HC Deb 10 May 1976 vol 911 cc177-81

Amendment made: No. 37, in page 23, line 3, at end insert— '(5A) If on any occasion prior to the date of death the holding, or an agricultural holding which comprised the whole or a substantial part of the land comprised in the holding, became let under a new tenancy thereof granted by the landlord, with the agreement of the outgoing tenant, to a person who, if the outgoing tenant had died immediately before the grant, would have fallen within paragraphs (a) to (d) of subsection (1) above, that occasion shall for the purposes of paragraph (f) of subsection (5) above be deemed to he an occasion such as is mentioned in that paragraph on which a direction under section 19 of this Act was given by the Tribunal in respect of the holding or such an agricultural holding as aforesaid. In this subsection "tenant" has the same meaning as in subsection (I) above; and if such a new tenancy was granted as aforesaid for a term commencing later than the date of the grant, the holding in question shall for the purposes of this subsection not be taken to have become let under that tenancy until the commencement of the term.'.—[Mr. Peart.]

Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-superMare)

I beg to move Amendment No. 38, in page 23, line 3, at end insert— '(i) if the holding is incapable, when farmed under reasonably skilled management, of providing full-time employment for more than one man '. This amendment is self-explanatory, and I see no reason to detain the House long in moving it. In Committee we had a similar debate on the commercial viability of holdings which might be farmed by tenants succeeding under the provisions of this Part of the Bill, and at that time I spelled out in some detail the man-day requirements for a commercial unit of agricultural land as defined by the Agriculture Act 1967. There seems to be no case whatever for the inheritance provisions to apply where a holding might not be viable. It would be contrary to the philosophy of the Bill, and wholly against not only this legislation but other legislation having to do with amalgamations and the viability of holdings.

The Government have consistently made the point that they introduced the Bill at the request of the National Farmers Union, and, of course, it was incumbent upon the Government to do what the NFU wanted. In this case, I understand that the National Farmers Union wishes to have the amendment incorporated, as does the Country Landowners Association. In view of the unanimity of opposition from the CLA and the NFU, I take it that the Government will accede to this obviously sensible requirement, which will, we hope, promote the interests of British agriculture, not the reverse.

Mr. Bishop

I should not like the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) to think that agreement between the Country Landowners' Association and the National Farmers' Union on any aspect of these matters was an automatic recipe for acceptance of an amendment. The purpose of the amendment is to restrict the operation of Clause 17 dealing with eligibility of applicants for a tenancy, and the result would be that holdings which do not provide full-time employment for more than one man would be outwith the scope of the family succession scheme.

I understand from discussions which my Department had with representatives of the NFU and the CLA that this amendment—like Amendment (a) to new Clause 1 which was discussed in Committee—is intended possibly to have a restricting effect upon the family succession scheme, and I had understood that the joint view of the NFU and the CLA was that part-time holdings should be excluded from the scheme. If that is still their view, the amendment will not achieve their aim. It will also exclude the holding which will fully provide work for one man, and this is quite undesirable.

I suggest that this is a matter which should have more consideration. I know that the bodies concerned feel very strongly about it, but so do my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite.

Should the Agricultural Land Tribunal have unfettered discretion in this matter of eligibility, or should it be given certain parameters within which to consider only partly eligible applicants? This is clearly a difficult matter and one which should not be resolved in too much of a hurry without considering all the implications. I am willing to consider the matter further in the light of our discussions if the hon. Gentleman will agree to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Geraint Howells

I am very surprised by the Government reply, and I am very surprised also that this amendment has been tabled by the Opposition, because we spoke at length in Committee on this matter.

There are many smallholdings in Wales and other parts of Britain which the farmers' sons have to leave at 18 or 20 because the size of the farm is such that it can support only a part-timer. The farmer's son is unable to derive a livelihood from the smallholding for a period of years.

On the death of his father, that young farmer should have the right to come home and farm that smallholding. If we go against the social and structural balance in these rural areas, depopulation will take place on a very large scale in Mid, North and South Wales. I cannot understand the Opposition tabling such an amendment and I am very sorry and surprised that we have not had a better answer from the Government.

Dr. Phipps

I am pleased to support the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells). We discussed this matter at considerable length in Committee and the point was made very strongly that if the principle of hardship, as advanced by the Government, means anything, it means more in the case of small farms than any others.

In Wales particularly there are many sons who will work as farm labourers for many years because of their expectations of taking over smallholdings owned by their fathers. I thought that we had agreed completely, and accepted that there was no reason why the general principle should not apply to small as well as large farms and that the hardship involved was greater with small farms. I hope that the Minister will withdraw any suggestion that he will reconsider this part of the Bill as it stands.

Mr. Wigley

I support what has been said about Wales. The amendment relates to "more than one man". It means that one man who is perfectly viable in his own right and is doing a good job would be cut out. I thought that the Bill was meant to cover that sort of case more than any other.

I hope that the Minister will reconsider his response to the amendment and state categorically that it is not his intention to proceed along these lines.

Mr. Roderick

I do not know what possessed my hon. Friend the Minister of State to say that he would take another look at this proposal. I thought that we had cleared up this whole issue. I can only invite the Opposition to press the amendment so that we may reject it out of hand.

It is the people who work the one-man farms whom we have been trying to look after. Now it seems that the Minister of State wants to look after the bigger units instead, and that seems contrary to the whole object of the exercise.

There are many sons of tenant farmers who help their fathers but cannot live on the holding because there is insufficient accommodation. They hope that after the farmer has died they will succeed him.

There is no room for two families on many of the farms in Wales. If an amendment along these lines is accepted, the majority of the farms in my part of Mid-Wales would be excluded from the Bill. I hope that my hon. Friend will say that he will not look at this amendment again. I cannot see where the opportunity to do so will occur unless it is in the paridse of the country landowners in the other place. I do not wish to have to debate this subject further.

Mr. Buchan

I rise to show the degree of feeling about this topic among hon. Members of all parties. I was astonished to hear my hon. Friend the Minister of State say that he would consider this matter again. It is not as though the proposal involves the traditional aspect of encouraging a better structure by giving a bronze, silver, or golden handshake. The holding will simply pass into the possession of the landlord.

I see that my right hon. Friend the Minister is here and I hope that he will state from the Dispatch Box that he is not prepared to consider this matter again. If possible, the Conservatives should be shown what we feel about this amendment by being made to press it so that we may vote it down.

Mr. Wiggin

By leave of the House, may I say that this is a complex matter? In view of the Government's obvious commitment to consider all the complexities, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Hon. Members>


Mr. Bishop

Since the House has not agreed to give the hon. Member leave to withdraw the amendment, and in view of the strong feelings among hon. Members about the subject, I recommend my hon. Friends to oppose the amendment.

Amendment negatived.

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