§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Francis Pym (Cambridgeshire)
I beg to move Amendment No. 50, in page 21, line 28, at end insert—'Provided that such full-time course is in a subject related to agriculture'.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
We shall take at the same time Amendment No. 28, in page 21, line 28, at end insert—'Provided that any period attending such a full-time course in a non-agricultural subject shall not be so treated, unless in the three years ending with the date of death at least twenty four months were spent working in agriculture on the holding or attending a full time course in agriculture'.
§ Mr. Pym
On this amendment we come back to the question of eligibility and the 140 conditions to be satisfied in respect of whether a person will be regarded by the tribunal as eligible to be considered as a candidate to take over a holding. The particular aspect of eligibility here involved is that of full-time courses at a university, college or other establishment of further education.
During the discussions which took place before the Bill had its Second Reading, it was clearly laid down in the paper circulated by the Minister that this training would have to be of an agricultural nature, and I think that even those who disagreed with the principle of the Bill thought that, if there was to be a condition of this kind, it was appropriate that education for people in agriculture should be included—in other words, that part of the five years which they would have to devote to work in agriculture could or should include time spent at an establishment of further education. In Committee, several amendments were put down, and one of them was accepted. However, the result is that as the Bill now stands the eligibility clause, to call it such, permits the inclusion of further education in any course in any subject whatsoever, whether related to agriculture or not, and a great many interested people in the industry as well as many hon. Members believe that that goes too wide.
In reply to the debate in Committee, the Parliamentary Secretary said:…one could have instances where the son could well want to take a wider training which would be helpful and relevant to his future farming career"—[Official Report, Standing Committee C, 25th March 1976; c. 970.]The hon. Gentleman then went on to refer to business management or one of the basic agricultural sciences.
Widening it to that extent is logical, and I think that there is much sense in it, since to restrict such a course solely to an agricultural course at an agricultural college might in some cases be too narrow, and there is no reason why a science or subject related to agriculture could not be included. But that is not what is in the Bill, and the purpose of Amendment No. 50 is to insert in the eligibility conditions words which will relate the course to agriculture.
Having drafted the amendment last week and having thought about it further, I admit that it may be thought 141 difficult to define what "related to agriculture" means. However, if the principle and spirit of the amendment are acceptable to the Government, I am sure that it will be possible for those geniuses, the parliamentary draftsmen, to produce a definition which will cover the sense of the amendment and the sense of what the Parliamentary Secretary said in Committee.
Amendment No. 28 is, as it were, an alternative to No. 50 if the House were to decide otherwise or the Government were not prepared to accept that the subject to be studied should be "related to agriculture". In that case, we say that there must be something further in the Bill to connect the aspiring applicant, if I may so call him, to agriculture more closely than the Bill does as it stands.
Under the Bill as drafted, a young man could, after leaving school, spend a couple of years on the holding tenanted by his mother or father, spend three years studying a subject unrelated to agriculture, then do any job he likes for a further two years and yet still be regarded as eligible. The clause is too wide.
The purpose of Amendment No. 28 is to lay down a condition for the three years ending with the date of the death of the tenant that the applicant should have spent at least 24 months working in agriculture on the holding or attending a course in agriculture. The amendment is designed to avoid the position where the so-called eligible person has had nothing to do with agriculture for five out of the preceding seven years. The situation that I have described will not arise frequently but it could arise under the Bill, which goes too far from that which was originally envisaged. I hope that, on further reflection, the Government will feel that it is right, more accurately to define and more closely to constrain the provisions so that the difficulties that I have described will not arise.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary, to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Gavin Strang)
In the clause as originally drafted the formal training had to be in agriculture but after a full discussion in Committee an amendment by my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Roderick) to remove the restriction was agreed to on 142 Division. This has the effect, which we believe to be desirable, of widening the kind of further education which an applicant could undergo without becoming ineligible. The present proposal by hon. Members is to require that the applicant should have spent at least two of the three years ending with the date of the tenant's death working in agriculture or attending a full-time course in agriculture.
This amendment would effectively rule out the son or daughter who worked on the farm for the two years and then went on to take a full-time course in a nonagricultural subject and whose father died before he could return to work on the farm. It would also rule out the son who, in the five years up to his father's death, worked on the holding for two years—one before and one after a three-year university course, unless this were in an agricultural subject.
On the other hand, if the son did his formal course first and then completed two years' work on the farm before his father dies, he would satisfy the eligibility test. So, under the amendment, his eligibility would depend on the order in which he takes his studies and puts in the practical work on the farm.
The excessive importance which would therefore be attached to the sequence of studies in relation to actual agricultural work is unjustified and illogical. It introduces considerable complexity into a test which surely ought to be simple and straightforward.
I turn to Amendment No. 50. The question whether the agricultural restriction on this concession is necessary was the subject of debate in Standing Committee which took up almost the whole of one morning. No one can complain after this evening, therefore, that is has not been given a generous airing or that the decision was finally taken without due consideration.
An applicant has to pass through two selection processes on his way to obtaining a direction from the Agricultural Land Tribunal. The first process applies to the coarse sieve. It checks the credentials of an applicant and satisfies the Agricultural Land Tribunal that he is indeed a close relative as defined, that he has established a link with the holding, 143 and that he is not occupying a commercial farm elsewhere. He is then allowed to move on to the much finer sieve of the selection process, where the tribunal will satisfy itself that he is in all respects suitable to become a tenant of the holding.
This is a very important matter, not only for the applicant but for the landlord. The tribunal will be expected to carry out this duty with great attention and care, and I have every confidence that it will. The duty may well require a final task in the selection process—that of choosing between suitable applicants.
If the fine sieve is there and is being applied with attention and care, I see no harm in widening the mesh of the original sieve in the way we have done by the original amendment.
I do not want to go into a detailed argument as to the merits and demerits of various degree courses, other than to refer to the speech last Thursday by the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) who said that the three-year course might have been spent reading Arabic studies. Bearing in mind the second sieve that I have already talked about, does this matter? The applicant may still impress the Agricultural Land Tribunal with his agricultural knowledge and experience and his general outlook sufficiently for the Tribunal to be satisfied that he is suitable to take over the tenancy.
I was pleased to see that the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) has to some extent moved towards us. He was opposed to any modification of the original Bill and we are glad that he has acknowledged that a degree in business studies or economics should not be regarded as totally unsuitable and that we should not base eligibility on that. Someone who has studied economics or attended a course in business studies should not be ruled out as he would have been originally.
§ The right hon. Member for Cambridge-shire was fair to suggest that the phrase "related to agriculture" might be open to widely differing interpretations. On balance it is sensible to leave the Bill as amended. That will mean that although he could have done any course, that the applicant must have worked on the farm and have a tie with it. Our decision in Committee was right. The Agricultural Land Tribunal will decide whether the applicant has the appropriate agricultural experience and expertise and whether he is a suitable person to succeed. While acknowledging the points made by the right hon. Member for Cambridge-shire, we have decided that the right decision is to stand by the Bill as amended. I cannot therefore accept either of the two amendments.
§ Mr. Pym
I am grateful to the Minister. I think that he acknowledges that we were trying to be fair. Originally we felt that it was better to say that the course must be in agriculture but on reflection we thought that there was scope for easing that condition.
The Minister has not satisfactorily replied to the point that the Bill, as drafted, would allow a person to establish some connection with the holding even if it were too insignificant or small a connection to make it viable. We are putting a heavy responsibility on the tribunal, and it would be better to provide in the Bill for the situation which I described earlier. The Bill should be wider than originally intended but not as wide open as it now is. If the Minister says that he is not prepared to look at the matter again and to table an amendment to this effect in another place, I must ask my hon. Friends to vote on the matter. I hope that the Minister will look at the situation. If he does not, we shall press the issue.
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The House divided: Ayes, 121, Noes 161.147
|Division No. 126.]||AYES||[8.20 p.m.|
|Adley, Robert||Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown)||Clegg, Walter|
|Arnold, Tom||Brittan, Leon||Cope, John|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)||Brotherton, Michael||Cordle, John H.|
|Awdry, Daniel||Buchanan-Smith, Alick||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James|
|Banks, Robert||Buntler, Adam (Bosworth)||Drayson, Burnaby|
|Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham)||Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)|
|Benyon, W.||Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)||Eyre, Reginald|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Fisher, Sir Nigel|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Le Marchant, Spencer||Prior, Rt Hon James|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Pym, Rt Hon Francis|
|Forman, Nigel||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter|
|Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)||Luce. Richard||Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)|
|Fox, Marcus||McAdden, Sir Stephen||Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||McCrindle, Robert||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)|
|Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)||Macfarlane, Neil||St. John-Steves, Norman|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||MacGregor, John||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||Madel, David||Shepherd, Colin|
|Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Silvester, Fred|
|Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)||Mates, Michael||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Gray, Hamish||Mather, Carol||Speed, Keith|
|Grylls, Michael||Mawby, Ray||Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)|
|Hall, Sir John||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Sproat, lain|
|Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)||Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)|
|Hampson, Dr. Keith||Mills, Peter||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Hannam, John||Moate, Roger||Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)|
|Harrison, Sir Harwood (Eye)||Monro, Hector||Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)|
|Hayhoe, Barney||Montgomery, Fergus||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Hicks, Robert||More, Jasper (Ludlow)||Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret|
|Higgins, Terence L.||Morgan, Geraint||Townsend, Cyril D.|
|Holland, Philip||Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral||Tugendhat, Christopher|
|Hunt, David (Wirral)||Morris, Michael (Northampton S)||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Hunt, John||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)||Walker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)|
|Hutchison, Michael Clark||Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)||Walters, Dennis|
|Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd)||Mudd, David||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Jopling, Michael||Neave, Airey||Wiggin, Jerry|
|King, Evelyn (South Dorset)||Nelson, Anthony||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Knight, Mrs Jill||Neubert, Michael|
|Knox, David||Newton, Tony||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Lane, David||Oppenheim, Mrs Sally||Mr. Anthony Berry and|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)||Mr. John Corrie|
|Lawson, Nigel||Percival, Ian|
|Abse, Leo||Forrester, John||Mellish. Rt Hon Robert|
|Anderson, Donald||Freeson, Reginald||Millan, Bruce|
|Archer, Peter||George, Bruce||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Golding, John||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Gould, Bryan||Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King|
|Bates, Alf||Gourlay, Harry||Oakes, Gordon|
|Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)||Grant, John (Islington C)||Orbach, Maurice|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Hardy, Peter||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Bishop, E. S.||Harper, Joseph||Ovenden, John|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Palmer, Arthur|
|Boardman, H.||Hart, Rt Hon Judith||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Hatton, Frank||Pearl, Rt Hon Fred|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Hayman, Mrs Helene||Pendry, Tom|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Hefter, Eric S.||Penhaligon, David|
|Buchan, Norman||Hooson, Emyln||Perry, Ernest|
|Buchanan, Richard||Horam, John||Phipps, Dr Colin|
|Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Campbell, Ian||Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Richardson, Miss Jo|
|Canavan, Dennis||Hunter, Adam||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Carmichael, Neil||Jackson, in (Brighouse)||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Cartwright, John||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Robinson, Geoffrey|
|Clemitson, Ivor||Janner, Greville||Roderick, Caerwyn|
|Cocks, Michael (Bristol S||Jeger, Mrs Lena||Rodgers, George (Chorley)|
|Colquhoun, Ms Maureen||John, Brynmor||Rooker, J. W.|
|Concannon, J. D.||Johnson, James (Hull West)||Roper, John|
|Conlan, Bernard||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)|
|Cronin, John||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Sandelson, Neville|
|Cryer, Bob||Kilroy-Silk, Robert||Selby, Harry|
|Cunningham, G. (Islington S)||Lambie, David||Sillars, James|
|Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)||Leadbitter, Ted||Skinner, Dennis|
|Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||Lipton, Marcus||Small, William|
|Deakins, Eric||Litterick, Tom||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Loyden, Eddie||Snape, Peter|
|Dempsey, James||Luard, Even||Spearing, Nigel|
|Doig, Peter||Lyon, Alexander (York)||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Dormand, J. D.||McCartney, Hugh||Stallard, A. W.|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||McElhone, Frank||Steel, David (Roxburgh)|
|Eadie, Alex||MacFarquhar, Roderick||Stoddart, David|
|Edge, Geoff||McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Strang, Gavin|
|Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)||Mackenzie, Gregor||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)||McNamara, Kevin||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Evans, loan (Aberdare)||Madden, Max||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|Flannery, Martin||Marks, Kenneth||Tierney, Sydney|
|Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Tinn, James|
|Ford, Ben||Maynard, Miss Joan||Tomlinson, John|
|Meacher, Michael||Torney, Tom|
|Tuck, Raphael||Wigley, Dafydd||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)||Williams, Alan (Swansea W)||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Walker, Terry (Kingswood)||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|Wellbeloved, James||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|White, Frank R. (Bury)||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)||Mr. John Ellis and|
|White, James (Pollok)||Wise, Mrs Audrey||Mr. James Hamilton|
|Whitehead, Phillip||Woodall, Alec|
|Whitlock, William||Woof, Robert|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ The Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. E. S. Bishop)
I beg to move Amendment No. 29, in page 22, line 34, leave out 'if they applied' and insert'without prejudice to subsection (5A) below, if'.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
With this amendment it will be convenient to take Government Amendments Nos. 31, 33 and 37.
§ Mr. Bishop
In Committee various points were raised which required clarification of the succession principle.
The purpose of Amendment No. 37 is to introduce retirement into the family succession scheme.
The effect of the new subsection (5A) will be that the retirement of a tenant in favour of a close relative as defined in Clause 17(1) which has the agreement of the landlord shall count as a succession for the purpose of the two successions rule. This is an important amendment to the family succession scheme, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Roderick) and to the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) who suggested this proposal in Committee.
We have already provided in an earlier amendment that succession by agreement on the death of a tenant should be permitted under the scheme. The present amendment goes further and introduces succession on retirement so that where a tenant, the tenant's close relative as defined in Clause 17(1) and the landlord are all agreed that the tenant should retire on condition that the close relative takes over his holding, such an arrangement should also count as a succession for the purposes of the two succession rule.
The great advantage of this is that it will facilitate the retirement of ageing tenants who are getting past farming without prejudicing the landlord's interest in working through the two successions. It 148 is clearly in nobody's interest to force a tenant into the situation where he longs to give up the farm but feels that he must keep on until he dies so as not to deprive his son of the opportunity to apply for the tenancy of the holding which gives him his livelihood. Inevitably, his standard of farming must deteriorate and his output of food, which is so important in the national interest, must fall. On the other hand, it would not be right to allow for a succession prior to the death of the tenant without the agreement of all three of the parties concerned. This is an eminently fair and desirable amendment which I am sure will be welcomed by the House.
Amendment No. 37 provides that the retirement of a tenant in favour of a close relative which has the agreement of the landlord shall count as one succession towards the limit of two occasions when the family succession provisions have applied. Amendment No. 29 is therefore a consequential amendment to the other amendment.
On Amendment No. 33, Committee Members will remember that we undertook to table an amendment on Report to provide that only when a tenancy passes from a deceased tenant to a close relative, whether by agreement or as a result of a decision by the Agricultural Land Tribunal, will it count as one succession. The amendment is in two parts and both of them deal with family succession on the death of a tenant. They do not cover succession when a tenant retires, as this is the subject of Amendment No. 37.
Sub-paragraph (i) provides that, when the Agricultural Land Tribunal issues a direction under Clause 19 entitling an applicant to a tenancy of the holding, it will count as a succession for the purpose of the two successions rule. I hope hon. Members will agree that this effectively removes the doubts which were expressed in Committee on this point.
The second case which will count as a succession is provided by sub-paragraph (ii). This is where a landlord has granted the tenancy to an eligible person who was 149 the sole remaining applicant. It has been common practice for landlords, when a tenant farmer dies, to allow the son to take over his father's tenancy. We hope that they will continue to do so, and it is not our intention that they should be in any way disadvantaged through the mechanism of the two successions rule.
I think I should explain that the prospective tenant in this situation will still have to apply to the tribunal, otherwise it will not be possible to ensure that the rights of other eligible applicants are not overridden: for example, by an agreement between the landlord and another close relative. However, unless there are other applicants to be heard, we envisage in these circumstances that once the prospective tenant has established his eligibility, the proceedings before the tribunal can be discontinued.
I hope this amendment will commend itself to the House as a fair way of solving the difficulties in the operation of the two successions rule which were expressed by hon. Members in Committee.
I deal finally with Amendment No. 31. Its purpose is to make it clear by qualifying the word "tenant" that, in the case of a joint tenancy, it is the death of the last surviving joint tenant which would give rise to a succession for the purpose of the two successions rule in paragraph (f). This is a minor drafting amendment to the wording of the two successions rule in paragraph (f). It does not affect the provisions of the scheme in any way but is simply designed to make it clear beyond any doubt that, in the case of a joint tenancy, it is the death of the last surviving joint tenant which would give rise to a succession for the purpose of the two successions rule.
§ Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland)
We are grateful to the Minister of State for fulfilling the promise made by the Government in Committee to deal with what basically were two separate points. We believe that the Bill will be better for these four amendments, which can be summed up in general in terms of Amendments Nos. 33 and 37.
Amendment No. 33 deals with the point that the Bill in effect bars voluntary lettings to the sons of tenants. It goes some way towards meeting the objection by making a voluntary letting to the sole or sole remaining applicant count as one 150 of the two successions. We do not accept this idea of two successions, and I think that we shall be debating that shortly. But the procedure of eliminating applicants until there is one left must first be gone through by the tribunal, and we feel that it is a pity, if the landlord is willing to grant the tenancy to the late tenant's son, that the tribunal should have to go through all this rigmarole.
That brings me back to the point which was made in Committee when the Opposition moved an amendment saying that, where there were a number of suitable and eligible applicants, the landlord should at least have the right to choose the one whom he preferred. I do not think that that is unreasonable. However, we debated it at some length in Committee.
Amendment No. 37 enables the landlord to agree to the retirement of a tenant so that a close relative, who is described in Clause 17, can succeed him and, in spite of the agreement between the, landlord and the tenant's family, this would count as one of the two successions under the Bill because, as the Minister of State implied, no landlord would conceivably agree, if he wanted possession of the farm, to a son having the tenancy and certainly no tenant would agree to retire voluntarily in these circumstances.
There would have been a full stop in the proceedings unless the amendment had been introduced. What is proposed is a reasonable solution. But it would still be open to a tenant to hold on during old age until his death. We have said to the Government that it would have been better if something had been written into the Bill to provide a positive incentive for an elderly tenant to retire voluntarily. However, the amendments go some way towards dealing with our points. They improve the Bill, and we are grateful to the Government for a small mercy.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)
I thank the Government for introducing retirement as one of the situations in which succession should take place. However, I must confess to having vast suspicions of the formulation of the proposal, partly because it has been so heartily welcomed by the Opposition, 151 who have been enthusiastically against the propositions in the clauses.
I shall explain the basis of my suspicion, apart from that natural and correct one. If it is said that the matter will be dealt with by agreement with the landlord, that seems to me thoroughly sensible. The difficulty is that the position is now covered by the error in the Bill which provides for two successions. Therefore, by having voluntary retirement and voluntary agreement with the landlord, it becomes subsumed within the two successions rule and becomes one of the two successions. But, by definition, that means that the period during which the succession rule will apply is shortened because he retired before his lifespan. Therefore, it hits into and cuts away from the extensive support for the family over the normal length of the two generations.
I agree that the error is caused by the two successions rule. It would have been difficult to have said "This shall not count as a succession", because the landlord would not agree. The other side of the penny, however, is that the tenant is now unlikely to seek voluntary retirement—a voluntary single succession. He would rather hang on and let the descendant be the effective tenant while he remained the titular tenant. Both Front Benches argued that we wanted to avoid that and that in the interests of better farming the change should take place as quickly as possible. The argument is loaded on the side of the tenant deliberately staying on until his death.
Therefore, the situation should be rectified. If that cannot be done here, it should be done in another place. It makes the argument irrefutable for introducing an amendment to change the two successions to four successions, or the length of time for the two successions. With the help which the Government have given in accepting the principle, they have shown the nonsense of the two successions qualification. I hope that they will reconsider this matter.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke (Darwen)
This is the first occasion on which I have had the privilege of attending a debate on the Bill. There has already been an accretion of old lace round this new principle of the new hereditary 152 class. My only criticism of Amendment No. 37 is perhaps pedantic and legalistic.
My objection is that a sentence of 140 words, no less, conflicts totally with the unanimous opinion of this House, expressed in the debate on the Renton Report, that, particularly in matters which affect ordinary people, such as the tenants of agricultural holdings, it is a scandal that they cannot hope to understand provisions in Acts of Parliament. This provision stretches through nine closely printed lines of the English language in one sentence.
Surely it is possible, or at least an ideal, that the parliamentary draftsmen should attempt to explain in understandable language what any putative farm tenant or putative farm landlord would want to know—that is to say, what his rights are and to what extent they are taken away by the new subsection (5A) in Amendment No. 37. There is not a single full stop in the nine lines.
Those who have been attending the proceedings on this Bill throughout may find all this quite simple. They understand what is intended and it appears to be acceptable. But although I have had some experience of the law, I find these 140 words all in one sentence gibberish unless one has very good legal advice at one's elbow. It is quite wrong that people in the position of the sons of farm tenants should not be able, even with a normal education, to grasp what their rights may or may not be by a simple reading of what ought to be a simple measure.
In the name of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton), whose report received such public acclaim in this House not six months ago on the question of the drafting of statutes, all I can say is that this sort of drafting not only flies in the face of his report but is a slap in his face.
§ Mr. Caerwyn E. Roderick (Brecon and Radnor)
Like the hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) I find it difficult to follow the meaning of Amendment No. 37, but, being a trusting soul, I accept the word of my hon. Friend the Minister of State. I accept that he has interpreted it correctly.
But I am a little concerned that the amendment declares that transfer before 153 the death of the tenant should count as one of the transfers. My hon. Friend made it sound attractive, but I think it a pity that the Government have not settled on a later amendment which would have ensured a limited period before the Bill became law.
My hon. Friend the Minister talked about transfer before death and transfer on retirement. I should like to be assured that the retirement could take place whether due to the age of the tenant or to the health of the tenant, or to the fact that he may have suffered an accident, and that, in such circumstances, one of the transfers under the Bill could take place. If we are to count this as one of the transfers, it becomes attractive to the landlord if he can get it out of the way. We have been pressing the Government not to succumb to the temptation simply to have two transfers, although the Opposition simply want one to operate.
The hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) wants to encourage the landlord and the tenant to come to an agreement. It is not difficult to encourage the settlement if the landlord so wishes—all he needs to do to the ageing tenant is to offer him accommodation and a nice pension for life, and I am sure that the tenant will be willing to move and to allow his next of kin or relative to take over the farm. This would be fairly easy. In addition this transfer should not count as one of the two transfers to add to the encouragement.
One thing must not occur: the tenant, if he is ageing, must not be forced out. Nothing must happen to give the landlord powers to force a tenant to retire against his will. I hope that the Minister will give me an assurance that such circumstances will not arise.
§ Mr. W. Benyon (Buckingham)
I welcome these amendments, particularly Amendment No. 37, which is a response to the undertaking given by the Under-Secretary in Committee.
We need not worry too much about the intervention of the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan), because it does not matter whether a successor comes in at death or during a tenant's lifetime. The life of the successor is what matters and this would not be shortening the life of the successor in any way.
154 However, Amendment No. 37 has missed the point which I brought up in Committee. It is right that the retirement element should be catered for as a voluntary succession, and this should count as one of the two successions, but what happens when the tenant wishes his son to come into the tenancy as a joint tenant? That is a fairly common practice in agriculture. A father likes to have his son in partnership with him and they go on together until the father wishes to fade out of the picture. This is not catered for in Amendment No. 37 and it should be looked at.
If the Minister decides that what I am asking for is justified, perhaps he could bring forward an appropriate amendment in another place. Apart from that, I welcome the amendment wholeheartedly.
§ Dr. Colin Phipps (Dudley, West)
The hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) pointed out the difficulties in the number of words in the sentence. That does not surprise me. I was under the impression that sentences of this kind were designed to be understood not by those affected by them but by hon. and learned Gentlemen for the benefit of other hon. and learned Gentlemen in the courts.
The amendments affect the principle of the Bill as discussed in Committee. It is not true, as the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) just alleged, that this would not affect the length of tenancies. The Bill as it stands says that such tenancies can be passed on to a near relative. It might be a grandson or some other kind of relative. It does not follow that a tenancy is passed on from father to son at any particular period. The next inheritor can be a grandson and the life of the tenancy in such a case could be very much extended. It is a recognition by the Government of what is a perfectly proper point. If one is to have any kind of restriction on the number of successive tenancies, quite clearly the passage of a tenancy within a lifetime, inter vivos, has to be counted as one succession. Otherwise succession of tenancies could go on ad infinitum with a living tenant passing it on to another living tenant. My hon. Friends have argued in favour of just such a situation but that is not what the Government are trying to do.
155 The point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) is well taken. It will inhibit the willingness of a sitting tenant to pass the tenancy on during his life to his successor. If he knows that that is to count as one of the passages of the tenancy, he is much more likely to cling on in order to pass it to a grandson or great nephew so as to extend the period of succession for his family for as long as possible. He will want to skip a generation.
§ Mr. Benyon
That is stretching it a bit far. The man we are talking about is aged about 60 and therefore it will be obvious who the successor will be, whether it is the son, a grandson or a great nephew. I was therefore right. This move does not alter the length of the succession.
§ Dr. Phipps
The hon. Member is on exactly the point that I am making. When the man reaches the age of 60 and appreciates that his choice is to pass the tenancy on to his son, thereby immediately effecting a succession, or hanging on to it for as long as he can and passing it on to his grandson, thereby skipping a generation, the tendency on the part of the tenant would be to do the latter. Certainly if I were in the position of advising such a tenant, I should advise him to skip a generation. Therefore this recognition by the Government that such a transfer counts as one of the two successions shows even more strongly the need for a wider definition to cover successions.
I understand that the Government are unwilling to accept Amendments Nos. 35 and 36 which we shall be debating subsequently. I hope that in the short period which will elapse between a possible vote on Amendment No. 49 and votes on Amendments Nos. 30, 35 and 36 they will carefully consider the point and accept that if a succession is to be counted when it is a voluntary inter vivos succession it is even more important to have a period during which to allow a number of successions to take place which will prevent the kind of hardship which the Government are so keen to avoid.
There is the question of successive joint tenancies. It seems that, as drafted, the Bill makes it possible to have a succes- 156 sion of joint tenancies whereby one of the tenants might die and his partner would take on another joint tenant, one of those tenants would then die and again a fresh tenant would be taken on. That process would lead to a continuity of succession which was maintained by the fact that there was always one tenant alive. I am not sure whether that situation is covered by the Bill, and I am somewhat concerned about it.
§ Mr. Bishop
I appreciate the concern expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House. As they have indicated, the amendments were tabled in order to take account of the views which were put forward. I am glad of the general welcome for the fact that Amendment No. 37 will enable retirement to take place not only in the case of an ageing tenant, but in other circumstances where a tenant feels that it would be in his interests and those of agriculture that he should retire.
Although it may be said that a tenant may want to cling on, I am sure that that is not so when he recognises that deterioration in the way in which his farm has been running is bad for him and the industry as a whole. However, the amendment, which requires the consent of all concerned, is a very useful addition to the Bill.
Regarding Amendment No. 37, the hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) says that to go on for nine lines continuously is a process to which he wishes to put a stop. He regrets that this has not come sooner. However, I feel that he will be well aware of the necessities of drafting, and if there is a way in which this can be reduced, I am sure that we shall consider it. I think that I should be right in saying that this form of drafting is necessary to accomplish what we want. What matters is that we get the kind of changes that we need.
With regard to the point made about joint tenancies by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) and one of my lion. Friends, that is something that we should be prepared to look at.
On this set of amendments we are not debating whether to provide for two successions. That comes in a later set of amendments. We are trying to clarify 157 when a succession takes place. It is in the interests of all concerned that this clarification should take place now.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. Jopling
I beg to move Amendment No. 49, in page 22, line 34, leave out 'each of the last two occasions' and insert:'on the last occasion (except where the applicant was any person specified in paragraphs (a) or (b) of subsection (1) above, in which case the last two occasions shall apply)'.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)
With this amendment it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:
§ No. 30, in page 22, line 34, leave 'two' and insert 'four'.
No. 35, in line 38, at end insert:
'and there had elapsed a period of thirty years since the first occasion when there died a tenant'.
No. 36, in line 38, at end insert:
'and there had elapsed a period of sixty years since the first occasion when there died a tenant'.
§ Mr. Buchan
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise for raising this matter, but there was some slight confusion just now. It might be better if Amendment No. 49 were taken on its own and the other three amendments were taken together afterwards. That might be more convenient.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I am bound by the selection that has been made by Mr. Speaker. That is the selection that has been made.
§ Mr. Buchan
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will that debar a vote being taken on some of the successive amendments within this group?
§ Mr. Jopling
In Committee we had a number of discussions revolving around how many successions the new provisions of the Bill, contained in Part II, should allow to occur. The Opposition have said on many occasions that we believe that the Bill goes too far in certain aspects of these provisions. Our attitude in Committee over Part II was to try to soften the blow which these clauses will 158 strike at the agricultural industry. During discussions on Part II we voted on a number of matters. I think that we voted on this clause on 16 occasions. However, all were intended to try to soften the blow that we genuinely believe will be damaging to the agricultural industry. I think that Ministers understand that.
This amendment is another attempt to try to persuade the Government that these clauses are unfair in certain ways and that it would be right and wise, and better for the industry, if we were to try to soften the blow that the Bill will cause. The purpose of this amendment is to accept that in certain circumstances there might be two successions, but the intention is to try to restrict the succession to one generation, and one generation only.
When the Minister attended the Committee early in February, and in the debate on the Floor of the House when his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales spoke, both senior Ministers used as the main part of their argument to justify Part II the contention that what they were trying to deal with was the immediate hardship to the successor of the tenant. I believe that we can argue totally justifiably that the effect of these amendments will be to deal with the hardship that might occur to the son or to the next generation of the deceased tenant but not to make provision for the tenant's grandson. That is something which we believe the Minister did not have in mind when he addressed the Committee—or, if he did he did not tell us about it. He did not talk about the position of the grandson. All his remarks were centred on what would befall the son who had worked on the farm and who perhaps had some aspirations and hopes of taking over the tenancy.
Amendment No. 49 seeks to restrict the succession to one generation, and that is what some of the Minister's leagues have produced in the tied cottage legislation which in general deals with only one succession.
§ Mr. Jopling
That is so, and I am coming to that point in a moment. I think that the government have copied 159 the provisions of paragraph (f) from the rent Acts. They have been saying to the world at large that it is because the rent Acts involved two successions that that provision is included here.
I understand that the Parliamentary Secretary is to reply to the debate, hut I am glad that the Minister is present. There is a basic difference between the type of succession under the rent Acts and the type of succession that we are likely to have under the succession clauses in the Bill. Under the rent Acts, when someone dies it is more than likely that the tenancy will pass to the spouse and then to the child, which would be the second generation. I think the life insurance industry will agree that, in general, husbands dies sooner than wives. This is a well-known fact of life. Therefore, under the rent Acts, and when dealing with houses, it is much more likely that the husband will die first and that the first succession will be to the wife. It could, of course, happen the other way round. If the tenancy happens to be in the name of the wife and she dies first, the tenancy passes to the husband, and then the succession goes to the child.
In practice, in most cases under the rent Acts the succession is limited to one generation, although there are two successions, but in the legislation that we are debating it will much more regularly be the fact that the first succession will be to the son rather than to any of the categories mentioned at the beginning of Clause 17—the wife, the husband, the brother or sister. It is much more likely that the succession will pass to the son.
Therefore there is the one generation that we have under the rent Acts in the same way, but under this legislation we are talking of a second succession after that, which means that we are legislating in practice for the grandson. That is quite unnecessary, and I do not believe that it was in the Minister's mind when he proposed this clause. I hope that our amendment will commend itself to the Government, when they have considered it, and I hope that they will accept it.
Under our amendment there would be one succession only, when the tenancy passed to a child or a treated child under paragraphs (c) and (d) of subsection (1). but it would still allow two successions 160 when the first succession was either the surviving spouse or the brother or sister. Then there could be a second succession maybe to a son or a treated child of the spouse or the brother or sister, which would mean again, the one generation. The last time we debated this point I said that the Government had eroded their position in introducing these clauses.
I turn to Amendment No. 30, in the name of the hon. Member for Renfrew-shire, West (Mr. Buchan). He argued very strongly in Committee that there should be no limit to the number of successions. I see that the hon. Gentleman is nodding his head. We know that that is what he wants because we know that he is no lover of the landlord class. The hon. Lady the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard) also nods her head. If she nods it any harder it will fall off. From long experience I know that that is her attitude. If there is anything that the hon. Lady and her hon. Friend can do to clobber the landlords, they will do it.
Let us not be deluded by the amendment in the hon. Gentleman's name. He is trying to extend the number from two successions to four successions. It is a rather weak compromise after his previous attitude of "from here to eternity". We know that that is what he wants, and that he will come along in a year or two trying to increase it from four to six or to eight or even to 25.
The amendments in the names of the hon. Members for Dudley, West (Dr. Phipps) and Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Roderick) have nothing whatever to do with hardship which might be suffered by the children or the survivors of the deceased tenant. The only purpose of these two amendments that I can see, stating a period of years that must have elapsed, is to make sure that the landlord is deprived at least for a minimum period of years, of his own property and the rights of his own property.
I hope very much indeed that the Government will reject those three amendments. We believe that the two successions originally proposed are nearly right, but that it ought to be amended to one succession. We believe that it would be totally wrong for the Government to accept the other three amendments which have been put down by their own Back Benchers. I hope that 161 the Government will see the force of the argument in support of our amendment and that they will accept it.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Buchan
We are still in some confusion, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Should my hon. Friends and I be moving our amendments now or shall we merely be participating in a general discussion?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
All the amendments are being discussed together. If subsequent amendments are to be moved, they will be moved formally.
§ Mr. Buchan
Then I shall take part in the general discussion. I do not want to spend too much time on the speech of the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling). He returned to his previous position of sitting squarely on the fence, being neither for nor against the landlord and neither for nor against the tenant. As always, he is willing to wound but afraid to strike.
The hon. Member is introducing this complicated amendment in another attempt to whittle down the number of cases to which succession may apply. We have been treated to a lot of rubbish about descent to the grandson. There are no statistics available, and comparisons with the Rent Acts are of no relevance to the problems involved in farming. The hon. Member introduced this irrelevancy because we are back on the Floor of the House and he wants to give a little more weight to the view that the Opposition are on the side of the landlord—though they will not push that view too far.
The hon. Member is trying to whittle down the succession provisions. He accused me of trying to extend them, but the difference between us is that I am unashamed of what I wish to do. I want to extend succession in perpetuity, but that proposal was ruled out in Committee and I cannot propose the same thing again now. Consequently, with my usual infinite moderation, I am seeking merely to double the number of successions. Many of us believe that the provision for two successions is not susceptible to logical analysis. It is a total absurdity and very nearly unconstitutional.
When we pass legislation, we do not do so for one occasion. It will continue. 162 If we bring in a Bill to give widows a pension, it is not confined to the first generation of widows. If the facts subsequently prove us wrong, we change the law. It is a most curious pinning of the future to introduce this concept of two successions. It is also curious for a British Parliament, which is not bound by its predecessors, to be choosing to confine itself in this way. It is a nonsense because a future measure can change this legislation and, in the meantime, the wording of this Bill will create uncertainty. The proposal is verging on an attack on the normal parliamentary process and is also beginning to be harmful to the landlord-tenant relationship, which should be clearly understood by both parties.
It is also harmful as a means of dealing with injustice. We cannot deal with present injustices or hardships—that requires retrospective legislation—but only with future injustices and hardship. It follows that we must deal with all future injustices and hardships and not say that after two successions, we shall revert to hardship and injustice. We believe that this is ab ititio an absurdity and should go.
Why was this action taken by the Government? It remains a mystery. Though we asked repeatedly, the Government did not give us the reason. They said they had struck the right balance, but there is no balance here. There is the interest of the landlord, who wishes to give the tenancy to whomever he wants, and the interests of the tenant, who wishes it to be given to his son, brother or other successor. There is no balance there. There has to be a judgment, but the judgment does not involve a balance. It requires that the matter be dealt with in two different directions, and that is another absurdity.
The National Farmers' Union looked for some logic. It said that there was a certain illogicality in limiting a scheme to two transfers beyond the existing tenancy. It said that the Country Landowners' Association had strongly argued that a limitation on the number of transfers would encourage landlords voluntarily to grant new tenancies, and the NFU accepted the limitation as it would overcome existing hardship cases and would enable us to see how the scheme works. I accept that there is some sense 163 in seeing how the scheme operates in practice, but it is not right to say that it will overcome existing hardship cases. It can deal only with future hardship cases. Therefore, the NFU has looked for logic but has failed to find it. We were told that the average tenancy was 50 or 60 years. To the average landlord a period of even 40 years seems like perpetuity. This does not encourage the granting of new tenancies.
We believe that we should try to bring some consistency and continuity into this and that we should not leave it to the vagaries of accidental deaths. Let us write in the provision properly. Then it can be given a fair chance over a period of years, averaging it out over four successions so that there will be a chance of getting some sense into this arrangement.
We were very glad that the Government introduced this principle. They have been criticised for having succumbed to pressures, but we respect any Government who listen to pressures. I am pleased to support a Government who listen to pressures and who, when the pressure is right, say "Yes, we accept it" The great pity is that the Government have succumbed to trying to secure this non-existent balance, spoiling the barrel of honey with a spoonful of pitch. They have written into the centre of the Bill an absurdity. I wish they would either remove it altogether—it can still be done in another place—or else accept one of the three amendments which my hon. Friends and I are proposing in order to bring some sense into the matter and allow the principle of succession and the inheritance of tenancies.
§ Mr. Fletcher-Cooke
I acquit the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) of doctrinaire Socialism, but I accuse him of doctrinaire feudalism, because the hereditary rights of the tenants were the hallmark of the feudal system of tenure.
The hon. Gentleman says that his amendment and the doctrine for which he stands would make the landlord-tenant relationship clearly understood. But it was clearly understood in the Middle Ages. The tenants in chief, the mesne tenants and the tenants of the mesne tenants had hereditary rights to their holdings, large or small. They clearly 164 understood that, and the whole of society was frozen in that hereditary posture, with the result that the land was immensely unproductive, and it was not until the fortuitous circumstance of the Black Death, when for the first time there was a market in land, that the land produced anything like what it was capable of producing.
For the hon. Gentleman to say that we should return to a system by which landlord and tenant relations were clearly understood by being frozen, like prawns in aspic, for ever and a day, which is what the hon. Gentleman honestly says he wants, is the most extraordinary feudalistic reaction that I have ever heard and I am amazed that it should be put forward.
§ Mr. Fletcher-Cooke
I have. My constituents have a saying—"clogs to clogs in three generations". If that is so, if people are frozen for ever in their economic circumstances, when the fourth or fifth generation is reached in performing their function, they are peculiarly bad at it.
§ Mr. Buchan
Parliament passes legislation. If the legislation is wrong, it should be changed by Parliament. What we should not do is to write in a limitation for that change or to create an automatic change. This is the correct way to pass legislation. We say "This shall be", and if in future we want to change it, we say so.
§ Mr. Fletcher-Cooke
The hon. Gentleman is suggesting that we should pass a Bill which would freeze in one family the feudal tenure for at least four generations, which is over 100 years. It is suggested that it is 200 years, but I should have thought that 100 years was nearer. It would be between 100 and 200 years, but do not let us argue about that. At the speed at which things are going, 100 years is long enough; indeed it is far too long, to freeze a holding in one family and to prevent a new entrant having a go.
I am staggered that the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West, who is so enlightened and advanced on other matters—he is a spearhead of modern thought—should wish to return to the situation in the era before the Black Death. He has 165 not understood the genetic opinion of my constituents, who understand the saying "Clogs to clogs in three generations".
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)
If the phrase "Clogs to clogs in three generations" is applicable to tenant farmers, is it not equally applicable to landowners? What right do landowners have in perpetuity over the ownership of the land?
§ Mr. Fletcher-Cooke
None. If they are bad landowners, they will soon go bust. I have discovered from the farms in my constituency, which are small and by no means prosperous, that there is a considerable market in farms, particularly among freeholders who go bust, because many freeholders find after three generations that the strain is not as strong as it was in the original pioneer and they go through the hoop—and quite right, too.
Not being a believer in the hereditary principle unless it is supported by merit rather than the constrictions of the law, as the thon. Member for Renfrewshire, West proposes, I am all in favour of the career being open to talents, and the farms being open to talents, and the hereditary principle going by the board. That applies not only to farms but to business, industry, commerce, the docks and the dockworkers, and every other form of human activity. If the hon. Gentleman expects the House, in the second half of the twentieth century, to revert to the early Middle Ages on the question of security of tenure, all I can say is that the longer I remain a Member, the more amazed I become at the doctrines of the extreme Left.
§ Dr. Phipps
I have not heard a better argument for the capital transfer tax put in the House than that put by the hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke). I remember adducing precisely the same arguments in favour of capital transfer tax in a similar debate. If the argument applies to agricultural tenants, to what does it apply in British industry and commerce? The last figures that I saw from the Institute of Directors showed that no less than 60 per cent. of its members were the sons and descendants of other Institute members, either alive or deceased.
I have argued for many years that the real trouble with British industry is 166 nepotism, and I have never heard such a potent argument against nepotism and in favour of capital transfer tax since I came to this House as that which we have just heard from the hon. and learned Gentleman. I welcome it immensely. If it in any sense indicates a change of heart and attitude by the Opposition, we shall be delighted.
We have argued in Committee that the principle of two tenancies is not just capable of producing hardship but is unjust. At this stage it is important that those of us who served on the Standing Committee make clear that it was not we who brought forward the concept of hardship. When an amendment was first mooted to have such a succession of tenancies, it was not hardship alone that we were considering: we were considering also justice. "Hardship" was a word introduced by the Front Bench. We have never argued from the point of hardship but from the point of justice.
However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) has pointed out, hardship can equally apply over a succession of two tenancies as it can over a succession of only one, or of three or four. Hardship can happen in any generation, and if we are to legislate we should legislate for hardship in any generation.
A matter of natural justice is involved in the number of tenancies. It is worth our saying that we think that tenants in particular should be protected in this way. It is because we believe that farming is important that we support the people who actually work on the land—those who do the farming. What we are saying is in favour of the farmers. It may be to the detriment of the land owners, but if one has to choose between the farmers, the people who produce from the land, and those who own the land, we on this side will always choose those who do the work on the land. It is not the land which is important, but what is done on it—and that is done by the farmer and the tenant farmer. That is why we are enthusiastic about extending a succession of tenancies to the people who farm the land.
What is the problem of having only two tenancies? By and large, they can be extremely rapid. It is quite possible 167 that two tenancies can last for 90 years—they might also last for 90 days. One does not know how long two successions are going to take. They can take place very rapidly. I believe that Amendment No. 35 would go some way to solving the problem, but it is subject to the same kind of difficulty that a set number of successions can take place fairly rapidly.
For this reason, I have favoured a particular period of time-30 years. That is about the period of one generation. By and large, it is the length of time one would expect a tenancy to last. Therefore, if we put into the Bill a period of 30 years in which a number of successions could take place, the last succession before the end of the 30 years would then be the last succession if it was more than the two successions allowed in the Bill. That seems to me to be a sensible compromise. It would get over the difficulty that a succession inter vivos is regarded as one succession in the number of successions.
We have to accept that a sensible period of about one generation would cover everyone's problem, and it would not mean too great a burden on the landlord. He should be grateful because he could, after all, have been faced with 90 years, but he would be getting away with 30 years. So I cannot see why he should grumble. I strongly urge this suggestion on the Government. I hope that they will accept it without our having to put it to the vote.
§ Mr. Roderick
I am disappointed that my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) has disappeared from the Chamber. I thought that he came in knowing the importance of the amendment. But I am sure that he is already convinced by my hon. Friend's argument and that he will later support us in the Lobby.
On Second Reading and in Committee we argued about the two transfers. Unfortunately, many people have misinterpreted that as meaning two generations but, of course, it could mean transfers across rather than downwards and transfers could take place in a very short space of time. Ministers have said that the average time involved in two transfers is about 70 years. In Amendment No. 37 I am suggesting the compromise that there 168 should be a minimum of 60 years from the enactment of the Bill.
I urge you, Mr. Speaker, to permit us to vote on either Amendment No. 36 or on Amendment No. 35, in which it is suggested that the period should be 30 years. I accept the suggestion that there should be four transfers, which is much the same in principle as two transfers—it is simply half as bad. We want a minimum period and we want to divide the House to ensure that minimum period.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
I find the contributions from the Labour side of the House extraordinary. The landlord and tenant system has worked well for hundreds of years and successions have taken place without legislation. Even the National Farmers' Union admits that the number of hardship or difficult cases are few and far between. Dogmatic statements have been made by Labour Members indicating that the situation is highly unsatisfactory and that hundreds if not thousands of people have suffered over the years. That is far from the truth. Perhaps in those contributions we have heard the other side of the Socialist argument.
The Government said that they would introduce the succession clause to remove hardship, and yet the hardship argument hardly came into the case made by the hon. Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Phipps). I hope that the House will note that. The reasons why the Government brought in the clause are not supported by Labour Members below the Gangway.
§ Dr. Phipps
It is important for the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) to appreciate that the Government did not introduce the amendment. It was introduced by Back Bench Members who did not table it for the reasons far which the Government later said they would accept it.
§ Mr. Winterton
I must refer the hon. Member for Dudley, West to the Official Report of the Committee stage, which is clear and explicit. The hon. Member who tabled an amendment in Committee later withdrew it and the Government tabled their own amendment on the grounds that it would relieve hardship.
The hon. Member for Dudley, West said that his hon. Friends, particularly 169 those below the Gangway, always stood up for the tenant and the farmer. I have had many representations from working farmers in my constituency who strongly support one succession, but not two successions let alone an open-ended situation such as that proposed by Labour Members below the Gangway.
It is important to get the whole matter in perspective. Hardship seems scarcely to have entered into the debate. It is for reasons of hardship that the Government tabled their amendments. I entirely agree that the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) may well be the red plague of this House. I think that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) described him as going back to before the Black Death.
The fact is that this is a hardship situation, and we have fought this whole set of clauses on that basis, wishing to remove hardship but not to inhibit new people from coming into farming to make it remain the best agricultural industry in the Western world.
§ Mr. Wigley
It is with some trepidation that I rise to take part briefly in the debate, not having been a member of the Standing Committee. In fact, no member of my party was on the Committee, but that is another matter.
I support the amendments of Government Back Benchers. If there is a rapid succession of tenancy, not vertically but horizontally, it is possible that in a very short time there will still be hardship for other people. If the concept of the Government's proposals is valid for one generation, and a son is entitled to follow his father because of the work his father has done on the farm in building it up, is it not an equally valid principle that the son's son should succeed him and so on? I cannot see where that logic fails.
Some Opposition Members have said that people may go from clogs to clogs in three generations, the implication being that there may be poor farming. But if there is poor farming, the matter can go before a tribunal for a breach of the tenancy. The assumption should be that the farming is all right. Provisions in a measure of this sort should be based on the assumption that the farmers will do their work.
170 The frequency with which the matter arises was mentioned. In my constituency in a period of six to nine months I had five or six separate instances of people suffering from the lack of succession of tenancy. I know of people who have been on their knees on Sundays praying that they will live long enough to see the Bill in force so that they gain the benefit from it. It is as important that we make provision for the grandchildren as for the children. I hope that the amendments will be pressed to a Division and carried.
§ Mr. Strang
We had a full debate on the matter in Committee, so I shall deal with it only briefly now.
Amendment No. 49 introduces the concept of a maximum of two successions where the first had been to someone of the same generation as the deceased and only one where the succession had been to a younger generation, to reduce the time span that the scheme covers, as the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling.) explained. As I have already said in the Standing Committee, we believe that a maximum of two successions strikes an acceptable compromise between the desire of a deceased tenant's family to continue farming the holding and the equally understandable desire of a landlord to regain possession.
The amendment allows two successions in one set of circumstances—from tenant to widow, followed by the son—and only one in the other set of circumstances—from tenant to son only. But the time span would be the same in either case, so the tenancy would be handed down only through one generation, whereas the Government's scheme, based on the normal run of family succession, is intended to hand down the tenancy through two generations—from the father through the grandchild.
A number of hon. Members raised the question of how long the family's tenancy should last over the generations. We discussed that matter in Committee. It was suggested in the earlier debate that allowing a voluntary transfer from father to son, to provide for retirement, would automatically reduce the duration for which the family occupied the farm. That is not so. The normal course of events will be from father to son and to son again.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Strang
I shall deal with that point. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Phipps) seems to be under the impression that a farm could pass under this legislation from father to grandson. That is not so. If my hon. Friend reads the Bill, he will see that the grandson is not one of the listed relatives. Therefore, in the normal course of events it is from father to son. A few sums will show that the average age of the tenant farmer is about 47. The tenancy will stay in the farm until that farmer's grandson dies. It does not matter at what stage the earlier transfer takes place.
§ Mr. Geraint Howells (Cardigan)
Does the Minister not agree that in some cases the two successions could be finished within a year?
§ Mr. Strang
That is certainly possible. I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but I am talking only about the average. In some instances it will be longer, in others less, and there will also be the extraordinary instance that arises. It would be an extreme situation indeed for the whole process to be exhausted in the course of one year.
§ Mr. Buchan
Surely it is wrong to say that retirement does not affect the situation, because it does. If there are a brother and sister of almost the same age and the existing tenant hangs on, it will encompass that period of time. Therefore, there are situations in which the period will lengthen if the person concerned stays on until death.
§ Mr. Strang
My hon. Friend will recall the point I was making. If we assume in the vast majority of cases that there will be a passing from father to son, which is a fair assumption, in those circumstances it will not shorten the length of period when the family will be able to continue to occupy the farm
§ but will introduce a time limit of 30 to 60 years, regardless of number. Succession within a family would be one way of operating the scheme. Our scheme, however, is based on family inheritance which is concerned with a specific period of years.
§ Although I understand the reasons behind the proposals, I believe that they are ill considered because they would be out of place in a scheme in which we seek to maintain a fair balance between the various interests. I understand the strong feelings on this matter. I was happy to have the support on the basic principles of the Bill from the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) speaking as representative of Plaid Cymru. However, I am sorry to learn that he has not thought out the matter carefully. We have tried to strike the right balance in the Bill, and for that reason we are unable to accept the amendment.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Amendments made: No. 31, in page 22, line 35, after 'a', insert 'sole (or sole surviving)'.
No. 33, in page 22, line 38, at end insert
there occurred one or other of the following things namely—
Amendment proposed, No. 35, in page 22, line 38, at end insert
'and there had elapsed a period of thirty years since the first occasion when there died a tenant'.—[Dr. Phipps.]
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 56, Noes 226.175
|Division No. 127.]||AYES||9.52 p.m.|
|Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)||Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)||Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)|
|Buchan, Norman||Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)||Hart, Rt Hon Judith|
|Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)||Hayhoe, Barney|
|Clemitson, Ivor||Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Heffer, Eric S.|
|Colquhoun, Ms Maureen||Fisher, Sir Nigel||Hooson, Emyln|
|Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||Forrester, John||Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)|
|Edge, Geoff||George, Bruce||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Ovenden, John||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Prior, Rt Hon James||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Kilroy-Silk, Robert||Rees-Davies, W. R.||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|Lambie, David||Richardson, Miss JO||Watkinson, John|
|Lane, David||Roderick, Caerwyn||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Rodgers, George (Chorley)||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|Lipton, Marcus||Rooker, J. W.||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Litterick, Tom||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)||Woof, Robert|
|Lyon, Alexander (York)||Selby, Harry||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Madden, Max||Skinner, Dennis|
|Maynard, Miss Joan||Spriggs, Leslie||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Moate, Roger||Steel, David (Roxburgh)||Dr. Colin Phipps and|
|Noble, Mike||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)||Mr. Bob Cryer.|
|Abse, Leo||Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)||Millan, Bruce|
|Adley, Robert||Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)|
|Anderson, Donald||Grant, John (Islington C)||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)|
|Archer, Peter||Gray, Hamish||Mills, Peter|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Hall, Sir John||Moate, Roger|
|Arnold, Tom||Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Monro, Hector|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Hampson, Dr. Keith||More, Jasper (Ludlow)|
|Awdry, Daniel||Hannam, John||Morgan, Geraint|
|Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham)||Hardy, Peter||Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral|
|Benyon, W.||Harper, Joseph||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Harrison, Col Sir Harwood (Eye)||Morris, Michael (Northampton S)|
|Bishop, E. S.||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Hatton, Frank||Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)|
|Boardman, H.||Hayhoe, Barney||Mudd, David|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Hayman, Mrs Helene||Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Hicks, Robert||Nelson, Anthony|
|Bottomley, Peter||Holland, Philip||Neubert, Michael|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Horam, John||Newton, Tony|
|Brittan, Leon||Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Oakes, Gordon|
|Brotherton, Michael||Hunt, David (Wirral)||Oppenheim, Mrs Sally|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Hunt, John||Orbach, Maurice|
|Buchanan, Richard||Hunter, Adam||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)|
|Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)||Palmer, Arthur|
|Campbell, Ian||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Canavan, Dennis||Janner, Greville||Pearl, Rt Hon Fred|
|Carmichael, Neil||Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd)||Pendry, Tom|
|Cartwright, John||John, Brynmor||Penhaligon, David|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Johnson, James (Hull West)||Percival, Ian|
|Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)||Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Perry, Ernest|
|Clarke. Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|Clegg, Walter||Jopling, Michael||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)||Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith||Prior, Rt Hon James|
|Concannon, J. D.||King, Evelyn (South Dorset)||Pym, Rt Hon Francis|
|Conlan, Bernard||Kitson, Sir Timothy||Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter|
|Cope, John||Knight, Mrs Jill||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Cordle, John H.||Knox, David||Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)|
|Corrie, John||Lane, David||Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)|
|Cronin, John||Lawrence, Ivan||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Cunningham, G. (Islington S)||Lawson, Nigel||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)|
|Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)||Le Merchant Spencer||Robinson, Geoffrey|
|Deakins, Eric||Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Roper, John|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)|
|Dempsey, James||Loyden, Eddie||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Doig, Peter||Luard, Evan||Sandelson, Neville|
|Dormand, J. D.||Luce, Richard||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||McAdden, Sir Stephen||Shepherd, Colin|
|Drayson, Burnaby||McCartney, Hugh||Silvester, Fred|
|Eadie, Alex||McCrindle, Robert||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)||McElhone, Frank||Small, William|
|Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)||Macfarquhar, Roderick||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Evans, loan (Aberdare)||Macfarlane, Neil||Snape, Peter|
|Eyre, Reginald||MacGregor, John||Speed, Keith|
|Fisher, Sir Nigel||McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)|
|Flannery, Martin||Mackenzie, Gregor||Sproat, lain|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)||Stallard, A. W.|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||McNamara, Kevin||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Ford, Ben||Marks. Kenneth||Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)|
|Forman, Nigel||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Stoddart, David|
|Fox, Marcus||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Freeson, Reginald||Mates, Michael||Strang, Gavin|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Mather, Carol||Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)|
|Gilmour, Sir John (East File)||Mawby, Ray||Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Golding, John||Meacher, Michael||Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret|
|Gould, Bryan||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert||Tierney, Sydney|
|Gourley, Harry||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Tinn, James|
|Tomlinson, John||Walters, Dennis||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Torney, Tom||Weatherill, Bernard||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Townsend, Cyril D.||Wellbeloved, James||Woodall, Alec|
|Tuck, Raphael||White, Frank R. (Bury)||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Tugendhat, Christopher||White, James (Pollok)|
|van Straubenzee, W. R.||Whitlock, William||TELLERS FOR THE NOES|
|Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)||Wiggin, Jerry||Mr. Thomas Cox and|
|Walker. Rt Hon P. (Worcester)||Williams, Alan (Swansea W)||Mr. Alf Bates.|
|Walker, Terry (Kingswood)||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|Question accordingly negatived.|
§ It being after Ten o'clock, further consideration of the Bill, as amended, stood adjourned.