HC Deb 22 January 1981 vol 997 cc411-2
7. Mr. Iain Mills

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the criteria used in the arbitration of rentals for tenanted agricultural holdings.

Mr. Wiggin

The scarcity of farms to let as a result of legislation is undoubtedly making the task of arbitrators difficult, but I am satisfied that arbitrators are managing to cope with the problem.

I understand that this subject is being discussed by the National Farmers Union and the Country Landowners Association during the current round of talks.

Mr. Mills

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply, and my right hon. Friend for his comments on this matter earlier. Does my hon. Friend agree that although talks are going on between those organisations concerning long-term improvements in the situation, the agricultural valuers profession and representatives of the tenant farmers have shown that there is real urgency and need for a solution to the problem? Does he not agree that a more appropriate criterion for these matters could result, and will he press for that?

Mr. Wiggin

I fully acknowledge that there are a number of matters wrong in the operation of the landlord and tenant legislation. This happens to be one, and it is becoming more severe. But throughout the passage of the 1976 Act, we warned that this would be an effect of legislation which takes off the market farms to let. Without that market in farms to let, the arbitrators cannot fix proper rents.

Mr. John Home Robertson

Is the Minister aware that the main criterion for fixing farm rents, namely, the capital value of land, is causing great concern nowadays because it is making life very difficult for new entrants to the industry? Is he further aware that in parts of England there is collusion among land agents to force up the level of farm rents, and what does he intend to do about it?

Mr. Wiggin

In all my time in farming, the price of land has always been too great to justify borrowing all the money to farm. That is why the tenanted sector represents such a very important part of the agriculture industry. That is why we so much regret the decline in farms to let. On the question of collusion, I do not have any evidence on that. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to let me know about it, perhaps he will. But the fact is that all valuers, of course, get together to discuss these things. Indeed, the very process requires information to be passed between professional people of that kind.

Mr. Heddle

Does my hon. Friend agree with the editorial in this week's Farmers Weekly that rents should be geared to farms' profitability rather than to land values. Does he further agree that one way round the landlord and tenant impasse might be to develop the system that obtains in France, perhaps with the introduction of an agricultural shorthold in which fixed term tenancies, willingly entered into between landlord and tenant, might provide a satisfactory solution?

Mr. Wiggin

I have no doubt that the various points put by my hon. Friend will be among the subjects considered by the NFU and the CLA. Historically, the rent was fixed by the demand for the farm. The legislation that we have been operating for the last 30 years took some recognition of that fact. There are now no farms to let and therefore no market. This is the problem that produced the original question.