HC Deb 08 June 1995 vol 261 cc304-5
2. Mr. Key

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what he is doing to help make more rented land available to people who want to enter farming. [25813]

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. William Waldegrave)

The Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995, which comes into force on 1 September this year, will encourage landowners to let more land. This will be reinforced by 100 per cent. relief from inheritance tax for land in new tenancies granted on or after 1 September. That is good news for new entrants to farming.

Mr. Key

That is indeed good news. Will my right hon. Friend now turn his attention to county council farms? Would it not be sensible to promote mobility across the whole farming sector? In Wiltshire alone, 13,000 acres of land are in public ownership with 127 tenancies, the average of which is 26 years. That hardly promotes mobility. Those are excellent farmers, but they need an opportunity one way or another. One way might be to sell the farms to those farmers in the same way as selling council houses; another way might be to introduce short-term tenancies. Will my right hon. Friend look at that problem?

Mr. Waldegrave

It is a matter for the counties concerned, but the figures that my hon. Friend gives show that, in his county—I suspect that other counties are the same—county farms do little to bring in new entrants because of the length of tenancies granted. If the new Act works in the medium term as we hope, it will do far more for new entrants even than county farms have done in the past.

Mr. Hardy

Does the Minister agree that it is essential to ensure that the rural population of many areas is maintained? Does he accept that, if holdings are small, new incomers to farming may find it difficult to make a decent livelihood?

Mr. Waldegrave

There is something in what the hon. Gentleman says. The Government will look at the health of the rural economy more widely when we publish a White Paper later this year. In some areas, farming still plays an important part in that, although we must widen the source of jobs available in the countryside. The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, however.

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