HL Deb 03 July 1958 vol 210 cc545-609

4.5 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, before I deal with this Bill, I should like to say how exceedingly sorry I am that the promotion of my noble friend Lord St. Aldwyn—a promotion which in itself we all very much welcomed—has deprived us of the pleasure and, indeed, of the advantage of hearing him introduce this Bill to-day. It must be a disappointment for him, after all the hard work he has given to the preparation of this important measure, to have to leave it to someone else to proclaim its merits. Your Lordships will be the losers, because he would have done it so much better than I can ever hope to do. There is one other small point. I had hoped to lay claim to your Lordships' traditional gentleness with those who speak from this Dispatch Box for the first time, but I have suddenly realised that I have already squandered this privilege by speaking a few days ago on the Litter Bill. I thought it was right to disclose this grave tactical error on my part, because I should not like to claim any protection to which I am not entitled.

The Bill carries forward the task begun by the Agriculture Act, 1957, of bringing the Agriculture Act, 1947, into line with present-day conditions. However good the Agriculture Act, 1947, is, it is no discredit to it that, with the passage of time, it needs some small modification. The Act of 1957 put the price guarantees on a firm, long-term basis, and that Act also provided, in the Farm Improvement Scheme, much-needed assistance towards the capital cost of modernising fixed equipment. I think, therefore, it can be said that the main purpose of the Bill before us to-day is to create conditions in which the landlord and tenant system can work more effectively in relation to security of tenure, provision of fixed equipment and rents. It also repeals the disciplinary provisions of the post-war legislation, which we believe to be outdated. This is really what one might describe as a simple Bill; it is a straightforward Bill in essence. It is not one on which your Lordships have to turn a blind eye to the financial points, for there are none. It reduces, rather than increases, the powers of the State, and it frees the subject from some restrictions and modifies others. I think it may be convenient to your Lordships if I briefly summarise its main provisions before I come to the specific clauses.

The Bill repeals the disciplinary powers of Part II of the 1947 Act, but it retains the code of good husbandry and good estate management. It clarifies the rental arbitration formula, and modifies the security of tenure provisions. It adds to the tenant's rights about the provision of fixed equipment. It transfers the main judicial functions of agricultural executive committees to the agricultural land tribunals; and the Minister's function of regulating the procedure of agricultural land tribunals will now go to the Lord Chancellor. It modifies the Scottish law on succession to tenancies; and, finally, and for good measure, it strengthens the Minister's powers to deal with certain noxious weeds.

Clause 1 repeals the disciplinary powers of supervision, direction and dispossession. The 1947 and 1948 Acts are so drawn as to impose a duty to use the penal powers in appropriate cases, and we could not properly have left them on the Statute Book without operating them. The powers may have been necessary ten years ago, but with the return of comparative peace and plenty, public opinion has become most critical of them—indeed hostile to their use; and in addition the Franks Committee had recommended, and the Government accepted this recommendation, a complete recasting of the organisation. This would in effect have given the agricultural executive committees the invidious task of acting as detectives and prosecutors—a system which I frankly do not believe we could have asked them to accept.

All these considerations obliged us to review the whole issue. This review demonstrated most clearly that at the cost of a very great effort these disciplinary provisions were achieving practically nothing. The great improvements of the past ten years have not taken place on the 1 per cent. of farms which have been under supervision; and we shrewdly suspect that most of the 400 or so dispossessed farmers and landowners would have been driven by economic forces to give up in any case. It seems to us only too clear that, with a radical change in circumstances and a radical change of public opinion, the original justification for these powers has disappeared.

Noble Lords may ask, if this is so and if these circumstances have changed to the extent which I say and which I have indicated, why it is that spokesmen, or certain spokesmen, of the farmers apparently thought that the 1947 disciplinary provisions should remain in existence? I was very much impressed by the reply that an ex-Minister of Agriculture, Sir Thomas Dugdale, under whom I once had the great honour to serve, gave to this question when the Bill was under consideration in another place. He said that he had no doubt that farmers had not yet realised the force and the wisdom of the 1957 Act, which had in effect replaced Part I of the 1947 Act. In the same debate Sir Thomas Dugdale made another very significant remark. He ventured to prophesy—a dangerous thing to do—that after a very few months had gone by the repeal of the disciplinary powers would not be an issue at all in any part of the country. That was in March, Events have since proved how right he was.

I can only suggest that the initial fear expressed in some agricultural circles was due to an incomplete realisation of the significance of the 1957 Act. That Act broke the link which was said in 1947 to exist between the guarantees and the disciplinary powers. The argument that the guaranteed prices are not secure unless they are protected by these largely disused and unworkable disciplinary powers in the hands of the Government is really not one to which your Lordships should give serious attention, after the passing of the 1957 Act. Nor can we accept the suggestion made in some quarters that disciplinary powers should remain on the Statute Book but that there should be some tacit understanding that they would never be used. I am sure your Lordships, as indeed the whole farming community, must agree that it was right to come out into the open upon this matter and not hide behind any subterfuge of this kind.

I have had some slight experience of these matters as chairman of an agricultural executive committee. It was always irksome to have to spend so much time on harrying a very few recalcitrant farmers, generally very small ones, with the whole long-drawn-out procedure of these disciplinary measures. Even in those days one wondered whether the result really justified the efforts and the time taken by overworked officials and members of committees. All the time one felt that one could have been getting better results by helping and encouraging the progressive farmers who really were making a significant contribution to the food supplies of this country. In short, we believe that not only is the repeal of these powers a practical adaptation to a change in agricultural circumstances and in the climate of public opinion, but that it will also release positive energies which have up to now been unfruitfully devoted to a negative task.

Now I pass to Clause 2 which deals with rent arbitration. There is no rent control in agriculture such as we have known for so many years in domestic dwelling-houses. Agricultural rents are freely negotiated when a tenant goes in and are subsequently adjusted by agreement between landlord and sitting tenant. The clause does not alter this situation in any way. The clause deals only with those cases where a landlord and a sitting tenant cannot agree on a revised rent and therefore go to arbitration.

At present, in such circumstances, Section 8 of the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1948, requires the arbitrator to determine the "rent properly payable", disregarding improvements and dilapidation, due to the tenant and also disregarding increases in value attributable to Government grant. But the expression "rent properly payable" is left undefined, and, for lack of a definition, arbitrators have not made their awards on any uniform principle. Indeed, for lack of guidance on the nature of their task they have been forced, often, I think, against their better judgment, to go beyond their proper function as valuers and try to fix what in their private view is a "fair rent"—not to ascertain the rent but to fix it. But their task, as a distinguished valuer has recently said in the farming Press, is not to "fix" the market rent but to measure it and to know it.

Clause 2 remedies this situation by defining the rent properly payable. This is most important and your Lordships will wish me to give you in full that definition of the rent properly payable now. Clause 2 on page 2 of the Act, from line 12, reads as follows: The rent at which, having regard to the terms of the tenancy (other than those relating to rent), the holding might reasonably be expected to be let in the open market by a willing landlord to a willing tenant. That is the definition. The effect of this is to put the sitting tenant on the same basis as a new or prospective tenant would be, subject to the important requirement to disregard the results of the tenant's own performance and the effects of Government grant. As a consequence of this, we expect the discrepancy which has developed between the rent paid by sitting tenants and the rents agreed on new lettings gradually to disappear. In future, the claim of the sitting tenant to special consideration will be assessed not by sentiment, but by the evidence he can show of the good he has done to the land he rents.

I turn now to Clause 3 and the subject of the implementation of the Franks Report. Clause 3, subsection (1), and Clause 5 between them implement the principles of the Franks Report by transferring from Ministers to agricultural land tribunals the function of adjudication on applications for consent to notices to quit or for certificates of bad husbandry, and, in England and Wales, transferring from the Minister of Agriculture to the Lord Chancellor the function of regulating their procedure. I will say no more about this, as the principle is generally accepted, and I will confine my remarks to subsection (2) of Clause 3, which modifies the provision of security of tenure for tenant farmers made by Section 25 of the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1948.

Experience of ten years' working of these security of tenure provisions has shown broadly that they have been an invaluable protection to the efficient tenant and that this protection ought to remain. But it has also shown, perhaps rather contrary to the original intention, that it has provided the bad tenant with the security that was meant for the good tenant and has made it too difficult for the landlord to obtain possession in order to reorganise the estate. The protection unintentionally given to all tenants has made it hard for energetic young farmers to find a tenancy, or for the best of the established farmers to obtain better or bigger farms; and the rigidity of the provision for notice on good estate management grounds has impeded estate reorganisation.

This subsection embodies an agreement reached between the County Landowners' Association and the National Farmers' Union, an agreement which reflects great credit on their statesmanship and on the underlying harmony between these two partners in the industry. It may be helpful if I set out in detail the new features of the clause. Before I do so, I should explain that the whole matter is governed by a most important proviso which protects the tenant against unreasonable action by his landlord. This proviso says that even if the tribunal are satisfied on any of the grounds set out in the clause that a notice to quit should be granted, they must, withhold consent to the operation of the notice to quit if in all the circumstances it appears to them that a fair and reasonable landlord would not insist on possession ". That is an extremely important proviso and must never be lost sight of.

Subject to this proviso, the principal changes then are as follows. First, the negative requirement to withhold consent unless the tribunal is satisfied on certain matters is replaced by a positive requirement to give consent if the tribunal is satisfied—perhaps only a psychological point, but nevertheless an important one. Secondly, the tribunal must be satisfied on the ground or grounds specified by the landlord as justifying the notice to quit, and the argument will be limited to those grounds. Thirdly, husbandry and estate management, at present considered together, will in future be separate grounds for a notice to quit; and in the latter case the criterion will be sound management of the estate as a whole and not merely of the holding. Fourthly, in attempting to rebut a notice, the tenant f will be able to plead hardship only if the landlord seeks to justify the notice on grounds of his own hardship. Fifthly, whereas at present, even though the landlord makes out his case, the tribunal has an unqualified discretion to withhold consent, in future the landlord will be entitled to consent if he makes out his case, except (and here the proviso comes in) where the tribunal is satisfied that a fair and reasonable landlord would not insist on possession. In that event, the tribunal has no option: it must withhold consent.

In a nutshell, the new clause will enable a fair and reasonable landlord to obtain possession of a holding if he can establish to the satisfaction of an independent body that it will be put to better use if he does so. The clause is accepted by farmers and landowners as giving effect to the intentions underlying the existing provision. It will be administered by a body comprising a legal chairman, sitting with a representative farmer and landowner: and I am sure we can rely on such a body for fair and wise decisions

I now turn to Clause 4, which is concerned with repairs and improvements and gives the tenant an important new right against the landlord in certain circumstances. The tenant already has substantial remedies for disrepair in his tenancy agreement and under the so-called "model clauses", which enable him in the last resort to do landlord's repairs and recover the cost. He also has a powerful remedy for neglect of improvements in Sections 47 to 50 of the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1948, which enable him to make the improvements himself and recover their residual value on quitting. These remedies, we think, are in general quite sufficient, except in one special set of circumstances: they do not cover the tenant who is required to comply with statutory obligations but must rely upon his landlord to provide the fixed equipment to enable him to do so. Such a tenant might, for lack of means, be obliged to give up because the landlord is not playing his part. We think it reasonable that, subject to proper safeguards, the landlord should be required in these circumstances to provide the improvements. Clause 4, therefore, enables the tenant to apply to the Agricultural Land Tribunal for a direction on the landlord to provide the necessary equipment; and if the landlord does not comply, it enables the tenant to do the work himself and to recover the reasonable cost from the landlord immediately, without waiting to claim a residual compensation value at the end of the tenancy.

I do not think that I need refer again to Clause 5. Clause 6 deals with succession to agricultural tenancies in Scotland. The security of tenure provisions in the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act, 1949, have, in effect, given the sitting tenant the right to bequeath his security of tenure to a successor, who in turn can do the same. I cannot believe that this situation was intended at the time. It inflicts an injustice on the landlord, by depriving him of any certain opportunity of ever regaining possession. Clause 6 restricts to a member of his own family the tenant's right of bequest, and limits the right of succession to the unexpired portion of a lease. To soften the impact, there is a transitional provision for seven years entitling the successor to two years' notice instead of one, and also to special treatment of his claim for compensation on outgoing.

The remaining clauses and the Schedules are mostly, minor and technical, and my noble friend, Lord St. Aldwyn, when he comes to reply, will doubtless explain anything that may not be clear to your Lordships. In conclusion, I would simply say that this Bill does not make dramatic changes, but I believe that in the long term it will prove to be of very great value to British agriculture. The Act of 1957 brought the Act of 1947 up to date on the financial side, and this Bill brings the Act up to date on the land tenure side. It preserves the good tenant's security but makes it easier for the good landlord to fulfil his traditional responsibility of making the best of his land. I believe that the Bill makes a most important contribution to the welfare and efficiency of our farms, and I commend it to your Lordships with every confidence. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, that the Bill be now read 2a.—(Earl Waldegrave.

4.29 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will wish to congratulate the noble Earl on the manner in which he has discharged a difficult duty. He has carried out his task with considerable ability. He has explained the Bill with clarity, and I would say has done as much for this Bill as anybody could do. Hitherto we have heard him talk about water and litter; to-day, we hear him on perhaps more important and more controversial subjects. From his point of view, it is a pity that he has had to open the batting on what I should regard as a sticky wicket. As opening batsman, it might have been better from his point of view if he had started on something much less controversial; but he has done very well.

I would judge this Bill, and any Agriculture Bill, having in mind the general approach which we have to agriculture, and I would lay down a number of propositions. The first is that this country needs a strong and efficient agricultural industry. We regard it as essential for the welfare of this country and, in case of war or other emergency, essential even for the country's survival. We regard agriculture as an insurance and as something which is necessary in order to save imports, particularly from hard currency areas. Secondly, we take the view that British agriculture, like a number of other British industries, is unable at present, and will be in the foreseeable future, to compete on equal terms with foreign countries, and that therefore, if it is to survive, it must get assistance either in the form of a subsidy or by means of tariffs. My next proposition is that tariffs are less desirable, because they would involve direct increases in the cost of living, and that therefore the more desirable assistance to agriculture is by way of a subsidy.

I think that these three principles are generally accepted, though perhaps less so as regards the need for a continuance of subsidy. There are a number of people who are to-day referring to subsidy in agriculture in terms of "feather-bedding" and who say it is a bad thing that subsidies should continue. "Feather-bedding" references are well known, and those noble Lords who read the Economist will find that week after week there is an attack on agricultural subsidies. It is in the light of these three principles, which I accept, and which I believe most people who understand the agricultural industry would accept, that I propose to examine the Bill.

The first question I would ask is this. Is this Bill necessary or justifiable; or has there been established a proved demand for the Bill? I am bound to say that the answer to that question is, "No". Certainly there has been no demand for the major provisions of the Bill. The noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, said that it did not create any dramatic alterations to the 1947 Act. Indeed, it does. Some of the amendments to the 1947 Act, while perhaps "dramatic" is not the right word to describe them, are, at any rate in our view, far-reaching. Not only has there been no demand for this Bill, but the people most concerned—that is, the farming interests and the National Farmers' Union, who speak for them—have been directly opposed to it.

The noble Earl said that it is true that there was a certain amount of opposition when the Bill was first introduced, but that to-day, as people have begun to understand the contents of this simple Bill (as he called it), they have started to weaken their opposition. I should like to read to the noble Earl something that I have received in the last two days, which no doubt he has already seen. It is a communication from the National Farmers' Union, in which they say this on Clause 1 of the Bill—that is the clause which repeals Part II of the Agriculture Act, 1947: We consider the proposal to repeal the disciplinary provisions of Part II of the Agriculture Act, 1947, to have been unnecessary. This communication is dated July 1, since the days when they were misunderstanding this Bill and when they have now had the opportunity of understanding what it is about. It goes on: The Union's branches were almost unanimously opposed to it, chiefly on the ground that in the long run it might tend, however unwarrantably, to weaken the moral justification in the public eye for agricultural support. The Union would have been willing to discuss modifications had they been either suggested or invited. and they say it is a pity that they were not. Therefore, I reaffirm that this Bill is not wanted by the farming interests, on whose behalf allegedly it had been introduced. It is the farmers who suffer from supervisions and all the inconveniences and alleged hardships of the actions of the county agricultural executive committees, and it is they who are saying they do not want the Bill but would much rather the system went on as it is.

The noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, referred to the fact that all this supervision business was out of date and no longer wanted. Would he suggest that if there were a reduction in crime the police force could be disbanded? Would he suggest that if there were very few prosecutions in respect of certain offences we ought to set about and repeal the Act under which those crimes are punishable? Surely you do not count the need for legislation on these matters by the number of offences that are committed, or the number of supervision orders that are made, or even the number of evictions carried out. Did not these provisions have, and have they not to-day, a deterrent effect? Is is not true that, to a certain extent—not wholly, because efficiency is in the interests of the farmer himself—the fact that the county agricultural committee could come along and make supervision orders, and could in the last resort carry out an eviction, had a deterrent effect in the case of the marginal farmer? Is it not a fact that, because of this and the help the committees have been able to give to farmers, gradually our farming in this country has become more efficient?

So I would deny that there is any justification for removing the deterrent of possible supervision orders, and in the last resort eviction, which exists at the present time. Incidentally, I should point out that it will remain possible for a landlord to evict a tenant on the ground of inefficiency; the sanction is removed only in the case of owner-occupiers. That seems to me to be quite unjustifiable. There is no reason to think that a tenant farmer is less likely to be efficient than an owner-occupier: indeed, I would say the reverse, if anything, because the poor tenant farmer at least has to find the money to pay the rent, whereas the owner-occupier does not.

Is the Bill going to bring about greater efficiency? On the contrary, I think it will do the reverse; and later on I shall show why I think that. Is it necessary in the interests of justice as between landlord and tenant? I submit that it creates injustices between the two; and again I will indicate later why I think so. Certainly it makes the position of the tenant much harder Then there was a further reason given—namely, that we have to carry out the terms of the Franks Report. The last thing anyone would suggest was that the Franks Report said that we ought to do away with supervision orders or with eviction. They were critical of the methods by which these things were done, but they certainly did not criticise the policy—indeed, it was not their business to criticise policy. I have a quotation here from the Franks Report which perhaps I ought to read for the record. They make it abundantly clear. It says: We have already stated, in Part I, that we have no concern with the policies which have given rise to tribunals and special administrative procedures. It is accordingly no part of our task to say whether the present policy of control over agriculture should continue or not. But if it is to continue we consider that new tribunals should be established, independent both of the Minister and of the county committees.… There is there no suggestion of creating new tribunals. This Bill just sweeps them away—and the Government pretend that they are doing it at the request of the Franks Committee ! I would submit that that is really less than honest.


May I interrupt the noble Lord? We are not sweeping away any tribunals. I want to make that perfectly clear. The noble Lord has implied that we are doing away with existing tribunals. That is just not true.


What you are sweeping away is this system of supervision and control over the efficiency of farming, and you are suggesting that you are doing it as a result of the recommendations of the Franks Committee.




But over and over again in another place—and the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, himself made the suggestion—it was suggested that one of the reasons for this step was the recommendations of the Franks Committee. Otherwise, I see no relevance in mentioning the Franks Committee at all. But it is mentioned over and over again.


My Lords, I think I must intervene. I never meant to give that impression, and I do not believe I did. What I said was that the Franks Committee—of which, of course, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, was a member; and therefore he will know exactly what they had in mind—proposed a radical reorganisation of what would happen under the tribunals. We felt that it would be a burden on the committees with which we could not properly charge then.


Now I understand. Then it is clear that it is not because of the Franks Committee that Part II of the Agriculture Act is being repealed. That is no part of the argument at all. The Franks Committee never recommended any such thing. So long as we are clear about that, I will leave the Franks Committee.

The other official answer is that there is no need for these powers—that presumably inefficiency in farming has disappeared, at least so far as the tenant farmer is concerned. I have already dealt with that matter, because I think that the deterrent effect of some form of supervision is still most important. The further argument—with which I do not propose to deal at any length, because the noble Earl apparently did not associate himself with it—was that, while this was all right in the days of rationing and shortages, to-day we are living in plenty and, therefore, presumably there is no need to be efficient. That was the argument which was put forward over and over again in another place: that rationing no longer exists; there is plenty of food around, and therefore it does not matter about supervision of the farmer. I have dealt with the main justifications put forward for this Bill, and I submit to the House that they do not constitute any justification at all for the introduction of a measure of this kind.

I want now to come to one or two detailed criticisms, and I can deal with them fairly shortly. I have dealt in the whole of my observations only with the first main criticism, and that is the repeal of Part II of the 1947 Act, But I say—and it is to be inferred from what I read out of the observations of the National Farmers' Union—that, apart altogether from the fact that some kind of supervision is necessary on the grounds of efficiency, it seems to me that you cannot maintain a system by which you are giving public money in the form of subsidy without any assurance that that public money is going to be wisely used. Sooner or later there will be an outcry that large sums of money—£300 million a year or something of that kind—are being paid out in the form of subsidy, with no assurance at all that the farmers are using it to increase their efficiency and to make themselves, in due course, independent of subsidy, which is, after all, the purpose for which subsidies should be given.

I fear, and the farming community fears very much indeed, that this is the first step towards a reduction of the subsidy. I know that there is the 1957 Act to which the noble Earl referred, which contains some kind of assurance as to future subsidies. But Acts can be repealed, as Part II of the 1947 Act is being repealed; and the passing of an Act in 1957 is no guarantee at all that in 1959 or 1960 another Act will not be passed repealing Part I or Part II, as the case may be, of the Act of 1957. The farming community feel much more concerned that the repeal of Part II of the 1947 Act is going to damage them, than they feel assured by the provisions of the 1957 Act.

My next objection is to Clause 2 of the Bill, and the manner in which the rents are to be fixed. We do not regard Clause 2 of this Bill as any improvement in the manner of fixing the rent set out in Section 8 of the Small Holdings Act. We regard this conception of the willing tenant and the willing landlord as most damaging to the tenant. A willing tenant is a tenant who is prepared to pay a rent, and in present conditions, with the scarcity of suitable farms, there are tenants who are prepared to pay quite unrealistic rents in order to get possession of a farm. Under this definition they would be regarded as willing tenants; and if they can be produced an arbitrator is bound to take account of the fact that these people are willing to pay this or this rent. I cannot see how they could possibly disregard it.

Moreover, there are people who are prepared to pay "fancy" rents for farms—for reasons which your Lordships will greatly appreciate; that is, that in many cases they are not paying the rent out of their own pockets at all; it is being paid out of sur-tax which would otherwise be paid to Her Majesty's Government, at least as to a large proportion. A person would be willing to pay £2,000 or £5,000 a year rent if 80 per cent. of it was being paid by the Treasury, and only 20 per cent. by himself. It is no good noble Lords pretending that such persons do not exist, because we all know them.

So this definition of a willing tenant of a willing landlord is going to be most damaging to the genuine farmer who wants a farm to provide him with his daily living and who is prepared to work full time on his farm for that purpose. It is also going to be damaging to young people who want to start up on a farm, people who have been trained in agricultural schools and colleges and who find themselves quite unable to outbid wealthy people or people prepared to pay a "fancy" price for the farm. I do not give much value to the provisos and other things which are incorporated in the clause. I think that in the long run the tribunals will be guided entirely by evidence as to what people are prepared to pay for the farm; and it is indeed going to be damaging both to ordinary working farmers and to farming interests generally. Therefore, we shall in due course, on the Committee stage, put down Amendments which we hope will have the effect of altering the definition of what is a proper rent.

Furthermore, we object to the fact that there is no appeal against the decision of an arbitrator provided that he gives no reasons for his decision. If he gives reasons, then, if those reasons are bad reasons—that is, bad reasons in law—there may be an appeal. But if he gives no reasons there is no appeal; and that position is retained. If the noble Earl is so concerned about the Franks Report, I could draw his attention to certain sections in the Franks Report which require that reasons should be given for the decision. There is nothing about that in the Bill. Therefore, if the arbitrator is sufficiently canny, there is no possibility of appealing against his decision.


If I may interrupt for one moment, I was wondering what the noble Lord was going to suggest as to what rules the arbitrator should have.


I am very much obliged to the noble Earl for drawing attention to a deficiency in my speech. I would definitely leave out the scarcity factor. I shall be framing an Amendment in due course, and the lines of that Amendment will be certain matters that the arbitrator must take into account. One is that he must not take into account the scarcity value, and the other that he must take into account what is a reasonable rent having regard to what the land can produce; that is, it must provide an efficient farmer with a reasonable living. I will develop that point in the course of my Amendment and say more about it in due course.

Then there is the question of security. I submit that Clause 3 can operate very harshly against the tenant. I take it that the object of this Bill—at least I hope it is so—is not to enable landlords to get possession of their farms arbitrarily because they want to sell at a better price and so on. If the noble Lord will look at Clause 3, subsection (2), which I imagine he knows pretty well, he will see a number of matters any one of which would be sufficient to enable a landlord to get possession. I say nothing about (1) (a), but (1) (b) uses these words: that the carrying out thereof is desirable in the interests of sound management of the estate of which the land to which the notice relates forms part or which that land constitutes … " Sound management of the estate "does not necessarily mean use on agricultural grounds: sound management of the estate could involve using the land for the building of houses, or some other purpose which has nothing to do with agriculture and nothing to do with the way in which the farm has been used by the tenant. If a landlord can come forward and say "In the interests of sound management I want possession", he can get it. He is already able under the new subsection (1) (a) to say that he wants possession in the interests of good husbandry as respects the land to which the notice relates, treated as a separate unit But now he can come along and say that he wants possession "in the interests of sound management" of the whole estate, and the poor tenant has to go and has nothing to say. All the landlord has to do is produce some kind of scheme.

Although I recognise that under the proviso the tribunal have a discretion, if they think it would not be fair and reasonable to give possession, not to do so, the fact remains that if they are confronted with a scheme for the redevelopment of the estate as a whole they are bound to give it, because they would not be in a position to say it is not reasonable to give it in the light of the provision of the Bill. I would say that you could put up that sort of argument, under the new subsection (1) (b), in respect of almost every tenancy which constitutes a part of a larger tenancy. It would be theoretically possible for every landlord to come along and say, "Here is a scheme for the redevelopment of my estate, and I want possession"; and he would get it. So I feel that this is a most dangerous provision to insert in the Bill and I hope that in Committee we shall be able to improve on it and ensure that landlords are not arbitrarily able to get possession of their farms on those vague grounds.

There are other matters to which I will draw attention in Committee. I am not at all happy about the future position of the county agricultural executive committees. They have served a very valuable purpose, and nobody knows that better than the noble Earl who introduced this Bill, because he was chairman of a committee. They did very valuable work in an advisory capacity in going round and helping farmers, both tenants and owners, who needed guidance and advice. Such people still exist to-day, and the county agricultural committees are still capable of doing very valuable work. By depriving them of this very important function there will be great difficulty in getting suitable people to take on the job at all. Living in an agricultural area, I have never come across anybody who resented the activities of the county agricultural committees. If, as the noble Earl says, the good farmers constitute the vast majority, certainly they did not object. I have read one or two cases in the Press, and perhaps that is the cause of this Bill. But, as I say, I have never come across anybody who resented visits from the agricultural committee's representatives to talking over his problems and help him.

I fear that this Bill is going to deprive us of the valuable advantages of these agricultural committees. In place of the committees it substitutes what are virtually courts, with the legal atmosphere, without all the provisions as to advice, help, and so on, and where the issue before the tribunal will be a legal one, as to whether the tenant has complied with certain provisions of the Act and so on. I think that we shall lose a great deal as the result of depriving the agricultural committees of the major part of their functions. We shall not, of course, divide against the Second Reading of the Bill—we never do. But I hope that we shall be able further to ventilate these difficulties on the Committee stage and on the later stages of the Bill, and that the Government will not be rigid in their attitude to what is in the Bill but will be prepared to consider some of the objections to which I have drawn attention.

5.2 p.m.


My Lords, as this is the first occasion upon which I have had the temerity to address your Lordships, I hope I may count on the consideration which is always extended in this House to débutantes and also on your indulgence for any shortcomings there may be in my remarks. My family motto contains the words "Temerity" and "Timidity", which means that I can get only negative advice from that quarter when the two come in conflict, as they do on this occasion. I think that undoubtedly timidity would have won, had it not been that I had the honour to play a certain small part in the negotiations which led up to this Bill. I hope, too, that as a beginner I may be allowed to join in the congratulations to the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, for his able introduction of this Bill. Agriculture and the countryside are already considerably indebted to him for his Litter Bill, and I think they will be equally indebted to him for his sponsorship of the Agriculture Bill.

I had the honour to be the leader of the landowners' deputation which conducted the negotiations with the National Farmers' Union on the security of tenure provisions, and it means, therefore, that I speak this afternoon very largely as a landowner, though I also have considerable farming interests and I am in touch with a considerable number of tenants. Also, I hope I have an understanding of their problems as a member of the National Farmers' Union. There has, I think, been a considerable degree of misunderstanding about this Agriculture Bill, particularly during its rather stormy passage through another place, and I should hesitate, at the risk of controversiality, to suggest that perhaps that misunderstanding was not entirely confined to the other place. It has been represented that it is an attempt to sabotage the Agriculture Act, 1947, and that it destroys the spirit and the effect of that great post-war enactment. I do not believe that that is the case at all.

The Agriculture Act, 1947, and its twin—I like to think of them as twins, even though their birthdays were in consecutive years—the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1948, have, I believe, done a great deal to build up the comparative prosperity of agriculture in the post-war period. This Bill is destructive on only one point, in that it seeks to do away with Part II of the Agriculture Act which I think can easily be shown to have outlived its usefulness and to be a dead letter in the countryside. I am quite sure that the countryside has now come to accept that fact. Apart from that provision, the Bill is entirely constructive. It aims at clarifying and consolidating the measures contained in the 1947 Act and its intentions generally.

There have been, I submit, two defects in the 1947 and 1948 Acts which I think were not intended by their sponsors. The first has been to give excessive security to the inefficient farmer, and so to cut down to a trickle the natural flow of farms to let and make it extremely difficult for the many skilled young men coming from the universities and colleges to find a farm on which they can try out their knowledge. The second defect has been, I believe, to worsen the economic difficulties of owners of agricultural land, because they are prevented from securing a fair rent, especially in view of their increased obligations under the Act. This was partly caused by the excessive degree of security of tenure. As a result, rents have risen only very slowly since the war and are, even now, little above their 1939 level—1939, of course, being a time of agricultural depression. They are also little above the level which they reached in both 1820 and in 1870, which were periods of comparative agricultural prosperity. I believe that that is effectively countered by Clauses 2 and 3 of this new Bill, and is achieved more by a gradual change of emphasis than by any revolution in either rents or land tenure.

If your Lordships would permit, I should like to make a few brief remarks on some of the clauses in this Bill, and first of all Clause 1. At the time of the 1947 Act maximum production from the land was needed at almost any cost, and there was considerable justification for State control and supervision, though I think it may be claimed that it is doubtful whether the ends were justified by the means. To-day, the rôle is economic production, and so there is not the same need for close State control and supervision. It is sufficient, I submit, for the State to exercise economic control, and to give advice.

The Agriculture Act, 1957, consolidated the guaranteed price policy. Through that measure the State exercises economic control, and I think one can safely look to the Inland Revenue to deal with any unlikely question of excessive profits from the farming community. The disciplinary powers in Part II of the Act have in the last few years become almost completely ineffective and have, in fact, been hardly used at all. I submit that there is to-day extremely little bad farming; that it is much better that such indifferent tenants as do exist should be dealt with by their landlords, and that as far as the owner-occupier is concerned, if he chooses to farm badly he is unlikely to go on farming for long. In fact, I believe it is much better that economics should be the spur and that there should be no whip. I believe that there was something un-English, or perhaps I should say un-British, in the State's powers of dispossession. There is nothing similar in any other industry or, I believe, in any other free country in the world, and I cannot see that there is any possible object in the retention of those powers

I turn to Clause 2. As the result of the excessive rigidity of tenure which has come about in the post-war period, and the extreme unwillingness of arbitrators to award open market values, rents have risen very slowly. Land-owning has become totally uneconomic; increased responsibilities have been laid upon the landowner under the 1948 Act, and his costs have increased vastly, while his income has been quite inadequate to meet both his costs and his increased responsibilities. This has largely been the cause of the continuing break-up of estates throughout the country. In a recent correspondence in The Times it has been made quite clear that arbitrators have in the past been awarding a kind of premium to the sitting tenant, in that they have been willing to give him a considerable benefit in the award of a new rent. I cannot see that there is any possible justification for this attitude. The security of tenure provisions in the 1948 Act were intended to further efficient farming, and not to allow a sitting tenant to obtain a lower rent. I believe this attitude in itself affords sufficient justification for the action which is taken, or contemplated, in the present Bill. I cannot see that there is any proper alternative to the criterion of open market values. This was the criterion adopted during the period 1923 to 1947. It has long been the criterion adopted for business premises and, I believe, has worked entirely satisfactorily in that direction.

I would also point out to your Lordships that the existing provisions are in no way repealed. They are there as extremely adequate safeguards hedging around the new provisions. Both owner and tenant have to be willing, and the rent at which the holding has to be let is that at which it "might reasonably be expected to be let." That is the criterion put to the arbitrator. I believe this rules out any possibility of freak rents and does not make it in any way more difficult for young men to tender for and obtain rented farms. In fact, it has been my experience in putting out tenders for farms that young men have always been in the van.

Clause 3 of the Bill gives effect to the agreement which was reached last autumn between the Country Landowners' Association and the National Farmers' Union. At this point I should like to pay tribute to the National Farmers' Union for their statesmanlike view on this very controversial subject. I think it is admirable that they were prepared to put the long-term interests of agriculture as a whole before what they might well have been prepared to consider their short-term sectional interests. I believe that the effect is to ease certain joints which undoubtedly were creaking in the principal system of land tenure in this country. The effect of the clause is to enable the landlord to give a notice to quit to the indifferent or inefficient tenant and also to have a chance to obtain possession of uneconomic holdings for the purpose of amalgamation. Everyone wants security of tenure for the good farmer—not least of all the landlord, because, quite obviously, it is in his own interest that there should be such security. But it is quite clear, too, that a little more competition for tenancies would be generally healthy in the agricultural world.

Some misgivings have been expressed that the hearing of these "notice to quit" cases will be in the hands of the Agricultural Land Tribunal and that the hearing will be a single one. I cannot see that there need be any concern on this point. The agricultural world as a whole believes that the Agricultural Land Tribunal is a completely impartial body and is always willing at any time to submit its disputes to that body. But it is likely that there will be additional safeguards, following the acceptance by Her Majesty's Government of the Report of the Franks Committee, in that the Tribunal will have to give a written statement of its reasons for a decision, and the tenant will know in advance the landlord's reasons for the notice to quit. With these and other safeguards written into the clause I believe that there is the assurance of extremely fair treatment under this heading.

Clause 4 is an entirely new departure in that under it the Agricultural Land Tribunal can require the landlord to effect improvements. This is partly consequential on the repeal of Part II. I believe that this clause is thoroughly desirable, and particularly since it is in line with modern thought and the newer conception of the landlord and tenant relationship. Once again the clause is hedged about with adequate safeguards which ensure that it cannot be in any way abused. Clause 7, which deals with injurious weeds, is, I believe, welcomed by all who are seriously engaged in agriculture.

If I may sum up, I believe that this is a good and constructive Bill and that its effects will be entirely beneficial to agriculture. It does not in any way constitute any vast upheaval but rather a gradual change of emphasis which should be generally beneficial. It affects a lubrication of joints which were certainly starting to creak. I believe, too, that it makes for a very much better business relationship between landlord and tenant; and I do not think it can be sufficiently stressed that the management of agricultural land is every bit as much a business as is the management of a farm. I believe, therefore, that this Bill is very much in the long-term interests of British agriculture.


My Lords, it falls to my pleasant duty to be the first to speak after the noble Earl, Lord Bradford, and to be able to congratulate him upon his maiden speech in this House which has been delivered in such a tone, order and language that I am quite sure we shall all be very happy to listen to him again. He will not expect me to agree with a great deal of what he has said; but perhaps when he comes a little more often to the House, as I hope he will, we shall understand each other's points of controversy. I should like also to congratulate the noble Earl the Minister, whom I do not see here at the moment, on introducing the Second Reading of the Bill this afternoon. I once sent a signal during the war to the late Admiral of the Fleet, Sir James Somerville. I had just asked him to do a nasty, sticky job and he was on his way to Gibraltar in a cruiser. I wished him good luck and good hunting and said, "Vrom one Zummerzet mun to another, Oi be relyin' on you." I got an appropriate reply from him in Somerset dialect. From one Somerset man to another I should like to say to the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, that I am very glad that a representative of a distinguished Somerset family should have gained this Parliamentary Ministerial position, and I hope he will have great success in it.

Having listened to the noble Earl this afternoon, however, and then heard the detailed analysis of the Bill itself by my noble friend Lord Silkin, I do not think the noble Earl will expect me to agree very much with his arguments this afternoon. I see that it is going to be a common view in this House, apparently, judging not only from the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, but also from that of the noble Earl who has just sat down, that this Bill is something which is bringing the position up to date and into line with the present circumstances, whereas we, in our Party, who in the course of a twenty-five or thirty years' struggle to deal properly with agriculture have moved away from old ideas, regard this as a real, first-class agricultural betrayal.

Agriculture in the past was often not properly regarded by any of the Parties in the State, and my attention was drawn the other day to an extract from a book by the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, in which he made special reference to the period, and, quite rightly, blamed all Parties. Consider what the situation was. The noble Earl said: I served as Minister of Agriculture, a post at that time of almost complete futility and frustration. There was little to be done outside routine administration. For the rest, it was dispiriting to know that, given the atmosphere prevailing in both Parties, the soundest advice to give to any farmer was to get out of his head all fancy ideas of high production, to lay his land down to grass, reduce his labour bill and run his farm with the traditional dog and stick. I am bound to say, looking back over the years, that the noble Earl has never written a truer word on what the situation was. That was the actual position and it only goes to support the view which we have always had: that no matter how much sometimes we may have disagreed with the noble Earl, in politics, he has always been sincere.

I say that this is a great agricultural betrayal. It is a betrayal, not perhaps so large or so devastating at the present moment as was the betrayal of 1920, but all in the same order. The Minister tried to show us to-day that the Government can afford to do without Part II of the Agriculture Act, 1947, because circumstances had changed and it was falling into desuetude. As a matter of fact, as was pointed out in another place, in the years in which Labour were administering their own Act of 1947 there were more than 4,000 cases of farmers under supervision, and of that number nearly all the 4,000, after a time and with the help and advice given for the expert working of the system, greatly improved and increased their production and made their farms something to be proud of instead of something to be highly criticised; and the whole system was effective.

I support entirely the argument of Lord Silkin. Where from the countryside are we hearing any real complaints of the work of the agricultural committees in this respect? From no one. How much have they had a chance to be consulted in the drafting of this measure? It is quite clear that you have had no consultation whatever with the National Farmers' Union on the question of Part II of the 1947 Act and whether it should be repealed, or with the Agricultural Workers' Union. Why not? They have never been consulted, and so we have had a communication this week from the National Farmers' Union protesting still against the leaving out of Part II of the Act.

Then let us take another look at the argument which is used. Of course the position has been greatly altered and dissipated by the effect of the 1957 Act. The 1957 Act brings in a longer-term guarantee than has been given before and there will be guaranteed prices. But what has been the real effect of the Government's policy, both before and since the 1957 Act? It has been this: whilst they gave the farming community a 100 per cent. pledge in 1951 that they would maintain the administration and operation of the 1947 and 1948 Acts, they have, as a Government, been gradually undermining and worsening the position of the farmer ever since. I have made speech after speech on Return after Return about the Government's policy on guaranteed prices. I have been able to demonstrate my case, and I have never found my case disproved. If you consider the report of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food itself, what stands out a mile is that in the course of these years, whilst all other industries have been greatly increasing their net incomes, taken as a whole, agriculture stands alone, the official report of the Ministry showing the industry to be receiving 8 per cent. net less; farmers' net incomes are 8 per cent. less than in 1951. They have to meet from that all the increasing costs which have also come to be shouldered by the industry. That is the result.

When you talk about the long-term guarantee being one of the justifications for bringing in the 1957 Act, what is the fact? The fact is that, instead of our having the experience we have had over ten years, of averaging, say, about £15 million to be absorbed annually by the increased efficiency of the industry, you now take the power, and are using the power, so to treat the Annual Review of prices that you can in any year you like reduce the previous total income of the industry by up to £30 million per annum. That is the position. What sort of future is that for the agricultural industry to face? I say that that is the tendency which this Government have shown all along, and I think it runs absolutely true to form. It is the kind of attitude that the economist and the businessman had towards the agricultural industry in the days before and after the First Great War. As soon as the war came, everything possible had to be done for agriculture. You had grants; you had certain kinds of supervision in consequence; you had the Corn Production Act of 1917.

Then in 1920 you repealed Part II of the Act; and in 1921 you repealed the Act altogether. With what result? The farmers all over the country were thrown very largely into bankruptcy; and agricultural wages fell in the course of only two and a half years from the level they had reached, 46s., to an average of 23s. 6d. And that is what you are going to do now. What is the use of saying that you have no intention of dealing with Part I of the Act? All the arguments are gradually being spread, like the comment in the London Times of March 5, or the surreptitious notes from time to time in the Economist, asking "How long can these agricultural subsidies go on?" And so, finally, you bring up the argument that, because you have no real supervision or guarantee of standards of efficiency, then you will have to repeal the subsidies altogether.

My Lords, I am only a fairly junior Member of this House; for only about eight and a half years have I been up here. But I read the records and I notice that when the House of Commons came to deal with the question of whether or not the Corn Production Act was to be finally repealed, a Tory Minister justified the final repeal of the Act on the ground that the previous year it was this House, the House of Lords, which had so mutilated the control and the standards of efficiency in the industry that they were enabled as a Government in the other House to bring about the total repeal in 1921. So, first get rid of the controls and then get rid of the guaranteed aid! It is the same process to-day. We find it being prepared by the subtle method adopted by the Government in handling their Annual Review of Prices, making the farmer worse off every year. The noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, shakes his head. Let him get up and prove his case to the contrary. Although we have such a long list of speakers, and I may, unfortunately, not be here to hear it, I shall read with the greatest interest what he has to say.

I am quite sure in my own mind that what I am saying is likely, in the end, to be the result of the policy which the Government are pursuing; and I beg them, even at this late stage, to reconsider the position, which is very unfair. It is no use just offering a grant here and there, in order to help the acquisition of new and modern equipment and the like, while adopting a policy which first of all washes out all control of efficiency, or that kind of helpful aid to efficiency that has been working under Part II of the Agriculture Act, and, at the same time, depreciates the farmer's income position as a result of the method of dealing with the Annual Review of Prices. This last year we have had these two competing systems absolutely concelling out and leaving the farmer altogether on the debit side. That seems quite wrong. I am not saying for one moment that subsidies as such must be maintained at a specific figure—not at all. The whole position in the administration of the 1947 Act was to have an Annual Review, and it has always been thought to be right to accept the procedure of a scheme of subsidies year by year in order to increase efficiency, but the amounts now being set down year by year to be reached, one on top of the other, make the whole position quite unreasonable.

With regard to the details of the clauses themselves I do not propose to say more because with such a long list of speakers it is unfair to the House on a Thursday at this time of day. But in Committee, if we can be given time, we shall do our best to improve the Bill, although I am not greatly encouraged by the way in which the well-meaning Amendments were made downstairs. I would only say that I am not quite able to understand the justification placed by the Government at large upon the Franks Committee, or the differing opinions we seem to hear to-day. I want to put on record however, in the OFFICIAL REPORT of our proceedings to-day, what the Minister of Agriculture said in introducing the Bill in the other place [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 584, col. 1109]: I will deal, first, with the disciplinary provisions of the 1947 Act, which is dealt with by Clause 1 of the Bill. It is, I am told, an essential qualification of a veterinary surgeon that he should be able to recognise a dead horse when he sees one. Bluntly, these provisions have been dead for a long time, and I do not want to spend too long on their funeral oration. If there had been doubt about the need to bury them, then the conclusions of the Franks Committee should have clinched the matter. Apparently the Minister was relying upon the Franks Committee. I hope the Government will look at that point again before we come to the Committee stage; otherwise it is likely to come up in debate on a good many occasions.

I deplore the repeal of Part II of the Act of 1947. I am quite certain that the results will not be good and that in the end those who want to be able to "get at" the general agreement which exists between the State and the whole farming industry to have something done for the continued production and expansion of production by the industry, will be able to do so because all the disciplinary clauses are being repealed.

5.35 p.m.


My Lords, there are perhaps two points in the chronology of our debate to-day of which it would not be improper to take notice. The first is that although I can appreciate the difficulties which the Government had in arranging the business, it seems somewhat astonishing that they should have put down a debate on an important agricultural Bill for one of the days on which the Royal Show is being held elsewhere. That Show commands the attention of many of your Lordships, and those Members who felt they had an obligation to be there have consequently been unable to attend this debate. But undoubtedly there was some admirable reason for that, and the noble Earl will forgive me for making a comment on something which must have occurred to him and to others, not least to myself.

The other point is this. It should surely be noted among the more curious coincidences by which our life is apt to be marked that we are to-day having a great agricultural debate on the day on which the news reaches your Lordships of the death of Lord Bledisloe. I may, perhaps, be excused for mentioning that I do not think there can be anybody in this House to-day who was an older colleague with him than myself, in another place, in this House and in the Ministry of Agriculture; and every one of your Lordships who has known him well will, I am sure, agree with me in feeling that there can hardly have been anyone who served the cause to which he had devoted his life with more fidelity, energy, or single-mindedness.

Having said that, may I turn for a moment or two to some of the things which fell from the lips of my noble friend opposite? I do not know that I should have asked leave to intervene in this debate at all to-day if it had not been that my attention had been drawn on an earlier occasion to some remarks that were made in another place by Mr. Tom Williams and that have been repeated to-day, with all the skill and eloquence that the noble Viscount opposite commands, in regard to some words that I used in another connection. Now Mr. Tom Williams is, I hope I may say, one of my oldest friends, one for whom I have an immense regard and respect. In spite of everything I have been able to do to prevent it, he has been my Member for twenty-five years, and no doubt he will continue to be my Member for as long as he chooses to sit. That is my relation with Mr. Williams, which is thoroughly friendly and amicable.

In his speech on the Second Reading in another place which the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, has more or less repeated to-day, he based an argument, a very simple argument, designed to show a Conservative lack of sympathy for agriculture, on some words I had written concerning the conditions of agriculture when I served as Minister in 1924. The argument was that since, as I admitted, little interest in agriculture was shown by the Conservative Government in 1924, so it might safely he assumed that the Conservative Government in 1957 would have equally little, sympathy for the great cause of agriculture. There are only two comments I permit myself. One is that although Mr. Williams quoted my words correctly and the noble Viscount opposite has quoted them correctly again in to-day's debate, they have both completely overlooked the force of the argument that was contained in my words: that the agricultural frustration of that day was due to one simple fact—to "the atmosphere prevailing in both Parties". It was not the Conservative Party any more than the Labour Party; it was both Parties. Therefore, whatever may be held to be the result upon the mind and mentality of the Conservative Party would presumably be operating just as forcibly, or as little forcibly, upon the mind of the Labour Party. If that is so, the argument seems to me to fall.

But apart from that, with all respect to the noble Viscount opposite, I would say with what great regret I heard him, with his great powers of intelligent, ordered thought and logical deduction, base an argument on an analogy as valid as if one said that because a boy of five was not much good on a penny whistle, therefore he would be no good on a fiddle when he was fifty. That is just as relevant as his argument, and I beg the noble Viscount to think up something better than that in future.


I am most obliged for the kind advice the noble Earl has proffered, but I hope that if criticism is going to be given in that style, he will tell me exactly to which part of my speech he is referring, because I do not think that I came to any unfair or illogical conclusions.


If I have been unfair to the noble Viscount, I will apologise at once and withdraw. I understood his argument to be that I had always been very honest and sincere, and if I had said that the Conservative Government were hopeless in 1925 therefore he judged me to think that they were still hopeless in 1958.


No, my Lords, when the noble Earl reads the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow, he will find that I attacked my own side as much as his with regard to the position in 1924 and in the prewar years. He will find, I hope, that I have done him and his Party all the justice they deserve.


I do not imagine that we need pursue the argument much further. I hope the noble Viscount will acquit the Conservative Party of being any less interested in agriculture than his own Party.

I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, develop his view of what were the main purposes of agriculture to-day, and I did not find much to quarrel with in what he said. But I was struck by what one may call the drama and tragedy that noble Lords sought to attach to this Bill. I confess that I have come very much to the view of it taken by my noble friend Lord Waldegrave—and perhaps I also may be allowed, with all humility, to congratulate him on his introduction of the Bill to-day—that it is a practical Bill, useful, as we all hope, but not earthshaking, or dramatic or tragic in the way in which noble Lords have sought to represent it. Going about the countryside to-day (and I say this with full recognition of the fact that every one of us who thinks that he speaks with knowledge of the countryside, speaks with knowledge of his own countryside; and other noble Lords may adduce different evidence from my own), I cannot find any of this quality of tragedy and drama attached to the Bill in the thought of those engaged there.

If the Bill is to discharge the main purposes on which we should all agree—I may define them rather differently from the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, but I will not waste your Lordships' time by doing it—it must give reasonable recognition to the interests of the three partners concerned in the partnership. With wages and other conditions affecting the workers, this Bill is not directly concerned, though, of course, ultimately these things largely depend on the economic state, the condition of prosperity of the farmers and landowners. But it is immediately concerned with the position of these other two partners, the owners and farmers, and also with some aspects of the relations between them. My noble friend Lord Waldegrave stated the three main purposes of the Bill, and I do not propose to restate them. I will allow myself to make only one observation on each of them.

As to the first, no one denies that there have been, and are, cases of bad farming, or, let me add, of bad estate management. I believe, however, that the Minister was not far wrong when he said the other day that these bad cases amount to the bottom 1 per cent. But many more than 1 per cent. resent the application to agriculture of those penal methods that, as my noble friend pointed out, have not been applied to any other industry in the land. While, according to Holy Writ, there is great joy over the rediscovery of one wandering sheep, I must remind the noble Viscount opposite, who I am sure would agree with me, that the foundation of the flock remains in the 99 per cent.: however nice it is to rediscover the one, they are an important element in the flock. The fact is that at the present time, as was evidenced by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, both he and the noble Viscount think (whether they will admit it or not, I am not sure) that at bottom it has been compulsion that has secured the great agricultural progress we are happy to know. I do not happen to think that, and I do not believe that it is true. I will not waste your Lordships' time developing the argument on why I believe that, because other noble Lords can easily guess what the argument would be, though they may or may not agree with it.

I will add only this one comment. Up and down the land to-day we see a thing that we should not have seen thirty years ago. The smallholder, who thirty years ago would have been thought of as a person of not very advanced agricultural practice, just struggling along making a living, is to-day spraying his crops, to take one example. Why? Not because he is compelled to do so, or fears that he is going to be caught out for having less good crops or more thistles, but because it pays him. That is what has got production in agriculture, because your Government and ours (thank Heaven ! it has been a matter on which there has been no Party disagreement) both agreed to give different inducements—ploughing grants, fertiliser subsidies, calf subsidies and so on—which encouraged farmers, large and small, to make a good job of it. Therefore, when it is said that if we take away the penal powers, the next lot of people will want to remove the subsidies, because they will say, "How can we provide for good farming if there is no compulsion behind?" my answer would be, "By all means take away the subsidies when they no longer do their job in securing good farming." But they are doing it to-day, and I challenge anybody to deny it. Therefore, I am not much alarmed by the noble Lords' anxiety.

Again, as regards arbitration, do not let us be at all frightened by this drama. The average arbitrator—I have not had much to do with him, but I have had a little—is a very hard-headed, shrewd fellow, and on the whole he and the farmer know pretty well what they are about. I do not think that any of us need be very much upset about that. As regards security of tenure, my noble friend told us that the National Farmers' Union agree with Lord Bradford's organisation, and although I should not put the value of these provisions or their effect as high as the noble Earl was disposed to put them, I hope that he is right, and that the judgment of those who say that these provisions will do something to make the land tenure less rigid, and make it easier for a young man to get a start, is also right. Every one of your Lordships who is a landowner knows, as I know, that we have on our estate books queues of young men who want to get a start on farms but who cannot be given the opportunity. Therefore, I think that if the clause is likely to relieve pressure, it will be of benefit.

Whilst I do not think this Bill has all the virtues that some of the more enthusiastic of its advocates may suggest, and I certainly do not think it has all the evils that the more vituperative of its critics seem to suggest, none the less I think it is a useful Bill. I hope that if a need for amendment is shown, my noble friends will be prepared to consider and accept Amendments, from whatever quarter they may come. But, for the rest, I think we may all concur in supporting a Bill that may be useful.

5.52 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, on his new office and on the way he introduced this Bill. I would go a long way with the noble Lord, Lord Silk in, in his statement of the three main objects. After that, the main opposition to this Bill seems to be, first of all, on the repeal of Part II of the Act; and secondly, on the clause giving instructions to arbitrators. When I was listening both to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, talking about this new clause, I could not help thinking of the old phrase, De mortuis nil nisi bonum—because anything nearer dead than Part II of the Agriculture Act it would be difficult to imagine. Also, I feel that many of those who mourn her the most loudly would not be all that pleased if she were revived in her full force. But there seems to be a sort of feeling that we should have in the background this almost breathless corpse which gives respectability to the receipt of the subsidies. I think that this is an impossible position to take up, because, whatever one's feeling towards Part II of the Act, there is no doubt that, after the Franks Report pointed out that the procedure would have to be altered, there would have to be quite considerable amendment of that part of the Act.

Surely before one introduces an elaborate new procedure it is worth while considering whether that which you are going to amend is worth retaining at all. After all, as has been said by a number of your Lordships, these provisions were passed in completely different circumstances Many of your Lordships will remember the debates on the Agriculture Bill ten years ago, in completely different circumstances, and I do not think there were many in the House who disagreed at the time that some powers of compulsion were necessary. It was necessary to ensure that every acre of our land produced the maximum amount of goods. Since then times have changed. What has killed Part II of the Act is not any action of the Government or any particular wish of the industry; it is public opinion, in the changed circumstances of the times, which makes, and for a number of years has made, it impossible to implement that Act so that it has any effect. In spite of that, the progress of agriculture has proceeded at an ever-increasing rate. Of course, as the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, said, it is not the penal provisions of the Act which have led to efficiency, but a number of different factors: the agricultural executive committees and the National Agricultural Advisory Service have had their part to play; so have research and the tremendous keenness and willingness of our farmers to adopt new methods and techniques almost as soon as they are produced. Those are the things that have improved our standard of agriculture, not Part II of the Act, which has played only a small part in the process.

I sometimes wonder whether, on balance, it has not done more harm than it has good. There is a small number of cases of farmers who have been put under supervision, and a few people have been dispossessed; but one wonders how many other people who have been near the borderline have refrained from asking for advice and assistance which was available to them because of the fear that if they let those people on to their land to give them advice they might act as policemen and the next thing that would happen would be that they would find themselves under supervision. I think we need have little regret at the passing of this Part of the Act. Prosperity depends, as I have said, on a number of factors and largely on guaranteed prices—originally based on Part I of the 1947 Act, and later much strengthened by the 1957 Act—which have meant that farmers can produce with confidence.

The only other matter on which I should like to say a word or two is the instructions to arbitrators in Clause 2. After all, this does not alter all the qualifications given in the Bill: all it does is to take the market value as the criterion for rent. I cannot see that that is very different from what the late Minister, Mr. Tom Williams, said in Standing Committee A on March 13, 1947, at column 518, during the Committee stage of the Agriculture Bill. He then said: We think rather that the right figure is the actual rent that a landowner can get on the open market from a willing tenant who is about to become the occupier. I cannot see how that is very different from what is being put in the Bill. Originally, that had been the criterion. The other words, "the rent properly payable", were put into the Agriculture Act, 1947. Apparently Mr. Tom Williams, who was the Minister responsible for that Act, understood them to mean the open market value. Since then, some arbitrators have understood them to mean that, and others have not. Therefore, it seems to me only sensible that in this Bill we should take the opportunity of re-stating the position. After all, the formula in this Bill has been operated, I think, for thirty years under the Landlord and Tenant Act, and, I believe, without any undue hardship. So I think that a number of the fears of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, are unfounded. After all, unless a landlord has a reasonable rent for his farm he cannot provide the necessary equipment, and the necessary new capital will not be forthcoming into the industry.

I think the rest of the Bill is largely agreed to. I believe that the security of tenure may make it possible for the young farmer to come into the industry. I support the Bill because, while maintaining a reasonable safeguard for the efficient farmer, it puts the relations between landlord and tenant on a more normal footing. It takes away much of that dependence on the Ministry which I do not think has had a beneficial effect on those relations over the past ten years. It will help to make the landlord and tenant system work more smoothly, and I think that, on the whole, coupled with the 1957 Act, it will be a great help to the industry.

6.3 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, has reminded your Lordships that many Members of your Lordships' House will be at the Royal Show to-day, and I think I might also remind your Lordships that a great many of the Scottish Members are on duty in Edinburgh in connection with the Royal visit. I am quite certain that a great many of them are sorry that they have been unable to come here today to take part in the debate. If I may be permitted, in their absence, to make a few remarks, which will necessarily be brief in view of the long list of speakers, I should like to comment on one or two aspects of the Bill as it affects the position in Scotland.

It is perfectly true that to a great degree this Bill concerns both England and Scotland, and I am quite certain that it deserves an equal welcome in both countries. Several noble Lords have alluded to what I think are, or may seem to be, the two controversial points in the Bill which apply generally: first, the repeal of the disciplinary powers, and, second, the fixing of rents and the direction to arbiters. My own feeling is that both the proposals concerning these two points are worthy of the fullest support. So far as the disciplinary powers are concerned, they are surely an unnecessary administrative expense in a peace-time agricultural economy. If a farmer is farming badly, ordinary economic pressures should now be sufficient to goad him to greater efficiency; and if they do not, I feel that he has no business to be farming. And although it may be true that these powers have been used very seldom and comparatively little, I feel that they have been an irksome and undignified part of the farmer's life.

Now may I come to the question of the fixing of rents and the direction to arbiters? I myself fail to understand why these proposals have raised such an outcry in certain parts of the country and in certain organs of the Press, although I quite understand that nobody likes to feel, or even to contemplate the fact, that they may have to raise their rents. Be that as it may, it would seem that there can be no fairer yardstick, both for landlord and tenant, of what a rent should or should not be than the open market, where an ordinary commercial bargain can be made based on the state of the industry, the conditions of the farm and the terms of the lease.

It is Clause 6 of the Bill that is of particular concern to Scotland. The noble Earl who moved the Second Reading—and I should like, if I may, to add my congratulations to him for the excellent way in which he did it—pointed out that Clause 6 brings Scottish practice concerning succession and bequests into line with the present English procedure. I may say that in this particular instance I think the Bill has much to commend it. If this Bill becomes law—and I hope it will—it will mean that the bequest of a lease in Scotland will in future be limited to members of the tenant's family; and subsection (2) sets out exactly what is meant by "members of his family".

Under the 1949 Act, a tenant in Scotland can bequeath a lease, in the words of the Act, "to any person ". Your Lordships will appreciate that in some respects this has tended to make the position of landlords almost farcical. I believe the principle of security of tenure to be absolutely right, but it must be limited to some degree if a landlord is to carry out his function. Surely one of his most important responsibilities is to see that the right tenant gets the farm—the man who will make the most of it. Under this Bill it will now be possible for the Scottish landlord to have slightly more flexibility in this matter, and I am quite certain that Scottish agriculture will benefit.

In Scotland we have heard that this will mean the end of security of tenure; that the Bill is a landlords' charter, and that Scottish agriculture faces a gloomy future. But these terrible things have not happened in England, and I do not see why our critics in Scotland are so pessimistic. At the same time, I am glad to see that the Bill makes provision for compensation to be paid to those tenants who have been carrying out improvements over the last ten years since the 1949 Act came into force, and also that it is so framed that any notices to quit will come into force gradually over a period of years, so that any possible hardship is kept to a minimum. One could argue with some force that Her Majesty's Government might have gone even further with regard to Scottish practice, and could have made provision for some return to the traditional system of long leases by which Scottish agriculture was originally built up into its fine condition. Nevertheless, the present Bill at least puts the position on to a just and equitable basis, and one which I believe will in no way upset the traditional relationships between landlord and tenant. I may say that I have the advantage of being able to speak both as a landlord and as a tenant farmer, and I hope that I am not being too optimistic about this.

We have also heard in Scotland that one result of the Bill will be a sort of "general post" among tenants, or, alternatively, that landlords will start taking possession of farms on a large scale. I do not believe that there is any great likelihood of this happening. It does not appear to have been the case in England. Indeed, I believe that if there is any rise in the general level of rents it will make it less likely that landlords will want to get possession of their own farms. It has been argued in Scotland—and I think there is some truth in this—that in future tenants will no longer be so ready and willing to carry out major improvements to their farms. I think it is true that they will naturally feel a greater native Scots caution in the matter, but even so I do not believe that they will be any more deterred from carrying out improvements than are their colleagues in England.

My Lords, I do not wish to say any more on this Second Reading. I should like to congratulate the Government on the Bill. I am very sorry that it has been represented in some quarters as a political measure, because I think if anything ought to be kept out of politics it is agriculture. Nevertheless, I am quite certain that when the Bill does come into force—and I hope that your Lordships will give it a Second Reading to-day—it will be seen for what I believe it is, a model of fairness and common sense.

6.13 p.m.


My Lords, before commending this Bill to your Lordships I should like to congratulate the noble Earl who introduced it in such a clear, concise way. For many years I have heard him speaking in public in my own county, and I can assure your Lordships that he will be a most valuable Minister on the Front Bench. I think your Lordships must have been much impressed by the maiden speech of my noble friend, Lord Bradford. He, too, is a practical expert in farming and in all matters of agriculture. I believe that with the two noble Earls, this House will be provided with the most expert knowledge and advice on all agricultural subjects.

This Bill is so short and has been so well covered by the previous speakers that there is little more to be said about it. But your Lordships have been interested, I think, by some of the speeches that have fallen from the opposite side of the House Your Lordships were interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, read out in the statement from the National Farmers' Union. I suggest to your Lordships that it may be that one of the reasons that this communication has been sent to the noble Lord is that the National Farmers' Union prefer to maintain the existing system; they know that it does not work, but it looks well on paper and is an extremely good bargaining counter when dealing with the subject of guaranteed prices I suggest that to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, because I believe there is more than a grain of truth in it.

Your Lordships were, I think, interested, too, in the sad and rather dismal picture painted by the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, the picture of a decadent agricultural profession almost on the verge of bankruptcy. I do not know whether any of your Lordships were yesterday at Bristol at the Royal Show, as I was myself, but I can assure you that the ten or twenty thousand farmers assembled there did not give the impression of immediate bankruptcy. They looked extremely prosperous, and that, I believe, is the case with 90 per cent. of farmers in England to-day. This picture that has been painted from the other side of the House of the imminent death of British agriculture because compulsion is going to be removed, is quite erroneous. This idea that British farmers farm well because there are powers of compulsion and discipline in the 1947 Act is simply not true. They farm well because they love farming. The mere façade of paper work in the 1947 Act, which has not worked for the last five years, does not make them farm well. Farmers are not frightened to-day by all the discipline and control that the noble Lords on the other side of the House have made so much of. They have misjudged the psychology of farmers in this country. Farming will go on and improve if these powers of compulsion and discipline are removed.

Who is it who farms well to-day? It is the young farmers. They do not want either compulsion or discipline. The old farmers, the farmers who lack the technical knowledge and who never had the training that the young farmers have had, are gradually disappearing from old age. It is that remnant, that rump, as it were, of the old uneducated farmers, that this Bill will to some extent affect. There may be cases—and I know them personally—where old farmers, many of them in bad health, are still clinging to large productive farms, and many owners of farmland will take no action because they are old friends; they have known them since they were boys; they have grown up together. Time alone will, I believe, remove such farmers, but there are not a very large number of them. Certainly the provisions of the 1947 Act have never removed them and never will. Therefore I see no reason at all, in fact or in logic, why these powers of compulsion and discipline should be retained.

I believe firmly that it is repugnant to the public at large that such powers should be in the hands of any Minister. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said he had heard no public outcry against these powers. I am bound to say that I am surprised. One has only to read the daily Press; one has only to go amongst the agricultural community in this country. If the noble Lord had done that, he would have heard plenty of public outcry about these powers, either about their use or their misuse. So I believe that the whole balance of argument is towards the revision—in fact the repeal—of Part II of the 1947 Act.

I believe that farming will go on and prosper equally well where this country no longer depends on the type of farmer who was farming at the beginning of the war in 1939. That generation, which was uneducated in modern farming, is ceasing to hold farms, and only a very small number are still surviving. Time will remove them, and young farmers, who to my mind are well trained, energetic and love their profession, will be quite capable of paying, and are even anxious to pay, the increased rents that noble Lords opposite are so fearful about. Anyone with experience of this matter knows that when a farm is offered to let, the biggest offers come from the youngest farmers. That, I believe, refutes what has been said from the Benches opposite. It is the young men who will pay economic rents.

As I am referring to rents for a moment, I wonder whether it is really understood on the other side of the House that agricultural rents in this country are now approaching the level of 1870? I would ask noble Lords opposite to think on that for a moment, and to consider it in relation to the fall in the value of the purchasing power of money. I think there will then be few fair-minded noble Lords opposite who will say that rents are too high or are likely to be raised too high. I believe that this Bill will do good, and that the old powers of control which were necessary in 1947, when this country was short of food, are no longer necessary in 1958, but are rather more of a hindrance than a help to agriculture.

6.23 p.m.


My Lords, at the outset of what I have to say I wish to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Bradford, upon his maiden speech. I have heard of him from outside sources, and I commend him to your Lordships as being an agriculturist who is keen to help the agricultural worker and to interest himself in agriculture generally. I welcome him to our debates, and I hope that he will come in on many occasions when we are talking about agriculture.

There were a number of things that I wanted to say this afternoon about this particular Bill, but as time is getting on I shall have to cut short my remarks. There are, however, one or two things that I want to refer to which have been mentioned already in the course of our debate. First of all, I think that the Bill is a bad Bill. I start off on that footing. My idea of a Bill for agriculture is a Bill which will help us to increase production, to maintain the good relationship between landlords and tenants and help this nation to survive the economic troubles in which we find ourselves. To my mind, this Bill is misnamed. It is not an agriculture Bill at all. I cannot describe what it is, but it seems to me that it is almost entirely a lawyers' Bill. I do not know who were the authors of the Bill. I am pretty certain that it will in no way increase our production, and in the course of years will bring into the industry a good deal of dissatisfaction.

Noble Lords have been talking in terms of the relationship between landlords and tenants. I cannot conceive any tenant wantonly taking his landlord before the Agricultural Lands Tribunal; nor can I see a landlord taking his tenant before the Agricultural Lands Tribunal in order to redress a wrong. This Tribunal will throw legal costs and publicity in no small measure upon the owner and the tenant, and I am quite certain that, so far as the agricultural industry are concerned, they will take whatever steps they can to avoid appearing before the Tribunal. I may be considered old-fashioned in saying this, but I personally would dispense entirely with the Agricultural Lands Tribunal and retain the county agricultural executive committees. I would throw the onus of settling disputes, particularly where they are farming disputes, not on a tribunal but on an arbitrator. Under this Bill, you are putting to an arbitrator the question of the fair rent or the rent between the willing owner and the willing tenant. But from time immemorial—or, at any rate, from the 1923 Act—the industry was quite safe in the hands of the expert surveyors and others who had to decide the question of rents and the conditions of tenancy and the rest. So far as I know, we can find no fault with the agricultural arbitrators. They settled points of value and all things in connection with farming; their decisions were given with speed, and in only few cases did they have to state a case for the decision of the courts. Now you are throwing upon the industry a method of procedure which I am quite certain will hold up matters in dispute and throw heavy costs upon those who engage in the cheerful occupation of going to law.

The question of supervision has arisen. I have said that I would retain the county agricultural executive committees, possibly not with the same powers as they had during the war period, but in order that they might still advise and help farmers not only in need of practical advice but in regard to the necessity of farming their land in a form which we as a nation expect the farming community to do. Production is necessary, and whilst we as farmers are in charge of the land of Britain, then it is up to us to do whatever we can, if necessary with aid and advice, in that direction.

This afternoon it has been stated that 4,000 farmers were under supervision—I have argued this point before with the noble Earl who is to reply. The fact that 4,000 farmers were helped by county agricultural executive committees and given advice during that particular period increased the production of those 4,000 farms to a marked degree; and the fact that this dispossession has taken place in only a few cases is proved by an article in The Times of Monday last, in which it was said that a young farmer had gone into a certain farm which had been covered by dispossession orders and was really making good there, to the benefit of the nation, and pulling that farm round.

The matter of young farmers being able to go into occupation of farms was mentioned by the last speaker and other noble Lords. I am sure noble Lords must all realise how very difficult it is at the present time for a young man to take over a farm. He may be lucky; he may be the son of a tenant or an owner; but he has to go into competition with other farmers on the question of rent. He has to provide the means of equipping that farm, stocking it and purchasing his feeding-stuffs and all the other costs which arise in that connection; and he has to suffer the ups and downs of the market. He has to suffer the weather of this last week and so on.

The trouble here is that rents are now rising. Neither I nor, I believe, others on these Benches are arguing that rents are or have been unduly high in the past; for they have not. But under the present system of opening farms to tender and accepting rents which are in excess of economic rents, the young farmer to-day has no hope whatever of getting into the industry and making a livelihood from it unless he has behind him sufficient capital of his own, or of his relatives, and can do it in that way. I am very perturbed about this problem because I realise that to-day farmers are ageing—as we all are—and we ought to do everything possible to create the conditions under which these young men can come into the industry. It has been said that by the operation of this notice to quit more farms will come into the market. I very much doubt that, because in many cases notice to quit will operate in order that farms may be amalgamated; and if we amalgamate farms how can we bring in a young man to take over the farm which a man has left? In many cases, if the notice to quit operates, farmers will come into the market not for re-letting but for sale to the highest bidder. That has happened in the past.

I object to this Bill because I believe that it does nothing to help our productive efforts, and I hope that during the course of the Committee stage we shall be able so to amend the Bill that the owner-occupier is brought within its operation. I feel that at the present time the owner-occupier gets clear. He can do what he likes with his farm. He can farm it according to his own wishes and will, though not necessarily in the national interest. I feel that, whilst we are able to bring pressure to bear on tenants, it is not fair to the tenant that the owner-occupier should be outside the Bill; and I hope that we shall be able to adjust that.

It was said, I believe by the last speaker, that we on these Benches look upon this measure politically; but I can assure noble Lords opposite that that is not so. There are on this side of the House a number of practical farmers whose interest in seeing that our industry is prosperous is equal to that of noble Lords opposite. I have been through the industry. I have been a tenant farmer, a qualified land agent and chartered surveyor and an owner-occupier; and I am now landlord of a farm which my son farms. I can assure your Lordships that neither he nor I will have any use whatever for the Agricultural Land Tribunals.

I hope that, as my noble Leader said, in his very forthright speech—one which I hope will be read outside the walls of your Lordships' House—Her Majesty's Government may even now give further consideration to the passage of this Bill. I hope that further consultations will take place between those concerned with the operation of the Bill and those it affects. If Her Majesty's Government think fit to set this Bill on one side, to put it back for a future Session, or in any way to amend it drastically, we shall not think any the worse of them for doing so.

6.37 p.m.


My Lords, I want to add only a very brief word, for I feel there is little left to be said about this Bill. First of all, I believe that many of your Lordships on this side of the House would wish to say how much we appreciated the last speech. Whether or not we agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wise, it is clear that he has a great knowledge of the industry and a great affection for it. Speaking quite frankly, I believe that some of us, had we been dictators, might have said we should be sorry to see Part II go. We might have argued upon the lines of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin—" Is it really necessary?" I do not think any of us would have taken the line of the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, in saying that it is a betrayal, but I feel that one might ask whether it is really necessary.

After a good deal of thought—because having worked for a while in this field just after the war I know just what good work was done under these powers—I have come very definitely to the conclusion that it is time for these powers to go. I say that for two reasons. The first is that, living in a democratic world—let us face it—if a law cannot be operated because of public opinion then it is a bad law and only brings the law into contempt; and the sooner we get rid of it the better. Secondly, there seems another reason—it is a point that has already been referred to by a number of your Lordships, but it is one which I believe is worth stressing. When the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, asks "Is it really necessary?" my reply is, "Yes "—for one reason. I believe the noble Lord, Lord Amherst of Hackney, gave that reason. I live in a county which has a good many small farmers, and I am quite sure that the advisory officer is kept off a great number of those farms because small men are afraid that the advisory officer may turn into a policeman. So every time you increase the clarity and the line drawn between the advisory officer and the policeman then, to that extent, I believe, you have increased the value and hopefulness of agricultural advice and education.

There is only one other point that I want to mention. I believe the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, particularly stressed the value of Part II as being one side of a treaty (I do not think I am quite using his words) between town and country. These great benefits, in the form of subsidies and so on, he said, are given to agriculture, and it is therefore essential that they should be supervised. I should like to know from the noble Lord: why then do we not have automobile executive committees? The motor industry at the moment receives no less than 33 per cent. protection at the expense of the public or buyer, the public in its consuming capacity. Agriculture receives subsidies to the extent of 15 or 16 per cent. of total production, about half the percentage which the motor-car industry receives. I think the argument that it is necessary, because a certain industry is receiving assistance, that there should be executive committees to supervise its efficiency is utterly out of date and quite irrelevant. Those are the only two points I want to make. There were a great number more with which I came into the House—I have an immense sheaf of papers of things I was going to say; but they have been said already. For the reasons I have given, I strongly support this Bill.

6.43 p.m.


My Lords, like many other noble Lords, from this side of the House at least, I welcome this Bill, because I consider that it is going to be an asset to agriculture. In particular I welcome Clause 1, which repeals the power of the Minister to dispossess and supervise people on account of bad husbandry or bad farming. These powers were introduced with the Agriculture Act, 1947, and although it is possible that there was a good argument for them when they were introduced, I think we must now look at the situation fairly. When they were introduced there was a distinct shortage of food. Food had to be produced at all costs and virtually at any price. There was a world shortage of food, and it was essential that that shortage should be brought to an end as soon as possible. The farmers were paid, and paid well, for it, and it was understandable that the Government of the day should pass a Bill which virtually said, "We will give the farmers a good price, provided they do their job. But those who, in short, would ' grow fat' at other people's expense should find themselves in the position of being removed from their farm to make way for somebody else who would be able to utilise that land more efficiently."

That was the argument, but now the situation has changed greatly. No longer is one's milk consumption restricted by rationing; no longer is it a question of "Food at any price". Indeed, quite the reverse: one is endeavouring to get people to eat more because there is such a superfluity. Therefore, I do not feel it is in keeping with the situation at present to tell farmers that if they are not making the best use of their farm they will find themselves dispossessed. As times change, so also must the laws; and I believe that fundamentally, as some other noble Lords have said earlier this afternoon, it is basically against the principles of the British way of life that, in a time of peace and in a time of plenty, a certain Department of the Government should have powers to throw people out of their business and sometimes out of their homes simply because the victims have not kept up to the standard which the Government have set. The noble Earl, Lord Halifax, made a simile of the ninety-nine sheep and the one missing sheep; and if I might extend that simile, without treading in the sphere of ecclesiastical disrespect, I would point out that the whole essence of the story was that the shepherd went after the one lost sheep and found it; but he did not chase it away, waving his crook and telling it to go back.

There are three other reasons which I should like to put forward in support of the view that these measures should be repealed. First, farmers do not like acting as prosecutors of their own neighbours. That is a very definite point and one, possibly the one, which has made this law so seldom used. This law has been infrequently used, and if a law is infrequently used the chances are that it is of little avail. Secondly, the economic conditions of the industry have altered, and an inefficient farmer is unlikely to make any money to-day. The noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, told us this afternoon of how he has frequently come along and told noble Lords that farmers' incomes have been getting lower and lower the whole time. If a good farmer's income has been decreasing and decreasing, I tremble to think what that of the inefficient farmer has been doing. If the inefficient farmer cannot make ends meet he will soon be out of business, and there is, therefore, little need of the power of dispossession.

Thirdly, I would refer to a point which the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, made, and it is very important: the fact that farmers must have and require the help of the Agricultural Advisory Service and the agricultural executive committees. An inefficient farmer, of all people, requires their help, and he is the last person who is going to receive their help if he feels that by going to them he is going to the people who might also be instrumental in dispossessing him or putting him under supervision. Therefore I welcome Clause 1 of the Bill. I do so also from a personal point of view, in that I find it rather cheering to see what some people regard as a rather offensive measure removed from the Statute Book rather than to see a restrictive measure, as is so often the case, being added to it on behalf of the public good. I sometimes wonder what would be the hue and cry were the Government to introduce a measure asking for permission to throw people out of their business should they not come up to the required standard. I believe the hue and cry—and quite rightly—would be great. Similarly, I think the praise at seeing the measure removed will be equally great.

Clause 2 deals with the position regarding rent. I must say that when one reads the clause, which I will do in order to refresh our minds. I do not think one could find anything that is fairer. The clause states: … the rent properly payable in respect of a holding shall be the rent at which, having regard to the terms of the tenancy … the holding might reasonably be expected to be let in the open market by a willing landlord to a willing tenant … I cannot believe that anything could be fairer than that. If the tenant pays a fair rent, then he need have no fear; if he pays an unfair and inadequate rent, surely it is reasonable for him to be asked to pay a fair rent. I feel that some of the criticism of this particular clause comes from those people who are against rent increases of any kind, irrespective of the motive behind them. But one must realise that the landlord has as much right to endeavour to make his ends meet as any other person in business has. Being a landlord is as much a business as being a tenant, and not infrequently in the past landlords have been unable to make ends meet.

The profession of landlords is a thoroughly honourable one, and one that should be treated as such. I do not say that all landlords are honourable, any more than I would say that all tenants are; but the landlord plays as much of a part in agriculture as does the tenant and that is the point that, over the last decade, has been so frequently glossed over. It is possible to do that for a while, but if that attitude continues for a long period then agriculture as a whole in the end will suffer. It is bound to suffer. I do not say that with any particular axe to grind—I am only a small landlord; in fact, I am a bigger tenant than I am a landlord—but it appears to me to be common sense.

The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has produced the idea that under this scheme there will be many farmers paying high rents out of sur-tax. That is the argument that was put forward. But I have yet to find the farmer stupid enough to pay an exorbitantly high rent, or the landlord fortunate enough to have a tenant who is willing to pay a high rent. In the same way, if a landlord is to hire out a farm he should see that it conforms to the statutory requirements laid down by the Government as suggested in Clause 4. If one is buying a car one does not expect to check that it is equipped with lights and brakes and horn, and it is not unreasonable for a tenant to expect that the farm he hires conforms with the requirements laid down for that particular type of farm, provided that the farm is equipped initially for that type of farming.

But I can see one snag here which I should like to mention, if I may delay your Lordships a trifle longer. Suppose that there is a farm equipped as a dairy farm, but that for the last fifteen, ten or even five years it has not been used as a dairy farm but as an arable farm, and the tenant wishes to go back to the dairy farm. He may go to the landlord and say, "I want to go back to dairying, but the cowshed is not up to standard; the water does not pass the tests. I want it to be a T.T. farm, and I want a double fence all round the farm." As I understand it, the landlord is bound to put those faults right, possibly at great expense to himself. I suppose that these matters would be brought before the Agricultural Land Tribunal. The fact that the farm should have been equipped and may technically have been a dairy farm, though it has not been used as such over a number of years, means that the expense of re-making it into a dairy farm might be considerable. Although I can understand the spirit behind the clause I wonder whether, if it is allowed to remain as it is, there may not be cases of not inconsiderable hardship and expense imposed upon unwilling and possibly financially unable landlords.

There is only one other point with which I should like to deal and that refers to Clause 5 which implements the Franks Report. What it says is: The functions conferred on the Minister in relation to Agricultural Land Tribunals … shall be exercisable by the Lord Chancellor and not by the Minister, so however that the duty of providing the said Tribunals with the necessary officers and servants and of paying salaries, fees and allowances shall remain with the Minister. Is one to understand from that that the officers of the Land Tribunals are to be drawn from the Ministry, because if so I should have thought it inconsistent with the Franks Report. I should have thought that the functions of the Agricultural Land Tribunals and the appointment of their officers would have gone together—but possibly the noble Earl can clarify that point. So, my Lords, with those two slight reservations, I welcome this Bill. I do not think that it will ever be a great Bill and one of the landmarks of agricultural history, but it seems to tidy up the loose ends: and it is essentially a human Bill, and one hopes that, as such, it will prove to be a good Bill.

6.55 p.m.


My Lords, I propose to confine myself to seeking clarification on one particular matter in relation to Clauses 2 and 4. This is a matter not mentioned in the Bill at all but one which I believe should find its place, if only for the sake of clarity. It is a matter which I feel, if it is not mentioned now, may not be mentioned for years to come, when it will be too late, and it is a matter which does great damage, in my opinion, to the landlord-tenant relationship and runs clear contrary to the spirit, as well as to the letter, of the Agriculture Acts of 1947 and 1948. I wish to ask the noble Earl who will reply—and I have given him notice of my question—whether Clause 2, referring to rent arbitration, will be applicable to the tenants of farms held on long leases entered into prior to the Acts of 1947 and 1948. I refer in particular, of course, to those long leases inherited by the National Coal Board from the old coal mining companies.

In this matter I must declare a personal interest for to-day I am speaking not as an East Anglian, but as a Northumbrian, and I have personal experience of such tenancies on my estate in Northumberland. I have no doubt that I shall be speaking also for many other landowners in the same position. I suspect that the noble Earl will have to inform me that this clause will not apply to such tenants, and if I am right in such an assumption he may follow it up by saying that the Government cannot, and dare not, interfere in the law of contract. But it must be pointed out that the contract itself has been abrogated by arbitrary Government action, and the conditions under which many of these leases were entered into, often as much as thirty or more years ago, have altered out of all recognition.

I would say that those leases were not purely agricultural tenancies but were part and parcel of a mining lease and were involved in the payment of coal royalties and other such matters. With the nationalisation first of coal royalties and then of the coal mines themselves, the basis of the contract was really removed, and all that is left to-day is a benefit to the National Coal Board, who pay rents which in some cases are not even half those that can be obtained to-day and considerably less than half those that will be obtainable under Clause 2 of the Bill. As a result, there is no advantage whatever to the landlord. On the contrary he is gravely handicapped because, as has been pointed out by noble Lords time and again this afternoon, the landlord who is obliged to fulfil his obligation, in good estate management and in the provision of improvements and up-to-date buildings and farm cottages, is not able to do so unless he gets an adequate rent. That point has been made by several noble Lords, including some of those on the other side.

That leads me to my second question. If the answer to the first is in the negative, then I wish to know whether the tenants of such farms, and specifically the National Coal Board, will be entitled to take advantage of Clause 4, by which the landlord can be hauled before the Lands Tribunal and ordered to provide certain improvements. Because it is my contention that if the tenant of such a long-lease farm is entitled to that, yet at the same time is not under an obligation under the terms of this new Bill to pay an economic rent, it will be morally reprehensible, unreasonable and unjust. Practically speaking, it will be impossible to carry out the intention behind the Bill, because a landlord will not have the money which, presumably, he would have put aside for certain purposes had he received an adequate rent over the past fifteen or more years, whatever the term might be.

Those are the two matters about which I wish to ask. I believe that it is most important that these should be dealt with now, while the time is ripe. Whereas I personally should prefer to see these farms coming fully under the terms of the Act in regard to both Clause 2 and Clause 4, I put it to your Lordships most strongly that if the tenants of long-lease farms are not to be subject to Clause 2, then in equity they should not be entitled to the benefits of Clause 4.

7.2 p.m.


My Lords, I will endeavour not to keep your Lordships too long at this late hour. I do not wish to go into the details of the subject of the debate, because most of the points have already been dealt with, but I want to go into the general matter dealt with in Clause 6, which deals with Scotland. I have seen great screeds in the majority of agricultural papers by the National Farmers' Union and others saying that this Bill is going to cause the end of security of tenure in Scotland. I feel that that is a great error on the part of the bodies who have put forward this statement. The whole of Scottish agriculture has been built on the long lease system and on the handing down of farms from father to son. On my own estate, we can go back three or four generations and are proud to do so.

I think that a great many Scottish landowners will certainly wish to continue this system. Only in certain isolated cases will there be any need to change it. I would point out that if tenant farmers have any anxiety on this score, it is within their power to find out their true position. Under the 1947 Act they can require their landlords to give them leases—a great many at the moment are on tacit relocation—which they can get for a term of years, if the landlord is prepared to enter into them. If they approach their landlords, they can tell what, their attitudes are, and if the landlords wish to have them and their sons or any others as tenants, they will be able to enter into a lease. It is possible—it has been done—for a tenant and a landlord to agree on the person to whom the lease may be bequeathed on the death of the tenant. By so doing, the tenant's mind can be set at rest He will feel that he is secure to continue to invest his own capital and carry out necessary improvements on his farm that will be of lasting benefit to his family.

I feel that if more tenants approached their landlords or tried to get their existing leases continued, they would get themselves into a far better position one to the other. They would be able to get their rents adjusted at certain times and the whole thing would be on a better footing than it is at the moment, where a great many farms are let on a tacit relocation agreement and rents have been left as they were originally agreed. Tenant farmers have carried out improvements and in a great many cases the rents have not been put up as a fair compensation for improvements. But by entering into a lease it would he possible to get all these things put on a proper footing, so that everyone would know where he stood and be able to start afresh.

7.6 p.m.


My Lords, we have had a long and interesting debate. I am afraid that I must crave your Lordships' indulgence if at this stage I take rather longer than I normally would take so late in the evening, but it will be agreed, I think, that the weight of numbers in the debate has been on the other side of the House. I admit that I am not entirely unbiased. I think that the weight of argument has been on this side, but in a humble way I will attempt to make up for the unbalance in numbers by taking a little longer than might be usual at this time. I think it would also be agreed that, broadly speaking, we have heard the case for the landlords from the opposite side of the House. I may say that I do not use the term "landlord" as a term of abuse or reproach, but as a description of fact. And we have heard mainly the case from the farmers' point of view from this side. This is quite a remarkable state of affairs, particularly as the Labour Party, in its comparatively recent origins, was originally an urban Party. It has now become largely a Party with high concern for the farming community of this country.

The noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, who presented the Bill to us in a most lucid and felicitous manner, said that the 1957 Act placed the present guarantees on a firm long-term basis. I hope that I quote him correctly. Immediately there came into my mind two questions. Just how firm is that basis? I do not really find that there is a very firm basis, because the guarantees can be reduced by a certain amount each year, and in 1960 the Minister has power to vary the percentages laid down in the 1957 Act and therefore can depart from the maximum amount each year to any percentage that he deems advisable. Although it is true that it is not until 1962–63 that these revised percentages would come into force, I do not think that anyone would agree that a matter of four years from now can really be described as a long-term basis for agriculture in this country. Neither in firmness nor in long-term is the description very well applied.

The noble Earl said also that conditions have changed since 1948. It is true that conditions have changed, and in a great many ways, but, as my noble Leader pointed out, one of the changes in conditions since 1948 has been a fall in the farmer's net income of some 8 per cent. That has been challenged. May I point out that it can be described in another way? Taken as a proportion of the national income, the farmers' net income has fallen from 2.9 per cent. of the total in 1948 to 2.3 per cent. in 1956. To take another criterion, gross investment in fixed assets in agriculture has tended to fall, whereas in all other industries it has tended to rise, and in many cases has risen substantially.

These are not changes in conditions which affect only the agricultural industry; they are changes in conditions which are of some significance to our national economy, as a whole, because the farming industry is also an important domestic market. The demand for goods and services by the farming industry in 1956–57 was of the order of £800 million. I think it is important to realise—and I do not think it is a matter for amusement—that if the farmers' net income continues to fall, then the value of agriculture as a domestic market will also continue to fall: it becomes less of a customer for manufactured goods and other things in this country. The effect of that is a falling off of employment in the supplying industries, and you tend to set up, or if not to set up at least to accentuate, the vicious descending spiral, which is the sign of a declining economy and is something we ought to avoid at all costs.

It is against that background that I want to look at what has been said about the Bill this afternoon. First of all, I would make it quite clear—and I am sure that in saying this I speak for every one of my noble colleagues—that we do not believe for a moment that the disciplinary powers under Part II of the 1947 Act are the sole cause of the great advance in agriculture since that time; and I think it is preposterous for any noble Lord opposite to suggest that that is what has been said from these Benches or is believed on these Benches. The second point is that we do not say that the disciplinary powers in Part II of the 1947 Act are sacrosanct and could never be improved; we readily admit that these powers may well require revision. But that does not necessarily mean that they require abolition. We suggest that it would have been a much wiser course for the Government to take to have sat down in consultation with the Farmers' Union, the Country Landowners' Association and the National Union of Agricultural Workers, looked at and discussed the disciplinary powers, and come to an agreement on how these provisions might be revised, brought up to date and made applicable to the conditions which now exist. We certainly do not think that abolition is the right way to proceed in this matter.

I would emphasise again what my noble friend Lord Silkin said: that as this Bill goes through we are left with two particular weaknesses. We are left with the fact that there is no control at all over the owner-occupier who may be a bad farmer. It is no use saying that economic forces will take care of him, because there are owner-occupiers who can afford for amenity or other reasons not to be very good farmers; and I do not think we are entitled to leave them in the position where they can farm regardless of the national interest. It is equally true that there may be bad landlords over whom, if this Bill goes through, there is no control. I admit that there is provision requiring them—and, if necessary, for taking them to the Land Tribunal—to provide fixed equipment; but there are other aspects of bad landlordism on which they would be able to ride away scot free with no provision in the legislation for bringing them to book.

As to Clause 2 of the Bill, with regard to arbitration, I am not going again over the excellent technical reasons that my noble friend Lord Silkin gave as to why we think the provisions here are not as good as they might be; but I should like to say that I believe there is, I will not say throughout the agricultural industry, but at least in certain sections of it, a considerable disquiet about the terms that are laid down in the Bill; and I believe that that disquiet could be allayed if only on Committee stage the Government would not be too rigid but would consider seriously and sympathetically a slight Amendment to these provisions, for the purpose of clarification and putting the position beyond doubt. I should like to make it clear that we are not arguing that rents should never be revised, or that they should never go up; nor are we saying that rents as they are are satisfactory in all respects. What we say is that if the adjudication of what is a proper rent is to be referred to arbitration, the rules or guidance laid down for the arbitrators should be somewhat clearer than they are in the Bill: that certain elements which they might take into account, like scarcity, should be ruled out; and that the existence of people willing to pay fancy rents should be ruled out. In other words, we feel that these things should be made clear beyond any doubt.

Then, with regard to security of tenure, we are not arguing that this, as it exists at present, is necessarily 100 per cent. as it ought to be. It may well be that there should be some relaxation of the rigidity, if I may so call it, of the present security of tenure. But we think that security of tenure is unduly reduced, at least in certain respects, by the provisions of the Bill, and, in particular, by the operation of the clause which provides that even a good farmer, a good tenant, could be dispossessed on the basis, that his farm was required purely for the purposes of estate reorganisation. I hope that before the Committee stage the Government will look again at this provision. As I say, we are not in favour of excessive security, and if the Government are not too rigid this clause might be made much more acceptable.

I am glad to see that the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, has returned to the Chamber, because I want to refer to a remark which he made to the effect that he thought the opposition on the part of the National Farmers' Union was based on the fact that they knew the present system does not work, but that it provided (if I may paraphrase what the noble Lord said) a good façade. I want to say that I think that is rather an unworthy reflection to make on a very responsible and important national organisation, and I hope that on reflection he may feel inclined to withdraw it.

The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, referred to the fact that the disciplinary powers under Part II are contrary to the sense of public opinion. It was an interesting statement, but the noble Earl did not produce any evidence for it; and I am bound to say that those of us on these Benches who move, as he does, in farming communities, have not felt, either in these communities or among the public at large, that the existence or the use of the powers under Part II was in any way repugnant to public opinion.

I think the analogy of the motor car industry cannot be sustained. The motor car industry is not receiving its assistance from the taxpayer: it is receiving its subsidy from its customers. If the customers are dissatisfied they have a remedy. Moreover, the motor car industry is open to competition. The land of our country, on the contrary, is limited in its extent, and it is, as everyone accepts, a national heritage, for which those who use it have to give an account of their stewardship. Unless we retain some form of supervision and disciplinary powers, there will be many of the users of our limited land who will not have any body or court before whom they can be brought to give an account of that stewardship.

These, in somewhat staccato and scrappy form, are the thoughts that I have had on the debate as it has gone along, and I wish to conclude with an earnest plea to the Minister that in the Committee stage he should be less (if I may so put it), of a "stone-wailer" than his colleagues were in another place, and that he will give due and sympathetic consideration to the Amendments which will be put down from this side.

7.23 p.m.


My Lords, may I first of all add my sincere congratulations to my noble colleague Lord Waldegrave on his opening gambit at this Dispatch Box? He was kind enough to say some things about me which, frankly, I did not feel were true, and after his speech this afternoon I am sure the House will agree that his modesty was quite uncalled for. We have also had the pleasure of listening to a most able maiden speech by the noble Earl, Lord Bradford. I have had the pleasure and honour of knowing him for a number of years, and before I joined the Front Bench I worked very closely with him. I had hoped for some time that we might see him taking part in our deliberations. Now that he has taken the plunge, I hope that we can rely on seeing him taking part, not only in agricultural debates but in as wide a field as he feels he can reasonably cover.

My noble friend Lord Waldegrave, when moving the Second Reading, described this Bill as a simple Bill, and I must admit that at the time it seemed to me rather a bold claim. But judging by the number of questions I have been asked this afternoon, I feel that his claim was fully justified, because probably I have been asked fewer questions on this Second Reading than I have on any other Bill. There are one or two points upon which I wish to touch for clarity. We had argument back and forth across the House on the merits and demerits of the repeal of Part II of the 1947 Act. The noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough told me that he would be unable to be in his place now, but I am sorry he is not, because I felt that his speech was not up to his usual standard.

May I say why? He spoke about "betrayal." As my noble friend Lord Halifax said, that is such an exaggeration that it is not tenable. He and other noble Lords raised this bogy about the public not tolerating the paying of subsidies if they feel that there is no censure on the inefficient farmer. It does not bear investigation. What percentage are we in fact dealing with? We have talked a great deal about 1 per cent. of the farmers who were under supervision. What percentage of the food do they produce? If I said that it is 0.1 per cent. I feel that probably I should be exaggerating, but it is the nearest I can get. If we look at the quantity of fertilisers they use—and this I can say with greater certainty—it is nearer 0.01 per cent. Are the great British public really going to get seriously worried about figures like that?

The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and others, gave the impression, I thought, that we were doing away with agricultural executive committees.


I may have given that impression. The impression I meant to give was that you were taking away from them so much of their functions, and the more important ones, that what would be left would be hardly worth undertaking, so that virtually you were getting rid of them.


I am a little surprised at that criticism, because it was the recommendation of the Franks Committee, of which the noble Lord was a member, that the judicial and advisory functions of committees should be separated. That, in fact, is what we have done. I can assure the noble Lord and the House that we have no intention whatever of doing away with the agricultural executive committees. Theirs is an important job to do, and in their hands lies the future of technical development. I am convinced that only by making use of these committees, which are at present, and I have every reason to believe will continue to be, manned by the leading farmers in the county, and only if they can take an active interest and share in the organisation of technical development, will that development spread throughout the farming community in the county. The National Agricultural Advisory Service is doing a first-class job, but inevitably there is a certain section of the farming community which is mistrustful of the official; and even though Part II will go, they will, I am afraid, for a period still be slightly mistrustful. Here the county committees can help a great deal.

My Lords, I think there has been some misunderstanding of our references to the Franks Committee and their Report. We do not contend that they advocated the repeal of Part II. That, frankly, would have been quite outside their terms of reference. But what we do say is that, consistently with their own principles, they recommended the replacement of county agricultural committees by independent tribunals and the relegation of the county committees to the role of detective and prosecutor. Our difficulty is this: on the one hand we are bound to accept the principle that the judicial decision is to be made by an independent tribunal. But a tribunal does not initiate the prosecution, and the Franks Committee rightly saw that the prosecuting agency must be found, and suggested that it should be the county committees. Frankly, it is hard to see whom else they could have suggested. I am quite certain that public opinion would never have stood for the prosecution of farmers by officials of the Ministry, so really there was no other choice. But could we, in fact, expect the agricultural committees to take on this duty? Our view is that county committees would be frankly insulted by such an assignment and would not take it on; and I think they would be right.


May I inquire, on a point of information, whether they were ever asked?


It is true that they were not asked, as a direct question: "Are you prepared to take on these powers?" But does the noble Lord really mean to suggest that he thinks the answer would have been "Yes"?




Well, I have a good deal of experience of county committees; I had to spend the last four years seeing a great deal of them, and my opinion differs very strongly from that of the noble Lord. After all, these members of the county committees would be informing against their neighbours, and that is a very different thing from supervising them and trying to help them—trying to help them with the thought in the back of their minds that they were helping them to avoid the ultimate penalty of dispossession.

Our conclusion was that the Franks recommendations for reforming the procedure were right in principle but wholly unworkable in practice, and it seemed to us that that really clinched the case for the repeal of the powers themselves. However, I do not want to exaggerate the weight we gave to that point. We were already more than doubtful about Part II on its own merits. As my noble friend has said, it is practically useless, and in spite of what various noble Lords on the opposite Benches have said, public opinion is against it—by "public opinion" I mean general public opinion. I appreciate that the agricultural community, as represented by their union, have said they are in favour of the retention, but that is not, I feel, the general public opinion. If noble Lords cast their minds back they will recall one or two cases which gained very considerable prominence and gave considerable anxiety, so much so that in one particular case a petition was presented to Her Majesty. That was a case where the shortcomings were very grievous indeed and were fully supported; and to say that public opinion was in favour of dispossession in that particular case is just not true.

My Lords, I think it might be helpful if I were to say a further word on the question of Clause 2. This clause has been criticised from the standpoint of the tenant. Part of the criticism is directed against the open market principle, but we have yet to hear a good reason why the sitting tenant should not only get security of tenure but also pay less than other people for what the landlord has to offer. We believe that if the rent is kept artificially low the landlord will not be able to play his proper part. Compared with pre-war, rents have advanced by some 60 per cent., and the cost of maintenance of farm buildings and so forth has advanced by no less than 300 per cent. That really leaves no margin for philanthropy on the part of the landlord. It is important, too, I think, to declare that, while under the new formula the rent will be assessed on the open market principle, we shall be retaining the safeguards for the good tenant who has improved his land whether by adding to the fixed equipment or by farming better than his agreement requires or can reasonably be expected. The clause will abolish the irrational distinction, based on sentiment, between the sitting tenant and other tenants. But it will preserve intact the principle that the tenant must not be robbed of the fruits of his own labour.

It has been suggested that the clause goes too far and requires the arbitrator to award the so-called premium rent which will be offered by a man anxious to obtain possession at any cost. Many of the noble Lords opposite have concentrated on this point this afternoon. Perhaps in a way it is a point for Committee, but I would just say now that the clause was very carefully drawn to exclude the premium rent. The rent properly payable is the rent at which the holding might reasonably be expected to be let by a willing landlord. As has been said, the clause follows very closely the formula adopted in the Landlord and Tenant Act of 1954, which aims at the same results for business tenancies, and I understand has worked as Parliament intended that it should.

Lastly, it has been said that it was right to allow the arbitrators discretion and not to tie them down with fixed rules. We agree that it would be wrong to try to interfere with the arbitrator's decision in assessing the weight that should be given to the various factors—the siting, the fertility, the standard of equipment, and so on. But the clause does not do that. What the clause does is to give him a guiding principle to apply in exercising discretion in the individual case. Owing to the lack of a guiding principle arbitrators have complained that they have been forced to go beyond their normal function of valuation, and to impose a settlement on the parties—a state of affairs which clearly calls for some remedy.

My noble friend Lord Halifax, who had to leave early, inquired why we should hold this Second Reading debate during the period of the Royal Show. I think probably the best explanation I can give him is that they took rather a long time on this Bill in another place. If they had taken rather less time we might have been able to proceed with it last week, in which case we could all have been at "the Royal". My noble friend Lord Lothian, was somewhat disappointed that the Bill did not contain some provisions specifically designed to bring about the return to the national system of long agricultural leases in Scotland. Frankly, I feel that the provisions in Clause 6 will go a long way to encouraging the restoration of that practice. Under the, virtually, complete security for ever that has existed up to now, there really was no incentive to undertake long leases; but now I feel that the practice will probably be resorted to.

My noble friend Lord Ferrers was worried about the requirements of a dairy farm which had not been used as a dairy farm, and whether a tenant could compel the landlord to bring the buildings on it up to the required standard if he wanted to go back into milk. The answer is that the tenant could not compel him to do that if it had not been a dairy farm for three years. He was also worried about the staffing of the tribunals. The position is this. As your Lordships know, the chairman is appointed by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, and the members are selected from two panels put forward by the landowners and the farmers. The staff, as he suspects, will be provided by the Ministry of Agriculture; but that is done purely for practical reasons, partly because we have a local organisation which can be easily drawn on, and, secondly, because the Department of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor does not, in its normal course of activity, cover agriculture, and it would obviously be of advantage to everybody that the officials should have some knowledge of the subject under discussion.


My Lords, would the noble Earl be good enough to tell me whether "the staff" means the administrative staff? Will the people who are appointed from the Ministry actually have a say in the final decision of the Agricultural Lands Tribunal?


May I hasten to assure my noble friend that the tribunal is composed of the chairman and the two representatives of the industry, and they and they alone can take any decision. The officials do not come into that in any way at all.

My noble friend Lord Hastings raised a question of which he gave me notice. Until the lease expires the tenancy is governed entirely by the terms of the lease. If there are terms in it that provide for re-negotiation of rent, they, and not Clause 2 will apply; but after the lease has expired the tenant will become entitled to the security of tenure as a tenant from year to year, and then of course Clause 2 will apply. My noble friend was worried about the application of Clause 4. I am afraid that the answer to his question is, Yes. Frankly, I do not see how it can be avoided. He is asking us to make special provision for one, albeit important but comparatively small, class of tenancy. Frankly, I do not see how we can do that.


My point is surely a question of equity—that that sort of tenant cannot expect to have the benefit of paying a rent which is about 50 per cent. below that of his neighbour and at the same time force his landlord to provide equipment by standards which his neighbours, who pay double the rent, are getting. I do not see that such tenants could have the benefit of both aspects.


I am certain that evidence of that sort, if produced by the landlord before the tribunal, would have considerable bearing on the decision of the tribunal. But, obviously, that is not the sort of thing which can be written into the Bill. It is for the landlord concerned to make his case before the tribunal. I appreciate that that is not very consoling to the noble Lord, but I am afraid that that is as far as I can go.


I thought that when the noble Earl said that the rent and everything was governed by the terms of the contract until the lease expired, therefore all other Parts of this Bill should be inoperable, and the arrangements should be governed by the terms of the contract.


Obviously, it will depend on the terms of the lease. If under that lease the tenant could be required to improve the buildings, nothing in this Bill would alter that.


I thank my noble friend very much. That is the point I particularly wanted brought out.


The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, raised a point on subsection (I) (b) in Clause 3 and visualised the landlord getting possession of all his farms with a view to development. He visualised plans for large new housing estates and so forth. I think one wants to bear in mind, however, that under the 1948 Act a landlord can obtain possession to make a change of use if the land has been aproved for development, and there is nothing at all in this Bill to alter that. The object of this clause, as the noble Lord knows very well, concerns the large number of estates where the land has become fragmented and where reorganisation would probably be to the advantage not only of the estate but to the tenants themselves. My Lords, I have tried to answer such questions as have been put to me. I apologise for having delayed the House so long.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.