HC Deb 05 May 1976 vol 910 cc1329-49

'(1) This section applies to any survivor of the deceased who for some part of the seven years ending with the date of death engaged (whether full-time or part-time) in agricultural work on the holding, being a person in whose case—

  1. (a ) the conditions specified in paragraphs (a )and (c )of the definition of "eligible person" in section 17(3) of this Act are satisfied; and
  2. (b ) the condition specified in paragraph (b )of that definition, though not fully satisfied, is satisfied to some extent.
(2) A person to whom this section applies may within the relevant period apply to the Tribunal for a determination that he is to be treated as an eligibile person for the purposes of this Part of this Act. (3) If on an application under this section—
  1. (a ) the Tribunal is satisfied that the applicant is a person to whom this section applies; and
  2. (b ) it appears to the Tribunal that in all the circumstances it would be fair and reasonable for the applicant to be able to apply under section 19 of this Act for a direction entitling him to a tenancy of the holding,
the Tribunal shall determine that he is to be treated as an eligibile person for the purposes of this Part of this Act, but shall otherwise dismiss the application.
(4) In relation to a person in respect of whom the Tribunal have determined as mentioned in subsection (3) above this Part of this Act shall apply as if he were an eligible person, but not so as to require the Tribunal, in making a determination under subsection (2) of section 19 of this Act in his case or a determination under subsection (6) of that section as between him and one or more other applicants under that section, to treat the condition mentioned in subsection (1)(b ) above as satisfied in his case to a greater extent than it is in fact satisfied. (5) A person to whom this section applies may make an application under section 19 of this Act as well as an application under this section; and if the Tribunal determine as mentioned in subsection (3) above in respect of a person who has made an application under, that section, the application under that section shall (without prejudice to subsection (4) above, be treated as made by an eligible person. (6) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1)(b ) above, cases where the condi- tion mentioned in subsection (1)(b ) above might be less than fully satisfied include cases where the survivor's agricultural work on the holding fell short of providing him with his principal source of livelihood because the holding was too small.'.'—[Mr. Strang.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

4.52 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Gavin Strang)

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

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

With the new clause we are to discuss Government Amendments Nos. 23 and 24.

Mr. Strang

The purpose of the clause is to provide the Agricultural Land Tribunal with discretionary power for the relaxation of the eligibility test, as defined in Clause 17(3)(b ), in certain limited circumstances.

It became clear during the discussions in Committee that the eligibility requirement as to an applicant's work on the deceased tenant's holding was too inflexible and might become a legal ban to applications when in fact it is mainly intended as a guide. The views expressed in the debate ranged from support for retaining the rigid requirement to proposals for departing from the essential link with the holding. Neither of those extremes was acceptable.

We felt that in order to meet two different types of case where potential hardship might arise it would be necessary to introduce a discretionary power, if we could do so without departing from the essential link with the holding, and to leave the matter to the good sense of the tribunal to determine when considering an applicant's agricultural training and experience.

The first type of case which the new conditions are intended to meet is where the father dies before the son has had time to put in five years' work on the holding. The second is that of the near relative who works on the holding but cannot derive his principal source of livelihood from it because it is too small to support him as well as the tenant.

There was a great deal of interest in the Committee particularly in the smaller holding. My hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Roderick) and the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells) both urged that there should be an element of relaxation to account for the situation in which one could not reasonably expect the son to derive a full-time living from the farm, though he had a closer link with it than, say, the son of a tenant with a larger unit who worked on the holding and his intention to succeed was as strong as that of the son with the larger holding. That point is obviously particularly important in Wales, where there are smaller units.

The details of the clause are as follows. Subsection (1) applies the clause to an eligible person as defined in Clause 17(3)(a) and (c ) but who satisfies the principal livelihood test under subsection (3)(b ) only to some extent. Subsection (2) enables a person who meets the requirements of subsection (1) to apply to the tribunal for a determination that he is to be treated as an eligible person for the purposes of Part II.

Subsection (3) enables the tribunal in the case of a person who applies to it under subsection (2) to determine that he is to be treated as an eligible person if it appears to it that in all the circumstances it would be fair and reasonable for the applicant to be able to apply under section 19 …for a direction entitling him to a tenancy of the holding". Subsection (4) ensures that a person subject to a determination under subsection (3) is not to be treated as having satisfied the principal source-of-livelihood test to a greater extent than is the case. For example, it will prevent an applicant who has worked on the holding for only two years out of the past seven from claiming that because of a determination by the tribunal under subsection (3) he is to be regarded as having worked there for at least five years. This has particular relevance to the application of the suitability test under Clause 19(8). In the relatively rare circumstances in which there might be more than one applicant, it is naturally critical that the person who does not fully meet the five-year requirement will, all other matters being considered, be at a disadvantage compared with the other applicant.

Subsection (5) ensures that, without prejudice to subsection (4), an application under Clause 19 which is made by a person to whom this clause applies is to be treated as made by an eligible person. It is envisaged that the doubtful-case applicant will make simultaneous application to the tribunal for a determination as to his eligibility and a direction entitling him to the tenancy.

Subsection (6) gives as an example, for the guidance of the tribunal, the case of the holding which is too small to allow an applicant to have derived his principal source of livelihood from it. This case is the most likely to arise under these provisions, but it might not be readily apparent to the tribunal without guidance.

Mr. Francis Pym (Cambridgeshire)

The House is already aware that we on the Opposition benches believe that as a generality Part II is already drawn too wide, in regard to the range of relations of the deceased whom it covers. We have felt that it is wide in its provisions for eligibility, and we still have reservations about that part of Clause 17 which deals with the nature of a training course that an applicant may have undertaken or be undertaking.

The clause widens even further the eligibility element, and we are not in favour of that, although we recognise that there is a problem that has not been considered previously in regard to the relative, the son or other possible successor, of a deceased tenant who is working on a holding that does not employ two people or could not sustain two people working in it full time. That matter should certainly be considered.

I am not sure that I think that the case of the relative of the deceased tenant who had not had the chance to fulfil the five-year requirement is strong. Obviously, that would be very bad luck on a relative, but, after all, Part II is already widening opportunities in a way never previously envisaged.

5.0 p.m.

In the original consultation document which the Minister was kind enough to send me in confidence just before the new clauses were published, nothing like this new clause was considered. Indeed, at that time, one of the conditions for eligibility was that the applicant should have worked on the holding for not less than five years, and there followed in brackets the words "full time". Both the National Farmers' Union and the Country Landowners Association thought that the word should have been "included" so as not to widen the eligibility clause too far. At any rate it is reasonable to suggest that some special consideration should be given to the type of holding on which two full-time men cannot be provided for out of the earnings.

My hon. Friends and I do not feel that new Clause 1 is satisfactorily drafted or the right way of proceeding, if only because it is very widely worded. The first line refers to any survivor of the deceased who for "some part" of the seven years, has been employed. But it does not define whether that period can be in one part or two parts or more, or what part of the seven years would be adequate to fulfil that condition.

In brackets in the second line is the phrase "whether full-time or part-time". In the case cited by the Minister, "part-time" is the only possible phrase; if they were full-time, the holding would be one which could sustain two full-time people. That is a vague and indeterminate way of phrasing.

Subsection (1)(b) uses the words: though not fully satisfied, is satisfied to some extent. What is "some extent"? Clearly, opinions can vary on a reasonable interpretation of those words. It is our view that this is altogether too vague a direction to give to the Agricultural Land Tribunal for determining cases of this kind. It opens the door too wide to a variety of interpretations and therefore goes far beyond what the Government themselves originally envisaged and certainly beyond what was envisaged by the interested parties with whom the Government discussed this matter. Both the NFU and the NLA feel that the new clause goes too wide.

It is unsatisfactory in a matter of this kind to give the land tribunal such an uncertain remit. After all, clause 17(3) is pretty specific. It will be simple and straightforward for the tribunal to identify and establish whether the conditions in paragraphs (a ), (b )and (c )have been fulfilled. But that is not the position with this new clause. People will have to go to a judgment in these matters and clearly there will be different judgments in different cases. This category of relations of a deceased tenant should have some consideration, but the new clause is too vague and too wide. I ask the Government to take it away and think about it in the light of what other hon. Members will say, and to bring forward a new clause to deal with the matter in a more specific way. We can reconsider it when it returns to this House.

I think that the House will feel that, although reasonable in its intention, the new clause is unsatisfactory in its drafting and will open the gate too wide and be too loose in capability of interpretation by the tribunal. I ask the Government to take the new clause away and to bring forward another to deal with the point.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)

I hope that the Government will do nothing of the sort. We on this side have pressed for consideration of the possibility of death occurring before the eligibility criteria had been fulfilled. I hope that the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) is not suggesting that that is an unnecessary case. If death occurs before the end of the seven years, we think it is only just that the son and the other people who qualify should be so considered. A discretionary clause is the only answer.

There is another reason for such a clause. Having set up a tribunal and given it fairly good guidelines under the major Act, we should give it the task of deciding on these issues. That is the point of arbitration.

Also, we support the concept that a problem faces us when a holding is too small to maintain two full-time workers. This leads to all sorts of structural and amalgamation problems, but it is manifestly correct as a principle of social justice to cover the situation in this Bill. This applies particularly to the situation in Wales. I am surprised that no member of Plaid Cymru is here. If anything, this is to the benefit of the small farmer in Wales more than to that of anyone else.

The definition of "survivor of the deceased" is covered in Clause 17, which does not define survivor but does define "eligible person". The eligible person is the wife or husband, brother or sister, child and so on of the deceased.

We raised in Committee the question of the farm worker who had been working on the holding over a length of time and whose whole livelihood depended on the continuation of his employment. We asked for consideration of the relationships which spring up, especially between a single worker and a family on a holding. It may be that, in general law, a survivor of the deceased means a relative. Perhaps it is a legalised kind of relative, like a foster child.

Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)

He could marry the farmer's daughter.

Mr. Buchan

I understand that they do legalise the association sometimes.

Mr. Hooson

It is an old Welsh method.

Mr. Buchan

I had hoped that the question of the farm worker might have been reconsidered. If "survivor" is not defined but "eligible person" is, perhaps the Bill should be more closely defined in the other place. I urge the Government to do so. It is important to secure the good will of the entire agricultural community.

I do not accept what the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire said. The wording is not too wide. I am doubtful about line 18, which says that the tribunal … shall determine that he is to be treated as an eligible person for the purposes of this Part of this Act, but shall otherwise dismiss the application. There is a certain ambivalence in that wording, which suggests that, having been treated as eligible, they shall then be dismissed. But the clause is not too wide. On the contrary, some of us believe that it is too narrow and that the problem of the farm worker should have been considered. Otherwise I welcome it.

Sir David Renton (Huntingdonshire)

I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) about the drafting of the clause—not so much from the point of view of the substance as from the point of view of the form and style, which must be reconsidered. Some extremely vague expressions are used. How they will be regarded in the Fens or in the Welsh hill country, the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) may be able to tell us. I should have thought that this is essentially the kind of matter in which Parliament should try to get its meaning clear and clearly expressed.

In this new clause there are expressions which, to say the least, are rather unusual in any statute. For example: Being a person in whose case the condition specified in paragraph (b )of that definition, though not fully satisfied, is satisfied to some extent". There is the same kind of vagueness in the last lines of subsection (4): To treat the condition mentioned in subsection (1)(b ) above as satisfied in his case to a greater extent than it is in fact satisfied". In the last three lines we find this expression, which may cause the mind to boggle a bit: Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1)(b ) above cases where the condition mentiond in sub-section (1)(b ) above might be less than fully satisfied include cases where the survivor's agricultural work on the holding fell short of providing him with his principal source of livelihood because the holding was too small. I have no doubt that the Government have in mind the substance of what they intend. But while the last words of that quotation are perfectly plain, the lead up to them is unnecessarily verbose. We find three places where in the circumstances envisaged in this new clause the person to whom the section applies is to be "treated as an eligible person".

We are being asked to make an artificial assumption. A legal fiction is being set up. In discussions and in some of the evidence given to the Committee on the Preparation of Legislation, it was said that artificial assumption, or using the words "may be treated as" or "deemed to be" and so on, should be avoided because they are artificial and give rise to difficulties of interpretation.

Having made that somewhat destructive criticism of the new clause, I shall make a more constructive suggestion for overcoming these difficulties. I doubt seriously whether the Government need this as a new clause at all to carry out the intentions they have in mind. I am not a parliamentary draftsman and I am not pretending to draft, but I think that if the Minister will alter or add to the definition of eligible persons in Clause 17(3) he might very well be able to arrive at the substance of the new clause, and do so in a much briefer way. It may be possible to do this. It is an alternative which should be considered.

In any event I feel most unhappy about the way in which the clause is drafted—quite apart from the substance of it, as to which I agree with the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire—and I urge the Government to reconsider it.

5.15 p.m.

Mr. Hooson

I support the principle behind the new clause, although I share to a considerable extent the criticisms of its drafting made by the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir David Renton). I agree with the suggestion that it might be possible to have a much simpler and neater way of including these two particular categories in the eligible persons provision by extending the definition provision. However, I certainly intend to support the clause in the hope that the Minister, who is always sensible about these matters, will have it looked at by the parliamentary draftsman with a view to simplifying the matter in another place. In that sense the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire made a valuable contribution to the debate.

In the new clause the Minister has met basically the criticism made in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells) and the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Roderick) who, together with me, represent an area with many small farms. I remember a public inquiry some years ago in our area, held to consider the eligibility of certain farms for help by the Rural Development Board, and rural man-days came into it. It was amazing how many farms supported only one man instead of two, even though they needed more help.

It is quite common in my constituency for a young man to leave school and stay at home to help his father on the farm for a couple of years, then to do other work such as agricultural contracting, working on another farm or working in a garage as a mechanic, and helping at home on the farm in the evenings. Therefore I appreciate the need for the words "whether full-time or part-time" in the second sentence of the new clause. This is perfectly understandable and is necessary to meet the situation.

We are dealing with a relatively small number of people—the number of persons whose fathers die before fulfilling the five-year requirement will be relatively small. But it would be unjust if they were not included under the umbrella of the provisions. If legislation can provide for succession, it should do so.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Fred Peart)

The Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister of State, who will wind up the debate, will give sympathetic consideration to what the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) has said. I am grateful for his support. We are trying to help. We are not trying to be penal in our approach. I welcome his constructive suggestion.

Mr. Hooson

Generally, I am in favour of such provisions as would enable the tribunal to have regard to all the circumstances and to decide whether the case is fair and reasonable. I do not think we entrust to our judges and tribunals of this kind sufficient discretion. The pride of this country has been the common law, worked out by precedent following principle, and people do not act in an arbitrary way—either judges or laymen—when they are entrusted with the job of deciding something such as the circumstances outlined here. They will be very careful to be fair and reasonable, and they are not likely to be taken for a ride by someone who is trying to use the provisions.

I am grateful to the Minister for taking the trouble to see that justice is done for a relatively small number of people. In my part of the world that number will, of course, be much higher than in other parts. I am very glad the Minister is going to look at the clause again. Nevertheless, we support him in principle.

Mr. Caerwyn E. Roderick (Brecon and Radnor)

We seem to have had a number of new clauses in the course of our debates on the Bill. It is difficult to count them, and I was astonished to see another on the Amendment Paper today. It shows, however, that the Minister and the Department have been responsive to the persuasion brought upon them, and that is as it should be. The Minister has been criticised from the Opposition Benches for having weakened, but that is not so. This is the way in which legislation should proceed so that where a need can be proved it can be taken into account.

The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) said that the clause was drafted to widely, but he did not explain why and he is overlooking the fact that we are seeking only to give a person the right to be considered by an agricultural lands tribunal, not an absolute right of succession. The final judgment will rest with the tribunal, contrary to the view of many hon. Members. Hardship has to be proven and the tribunal will consider that.

The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) and I represent many holdings in our part of Wales which are too small to support two working persons, male or female, and too small to have a second residence on the holding. People have written to me, many of them the sons of those who operate the holdings. asking whether they will be eligible. Without the new clause many would not have been eligible. They are living away from the holding because these is no accommodation for them upon it, and they are working only part-time upon it. They have another full-time occupation. They cannot qualify under the minimum five-year rule, but their part-time hours may well total in excess of five years. Thanks to the clause they will be considered. The clause will introduce more flexibility, and it is right not to draw the line to hard and fast.

I should like to see the Minister issue fairly comprehensive guidelines to the agricultural land tribunals to ensure that there is a fairly consistent approach to decisions throughout the country. Now that the clause has introduced an element of flexibility a fall-back position can be offered by which guidance could be given to the tribunals.

Sir David Renton

In asking for guidelines to be issued to a tribunal, has the hon. Member overlooked the fact that it is an independent judicial body which should not act in accordance with directives from Ministers? The nearest one could get to that would be some kind of statutory instrument laid before Parliament, and in that case Parliament would be amplifying its instructions to the tribunal on how it should exercise its jurisdiction. On reflection does the hon. Member think it would be wise to press that point?

Mr. Roderick

Yes, I do. My intention is that any guidelines should be submitted to Parliament. The Minister will certainly not issue them independently. He would express the spirit of what he is seeking to do and would certainly indicate to the tribunals the approach that he would hope they would take. Without that I can foresee a great disparity in the approach by tribunals in various parts of the country.

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Has the hon. Member considered that the disparities that might occur throughout the country may well be a reflection of local conditions? The would be immensely important.

Mr. Roderick

The disparities could also reflect a different outlook on the part of the tribunal, and that might not simply be due to local conditions. I am most anxious about local conditions. We have been seeking to insert certain provisions in the Bill but have been told that they would be unsuitable for certain parts of the country. I maintain, however, that we should respond to the various needs in different parts of the country. That approach is important in the case of Mid-Wales. The clause will not destroy these relationships but will give us a fall-back position in these areas.

The hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) was critical not so much of the principle of the clause as of the drafting. I hope that if the Minister can give an assurance that he will tighten up on the drafting, the clause will be universally accepted and added to the Bill.

Mr. W. Benyon (Buckingham)

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman). It is not a variation in the different parts of the country which will produce the situation to which the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Roderick) referred but the complications of the Bill. It proves that when Parliament embarks upon legislation such as this, it will run into great difficulties. The most important thing about landlord and tenant law is that it should be clearly understood by all concerned. The trouble with the clause is that it makes the position even more vague and encourages expectations which may not be fulfilled. That will pay a bad dividend.

Mr. Michaael Jopling (Westmorland)

I am never too sure how often we are required by the rules of the House to declare our interest, but perhaps it is right that I should say once again that I am a farmer.

The clause is disappointing. We have felt all along that Part II goes too far and I am disappointed at the extent to which the Government have changed their position in the last few weeks. I am glad that the Minister has been able to be present today because a good deal has happened to affect the way in which this Bill will operate since he first came to the Committee on 3rd February to announce the new clauses.

We accept the difficulties described by the Parliamentary Secretary. He referred to the son whose father dies before the son is old enough to have put in five years' work on the holding. We understand the difficulty of the holding which cannot provide two jobs. It is right to try to deal with these difficulties, but the clause goes a good deal farther than that. It will bring within the scope of Part II a good many people who do not come under either of these guidelines and who have suffered from the early decease of a father or from a holding which will not provide two jobs. Take the young man of 30 whose father dies and where the holding will provide a good many more than two jobs. Under these arrangements I understand that he would be able to become an eligible person although he had virtually no experience in agriculture. I stress the way in which the qualification has been eroded over the past few weeks.

Originally, the provision was that the applicant must have worked on the farm for five years of the previous seven. However, three of those years could have been spent on an agriculture course at an educational establishment. That meant that, for example, the young man could have spent three years reading agriculture at university, two years working on the farm and two years doing something quite different from farming.

5.30 p.m.

The Government now say that his years at an academic institution need not be for the purpose of reading agriculture. The position is that the young man could have gone to university for three years to read Arabic studies, or something else divorced from agriculture. He could then have done something totally different from agriculture for two years, and then spent two years working on the farm.

Mr. Peart

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will realise that the young man may have read economics, for example, which could make a useful contribution to farming. Alternatively, as I did, he could have taken a geology degree. That would enable him to understand soil structure rather better. We must not be too dogmatic on this issue.

Mr. Jopling

The right hon. Gentleman will know that part of my university course, at his university, was involved in reading geology. I understand that part of the right hon. Gentleman's argument. However, a young man could take a course which had nothing remotely to do with agriculture. I suggested Arabic studies as that came immediately to mind.

Mr. Hooson

The hon. Gentleman must be wrong on this issue. One of the most distinguished young farmers in my constituency, who was featured in the middle pages of The Times a fortnight ago, read history. He is the leader of the young farmers in his area. After reading history he went back to the farm. He is the son not of a tenant farmer but of an owner-occupier. Surely we should not discourage that sort of thing.

Mr. Jopling

I must ask the hon. and learned Gentleman to listen to the rest of my argument. The position has been eroded as regards the academic course, and the Government contemplate yet another erosion. I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) will bear in mind that the implication of the clause is that a young man can spend a minimum period, even a part-time period, during the two years that he was supposed to be involving himself in agriculture working on the farm. If we accept the clause the position will be that the young man could have spent two years doing nothing whatever related to agriculture, three years at a university reading something that had nothing to do with agricultural studies or farming management, and the remaining two of the seven years involving himself to some extent in agriculture on a part-time basis. I am sure that the Minister will agree that is a major erosion of the suggestions which he made in Committee on 3rd February.

Mr. Buchan

Before we decide what weight to put upon the hon. Gentleman's argument, will he tell us whether he accepts the principle of the clause? If not, it is clear that he will attack everything. In order that we may judge his argument on this one issue objectively, will he tell us whether he accepts the principle of the clause?

Mr. Jopling

The hon. Gentleman has been making similar remarks throughout the course of our discussions. At the beginning of my remarks I said that, in view of the way in which this legislation is now framed, we accept that there is a case for doing something for the young man whose father died prematurely or who is interested in a holding which will not provide two jobs. I have said that before and I do not want to say it again.

We feel that the clause goes much too far. We tabled an amendment which Mr. Speaker, in his wisdom, has not called, but that does not prevent us referring to its contents. The significance of the amendment is that it had the full support of the Country Landowners' Association and the National Farmers' Union. During the past few months the Minister has spent a good deal of time telling us that these provisions had the support of the NFU. Our amendment has behind it the weight of opinion of both those professional bodies.

We felt that the Agricultural Land Tribunal should not determine that a person is to be treated as eligible if, in the seven years referred to in Clause 17(2), he was engaged in agricultural work on the holding for fewer than five years. For the purpose of this provision, any period spent by that person attending a course, such as is mentioned in Clause 17(4), shall be treated as time engaged in agricultural work on the holding, but not more than three years in all shall be so treated.

The Minister in Committee laid down the guidelines which led him to present the new clauses. It is significant and im- portant to remind him of the words that he used on that occasion: It will enable a close relative of a deceased tenant who has the requisite agricultural experience, health and financial standing to run the farm efficiently, and who has worked on the farm for a significant period of years …".—[Official Report, Standing Committee C; 3rd February 1976, c. 420.] We have moved a long way since the right hon. Gentleman said that. The Government's position, as a result of their new proposals, is totally different from that which the right hon. Gentleman set out to us only three months ago.

I agree with a good deal that the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery said. I believe that this provision puts the Agricultural Land Tribunal in a difficult position. I do not understand how it will decide what is described in line 14 as "fair and reasonable".

Mr. Hooson

I think that the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood me. I am for giving the tribunal discretion. I think it can interpret what is fair and reasonable.

Mr. Jopling

I am sorry that I misunderstood the hon. and learned Gentleman. I believe that the tribunal will find it extremely difficult to decide what is fair and reasonable. I do not believe any guidelines or procedures have been laid down. What will be the position of the landlord if an applicant claims that he has been working part-time on the farm? It seems to be a terribly vague matter. To what extent will the landlord be able to test the applicant? It seems that a young man who has done no more than help occasionally at harvest, or at weekends to bring in the cows, will be able to claim that he has worked part-time on the holding.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) said that the Government should take away the clause and redraft it with a view to dealing with the two provisos to which the Parliamentary Secretary referred. I hope that the Minister will tell us that the Government will take it away and reconsider it in that vein.

The Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. E. S. Bishop)

I think that the House has had a useful debate in that it has been an extension of the close consideration which was given to this measure in Committee in 25 sittings.

In introducing the new clause, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary said that the aim was to give the Agricultural Land Tribunal discretion to relax the eligibility test relating to an applicant's principal source of livelihood in Clause 17(3)(b ). The effect would be to allow a near relative who does not fully meet the requirements of the test to apply to the Agricultural Land Tribunal for a determination that he is to be treated as an eligible person for the purposes of Part 2 of the legislation.

The point was clearly made today, as well as in Committee, that the eligibility requirement regarding an applicant working on the deceased tenant's holding was too inflexible and might become a legal ban to application when it was intended only as a guide. The views expressed today, as well as in Committee, clearly indicate the anxiety of Members on these points.

The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym), who made similar criticisms to those made by hon. Members on both sides of the House, said that he agreed with the reasonable intention of the clause, but expressed concern about what he called bad drafting.

I am not sure whether the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) was against theclause. I suspect that, in a sense, he supported it, except for the drafting. However, he expressed anxiety regarding the flexibility given to the Agricultural Land Tribunal and whether it went beyond the bounds of reason.

My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) expressed support for the clause but asked us to recognise the need to define it a little more clearly. Again, he was concerned that the problems of the farm worker should be considered. My hon. Friend suggested that we should reconsider some of the drafting aspects as well as the intention of the clause generally.

The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) said that he supported the clause in principle but expressed anxiety about relatives who were identified with the farm who would suffer hardship and might be excluded under certain aspects where there was a marginal eligibility to continue in succession. I think that point, which was also made by other hon. Members, is in keeping with my right hon. Friend's intention regarding succession which was made clear in Committee. The Government are concerned about succession and hardship.

Mr. Hooson

Would the hon. Gentleman agree that concern centres upon the definition of part-time working? Is intermittent part-time working sufficient, or must it be sustained or fairly consistent? If the team of Ministers could deal with that problem in another place, I think that would meet the point.

Mr. Bishop

The hon. and learned Gentleman is making the point which I think justifies the clause. As my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary said, it recognises that the problem of eligibilty must be left to the Agricultural Land Tribunal.

The hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) referred to the legal factors which must be borne in mind when the tribunal takes account of the these aspects. The anxiety of the House, as well as of the Government, is that we should give a degree of flexibility, but that it should not go too far.

5.45 p.m.

It is essential, as my right hon. Friend has said on a number of occasions, that we keep the balance of interest between the landlord and tenant.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Roderick) recognised my right hon. Friend's reasonableness in these matters, and he also welcomed the clause. His brief reference to some of his constituents' questions showed the need for the ALT to be able to adjudicate. The point of the clause is that the ALT must have some flexibility without going too far.

The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) said that the legislation may create certain problems. All legislation creates problems. On the other hand, the aim of legislation should be to lay down guidelines on which judgments may be made.

We should recognise that good landlords have been behaving in accordance with the principles which have been put into this measure. Many farmers have tenants whose families have been on the holdings for many years. Indeed, in Committee the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) referred to the time during which he and his family had been connected with the farm with which he is now associated.

There are bound to be areas of uncertainty. There will be cases of sons, relatives, and others who may want or expect to inherit. I think that the industry will welcome the guidelines which have been put into the Bill.

The hon. Member for Westmorland referred to amendments which were not called and expressed a view which he felt justified the tabling of these amendments.

In Committee, during our detailed consideration of Clause 17—New Clause 8, as it was—criticisms were made of the inflexibility of the succession provisions because they would not apply where holdings were too small to provide the principal livelihood for two men or where the son had been unable fully to meet the five-year qualifying period at the time of his father's death. Strong pleas were expressed by hon. Members on both

sides in Committee, and again today, that these two requirements should be relaxed to some extent. As I have explained, the clause seeks to give certain measure of discretion to the ALT to meet those criticisms.

The hon. Member for Westmorland pointed out that the Country Landowners' Association and the National Farmers' Union are concerned because in the scheme, the underlying concept of which is the alleviation of hardship, the main test of eligibility which establishes the hardship could be weakened to an undesirable extent as no limit is placed on the discretion to be given to the tribunal. That point has been echoed elsewhere. We are willing to consider that point, but we cannot make any commitment at this stage. We shall bear in mind the constructive points which have been made by hon. Members on both sides.

I hope that the House will support the new clause in view of the assurances which I have given.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 135, Noes 86.

Division No. 123.] AYES [5.50 p.m.
Anderson, Donald Dormand, J. D. Lamont, Norman
Armstrong, Ernest Douglas-Mann, Bruce Latham, Arthur (Paddington)
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Dunn, James A. Lipton, Marcus
Atkinson, Norman Dunnett, Jack Litterick, Tom
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Eadie, Alex McElhone, Frank
Bates, Alf Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) Macfarquhar, Roderick
Beith, A. J. Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) Mackenzie, Gregor
Bidwell, Sydney Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Mackintosh, John P.
Bishop, E. S. Evans, loan (Aberdare) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)
Blenkinsop, Arthur Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Mikardo, Ian
Boardman, H. Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W) Millan, Bruce
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Flannery, Martin Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) Molloy, William
Buchan, Norman Freeson, Reginald Moonman, Eric
Buchanan, Richard George, Bruce Moyle, Roland
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Golding, John Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King
Campbell, Ian Gourlay, Harry Noble, Mike
Carmichael, Neil Graham, Ted O'Halloran, Michael
Carter-Jones, Lewis Grant, George (Morpeth) Orbach, Maurice
Cartwright, John Grant, John (Islington C) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Clemitson, Ivor Grimond, Rt Hon J. Ovenden, John
Cocks, Michael (Bristol S) Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Pardoe, John
Coleman, Donald Harper, Joseph Parker, John
Colquhoun, Ms Maureen Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Pavitt, Laurie
Concannon, J. D. Heffer, Eric S. Peart, Rt Hon Fred
Conlan, Bernard Hooson, Emyln Penhaligon, David
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Perry, Ernest
Corbett, Robin Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Richardson, Miss Jo
Crawshaw, Richard Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey) Robinson, Geoffrey
Cryer,Bob Hughes, Roy (Newport) Roderick, Caerwyn
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Hunter, Adam Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh) Irvine, RI Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill) Rooker, J. W.
Davies, Denzil (Llanelli) Irving, RI Hon S. (Dartford) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Deakins, Eric Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Ross, RI Hon W. (Kilmarnock)
Dempsey, James Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Sandelson, Neville
Doig, Peter Jones, Barry (East Flint) Selby, Harry
Short, Rt Hon E. (Newcastle C) Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon) Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE) Tinn, James Wise, Mrs Audrey
Silverman, Julius Tomney, Frank Woodall, Alec
Skinner, Dennis Walker, Terry (Kingswood) Woof, Robert
Small, William Ward, Michael Young, David (Bolton E)
Smith, John (N Lanarkshire) Weitzman, David
Spearing, Nigel White, Frank R. (Bury) TELLERS FOR THE AYES
Stoddart, David White, James (Pollok) Mr. A. W Stallard and
Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth) Willey, Rt Hon Frederick Mr. Peter Snape.
Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry) Onslow, Cranley
Bell, Ronald Grist, Ian Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)
Benyon, W. Hall, Sir John Parkinson, Cecil
Berry, Hon Anthony Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Peyton, Rt Hon John
Biggs-Davison, John Hampson, Dr. Keith Prior, Rt Hon James
Body, Richard Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Boacawen, Hon Robert Hayhoe, Barney Rathbone, Tim
Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent) Hicks, Robert Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)
Braine,Sir Bernard Higgins, Terence L. Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)
Brotherton, Michael Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Bryan, Sir Paul Hurd, Douglas Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Buchanan-Smith, Alick Hutchison, Michael Clark Sainsbury, Tim
Budgen, Nick Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanel'd & W'df'd) Shepherd, Colin
Bulmer, Esmond Jopling, Michael Sproat, lain
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Kershaw, Anthony Stanbrook, Ivor
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) King, Evelyn (South Dorset) Stewart, lan (Hitchin)
Clark, William (Croydon S) Knight, Mrs Jill Stradling Thomas, J.
Clegg, Walter Langford-Holt, Sir John Tebbit, Norman
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W) Lawrence, Ivan Townsend, Cyril D.
Cope, John Lester, Jim (Beeston) Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James McAdden, Sir Stephen Welder, David (Clitheroe)
Drayson, Burnaby Macfarlane, Nell Weatherill, Bernard
Dunlop, John Marten, Neil Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Durant, Tony Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Wiggin, Jerry
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Mayhew, Patrick Winterton, Nicholas
Fisher, Sir Nigel Moate, Roger Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Mudd, David
Forman, Nigel Heave, Airey TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd) Nelson, Anthony Mr. Spencer Le Marchant and
Gow, lan (Eastbourne) Neubert, Michael Mr. Carol Mather.

Question accordingly agreed to.

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

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