§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Fred Peart)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The House will know that over the years Parliament has been called upon from time to time to consider a Miscellaneous Provisions Bill concerned with agriculture. I cannot claim that this Bill ranks in importance with some of its predecessors. Despite the length of its Long Title it is a short Bill, but it covers a wide and interesting range of measures all of which are important if we are to keep up with a changing world.
As the title implies, there is no single theme, but it may help the House if I explain that the Bill relates to certain statutory organisations, takes account of some consequences of EEC membership and contains a variety of other items, including provisions relating to animals and their health and welfare.
Clause 1 provides for the winding-up of the Sugar Board and the transfer of its assets and liabilities to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on a day to be appointed by Order. This step is necessary because the Board will soon have no further tasks to perform.
The Sugar Board was established by the Sugar Act of 1956. Its prime task was to discharge the Government's obligations under the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement. The Board bought raw cane sugar from the Commonwealth producers at a price negotiated by the Government. It also had an important function within the United Kingdom. This was to average out the price of beet and cane sugar on the domestic market by a system of variable surcharges or distribution payments.
Finally, the Board supported the guaranteed price for sugar beet set at every Annual Farm Price Review by making payments as necessary to the British Sugar Corporation. The Board's operations under these headings were self-financing take one year with another. 1271 However, when we joined the EEC in 1973 sugar became subject to the common agricultural policy and the Board's functions ended one by one. The Commonwealth Sugar Agreement ended in 1974 to be replaced by an agreement with the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries within the framework of the Lomé Convention.
The Board has reduced its staff to about 15 people who are administering various schemes on behalf of my Department. These include the payments to sugar refiners in connection with the price which the Government guaranteed the ACP producers for sugar shipped in 1975 and the associated price equalisation scheme for cane and beet sugar. However, these tasks should be completed by the middle of 1976 and we can see nothing which should replace them. The dissolution of the Board will therefore be timely and should lead to administrative savings of about £200,000 a year.
The main asset of the Board which will be transferred to my stewardship will be its shareholding in the British Sugar Corporation of 2½ million £1 shares. The Board should have no significant liabili ties when dissolved but I will take over responsibility for the pensions of its staff which are paid from a trust fund.
I should like to take this opportunity to express the Government's appreciation of the work of the Board's members and staff over the 19 years it has been operating. They have done a good job and given excellent service.
Clause 2 of the Bill concerns the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation Limited and increases the limits on Government advances to the Corporation's guarantee fund. The Corporation has, since it was set up in 1928, been the major source of long-term loans for the agriculture industry. It is important that there should be no doubt about the Corporation's capacity to continue offering this very important service to farmers.
The Government advances provide the necessary support to enable the Corporation to continue raising, on the market, the money which it lends on a long-term basis to farmers on the security of their land, so that they can buy or improve their farms. The clause provides for an increase in the limit on Government 1272 advances from the current £17 million to £30 million and also empowers the Minister of Agriculture, by Order made with the approval of this House, to raise the limit by up to a further £10 million making an upper limit of £40 million in all. Altogether, the advances provided for in Clause 2 should enable the Corporation to raise about £300 million for lending to farmers.
Clause 3 proposes some alterations to the statutory obligations of the Meat and Livestock Commission to consult with the producing and distributing sectors of the meat and livestock industry. When we were discussing the Meat and Livestock Commission Levy Order in April, it became apparent that the Commission and the industries were dissatisfied with the present consultation arrangements. I therefore asked officials to examine these views with the Commission and to report to Ministers.
The review showed that there was scope for improving the arrangements for consultations with producers and with distributors. The new arrangements proposed in Clause 3 would place a statutory obligation on the Commission to consult directly with the relevant organisation whenever a matter arose which had a substantial effect on the interest of that organisation. This arrangement will replace the existing provision for consultation with the statutory production and distribution committees. The organisations to be included in the new arrangements will be designated by the agriculture Ministers. No alteration is proposed in the arrangements for consulting the consumers' interest, which will continue to be represented by the consumers' committee.
The new arrangements proposed should serve to strengthen and improve communications between the Commission and the meat and livestock industries and enable the Commission to respond more readily to their needs.
Clause 4 provides for payments towards the costs of maintaining a national system of proficiency tests for agriculture in England and Wales. Proficiency tests are the criteria by which agricultural workers may qualify as craftsmen for a premium, currently 10 per cent. above the statutory minimum agricultural wage. They are also useful in that they provide 1273 a form of qualification which can be awarded following courses arranged by the Agricultural Training Board.
The National Proficiency Tests Council, which devises the tests, has found it impossible to survive without a modest measure of Government support. In view of the way the Council ties in with the Agricultural Wages Board and the Agricultural Training Board, the Government have decided that the support which has been given for the last three years should be put on a regular statutory basis. The amount involved is about £25,000 a year.
Clause 5 provides for the introduction of measures to restrict the growing of male hops, with the aim of facilitating the production of seedless hops. Hops can be either seeded or seedless, seedless hops being produced by unpollinated plants. The United Kingdom is almost alone among hop-growing countries in not growing seedless hops, although there is an increased demand for them by British brewers.
Moreover the international hops market, both within the Community and in third countries, is effectively restricted by commercial preference to seedless hops. In order to supply the brewers and to maintain—it is hoped, expand—the export market, it is accordingly important that some English hops should be grown seedless.
Seedlessness can be maintained at an acceptable level only by eliminating male hops within a radius of up to three miles from the seedless hop garden, thus protecting the hop plants from potential pollination. This affects not only the male hop plants previously cultivated for pollination purposes but also wild and other hops that may be found on any private or public land in the areas.
Clause 5 provides for an area to be designated seedless by means of an Order, after consultation with representatives of commercial growers in the area. Provision is made for powers of entry and inspection within a designated area to identify male hop plants and, if necessary, to serve a notice requiring their destruction or treatment. As a last resort, Ministry officials may themselves be authorised to destroy or treat the offending plants.
1274 This may sound a small matter. But it is not unimportant, and I am confident that the powers granted by Clause 5 will be welcomed by growers' organisations, which have, indeed, advocated these measures.
Clause 6 slightly widens the power to collect agricultural statistics under the Agriculture Act 1947, in order to meet the needs of the Government and the European Community. It brings in land which is being used for forestry and land which is not being used at all but which could be used for agriculture or forestry. In each case the land must be associated with an existing agricultural unit in the same occupation.
The Government, in common with all administrations since 1965, are committed in principle to support the plans of individual industries to change to metric systems of measurement. We propose, under Clause 7, to take powers to enable us to replace non-metric by metric units in agriculture and fisheries legislation.
In the agriculture sector, all the industries concerned have jointly decided to make the change during the farming year 1975–76. Amendment of individual enactments will follow consultations with the interests concerned on timing and appropriate units. On fisheries, the proposed power will enable batches of amendments to be made to local subordinate legislation where existing procedures are disproportionately lengthy and costly in relation to the minimal nature of the adjustments required. Power is also needed for amending general legislation.
Clause 8 provides new enabling powers to regulate the exportation of animals for the purpose of more effectively safeguarding their welfare. Under it, Orders may be made to prohibit the exportation of animals without a prescribed licence and/or certificate. Persons proposing to export animals may be required to furnish information relevant to the animals' welfare at and after exportation, in particular the intended ultimate destination of the animals and the arrangements for conveying them to that destination.
Existing welfare controls on exports are operated by the Department of Trade and the Agriculture Departments under a combination of statutory powers and administrative arrangements. As many 1275 hon. Members know, exports of pedigree breeding animals are allowed to all destinations, but exports of store animals and animals for slaughter are permitted only to the EEC and other countries with acceptable standards of animal welfare. This control is operated by a system of export licences operated by the Department of Trade acting on the advice of the Agriculture Departments.
The statutory powers at present available to Agriculture Ministers relate to the safeguarding of the welfare of animals before and at the point of export and during transit to the port or airport to which they are being consigned. However, there is at present no legal obligation on an exporter to give more than the minimum information about his intentions. In practice, veterinary inspectors of the Agriculture Departments ask for detailed information about the travel arrangements up to the exact ultimate destination of the animals being exported—that is, the farm or abattoir—so as to ensure that they will not be subjected to unacceptable stress in transit.
The new powers in Clause 8 to require information, and to institute discretionary licensing and certification will effectively supplement existing powers contained in the Diseases of Animals Act 1950. They will provide a firm legal basis for the controls aimed at protecting the welfare of animals, not only before export but during the journey to, and on arrival at, their ultimate destination abroad. I am sure that this proposal will be welcomed in all parts of the House as yet another indication of the concern for the welfare of animals exported from our shores.
I now turn to Clauses 9 and 10. These clauses reflect the fact that wildlife can be a source of disease to farm livestock and poultry, and indirectly to man. Parliament has already granted powers in the Rabies Act 1974 to enable me to deal with outbreaks of rabies in wild mammals. At present we enjoy a large measure of freedom from bovine tuberculosis, which, I remind the House, was within the memories of many of us—and certaintly of the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Stradling Thomas), who is a trained veterinary surgeon—endemic in our cattle and was an important source of tuberculosis in our population, in particular in children. That freedom is 1276 now being threatened by the existence of the disease in the badger population in certain limited areas in South-West England.
Although the immediate problem of legalising the use of cyanide gas where tuberculous badgers have to be destroyed was overcome last year by the amendment to the Badgers Act made under the Conservation of Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Act, the Government's powers to deal with this situation are still inadequate. Clauses 9 and 10 of the Bill are designed to give Ministers the full range of powers we need to deal with problems like that of the tuberculous badger. They have been drafted in a form which would enable their application to any disease to which the diseases of animals legislation applies and which had become established in a wild species of mammal or bird and was infecting farm animals or poultry.
§ Mr. Keith Stainton (Sudbury and Woodbridge)
With respect, I regret that the Minister passed so quickly over rabies. I am deeply concerned at the absence of any publicity about rabies at the seaports on the Suffolk coastline. This is a matter of deep and immediate concern.
§ Mr. Peart
I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I am glad that he has raised this issue. I shall certainly bear it in mind. Inevitably, publicity will come from his intervention. I shall follow up this matter and see that something is done. I mentioned the Rabies Act. I agree that we must be strict and that we must inform the public.
All of us hope that the problem of the badger and tuberculosis will prove to be unique, but it is very desirable that general powers of this kind should be readily available so that any developing situation can be dealt with promptly in the interests both of agriculture and of the wild species concerned.
§ Mr. John Stradling Thomas (Monmouth)
I welcome the clause because it reconciles the concern felt by lovers of wildlife with the needs of farming and animal health. I am disappointed that the Minister has missed a chance here, although there may be a chink of light in Clause 10(1)(c). Would it be possible to bring in the voluntary pest and vermin control societies? The deficiency in the Bill is that there is no comfort for them. They are operating at no cost to the 1277 Government in controlling pests and vermin. The Minister said that he hoped that the badger situation was unique. There is a voluntary system in operation, with the occupiers of land attending to these matters themselves, but there is in the Bill only the slight possibility of their being enlisted. There can be no finer way than self-help—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)
Order. Is the hon. Gentleman bringing his brief intervention to a close?
§ Mr. Peart
I welcome the experience of the hon. Gentleman, who has veterinary qualifications. I shall look at his suggestion carefully. I know that it is not in the Bill, but where there can be consultations between voluntary organisations and my own officers and veterinary officers I shall expect them to consult. Whether it should be made mandatory in the Bill is something we can discuss in Committee. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to serve on the Standing Committee which considers the Bill, but that is a matter for the Opposition. I note what he has said, however.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
I apologise for being absent when the Minister discussed Clause 8 but I had an urgent telephone call. I am concerned because there is no mandatory obligation on the Ministry to control the export of animals, although it may introduce certain rules and regulations. I hope that in Committee the Minister will consider introducing such a mandatory obligation.
§ Mr. Peart
I thought that this matter might arise. Inevitably it will be debated in Committee, and I hope that I shall not cause embarrassment to the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) and the hon. Member for Monmouth by suggesting that they should serve on the Standing Committee. It is, of course, a matter for the Committee of Selection. I am sure that the hon. Member for Gillingham, who takes a deep interest in animal welfare, welcomes what I have done. At least we have moved forward.
Clause 9 enables Ministers to make an Order specifying an area within which a disease exists in wildlife and is infecting farm animals and poultry. Inside such an area the destruction of the wild species concerned would be authorised, and certain 1278 ancillary powers would become available.
There are many safeguards in Clause 9. They include the fact that the disease must be being transmitted to farm animals or poultry in the area, and the destruction of the wild species named in the Order must be necessary to eliminate or substantially reduce the incidence of the disease in livestock.
There is provision requiring the Ministers concerned to consult the Nature Conservancy Council before making an Order, and I am prepared to consider consulting other bodies as well. I was once a member of the Nature Conservancy Council, which is an important body and has wide experience. It is right that it should be consulted.
The Order must be quite specific in naming the wild species and the disease concerned, and the method of destruction if this would in normal circumstances be unlawful. The Order must also name the area of land where the powers arising under it are to apply. Occupiers of land on which the wild species is to be destroyed must be informed beforehand, and there is a general duty on the Minister to carry out the work as safely as possible.
Clause 10 supplements Clause 9 by providing necessary powers of entry for authorised officers. These powers are available under the clause in order to carry out necessary investigations where the existence of disease in a wild species is suspected, in order to destroy members of the wild species in an area once an order has been made, and to monitor the situation once the work of destruction has been completed so that any renewed outbreak of the disease can be quickly dealt with.
I appreciate that the powers which I am requesting under these two clauses are fairly drastic, and their subject may even be distasteful to some people. However, I am convinced that they are necessary if we are to maintain the high standard of freedom from disease in our farm livestock population which we have attained at very high cost.
Clauses 11 and 12 introduce important changes in the agricultural holdings legislation. They will give increased security of tenure for the tenants of agricultural holdings. Complaints have been received 1279 from time to time of the harassment of tenants by agricultural landlords. Parliament took action in the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1963, in response to earlier complaints, but those provisions did not go far enough.
The recent complaints, which came mainly from South-East Wales although there have been isolated cases in England as well, had a striking similarity to the earlier cases. It was alleged that some agricultural landlords were serving their tenants with notices to do work of repair, maintenance or replacement which were unreasonably long or required unnecessarily expensive work. As a result the tenants, it was said, were forced to spend an undue proportion of their time and money in carrying out the work demanded of them. The significance of the "notice to do work" procedure is that failure to complete the work in the time specified could lead eventually to the tenant having to quit the holding.
My Department consulted the NFU, the County Landowners' Association and interested professional organisations about the complaints. It became clear from the consultations that the "notice to do work" and "notice to quit" provisions were weighted too heavily against the tenants in two respects. First, arbitrators, before whom the tenants could challenge the items of work to be done and the time specified, were not allowed sufficient professional discretion. They could not delete or amend items which, though technically the tenant's responsibility, were unnecessary or unjustified in the interests of good husbandry or sound estate management.
Clause 11 therefore enables the Lord Chancellor by order to empower an arbitrator to delete any such items from a notice to do work, or to substitute a different method of work or materials for those specified in the notice.
Secondly, despite the seriousness of the penalty for non-compliance with a notice to do work, the tenant cannot contest the subsequent notice to quit before the Agricultural Land Tribunal.
Mr. Thomas Tomey (Bradford, South)
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on this much-needed reform for tenant farmers, but why did he not see fit to extend the same protection for the working 1280 son of a tenant farmer in cases where the father dies or retires without having given his son some protection in carrying on the tenancy? Will my right hon. Friend give consideration to this aspect in Committee?
§ Mr. Peart
I am glad my hon. Friend thanks me for what I have done. The Bill does not cover what he requests. He may well wish to say in this debate that I should have done what he suggests, and I hope that he succeeds in catching the eye of the Chair. What I propose in the Bill for tenant farmers covers harassment and not what my hon. Friend suggests should be done.
Clause 12 enables a tenant served with a notice to quit for failing to comply with a notice to do work to serve a counter-notice on his landlord. The counter-notice will render the notice to quit inoperative unless the Agricultural Land Tribunal consents to its operation. If the landlord wishes to persist with the notice to quit, therefore, he will have to apply to the Agricultural Land Tribunal. The tribunal must consent to the operation of the notice to quit unless in all the circumstances it appears to it that a fair and reasonable landlord would not insist on possession. The fair and reasonable landlord test is, of course, one of the most important safeguards for tenants against unfair landlords under the agricultural holdings legislation.
I would emphasise that harassment is not a widespread problem in England and Wales—far from it. But no one would condone harassment, and even one case of a tenant being forced or frightened out of his tenancy is one case too many.
Clauses 13 and 14 contain similar provisions relating to Scotland. As in England and Wales, there has overall been a good relationship between the agricultural landlord and his tenants in Scotland and harassment of the type I have described has not in general been a problem. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has nevertheless thought it reasonable to provide for tenants in Scotland equivalent protection to that being given in England and Wales.
Clauses 13 and 14 give effect to this. The provisions differ somewhat in detail from those in the clauses relating to England and Wales because of some differences in the existing law, but the 1281 effect of Clause 13 will be to extend the powers of arbiters in Scotland, in any harassment cases which may arise, generally in the same way. Similarly the effect of Clause 14 is to make notice to quit, which may be given in connection with a failure to do works, contestable before the Scottish Land Court.
Clause 15 stems from a recommendation of the Public Accounts Committee. The Agricultural Departments need the power that it confers if they are to be able to enforce recovery of the whole of any capital grant which has been falsely claimed. Any recovery action would be subject to the appeal procedure already contained in Section 29 of the Agriculture Act 1970.
As I said at the beginning of my speech, this is a short Bill and one that contains a wide variety of provisions. Nevertheless I am sure the House will agree with me that it is an important and worthwhile measure. It gives me great pleasure to commend the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill to the House.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland)
We are grateful to the Minister for having spent a fair amount of time explaining the provisions of the Bill.
At the beginning of my remarks I must declare an interest, which is already known to the House, namely, that I farm and have an interest in the ownership of land, all of which I farm.
I was surprised to read the details of the Bill when it was first published. I heard of it a little time before it was published and I expected to see within it matters of great importance following up the White Paper which the Government produced seven months ago entitled "Food From Our Own Resources". That White Paper set targets for our food-producing industry which, although not adventurous by any standards, suggested a growth in food production from our own resources of about 3 per cent. a year between now and 1980. I think the Minister will agree that the performance of the food-producing industry has been a failure so far in those terms, because the September figures produced by the Ministry of Agriculture show that the size of the dairy herd was 5.8 per cent. down on the year, the beef breeding herd was 3.5 1282 per cent. down and the pig herd was 7.1 per cent. down.
§ Mr. Peart
I hope the hon. Gentleman will address himself to the Bill, which has been approved by the National Farmers' Union. It is a useful measure. If the hon. Gentleman wants to argue about the broad policy on agriculture, it may well be that he will be able to do so on some future occasion, but not during a debate on a Bill such as this. If the hon. Gentleman wants to vote against the Bill, let him say so.
§ Mr. Jopling
I hope that the Minister will not make my speech for me. I have been on my feet for only two minutes. The right hon. Gentleman has produced an Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, the first he has produced since his Government came to power. He has told us that it is an important Bill, and, therefore, it is perfectly in order for me to spend a few mintues at the beginning of my remarks looking at the whole context of the food-producing industry and what the Bill contains.
§ Mr. Jopling
It is no good the Minister saying "Mr. Gloom" to me. He might explain the figures and why it happens that this year production of food from our farms, which is what the Bill is all about, will be down by 7 per cent. If I am Mr. Gloom, will the Minister explain why the recent Country Landowners' Association report shows that 60 per cent. of planned investment in the industry has been abandoned or postponed.
A 7 per cent. reduction in food production this year rather than a 3 per cent. rise means that food production at the end of the year will be 10 per cent. down on the target set out in the Government's White Paper. That means that for the remainder of the time between now and 1980 the Government will have to think in terms of increases in food production of over 5 per cent. per annum rather than 3 per cent. as laid down in the White Paper.
When the Bill was mooted, many hon. Members listened to the Queen's Speech hoping to hear that the Bill would contain provisions explaining how the Government's target would be implemented. We fully expected that the legislation 1283 would be relevant to the task which the Government had set, but there was no mention whatever of the Bill in the Queen's Speech. The only mention of agricultural legislation in the Queen's Speech was the proposal to abolish tied cottages, which in my view will depress food production even more, and the only reference to the Bill was the reference at the end of the Queen's Speech that:Other measures will be laid before you".Therefore, we are bound to say that the Government themselves cannot attach too much importance to this Bill if it was not even mentioned in the Queen's Speech.
§ Mr. Peart
The Bill contains some important measures, including those to do with the safety of livestock and exports. Indeed, the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation provisions are important for the industry. Although I do not mind the hon. Gentleman making party political points now and then, I hope he will discuss the Bill objectively. Let him get on with it instead of being cheap.
§ Mr. Jopling
I know that the right hon. Gentleman went to the Smithfield Show this morning, but I have only—
§ Mr. Jopling
I have been on my feet for only five minutes. The Minister has now interrupted me twice. I hope he will allow me to get on to the matters which he has raised.
In the general context of the home food-producing industry, the Bill only tinkers about with matters which are on the periphery of important decisions that should be taken. It makes no attempt to deal with declining home food production, which, apart from the seasonal autumn surge in milk production, shows little sign of recovery. I understand that at the Smithfield Show this morning the Minister said that confidence had returned to the industry. I hope he is right. However, I cannot help feeling that the recent increase in milk production was more to do with the weather than with him.
§ Mr. Jopling
I do not know what is getting into the Minister today. I have never known him so restless. I am sorry if I have caught him on the raw.
Important items are covered in the Bill. It affects many organisations and many functions of the Ministry. It is the sort of Bill which will give rise to the necessity for long and vital matters to be discussed in Committee. I should like to point out to the Minister—I am sure he already knows—that the constitution of the Standing Committee is a matter not for me but for the Committee of Selection of the House. However, so far as a great Second Reading debate is concerned, the Bill is a poor thing and is more concerned with bureaucracy than with altering trends of production or the prosperity of the countryside.
The Minister said that there are three clauses at the beginning of the Bill which deal with outside organisations. First, Clause 1 contains the proposal to wind up the Sugar Board. We do not argue with that proposal. We understand that the Board has become outdated with the lapse of the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement and the application of the common agricultural policy of the Community to this country. Since 1956 the Board has acted to equalise the supply and the price of sugar when they have been subject to fluctuations. The problem now arises—I hope that we shall hear something of this in the Parliamentary Secretary's reply—of how that work will be continued to equalise both supply and prices. It will be very vividly in the memory of the Minister that tremendous fluctuations in supply and prices occurred during the years 1974 and 1975. I hope that we shall be told to what extent the Board's work in trying to even out those fluctuations will be perpetuated in the future.
I turn to Clause 2, and the Government's proposals to strengthen the work of the Agriculutral Mortgage Corporation. We welcome these steps. We believe that the Corporation has played an important part in the development of the agriculture industry over the years. It is surprising to realise that 9 per cent. of our agricultural land today is subject to loans and mortgages on it provided by the Corporation. One might have thought that with the difficulties of land ownership over the course of the last year or two, when land prices have dropped 1285 dramatically and interest rates have risen dramatically, there could well be a number of farmers who had bought land in the recent past at high prices and who now find themselves in immense difficulties because of the fallen price of that land and the fact that interest must be repaid at extremely high rates.
I observe in the Corporation's accounts that last year £18,000 was written off for bad debts, but that £328,000 was set aside for future debts. The Corporation assures me that the worst is probably over, but I hope that the Government will constantly keep in touch with the situation, which could be one of continuing difficulty if land prices continue to fall.
Many farmers today find themselves short of capital. Many more will find themselves short of capital as a result of the implementation of the capital transfer tax, the wealth tax and the development land tax. Although it is the present Government who have landed the industry with this future liability to heavy taxation, I hope that they will be prepared to try to help the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation to tide farmers over difficult periods when there is a heavy tax liability to pay.
The Corporation has evolved a co-ownership plan whereby undivided shares in farms could be made available for outside capital, with an agreement that the farmer could buy back that interest after either 10 years or every five-year period after that. This is an interesting way of finding relatively cheap money to tide farmers over serious difficulties. I gather that the Corporation is anxious to proceed with this scheme. It would be helpful if the Government gave us some view of their attitude to these proposals.
I turn to Clause 3 and the proposals for the Meat and Livestock Commission. Again, we do not object to the winding up of the production and distribution committees. We understand that they were not entirely satisfactory consultative bodies. Indeed, I have been told by bodies outside the consultative committees—the National Farmers' Union, for instance—that the present level of consultation is not meaningful. Although I do not wish to enter into an argument whether or not it is meaningful, I hope 1286 very much that what is proposed now will improve the consultation that takes place.
I have to ask, however, why the Government are not also proposing to wind up the consumer committee. One has heard suggestions that the Government take the view that there are not adequate groups of consumers to consult. The House ought to be told why the consumer committee alone is to be left. None of us on the Opposition side of the House has any desire to harm the position of consumers in these matters, but it is rather surprising, if it is true, that the Ministry says that there are no adequate groups of consumers to consult. I was interested in the Minister's Press handout on 20th November, which reads,Representatives of the National Consumer Council, the Consumers' Association, the National Federation of Consumer Groups, the Housewife's Trust, the Co-operative Women's Guild, the Co-operative Women's Guild (Scottish Central Council) and officials of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of Prices and Consumer Protection, met today to discuss food and agricultural production and support policy in connection with the Annual Review of the agricultural industry.If the Ministry itself believes that there are adequate groups of consumers to consult on these matters, I do not quite understand why those same groups of consumers should not be considered adequate in relation to the Meat and Livestock Commission. An answer on that matter would be helpful.
I turn now to the three clauses concerned with animal health. First, on Clause 8 we are in support of the Government's measures to strengthen the welfare arrangements for animals that are exported. Many of us on the Opposition side of the House feel that the export trade should continue, although there are some individuals who do not share that view. We were dismayed at the unfortunate set-back in welfare arrangements which came to light in March this year. We all welcomed the step that the Minister took to avoid a repetition of that situation. If these proposals strengthen the welfare Regulations, we warmly welcome them and we hope very much that they will allay the fears of many people who are concerned about this export trade.
I turn to Clauses 9 and 10, which deal with the spread of disease by wild species of animals. We have heard and read 1287 statements made by the Minister's Department about the threat of the spread of tuberculosis by badgers. I was glad to hear, this afternoon, that the Minister has said that he is prepared to amend—I imagine—the Bill to extend consultation to the Nature Conservancy Council. It seems to me that in the future, with programmes such as the brucellosis scheme to eradicate other diseases, it could come to light that other types of animals could spread these diseases. One might, for instance, find that there was a danger of disease being spread by deer. Given circumstances of that sort, I should have thought that it would be a good thing if the Minister undertook, in the Bill, to consult the deer societies, for instance, on these matters.
However, I am not quite so pleased to read the provisions of Clause 10. The Minister anticipated some of my views when he spoke of the great power given to him under the clause in respect to entry for his officials upon land where there is fear that diseases are being spread or where an eradication programme is being carried out. I do not believe that we could agree to Clause 10 as it stands. I think it is fair to say that subsection (2) provides carte blanche for the Minister's minions to wander through the land, shooting anything in sight or digging holes wherever they want, if they suspect—and only suspect—that a disease exists in various species of wild animals. I am sure that provision for a good deal more notice and consultation should be built into Clause 10. As it stands I find it most unacceptable.
I turn to the other clauses of the Bill that deal with the Minister's powers. These clauses are primarily concerned with the growth of bureaucracy, and Conservatives are natually concerned when they see a growth in the Government's power to interfere unless that power is absolutely necessary.
Clause 5 deals with the control of hop growing. On the face of it, this seems to be a worthy project, which we support. As the Minister said, it would allow this country to grow seedless hops to fulfil possible export orders, and certainly this is in the interests of English hop growers. However, to create zones—as the Minister said he would have to do—in which there were no male hops being grown, needs a 1288 large degree of ministerial muscle. I hope that these very strong powers will be used sympathetically. I hope that the only areas which are designated are those in respect of which there is a good deal of consent by hop growers before the programme begins.
§ Mr. Jopling
I welcome the Minister's statement.
Above all, we must try to avoid resentment by growers within designated areas. This would be especially difficult if the international market for hops continued to be as depressed as it is now, because it would mean that growers who were disgruntled would see no immediate advantage in these proposals.
I turn to the proposed ministerial powers over metrication, contained in Clause 7. These provisions give the Minister power to use metric units. I gather—very few farmers are aware of this—that the February Farm Price Review next year will be in metric terms. As I understand it, farmers are totally unprepared to be told in about two months' time that milk prices will be expressed per litre and that livestock prices will be expressed by kilogramme. They are not at all prepared and, so far, not at all educated about how to translate those prices into prices that they are used to.
I hope that the publication of the February Farm Price Review is not awaiting the provisions of this Bill, because before these metric units can be used we must get the Bill through this House, it must go to another place; then, under the provisions of this clause, there has to be consultation with interested bodies and, finally, an Order has to be laid before the House. I give the Minister warning that I see no chance of his being able to complete that process before the February price review. I hope very much that that review can be produced without waiting for the provisions of the Bill.
I am concerned about metrication and about the lack of an overall Government plan for this process. I am opposed to the piecemeal approach to metrication. So far we have had very little detail of the Government's overall strategy and overall timetable. I give the Minister notice that unless a firm statement is made by the Government as a whole 1289 before we discuss this clause in Committee, the position will be much more difficult for us. We must see the move to metrication in farming within the whole national context, and we must have details of the timetable for these matters as soon as possible.
Clauses 11 to 14 are concerned with the change in the law on agricultural holdings. These provisions have been included because of cases of alleged harassment. So far, I am sorry to say that we have not had enough details about what the Government mean when they talk about these cases. The Minister told us that he had consulted both the NFU and the CLA, but I was interested to see what both those organisations put in the briefs which they so kindly sent us. The NFU said thatthere appears to be no evidence that this is a widespread and frequently encountered problem.The CLA said:No evidence has been produced to the CLA.Let me make it clear that we would not oppose measures to protect tenants from unfair harassment over minor matters, but, first, we must have more evidence of this. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary can give us some details of this when he concludes the debate. I hope that in Committee we shall have much more evidence on this matter. Parliament must always be wary about changing the law concerning legally binding agreements between two parties. This proposal implies new powers being put into the hands of one man—an arbitrator—to change tenancy agreements. On the strength of the Bill it is difficult to see how he could decide that provisions which appeared in tenancy agreements were "unnecessary and unjustified". We could not condone new legislation which turned out to be a bad tenants' charter. I am not suggesting that the provisions of these clauses do constitute a bad tenants' charter, but we want to know just what is implied by them in a good deal more detail. We shall need to have very careful discussions in Committee before we can realise the full scale of this problem.
§ Mr. Caerwyn E. Roderick (Brecon and Radnor)
The hon. Gentleman has said that he has not seen any evidence of the 1290 need for these clauses. Putting that on one side, will he tell us whether he supports the inclusion of these clauses in the Bill?
§ Mr. Jopling
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was listening. I did not say that I had not seen evidence; I said that the CLA and the NFU said that they had not seen evidence. I shall come to the Opposition's attitude in a moment, if the hon. Gentleman will allow me to do so.
In reply to one of his hon. Friends the Minister said a word about suggestions for making tenancies pass from father to son. Of course, we are sympathetic to the position in which sons find themselves. However, we must remember that at this moment almost one-third of new farm lettings go to near relations. Let farms are now virtually the only way in which young men can get into farming for the first time. For young men wanting to start farming the task is becoming increasingly difficult. As the cost of tenants' capital, machinery, fertilisers and working capital in general rise higher and higher it becomes increasingly impossible if they also have to find money to buy the land. Therefore, it is important that we should be careful to keep the path open to young farmers through let farms.
§ Mr. Wyn Roberts (Conway)
Is my hon. Friend aware that, certainly in Wales, the farming population is declining, that we are seriously concerned about this, and that a limited right, on the part of a son, to follow the deceased tenant, as in Scotland, would be widely welcomed in the farming circles in Wales?
§ Mr. Jopling
I am aware that those views are held, but my concern lies in the danger of drying up the supply of let farms for young men. I was interested to see that in its brief the National Farmers' Union said:The Union is naturally most anxious that any change in the law on this subject should not detrimentally affect the supply of farms to let".In my view, it will be difficult for us to evolve a way of making it significantly easier for sons to inherit tenancies without at the same time drying up the supply of let farms. But that is a matter which we can, and, I hope, shall, discuss on another occasion. It might be a question 1291 for a Select Committee at some future stage.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
The hon. Gentleman should appreciate that only a small percentage of farms which now come to hand are in fact let, and on many a farm where there is a son or near relative at home, that son or near relative does not have any opportunity to tender for the farm. Surely, the proposals in the Bill offer a means of ensuring that not fewer but more farms are let.
§ Mr. Jopling
The hon. and learned Gentleman may use that argument, but I wonder whether he has seen the survey recently issued by the Country Landowners' Association, which covered 844 cases in which tenancies had ended. Analysis of the figures showed that in 55 per cent. of such cases ending with the death of the tenant, a near relative either inherited or did not want the tenancy, or was non-existent. I am not sure, therefore, that the hon. and learned Gentleman's argument holds much water.
I have been interrupted a good deal, and I end now on this note: clearly, the Bill needs much scrutiny and discussion. However, I cannot advise my hon. Friends to vote against it. But let that not make the Minister feel that our agreement to a Second Reading means that we accept the present situation in agriculture. We remain gravely alarmed at the declining volume of production here. The Bill will do nothing to fill our granaries and stores. It will not guarantee future food supplies to the consumer. Meanwhile, the Minister's White Paper remains a hollow drum, to be thumped when the Labour Party is lost for words and for deeds.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Miss Joan Maynard (Sheffield, Brightside)
The hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) has attacked this Labour Government and, for that matter, all Labour Governments for their policy towards agriculture. I must tell him at the outset that any such attack is ludicrous. The truth is that both this and previous Labour Governments have had an outstanding record in their policy for agriculture.
1292 When the hon. Gentleman says that he does not want to see too much Government interference, I reply, as someone who has had a long association with the industry, by recalling the days when there was no Government interference, when there was poverty in the industry, and when the people who headed the bankruptcy lists were farmers. It took a major world war to bring prosperity back to our industry, followed by Government interference through the 1947 Act. The hon. Gentleman should therefore be less critical of Government interference.
I welcome the Bill, and I shall direct attention to several of its clauses. Unfortunately, I did not hear all that my right hon. Friend said about the winding up of the Sugar Board, but I take it that it is a direct result of our entry into the European Community and the end of the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement.
§ Miss Maynard
I can only hope that the result will not be too detrimental for our former suppliers.
It is proposed to make more money available to the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation. To some extent, the Corporation is in the same position as that of a local authority that takes on the task of helping buyers of elderly properties that a building society considers too big a risk, and it does get landed with some doubtful starters. In other words, I imagine that those who go to the Corporation are those who have been turned down by the Big Five.
The proposed provision will be valuable, but I understand that the current lending rate is 14¾ per cent., so that one may doubt that the Corporation can provide the assistance which farmers on less good land may need if they are to have to carry heavy overheads of that kind.
I wonder whether it would be possible to establish some sort of land bank—I mean a money bank, not a bank of land—to which farmers would lend in times of surplus, on a reasonable rate of return and perhaps with some tax relief to give encouragement and make it worth while. The same backing as is given now could be given by Government advances, and the Government could probably help also in administration. The Agricultural 1293 Mortgage Corporation could remain for long-term finance, but such a land bank would be there more for the medium term.
I turn next to the proposals for the Meat and Livestock Commission. The Minister will recall that the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers used to nominate producer representatives to that body. Their duties will now be taken away, and the Commission will be required to consult the interests concerned direct. I cannot see there being any consultation with the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers, and I remind my right hon. Friend that when he is consulting producers he ought to think about the workers as well as the farmers.
§ Miss Maynard
The consumer will be protected by the statutory consumer committees. I presume that that means the Ministry of Agriculture's consumer committees, on which, so far as I am aware, we have no representation as a union.
I welcome the enabling powers to make grants towards the cost of maintaining a standardised system of proficiency tests. Before coming to the House I was a member of a proficiency test committee, and I regard it as sensible that we should have a standard set throughout the country rather than have different standards in different counties. The work is done by proficiency test committees, and the cost of maintaining these committees is borne by the organisations in the industry which have representatives serving on them. In my view, grants should be made available so that proficiency test committees could meet travelling expenses and loss of wages for those who give their time and effort to the industry in this way.
I turn next to Clause 8 and the provisions relating to the export of livestock. I welcome the extra welfare provisions, because I have never been happy about the export of live animals. It is extremely difficult to ensure that there is no cruelty in the loading and transport of live animals, and I welcome anything that can be done to prevent or alleviate suffering.
I give a particular welcome to Clauses 11 to 14, for the protection of tenant 1294 farmers. These clauses are intended to protect those who do the job in the industry. The hon. Member for Westmorland did not seem much in favour of these clauses, and he said that he had no evidence of harassment. I certainly have such evidence. I took the trouble to go to meet the farmers in Monmouthshire who were suffering harassment. Unreasonable demands for repairs and improvements were being made by landlords, and the farmers had to carry out the works within a limited time. In fact, they were being set an impossible task, and if they could not do that task within the time laid down, they were given notice to quit. Therefore, I welcome these clauses.
§ Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)
I am following with interest what the hon. Lady says. Did the tenants to whom she spoke serve counter-notices under the existing legislation?
§ Miss Maynard
I cannot say whether they did or did not. My understanding was that it was very difficult for them to serve counter-notices. Without question, these farmers were being harassed by the owners, and unreasonable demands were being made on them in order to get them off the farms, so that the land could be sold more profitably in other directions.
As I say, I welcome the new protection and greater security which this Bill will give to tenant farmers, in the same way as I welcome the proposals in the Queen's Speech to give more security to farm workers by the abolition of the tied cottage system.
§ Mr. Stainton
I am interested in the question of harassment. I am sure that the essence of this complaint lies not so much in the serving of counter-notices as in the restrictive terms of reference of arbitration.
§ Miss Maynard
I think that is so, but, whatever the technicalities of the situation, I am convinced that these provisions will help the people in Monmouthshire and elsewhere who have been harassed by landowners who are trying to get them off their farms. It seems to me that what we ought to do is protect the people who actually do the job—the tenant farmers and farm workers.
I give a general welcome to the Bill 1295 because I believe that its provisions as a whole are helpful to the industry.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
I should like to take up the remarks of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard) in one respect. She referred to the state of agriculture before the war and the involvement of Government since then. I always thought that agriculture was a very good example of the way in which Government normally should intervene in an industry. The people who know how to do the job are allowed to run the industry. The farmers still farm the land, but the Government intervene in various ways. The Milk Marketing Board is a very good example of this. Minimum standards, in various ways, are set by legislation, and I should have thought that the partnership between Government and agriculture generally, whatever specific criticisms we may have, has been a very good thing.
Until tonight, I had always thought that the Conservative Party was in favour of this sort of partnership. I understand that the Conservatives supported the 1947 and 1948 Acts. Certainly when they came to power they did not try to repeal those Acts. This matter must be kept in its correct perspective. It is impossible to run an industry which is as important as agriculture and with its historical background, without Government involvement.
This is a miscellaneous provisions Bill and, therefore, this is not the time to indulge in broad criticism of Government agricultural policy. This is not the first Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill in which the Minister or I have participated. The criticisms of such a Bill can be summed up very simply, in the statement that it is never sufficiently miscellaneous and it never provides enough. This is a common criticism of any miscellaneous provisions Bill. All it does is give to the Government an opportunity to tidy up existing legislation and close obvious loopholes.
I am glad to see that the Minister has emerged from the Smithfield Show today—a show that he assures us was very good—loquacious but unscathed. Obviously, therefore, the temperature there is a little better than it was last year.
§ Mr. Hooson
I am very glad to have the right hon. Gentleman's assurance on that matter.
I should like to deal with the clauses which concern the change in the law to prevent harassment. Of course, very few tenant farmers are harassed, but I am amazed that the Conservative Front Bench, in contradistinction to Conservatives below the Gangway, should appear to defend bad landlords. The Conservative Party has members who are very good landlords, and the last thing a good landlord wants to do is to justify the practices of a bad landlord.
The case for preventing harassment is obvious. The situation arises in this way: the legislation which was passed in 1948 was intended to be fair to tenants and to afford protection to them. In fact, it has been found to be too specific, and it enables a landlord to specify the doing of things by a tenant which are even contrary to current agricultural practice. In practice, a completely unjustified burden is sometimes placed on tenants. Yet the arbitrator, knowing of this, has limited powers to enable him to deal with the situation so as to secure justice. All that is required is legislation to relieve the situation, and I am sure that on material reflection the hon. Members for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) and Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) will agree that this is necessary. They really must not, as a sort of reflex action, immediately spring to the defence of the landlord whatever he may be doing and whoever he may be. There are in the county of Gwent some very well-documented cases of harassment which have had a good deal of publicity.
I am sorry—as this is a Second Reading debate I can say this—that the Minister has not dealt in greater depth with the protection of tenants. If I recollect correctly, in 1962 and in 1904, before he first came into office, he and I debated the provision of a measure of security for continuation of tenancy, and I question whether, in certain circumstances, in England and Wales a tenancy should, on death, pass from a tenant to a son or near relative, as is the case in Scotland. I am amazed that the Government have not introduced that kind of provision. It is an invidious position for 1297 those on the border. I can remember the time when the right hon. Gentleman was very much in favour of such a provision, and he owes the House an explanation as to why he has not included such a provision in the Bill. He has held the agriculture brief in the Labour Government for many years, and I am surprised that he has not followed the view which he strongly held when in opposition, that the law should be amended in this sort of way.
It is therefore disappointing that the Bill includes no provision affecting the succession to tenancies of sons and near relatives of tenant farmers. My hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) has drawn attention to this need. It particularly affects his own area, as it does the areas of hon. Members in other parts of the House whose constituencies are on the borders of Scotland, where the law is more favourable to tenants. The National Farmers' Union has given clear support to the need for an improvement in the law in England and Wales, as has the Farmers' Union of Wales. I recognise that there are problems in ensuring suitable safeguards for landlords who might suffer hardship if there were too rigid a provision, but I cannot see why there is not included in the Bill such a provision, which could be suitably amended, if necessary, in Committee.
I remind the right hon. Gentleman, as I did on a previous occasion, that in the landlord and tenant Acts and the rent restriction Acts there is a proviso which enables the judge to consider the matter of greater hardship in a number of situations. He may consider whether greater hardship will result to the tenant or a successor to the tenant if an order for possession is made, or whether greater hardship will result to the landlord if no order for possession is made. This is a perfectly reasonable test, and certain rules of precedent could be developed. I am really disappointed that the right hon. Gentleman has not included this provision. This is his seventh or eighth year of control of agriculture in the House, and it is time that he came round to some of his original thoughts on this subject.
I now turn to another important provision, contained in the clause which allows more money to be made available 1298 to the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation. This is clearly very important, because many farmers are finding it very difficult to raise money. I deplore the lack of a radical approach by the Government. The hon. Member for Brightside has already adverted to the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation interest rates.
I am told that until this afternoon 14¾ per cent. per annum interest was charged on 5-to-10-year and 10-to-30-year fixed interest loans, with 13 per cent. interest being paid on variable rate loans. I understand that these figures came down ¼ per cent. this afternoon. In France, the Credit Agricole levies only 6½ per cent. on short-term loans, 7 per cent. on medium-term loans up to 15 years—though young farmers can get these at 4 per cent.—and 4½ per cent. on certain long-term loans. I have always believed that one of our greatest mistakes not only in agriculture but in other areas, is to allow current interest rates to be the same internally and externally. The state of the market governs the rate of interest, whether on mortgages for houses, loans for industry or loans through the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation. There is an unanswerable case for having two rates of interest—one paid to those who invest from outside this country and the other charged to those who borrow for constructive purposes within this country.
This means Government interference. The French Government now subsidise the fund I mentioned by more than £600 million a year. It is a means of providing certainty to those who borrow money for agriculture. Young farmers who start developments may need years for their plans to reach fruition. If they face variable interest charges, they can fall into serious financial difficulties. I am sorry that the Government have not looked again at the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation and thought of ways in which it could be improved.
I am no expert on hops, but I am told that the chairman of a distinguished and reputable brewery has recently extolled the virtues of beer brewed from male hops. It is not for me to enter into the advantages of sexless hops, but a friend of mine, who was a pioneer of hop growing in the Republic of Ireland, told me that these hops were developed in this country. As with the Golden 1299 Delicious apple, which was also developed here, it has been left to other countries to exploit and develop our work. We are left behind in our commercial production. I am sure that the Bill's proposals on hops are to be encouraged. Great care will be needed in the exercise of these powers, and they must be clearly defined, so that they do not impose impossible burdens on affected farms—but the Government are on the right lines.
In Clause 3, reference is made to the duties of the Meat and Livestock Commission in terms of consultation. There is a reference to "relevant organisations". I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary can expand on that in his reply, later. There are difficulties in some areas of the country. For instance, we have two unions in Wales—the National Farmers' Union and the Farmers' Union of Wales. Will they both be regarded as relevant organisations? I believe that they should be.
This is a tidying-up measure and, in general, I support the steps taken by the Government, though I wish that they had gone a lot further in many ways. It is so difficult to get time for legislation in this House that it is a great pity that, when they have the time for a miscellaneous provisions Bill, they have not taken the opportunity to introduce radical changes in many aspects of our farm support system, and so on, which could have been of great value to the country.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Mark Hughes (Durham)
I am very grateful to the Government for introducing this Bill so early in the Session. It is a great credit to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and his officials that the Bill is ready now. If any of my comments remotely appears to be looking such a gift horse in the mouth, I regret it.
As a member of the Agriculture Committee of the European Parliament I have frequent opportunities of seeing the differences between the medium- and long-term agricultural credit available to the farming community in this country and that available to competitors in the Community. The difference is very stark. In comparison with the provision of Credit in France, Germany, Denmark and other European countries, British industry, which deals with the Agricultural 1300 Mortgage Corporation at commercial rates of interest, is at a disadvantage. I regret that an opportunity has not been taken to redress that disadvantage. In the Industry Bill passed by the last Government, interest rates were subsidised as a permissible activity in special development areas. Agriculture is a special development sector of the economy. We need to provide subsidised interest rates to encourage growth, and we need a much bolder approach than increasing from £17 million to £30 million or £40 million the money made available to the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation.
It is not the amount of money which is crucial; it is the need to provide it at a competitive rate vis-à-vis our European competitors. However much I welcome the rest of the Bill, I regret the absence of this sort of provision and I look forward to my hon. Friend who will reply telling us why it is not feasible to introduce it at the moment.
I am sorry to harp on the European Parliament, but the Commission has become a signatory to the Council of Europe's convention on the control of animals in international transport. How far do the powers taken by the Ministry in Clause 8 of the Bill conform with the powers which become immediately applicable Community law following the accession of the Community to the Council of Europe's convention? I understand that our powers go further than the convention requires and that once again we are in the happy position of saying that this Government and Ministry are in advance of the Council convention in controlling the safety and welfare of animals in international transport.
May I, similarly, on Clauses 9 and 10 put a number of questions which may be more applicable to the Committee stage but which I think should be raised now? Do salmonella diseases come within the ambit considered under the clauses? It is clear from the most modern evidence that among the zoonotic conditions of disease transmission from wild life to domestical animals to human beings, food poisoning along the salmonella chain is probably the most prevalant form, causing considerable illness and general lack of enjoyment of life among both domesticated animals and human beings.
1301 I want to know whether, if it is shown that the little vole is a source of salmonella poisoning among human beings, the Minister will desire to take powers to destroy the little vole in his burrow in the hedge bank. How far is the discomfort of humanity to decide the matter, and how far will it be the profit of the farmer that determines how these powers are used? I ask that because there is a gap between the proper eradication of those diseases that are a threat to the life of humanity and the livelihood of the farmer, and those that are merely an inconvenience to both.
This comes in particular not merely with salmonella but, much more widely, with poultry farms, with the broad range of ornithoses. I want to know whether the wild or semi-wild pheasant is to be eradicated if it is found that there is a remote risk of fowl pest being transmitted from the pheasant to domesticated poultry, even though the disease may originally have been transmitted from domesticated poultry to the pheasant, where it may remain as a reservoir for reinfection. Do these provisions give the Minister power to control this kind of peculiar reinfestation of disease between domestic and wild species?
On a much smaller point, what about fishes? Are the few fish farms that we have in a position to claim that the Minister's advisers can destroy the fish population in neighbouring streams because of the fear, however rational, however well founded, that the farmed fish may run the risk of being infected with disease from which natural wild trout or other fish suffer? It is in those areas that I should like my hon. Friend to indicate, however broadly, where the Minister's thinking lies.
Clause 15 deals with the recoupment of fallaciously claimed grants. I should like to ask a specific question that has been raised vis-à-vis frauds against FEOGA funds. There appears to be some legal doubt whether the law as it now stands enables the Commission, via the British Government, to take such action as would enable it to recoup the costs of a grant made as a result of a false declaration.
What I should like to know even more is whether this provision enables that recoupment to take into account the interest that should be paid, or a 1302 loss in the value of money. Clearly, if the process of finding out takes between two and a half and three years and I can have this money, free, for that time and then have to pay back the original principal and my liability is destroyed, compared with the position under a lending by the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation, it is extremely cheap money. I am not certain that even under the powers in Clause 15 it will be possible for the Ministry, at a time of high inflation, to recover not merely the principal sum that it provided by way of grant but also the loss in value of that money. Are these grant recoupment provisions inflation-proofed? Do they allow for the recoupment of interest? If they do not, the unscrupulous will be encouraged to make false claims, in the certain knowledge that they will not be financially out of pocket if they so do.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)
What does the hon. Gentleman propose? We have all had examples of farmers failing to obtain a grant. A farmer may fail to obtain a grant because he has been late in applying, or because he has not filled in the necessary form properly. He may fail administratively to collect the grant, and lose thousands of pounds.
§ Mr. Hughes
If a farmer has not received money from the State as a result of a fraudulent or false claim it does not become the responsibility of the State to make good that loss. If the farmer has received money as the result of a fraudulent or false claim it ill-becomes the State not to recover that money, plus the proper interest and/or inflation-proofing. I accept that in many cases farmers have failed to get grants to which they believed themselves entitled under the law. I accept that this has been due to their own fault, or because they have been ill-advised.
What I am concerned with is the situation when, with fraudulent intent, a farmer makes a false claim and receives the money. As I understand it, all that the State can claim back is the capital sum. If there is a two-year or three-year gap, and the sum is £1,000, the purchasing value of that sum at the end of the period will be less than £800. I am asking, first, whether these provisions cover the recoupment of 1303 FEOGA grants from the Community and, secondly, whether they cover the recoupment of more than just the capital sum.
Turning next to the clauses dealing with the tenant and landlord, I welcome wholeheartedly the provisions for dealing with the problem of harassment, and I totally deny the comments of the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling), who said that there was a shortage of evidence on this matter. Labour Members are in no doubt that there is sufficient evidence, however localised, to indicate that this has become a real problem, and one for which we must legislate now to protect the tenant and the good landlord against the evils of harassment. Such a provision is long overdue.
I turn now to deal briefly with my major fear. On 7th December 1967, in answer to the previous Member for Merioneth, Mr. Will Edwards, my right hon. Friend said, on the question of the protection of tenants:I will consider the case for a similar change in England and Wales"—as compared with Scotland—in the course of the review of agricultural holdings legislation which is now taking place"—[Official Report, 7th December 1967; Vol. 755, c. 377.]I am glad that the process of reviewing is still continuing. I regret that it may be a little lengthy, but I regret far more the fact that, having said in "Labour's Programme 1973" that we would take steps to deal with this problem, the measures for doing so are absent from the Bill. I accept that it was not part of the manifestos upon which the Labour Party fought the elections last year, but many Government supporters believed then, and still believe, that the position of the widow and the next-of-kin tenants on the death of the original tenant is insufficiently protected.
If we go back to the Landlord and Tenant Act 1851, we see that the position of the landlord is more than adequately protected. That Act provided that:…instead of claims to emblements the tenants shall continue to occupy and hold such farm or lands until the expiry of the then current year.In the Agricultural Holdings Act 1948, the same provision, protecting the landlord's interest in the event of his death, 1304 was continued. Today, when land holding is very much a corporate matter, the number of cases of considerable hardship caused by the absence of an adequate tenant right is growing.
I ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary whether the simple deletion of paragraph (g) from Section 24(2) of the Agricultural Holdings Act 1948 would enable us to achieve the objective which most of us have in view. I know that my hon. Friend is well aware of this provision, dealing with the restriction of notices to quit, but perhaps I may remind the House of it. It provides that:The foregoing subsection shall not apply…where the tenant with whom the contract of tenancy was made had died within three months before the date of the giving of the notice to quit, and it is stated in the notice that it is given by reason of the matter aforesaid.This is where the inability to refer the case to the Lands Tribunal is enshrined. As long as the landlord complies with paragraph (g) by giving the notice within three months and stating that the death is the reason for giving that notice, the Lands Tribunal is excluded.
Of course, there is a need for arbitration by the Lands Tribunal, but it is quite clear that the balance between the proper interests of the landlord and the proper interests of the tenant and his family is now unequal. Although I welcome wholeheartedly the remainder of this Bill, I regret deeply the fact that my right hon. and hon. Friends have not taken this opportunity to provide for the tenant farmers of England and Wales that protection which those in Scotland have enjoyed for more than seven years.
§ Mr. Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, Southwest) rose—
§ Mr. Hooson
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. When I spoke of this being the first agriculture debate, I omitted to disclose an interest, namely, that I farm a hill farm. Most hon. Members who take an interest in agriculture know this fact. In so far as it was an omission, I hasten to take this opportunity to repair it. However, I want also your guidance. Now that there is a register of interests, are hon. Members expected to make disclosures as before?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I understand that the normal requirements that we used to follow still persist. If the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) has a farm, which I happen to know well, we are getting to a ridiculous position if we require him to declare that interest. If we pursue this too far, we shall require an hon. Member to declare that he lives in a house.
§ Mr. Stainton
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not wish to delay the debate unduly, but the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) has touched upon a most important point. There is a register of interests now which is available to all right hon. and hon. Members. Rather than go through this boring and tiresome repetition or recitation of interests every time one gets to one's feet, ought not the register to suffice? Wheresoever derives the ruling which you have just given?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
My ruling is quite clear. I am not in the slightest doubt about it. If an hon. Member has a direct interest in the subject under discussion, he is still required to remind us of it.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is not it normal for an hon. Member to declare an interest when he makes a speech if he thinks that it is necessary to do so? It is still a matter for his own judgment. Clearly, in a debate of this kind, many hon. Members are interested in farming, and have farms. In the normal circumstances of the past, it has been taken as recognised by the House that certain hon. Members have farms, and it has been left at that.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Lewis) is right. The hon. Member concerned carries personal responsibility. However, my interest is in continuing the debate. Mr. Paul Hawkins.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, Southwest)
In view of those exchanges, I had better begin by declaring my interest. I am a chartered surveyor and I have been concerned with a number of arbitrations. For that reason, I may have something of value to add to our discussion of Clauses 11 and 12.
1306 This is yet another Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, and it is the fourth that we have had since I have been a Member of Parliament. Nevertheless there are always some interesting provisions in such a Bill, though I hasten to add that that is not to be taken as meaning necessarily that I hope to serve on the Standing Committee which considers the Bill.
I am sorry to see that the Minister has left the Chamber. Perhaps his junior Ministers will convey to him the invitation that I was about to extend to him. Since he has been to the Smithfield Show, I should very much like him to come to the King's Lynn Show which is being held next Tuesday, where he will see equally good cattle and be as well entertained as obviously he was today.
I pass, then, to the Bill. On Clause 2, I want only to emphasise what the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes) and the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) have said, because we are at a great disadvantage in this country given the level of interest rates. The Agricultural Mortgage Corporation does a first-class job. However, I hope that Ministers will consider the request by the AMC about the co-ownership plans which it wants to put into effect. Before very long, I hope too that we shall have talks with our neighbours and partners in Europe about interest rates, because there is no doubt that our partners over the water are at an advantage compared with ourselves.
Coming to Clause 3, I should like to think that all the bodies already represented on the production and distribution committees will be consulted individually. What is more, I trust that this will mean full consultation. So often it is found that parties are consulted only at the last minute and simply told what the Government say that somebody intends to do, with the result that there is not time for that body to put forward sensible suggestions and have them considered carefully by all the other interested parties. I hope to have the Minister's reassurance about this.
Clause 4 of the Bill concerns the proficiency payments scheme, which has not done as well as many people had hoped. I do not believe that as many farm men have been included in the craftsmen's rates as should have been. 1307 I welcome the new flat-rate increase of £6 a week. I was glad that the NFU and the NUAW agreed and that there was no fight over the matter of giving the farm workers a thoroughly deserved increase of £6 to bring them a little closer to their industrial fellow-workers. But the flat-rate increase means that there is now a much narrower gap between the general worker who does not receive a proficiency payment and the skilled man. The craftsman who receives the proficiency payment should have a real advantage over the man who does not.
My interests include the cattle markets, where the weighing of cattle will be a major problem with the introduction of metrication under Clause 7. I understand that there have been consultations on the matter, but it is not only a question of consulting over the weighing and the correct weights to which cattle should be weighed. It is a question of having the weighbridges marked, of obtaining the right parts and seeing that Messrs. Avery and others turn out the weighbridges in metric form. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will not introduce the Regulations on metrication before it is practically possible to bring them into effect.
As the Minister himself said, if we pass Clause 10, the clause concerning entry on to land, we shall be giving him major powers. The average Ministry official would use them sensibly and efficiently and would give plenty of warning, but certain entries on to land in my area recently have caused considerable concern. Two house-owners came home to find their hedges bulldozed down and a bulldozer working in their gardens. They had received no notice. When they tackled the borough surveyor concerned, he said that he had twice sent round to the houses but nobody was at home, and he did not have time to post a letter. That sort of thing will not work on farmlands. I hope that we shall write sufficient safeguards into the clause to see that busybodies do not walk on to other people's land, armed with various weapons, as far as I can see, to destroy pests that they think may be on the land.
I come next to Clause 11, which I should like to consider in a little more detail. I have often acted as an arbitrator, 1308 and I have also acted for tenants and landlords in representations to an arbitrator. I have no bee in my bonnet about one side or the other, but we must remember that at the outset the tenant has signed an agreement, in which he agrees to clauses concerning such matters as the maintenance of the farmhouse, if it is a full repairing lease, the maintenance of hedges, drains and so on, and the maintenance of guttering round the farm buildings. Everyone knows how important that is.
However, I have heard of one case which might be called harassment in which a friend of mine was arbitrator. The arbitration concerned a small farm run by an elderly couple who had an old set of farm buildings in Suffolk, consisting of clay lump and timber. The landlord, who had recently bought the farm, had nothing to do with agriculture. He was a townsman. When he saw the price of land go up in about 1972 he was determined to get rid of the tenant, and he served him with a notice to do everything possible in the way of repair to what I should describe as redundant buildings. Yet there are provisions in the Agricultural Holdings Act which would have enabled him to have the buildings declared redundant.
The clause gives an arbitrator major powers which I am not sure he will greatly welcome, including powers to override a tenancy completely. I assume that there are overriding powers to decide what type of materials should be used for repair, such as cheaper materials in the place of more expensive materials. We must be careful to see that in pleasant villages built in the same materials we do not enable cheapjack buildings to be put up or cheapjack repairs to be done in the place of traditional repairs with traditional materials.
I see nothing in the Bill to say that on doing away with some of the tenant's responsibilities the arbitrator can award an additional rent. Can he do so? It seems only fair that he should be able to do so if he felt it right. The clause gives major powers to one man. He has a big burden in deciding these matters.
I should hate to see any good tenant turned out on a triviality, as happened in the case which I described. Therefore, I am prepared to support the measure so 1309 long as there are sufficient safeguards on the question of overriding the tenancy and on the giving of further instructions to the arbitrator on the lines he should follow. A code of conduct or instructions must be issued if guidance is not given in the Bill. Such a code or instructions could be sent out after consultation with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and other bodies, such as the NFU and the CLA, on the arbitrator's exact powers.
I have my doubts about the clause. I have never believed that it was good to introduce legislation for one or two cases. As a general rule, farmers are far better advised today than they were in the past, and they are far more alive to their legal responsibilities. Of course, an agreement should not be signed unless the signatory is certain about what he is undertaking. On the other hand, a friend of mine who was an arbitrator was loth to do what he had to do and what he had no chance of avoiding. If we could find a middle course, I should reluctantly accept this change.
On Clause 12, I wonder whether it is necessary to bring in the Agricultural Land Tribunal as well as the arbitrator. I should have thought that all these cases could have gone either to the Tribunal or to the arbitrator. I may be wrong about that, but I should have thought that the bringing in of the two groups will confuse farmers and their advisers. It seems unnecessary.
Quite a strong point has been made about the extending of a tenancy to near relatives. I remember that this issue was raised in a previous Miscellaneous Provisions Bill. I remember how the Government of the day produced such a provision in Committee. I sincerely hope that the Government will not adopt that approach on this occasion. If such a provision is to be introduced, let us have it right away and let us do something about it now.
I declare a personal interest in that I have a close relative who is the third generation in a farm. He was in Cirencester when his father fell seriously ill. He returned and ran the farm for 12 years. His father lived for those 12 years completely incapacitated. However, when the father died the son was not granted the tenancy. I have sympathy 1310 for people who find themselves in that position. I remember very well a former colleagues of ours, Will Edwards, raising this matter in strong terms. He wanted the Scottish provisions extended to England and Wales.
Despite my personal experience, I believe that by this measure we shall drive more land out of letting by landlords to tenants. I believe strongly in the landlord and tenant system. I believe that this enables young farmers to get into farms when they would never have a chance of farming otherwise. I should of like to see more land taken in hand and sold to farming companies rather than let to tenants. Unless a tenancy provision is closely drawn—I believe that the Scottish provision was far too widely drawn in that it ended up allowing a daughter, grand-daughter or niece, someone who had nothing to do with farming, to have the tenancy—it will only do harm to farming.
If there is any likelihood of a provision of that sort being introduced into the Bill, I ask the Minister to say something about it when he replies to the debate. I do not believe that the way in which it was done on a previous occasion was the correct way to proceed. It created much ill feeling when it was pushed in at the last moment.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Caerwyn E. Roderick (Brecon and Radnor)
Let me reassure the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) that, if the Government do not announce the intention this evening, some of my hon. Friends and I will certainly be prepared to introduce a clause to protect the succession. I am sure that we shall have some assistance from certain Opposition Members. The hon. Gentleman need not go from here feeling too unhappy if the Government let him down.
I am glad that certain battle lines are being clearly defined. I am pleased that some Opposition Members are coming out with their stance on land, tenant farmers and landlordism. It is just as well to establish the battle lines so that we can go into Committee knowing how the land lies, so to speak.
I welcome the Bill as it contains some long-awaited clauses. I welcome Clause 8, which brings in some added protection and long-needed safeguards concerning 1311 the welfare of animals when exported. At one stage I opposed the export of live animals. That was then we discovered that certain things were taking place that many of us considered obnoxious. Recently I supported the export of live animals on the basis that rigid safeguards would be introduced. We were saddened to discover just after the debate that in certain instances quite atrocious happenings took place. Publicity was given to those matters on television and the subject was highlighted. If we can tighten up the regulations, that will be all to the good.
Clauses 11 and 12, to which I shall address myself especially, concern harassment. I was rather surprised by the remarks of the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling). He did not acknowledge that he had not seen evidence of this kind of harassment, but he said that the CLA had not seen it. Be that as it may, there has been sufficient evidence and it has been publicised. Some quite disgraceful behaviour has taken place in the practice of issuing notices—
§ Mr. Jopling
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has had the advantage of seeing the brief which was issued for this debate by the Country Landowners' Association, but in case he has not I refer him to the third paragraph, which I quoted earlier, which reads:No evidence has been produced to the CLA.I think that the hon. Gentleman tries to put words into the mouth of the CLA. He is not fair to do that in view of that statement.
§ Mr. Roderick
Whether or not evidence has been produced to the CLA, the hon. Gentleman has not made it clear whether he has received evidence. The Ministers concerned have had plenty of evidence. I have seen evidence and I know that some Opposition Members have seen it. We should not rely unnecessarily on one body which has not received evidence. I know that Ministers have had evidence from various sources. It is perhaps an insignificant fact that one body has not received it. A lack of evidence in one quarter does not mean that evidence does not exist.
1312 I welcome Clauses 11 and 12 of the Bill in that they go some way towards giving some protection to tenants. In my area landlords wishing to be rid of tenants have served notices requiring a multitude of repairs to be carried out that are quite beyond the powers and resources of ordinary tenants to fulfil in the agreed time. As my right hon. Friend said, evidence has been received from South-East Wales, and as my constituency borders on that area I have first-hand knowledge. I have knowledge from my own constituency.
Pressure has been brought on tenants by way of violence and damage to property—damage which has occurred in suspicious circumstances when it has been difficult to prove a connection. A tenant of a small farm has been ordered to pay as much as £4,500 in cost involved in remedying certain breaches. This is totally unfair when we consider that there is a maximum figure of £500 which a landlord can pay for remedying his side of the bargain. It has been suggested that any costings in these notices should take into account the rent of the farm so that there would be an upper limit in proportion to the rent obtainable on the farm.
§ Mr. Hawkins
The hon. Member mentions damages of £4,500 set against the tenant and a figure of £500 for the landlord. I do not know what he can mean about an arbitration on that subject producing those figures. It has to be borne in mind what the agreement for a particular farm specifies. If it is a full repairing agreement, it means what it says—that all the responsibility for repairs for the buildings and the house falls on the tenant. If the tenant has signed that agreement, it is, quite rightly, his legal responsibility.
§ Mr. Roderick
I seemed to detect in the hon. Member's earlier remarks that he was dissatisfied with the situation to some extent and has seen certain activities of which he would not approve. I am advised that the £500 is the ceiling for the amount of costs that can be expected of a landlord at any one time. I may be wrong. Perhaps the Minister can correct me later.
There appears to be a lack of faith among tenant farmers in the arbitration process. I have come across this again 1313 and again. It has been put to me that the arbitrator should certainly be a full-time Government official rather than, as so often happens, a land agent who has interests in the area. That cannot lead to the tenant farmer having any confidence in him. It is also suggested that a committee of farmers, whether owners or tenants, should sit to consider the list of items contained in the notice and should later consider, when the work has been done, whether it has been carried out satisfactorily.
§ Mr. Hawkins
I must interrupt the hon. Member again. I cannot allow him to make those remarks about arbitrators, who are appointed by the Lord Chancellor as thoroughly independent people to arbitrate between the parties. These arbitrators are chosen by the advisers to the tenant and the landlord. If the parties cannot agree upon an arbitrator, they turn to the Minister of Agriculture and an arbitrator is appointed from a panel provided by the Lord Chancellor. No—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member has already addressed the House for 18 minutes. This is his second long intervention.
§ Mr. Roderick rose—
§ Mr. Roderick
I was trying to make a point about a lack of faith in the arbitrators. If an arbitrator is seen to be involved in land transactions—
§ Mr. Roderick
I think I made it clear that tenants are suspicious about land agents being appointed as arbitrators. It is a pity that these people are used. The tenants to whom I have spoken prefer to see Government officials appointed to this task, even though they may sometimes be suspicious of such officials.
Legal aid should be available for tenants involved in arbitration cases, not only for the actual proceedings but also for the preparation of the case. I say this because I have come across a case of blackmail in this respect, and I use that word advisedly. It works in this way. An impossible list of items is presented on a notice of work to be 1314 done, causing considerable distress to the farmer and his family. The farmer seeks the advice of a barrister, and a case for arbitration is prepared.
Before the arbitration takes place, the landlord withdraws all or some of the items. This still leaves the tenant to pay the costs. This is a pressure that is exerted. I know of a case when it was done. If such attempts were to be repeated a few times, a farmer would be broken financially or in spirit, if not both.
§ Mr. Roderick
That reinforces my request for the Government to look carefully at the question of providing legal aid to tenants in this situation.
I wish to touch briefly on the subject of the rights of succession for tenant families. What is good enough for Scotland is good enough for England and Wales. What Scotland has, we would like too. I can see no reason for the omission of this point from the Bill. If the Government are not able to make us a promise about this, some of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members will seek to remedy the omission in Committee. I say that not only should there be a right of succession for the near family relations on the death of a farmer but on the retirement of a farmer there should be certain rights.
I trust that the Bill will be read a Second time and that its omissions will be made good in Committee.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans (Carmarthen)
I am glad to be able to follow the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Roderick) since much of what I have to say will underline some of the points he has made. I welcome the Bill generally, but I wish to pay most attention to Clauses 11 and 12.
Clauses 11 and 12 go at least some part of the way to removing what has been a grave injustice from which some tenant farmers have suffered by way of excessive harassment. In welcoming the Bill I congratulate the Gwent Tenant Farmers' Association on the splendid fight it has put up in this connection. I 1315 congratulate also the BBC for spotlighting the tyrannical activities of a few landlords in Mr. Christopher Brasher's programme "Who is Buying up Britain?" which was shown in September 1974.
An intolerable situation had been created by a few bad landlords, like Llanover Holdings, a company which, I believe, belongs to a former Lord-Lieutenant of Monmouthshire. When Llanover Holdings wants to evict a tenant so that it can make more profit from its land, one of the methods it employs is to serve a breach order on the tenant. Such an order has frequently had numerous items, some of them impossible to execute. The same tenant can get more than one of these orders. There is apparently no limit to the number that can be served.
Among the victims of this procedure were two members of one family in Gwent whom I know personally, as does the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor. About four years ago Llanover Holdings tried to force upon a 79-year-old farmer, Isaac Evans—who had been a miner before he became a farmer—a feudal tenancy agreement which included, for instance, the preservation of all foxes on his land. This tenancy agreement would have fundamentally changed the joint tenancy which he shared with his son Raymond. If he had signed the new agreement, Raymond would have lost the farm upon his father's death.
Naturally Isaac Evans refused to sign. Llanover Holdings responded by serving a breach order requiring 175 repairs including the rebuilding of two dry stone walls, one of them 100 yards long and the other 80 yards long. Both walls had been in ruins for at least 70 years, as neighbours testified. The conditions laid down by Llanover Holdings could be compared with the impossible task which was given to Culhwch by Ysbaddaden Pencawr in an Arthurian tale in the Mabinogion. Yet Isaac Evans, through mighty labours, completed the task. He spent the whole summer heroically rebuilding those useless walls.
§ Mr. Wiggin
Will the hon. Gentleman answer the question which I put to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard)? Did the tenant pursue the course open to him in law by going to arbitration, and did the arbitrator rule that the walls should be rebuilt? If the 1316 tenant did not go to arbitration, the case which the hon. Gentleman is making is despicable, to say the least. As the hon. Gentleman is being specific, it is only reasonable that both sides of the case should be put.
§ Mr. Evans
I shall pursue that point a little later. Yes, he did go to arbitration.
An even greater burden was imposed by Llanover Holdings on another son, Isaac Evans junior, on whom it served a breach order containing 386 items. That massive document was put into my hands, and I passed it on to the Ministry of Agriculture after a meeting with the Minister which I attended in company with the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor.
Isaac Evans junior is 58 years old. He was disabled in Normandy and is a 30 per cent. war pensioner who took a farm with a £200 grant from the Officers' Association and made a success of it. Four of his six children have been through college or university. Two months ago he wrote to me in these terms:I am under intense pressure and worry due to the fear of eviction. My wife is ill and my two teenage daughters worry. The breach order has put me deeply in debt. I have had two arbitrations and am threatened with two more.He said, too—and he told me again today—that agents now walk on his farm in twos, as they do on other farms belonging to the same estate. He alleges that the police have been used by the estate to add to the harassment. I should like that matter to be investigated.
Arbitrations can be very costly. One tenant, to my knowledge, paid £600 in arbitration costs. This persecution has caused terrible strain to a number of farming families and has resulted in mental breakdown and even death.
Clause 12 enables tenants who are served with a notice to quit in consequence of a breach order in certain conditions to serve a counter-notice which will bring the matter before the agricultural land tribunal. The tribunal will be empowered to reject the notice to quit if it appears to the tribunal that a fair and reasonable landlord would not insist on possession. There are 10,000 tenant farmers in Wales who will warmly welcome this amendment to the 1947 Act as 1317 a contribution towards reducing the harassment of tenant farmers. It is a valuable curb on the rapacity of unscrupulous landlords who are, fortunately, few in number.
I have to express my disappointment that the Government go no further towards ensuring justice and security for tenant farmers. I briefly note further improvements in their situation which they think necessary.
First, the agricultural land tribunal should be empowered to compel a landlord to remedy his breaches of tenancy agreements in the same way as a tenant is required to remedy his. Where a landlord fails to remedy a breach, the Minister of Agriculture should be empowered to fix a compulsory sale price for the holding, the tenant having sole right to purchase.
Second, the list of items contained in a breach order should be considered by a committee of farmers to decide whether the list is reasonable or practicable. Such a committee should have formal recognition by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Welsh Office, and it should be empowered to alter the list if necessary. That is far preferable to giving this power to an arbitrator. At present, arbitrators might also be land agents or auctioneers, the very people employed by landlords in the lucrative business of drafting and serving breach orders and notices to quit. When, on 20th December 1974, I asked whether the Government would take steps to ensure that no land agents were appointed to arbitration panels, the reply was that the Government were not prepared to introduce the legislation required for this purpose, although it would have required no more than a clause in this Bill.
Third, it would be fairer if the arbitrator were a Government officer, not someone with a vested interest in land prices, rent, auctions and so on.
Fourth, the work required by a breach order should be inspected by the committee of farmers. It is the farmers who should decide whether the order has been complied with.
Fifth, arbitration should be public, so that justice can be seen to be done, and the same should apply, on the request of the tenant, to agricultural land tribunals.
1318 Sixth, the cost and the amount of work involved in remedying a breach order should bear some valuable relation to the profitability of the holding and its labour force.
Seventh, where a landlord withdraws items in a breach order before or during arbitration, the tenant should be entitled to claim costs from the landlord in respect of legal fees incurred in preparing or conducting a defence against these items.
Eighth, the Government should deal with the issue of legal aid. On 20th December 1974 I asked whether the Government would take steps to ensure that free legal aid was available to all tenant farmers appearing before an agricultural land tribunal. The Lord Chancellor's Legal Aid Advisory Committee recommended that legal aid should be extended to all statutory tribunals within the supervision of the Council on Tribunals, including the agricultural land tribunals. This matter is still being investigated, and I hope that it will be resolved with some sense of urgency.
Ninth, I regret that the Government have not dealt with the major issue of farm tenure. Insecurity of tenure remains a cause of great distress. I have just had a vicious example in my neighbourhood. This practice is used by some landlords to change the character of a whole community. I have known of this in several areas in Wales. The Gwent Tenant Farmers' Association proposes that on the sale of a holding a sitting tenant and, secondly, a member of the tenant's family should be given the opportunity to purchase the holding. On the tenant's death, the spouse or other member of the immediate family who has been engaged in farming the holding should be allowed to take a tenancy under the existing tenancy agreement, any rent adjustment to be subject to the current three-year limit. Such provisions would be warmly welcomed throughout Wales, especially in the constituencies of Caernarvon and Merioneth. The hon. Members representing those constituencies have asked me to raise this matter.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Dr. Colin Phipps (Dudley, West)
I must declare an interest in that I own a farm and farm it.
1319 I should like to refer to two clauses. The first—Clause 2—deals with additional money to be made available to the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation. Interest rates have been referred to by the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins), and it is important to appreciate that the current interest rates charged by the AMC are about 13¾ per cent., depending on whether the mortgage is a fixed-interest or a flexible-interest mortgage. Interest rates have been as high as 15 per cent. in the past 12 months.
Taking an average price for agricultural land of £500 an acre—it may be slightly higher—on an AMC loan of 13 per cent. a borrower pays £65 per acre in interest every year. In addition, a person who has an endowment mortgage scheme over a long period of time pays at least another £15 per acre. The total cost per year is now about £80 per acre. This effectively means that only two classes of individual can buy agricultural land.
There are existing farmers who already have land in hand at low historical prices who can use the money they make on acres they already possess to subsidise new land. There are also very rich individuals who pay high taxes and who are able to gain tax relief so that it is attractive for them to borrow money. Given that £80 an acre is about the maximum one could expect to make out of farm land at £500 an acre, it is almost totally impossible for any new entrant to come into farming as a landowner. I share the concern of the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) that young persons are not able to become farm owners today.
Should we not be looking at other uses for the Government funds given to the AMC? It is important that the AMC should have funds to make loans available to classes of persons who can afford to buy agricultural land, but younger persons who want to enter farming will not be able to do so, certainly in the current ecenomic conditions of farming. Some of the money, therefore, should be used by the Government to purchase agricultural land and make it available to let to new young farmers. The ownership of the land that is to be tenanted can come only from the Government if we are to have an increase in the number of tenanted farms.
We need a review by the Ministry of this very difficult question of how we are 1320 to encourage younger men to become tenant farmers. At the moment it is impossible for them to buy a farm. Although I am in favour in principle of passing tenancies from father to son, this is no way to encourage new tenancies. The Government may be able to play a significant rôle apart from the money they make available to the AMC for purchase.
Another aspect has not aroused consideration in the debate so far. It seems that no one thinks it of importance, yet it is significant. It concerns Clause 6—the statistical clause—and the powers that the Ministry will have to obtain statistics about certain marginal land. But I am more concerned with the statistics that the Ministry is not able to obtain and with the powers which are not being taken. I have received various figures on this, but I understand that we lose to urban development each year between 50,000 and 80,000 acres of agricultural land. If these acres are to be replaced, it has to be by marginal land. But to turn marginal land into effective agricultural land requires an investment of about £200 an acre, or £16 million a year. Even this investment in marginal land will not produce land as good as the land being taken up for urban development which is valued at about £500 an acre.
We need statistics on derelict land. It is a shame that there is no relationship between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of the Environment whereby we could get statistics for derelict land. If we have to spend £200 an acre to replace agricultural land, I would rather see it spent on derelict land to make it suitable for agriculture than on marginal land which will not be of the quality of that which is being lost to urban development. There is a gap here. We need to have these statistics so that the Minister has a case to make, saying, in effect, "We are having to spend £16 million a year to replace good quality land. Why not keep good quality land for agriculture and use the money instead on the derelict land which is an eyesore and detrimental to the environment?"
We should thereby be doing good in two ways. First, we would not be losing agricultural land but recovering and beautifying new land in our derelict urban areas and in industrial areas. If the White Paper "Food from Our Own 1321 Resources" is really to succeed, it is not just a question of getting more and more from existing land, but we are being asked to get more and more from less land. Will the Minister consider the question not only of making our land more productive but of saving it?
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Morrison (Devizes)
The hon. Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Phipps) has made some sensible remarks. There is much validity in what he has said. He made some pertinent remarks about the difficulties facing young men who want to go into farming. I agree with him in this respect. But I am against his suggestion that the Government should involve themselves in the purchasing of land so as to become a landowner.
I say that for two reasons. First, it would yet again mean more Government expenditure—and there are far too many demands on that already. Secondly, I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman remembers that many, if not all, county councils already own smallholding estates specifically to provide an opportunity and first step for people going into the industry. I accept, of course, that even in spite of this service there are inadequate opportunities. But however much we widened the opportunities, as the hon. Member and I both wish to, we would still have a supply inadequate for the demand.
§ Dr. Phipps
I should have made it clear—I hoped I had—that I was discussing not additional Government expenditure but the possibility of making some of the AMC funds, currently being used by the rich to get income tax relief, available for the purchase of land to enable new young farmers to get tenancies.
§ Mr. Morrison
I take the point.
There have been two remarks in the debate which cannot go without comment. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard) stated that not only the present Labour Government but, so far as I could make out, all Labour Governments had an outstanding record in agriculture. I cannot help feeling that that statement might be misconstrued if it is not developed. If Labour Governments have an outstanding agricultural record, it is outstanding only in the sense 1322 of falling production, near bankruptcy, a minus quantity of confidence and an erosion of capital within the industry.
The hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes) advocated cheap credit on European lines. More thought must certainly be given to this subject. In the past it was always my understanding that the level of our capital grant, coupled with the relatively low current rates of interest, was to the greater advantage of the United Kingdom farmers than was the cheap credit system to European farmers. But given that we now have lower capital grants than was the case some time ago, and that we have much higher interest rates, it is a matter to which the Parliamentary Secretary should apply himself. I should like him to comment on the remarks on this subject by the hon. Member for Durham and myself.
I know nothing about hops, but two points on Clause 5 interest me. First, will the Parliamentary Secretary say how a layman, who may be living in an area on which an order for the control of male hops has been placed, will tell the difference between male and female hops? Is there an easy way of recognition? Secondly, there is the question of ornamental hops. I do not know whether the ornamental hops which people grow in their gardens are seedless, or male and female. There may be a problem here. I do not ask the hon. Gentleman to go into great detail on this matter tonight, but perhaps it should be sorted out in Committee.
Clause 9 deals with the power to provide for the destruction of wildlife. The House finds itself in a paradoxical situation. Usually we are much more concerned with the conservation of wildlife, but now circumstance, or possible circumstance, demands that the power of destruction should be given to the Minister. In the circumstances described by the Minister, that is only common sense.
There is, however, an air of stealth about Clause 9. I was glad to hear the Minister say that under subsection (3) he would consider the possibility of consultation with bodies other than the Nature Conservancy Council. I would have been worried if he had not said that. The NFU and the CLA, and possibly the RSPCA, should be consulted. Furthermore, as it might be a question of dealing not only with farm animals but with 1323 poultry, it would seem sensible to consider the possibility of including among those to be consulted the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Game Conservancy, in which I declare an interest as a vice-chairman and which has assisted the Ministry of Agriculture over the question of fowl-pest.
It might be worth considering the possibility of consulting the Severn Wildfowl Trust because, as the Parliamentary Secretary will know, there are geese in many parts of the United Kingdom, particularly in Scotland, and, although one hopes that it would never happen, it is not possible to guarantee that they will not become carriers of disease. Should that occur, it would be proper for the greatest experts on the subject, namely, the Wildfowl Trust, to be consulted, because I understand that it has the most detailed records on wild geese populations.
I am a little concerned about subsection (7) of Clause 9, which provides:Before commencing the destruction of the wild members of a species…the appropriate authority shall take all reasonable steps to inform the occupier of the land…I do not understand why "the appropriate authority" should simply "take all reasonable steps". I should have thought that it should inform the occupier of the land. Again this is a Committee point, but it is important.
In passing, I emphasise the concern expressed by my hon. Friends the Members for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) and Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) about the implications of Clause 10.
The second comment which cannot go uncontradicted was made by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson). He said in reply to the Minister that my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland, when he referred to Clause 11, had implied that the Conservative Party was speaking in defence of bad landlords. My hon. Friend was doing no such thing. He was speaking in defence of the good landlord. Everyone on the Opposition Benches is against the harassment of tenants, but the occasional examples of harassment of tenants are not an argument for including in the Bill a provision which could work to the disadvantage of all landlords and many tenants.
1324 It must be right and proper for the law to maintain an adequate balance between the interests and rights of tenants and landlords. Until the publication of this Bill, my impression was that existing legislation adequately maintained the balance. However, in view of the Bill and of what has been said, further consideration must be given to this matter. It must be treated with considerable care in the interests of tenants as much as in the interests of landlords.
Of course Clauses 11 and 12 could become somewhat academic, because if we continue on the present crazy path it may not be long before the landlord-tenant system is destroyed for the simple reason that capital taxation will have ensured that no landlord can continue in business. I hope that that will not happen. Even if it does, it will not be for some time, so we must have regard to the present situation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland said that possibly Clause 11 could constitute a charter for bad tenants. It could also be to the disadvantage of good tenants. If the law is to allow for the possibility, given the new proposals for arbitration, of a tenant not to live up to the undertaking which he has freely given within his tenancy agreement, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that landlords will try to obtain higher rents as an insurance against the situation so that they have the opportunity of maintaining the building on let farms.
The implication is that Clauses 11 and 12 will become operative only when the landlord's notice to do repair work includes items which are considered to be unnecessary and unjustified. At the end of the day, those repairs are matters of opinion. If the arbitrator's award is against the landlord, the landlord might still decide to go ahead with the work on his own behalf and in the interests of the future maintenance of the farm. If he did that, it is possible that he would have less money available to spend on the farms of the better tenants.
Therefore, we have to proceed carefully and a great deal more discussion is needed on Clauses 11 and 12. In all likelihood they will have to be amended to take account of the criticisms which have been made during this debate.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Body (Holland with Boston)
Like almost every hon. Member who has taken part in this debate, I declare my interest, although I sometimes believe that I shall not be required to do so for much longer.
The Minister of Agriculture denounced my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) as "Mr. Gloom". I am gloomy about agriculture now, and that gloom is founded upon one factor, namely, that the rewards for the efficient producer are getting closer and closer to the rewards for the marginal producer. If that gap continues to narrow, the result will be extremely bad for agriculture, yet the gap will continue to narrow so long as we have a Government who try to stimulate artificially the production of food, because the whole purpose of that stimulation is to bring in more and more marginal producers who would not otherwise be in the market.
My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland called the Bill "a poor thing". He was absolutely right. The best part of the Bill is the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, which, for once, makes the Bill clear and is most helpful.
However, the Bill is also a scratching-about Bill. Agriculture needs something much more drastic. Our greatest industry now needs the surgeon's knife to root out and sever altogether the growth of inter-ventionism. The Bill gives the Minister still more control over agriculture. In effect, it means that the awful coalition of politician and civil servant is equipped to deal with many of the decisions affecting agriculture.
When I first received a copy of the Bill I glanced rather idly through it. One phrase caught my eye—"the competent authority". I wondered what "the competent authority" was. I turned to the interpretation clause, and there it was—the Minister of Agriculture. With respect to the Minister, I do not believe him to be competent. I do not believe that any Minister of Agriculture is or can be competent to make essentially commercial decisions on behalf of an industry that is as great and as diverse as agriculture. The only people who are equipped to make those decisions are the farmers themselves. Individually, they will make many howlers, and quite a few will go bankrupt in the process. That has been 1326 the story of agriculture from the beginning, and will always be the case. However, collectively, farmers will be far better at making the decisions that concern agriculture than anyone imposed on them from above.
If "competent" is not the right adjective to apply to the Minister, the noun "authority" certainly is, because the Bill goes still further towards making the Minister of Agriculture authoritarian. I use that word—it is rather a hideous one—advisedly. If one canters through some of the provisions of the Bill one can see how true it is.
Clause 5 concerns the growing of hops, and creates a new crime. If someone is a grower of male hops in this non-sexist age to which we have been introduced, in certain areas he will be brought before a magistrates' court and punished. He will be made to stand—I am putting it in plain terms—where other criminals stand. It is the Minister alone who decides the areas, and which farmers are to be treated as criminals.
Clause 7 deals with metrication. I was rather horrified when I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland say that he heard that from next February all the measurements that are published by the Ministry will be metric. My hon. Friend has made the point well enough already and I do not want to emphasise it, but agriculture is not ready for this. If it is sensible to impose metric measurements—and perhaps it is—let them be accepted naturally and gradually. To thrust them down the throats of farmers as speedily as this will give rise to a major irritant, and will do the cause of metrication no good whatever. If we are to use metric measurements, I hope the Minister will ensure that, certainly for the first few years, we shall have both measurements in any documents that are published—including the price review—even if they are put in parenthesis. Some of us know exactly how large an acre is, and every farmer will be sorry to see that measurement disappear. Every working farmer is able to go into a field, certainly up to 10 acres, and know exactly how many acres it covers. He knows the other measurements to which he has grown accustomed. It will be extremely difficult for him to switch over as suddenly as this to measurements which are alien to him.
1327 Clause 9 gives the Minister power to authorise officials—I shall not use the word "minions", which my hon. Friend used—to enter a farm and destroy animals, albeit wild animals, without the farmer's permission and without even telling him beforehand what they plan to do—they can just walk on to his land and destroy these animals. Perhaps the officials will be courteous enough to knock on his door or telephone him beforehand. I should like to assume that they will do so. However, we ought not to reckon on that assumption. It seems appalling that we should hand over such power, and not to the Minister in this case, but to officials. If we are going to start destroying animals, at least there should be some consultation with those who own them and would normally look after them and have some regard for them.
I gather that when the Bill goes into Committee Clauses 11 and 12 will be criticised for not facilitating the transfer of tenancies from father to son. I hope that the Minister will pay heed to that criticism, because he is himself a large landlord. When the Minister was occupying his present position in the 1966–70 Parliament, I tabled a Question asking how many tenants he had in my constituency. The answer was just over 1,000. I understand that it is substantially fewer than that now, but the Minister remains an absentee landlord and he may not know how strict are the rules that he imposes as a landlord.
I should like to give one example, to which reference may be made again in Committee, to show what happens when the State is the landlord. Last June, one of my constituents, a tenant of the right hon. Gentleman, died. His holding having been managed for about 12 years by his son, his son naturally wanted to know what would be his future and what was to be his home, for himself and his widowed mother. The Ministry was unable to give an answer. I understand to this day that they are in a state of some uncertainty whether they will continue, because a new tenancy will be conferred upon someone from September 1976. At some point the son's application, along with others that may be received, will be considered by some committee to decide who should be the 1328 tenant of this holding. For months, therefore, a family is to be kept in suspense in relation to the question whether they are to have a home or a livelihood.
We have heard something of the wickedness of landlords in Wales and elsewhere, but I should have thought that no private landlord would keep a family in suspense like that. I am not suggesting that the Minister or his officials are acting disreputably. However, they have hard and fast rules which operate harshly in such cases. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will pay great heed to the possible criticisms of the clauses concerned.
Clause 15 is another example of what seem to be authoritarian powers. When I first saw that it was concerned with the recovery of grant I thought that it could be only an unalloyed good, because I am against the principle of giving grants to anyone. I thought that to recover them might be wise. However, the phrase in the clause isif it appears to him"—meaning the Minister—that some false information had been given which had been the foundation of the making of the grant.
I should like to ask a few questions of the right hon. Gentleman. Is there any precedent for that phraseology? Is it not very arbitrary? Perhaps I have misunderstood the clause, but as I understand it, it means that if the Minister is under the impression—if it appears to him—that he has given money to a farmer as a result of false information, he can get the money back. Is it not entirely contrary to the rules of natural justice for the decision to rest entirely with the Minister? Is there not a perfectly good crime, known to every lawyer, called "obtaining money by false pretences"? A grant is money. If a farmer has sought a grant and has submitted false information, that amounts to false pretences, and that charge should be invoked. It seems quite abhorrent that such a clause should be inserted in the Bill.
Perhaps I may return to Clause 2. It is not an example of authoritarianism, but it is something which some of us will regret. I appreciate the fact that the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation has done great work and helped many farmers. But the hon. Member for 1329 Dudley, West (Dr. Phipps) was right when he said that as matters now stand the larger farmer who is already established is the one who is likely to gain the most out of any grant or loan needed from the AMC.
However, what we are now doing is enabling the Minister to hand over to the AMC another £13 million which can be lent to farmers. I suppose that £13 million is merely a bagatelle when one considers a net borrowing requirement of about £12,000 million. However, the fact is that there is to be no action on the part of the Government to raise this sum by taxation. It will be another item of so-called borrowed money on the part of the Government. We are all familiar with the phrase "printing money". That is what will happen here. The Government will resort to this device to hand this money over to the AMC, which, in turn, will lend it to the more fortunate farmers at a favourable rate of interest which other farmers, certainly newcomers, may not be able to secure in the ordinary way. In other words, we are resorting to subsidised credit. It would be rather more honest if we called it subsidised credit rather than using the terms we have used.
I believe that to succeed in farming one needs just two things, as one does in almost every kind of business venture—cash and skill. The difference with farming is that if one has a deficiency of the one, one can very often make up for it with a surfeit of the other. However, I do not believe that a deficiency in either cash or skill in farming should be made good by the Government or any of their agencies. The Bill tries to do just that. For that reason it will be unlikely to do much to help agriculture, and for that reason I echo the phrase of my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland—that the Bill is, indeed, a poor thing.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)
The Minister of State may know that I wish to speak about Clause 5 as I have spoken on previous occasions about hops.
My constituency is in the Garden of England. There are many who consider that the county of Kent gets that title from hop-growing rather than anything else—although my hon. Friend the 1330 Member for Maidstone (Mr. Wells) may dispute that.
I am concerned about what is proposed in relation to hops. The Press release issued by the Ministry of Agriculture and dated 21st November describes, in the note for editors, what is intended by Clause 5 of this legislation in regard to hops. There is an interesting description—in case no one knew of this and presumably because editors might not know of it—of seedless hops being produced from unpollinated female plants. One could also say that this clause is a clause for the protection of virgin female hops.
Before going into that matter, however, we ought to consider what is really intended, because we are talking not about what is intended for the growers or what is satisfactory for the brewers. Perhaps we ought to consider what the beer drinkers of this country would like. They, the consumers, are not even considered. There is no mention of them in the Bill. Perhaps the Department of Prices and Consumer Protection has been made aware of this. If not, I am sure that the Minister will be made aware of it by those sturdy characters of this country who like to drink beer that is made from male hops.
My hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body) says that it is not exactly a matter of the surgeon's knife here. However, the surgeon's knife is certainly to be used in relation to male hops in Kent at present. I do not wish to be facetious about it. I should like to quote a passage from the Ministry's Press release of 21st November which contains some very instructive advice to editors. Paragraph 6 states:Hops are used to impart the bitter flavour to beer. They can be seeded or seedless, seedless hops being produced from unpollinated female plants. The United Kingdom is almost alone in not growing seedless hops, to which the international hop market is effectively restricted by commercial preference.That passage assumes that the British market is to move over to cater for the international preference.
I shall not speak long, but I should like to ask the Minister to let us know tonight what is intended for Britain. Are we to move over to an international rationalisation of the beer we drink in this country? Because there is a continental preference for a type of beer made 1331 from seedless hops, will we have to have that variety in this country? Is that what is being wished on us, and especially the farmers, by Parliament?
I understand that a grower in a designated area is to have no choice. He will not be able to say that he wants to continue growing his male hops because a certain brewery in his county likes their particular flavour. Indeed, I must emphasise that I have been assured that there is a difference in flavour. I have been assured by many hop growers in my constituency that there is a considerable difference. Is such a grower to be denied the opportunity to say to the Ministry that he wishes to continue to grow male hops and that he ought not to be stopped on the grounds that his hops might be dangerous to the female unpollinated hops in the hop garden next door? That is what the provisions of the Bill indicate.
Unless we have an explanation, it may be that a hop grower will be denied his market with a traditional brewer because the Ministry is anxious to allow the Hop Marketing Board to continue these experiments to develop the seedless hop in this country and so satisfy international demands by international brewers.
I know that the big brewers in this country are very interested in the seedless hop because it is an international development. We are now in the Common Market and in a Community of nine nations. If we want to export to Europe, we must recognise that those other nations do not want our male hops but want a seedless hop. Therefore, it is quite understandable that the British brewers and the Hop Marketing Board are concerned to ensure that the hops they market can be sold not only in Britain to the traditional British brewers, but presumably to Copenhagen, Germany and elsewhere. When the Parliamentary Secretary replies to the debate, will he tell us just what is at stake?
I am glad to see that the Minister has returned, because I am talking about beer and male, female, sexless and seedless hops, as well as a difference in flavour. Will the hon. Gentleman assure us when he replies to the debate that we are talking about an experiment and not just a step towards eliminating the traditional British beer in this country? I am not saying 1332 that we should not undertake the experiments. I recognise that there is undoubtedly a demand for seedless hops abroad. However, I am advised that there is world overproduction of hops and that the hop market generally is depressed. Therefore, if we are to move into seedless hops we would end up by producing—I am not an expert in the matter—simply a duplication of continental beer in this country. I may be wrong. Will the Minister give me an assurance that I am wrong in making that assumption?
§ Mr. Crouch
I am grateful to the Minister, but I am concerned to hear him say that this is not an experiment but a step towards a wholesale change in this country.
§ Mr. Crouch
That is helpful, but I shall revert to what the clause actually requires. It requires that where these steps are taken there must be the complete elimination of the dangerous male hops in case they pollinate the seedless female hops. If the Ministry is satisfied that that is a good step to take, it must give hop growers an assurance that by going into the production of seedless hops they will not be entering a limited market. Perhaps when the Parliamentary Secretary replies he will be able to tell us whether the beer which comes from seedless hops will have a different flavour. The Minister has said that these provisions are a partial move towards changing hop-growing in this country.
Only this morning I was talking to my constituents about fruit and apple growing. I was inquiring about a new type of apple called "Suntan" which is being developed by the Ministry at East Mailing. One of my co-operatives in Canterbury expressed the view that it was all very well for the Ministry to say what is a good apple, but it is the consumer who eventually decides by the amount he purchases.
§ Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)
I hope that my hon. Friend will correct his words. The research work undertaken at 1333 East Mailing is not undertaken by the Ministry.
§ Mr. Michael Hamilton (Salisbury)
I should like to reassure my hon. Friend. The Minister has my entire support on Clause 5, and this is a matter in which I have an interest. The experiments are limited to isolated areas within Hampshire. Regulations of this type are already in existence in, for example, Germany and Belgium. I do not think my hon. Friend need lie awake too much at night about them.
§ Mr. Crouch
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Hamilton). I know of his interest in this matter. Indeed, he has great knowledge of the marketing of hops. He has assured us that these experiments are being conducted on a series of hop gardens in Hampshire and are confined to those areas. However, the hop growers in my constituency are concerned about the Government's intention. I ask the Minister simply to make it clear how wide the Government's intention is and how far they intend to go. The hop grower wants to know whether he will have a satisfactory market for whichever hop he grows, whether he grows the traditional male hop to make the traditional English beer or whether he is required to stop growing that hop because it might cause pollination on a farm next door.
I live in Kent, but my comments could easily apply to a hop grower in Hampshire or West Sussex who might be in a designated area. If so, he would be deprived of growing the traditional hop for the traditional market only to find himself being forced to grow the new variety. The hop grower wants to be sure that the new hop will have a market which will satisfy his efforts and his investment.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)
All hon. Members who are interested in the provisions of Clause 5 will be reassured by the brief intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Hamilton). We all know of his special knowledge of this matter and we are extremely grateful to him. He said, in effect, that these experiments were to be limited, and were for a limited experimental purpose. 1334 Lamentably, he was not in his seat a few minutes earlier when the Secretary of State, from his great ministerial position, said precisely the opposite. He said that this was not an experiment. I know that my hon. Friend knows all about this matter, and I suspect that the Minister does not, but in the world of agriculture, at least, for a few short months ahead, the Minister is a grander chap than is my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Michael Hamilton
In fact, I was present and I heard every word of the Minister's speech, as well as most of what was said from the Opposition Front Bench. May I put it again to my hon. Friend, in this way? The basic underlying reason for this measure is to improve the export potential of British hops, and there is nothing else to it.
§ Mr. Wells
I appreciate that my hon. Friend heard the Minister's speech, but I do not think that he heard his intervention during the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch). The Minister intervened at that point to say the very opposite. [Interruption.] With respect, the Minister said that this is not an experiment. If it is not an experiment, let us be clear about it. We must examine it a little further.
§ Mr. Crouch rose—
§ Mr. Wells
I ask my hon. Friend to forgive me. I want to be brief. One of my anxieties is that we are setting up these experiments in order to make ourselves competitive in the hop market of the world. I understand that, but it might be a great deal better if the other hop growers of Europe took a leaf out of the British book and set up their counterpart of the British Hop Marketing Board, which, in fact, restricts overproduction. It was one of the few lasting benefits of Ramsay MacDonald's Government that the Hop Marketing Board was set up. It is, therefore, a real benefit which has out-lasted other Socialist non-benefits. I believe that if, when he next went to Brussels, the Minister explained the benefits of the British Hop Marketing Board and persuaded the Germans, for example, to put their house in order, we could proceed far more efficaciously.
I do not object to a small experiment, especially if it is in Hampshire, but I should be worried if there were a large scale compulsory designation of areas, 1335 especially in Kent. In the Chamber we talk glibly about the eradication of male hops as though it were no more than the pulling up of a nettle or the squirting of a bit of poison. I assure the House that the eradication of the hop is very different from that. It is a long and deep-rooted plant. Just going out with a fork will not grub it up. A man has to get in a JCB digger or the like—[Interruption.] This is fact. The grubbing up of a hop garden requires the use of a JCB digger or a similar tool, which today may cost £4.50, £5 or £5.50 an hour, depending on where one is; and the cost of such operations is constantly mounting.
I am, therefore, still a little worried by the Minister's contradiction of the suggestion that it is an experiment. I hope that the matter will be spelled out in the closing Government speech, and I hope also that when the right hon. Gentleman next discusses hops in Brussels he will draw to the attention of the Commission the excellence of the British system.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)
In his opening speech the Minister admitted that the Bill was not as important as some other miscellaneous provisions Bills from his Department, and I am bound to say—in the words of my favourite disc jockey—that that does not put it very high up the charts. I am not sure why it is only the Ministry of Agriculture which blesses this House with miscellaneous provisions Bills. Perhaps it is its complexity and its diverse nature which gives agriculture that special privilege. On the other hand, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman, who is so well known for his moderate views and his important influence in the Cabinet, has decided that the occasion has come to take a little parliamentary time for something more rational than the doctrinaire legislation which his right hon. and hon. Friends poured upon us last Session, and this is his contribution to the fight against the Left wing of the Labour Party.
A study of the Bill soon shows that it is really a subject for Committee work, not altogether suited for a lengthy Second Reading debate. However, it is fair to say that there is nothng in it of financial benefit to the farmer, and nothing in it of great immediate benefit to farmers at 1336 a time when they need considerable assistance from the Government.
I must declare my interest as a tenant farmer and also as a director of the sugar refiners Manbre Sugars. That leads me conveniently to Clause 1, since the two cane refiners were the principal customers of the Sugar Board in its capacity as administrator of the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement. This matter has been debated in the House fairly recently, and I see no reason to go into it at length, save to say that I regard the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement as one of the better deals, if I may so put it, which this country has done—beneficial both to the consumer and, in particular, to the growing countries. I am glad that the Lomé Convention, as and when it is put into full operation by the Common Market, will to some extent assist the Third World countries, especially those which depend on the monoculture of sugar cane for their livelihood.
I believe that the Government have accepted—I hope that we shall have confirmation of this fairly soon—that for strategic, industrial and other reasons it is necessary to have a mix of cane sugar and beet sugar in our refineries. In view of my interest, I should prefer not to say any more now. It will be debated in Committee, since there clearly will have to be a fairly full discussion of the sugar industry at an early stage.
The Sugar Board was responsible also for the holding of the British Sugar Corporation's shares and the administration of the contract, and these matters are, perhaps, more in the news. I do not believe that the contract has often had to be referred to the Minister for arbitration, and it is regrettable that this was a year in which that took place. Naturally, we on this side have been and remain concerned about the state of the sugar beet industry, especially from the growers' point of view. Although I fully acknowledge that the weather has played a substantial part in what has happened, It is a serious consideration that, at a time when we are about to face the full rigours of competition from Holland, Belgium and Germany in beet sugar raws, the whole industry in this country ought to be strengthened.
As I read the Bill, the British Sugar Corporation's shares will be vested in the Minister—that will be their home—but 1337 he will not have the power to do anything with them without the consent of the Treasury. I am no expert in these matters, but I hope that those shares will not necessarily be treated as especially different from other Government holdings of a similar nature. The Government can rest assured that we shall go into the question in Committee to ensure that nothing is done which might disadvantage the British Sugar Corporation in the matter.
It would be right at this point to say that the Sugar Board has done a good job. I pay tribute to the work which it has done so competently and efficiently although I suppose that it is a matter for contemplation that a board employing a mere 20 people should cost £200,000 a year to run. I am not criticising that figure; I am merely drawing it to the attention of the House, since all of us are anxious today about Government expenditure.
We have had several comments about Clause 2 and the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation. I think I am right in saying that the right hon. Gentleman said that it would now be possible for the AMC to lend as much as £300 million for the purchase of land. I entirely take the point made by the hon. Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Phipps) that to have to borrow all the money required to buy land today must preclude from going into farming anyone who does not already own some capital. I disagree diametrically with the hon. Gentleman's conclusion on that problem, but I ask the House to consider whether there is any other industry in which it could be said that there should be a pre-emptive right to come in without any other capital contribution.
The hon. Lady the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard), whom I am sorry not to see in her seat, made a fairly fundamental error in her assessment of the AMC when she said that the AMC was the home for those who could not borrow the money from the banks. It is, in fact, exactly the opposite. Anyone who has tried to borrow money from the banks for farm land will confirm that they will not lend long term. It is for this reason that the AMC was set up, and for the same reason we should 1338 wish to see the AMC continue, although I take the point made by one or two of my hon. Friends about the question of credit, of printing money and our concern to curtail Government expenditure.
The scheme that the AMC has suggested for attempting to channel some private funds from the equity market into agriculture will, no doubt, be debated in Standing Committee. It is easy to talk in general terms of these matters. It is not so easy to carry them out. If the Government are giving thought to helping the AMC in this respect I hope we shall have a word from the Minister about it.
My hon. Friend said he thought that the problems created by over-borrowing may to some extent be over for the AMC. That may be the view of the AMC. I only hope that it does not get caught by surprise. I am not clear how far the AMC can monitor the businesses of those to whom it lends money. It will not surprise me if the credit problems which have reared their heads in the past 18 months do not continue to do so if the general economic situation carries on in the present way.
Mention has been made of capital transfer tax. I had the task of putting the Opposition's case on it on the appropriate Finance Bill. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, who has made it clear, certainly by innuendo, and in private, I suspect, that he is concerned about the level of capital taxation, will continue—
§ Mr. Wiggin
I accept that the right hon. Gentleman has been his normal open self in this matter, but I urge him to consider the appreciation that the industry is now taking of the effects of this tax. At the time, we made it clear that it would be a year or two before individual farmers could say how it would be likely to affect their own businesses and land holdings. This realisation is coming into the industry. It is doing nothing for confidence. In this matter of borrowing money for the purchase of land, this is surely relevant.
1339 The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) raised the interesting question of subsidised credit. I believe that we shall have a debate on this in the future, not necessarily on this Bill, but it is a matter to which we shall have to give considerable thought. It is true that we have capital grants which those countries which have subsidised credits do not enjoy. There is still a substantial body of opinion—the CLA included—that thinks capital grants are a better form of assistance than subsidised credits. This is something which we should consider as the circumstances and requirements alter.
At a time when the minimum wage has been raised so sharply it is difficult to talk about extra money above the minimum wage for those who have passed proficiency tests. It has been my experience that very few farm workers have been paid the minimum wage for a very long time. Within my own personal experience, I know that those who achieved technical efficiency above the average were always rewarded voluntarily by the farmers concerned. But since the sum is so small, I do not think this is something about which we should concern ourselves too deeply.
The debate on seedless hops has been pursued with vigour by those who are interested in the matter. I believe there are two questions which should be put to the Minister. Is there likely to be a valid market for the seedless hop? I understand—my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Hamilton) will, no doubt, interrupt me if I am wrong—that there is a surplus of hops in Europe owing to excess production in Germany. I hope we shall not spend large sums of money and go into a market which has already overproduced. That clearly would be fruitless.
There is another matter of the seeded grower who has invested large sums in his yards and who, through geographical considerations, may find himself in an area where seedless hops should be grown. Alternatively there is the greater danger, which has been mentioned, that, because of this factor, yards will be put up to grow seedless hops, making redundant large investments in Kent and Worcestershire. This is not quite the unimportant or amusing matter which it may appear to be. It requires careful thought.
1340 I hope we shall be given some reason for the introduction of Clause 6 and the extra powers required for obtaining statistics and why this is to be a costless and manpowerless requirement. If to the bureaucracy it is to be no extra burden, it certainly will be to the farmer. We are all becoming increasingly conscious of the necessity to simplify forms and information gathering.
This leads me straight to the question of metrication, which fills me with great horror. Clearly, the industry has accepted this, but there is no doubt that trying to convert pounds to kilos and acres to hectares can be difficult. It is time that the Government produced an overall policy on metrication. I do not follow the view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body). I can see some merit in dealing with this matter in one fell swoop. The Metrication Board has looked into all the alternatives. What will create difficulty is if one area of industry is metricated and another is not. Wood sold in metric lengths causes difficulty in the farming industry, and similar difficulties arise with the metric threads in machinery, and so on. I hope the Government will face the facts and come out with an overall national policy.
To my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins), who was concerned about weighbridges, I can say, having had some family connection with the firm of Avery, that it is a simple matter to put a new dial on weighing machines. During the period when many firms went metric there were no problems, and I hope there will not be any in livestock marketing.
The thorny Clauses 11 to 14 which have so far caused the maximum interest in the debate are provisions to which it is right that the House should give serious attention. It is fair to ask the Government to be more specific about the precedent and the reasons for bringing in these clauses. We have heard a good deal about one case in South-East Wales, and even a television programme has been mentioned in this context. I understand that a writ has been issued against the BBC following the production of that programme and, therefore, I would rather not become involved in this dispute, except to say that I believe there are grounds for thinking that the legal procedures still available were not pursued 1341 by all parties, and that to condemn the whole system for this reason is both unfair and not worthy of this House.
The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Roderick) made some quite disgraceful allegations against arbitrators. I have known a good many of these people, and I am aware of the agonies they suffer to see that they administer British justice as any magistrate or anybody else appointed to that position of trust must do. It is a considerable benefit to this nation that so many people are prepared to give up much of their time for not particularly handsome remuneration to see that these matters, which are, in effect, disputes over a private contract, can be resolved in a civilised manner within the law. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) repeated those remarks. Those of us who have lived and worked in agriculture for any time trust arbitrators. Occasionally we lose or do not agree with them, but that is no reason for condemning them or their motives.
The purpose of the Clause 11 is to give arbitrators the ability to modify a notice to remedy. It gives the arbitrator some rights to alter the original contract. We shall have to look at this matter very carefully. However, we do not condemn the clause for that reason. In many cases it is rational and reasonable for the arbitrator, who until now has only had the power to accept or reject a particular item in a notice, to be able to use his discretion. Of course, this will be imposing an additional burden on arbitrators, but it is a reasonable burden. I am fortunate in having as a constituent a lawyer who is rewriting the book on this matter and who assures me that he has attended more arbitrations than anyone else over a period of time. I hope to have some informed advice during the Committee stage.
Clause 12 is unnecessary. It is a lawyer's bonanza. It says: "Do not take too much notice of arbitration. Let us go to the agricultural land tribunal." I question the wisdom of this clause. I think the Government will find my view upheld as advice comes in from the professional bodies on this matter. I urge them to think again about the inclusion of Clause 12.
The thorny subject of heritable tenancies has been mentioned. As a tenant 1342 farmer I have always stoutly defended this system. It gave me an opportunity to farm which I would not otherwise have had and has also created a system of land holdings and size of holdings which is the envy of Europe. Anything we do which materially weakens the system will be immensely damaging to the interests of British agriculture. We would not resist a debate on this matter, but such an important step should only be taken after much more inquiry and with much more evidence than just that from Scotland. I did not think the system works to the benefit of the tenant or the landowner in Scotland.
Interested parties should have the opportunity to present their views to the Minister before any decision is taken. It is easy to allow emotion to carry us away. I understand the ease with which people can put the case of the poor tenant, but they seem very reluctant to put the case of the poor landowner, who may often have as his only asset a tenanted farm which he has been deprived of for the life of a tenant. It is not unreasonable that we should consider all aspects of this excellent system, which has worked better here than anywhere else in the world.
By some tortuous route, the Prime Minister discovered last week that the problems of the country are caused by the lack of a vigorous Opposition. I was surprised by that. He could not have been thinking of agriculture, because we shall be pursuing our opposition with great vigour in Committee.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Gavin Strang)
We have had a useful debate and the wide-ranging measures in the Bill have enabled hon. Members to cover a good deal of ground. In general, the Bill has been welcomed, albeit grudgingly by some hon. Members.
I shall deal as fully as I can with a number of the points raised. I shall work through the Bill, starting with Clause 1, which provides for the dissolution of the Sugar Board. It has completed the tasks for which it was created, and the additional administrative functions that it is currently handling are expected to end in 1976. No work is 1343 foreseen which would require its continued existence. The hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) asked about the future of the Sugar Equalisation Scheme when the Board was wound up. We envisage that the scheme will end in about the spring of next year. In the unlikely event of such a scheme being needed in the future, it could be operated without legislation on a voluntary basis and could be administered by my Ministry's officials. There has been no suggestion that we should not wind up the Sugar Board and save the cost of maintaining it.
Clause 2 is an important part of the Bill and is aimed at ensuring that the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation can continue its function of raising money on the market and relending on mortgage to farmers. The Corporation was set up in 1928 under the Companies Act, and of its eight directors one is nominated by the Treasury and two by the Ministry of Agriculture. It depends on Government financial support through Government advances to its guarantee fund to back its borrowing on the market.
A number of hon. Members have asked about interest rates. The basis of the Corporation's operation is that the Government provide advances and this enables the Corporation to borrow a great deal more money on the market for re-lending to farmers. The question of subsidised interest rates is a separate one, which must be seen in relation to the capital grants scheme. That is what the common agricultural policy requires. The level at which we are able to pay capital grants is influenced by the level of subsidy—if we provide one—of interest rates to farmers. The fact that we are in the European Economic Community does not give us the flexibility to introduce subsidised interest rates if we wish to keep capital grants, as some hon. Members believe we should. My hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes) spoke about cheap credit provided in Europe. That is the way in which the French and others choose to help their agricultural industry. If we were to adopt that system it would have implications for our grants.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard) 1344 raised the question of a land bank. She was referring to the question of short-term lending. This is an interesting suggestion, and one that we can consider, but I think that my hon. Friend will agree that, basically, there is no evidence that if farmers are viable and have a successful business, banks are unwilling to lend to them. I am sure that there would be no disagreement between hon. Members that the key need is for the Government to ensure, as far as they are able, that farmers are efficient, because when they are their approaches to banks are likely to be sympathetically received in most circumstances.
Reference was made to the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Phipps) took the opportunity once again to float his ideas about the purchase of land, and he made a compelling case when he outlined the whole question of the advantages to farming of having a system which enabled tenants to come in. The Government nave no plans in this direction, though one might argue whether one would use the AMC to carry out such a function were the Government contemplating it.
I turn next to the question of the co-ownership proposals which the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation has put before the Government and which are widely known. I think we must be clear that these proposals do not relate to Clause 2. They are intended to offer a means to the owners of agricultural land to realise part of the capital value of the land for other purposes. The proposals are under consideration by the Ministry, but I am advised that legislation would not be needed to enable the Corporation to proceed with the proposals in their present form. The question of legislation under the Bill does not, therefore, arise.
In passing, I might mention to the hon. Member for Westmorland, who raised this point, that there is nothing to stop any group of people from getting together and seeking to set up the trust which the AMC is proposing and facilitating the flow of City money—money from pension funds and insurance companies—into agricultural land.
It can be forcefully argued that the AMC has a particular expertise in this 1345 area and there is, therefore, a case for its doing the job, but we have to bear in mind that the Corporation has a certain Government backing. It has a certain blue chip standing in relation to lending money. That is something that private institutions do not have, and if we were to set up a trust and transfer the AMC and its blue chip standing to it we should have to be very careful and think out fully the implications in relation to the demands that might be put on my right hon. Friend or his successors if this purely private venture were to run into difficulties. This is not as clear-cut a set of proposals as some people in the industry think, and it is therefore right and proper that my right hon. Friend should want to consider it carefully.
Clause 3 provides for the new arrangements whereby the Meat and Livestock Commission will confer directly with representative organisations instead of with standing production and distribution committees. I know that organisations within the industry will be particularly pleased to learn that the Commission intends to include in the new arrangements an annual presentation of its budget, so that the industry has an opportunity to express its views about the balance and direction of the Commission's expenditure. I should add that, apart from fulfilling its statutory obligations, the Commission intends to retain various non-statutory technical sub-committees to enable it to obtain the benefit of the industry's advice on matters of specialist and regional concern.
The hon. Member for Westmorland asked whether we were keping the consumers committee because the Government felt that there were no consumer organisations which the MLC could consult. There is no question of this. The MLC takes the view, as do most people who take an interest in these matters that the consumers committee is working well, and if it is working well we should not seek to abolish it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brightside asked whether the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers would be one of the organisations consulted by the MLC. It is my right hon. Friend who will prescribe, by Statutory Instrument, which organisations the MLC has to consult, and I assure hon. Members that the Government will want that list of 1346 organisations to be a sensible one, which does justice to the industry. I assure my hon. Friend that the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers will be consulted by the MLC on issues with which it is concerned, and obviously it has an interest in producing meat and other agricultural commodities.
Clause 5 will enable the Government to help those growers who wish to meet the demand for seedless hops by providing the power to designate areas. The designation orders through which the powers will be implemented will be prepared after consultation with those most concerned and will be subject to the negative resolution procedure of either House.
We must be clear that we are talking about a voluntary arrangement with the industry. There is no question of anyone imposing this measure on the industry. This has been asked for by the hop producers. The brewers want seedless hops, and we shall seek to ensure that the areas that are designated are those in which the vast majority of hop growers want this change. Hon. Members will have the right to raise the matter when we designate these areas under the normal parliamentary procedure.
If I may now deal briefly with the clause relating to statistical information, I think that I should point out to the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) that what we are doing is making sure that the information that we are already collecting is being collected with full statutory backing. There is a suggestion that one or two of the questions may be ultra vires. There is no question of this provision leading to a new and complicated form. I think the hon. Gentleman recognised that it is important that we should obtain adequate information about the industry and about land use in agriculture, and, quite rightly, some hon. Members on the Government Benches have drawn attention to the importance of that.
I come next to Clause 7, which deals with metrication. The main point is that there is no question that we need this legislation to use metric figures in the Annual Review White Paper. It is the intention to use metric figures in the White Paper, but we shall also use imperial equivalents, and I suspect that hon. Members such as myself will hope that the Government will for many years 1347 use both metric and imperial figures in their Annual Reviews.
The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-west (Mr. Hawkins) raised the question of cattle markets. This is a matter that we shall probably want to discuss in Committee. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that we are debating something for which the industry has asked and are facilitating the changes that have to be made in legislation as a result of implementing metrication throughout the industry.
Clause 8 deals with the export of animals. The House welcomes this clause. My hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Roderick) gave a special welcome. It provides for a further tightening up of the Regulations on the export of livestock. Here we are obtaining statutory powers for what we have been doing for some considerable time. We regard it as imperative that when livestock are exported to Community or other countries with satisfactory arrangements we should know in advance the precise destination, so that we can communicate with the receiving country to ensure that the authorities will look out for the consignment of livestock and be able to monitor and minimise, if not eliminate completely, any hardship on the animals. I may say that the French authorities are co-operating extremely well with the Government on these matters.
Clauses 9 and 10 deal with the destruction of wild life. I point out simply that the powers are restricted to the important diseases scheduled under the Diseases of Animals Act. My hon. Friend the Member for Durham asked about salmonellosis. I confirm that it is not included. It also means that fish diseases are not included. I might mention that we have these powers for rabies, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, but we do not have them, for example, for foot-and-mouth disease. Obviously there are instances—the case of badgers which have tuberculosis is one in which we have been able to take action under legislation enacted last Session—where there is a need for this, and obviously we shall look at the powers of entry. But I should be surprised if, in Committee, hon. Members did not accept that the Government have to take these powers 1348 if we are to be able to move in quickly in cases in which wildlife is clearly the source or the agent transmitting an important and serious disease.
I move to the clauses dealing with harassment, which, not surprisingly, have aroused a great deal of comment from both sides of the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor has been a very active and energetic campaigner in all these landlord-and-tenant matters, and I am glad to have his support for these measures. We shall look very carefully at all his points about their operation, and about the arbitration service.
Let me again remind the House of our proposals. We face a situation in which a number of landlords in England and Wales, mainly isolated cases, appear to have been misusing the law to force their tenants off their holdings. The tenants have complained that their landlords have made unfair and unreasonable use of the statutory procedures relating to the carrying out of work of maintenance, repair or replacement. This must be stopped. After consultation with the NFU and the CLA, we have chosen what we consider to be the two most effective remedies. Some hon. Members have suggested that we are not going about this in the right way. If they have better ways that they can put to us in Committee, we shall consider them.
I was amazed at the equivocation of the Opposition. Both the hon. Member for Westmorland and the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare said that there had not been a sufficient number of cases to justify action of this kind. My right hon. Friend made it clear that in his opinion one tenant unfairly evicted was one too many. In fact, there are many more cases than one. My hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor has followed these matters very closely, and I know that, in Committee, if necessary, he will be able to provide plenty of examples of this misuse of the law by landlords.
It is incredible that we should have this kind of equivocation. I have always believed that, basically, the Labour Party was the party of the farmers, whereas the Conservative Party was the party of the landlords. I do not think there can be any doubt that anyone reading this debate 1349 will see that wherever there is a clash of interests between the farmers and the landlords he can rest assured that the Conservative Party will come down on the side of the landlords—[Interruption.] I hear a number of Opposition Members saying that that is not true. Let me read from the brief of the NFU. It says, about harassment:The union welcomes the provisions contained in Clauses 11 and 12 in the Bill which will give some necessary strengthening of tenant farmers' security of tenure in relation to statutory notices to do work served by agricultural landlords.All fair-minded people will appreciate that this is a necessary change in the legislation. We are determined to see that it is enacted.
Let me pick up one point that has been made about Clause 12. It is true that harassment, when it occurs, has been taking place through the misuse or abuse of the notice to do work procedure and that Clause 11 should rectify this by extending the powers of the arbitrator, but the root cause of harassment is the fact that a notice to quite founded on failure to comply with a notice to do work can, at present, be contested only before an arbitrator, and the arbitrator can refuse his consent only in limited circumstances. That is the point which the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare has not grasped.
By making the notice to quit referrable to the Agricultural Land Tribunal, Clause 12 makes it more difficult for the landlord to gain possession of the holding. In these matters the tribunal is to be given a much wider discretion than the arbitrator by the exercise of the "fair and reasonable landlord" test set out in subsection (4). The Government are determined to see that this loophole in the legislation is filled properly, once and for all. That is why we are using Clause 12 in addition to ensure that we achieve our objective.
§ Mr. Jopling
The hon. Gentleman will recall that during the debate his hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Roderick) made certain remarks about arbitrators—remarks that caused a great deal of offence in all parts of the House. Will the hon. Gentleman be good enough to say what is the Government's attitude to remarks of that kind? Among the large group of people who conduct 1350 these arbitrations I am sure that it will be felt only right for the Government to clarify their position. Will the hon. Gentleman add his support to that group of arbitrators and repudiate what the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor said?
§ Mr. Roderick
Before my hon. Friend deals with that intervention, may I emphasise that my point was that, on the whole, tenant farmers lacked confidence in the arbriation machinery largely because the arbitrators were themselves involved in land transactions?
§ Mr. Strang
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor has clarified his remarks now. Of course, we value the work of the arbitrators and, of course, my Ministry regards them as independent arbitrators. When we cease to regard them as independent we shall take action to change the situation.
I turn now to an issue that is not dealt with in the Bill but has, not to my surprise, been raised by a number of hon. Members—the problem of family succession. Many hon. Members have expressed regret that there is no provision in the Bill for the succession to a tenancy by a close relative of a deceased tenant, on the Scottish pattern. It is no secret that in opposition I took a strong line on the issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Durham pointed out that there is a reference to it in "Labour's Programme for 1973", but he will see that it is not a commitment to make a change; it is an undertaking to consider the issue. I am not nit-picking. I am not saying whether we shall or shall not introduce a new clause; I am merely making the point that the document did not come down unequivocally on the side of changing the legislation.
A number of hon. Members, particularly those on the Opposition Front Bench, have not addressed themselves to the gut issue here. What we are talking about—not just my hon. Friends, but the Liberal and Welsh National Party spokesmen—is the situation that arises on the death of the tenant of a farm in England and Wales—a farm that has, perhaps, been tenanted for generations by his family—when his son finds that he can be evicted by the landlord even though he has been working on the farm 1351 for many years, and is probably middle-aged. That is a cause of hardship. I was glad that the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West referred to a case of which he had close knowledge and which he thought was most unfortunate.
The question raises a number of issues. For example, if we were to make such a change, should we do it in the same way as in Scotland? There are arguments for doing it somewhat differently. There is a case for saying that if we make the change it must be properly qualified.
The NFU has come out strongly in favour of the change. Notwithstanding its brief, it did not take such a strong line on the matter in England and Wales the last time it was considered by a Labour Government. The NFU says, in its brief:It is, however, regretted that the Government has not—so far at any rate—taken the opportunity of including in this Bill provisions to afford to the sons and near relatives of tenant fanners in England and Wales a comparable right to that already existing in Scotland to seek to succeed to the tenancy on the death of the tenant.Many hon. Members have suggested—some have pressed very hard—that the Government should include a clause making this change. I pay special tribute to the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts), who had the courage to say unequivocally that he would welcome such a change. It was a courageous thing to do, given the attitude of his Front Bench colleagues.
Because of hon. Members' views and the views of the NFU, the Government have had consultations on the matter. I am surprised that the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare does not know about them, because they have been mentioned in parliamentary answers. We have been having consultations with the CLA, the NFU and other interested organisations, such as the RICS. My right hon. Friend is giving careful consideration to the issue.
The Liberal spokesman said that we should do many other things in such a Bill. The hon. and learned Gentleman was perhaps unaware of the enormous pressure on the parliamentary timetable. It was by cutting the Bill down to the minimum that we strengthened our case in arguing with our colleagues for introducing an Agriculture (Miscellaneous 1352 Provisions) Bill at the beginning of the Session. My hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor has given notice that he will introduce a new clause in Committee if the Government do not. It is clear that if he does so he will have considerable support, which will extend beyond members of my own party. But I am glad to be able to assure the House that we will carefully consider introducing a new clause in Committee.
§ Mr. Mark Hughes
I thank my hon. Friend profoundly for that assurance, and for all that he said about the matter.
§ Mr. Strang
I have stated some of the considerations. There are others, which Conservative Members will want to state in Committee. I can go no further than to say that we are considering the matter. There will be plenty of opportunity for discussion in Committee.
I believe that Clause 15, on the recovery of capital grants, is basically supported by the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Durham raised the question of the refund of FEOGA grants. The Bill refers specifically to schemes which are not FEOGA-financed. I prefer to write to my hon. Friend on the much more difficult and contentious point that he raised.
Perhaps we should not have been surprised that the hon. Member for Westmorland took the opportunity of a debate on an Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provision) Bill to spread further gloom and to talk the industry down further. He makes a great mistake when he exaggerates the difficulties experienced in the industry. My right hon. Friend has just returned from Smithfield, where he spoke to many representatives of the industry. This morning I met a friend of mine, a Fife farmer, coming down to Smith-field by air. The attitude of the farmers at Smithfield—very sensible farmers, because it tends to be the better-off and more successful farmers who come to Smithfield—is in contrast to the exaggerated and wild statements made by the hon. Gentleman.
Of course, there is a problem in the dairy industry. We are committed to an expansion of milk production. Through the adjustments that we have made to the price, the Government have already demonstrated their commitment to securing an expansion of this sector.
1353 I think that occasionally the hon. Gentleman might refer to commodities which are doing well. Perhaps, now and then, he could make a passing reference—to cereal crops, for example, or the Scottish potato crop.
In the past year we have seen a marked variation between the relative profitability of farms in different parts of the country. This has been a reflection of the weather. That is what hit the sugar beet performance of many farms in many parts of the country. The weather also hit the performance of many farms in other commodities.
My right hon. Friend has made clear where he stands on capital taxation. Surely I do not have to remind Conservative Members that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer introduced a special concession for farmers. That was the first indication of our determination to see that the tax did not lead to fragmentation, and did not damage the industry's confidence. Furthermore, we established an interdepartmental committee specifically to consider the issue. That is all public knowledge. My right hon. Friend is considering the matter, but it must be appreciated that when a Government want to secure a fair distribution of wealth they must be careful that in altering legislation to help the farming industry they do not do so in a way that means that a large amount of money will go into land by making it a tax haven, thus forcing up the price of agricultural land to artificial levels not in the interests of the agriculture industry and the vast majority of farmers.
When introducing the Bill my right hon. Friend said that it covered a wide and interesting range of measures. So it does. I have tried to help the House by giving a brief resumé of the Bill's contents and by trying to answer most of the questions that have been raised. I am sure that we shall have a number of interesting discussions in Committee. I have no hesitation in commending the Bill to the House as a useful measure which will play its part in the well-being of agriculture.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.1354
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).