967 Act is now removed wholesale. Everything, such as costs incurred on amalgamation or boundary adjustment, and the like, was laid down for everyone to see quite clearly, but we now have the Minister being allowed to specify whatever he likes.
§ I do not know why this is being done. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy) has often observed, and I agree, that if one starts by putting one thing in and then goes on and makes a list, the day may come when one finds that one has forgotten something. Do we have specifications, surveyors' fees, legal costs, stamp duty, conveyancing, compensation for disturbance, and the like, because it has already struck the Government that something has been forgotten? If that is the case, it would have been better to have added matter than leave everything else out.
§ Looking back to the time when we were asked to spend morning after morning on Section 26 of the 1967 Act and listening to the Government's insistence on the merits of that Act, I find it strange that that work should now have been thrown out of the window. I am glad to have had the assurance that the Government have no intention of removing from eligibility for grant any of the matters listed in Section 26, but I am afraid that I cannot—not that I am particularly sorry not to be able to do so—congratulate the Government on doing what they have 1321 done here. It is the most appalling ragbag of an Amendment with which Parliament has ever been confronted.
§ Mr. Mackie
With permission, the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) have criticised the wording of the new Clause. I agree that it is complicated, but it has to be remembered that between 1951 and 1964 40,000 or 50,000 farmers went out of action. They got no help in the time of a Conservative Government. When I went to the Ministry I assumed that Ministers before me had had a survey made, because they must have been worried about the situation, but I found that nothing had been done. I had a small survey made which showed many of the heartbreaks in this business of having to get out of non-viable farms.
We have legislated in the way set out, because it is a very complicated business for Parliament to help these people. Two things have to be done. One has to help a man going out either by lump sum or pension and, at the same time, one has to tidy things up when farms have to be amalgamated. The two things together make a very complicated operation. The Clause may be difficult to understand, but hon. Members must realise that we are attempting something that has never been done before.
I know that we spent three mornings in Committee on this matter, but we now have experience. The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) asked how the operation was going on, and whether I had any figures. Quite frankly, the reason for the alteration is that the exercise has not gone quite so well as we had wanted. However, we are benefiting from experience, and I see nothing wrong about that. For the United Kingdom, the total number of applications is about 3,500 and the number approved is 1,159. As regards costs, remodelling works total just under £4 million and for incidental costs the figure is £126,000, making a total of just over £4 million. That is the estimated cost of all the approvals.
With the other things we have done, reducing the period and, in particular, dealing with the complicated matter where minors have to be allowed for through trustees, and so on, we hope that matters will proceed more quickly in the 1322 future. Most hon. Members have welcomed the provision relating to a widow or the deceased person's estate, and I am sure that that was the right course to take.
I come now to Amendment (d), to which the hon. Member for Westmorland spoke. I realise that the amount of removals from the 1967 Act is criticised, but we are removing from Section 26 the description of the costs and remodelling works eligible for grants, and we are taking power to specify them in the scheme, for two important reasons. First, as I said when introducing the new Clause, we think it makes sense to pay grant on remodelling works under the proposed farm capital grant scheme. This will make it easier for the farmer who wants to get grant on items in addition to remodelling works, because he will be able to get grant for the lot under one scheme. Also, it will simplify administration. I cannot imagine that any hon. Member will disagree on that.
Second, having removed the provisions relating to remodelling works from Section 26 to a scheme, we thought it sensible to do the same with the provisions relating to incidental costs, so as not to have so much in one Measure and so much in another. That is precisely what we have done: the detailed description of both the incidental costs and the types of remodelling works eligible for grant will be specified in schemes.
If any hon. Members still have doubt about whether we shall pay everything we have paid hitherto, I am ready to repeat the assurance which I gave earlier that it is our intention to pay grant on the same range of incidental costs as at present. With that assurance, hon. Members will not, I am sure, wish to press their Amendment.
Now Amendment (e). I have some sympathy for the principle underlying this. There is a similar time limit in the present scheme which requires proposals for approval for grant on remodelling works to be submitted within one year of the completion of the land transactions, and proposals for approval for grant on incidental costs to be submitted before the land transactions are completed.
It is our intention to include similar provisions to these in the new scheme. I think it preferable to do this rather than write a time limit into the Bill, 1323 because it allows greater flexibility. I know that great play has been made of the word "flexibility" in Committees over the years in which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh, West and I have been concerned, but there is value in it. This is a case in which it will be of advantage to have greater flexibility, and in any event we are not convinced that we should allow as long a period as the two years proposed in the Amendment. We shall, in accordance with Section 26(6) of the 1967 Act, as amended by new Clause No. 2, require any remodelling works approved for grant to benecessary or desirable as a consequence of an amalgamation, or necessary as a consequence of a boundary adjustment".We must have applications within a year of the land transactions being completed in order to assess with reasonable accuracy whether they are a consequence of the amalgamation or boundary adjustment. I am not suggesting that this could not be seen after two years, but the longer the matter goes on the more difficult it will be to assess with reasonable accuracy whether they were the consequence of an amalgamation or boundary adjustment.
§ Mr. James Scott-Hopkins (Derbyshire, West)
On the question of timing, could the hon. Gentleman clarify a point which has been worrying me in regard to the original 15-year period? What is the commencing date of this period?
§ Mr. Mackie
The commencing date for the 15 years will be the date when the Bill is passed.
If applicants change their minds about the precise type of remodelling works they want after they have submitted their proposals, we shall be ready, as we are under the present scheme, to accept some variations of the proposals originally submitted by the substitution of alternative proposals designed to achieve the same general purpose. I do not think that there is a lot between us on this point, and I hope that hon. Gentlemen will not press their Amendment.
If I remember rightly, I dare not touch on the next Amendment, but I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman managed to make his point before you, Mr. Speaker, stopped him.
1324 Like the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West, I must compliment the hon. Member for Westmorland on the tremendous study that he has made of the various alterations, and for going into great detail. I would have liked to be as clever as the hon. Gentleman and reply off the cuff, but I shall look into the points made by him and let him know whether he is right or wrong. Because of the amount of study that he has done I hope that he is right, but for our sake I hope that he is wrong.
I have answered most of the points raised by the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West. I have not, however, dealt with what he said about large farms swallowing up small ones. The hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Alasdair Mackenzie) raised the same point. This is a difficult question. I recall that it was raised twice by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson). If we were to say that only two non-viable farms could amalgamate, or that only an uncommercial farm and a farm of a certain size could amalgamate we would remove perhaps the best market for the owner-occupier who wanted to get out of a small farm. It might be necessary to provide some system of compensation if we were to do that. As it is, there is no sign that bigger farms are swallowing up the smaller ones. Generally speaking, in the Ross and Cromarty constituency, amalgamations take place between farms of about the same size.
This is a voluntary scheme, and if the farmer wished to sell to a bigger farm it would be difficult for the Government to say that he could not do that. It must go to the most able person who can pay the price. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman can see how difficult it would be to write this into legislation, and at the same time be fair to the outgoing tenant or owner-occupier, but mostly the owner-occupier, because he is the one who would suffer.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West referred to the complicated provisions of the Clause. I give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that we have no intention of removing anything from the original 1967 Act. We are doing something which has never been done before. It gives us the edge when dealing with farms of this size, and it will continue to give us the 1325 edge over our Continental competitors. We have had a little experience of this. We hope that that experience and the alterations which we have made will help things to move a little faster than they are doing now. What we have done will be of tremendous help, particularly to elderly people on non-viable farms. I hope that the House will accept the new Clause, but not the two Amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Westmorland.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.