HC Deb 10 May 1976 vol 911 cc186-8
Mr. Roderick

I beg to move Amendment No. 43, in page 26, line 7, leave out subsection (3).

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we may discuss Amendment No. 44, in line 14, after "1967", insert excepting those holdings which taken with other rights make up a commercial unit".

Mr. Roderick

The purpose of subsection (3) is to restrict the Bill, in that the holding would be required to be a commercial one—that is, a viable holding in its own right. The purpose of my amendment is to remove that restriction.

Some of us believe that a non-viable unit, taken with other rights, be they grazing rights or of any other sort, should qualify. A farmer with a few acres and some common grazing rights would require protection under the Bill, because the common grazing rights would be useless to a successor without the holding. There would be nowhere to keep the animals. It might be a holding taken in conjunction with other holdings. It is important in the sense that there may be a series of holdings each from different landlords, therefore we need to protect the farmer in this instance.

I need not spell out the various possibilities under the amendment. I want my hon. Friend to consider very seriously the nature of many holdings in rural Wales and in certain parts of England, where there may be a very few acres farmed by the tenant farmer, rented from a landlord, and where he has various other activities which make up a viable unit in toto. I want to protect such a person. For that reason I hope that the amendment will be accepted.

Mr. Wigley

I support very strongly the comments made by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Roderick). As he knows, and as I am sure the Front Bench Government spokesmen know, the pattern of agriculture in Wales has changed a lot in recent years. There used to be a large number of smallholdings, and a number of them have been brought together as tenancies, with perhaps one farmer having several different tenancies within an area of four or five miles. Each of these, individually, might not be viable, but taken together they make a viable whole which gives a livelihood to the farmer. Once part of a unit is taken away, under the domino theory the size gets smaller and smaller until it collapses. It is important to give protection in that instance, as in the general situation.

For that reason I ask the Government to consider, when there is an opportunity in another place, whether they can find a suitable formula, if not by these words, to achieve this end.

Mr. Strang

As stated in the Standing Committee on 8th April, subsection (3)(f) is similar to a provision contained in the Scottish legislation. Its purpose is to provide a balancing provision for the landlord, by enabling him to put forward a specific proposal to the Agricultural Land Tribunal that because the holding is below commercial size he intends to amalgamate it with other land within two years of the end of the deceased's tenancy to form a commercial holding. This is a much more positive and powerful ground than the one in current use. I refer, of course, to Section 25(1)(b) of the Agricultural Holdings Act 1948, under which a landlord can serve a notice to quit in the interests of sound estate management, one purpose of which would be the reorganisation of the holdings.

However, I understand that after careful consideration the landlord's representatives believe that the purpose of this provision is likely to be misunderstood by agricultural land tribunals and could prove counter-productive as a result. On reflection, therefore, their initial welcome for the provision has become opposition to it. We have discussed the matter with them in considerable detail but they remain firm in their desire to see it removed from the Bill.

10.30 p.m.

I do not fully accept the CLA's arguments on this and, notwithstanding the fact that we have this alliance between the CLA, my hon. Friend for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Roderick), and the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley), I should prefer to consider the matter further and not to give any commitment, but if my hon. Friend is prepared to ask leave to withdraw his amendment, my officials will continue their discussions with other organisations and we shall be ready to discuss the matter with hon. Members who have spoken in favour of the amendment.

Mr. Roderick

On the assurance that another look will be taken at this matter—and we shall remind my hon. Friend in future that we wanted to press the amendment—I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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