HC Deb 23 February 1995 vol 255 c473
6. Mr. Michael Spicer

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what estimate he has made of the effect of the proposals in the Agricultural Tenancies Bill on the supply of farmland available for rent.

Mr. Waldegrave

A survey carried out last year by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors suggested that the proposed reforms could increase the area of let land by up to 10 per cent. over five years. This was before my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced his intention to extend inheritance tax relief to let land from 1 September 1995. If anything, the survey results underestimate the position.

Mr. Spicer

May I pass on the undiluted and undying gratitude of 400 of my tenanted market gardeners to the Secretary of State and Minister of State for having, this week, amended the Agricultural Tenancies Bill to preserve 100-year old rights under the Evesham custom? It will do everything to inspire the proper marketing of tenanted land in my constituency.

Mr. Waldegrave

I pay tribute my hon. Friend for raising that important point. Unique to his part of the country is the fact that, over the years, the market and individual good sense have found a way round the perhaps over-restrictive laws that need to be changed elsewhere. Because his area found a satisfactory way of doing that under the old tenancy law, we thought it right to preserve it. I am sure that it was the right thing to do. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his thanks.

Mr. Alan W. Williams

The Minister will know of the concern that the proportion of tenanted land has dropped from some 90 per cent. at the turn of the century to some 50 per cent. now. Is that a bad thing? Why are hon. Members from all parties pleased to see a rise in owner-occupation in housing, but concerned about the increase in owner-occupation in farming?

Mr. Waldegrave

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the increase in owner-occupied family farms in that period is a good thing. But all sides of the industry agree that more tenanted land would help people to enter the industry. There will always be large estates, for example the Co-operative Wholesale Society's large estates, which were mentioned in the debate on that subject, and easier access to them for young farmers on a tenanted basis must be good for the future of the industry. That is the intention of our Bill, which is supported by all sides: landowners; tenants' organisations; and young farmers.