HC Deb 05 May 1976 vol 910 cc1421-30
Mr. Jopling

I beg to move Amendment No. 21, in page 20, line 18, at end insert: 'who worked in a farming partnership on the holding, with the deceased'.

Mr. Speaker

With this amendment we we shall also take Amendment No. 22, in page 20, line 23, at end insert: 'who worked in a farming partnership on the the holding. with the deceased'.

Mr. Jopling

We now move to Part II of the Bill which deals with those clauses tabled by the Government in Committee dealing with agricultural holdings and the provision for succession on the death of the tenant. In Committee there were long and thorough debates on various aspects of Part II. Clause 17 provided the guts of these provisions, and this amendment seeks to deal with the early provisions of that clause.

Subsection (1) deals with the different relations who are survivors of a deceased tenant. It envisages people who have the right to apply to the Agricultural Land Tribunal for the purpose of inheritance of the tenancy. There was no argument in Committee about the categories laid down in paragraphs (a)and (c). Those paragraphs relate to the wife or husband of a deceased tenant, and to a child of the deceased. An adopted child comes within paragraph (c) as a child of the deceased tenant. Regardless of the legal position, I am sure it is right that an adopted child should be treated in every way as a child of the deceased.

We were unhappy about the provision in Clause 17 which allowed the brother or sister of the deceased on the one hand and a treated child on the other hand to inherit the tenancy. We had many debates in Committee—

It being Ten o'clock, further consideration of the Bill, as amended, stood adjourned.


That the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill may be proceeded with at this day's Sitting, though opposed, until any hour. —[Mr. Frank R. White.]

Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee), further considered.

Mr. Jopling

We were defeated in our attempt to omit from the Bill the provision that the brother, sister or the treated child of the deceased tenant could inherit the tenancy. The Government made out the case that these two categories should be included. I do not wish to go over all the arguments, but I still think that it is basically wrong that, for example, a land girl who worked on the farm during the war when she was a minor and has lived with the family and worked on the farm until now should be classified as a treated child, but I accept the Committee's decision and hope that the alternative amendment will commend itself to the Government and the House.

The case was put to us by Ministers that if we removed the provision which allowed the brother, sister or treated child to inherit, hardship might be caused if they were partners in a farming business and, in view of the objections which were put to our case, we thought it better to try to rationalise their position. We accept the Committee's decision that the brother, sister or the treated child should be allowed to apply to inherit the tenancy but we say that that should occur only if they were working in a farming partnership on the holding with the deceased tenant. The argument was repeatedly put to us that these people should not be excluded because they could be working in partnership with the deceased tenant. The amendment seeks to secure that these more distant relatives can qualify only when they have a business interest in the holding.

The hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells) took a great interest in this matter in Committee, and I hope that he and his hon. Friends will see the strength of our argument. We accept the decision over categories (b) and (d) and I hope the hon. Member for Cardigan and his hon. Friends will support us if we have to press the matter to a Division. I hope that we shall not have to do that and that the Government will accept our amendments, because they represent a reasonable effort to compromise in a difficult situation.

It is right that these people should have a more tenuous right to inherit the tenancy than a spouse or child, and that they should have to put up a stronger case to prove that they have an interest in the business. If any hon. Member opposes that view I hope that he will explain what hardships are likely to arise to those people who are not in partnership and are not involved in the business. Little hardship will arise for such people by excluding them from the right to be applicants for the tenancy.

I believe that my case is fair. During debates on Government amendments Ministers have made a distinction between categories (a) and (c). That shows that the Government wish to distinguish between close relatives under those categories and more distant relatives under categories (b) and (d). It is, therefore, logical to say that more distant relatives should have to make a slightly stronger claim, and that only if they can prove that they have interest in the business should they be allowed to apply for the tenancy.

Mr. Bishop

The purpose of the amendment is to add a condition to the definition of the eligible person in Clause 17(1)(b). The effect of the amendment would be that a brother or sister of a deceased tenant would be excluded from the designated categories of close relatives unless he or she had worked in close partnership on the holding of the deceased. To find a brother and sister working together on the family farm is common. Hardship could occur if, on the death of the one who was the tenant the landlord was unwilling to grant the tenancy to the surviving brother or sister. That is what the Bill is about—succession and hardship. It could apply in cases other than father and son, and that is why we included the brother and sister in the scheme. The amendment would require that the brother or sister should also have worked in farming partnership on the holding of the deceased. That introduces an unnecessary and undesirable legal complication.

Under the Bill the brother or sister, like other relatives, will have to satisfy tests as to their eligibility and suitability, so it is not an automatic situation. It would be inappropriate for him or her to have to meet such further conditions.

The purpose of amendment No. 22 is to add a condition to the definition of eligible persons in paragraph (d). The effect would be that a treated child of the tenant would be excluded from the designated categories unless he or she worked in farming partnership on the holding of the deceased.

This category of close relatives follows a similar provision in the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. A treated child can include a stepchild, foster child or a child taken in without formal adoption, provided the child was treated by the deceased for any length of time as a child of the family in relation to any marriage of the deceased. The treated child's position is like that of a son or daughter. The amendment, which requires that the treated child should have worked in farming partnership on the holding with the deceased, introduces an unnecessary and undesirable legal complication and restriction.

The treated child, like other close relatives in the designated categories, will also have to satisfy other tests as to his eligibility and suitability to become the tenant of the holding. This is desirable. The process of checking eligibility must be gone through just the same.

The whole of this part of the Bill is about succession and hardship. We believe that the categories designated in the clause include people who normally without any legislation, often have some consideration in the succession to the tenancy. We believe that all these categories can suffer hardship.

The amendment, which would limit the range of people to continue as tenants, would increase the hardship which the clause seeks to reduce or eliminate. There-fore, I cannot recommend that the House should accept the amendment. It goes against the spirit of what we have tried to do in introducing this legislation.

Mr. Jopling

I am deeply disappointed by the Minister's reply, which has shown no sympathy for our reasonable attitude on this matter in previous debates in Committee and again tonight. I am astonished that the hon. Gentleman

should resort to the nebulous matter of hardship. I asked him to say what hard-ship would result in the event of people in categories (b) and (d) having to show that they were within the farming partner-ship. Apart from saying that there might be hardship, the Minister has not been specific.

In debates in Committee, when we raised the question of hardship, the Government said that it had nothing to do with the considerations. They sought to vote down our amendments which dealt particularly with the hardship point. We shall remember what the Minister has just said when we come to later amendments concerned with hardship.

The Government are playing fast and loose with us, using the matter of hard-ship only when it suits them. When we raise it, they pooh-pooh it. In view of the Minister's most disappointing reply to this reasonable amendment I have no alternative but to ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote for the amendment.

Question put,That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 69, Noes 106.

Eadie, Alex Kerr, Russell Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) Lambie, David Selby, Harry
Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen) Lamond, James Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Silkin, Rt. Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Flannery, Martin Lipton, Marcus Skinner, Dennis
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) McElhone, Frank Small, William
Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Freeson, Reginald Marks Kenneth Snape, Peter
Freud, Clement Mikardo, Ian Spearing, Nigel
George, Bruce Milian, Bruce Stoddart, David
Golding, John Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Strang, Gavin
Gourlay, Harry Molloy, William Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Graham, Ted Moyle, Roland Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Grant, George (Morpeth) Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King Tinn, James
Grant, John (Islington C) Noble, Mike Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) O'Halloran, Michael Ward, Michael
Harper, Joseph Orbach, Maurice White, Frank R. (Bury)
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley White, James (Pollok)
Hooson, Emyln Pavitt, Laurie Wise, Mrs Audrey
Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Peart, Rt Hon Fred Woodall, Alec
Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Penhaligon, David Woof, Robert
Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey) Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Robinson, Geoffrey TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Hunter, Adam Roderick, Caerwyn Mr. Donald Coleman and
Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Rooker, J. W. Mr. A. W. Stallard.
Jones, Barry (East Flint) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendments made: No. 23, in page 20, line 32 after '19', insert 'or (Application by not fully eligible person to be treated as eligible)'.

No. 24, in page 21, line 3 at end insert 'and without prejudice to section (Application by not fully eligible person to be treated as eligible) of this Act'.—[Mr. Strang.]

Mr. Strang

I beg to move Amendment No. 25, in page 21, line 13 after 'holding', insert 'or on an agricultural unit of which the holding forms part'. The need for the amendment was drawn to our attention by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. As previously drafted a difficulty might arise in the application of the principal source of livelihood test in Clause 17 3(b) where the deceased tenant's holding comprised areas of land tenanted from different land-lords. This entails separate applications to the Agricultural Land Tribunal in respect of each area.

There is a possibility, to put it no stronger, that owners of the smaller areas of land might successfully object to the eligibility of applicants by claiming that the applicants could not possibly have derived their principal source of livelihood from their particular land. The test is, of course, intended to apply to the complete holding. It is important to clarify this point because a considerable number of holdings are known to be in multiple ownership or to be part-owned and part- rented. We are grateful to the RICS for bringing this matter to our notice and I hope that hon. Members will agree that it is desirable that the amendment, which is self-explanatory, should be made.

Mr. Jopling

We have no objection to the amendment. I say only that I wish that in Committee the Government had paid a good deal more attention to the views of the RIGS. If they had, this would have been a far better Bill.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Strang

I beg to move Amendment ment No. 26, in page 21, line 17, at end insert— '"the relevant period" means—

  1. (a) except where the following paragraph applies, the period of three months beginning with the day after the date of death;
  2. (b) if the deceased died between the passing of this Act and the end of 1976, the period of three months beginning with 1st January 1977 or with such later date as may be prescribed for the purposes of this paragraph by order under section 73(3) of the Agriculture Act 1947 (procedure of Agricultural Land Tribunals);'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

With it we may also take Government Amendments Nos. 41 and 42.

Mr. Strang

These are drafting amendments. The definition of "relevant period" for making application to the Agricultural Land Tribunal for the tenancy of the holding is at present contained in Clause 18(2) because the "relevant period" appears only in Clause 18 and Clause 19 immediately following. Now that the term relevant period "also appears in the new clause it becomes more appropriate to place it in Clause 17(3) along with the other general definitions relating to Part II. This definition therefore is placed in Clause 17 by Amendment No. 26 and removed from its present position by Amendment No. 41. Amendment No. 42 is a consequential amendment.

Mr. Jopling

Although we are unhappy with the new clause we agree absolutely that it is a good idea to put all the definitions in the same clause, and therefore we are perfectly happy with the amendments.

Amendment agreed to.

10.30 p.m.

Mr. Strang

I beg to move Amendment No. 27, in page 21, line 26, after 'his', insert 'agricultural'.

This is a drafting amendment which has become necessary following an amendment agreed to in Committee. That amendment, for which we are indebted to the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling), tightened up the definition of "eligible person" in subsection (3)(b) so as to make it clear that the applicant's work on the holding had to be agricultural work. In consequence the applicant's period of formal education which, by virtue of subsection (4) may count as the equivalent of work on the holding, must also be equated with agricultural work.

Mr. Jopling

We are grateful to the Government for picking up an amendment which became necessary following an amendment which we moved in Committee. In fact, it was the only amendment of ours which the Government, in their charity, were able to accept throughout our proceedings in Committee. We were then thankful for small mercies, but we are sorry that we were not sufficiently vigilant to realise that we should have moved the same amendment at a different stage. We are grateful to the Government for spotting the need for this amendment and for putting our earlier amendment in order.

Amendment agreed to.

Further consideration of the Bill, as amended, adjourned.—[Mr. Frank R. White.]

Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee), to be further considered tomorrow.