HL Deb 14 May 1968 vol 292 cc212-9

2.57 p.m.


My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, has consented to place her interest, so far as it is concerned on behalf of the Crown, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a. —(Lord Beswick.)

On Question, Bill read 3a, with the Amendments.

Clause 43 [Compensation in connection with compulsory acquisition etc. of agricultural holdings]:


My Lords, when I moved the adoption of the new Clause 43 at a previous stage, I said that I would look at it again carefully to see whether in fact it achieved the objective which we set out to achieve. This Amendment is a refinement of the wording which, I believe, will improve the clause. The clause as presented on Report was adequate in its application to year-to-year tenants; but on further consideration we thought that it did not deal with fixed-term tenants quite as fairly as we had intended. Where such tenants hold under tenancies which contain break clauses permitting resumption by that landlord for specified non-agricultural purposes, the effect of sub-section (2)(b) would be to compensate the tenant as though his tenancy did in fact end at that point subject to twelve months' notice. This is not, however, the basis on which compensation has been calculated in the past; and the Amendment is intended to permit the tenant's interest to be valued on the basis of what a purchaser would pay in the open market. In this, it merely restores the previous position. My Lords, I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 38, line 12, leave out paragraph (b) and insert— ("(b) the landlord disregarded any provision in the contract of tenancy or lease enabling him to resume possession of the holding or to determine the tenancy by notice before the date fixed for the expiration of its term or before the termination of the stipulated endurance of the lease; and")—(Lord Beswick.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 4 [Supplementary provisions with respect to payments under s. 12(1) in Scotland]:


My Lords, this is a purely drafting Amendment to correct a reference in paragraph 5 of Schedule 4, following an Amendment made to that paragraph in the last stage of the Bill. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 54, line 21, leave out ("(c)") and insert ("(d)")—(Lord Beswick.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Beswick.)


My Lords, may I say a brief word before this Bill passes from us? I should first like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, on successfully handling the wide range of topics which come in this Bill. I believe that agriculture is not his usual subject and I should like to congratulate him on his mastery of the many technical points. With one exception, of course—that is, Part III—this is a useful Bill doing several constructive things which we all welcome, and we send it on its way to the Statute Book significantly improved in some respects.

Part I deals with something which is of great public concern—that is, animal welfare—on which we have had some debates of great interest. I believe that in the form in which it now goes on the Statute Book this Part will give satisfaction to noble Lords on all sides of the House and to many millions of people throughout the country. The present Government have, therefore, the credit of bringing to fruition a measure started by my former right honourable friend Mr. Christopher Soames, when he was Minister of Agriculture in the last Conservative Government. I am confident that, despite anxieties in some quarters, the Bill will give the necessary safeguards which all desire for the welfare of farm livestock kept in intensive circumstances, while at the same time catering for the practical necessities of farm working.

I cannot let the Bill pass without a reference to the defect, which is Pant III. That is the part which ensures that in Scotland the succession of farm tenancies is now to be hereditary. It might seem to be a strange project of the Party opposite, which generally denies the validity of the hereditary principle. Although Part III has been somewhat improved by my noble friend the Duke of Atholl, it is entirely regrettable from the point of view of the farming industry that it appears at all. The existing tenant farming system, which covers about half the farms in this country, serves the industry well, and the majority of farmers in England, anyhow, recognise that and want to keep it. The change in the law made by Part III, which reduces the landlord's control over his land so drastically, is bound to reduce the incentive and attraction of land ownership in Scotland to vanishing point; so vanishing point will be slowly but inevitably reached over the course of the next two or three generations. Either landlords will take farms in hand on the rare occasions when this amended legislation will allow them, or they will progressively sell off their farms to the sitting tenant as convenience arises. Either way, tenant farming in Scotland will gradually disappear.

I sympathise with the Government's wish to do something popular in Scotland to stem the tide of Scottish nationalism, which indeed—I am not making a joke—presents a danger far beyond the Party conflict. Although I do not believe that this move by the Secretary of State for Scotland will have the slightest value, I do not suggest that he is without influence in this context, but I think he might well be more successful if he followed less closely the precepts of his great radical predecessor, Oliver Cromwell, when dealing with Scotland. In a record of agricultural legislation by this Government which is generally constructive and good, Part III sticks out as a most unfortunate blemish.

May I conclude with a brief comment on Part II, which provides additional compensation payment to tenant farmers who lose all or part of their land as a result of its acquisition for essential development? That is a provision which is generally welcomed on all sides. However, there are two small technical points of which the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, is aware, one of which arises out of the new clause to which the noble Lord has moved an Amendment this afternoon. Despite that Amendment which helps in some respects, there is still anxiety in farming quarters, as the noble Lord knows.

Very briefly, the purpose of the new clause was to prevent double compensation arising as a result of the recent decision in the case of Pettitt v. Ministry of Transport. That intention is obviously acceptable, but the application of the new clause has raised anxiety in the National Farmers' Union that in certain circumstances it would deprive tenants of compensation to which they should be entitled. Unfortunately, the appearance of the new clause at a late stage of the Bill has made it impossible for the technical discussions between Ministry officials and Farmers' Union officials to reach a conclusion. So in the circumstances I ask the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, to give an assurance that, if experience proves that the new clause has the effect of depriving some tenants of some compensation to which they were properly entitled, Her Majesty's Government will take early action with amending legislation.

The other small point which I should like to mention on Part II before the Bill passes from us is the farmers' anxiety about the basis of assessing the four years' rental compensation when only part of the farmholding has been taken. It is usually the case that only part is taken. The Farmers' Union are not confident that the Bill as drafted will allow compensation to be related to the reduced economic viability of the truncated holding in all circumstances. For example, where a holding of 100 acres has a slice of, say, 30 acres cut off by some essential development, the machinery and fixed equipment of buildings which was probably just right for the 100 acres may be too much when the acreage is reduced to 70. The general labour set-up may also be out of balance, and the 70 acres will therefore become marginally uneconomic. In such circumstances the compensation payable should obviously be more than just the straight payment of four years' rental on 30 acres, because the value of the remaining 70 acres will also have been reduced. I should be most grateful if the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, who is, I think, aware of this point, could give an assurance that the Bill as drafted has the necessary flexibility, which I believe he thinks it has, to provide for such circumstances and so set at rest the anxiety of the Farmers' Union. With those few comments I have much pleasure in supporting the passing of this Bill.

3.9 p.m.


My Lords, I must first thank the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, for his kindly references to my efforts on this Bill. After that preliminary courtesy the noble Lord went on to cover the ground which I think he will agree we covered in the very lengthy debates on Part III. I cannot hope to emulate either the style or the content of the contribution of my noble friend Lord Hughes, but he would probably not mind if I just explained my understanding of the situation so far as Part III is concerned. The principal objection advanced is that the provision of greater security for successors will make certain landlords more reluctant to let farms which fall vacant; that it will then be more difficult for new entrants to farming to secure a farm, and that in the last resort there will be increased emigration from Scotland of these young farmers. That is the criticism I understand to have come from the Benches opposite.

We cannot, of course, foresee with complete clarity what the effect of these provisions will be, but in all the discussions of the proposals I should not like us to lose sight of the fact that the Government were moved to introduce this part of the Bill to remedy what was clearly a source of great potential hardship to certain tenant farmers; and, whatever may be the effect on the electoral prospects of this Party in Scotland in the future, most people, I believe, accept that the provisions in Part III of the Bill are in the best interests of Scottish agriculture as a whole. But events will probably show whether this is so.

The noble Lord went on to ask me two particular points about Part II of the Bill, one of which was on the very vexed question of the apportionment of rent and the appropriate portion for compensation purposes. Clause 9 of the Bill provides that where the tenant is dispossessed of part of his holding the new payment shall be based on what is called the "appropriate portion" of the current rent, but that does not mean that the apportion will be a purely arithmetical one. That, I think, is where a good deal of the misapprehension and the anxiety arose. My right honourable friend said in another place that the Valuation Office would take into account differences between the value of different parts of a holding, and there is no reason to suppose that private valuers would not do likewise.

The National Farmers' Union, I understand, are concerned about a further point affecting the assessment of disturbance compensation under the 1948 Act. They would like the agricultural holdings legislation to provide for all such payments to be adjusted to take account also of any change in the value of the residual holding as a result of severance. That is a point which the noble Lord has made, and I must say that I think there is force in the arguments which he has put forward. Nevertheless, I do not believe that those arguments can be met by an amendment of this Bill. The Ministry of Agriculture, as the noble Lord himself knows, are at this moment engaged in a review of the agricultural holdings legislation; and I give him the assurance for which he asks, that the problems which are there will be considered as part of that review. I am asked to give the assurance that the N.F.U. and the C.L.A., as well as the professional bodies concerned, will be consulted to see if we cannot find a way to meet the difficulties. So I hope I can satisfy the noble Lord on that point.

Then there is the other point, about the assignment of tenancies. If the decision in the Pettitt case is upheld, Part II of the Bill would lead to the payment of double compensation in many cases; I do not believe there was any difference between us when we discussed this matter on the earlier stages of the Bill. The N.F.U. suggest that the clause goes beyond the agreed aim. In particular, they claim that payments in the nature of premiums frequently occur on the transfer of tenancies, and that Clause 43 takes away the compensation which was previously payable to cover this. That is not so. If the tenant has a right to assign, then the compensation payable will continue, as in the past, to reflect the value which the market would put on this. The value of a right of assignment will of course vary with the length of the unexpired term—one cannot assign a greater interest than one in fact has. For this reason, the right of assignment is really of significance only where the tenancy is for a term of years. It is quite conceivable that my explanation, given on the Committee stage, which referred to a right of assignment, was taken in that context to include a tenancy of one year only, when in fact, of course, it could apply only where the tenancy is for a term of years.


My Lords, may I briefly interrupt the noble Lord? I do not want to go too far into this rather technical matter, but the National Farmers' Union feel that this applies in the case of an annual tenancy as well.


The N.F.U. say in broad terms that it applies, but when asked to provide an example of a case where it has applied they have so far failed to come up with one. All I can say here is that if experience shows that there are cases where there is an unfairness in the application of this particular provision, then, again, when the whole of these provisions are reviewed this point will certainly be borne in mind. Not only will it be borne in mind, but we shall hope to deal with any real problem which is shown to exist.

I think it would be wrong if I did not make some comment before we say "Good-bye" to this Bill. I am not quite sure that it will be a final "Goodbye". It is just conceivable that another place may have further thoughts about certain changes that have been made in this place. But I should like to take the opportunity first to pay my tribute—and I am sure everyone on both sides will join me in this—to the good humour, courtesy and patience shown by my noble friend Lord Hughes when he dealt with Part III. There were times when I had only to close my eyes to imagine coming down the Highland hills very hostile forces—and they seemed to toss over here everything but the caber. If a caber had come over, though, I am absolutely certain that my noble friend Lord Hughes would have caught it and would have returned it with the same imperturbable good humour that he showed throughout the debate.

My Lords, improvements have been made in the Bill. There were exchanges which were agreeable, as well as those which were heated; but I offer my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, for the constructive and quiet way in which he offered his advice throughout our proceedings. More often than not, irrespective of any Party differences, that advice contained a good deal of very sound sense, and I was very much guided by what he said. I thank him for the attitude he adopted throughout the passage of the Bill. With that, my Lords, I hope that the House will be able to pass this Bill.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.