HL Deb 20 May 1954 vol 187 cc830-5

5.12 p.m.

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Carrington.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly:

[The EARL OF DROGHEDA in the Chair]

Clauses 1 to 4 agreed to.

Clause 5 [Power of Agricultural Land Tribunal to award costs]:


This is a drafting Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 42, leave out ("may").—(Lord Carrington.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 5, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 6 [Power of Agricultural Land Tribunal to refer questions of law to High Court]:


Just as this Bill was leaving another place, one of the Members there pointed out that, as this clause stands, the Agricultural Land Tribunal, though it has power to suspend the operation of its decision when a reference on an application is pending in the High Court, is not obliged to do so. Since then we have had consultations, and we have decided that the right thing is to put an automatic suspension in the Bill. Accordingly, this Amendment provides for that. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 5, line 2, leave out from ("so") to end of line 5, and insert ("effect shall not be given to the Tribunal's decision unless and until the Tribunal otherwise order after the proceedings in the High Court and any proceedings arising therefrom have been concluded (or the right to take or continue any such proceedings has lapsed); and any such order of the Tribunal shall, where necessary, modify their decision so as to give effect to the decision on any reference to the High Court and, in a case relating to a notice to quit,").—(Lord Carrington.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 6, as amended, agreed to.

EARL ST. ALDWYN moved, after Clause 6 to insert the following new clause:

Amendment as to operation of notice to quit agricultural holding

"7.—(1) The Agricultural Holdings Act, 1948, shall have effect as if in paragraph (g) of subsection (2) of section twenty-four (by virtue of which the consent of the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries to a notice to quit cannot be required under subsection (1) of the section if the notice is given within three months after, and by reason of, the death of the tenant with whom the contract of tenancy was made), the reference to the tenant with whom the contract of tenancy was made were, in a case where the contract was made with two or more tenants jointly, a reference to the survivor or last survivor of them.

(2) This section shall apply to any notice to quit given after the commencement of this Act."

The noble Earl said: During the Second Reading of this Bill, my noble friend Lord Chesham drew your Lordships' attention to what I think is an unintended defect which has recently come to light in Section 24 (2) (g) of the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1948. As your Lordships know, under Section 24 (1) of that Act, if within one month after a landlord has given notice to quit the tenant serves a counter-notice on him, then the notice to quit has no effect without the consent of the Minister of Agriculture. The tenant's right to give a counter-notice does not apply if the conditions contained in subsection (2) of that section are fulfilled. One of these sections is that relating to the death of a tenant, and the relevant paragraph (g) reads as follows: … the tenant with whom the contract of tenancy was made had died within three months before the date of the giving of the notice to quit, and it is stated in the notice that it is given by reason of the matter aforesaid. That is to say, where a tenant has died and the landlord has served the notice to quit on his executors, or the administrators of his will, within three months of the death, that notice to quit will operate and the landlord will be entitled to resume possession of his holding at the expiration of that notice. Thus, Parliament, as I see it, clearly indicated that a landlord should have the right, without any reference to the Minister, to serve a notice to quit within three months of the death of a tenant with whom the contract of tenancy was made.

That provision has been well known and thoroughly understood and operated on both by landlords and tenants. But recently, in the case of Woodward v. The Earl of Dudley, Mr. Justice Danckwerts held that a notice to quit given under Section 24 (2) (g) was of no effect unless both or all the joint tenants had died within three months after the date of the giving of the notice to quit. Your Lordships will appreciate that that is a circumstance which is not likely to occur very often. The Amendment that I am moving will enable a landlord, after the passing of this Bill, to give an effective notice to quit on the death of the survival or the last survivor of a joint tenancy. Your Lordships will appreciate that, as a result of the Court's decision, a large number of landowners have lost control of their holdings occupied by joint tenants. Indeed, as the law stands at present, the deceased's executors and heirs at law are entitled to claim possession and to continue in occupation indefinitely.

I think it is fair to say that such a position was never contemplated when Parliament was considering the Agriculture Act, 1947, or the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1948. Indeed, it is clear that an anomaly has been created, since Parliament, as things stand at the moment, permits a landlord, on death, to give notice to a single tenant, without a right of appeal, but that is not so in the case of a joint tenancy. That position is very unsatisfactory and highly illogical. If this defect is not remedied, I fear that there will be considerable hardship, both on a large number of landlords and also on tenants, for I cannot see any landlord in the future granting a joint tenancy under the present conditions. In many parts of the country it has been a custom for long periods that the son should be taken into a joint tenancy with his father.

I have said that this decision affects a large number of landlords, and I would remind your Lordships of what my noble friend Lord Chesham said on the Second Reading, when he gave your Lordships some figures from a survey carried out by the Country Landowners' Association. Since then, some more replies have come in. I can give your Lordships the results on 207 estates, covering 6,105 tenancies. Amongst those 6,105 tenancies, there are 635 joint tenancies, and, in addition to that, 134 survivors of joint tenancies. That gives a grand total of 769–in other words, over 12½ per cent. of all the tenancies. I would emphasise that that survey covers the whole of England. It obviously does not cover every estate, but it does cover every county and is, so far as possible, a broad cross-section.

There are two further points that I would draw to your Lordships' attention. First, out of those 207 estates there are only about thirty that have no joint tenancies. Thus it will be seen that the problem confronting landlords as a result of the Court decision, is a widespread one throughout England and Wales. I hope your Lordships will agree with me that the learned Judge's decision has revealed what can cleanly be said to be an unintentional error in the Act. I submit that it should be rectified at once in order to prevent further uncertainty and, indeed, in many cases, hardship. Secondly your Lordships may wonder why a matter of such importance was not raised in another place when this Bill was going through there. The answer is that the Judge's decision was not made until February 10 of this year, and the results of the case did not become generally known until some time later. As your Lordships will remember, the Bill left the other place on March 29, so that there was not time to move an Amendment there. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— After Clause 6, insert the said new clause.—(Earl St. Aldwyn.)

5.22 p.m.


The Amendment proposed by the noble Earl appears to put right a point that was overlooked when the Agricultural Holdings Act was passed into law. As the noble Earl has said, the Act as it stands does not carry out the intention of Parliament. We are all grateful to him for taking advantage of a Miscellaneous Provisions Bill to include another small but useful and highly miscellaneous provision. The only question I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, is on the matter of drafting. It is proposed that this Amendment should be a new clause after Clause 6. It has absolutely no relation to the previous clause, which deals with the Agricultural Land Tribunal, or with the clause which follows, which deals with research and education in sugar beet growing. It may be possible to find a place in the Bill where this clause would have some relation to something either before or after it. Can the noble Lord say whether there is any special reason for including the clause at this particular place in the Bill?


As the noble Earl himself has said, this is a Miscellaneous Provisions Bill, and this clause makes it even more miscellaneous. After all, as the Bill now stands, Clause 7, which deals with the cost of programmes of research and education in sugar beet growing, has very little to do with the powers of the Agricultural Land Tribunal. On the other hand, I think one might say that this new clause which my noble friend wishes to insert has something to do with land tenure and, as such, fits in with this section of the Bill, in so far as anything fits in with any section of the Bill, it being so miscellaneous. On the Second Reading of this Bill, when the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, raised this point, I said that between the Second Reading and this stage I would consider it with my right honourable friend the Minister. I have done so. In common with the noble Earl opposite, I think that the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, has made out a very good case for the acceptance of this Amendment. Quite clearly, a situation has arisen now, as a result of this judgment, which was not intended when the Act was passed in 1948. This new clause does remedy the position and accordingly, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, I shall be glad to accept the noble Earl's Amendment.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Remaining clauses and Schedules agreed to.

In the Title:


This Amendment is consequential. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Line 9, after ("High Court") insert ("to amend the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1948, with respect to the operation of certain notices to quit;").—(Earl St. Aldwyn.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Title, as amended, agreed to.

House resumed.

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