§ 4. Mr. Torney
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he intends to introduce legislation in response to the Country Landowners Association and National Farmers Union proposals on security of tenure for tenant farmers.
§ 7. Mr. Iain Mills
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on his response to the agreement between the National Farmers Union and the Country Landowners Association on agricultural holdings.
§ 14. Mr. Strang
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what discussions he has had in recent weeks with the National Farmers Union and the Country Landowners Association about farm tenancy legislation; and if he will make a statement.
§ 15. Sir William van Straubenzee
asked the Minister of Agriculture. Fisheries and Food whether he proposes to introduce legislation to implement the Country Landowners Association and the National Farmers Union agreement on agricultural holdings legislation.
§ 17. Mr. Home Robertson
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a further statement on Government policy concerning the future of agricultural holdings.
§ Mr. Peter Walker
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and I met the presidents of the National Farmers Union and Country Landowners Association earlier this month to discuss the joint proposals of the union and the association for changes in the agricultural holdings legislation.
There was a constructive discussion, in particular on the importance of improving the opportunities for young farmers to enter agriculture. The proposals have been referred to officials of the two Departments and the agriculture industry for further examination.
§ Mr. Torney
Does the Minister agree that if these proposals were carried into legislative form they would result in two classes of tenant farmers—one with succession rights, and the other with those succession rights expressly excluded?
§ Mr. Walker
I hope that before hon. Members on either side of the House come to firm conclusions they will realise that a majority of both tenants and landowners agreed on a balance of proposals which they considered were good for the industry. Obviously I do not ask for immediate conclusions to be reached, but anyone interested in agriculture—especially in giving young farmers the opportunity of openings in agriculture—should carefully examine the proposals and come to a solution that is good for the whole industry.
§ Mr. Walker
That is an important aspect of the question. Almost the first people who came to see me to urge that action is taken were from that considerable movement, the Young Farmers Clubs, many of whom would like the opportunities that are not currently available. On the other side, it is correct that existing and future tenants should have a basis on which they are satisfied and agreed. I am anxious that all hon. Members 366 interested in the future of British agriculture should examine the joint proposals carefully and that we should introduce sensible legislation as a result.
§ Mr. Strang
Although I accept the need for all parties to approach the agreement constructively, does the Minister agree that the agreement as presently constructed envisages, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney) said, two classes of tenancy, one protected by Labour legislation, where a son would have a right to succeed a tenant farmer on his death, and the other protected by Conservative legislation, where the family would have no right to succeed the deceased tenant farmer?
§ Mr. Walker
That is not an accurate description of the position. There is not yet any Conservative legislation. I have not accepted the proposals or said that I will legislate on them immediately. I have asked for a detailed examination of every proposal and we shall look objectively at the results. I have not come to conclusions on the form of any legislation. The hon. Gentleman had responsibility for this matter in the past, and I think that he will agree that we both want to see opportunities provided for young people to enter the industry, and also that we want a sensible basis for existing and future tenants. That is what I am seeking, and I hope that all hon. Members will approach the matter in that spirit. I am not seeking a partisan approach.
§ Sir William van Straubenzee
I understand that my right hon. Friend does not wish us to come to firm conclusions now. Will he appreciate that in many quarters there is much good will behind the discussions and a hope that we shall be able to get away from the rigidity of the present law, which is not only inhibiting to the potential young tenant farmer, but often inhibiting to landowners, some of whom are large corporate owners who would like to do more to help the young farmer?
§ Mr. Walker
When we took office we found that firm proposals for legislation had been advocated by representatives of the landowners. The Government took the view that that they would not proceed with legislation if there was no agreement between the NFU and the CLA. Representatives of the majority of tenant farmers came to some form of agreement and I am glad that, as a result of that attitude, an agreement has been reached. Obviously there is good will, because an agreement has been reached, but we must examine the matter in detail and try to come forward with proposals that are acceptable to both sides of the House.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many of us would support moves to improve the opportunities for, and security of, tenant farmers? Will he accept that it is up to him to bring forward practical proposals, and will he and his hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) refrain from accusing Labour Members of blocking something that we have not seen?
§ Mr. Walker
I have never accused any Labour Members of doing that. I hope that all those on both sides of the House who are interested in agriculture will carefully examine proposals that have substantial backing within the industry. Of course, it is the Government's responsibility to come forward with legislation.