§ [The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government what are the reasons for the proposed sale of the Glanllyn Estate and what steps they are taking to ensure that this historic property is not split up as a result of the sale, to the detriment of good agricultural practice and of the beauty of the countryside.]
THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FOOD (EARL WALDEGRAVE)
My Lords, the 227 noble Lord is no doubt aware that it is not the policy of the Government to retain and manage agricultural land after necessary improvements have been completed unless the land is required for departmental purposes such as research or afforestation. The Welsh Agricultural Land Sub-Commission have made such substantial progress with the rehabilitation of Glanllyn that there is no longer justification for its retention in Government ownership. It cannot be accepted that a division of the estate would necessarily be prejudicial to good agricultural practice or would lead to spoliation of the beauty of Glanllyn. If, however, a sale to a consortium of tenants is concluded the tenants will have an opportunity to maintain the estate under co-ordinated management.
§ LORD OGMORE
My Lords, is it not a fact that the best agricultural advice in North Wales is that it would be highly prejudicial to agriculture if the estate were split up? Secondly, what are the chances of any such consortium being achieved? If no such consortium is achieved, will the Government consider handing this over to the University of Wales?
My Lords, the noble Lord has asked three supplementary questions. I think he will agree that the best agricultural advice obtainable is that taken by the Government. With regard to the chances of this offer being accepted by the consortium, as we very much hope it will be, I cannot, of course, make any suggestion as to what prospects there are of success, but we are very hopeful that it will be accepted. As to the third point, the hypothetical question as to what happens if we cannot conclude negotiations with the consortium, my right honourable friend must be free to decide in the circumstances that then arise. But he is consulting all interested parties, as he said in the full statement he made in another place in answer to a Question on February 9.
§ LORD WILLIAMS OF BARNBURGH
My Lords, may I be permitted to ask the noble Earl whether his right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture has produced one single argument, 228 either economic or social, in favour of the drastic step he now proposes to take? Will the noble Earl tell us why, in the Minister's reply to a Question in another place, he literally said to the tenant farmers, "You must either buy out or get out of your farms"? Is that the general approach of the Government to agricultural problems?
May I answer the second part of the noble Lord's question first? The Minister certainly has not said, "You must either buy out or get out." The noble Lord is surely aware that what my right honourable friend has done is to come to a decision that it is not right for the Government to continue to own this property, and he has therefore made the first offer for the disposal of this estate to a consortium of tenants. I would remind the noble Lord that, in the early days, before this estate was taken over, that is in fact what the tenants wanted to do: to buy the estate themselves.
§ LORD WILLIAMS OF BARNBURGH
My Lords, is the noble Earl not aware that in the right honourable gentleman's statement in another place he gave the tenant farmers only six months' notice? Unless they, within that six months' period, have purchased their farms as a collective agency or individually, then the Minister reserves the right to sell the land to the person from whom he may get an offer? Is that not simply a matter of, "Either buy out or get out"? And does the noble Earl think, after the wonderful improvements that have taken place since the land was taken over, that this confusion and uncertainty ought to have been produced in the minds of the tenant farmers and of their families?
The noble Lord would surely know from his experience as Minister of Agriculture in years gone by that a tenant is fully protected under the Landlord and Tenant Acts. If my right honourable friend does not sell this estate to a consortium of tenants, he can certainly not terminate the occupiers' tenancies, and would not wish to do so.
§ LORD DALTON
My Lords, does this not look like a petty and doctrinaire case of denationalisation for its own sake? May I ask the noble Earl 229 whether he is aware that, when this estate was taken over in part-payment of death duties in 1947, it was taken over in a most neglected and dilapidated condition, so that it was inevitable that large sums of money would have had to be spent on repairing old buildings and building new ones, which should, of course, have been done by the previous owners, but which was not?
My Lords, I admit that this estate was in a neglected and dilapidated condition, but it is not any longer in that condition, as the Welsh Land Sub-Commission—all credit to them—have done extremely good work in substantially rehabilitating the estate.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, may I put my noble friend's question in another form? The noble Earl, in answer to the original Question, said that this was the Government's policy. What I should like to know is: is this policy decided upon the merits of this individual case, or is it their policy generally for the disposal of the farms which are in their possession and which they receive by way of death duties?
It is a matter of general policy. As I think is well known, it is not the policy of this Government—unless, as I said in my original Answer, land is required for departmental purposes, such as research or forestry—to retain and manage agricultural land.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, would the noble Earl answer the other part of the question—namely, is this sale taking place on the merits? Have the merits been gone into, and is it a worthwhile sale?
I am not sure that I entirely follow what the noble Lord means by "the merits". This estate is in such a condition now that it is a perfectly viable estate, and the great work of rehabilitation has substantially been completed. My right honourable friend has gone to great pains to make this offer to the tenants and to say to them, "If you come together as a consortium and want to keep this estate together, I will make the first offer to you". But if that consortium (which we very much hope will be able to come together and purchase the estate as a 230 whole) cannot be achieved, then my right honourable friend must reserve his position as to what he would do, and I cannot go further than the statement that he made in another place.
§ LORD OGMORE
My Lords, the noble Earl has not mentioned Lake Bala, which is a great beauty spot. Does he propose to split up Lake Bala as well, or is that to be sold in one piece?
I think Lake Bala lies within the Snowdonia National Park. The Government are fully aware of its beauty and of the importance of preserving it from any undesirable exploitation. It is for this reason that the Government are considering special arrangements for its disposal in the light of views expressed by interested bodies. I should like to remind noble Lords that we have a very representative body known as the Glanllyn Advisory Committee, of which Sir David Hughes Parry is chairman, and their advice is being taken in this matter, as indeed will be the advice of all interested parties—the Merionethshire County Council and anybody else. And, of course, the views expressed by your Lordships in this House will be taken into consideration.