§ 5.23 p.m.
§ Lord MELCHETT
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, that the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Melchett)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The VISCOUNT GOSCHEN in the Chair.]
§ Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.
§ Clause 3 [Duties of Meat and Livestock Commission as regards consultation]:
§ Earl FERRERS moved Amendment No. 1A:
§ Page 3, line 10, leave out (" and ").
§ The noble Earl said: I beg to move Amendment No. 1A and to speak to Amendments Nos. 1B, 1C, 1D, 1E and 1F and also the Amendment to leave out Schedule 1. Before I come on to the substance of the Amendment might I be permitted to make one general obser- 526 vation. This is an Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill which normally is wholly uncontroversial, tidying up a lot of different points. As we knew on Second Reading this has now, in fact, become a Bill of some controversiality. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, and the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, will realise that the Amendments that we on this side have put down are what we believe to be helpful Amendments. Some of them are put down in order to elicit information from the Government, some in order to make points which noble Lords on this side feel strongly about, and some in order to improve the Bill. In no way are they intended as wrecking Amendments. I hope that both noble Lords who will speak for the Government will approach this matter in the same way as we have tried to approach it. There are differences of view but these Amendments are not put down in order to countermand the controversiality; they are put down in order to improve the working of the Bill despite the controversiality.
§ All in the series of Amendments in my name refer to the Consumers Committee. Under the Agriculture Act 1967 there were set up three committees: the Production Committee, the Distribution Committee and the Consumers Committee, with all of which it is the duty of the Meat and Livestock Commission to consult. This procedure instituted the process of consultation with which we are all familiar. It has been realised for some time that both distributors and producers are sufficiently well organised to have made superfluous the continuation of the two committees on production and on distribution. I sympathise with the Government in producing tidying-up legislation which does away with any unnecessary committee.
§ The object of this Amendment is to do away with the Consumers Committee, which will be the third committee to have been dispensed with. The Government have wisely decided to do away with the other two committees; and, in the event of the Meat and Livestock Commission wishing to consult with the consumers, there is a proliferation of consumers' organisations with whom they could consult if necessary. I hope that the Government might see in this a way in which they might further tidy up the business of the Meat and Livestock Commission and I should be interested to 527 hear what the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has to say.
§ Lord STRABOLGI
May I say in reply—and, I am sure, also on behalf of my noble friend, Lord Melchett—that we greatly appreciate the constructive attitude of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. I am sure that we shall have an interesting and constructive Committee stage. I know well that the Amendments that noble Lords opposite have tabled have been put down sincerely and in this spirit and we will do our best, in company with them, to explore the different points that have been raised. The noble Earl has raised a very interesting point in the first of this series of Amendments in which the intention is to abolish the statutory Consumers Committee.
The proposals contained in the Bill are to improve the statutory consultation arrangements which were laid down by the Agriculture Act 1967 whereby the Meat and Livestock Commission must consult with meat and livestock producers, distributors and consumers where the interests of any of these classes of people may be affected by the Commission's activities. The proposed improved arrangement, result from a review made last year following general criticism of the arrangements as they applied to producer and distributor interests.
The Bill therefore proposes to replace the Production and Distribution Committees by arrangements for direct statutory consultation with those organisations representing the interests of these two groups. Here I agree with the noble Lord that one does not want a Committee set up just for the sake of setting up a Committee. If possible, it is probably better to have direct talks in these cases. But because there was no criticism of the consumer consultation arrangements no alterations have been proposed and consumers' interests would therefore continue to be statutorily consulted through the Consumer Committee. These Amendments would however remove all the provisions for consumer consultation and, unlike the arrangements proposed for producers and distributors, would not provide any alternative procedures. It is surely of continuing importance that consumer interests should be fully taken into account by the Meat and Livestock Commission whose duties of course are 528 concerned with the whole range of activities from livestock production right through to retail selling.
May I draw the Committee's attention to the Commission's activities affecting consumers, such as their activities on meat promotion and their encouragement of uniform systems of clear labelling of meat at the retail end, to give only two examples. But I can assure the Committee that of course there are many more. It is right therefore in the Government's view that consumers' interests should continue to be provided for by Statute. I do not think that there can be any disagreement about this.
It may be however the intention that the arrangements for consumer consultation should be put on the same footing as those proposed in the Bill for producers and distributors. In subsection (3) of Clause 3 the Committee will see that there is a list of classes of persons specified for the purpose of subsection (2) whereby Ministers may designate Organisations to be consulted. Of course this list does not include consumers and it would be necessary, if the interests of consumers were to be dealt with in the same way as producers and distributors, for the list of " classes of persons to be extended.
However, as I have attempted to explain, the present arrangements for consumer consultation have been examined and have been found to be working to the satisfaction of both the consumers' interests and the Commission. It is not therefore necessary, I submit, to make any alteration to these arrangements, and while I am very glad that the noble Earl put down these Amendments (because it has enabled me to explain the whole policy in regard to the consumers in this clause), I am afraid that the Government could not accept them.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, for giving that answer and explaining the reasons why the Government feel that they could not accept these Amendments. The harmony of the occasion is such that I would not feel so strongly as to wish to take the point any further. It merely seemed to me that when disposing of two committees, if we disposed of the third committee as well this would have tidied the whole thing up. I would have preferred 529 to see the list to which the noble Lord referred on page 4 of the Bill extended. I appreciate that the noble Lord finds the Committee is doing a reasonable job of work and the last thing I would wish to do would he to undermine the relationship between consumers and organisations which is very important. In view of that, and the explanation which the noble Lord has given, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 3 agreed to.
§ Clause 4 agreed to.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Lord BALERNO, moved Amendment No. 1:
§ Insert the following new clause:
§ Aquaculture deemed to be Agriculture
§ .—(1) Aquaculture shall, for all purposes, he deemed to be part of Agriculture and all enactments applying to Agriculture shall, as appropriate, apply to Aquaculture.
§ (2) Aquaculture is the culture and the harvesting of animals and plants in water. '
§ The noble Lord said: I make no apology to the Committee for putting down this Amendment to an Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. I agree that it is a major Amendment and that I am hut a Back-Bencher. But in another place Back-Benchers have produced a series of major amendments to this very Bill which the Government have accepted. The Amendment I am moving is to further the industry of fish farming, an industry which, if encouraged, can make a tremendous contribution to the food supply for this country.
Nine years ago the Secretary of State for Scotland set up a Committee under the Chairmanship of Lord Cameron, a Senator of' the College of Justice,
to review the law governing methods of sea fishing in Scotland…and the cost and effectiveness of alternative methods.
The Report of the Committee, known as the Cameron Report, was presented to Parliament in 1970. An exhaustive study was made of alternative methods. and of these the Committee reported in paragraph 227:
Of all the developments and impending developments in fisheries, the one which promises to bring about, in the long term the most radical change, is fish cultivation or farming. Fish is the
only source of food which is still obtained mainly by the exploitation of naturally occurring stocks of wild creatures, but, as the human population increases, and its standards of lining rise, the demand for fish grows and it seems certain must ultimately exceed the reproductive capacity of the wild stocks.
§ We have now just about reached that point.
Lord Cameron, who is one of the most eminent and forthright of the Senators of the College of Justice, the Supreme Court in Scotland, says of fish farming (in paragraph 240):
The obstacles and problems are not all, however, of an economic or scientific nature. The development poses a number of legal questions.
Four subsequent paragraphs expand at length on these legal constraints. And the recommendations include (on page 172, paragraph 4d):
Provision should be made in a new statute for the development of fish farming.
§ It is more than six years since those words were penned. They encouraged many enterprising persons in Scotland to study and to embark on various enterprises with various species. Some have gone bankrupt, others have Prospered. The reason why many went bankrupt was because of the legal constraints. Those who prospered have done so in no small measure because of the wile and the guile by which they have overcome these legal difficulties and their concomitant of petty bureaucracy.
§ We had a notable debate last year in this house initiated by the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley. We had hoped that, as a result, the Government would shortly introduce a fish farming Bill. And to help them to do so, a draft Bill has been drawn up by the fish farming interests in England which has the backing of the Fish Farming Association of Scotland. But it has recently dawned upon us that the Government have no intention whatsoever to introduce such a Bill and that the grounds for inaction are that there exist " no legal constraints ". With respect, nothing could be further from the truth. In 1970 the Cameron Report gave a number of these legal constraints and several more have been encountered since then. My purpose and that of the noble Baroness in putting down this Amendment is to bring this matter to a head. While the Amendment will 531 not remove all these legal constraints, it will certainly go quite a long way towards that.
§ Let me give your Lordships one or two examples of how, if this Amendment is carried, it will help the fish farming industry. Take rating. In England and Wales the law as presently interpreted means that fish fall within the definition of " livestock " under the Rating Act 1971; but in Scotland that same Act is interpreted in the sense that if you are farming fish you are not exempt from rating. It is more than likely that before long there will be an appeal from the valuation courts and the tribunal, and the decision will probably be overturned so far as England is concerned. Of course, it will be said that the Layfield Report recommends on the subject of derating of agricultural subjects; that is, land and buildings. But I think it is very questionable whether in the foreseeable future action will be taken to this effect, and it will be taken only over the dead bodies of a large number of your Lordships.
§ A second point which would be quite helpful concerns protection against predators. The chief predators to a fish farmer are seals, herons and oyster catchers. They are all protected, and the farmer who takes counter-action is in grave danger of prosecution. Thirdly, as regards the measures governing hunted fish—that is, ordinary traditional fishing—various measures have been put forward to control the sale of these fish at certain seasons of the year, and so on. I must give credit to the Government for having inserted in the Freshwater and Salmon Fisheries (Scotland) Bill a useful little clause allowing salmon from a fish farm to be sold out of season. That is one good thing to be placed to the Government's credit.
§ Another point concerns ownership. If this Amendment is passed, the fish farmer would get some protection against theft and criminal damage, which he does not get at the present time. Such protection would come automatically if he were part of agriculture. A slightly more difficult subject, perhaps, is disease; but I rather think that the machinery which the Government have for the control of disease by Order could apply equally to diseases affecting fish.
§ To turn now to Government grants, 532 not an unimportant subject, in the United Kingdom Government grants are available to fish farmers only in Northern Ireland and in the areas of the Highlands and Islands Development Board. If this Amendment is passed fish farming would be eligible for Government grants. In this connection I should like to refer to a very important point. It is that the EEC grants are made for marine fish farming and they come under the heading of agriculture, so that grants from the EEC are part of agriculture. Therefore to acquire these grants, if for no other reason, I feel it is desirable for this Amendment to be passed by your Lordships.
§ I should like to refer now to the subject of pollution control—and not just simple trade effluent but also actions which affect salinity, temperature and the amount of oxygen in the water. Protection would be afforded to the fish farmer, if he were part of agriculture. Perhaps one of the worst things that can happen to a fish farmer is the introduction of nitrates into water, which cause the growth of a rather obnoxious weed called flannel weed.
§ I turn now to the subject of licences for goods vehicles, over which fish farmers would get the same preferential treatment as agriculturists get if they were treated as being part of agriculture. That would certainly be a further inducement for them. As regards capital allowances, the Inland Revenue have stated that fish farming is not normally regarded as being capable of being set against tax under the Capital Allowances Act 1968. A small and perhaps rather comic point, but one that is not unimportant, concerns the Guard Dogs Act 1975. Agricultural land is exempt from guard dogs legislation, but fish farming is not clearly defined in this respect. One county council has taken the view that fish farming is not exempt. In both Scotland and England the National Farmers' Unions have already accepted that fish farming is an integral part of agriculture. In England that is already the position and in the case of Scotland it will become the position. The NFUs have sections in their organisations already prepared. Perhaps I might tell you that we have not acted more quickly in Scotland because the Scottish fish farmers felt that the fee charged for joining the NFU in Scotland was rather too high. Had it not been 533 for that they might have been incorporated before now.
§ One point concerning Scotland in particular will interest your Lordships; namely, that Scotland has a longer coastline than that of the whole of the Eastern seaboard of the United States of America. The potentialities are tremendous. If your Lordships support this Amendment you will give encouragement and help to what may well grow into a most important industry, both as regards imports and as regards providing food for the people, because certain kinds of fish, properly farmed, can compete with the broiler industry—and look how the broiler industry has prospered and fed the country during the last 20 years!
§ Baroness EMMET of AMBERLEY
I rise to support the Amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Balerno. It is deceivingly simple in form, but very comprehensive. Your Lordships may have noticed that since I moved a Motion on fish farming, almost a year ago now, think, it has become quite a popular abject in the Press and on television, both BBC and ITV. I think it has won its place in the public's mind because of its real merits.
I originally moved my Motion because I was interested in helping to increase protein production for the world in general, and especially for the starving populations of the world. But I would urge it now as a real necessity for our own sake, because if your Lordships look around the world at the moment it is most disturbed. Whether or not we are on the precipice of another war, I do not know. But it would give us a feeling of safety if in this country we had at least increased our fish farming production, and felt more self-sufficient in that regard. That is why we have moved this Amendment. Compared with other countries, fish farming in this country has been so neglected, both by this Government and by previous ones, that it is really rather disgraceful.
We have put this Amendment at the end of Clause 4 because paragraph (5) on page 5 states:In this section agriculture' includes horticulture and forestry.There is not a single word about fish. Yet 534 it really is an urgent necessity that we should remove the relatively small obstacles—although they are serious for the people concerned—which stand in the way of our present fish farming industry. I know that, very probably, there will be a plea from the Government that this would entail expenditure, and we cannot afford any new expenditure at the present time. But I should like to draw their attention to the fact that our import of fish costs us £2 million a year, and a very small proportion of this sum to assist fish farmers would also help to dispose of the cost of our import of fish.
We shall, of course, have to encourage our housewives to take to fish eating. Unfortunately, at the present moment, we are not a very fish eating population and we shall have to change that. That can be done. If your Lordships were my age—some of you are—you would remember that we had to get used to something called snoek which, when I think about it, still makes me feel rather sick: and there was also Lord WooIton's pie which, while not bad, was rather dull. I do not think it would be impossible to get the housewife to take a new look at the products of a new fish industry.
In making this effort to put fish farming on a proper basis, we shall be backing up our own sea-going fishing industry which at the present moment is going through very hard times. We shall help to produce fish for conservation and so on. It is a little optimistic to suggest that seafaring sailors should take to fish farming on land; belonging to a seafaring family myself, I do not see that happening. Nevertheless, in any endeavour we make in fish farming we should work in conjunction with our sea-going fishing industry and not feel that we are trying to do something against them. In encouraging fish farming, we shall also be coming into line with the EEC's recent Directives and reports on fish farming. They are very interested in this subject and have a great many propositions which would be helpful to us. If, for instance, today we take this step to bring our fish farming under our agricultural umbrella, we shall only be doing what is already being done all over Europe. In due course we shall probably have to do it, so we may as well do it now.
I want to appeal to the Front Bench opposite. This is not a Party matter. 535 No doubt there are difficulties or defects in the Amendment which we have put forward, but we are only too willing to alter it, to improve it or to do anything which the Government may suggest. But I appeal to them for their sympathy in what we are trying to do. I also think—and I believe we have enough humour for me to be able to say this—that if there were a General Election in the near future they would not lose any votes by helping in this matter. Therefore, I ask the Government to have a look at this Amendment which could quite easily be inserted in this place, and which would enormously help those people who have been brave enough to embark on this industry, some of whom are doing extraordinarily well and helping with our export drive, especially on the crustacean side. If the Government would just wave a wand and help us in this way, it would rebound greatly to their benefit and we should be smoothing the path of those who do not so much go down to the sea in ships but have brought the products of the sea back on to the land.
§ The Earl of ONSLOW
I should very much like to support this Amendment. On Second Reading, we had a great discussion as to whether or not one should declare an interest. In this case, I certainly have an interest to declare in that I grow and fatten approximately 5,000 trout every year and I think I know a little about the subject. On the other hand, I do not know anything about sea fish farming, but the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, has informed us with great clarity on that subject.
What I should like to do is start with one or two facts about trout. If you put one and a half tons of food into trout, under reasonable conditions you will get one ton of trout in return. Under very specialised conditions, this factor has been reduced quite considerably and is far better than the broiler poultry industry. The eatable proportion of trout, or of most fish for that matter, is higher than most warm blooded providers of protein, and the cost of trout at a fishmonger has not escalated in nearly the same way as that of sea fish.
The noble Lord, Lord Balerno, made a point which is very well worth underlining; that is, the reproductive capacity of wild fish. In the wild, the brown trout 536 —and I ask your Lordships to remember that the farm trout is the rainbow trout, because that does not breed properly in the wild in this country—will produce between one and a half and three adult trout per spawning. The moment you get to artificially stripping a fish, that hatching and breeding ratio goes up to around 60 or 70 per cent. So, first, it is very easy to produce them: secondly, they are very easy to fatten and, thirdly, they produce very palatable food for the housewife.
In the United States of America—I believe I am right in saying this, but I stand open to correction—just below the dam which collapsed the other day in the Snake River, there was the biggest concentration of trout farms in the world. The Americans are no further advanced than we are in the ability to grow and produce trout. But what they are much further advanced in is the ability to sell them. They are advertised on television as a cheap quality food. They come to the housewife gutted and packed, and with little sachets in the box. If you want to prepare almonded trout, the almonds come in the box from the grocer, who gets them straight from the fish farm. If you want to produce trout with herbs, the herbs arrive and you can buy trout with herbs in the fishmongers.
This goes to show what could be done and backs up what my noble friend Lady Emmet of Amberley said about persuading, not making, the housewife realise that fish is good to eat. Certainly in the United States of America they have large numbers of freshwater crayfish farms. Again, perhaps this is a luxury food because crayfish are slow growers which go to the luxury end of the market. One young man whom I know personally is experimenting with this kind of fish farming in England. He is using imported French stock and is very hopeful that it will provide a new source of food for admittedly the luxury end of the market. The Russians claim that they are doing this in Lithuania, but there are very few details available.
The protection of predators has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Balerno. To my cost I know that the worst predators are not herons, or oyster catchers, for they do not come, or otters. They are two-legged predators who come 537 with nets in the night and have difficulty in differentiating between what belongs to me and what belongs to them. If you have taken a long time to grow fish over which you have taken care and trouble and in which you have invested money, it is extremely tiresome if someone else comes and removes them. Then you do not have the protection of the full rigours of the law, however helpful and co-operative the police may be.
There are two further points that I should like to make. The first is that there is a great deal of doubt about whether or not you need planning permission for the fish farm buildings—your stews and your hatcheries. This Amendment, if accepted, will clear up the doubt once and for all. My second point, a fundamentally important issue which may not come strictly within this Amendment, is that if the local water authority—here I should like to pay public tribute to the help which the Thames Water Authority have given to me in the last day or so—order you to destroy your fish because of something like ulcerated dermal necrosis, which is the disease which has had devastating effects on the salmon in the rivers of the United Kingdom and Ireland, there is no compensation. If no compensation is payable, this will make very much more likely the illegal hiding of the fact that a fish farmer has ulcerated dermal necrosis among his stock. If that happens, it means that this very frightening and almost always lethal disease will be much more difficult to contain and it is in everybody's interest that it should be contained. It is in the interests of the fish farmer to get his stock destroyed as opposed to thinking that he might get away with it and then receiving no compensation when his stock has to be slaughtered.
This is one of the most exciting new projects that is taking place and we have the ability to carry it out. We have some very good fish scientists and many people are willing to risk their money. Of course, risk is involved, but what those of us who are fish farmers—I am a fish farmer in a very small way—would like to say is that we should have the same conditions of help which the agricultural industry receives, so that we also can produce food for the housewife. After all, this is what all agriculture is about.
538 One final point is that it seems to me to be quite reasonable that some distinction should be made between fish produced for sporting interests and fish produced for food interests. I see no reason why the sporting interests should be given tax relief, but I see a very strong reason for giving tax relief to the food producing interests. I should have thought that this could be done very simply by the council showing at the end of the year how many fish have been sold to sporting interests and how many fish have been sold to the restaurant trade. I hope that the Government will look with great sympathy at this Amendment and, if it is not properly drafted, that they will produce their own draft at Report stage.
§ Lord LEATHERLAND
I shall be very brief. My noble friend the Minister may think that there is something rather " fishy " about this Amendment if all the speeches in favour of it happen to come from the other side. Unlike the noble Lord who has just resumed his seat, I ought to declare that I have no interest in fish farming. I do not own a fish farm, nor do I own any shares in Mac Fisheries. However, I have a personal interest in fish for I do not care to eat meat any more frequently than I can help. I eat meat only on those occasions when my wife compels me to do so, but I like fish and live almost entirely upon it. I think that everybody in the medical profession will tell you that fish provides a nutrative diet and that the consumption of it should be encouraged.
However, in the near future there is going to be a shortage of fish. We have clearly in our minds the memory of the cod war and in a few months time there will be the threat of every country expanding its fishery preserves to 200 miles off its coast. While in recent months our catches of fish have gone down considerably, they are likely to go down still further in the months to come. We have seen the demise of the homely fish and chip shop in many of our High Streets. Fish has become almost unobtainable at a price which ordinary people can afford to pay. Therefore, if our catches from the sea are to be diminished and if there is a scientific and industrial possibility of producing fish off our own shores or in our estuaries, then surely—I will not exaggerate by. saying as a matter of 539 national preservation in the interests of having a complete diet for our people, we should do all that we possibly can to encourage this relatively new industry of fish farming.
Such fish farms as have been established have been brought into existence sometimes by individuals trading and producing fish in a smallish way. On the other hand, there are one or two larger combines who have interested themselves in fish farming, and I should like to see some of the great food producing combines taking an interest in this new industry. It has enormous possibilities. Side by side with that, in the years to come there will be a growing demand from the community for fish, but there will be a reducing supply of fish from the sea. If, therefore, we have an alternative method of producing fish by our own efforts, for goodness sake let us do so!
I do not know what the attitude of the Government is likely to be, nor do I know what scientific or financial arguments have been put forward by the Ministry, but as a matter of common sense it seems to me that we should do all that we possibly can to foster and increase the productivity of this new industry.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ Lord VERNON
I should like, very briefly, to support my noble friend Lord Balerno in his Amendment. In doing so, I want to make one point on the marine fish farming side. My noble friend Lady Emmet of Amberley said, quite correctly I think, that we do not farm fish on the same scale as certain other countries.
However, what we have done in this country and what is being done, especially by the White Fish Authority, is a great deal of research. More research has been put into fish farming in this country than has been put into it by the other EEC countries with whom we are co-operating. As a result of this research the fish farming industry has now reached a point where commercial production is possible. It has in fact started and within a few years it is likely that many thousands of tons of farmed salmon, farmed turbot and possibly other fish will be forthcoming, which will be a very significant addition to our diet—to the diet of a nation which has to import 50 per cent. of all its food. For these reasons I hope that the Government will give serious consideration to this Amend- 540 ment because it is only fair to these people who have risked so much that they should not now be hampered by a law which is a complete anachronism.
§ Lord HOY
I do not want altogether to oppose this Amendment but I think we must take cognisance of what in fact this Bill does. It is the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill and if one looks at the Explanatory Memorandum one sees that Clause 4,."…enables the Minister to pay grants towards the costs of maintaining a standardised system of proficiency testing in agriculture in England and Wales.That is what the clause sets out to do. We arc then faced with an Amendment—and I am not objecting to the Amendment. nor to its getting publicity—tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, a very old friend of mine, and by the noble Baroness. Lady Emmet, another very old friend. I do not like to find myself in this position, but if anyone in this Committee or in another place thinks that one can take an Agriculture Bill and simply insert an Amendment into it and convert it into a Bill to deal with the fisheries industry I think that is going a little too far. It cannot be done with an Amendment of this kind.
When people talk to me about research in this industry, I do not think there is any other country in the world which has a better record in research than the British Ministry of Agriculture. Indeed, I have spent many hours at Lowestoft and elsewhere and have found there devoted people doing a remarkable job of work which was the admiration of every other fishing country in the world. We are not behind in that respect. So when we seek to deal with this Amendment it is no criticism of the experts who are employed in this industry.
En Russia they have a very simple test and they go in for this type of fish production on a big scale. I cannot remember the last figure, but I clearly remember that when was in Russia a few years ago the fishing industry provided certainly not less than 20 per cent. of the total protein contribution of the whole of Russia. So they looked upon it as a very important industry indeed. said to the Minister: " How do you carry out this process of fish farming?" " Well," he said, " it is not as simple as some people think. 541 When I make my proposition to the Government in Russia I have to prove to them that every acre I take up for fish farming will give a return to the country of certainly not less than that of an acre which has been left for agriculture. " When we have a Bill of this kind, no matter how much we may agree that there should be an increase in fish production I think we are going too far if we believe that we can simply insert an Amendment in an Agriculture Bill in order to produce a fishing policy.
§ Baroness EMMET of AMBERLEY
It is very kind of the noble Lord to give way. I just want to remind him that it has been proved that in fish farming one can produce more protein per acre than one can by agricultural livestock.
§ Lord HOY
I would not disagree with that, but the noble Baroness had better convince her agricultural colleagues. All I am saying is that whether she proves it or not or whether it can be asserted or not, I am suggesting that we cannot take an Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill and convert it into a Bill for fish production. So I say humbly to my noble friends that on the whole I do not disagree with fish farming. Indeed, it was a long time ago when I was introduced to it, because I once had the great pleasure of visiting Israel and I saw their carp production. They were denied the seas round about them, but by fish farming they created an industry second to none in Europe. That convinced me of its value. This was done as a deliberate policy, not just a simple Amendment to a Bill.
So I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley, that I shall be one of their supporters in regard to fish farming in this country. I think it has a considerable contribution to make but I believe we shall lose the value of it if we think we can simply insert a little Amendment in an agricultural Bill in order to get what we want. I am sure that they do not believe it and they know that I do not believe it, and if we come to the conclusion that we are not going to hoodwink each other we can then embark on a programme of getting the Government—whatever Government—to accept the fish industry, which is a particular agricultural 542 industry, into our economy, because I think it can make a remarkable contribution.
§ Lord LEATHERLAND
Before my noble friend sits down I should like him to tell us something. He is trying to suggest that it would be an unnatural marriage if we tried to marry agriculture with fishery. Why then was it that he was such a distinguished Minister in what used to he called the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries? To my mind the marriage is a natural one.
§ Lord SANDYS
I should like to add my voice from this Front Bench in support of my noble friends Lord Balerno and Lady Emmet of Amberley who have so ably moved the Amendment before your Lordships. In doing so I would say at the same time to the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, that he may criticise the Amendment in the way he has done and say that the Bill is purely concerned with minor matters of agriculture, but this is a Bill which concerns a major matter—an alteration of the structure of the landlord and tenant system in Part II of the Bill.
§ Lord SANDYS
I entirely agree with the noble Lord: it has nothing to do with it. But I am criticising the noble Lord for saying that the Bill is a minor one concerning small agricultural provisions.
Let us now turn our attention to a matter raised by my noble friend Lord Balerno in regard to grants, which I believe to be an important factor. Earlier this afternoon when we were discussing the rural development of Wales the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, mentioned 543 that he considered it unfortunate that the inputs and outputs in funds from this country to the EEC and the funds returning from the EEC to this country in terms of rural development, et cetera, were disproportionate. I think we can help him in this regard because. thanks to both the farm and horticultural development schemes, which we all welcome from this side of the Committee, and the changes under the farm capital grant scheme, great simplification has been made.
This is a particularly important factor because British farmers at the end of 1974, had had merely 149 plans approved, which compares most unfavourably with those of our partners in the EEC. May I mention to your Lordships that 4,000 plans were approved in Denmark, no fewer than 7,600 in Germany, 1,200 in Ireland and 4,200 in the Netherlands; so the alteration in the grant structure under the horticulture development scheme has been most welcome.
Only a few days ago the European Communities Commission published details of EEC grants for agricultural projects. In that list, which I have before me at the moment, are no fewer than 101 projects, totalling £7,015,732: it is significant that no fewer than 73 of these 101 projects are concerned with the fishing industry. Surely, this in itself should indicate the degree of support which the fishing industry needs, and by implication the fishing industry will greatly benefit from an alteration suggested by my noble friends in their Amendment to the Bill.
The Earl of ONSLOW: Just before the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, replies, in the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, with regard to what he said about the Russian Ministry of Fisheries. there was a point on which I should like to comment. In an area 60 ft. by 20 ft. it is possible with an input of 3,000 lbs. of fish food to produce 1,000 lbs. of pure edible protein for the human race: so that compares very favourably indeed with either chickens or animals, beef and milk.
§ Lord HOY
I do not want to interrupt again, nor to intervene, but when one is continually being referred to, one is bound to say one or two words in reply. I feel bound to say to the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, that if you are going in for 544 fish farming of this kind, you will have a financial input which is bigger than I would think is dealt with in a purely agricultural industry. I was not objecting to fish farming: I supported it. What I am saying is that it is very difficult to try to take fish farming and convert it into part of the agricultural industry.
If I may say so to the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, who was speaking from the Front Bench when he tried to distort a little of what is to happen later, the proposition we would be faced with later with regard to farming and, indeed to inheritance, has absolutely nothing to do with fishing. Indeed, on fishing, this one has no contribution to make to the economic position of the fishing industry. This is a new concept of producing fish for our needs in this country, and if we do not recognise that, then we do not know the problem which confronts us tonight. I think I have this in common with the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley, and the noble Lord, Lord Balerno: we know what we want to seek to achieve. All I am saying is that while we want to achieve this one thing in common, I do not think that this Bill is the Bill through which it can be done. I am saying no more than that. I realise the problem, and I appreciate what we would do. I have argued before on this. A long time ago in another place, I was trying to argue for fish farming in this country because I thought it had a contribution to make to our economic wellbeing in Britain. I have never deserted that point of view. But I do not want to get it mixed up in this Bill with agriculture, because even if agriculture loses, I do not want to have the fish industry lose along with it.
§ Lord STRABOLGI
We have had a most interesting debate, and I think we must be very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, and the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley, for putting down this Amendment. I think they have made this subject very much their own. Indeed, whenever I meet her outside the Chamber—which I am glad to say is fairly frequently—the noble Baroness always mentions the question of fish farming. In fact, I believe she mentions it to other members of the Government far more senior than myself when she meets them at parties.
But I must, however, refute the suggestion, in the friendliest possible way, 545 of both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, that the Government somehow arc not interested in this and do not intend to do anything about it. I am grateful for this opportunity to emphasise the awareness of the Government of the concern of certain sections of the fish farming industry that, in some respects, they are not treated in the same way as agriculture. It is precisely this concern that prompted the Government to establish, with fish farming and associated interests, a Working Group to examine in depth the problems of those undertaking fish farming in this country. This Working Group was set up in the Department. Following a series of meetings, the Ministry produced a report and circulated it last February, inviting the views of the fish farmers. I am sorry to say that these views have not yet been received, perhaps for good reasons; I do not know. But it is hoped that these will be available in the not-too-distant future. I can recommend this report to those of your Lordships who may not have seen it. I will see that a copy of it is put in the Library and is made available in the Printed Paper Office, because it really does go in some detail into some of the problems which are involved.
As the report made clear, there are a number of issues which might he dealt with in the context of fisheries legislation, where this subject really belongs. Here, I agree with my noble friend Lord Hoy that it cannot really be fitted into this Bill, for the reasons which he has put forward. My noble friend also mentioned the fact that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, of which he was a distinguished member, is divided up into different, sections; there is a fishing section and agricultural sections. I did not know this because I have come fairly recently to this subject as a spokesman from this Box. But I cross-examined the Department closely this morning on this matter and they told me that in no case do you ever put into an agriculture Bill something about fishing, either freshwater fishing, sea fishing, oysters, mussels, or anything else. You do not put it into an agriculture Bill; it has its own Bill.
§ Baroness EMMET of AMBERLEY
If the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, will allow me to say so, that is a great pity, 546 because in Europe fish is considered under the heading of agriculture, and that is what we need in this country.
§ Lord STRABOLGI
That may be so. On the other hand, it does not prevent us from bringing in our own legislation when the time comes. At this point. I must say we will consider this legislation when we have gone into and solved the difficult problems involved. Some of these matters include subjects such as the ability to take farmed salmon in the close season and to sell such creatures even if they do not meet the required size limits applicable to wild salmon, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, said, has been introduced already into Scottish legislation, but not yet into legislation in this country.
In discussion, fish farmers raised a wide variety of points where they felt themselves to be at a disadvantage, for example, on such issues as planning, some taxation points, and rating. Noble Lords will be aware of the recently published report on local government finance. Certain recommendations were made on the future of rating and, although the implementation of the Layfield Report is still a matter for consideration, it is of interest to note that the introduction of rating for agriculture is recommended.
As will be clear to your Lordships, fish farming issues relate to activities across a very wide spectrum of Government. For example, there is the question of theft, and here, of course, the Home Office is involved. There is some uncertainty about protection under the law for stocks of farmed fish and the installations in which they might be reared. I understand that the Theft Act will give certain protection, but there are two areas of uncertainty relating to fish farming in the sea. The first of these is where shellfish are reared on ropes suspended from rafts or buoys. The property in shellfish on ropes is doubtful, because in these circumstances the shellfish, which are wild animals, do not appear to have been reduced into possession for the purposes of the Theft Act and do not enjoy the protection afforded by the Sea Fisheries and Shellfish Act to shellfish in a several fishery or in a private oyster bed. The second doubt arises where fish are kept within a sealed inlet or creek of the sea. It can be argued that they have not been reduced into 547 possession in the same way as those kept in cages. These points are some of many which have to be taken into account in framing the legislation.
I should perhaps explain that in the light of the Government's consideration of these issues we are convinced that such constraints on fish farming as exist do not amount to a major limitation upon the expansion of this activity in its various forms. In the last decade or so the number of freshwater fish farms in the United Kingdom has quadrupled, and there is every reason to believe that the expansion of this activity is continuing apace. The problems arise more in relation to the research and development and economic fields. This is why the Government continue to place major emphasis on spending available funds in the attempt to deal with these problems. I am sure noble Lords will be glad to know that in the financial estimates for the current year there is provision for something over fl million annually to meet the cost of research and development work connected with fish farming activities. I hope that this is proof of the seriousness with which the Government take this matter and the great interest which they take in it. We wish to provide a sound research and development base to enable fish farmers to move forward, because we are just as aware of the great potential of this aspect as are noble Lords who have spoken.
I should like to take this opportunity of confirming what we have made clear on a number of occasions. We shall consider what might be included in fisheries legislation when that proves possible. In the meantime, I cannot accept the clause, for the reasons which I have given, but nevertheless I welcome the opportunity we have had once again to discuss this important developing new industry which, as I say, has great potential.
§ Lord BURTON
I really feel that the Government are splitting hairs in this matter, because in the crofting legislation, which, after all, is an agricultural matter, the keeping of bees is included. If you can keep wild bees, why cannot you keep tame fish, and put it into an agriculture Bill.
§ Lord STRABOLGI
Well, bees are not fish. I think a. great deal of the arguments seem to rest on drawing an analogy with agriculture. We do not think that this should be the approach. Within the fisheries context the question of further assistance to fish farmers should, I submit, be decided on its own merits. If I may sum up, the first point is this; that we have produced the report; this has been sent to the industry for their comments, and their comments are still awaited. As soon as these comments have been received, we will work on them and work towards considering legislation based on them, when we have ironed out the problems involved. In the meantime, we are giving £1 million a year towards Further research and development. We treat this with the greatest seriousness and sense of urgency. But I cannot accept the Amendment, for the mainly legal reasons which have been expressed today.
§ Lord BALERNO
May I deal with one or two of the points which have been made on the other side of the House. I did not altogether comprehend the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, who tried to link this new clause with the existing Clause 4. It has nothing to do with Clause 4. The noble Baroness, Lady Emmet, and I thought it convenient to put it in at that point. It might have been put in anywhere else. This is a miscellaneous Bill. You do not expect things in a miscellaneous Bill to come in one after another in orderly sequence; there are bound to be sharp differences between one clause and another. That is the essence of a miscellaneous Bill.
Production per acre has been very well dealt with. What interested me was how many years ago it was that Lord Hoy saw what he saw and said what he said. That all happened so many years ago, and not a thing has been done as a result of what lie saw and said a long time ago.
§ Lord BALERNO
May I deal with the question of theft, raised by Lord Strabolgi. I would refer him to the Cameron Report which deals with that matter particularly, and with what would constitute theft on a fish farm. If he will study that, he will see that it will be of great advantage to have fish farming—cages in the sea, which 549 is what are referred to—in as part of agriculture.
The fact that fish farms have quadrupled is a sign of the ingenuity of the people who are fish farming, and it does not take account of those fish farmers who have gone bankrupt because of these constraints and because of the bureaucracy attaching to it. When the time comes, was the refrain of the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, " when the time comes; when the time comes ". I suggest to the noble Lord that if this Amendment is passed—and I am sure it is going to be passed today—it is a fine holding operation, giving the Government time to get their own fish farming Bill into order. I shall be the first to support it, but I want to see the colour of their words. I think that the way to poke them up into doing something about fish farming, and not perpetually giving us honeyed words from the Front Bench on the other side, is to pass this Amendment now, giving them time to get on and put tip a proper fish farming Bill. I agree this Amendment is not perfect, but what is not perfect but goes half way is always rather useful. At the present time, for so many fish farmers, it is a case of hope deferred making the heart sink. We will encourage the fish farmers of Great Britain if we agree to this Amendment now.
Before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may say one thing. I personally sympathise a very great deal with what he has said. I sympathise with the fact that the fish farming industry is an up and coming industry and the fact that it has, as it were, no home, but I feel that it is like a child taking part in musical bumps—whenever the music stops all the chairs have gone, and nobody wants to hold this particular baby. With regard to my noble friend's Amendment I would say that certainly nobody disputes the value of fish farming. Nobody disputes the fact that it ought to be encouraged. Nobody disputes the fact that it has a great part to play. My only hesitation is the fact that the particular Amendment which we are going to consider could produce legal complications and could produce difficulty once it becomes law.
I have absolutely no doubt that that would be the last thing that my noble 550 friend would wish, and I wonder whether it would not be possible, between now and Report stage, for the Government to see whether there is any way in which they could accommodate the views of my noble friends behind me, because we do not want to put something into the Bill which could produce complications. The noble Lord. Lord Strabolgi, said that there could he some difficulties. If the noble Lord were prepared to go hack to his officials and see whether there is any way in which we could accommodate at least some of the views of my noble friend, I should have thought that this might be extremely helpful. The one thing we want to do is get it right. I see my noble friend's argument that if we do not do something now nothing will ever be done. We want something to be done. If the noble Lord could help over that, I should have thought that this might be a more constructive line.
§ Lord STRABOLGI
Certainly I welcome the constructive attitude of the noble Earl. We have taken full note of what has been said in this debate but I cannot give any undertaking, I am afraid. that a redrafted Amendment. or some other Amendment to do with fish farming, could be put in it at a later stage in the Bill. I am afraid I cannot do that because. as has been said very strongly by my noble friend Lord Hoy and others, this cannot be put into this particular Bill.
As a subject we are very much apprised of its importance. If I may say so with great respect to the fish farming industry, I hope that out of this debate, and as a result of it, they will answer the various questions they have been asked in the report. That should be the first step. They should get in touch with the Department, let them have the different answers, and then we can get on with considering legislation. At the moment the ball is in the court of the fish farming industry. We have taken full account of what has been said in this debate, and I hope that matters will now proceed with great urgency.
Baroness WARD of NORTH TYNESIDE
Might I ask the noble Lord how many times he has written to these people, and how many have not answered?
§ Lord STRABOLGI
As I said in my speech, a report was produced by February in this year and that was sent to the fish farming industry. There are about half a dozen associations. They were sent copies of this report and asked if they would comment on some of the various points raised in it. We are still awaiting them. It is not my function to write to these organisations.
I: Just a moment. If the noble Baroness will bear with me, this is done by the Department. The Department have been in touch, and keep in close touch, with these associations, but they have not yet had the answers. I hope, as a result of the debate, that these answers will come along fairly soon.
§ Lord BALERNO
I would dispute the phrase " the ball is in the fish farmers' court ". With the amount of " bumf " that the fish farmers have put up and circulated round about, and particularly the conferences and seminars and colloquia that have been held, many of which the civil servants have attended, I think it is ridiculous to say that the ball is in the fish farmers' court. Furthermore, there may be a few questionnaires which they have not answered but we have to remember that an association of fish farmers is not altogether unlike an association of trade unions, and it takes a little time to give a reply to a questionnaire. I am afraid that I cannot possibly agree to withdraw the Amendment, as the noble Lord suggests. What I would say is that if the Committee decided to pass this Amendment, I think that the noble Baroness and I would be willing to consider any Amendments to that Amendment at a later stage in the Bill.
Lord LEATH ERLAND
Can my noble friend clarify my mind on one point in his speech? He said that £1 million was being devoted to research. Was any of that devoted to fish that are caught in the wild or was it all devoted to fish farming?
§ Lord STRABOLGI
It was devoted to fish farming, and a great deal of it to marine fish farming, which we think is one of the great potentials for this. May I say 552 in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, that there is not a trade union involved in the organisations. If there had been perhaps we could have had an answer. These organisations are not small ones. There is the National Farmers' Union: the fish farming section of the National Farmers' Union; the Salmon and Trout Association; the Fisheries Organisation Society; the British Trout Farmers' Association; the Shellfish Association of Great Britain. They are quite substantial bodies. I do not blame them in any way for not replying. They are probably studying the matter. All I am trying to say is that we cannot get on until they do.
May I intervene for one moment. I have deep sympathy with those who want to see fish farming improved in our country. I have seen it elsewhere, and I can assure the Committee that the experiment in the one country in particular which I happen to know very well, Israel, has proved an extremely successful venture. I think that we have had cogent arguments for not dealing with the matter today. There are two reasons for this. First, it can create complications when the Report is being dealt with, and the other is that there may be misunderstandings that anyone in the House at all would be against the development of fish farming.
If we have a Division at the present time I think it would be misunderstood by a large number of people, who might think that there are Members in your Lordships' Committee who feel doubt about the success of the fish farming enterprise. I think its success can be achieved, and I think that it should be achieved. However. I think that the proper way for us to intervene is to press for the Report to be considered as speedily as possible, and to level as many questions as we possibly can at the Ministry to see that that is done. In the circumstances, I hope that we shall not have a Division on this particular matter.
§ 6.49 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 59; Not-Contents, 39.553
|Airedale, L.||Ferrier, L.||O'Hagan, L.|
|Amherst of Hackney, L.||Foot, L.||Onslow, E. [Teller.]|
|Arbuthnott, V.||Greenway, L.||Platt, L.|
|Balerno, L. [Teller.]||Hornsby-Smith, B.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Berkely, B.||Hylton-Foster, B.||Redesdale, L.|
|Blake, L.||Inglewood, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Killearn, L.||Seear, B.|
|Broadbridge, L.||Lauderdale, E.||Selsdon, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Long, V.||Semphill, Ly.|
|Burton, L.||Lyell, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Cairns, E.||Macleod of Borve, B.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Clinton, L.||Mansfield, E.||Swinton, E.|
|Clitheroe, L.||Merrivale, L.||Vernon, L.|
|Daventry, V.||Middleton, L.||Vickers, B.|
|de Clifford, L.||Monck, V.||Vivian, L.|
|Denham, L.||Monson, L.||Wade, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Morris, L.||Wakefield of Kendal, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Noel-Buxton, L.||Ward of North Tyneside, B.|
|Emmet of Amberley, B.||Northchuurch, B.||Wigoder, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Northesk, E.|
|Ardwick, L.||Iddesleigh, E.||Popplewell, L.|
|Bernstein, L.||Jacques, L.||Rathcreedan, L.|
|Birk, B.||Janner, L.||Rhodes, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Leatherland, L.||Rusholme, L.|
|Brimelow, L.||Lee of Newton, L.||Shackleton, L.|
|Castle, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Stedman, B.|
|Collison, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Melchett, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Northfield, L.||Strang, L.|
|Gordon-Walker, L.||Oram, L. [Teller.]||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Henderson, L.||Paget of Northampton, L.||Wells-Pestell, L. [Teller.]|
|Houghton of Sowerby, I..||Phillips, B.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Hoy, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ Clauses 5 to 11 agreed to.
§ Clause 12 [Agricultural holdings in England and Wales: further restrictions on operation of certain notices to quit]:
§ 6.59 p.m.
§ Lord MIDDLETON moved Amendment No. 2:
§ Page 15, line 21, after (" then ") insert (" unless the arbitrator in his award determines that the notice to quit should be allowed to take effect,").
§ The noble Lord said: Under Section 24 of the Agricultural Holdings Act 1948 a notice to quit is not effective without the Minister's consent except under certain circumstances which are listed in subsection (2) and these include failure by the tenant to adhere to the terms of his agreement. Under Section 24(2)(d) if a tenant had not within a reasonable period complied with a notice to carry out work, usually repair work, according to the terms of his tenancy, then the notice to quit given for that reason was effective and no 554 counter-notice by the tenant could be served. There were, however, two safeguards under Section 24: first, the breach by the tenant had to be capable of being remedied and, secondly, the condition breached must be consistent with his responsibility to farm according to the rules of good husbandry.
§ Subsequently, the tenant was further protected by the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1963, Section 19, and by regulations made in 1964. A notice to remedy must be in a prescribed form. No notice to do work can be served within 12 months of a previous work notice and the tenant must have reasonable time to do the work—that is, at least six months. Furthermore, the effect of the 1963 Act and the 1964 regulations was that a tenant can, before he does the work, go to arbitration on the works notice itself. When that happens the arbitrator can, under Section 19(2) of the 1963 Act, determine, first, any question arising on a works notice and, secondly, extend the time for doing any 555 work. So the notice has to comply with an elaborate set of rules or it will be invalid and there is no danger whatever of the tenant being given too short a time to get his repairs done. We now have Clause 11 which deals with arbitration on the works notice and which would enable the Lord Chancellor to give the arbitrator the additional powers specified. He would be able to strike out items in a works notice, even though they were the tenant's legal obligation and would be able to change the method or material required by the notice.
§ So far, we have been dealing with the tenant's right to go to arbitration on the notice to remedy itself. The tenant already has by the 1948 Act, as amended by the 1958 Agriculture Act, the right to go to arbitration on a subsequent notice to quit for failure to comply with a notice, so it would seem that, without Clause 12 of the present Bill, the tenant is doubly protected under the present law and under Clause 11 when enacted. First, the notice to remedy must be lawful, fair and reasonable. Secondly, a notice to quit on failure to comply with such a work notice would only be effective if an arbitration on a subsequent notice to quit concluded that the tenant had not complied with a fair, lawful and reasonable notice to do work. What is the point of Clause 12, therefore?
§ It would seem that a tenant is, by the previous legislation which I have mentioned and by the enactment of Clause 11, so fully protected at the notice to remedy stage that it must be impossible for any misuse of the procedure or harassment to take place. The arbitrator has, at the notice to remedy stage, all the powers needed to ensure that no notice to do work is unfair, onerous, contains too many items or demands too short a time to get the work done. Without Clause 12, an arbitrator on a notice to quit has merely to decide whether a lawful, fair and reasonable notice to do work has not been complied with. If it has not, it must surely by then be established that the farm is being wasted by a bad tenant. It is in the interests of food production that he should go.
§ The additional safeguards contained in Clause 12 as a result of which the tenant can go to the Agricultural Land Tribunal would seem not to be necessary. They could well introduce an element of delay 556 which might be harmful to agriculture. That is where I feel that they are dangerous. I shall listen with great interest when the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, explains why the clause is necessary and why the Agricultural Land Tribunal has to be brought into the proceedings. The amendment assumes that there are good reasons for Clause 12 and seeks to retain it in the Bill. However, it seeks to give the arbitrator the power, when it is quite clear that the farm is going to rack and ruin, to cut short the proceedings after the arbitration decision when the notice to quit must take effect and to say. " The time has come to end this affair: it cannot he allowed to take up further time and incur further expense by going to the Agricultural Land Tribunal." I beg to move.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Lord MELCHETT
I shall certainly do my best to give a brief explanation of the advantages of the clause as we see them. Under the existing legislation, a landlord is able to serve a notice to quit on his tenant if the tenant fails to comply with the terms of a notice to do work within the time allowed. The tenant can refer the notice to quit to arbitration if he wishes to dispute it, on the grounds, for example. that the work which the landlord says has not been done has in fact been done. But if the arbitrator upholds the notice to quit the tenant will have to give up his tenancy on the appropriate date. So if the tenant fails to complete just one item or fails to complete the tasks by just the odd day he will lose his home and his livelihood. As an example. the Ministry of Agriculture was recently given details of a case where the tenant completed all the tasks required of him in the time allowed, except that he failed to remove the trimmings from his hedge-cutting. The notice to quit was upheld by the arbitrator, who acted strictly in accordance with the existing law on the subject. There was no suggestion of harassment here; the landowner was acting quite properly, so far as I know.
In the Government's view, this procedure is too inflexible, hearing in mind how serious its outcome can be for the tenant. The danger is that the punishment can far outweigh any crime that may have been committed. We decided, therefore. that an appeals procedure was needed 557 under which the landlord's reasons for the notice to quit could be viewed against the long-established criterion of whether a fair and reasonable landlord would insist on possession, having regard to all the circumstances of the case. This alteration would have the additional advantage of acting as a disincentive to a landlord who might be contemplating getting rid of his tenant by the misapplication of the notice to do work procedure.
The new procedure is set out in Clause 12 and gives the tenant who wishes to challenge the notice to quit two options. Either he can refer the notice to quit to arbitration first, if he believes it to be wrongly based, and only thereafter require the notice to be referred to the Tribunal for a final decision: or, if he knows that the notice to quit is soundly based, he may decide to forgo arbitration and, in effect, throw himself on the mercy of the Tribunal and on the long-established criterion of the fair and reasonable landlord test which I mentioned.
The practical effect of the Amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, whether intentional or not, would be to cut out the final arbitration. I believe he will accept that any tenant served with a notice to quit in this way will naturally avoid the risk of arbitration upon it and opt for the second alternative which I outlined; that is, a reference direct to the Agricultural Land Tribunal, even in cases where the tenant might have wished to challenge the details of the notice to quit itself. I suggest that this would lead to a highly undesirable intrusion by the Tribunal into matters which are properly the concern of an arbitrator.
As noble Lords know, tribunals are intended to deal with questions of opinion. So far as possible they should avoid getting drawn into arguments about whether or not a ditch has been properly cleaned or whether a gate has been properly hung. Questions of fact requiring professional knowledge and expertise, on the other hand, are customarily dealt with by arbitrators, and the profession has made strong representations to us that this should remain the position. For these reasons, therefore, I regret to say that I regard the Amendment as 558 undesirable. I believe that the clause as drafted, with its choice of options for a tenant, depending on the circumstances of the case, is the most practical way of dealing with the matter, and in view of what I have said and the explanations given, I hope that the noble Lord will not press the Amendment.
§ Lord BURTON
I am a little confused over what the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has just said in relation to the case which he quoted. He said that most of the terms had been complied with, but the notice would never have been served in the first place if the tenant had been carrying out his obligations. Obviously the tenant was a bad tenant in the first place. Why, just because he had not carried out one requirement, is it said that this was a bad case against him? The noble Lord said that the Tribunal is apparently supposed to deal only with matters of opinion, but this was a matter of fact: it was not a matter of opinion. According to the noble Lord's own words the tenant had not complied. Why, therefore, do the Government seek to try to keep bad tenants in farms which must he to the detriment of good agriculture?
§ Lord MELCHETT
I think the noble Lord misunderstood me. The case which I quoted was decided by an arbitrator under the existing law before the Bill was introduced, and the questions of fact, as then. will continue to be settled by the arbitrator. I am saying that in that case I should suggest that any fair and reasonable person, and any fair and reasonable landlord, looking at the whole circumstances of the case, would say that the fact that someone had not cleared up a few hedge trimmings was not sufficient grounds for that tenant to lose the farm. I do not think that anyone who farms would say that it is always necessary to clear up hedge trimmings: certainly I do not clear up my own on my farm unless they interfere with an agricultural operation. Hedge trimmings do not do any harm laying on the ground. quoted that case only as an example, and I am not saying that the law, or any changes in the law, are based on that one example. But it gives an example of how the expression of opinion by the Tribunal might well bring a more sensible: basis to decisions about whether or not someone should lose his farm.
§ Lord BURTON
I do not think there was any misunderstanding: it was a matter of fact, not of opinion, and the noble Lord said that the Tribunal would deal with opinion.
One of the difficulties we arc in here is that of discussing a case the facts of which we do not know in full. This could be a bad precedent and incidentally—I say this with the greatest of respect —it could be an example of how hard cases can make bad law. The problem which worries most of us on this side of the Committee is not that there should be justification for any form of harassment, which is quite intolerable; nor is it a desire on the part of people to enable the landlord in any way to turn an unfair screw on the tenant. What concerns most of us is the fact that in any form of the landlord/tenant system there must at some point be a sanction, so that one can say, " Look, this must be done." If one removes too many sanctions then in the end the farm runs down. At present, if work requires to be done, a landlord can say to the tenant that the work should be done, and if it is not done the landlord can serve on the tenant a notice to remedy, which would normally encourage the tenant to carry out the work. If then the tenant does not do the work, or if he considers the situation is unfair, he can go to arbitration. Up to now the arbitrator could say that it had been done on the right form and that the requirements of the landlord were justified. He could alter the length of time in which the work should be done.
However, now under Clause 11 the arbitrator is given more scope. He is allowed to tell the tenant that he can use different materials and he can alter the length of time in which the work can be done. When that arbitration procedure has been gone through and still the work is not done, then the landlord, under the old system, would issue a notice to quit. That situation can be put before an arbitrator to see whether it is fair. The problem which is worrying noble Lords on this side is that under this clause on top of that—the arbitrator having said that he has taken all the circumstances into account and that the notice to quit which was issued was right and justified—the matter can then go to an Agricultural Land Tribunal. So eventually one 560 wonders what is the point of having got an arbitrator to say what is the right thing if the case is then taken to an Agricultural Land Tribunal for it to say whether the arbitrator was right or justified. Certainly the cases of harassment which have been mentioned, and were mentioned in another place, were quite intolerable, and the case which the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, explained to us today would seem to be rather curious—a person losing his holding because of some hedge trimmings. I wonder how many of those cases the Ministry has been told of? What records has the Ministry on this matter? Can the noble Lord say how many cases of harassment have been brought to the attention of the Ministry? While it is quite intolerable that harassment should be allowed, we ought to be fairly careful not to be so sympathetic to one or two cases that we remove the sanctions right across the board. It would be very helpful if the noble Lord can throw some light on this point.
§ Lord MELCHETT
I think that there is very little between the noble Earl and myself on this. I welcome his agreement that the changes made by Clause 11 will give a little more flexibility to what the arbitrator can do. The arbitrators have to decide on matters of fact. They have made this point to us. They have to decide whether a ditch has been cleaned, whether a wall has been built. That is their job. They are excellent, extremely efficient, and they do it very well. There is no complaint on any side as to the job they do. What the arbitrators do not do is decide matters of opinion: is it right, is it fair and reasonable that the landlord should want the holding back in these circumstances? An arbitrator cannot make a decision on that question, and I understand that no arbitrators wish to be drawn into making decisions on matters of opinion of that kind. I suggest that an Agricultural Land Tribunal, composed as it is, with an independent legal chairman, is a body very well suited to make that kind of judgment.
I was asked about the number of cases. There have not been many cases of the type we have been mentioning; I do not think anyone has suggested otherwise. Some of these cases have occurred in Wales and, I believe, in the West Midlands, too. But I am not pretending that there 561 have been a large number of such cases; nobody who has spoken about this Bill has ever pretended that. There is a difficulty about having precise figures because the Ministry of Agriculture census returns show only the number of tenants who have left holdings and the number of new tenants who have gone in. The reasons for tenants leaving are not disclosed necessarily. If harassment has taken place it would not be disclosed in the census return. Therefore no one is suggesting that the Ministry should, or could, have comprehensive figures on this, but for our part we are not claiming that there are many cases at all.
Indeed, I would accept that once Clause 11 is enacted, it is very likely that there will be even fewer cases. The number of cases may become very small indeed; hopefully there will be no cases. Obviously landlords, tenants and anyone else involved in farming would be much happier if there were fewer cases which had to be taken to an Agricultural Land Tribunal. The noble Earl said that at the end of the day there has to he a sanction. I agree with that, but the problem in this area is that there is only one sanction in the last resort—that of the tenant losing the farm. That is a very dramatic and serious sanction for a tenant. It is no wish of the Government to ensure that bad tenants, farming badly, remain in possession of the land. As the noble Lord said, that would not do food production or British agriculture any good. At the same time, I hope that everyone will accept that it is not right that a sanction as severe as that should be applied to a tenant without much care and thought being given to the matter.
I suggest that in the possibly very few cases (hopefully no cases) where this would come before an Agricultural Land Tribunal, having gone through the various stages of arbitration, any landlord acting to get rid of a bad tenant would have nothing to worry about, and the Agricultural Land Tribunal would find that a fair and reasonable landlord would wish to be rid of the tenant, and that is what would happen. It is in those cases —admittedly there may be very few—where a tenant is liable to lose the holding because of what is in effect a technicality (because it is technicalities and matters of 562 fact which the arbitrators decide) that we feel that a body which is able to make decisions on matters of opinion should be brought in, to remove any possibility that somebody can lose a holding on a technicality. I think that is why the clause is important.
§ Lord MIDDLETON
It has been most interesting to hear the explanation of the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, for the inclusion of Clause 12. I am glad he said that the number of cases envisaged is very few. That is my understanding, too; and, as far as I know, it is in these very few cases which have occurred in Wales, which have nearly always occurred when the tenant has not bothered to exercise his own statutory rights, that the notice to work stays. The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, said that the arbitrator has not the discretion to say what a fair and reasonable landlord would do. Under the present law, at the notice to quit stage, that is perfectly true. However, with all the enactments that have taken place and with Clause 12, the notice to remedy stage is where the arbitrator can say what is fair and reasonable; and if it is not fair and reasonable that the notice to work should make the tenant do the various things—repair, and so on—then that is when the arbitrator either strikes out an item or gives him plenty of time to do it. So the likelihood of a tenant not having completed one thing and then being thrown out of his farm is, I should have thought, absolutely nil because of the safeguards that there are at the, notice to remedy stage, when the arbitrator has this very wide discretion.
Just suppose that a tenant has not tidied up his hedge brushings. It is perfectly true that without Clause 12 the arbitrator can say only whether he has or has not fulfilled the list of jobs that he had to do under the notice to remedy. But I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has quite appreciated what my Amendment says. My Amendment leaves in Clause 12, and under Clause 12 he has two options, one of which is to go straight to the Agricultural Land Tribunal, who would then exercise the fair and reasonable landlord test; and, clearly, if he had not tidied up his hedge brushings that would not he fair and reasonable, the landlord would lose and the tenant's notice to quit would not he effective. So really I 563 do not think that what the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, called the misapplication of a notice to remedy can happen now.
The other respect in which I think the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, misunderstood me —or perhaps he was not advised quite correctly— was when he said that my Amendment cuts out the final arbitration. It does not. Under Clause 12, as I said, the tenant has two options: either he can go straight to the ALT or he can elect to go to arbitration. If he loses the arbitration, he can then go to the ALT under Clause 12. The whole purpose of my Amendment is that, when he has not elected to go to the ALT in the first place but has elected to go to arbitration, it is at that point, in order to avoid the wastage of farm buildings and land, that I feel that in a bad case an arbitrator should be given the power to say, " No, we must finish with this; this man is wasting the land of England, and he must go ".
I am impressed—and I shall not press this Amendment for this reason—by the argument which the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has advanced, when he says that doing that is not properly the concern of an arbitrator. I think it may very well be that this is not the right way to improve this clause. I am sure the noble Lord will agree that we must not have inordinate delay and wastage of buildings and land. It may very well be that a better way to do this would be to cut out the arbitrator altogether at the notice to quit stage, to let him go straight to an ALT and for the ALT to sit with an assessor—and this can be done under Schedule 9 to the 1947 Agriculture Act. That may very well be the right answer, and I should therefore not like to press this Amendment but to think very carefully on the arguments which the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has advanced, and possibly produce something better on Report.
§ Lord MELCHETT
Before the noble Lord withdraws the Amendment, it may be helpful to get the record straight. I apologise if I misled him. I was answering the noble Lord behind him on a rather more general point on Clause 12, and in the remarks I made later in the debate I was not, as I am sure I should have been, addressing myself particularly to the Amendment. On the Amendment, I was not suggesting that the noble Lord's 564 Amendment itself cut out the second arbitration. What I was saying was that in fact, if the arbitrator was able to tell the tenant that he could not go to the ALT, which the noble Lord's Amendment would give the arbitrator the power to do, in practice all tenants would go straight to the ALT, and that would therefore mean that in cases which could have been decided by arbitrators everybody would go to the ALT. That was the point I was making, and I merely make that correction to ensure that we have that clear.
§ Lord MIDDLETON
I think that, as the noble Lord says, in practice everybody would go to the ALT, and I think that is what should happen. I should like to look at this question, and perhaps produce something a little better on Report. I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 12 agreed to.
§ Clause 13 [Agricultural holdings in Scotland: power to enable demand to remedy a breach to he modified on arbitration]:
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Baroness ELLIOT of HARWOOD moved Amendment No. 2A:
§ Page 16, line 35, leave out paragraph (a).
§ The noble Baroness said: These Amendments to Clauses 13 and 14, with which my noble friend Lord Burton and I are both concerned, really apply to Scotland in this case, and I am speaking both as a member of the Scottish Landowners' Federation and also as a farmer and a member of the National Farmers' Union. What I am putting forward tonight are the views of the Scottish Landowners' Federation, and some of what I am going to say has already been discussed at Committee stage in another place. However, apparently very little time was given to this, and it may well have been—I do not know, because I was not there—that perhaps it was taken, as it is now being taken, rather at the end of the evening. Nevertheless, I should like to put to your Lordships the case which these Amendments represent.
§ Perhaps I may say just one word about the views of the Scottish Landowners' Federation on these two clauses, 565 Clauses 13 and 14. We do not really think that these clauses are necessary, because no evidence has been produced to substantiate in any way the necessity for them. It seems that they have been considered in isolation, separate from the balance which exists in Scotland between the landlord and the tenant and which was the result of the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act 1949. That Act followed very exhaustive and lengthy discussions among the Department of Agriculture, the National Farmers' Union and the Scottish Landowners' Federation, and we do not think that a major change in the balance of relationships between landlord and tenant should now be introduced in this Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. Any major changes in the relationship between landlord and tenant should be dealt with only as part of a general review of the position of agricultural holdings as a whole.
§ I should like to move the Amendments to Clause 13. The first one, which is to page 16, line 35, is the main one; and Amendments Nos. 2B and 2C are consequential. Amendment No. 2A, which is to leave out paragraph (a) at line 35 of page 16, is moved because, under Section 25(2)(e) and (f) of the 1949 Act, the time given to remedy any breach must be reasonable. Thus the arbiter already has a discretion to hold that the time allowed is unreasonable. As an example, had there been 12 breaches of a lease, of which 11 had been remedied, it would still be possible for the arbiter to hold that the time for remedying the twelfth breach was unreasonable and thus preclude the serving of an incontestable notice to quit. This seems to be of great importance. The next two Amendments, Nos. 2B and 2C, are consequential on the first one which is to leave out paragraph (a). I beg to move.
§ Lord BURTON
I have had personal experience of having to have to serve notice for breach of terms of a lease. As my noble friend has said, in the other place discussion on this was brief and they have already found that the current law was so complicated that there was some difficulty in debating the matter without legal advice. Apparently, no legal Member was forthcoming to advise 566 them on the Committee at that time. The law is really excessively complicated: so much so that a well-known legal authority on Scottish agricultural law, who wrote a reference book on the subject, was wrong on this point. Thus having taken advice from his book we were found to be wrong and were unable to pursue the notice which we served on the tenant. I am pleased to say that there is now a revised edition of the book. On the second attempt to serve notice, the matter went to arbitration and despite the fact that we required only a short stretch of main drain to be cleared, the arbiter found, most unreasonably, most people felt, that we had given inadequate time.
What was not known to the arbiter—and perhaps it was irrelevant for him —was that the tenant was bone idle, a had farmer and owed money all round the country. Before we, as landlords, could take further action, the matter was taken out of our hands when the tenant became bankrupt. Under the management of a new tenant the farm is now unrecognisable. I think that this case is typical of cases where a matter goes to arbitration. It is not normal to serve notice on a tenant unless something is very wrong. I would give another instance, which is, unfortunately, a current one, where we have an alcoholic as a big tenant. He is making a horrible mess of his holding and the neighbours are complaining. We find that already, without any further restrictions on the law, it is almost impossible to remove him. Should this current addition go through, the situation will be very much aggravated.
There is a third case. A tenant had a stroke. Of course, one is sorry for him; but he is making a terrible mess of his farm and he is holding on in the hope that a son will succeed him. At a recent branch meeting of the NFU, a resolution was sent to the headquarters of the NFU—quite unsolicited by me; I did not talk on it—stating that the pendulum had swung too far towards the security of the tenant. Despite this, the Government are now proposing to give even greater security. There are a great many tenants on this local branch—they have the majority—and they feel that the security already given is making farms which should be coming on to the market restricted to 567 bad farming. To make the situation worse is surely a bad thing to do.
I understand that there has been only one known case of harassment of a tenant in Scotland. I think it was a case in Caithness and possibly this has been the case which has prompted the Government to introduce this legislation. To introduce legislation on the basis of one case, I maintain, is not a good thing to do. Regardless of the fact that there is only one case, the Government produce these proposals which can do nothing but permit had tenants to remain in their holdings to the detriment not only of their own holdings but of their neighbours and the estates on which they are situated. In another place the Minister agreed with what I have said about harassment in Scotland; that is, that there was this one case in Caithness. So far it would appear that the Government have produced no good reason for these proposals and on second thoughts I am sure that they must see what a detrimental effect they will have. I hope that they will put sound management before their proposals and accept the Amendment.
§ Lord MELCHETT
I was interested to hear what the noble Lord had to say about the resolution passed by his local branch of the NFU. He went on to say that, despite the views expressed, the Government had pressed ahead with this legislation. What he left out was the fact that, despite the resolution of his local branch which was sent to the NFU headquarters, as I understand it the NFU have given a general welcome to Clauses 11 and 12, at least in so far as they affect England and Wales. I am not sure about the NFU attitude to the suggestion that the law in Scotland should be brought into line with them.
Turning to the effect of this Amendment, it would be to remove from the scope of the arbiter's powers the power to make changes in the time allotted for the remedying of any breach of any term of condition of a tenancy by the doing of work of provision, repair, maintenance or replacement. This would leave the Scottish tenant at a disadvantage in comparison with his counterparts in England and Wales where arbitrators have had this power already since 1964. It was to remedy that anomaly that this proposal was put forward in the first place. 568 The existing position is that an arbiter in Scotland can only arbitrate on the reasonableness or otherwise of a specified time for a specified activity. Having given his opinion on whether or not the time is reasonable, he can do no more.
The new provisions would enable the arbiter himself to specify a time within which the work should be done—and this can be different periods for different items under consideration. In doing this the arbiter can take full account of all the circumstances, some of which may not have been foreseen when the period was originally specified. I would suggest to the noble Baroness and to the noble Lord that this does not even amount to a new power introduced in this Bill but one which, happily, appears to have been working successfully with, so far as I am aware, no problems in England for many years. I hope that in view of that experience, they might see fit to withdraw this Amendment.
§ Lord BURTON
As this was only introduced at the Committee stage in another place, I wonder whether the Scottish NFU have even been consulted. If it has, there has not been time for consultation to be sent to the branches. This has never come before the branch in my area. I am sure it would have done so, had there been time. Perhaps, on Report, the noble Lord might give us some information as to what consultation had taken place; because, as I have said, I gather that there was only one case in which this could possibly have had an effect. It seems to me quite wrong of the Government to introduce legislation which is not wanted by anyone and which could have only a detrimental effect.
§ Baroness ELLIOT of HARWOOD
I have listened to the noble Lord. I think the situation in Scotland is different. I am sorry we have not got on the Front Bench—and this is no criticism of the noble Lord, Lord Melchett; he is a very able farmer—a Scottish Minister. In fact, the law is different in Scotland from that in England and the conditions are different. I will withdraw this Amendment but when we come to the Report stage perhaps we might be able to have a view from the Scottish Office on this agricultural situation because it is really rather important. This is no criticism of the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, but I 569 know that the Scottish law is different. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
The CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES
Owing to a printer's error, Amendment 2C is in the wrong place on the Marshalled List. I will therefore call Amendment 2D.
§ Baroness ELLIOT of HARWOOD moved Amendment 2D:
Page 17, line 7, at end insert—
Provided that nothing in this paragraph shall authorise the arbiter to delete any item in respect of which the tenant is under a statutory obligation in accordance with the provisions of section 5 of the said Act of 1949.
The noble Baroness said: I beg to move Amendment No. 2D. Section 5 of the 1949 Act, which I referred to when I moved the first Amendment, provides that there shall be deemed to he included in any lease of an agricultural holding:
a provision that the liability of the tenant in relation to the maintenance of fixed equipment shall extend only to a liability to maintain the fixed equipment on the holding in as good a state of repair (natural decay and fair wear and tear excepted) as it was in immediately after it was put in repair as aforesaid or, in the case of equipment provided, replaced or renewed during the tenancy as it was in immediately after it was so provided, improved, replaced or renewed.
§ The Amendment I am moving seeks to ensure that this minimal statutory obligation of the tenant is not further eroded by this Bill. This is important, it is something which affects all good farming, farmers and landlords. It would be a good plan if we could see this Amendment incorporated so as to seek to ensure that the minimum statutory obligation of the tenant is not further eroded. I beg to move.
§ 7.41 p.m.
§ Lord MELCHETT
As the noble Baroness had indicated, the purpose of this Amendment would be to secure that an arbiter did not delete any item which the tenant had a statutory liability to undertake under Section 5 of the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act 1949. That section provides that the liability of a tenant shall he limited to keeping the fixed equipment in as good a state of repair (apart from natural decay and fair wear and tear) as it was when the tenant entered the holding. The landlord has an 570 obligation to put the fixed equipment into a thorough state of repair as soon as possible after the beginning of the tenancy.
I appreciate the intention of the Amendment: namely, that the tenant should continue to he required to see that the fixed equipment remains, apart from fair wear and tear, in the same condition as it was when he took it over. But the whole point of the changes we are now making in the law is to deal with the case where the landlord makes a demand which falls within the statutory obligations of the tenant but which may nevertheless be regarded as being unnecessary or unjustified.
The arbiter may delete an item only if he is satisfied that it is unnecessary or unjustified: and, before reaching this conclusion, he has to take into account whether that particular item is required in the interests of good husbandry or sound estate management. I freely admit that there would probably be few cases where the works demanded by a landlord in respect of these tenants' obligations would be either unnecessary or unjustified.
But circumstances can change, and the occasion can arise where any reasonable person would conclude that work, which strictly speaking just falls within the tenant's obligations, is neither necessary nor justified. For example, he could, under the law, be required to keep in good condition a stone dyke. The noble Baroness, while demanding a Scottish Minister, was kind enough to say that she was not casting any aspersions on my own presence here. I appreciate that Scottish law is different and very difficult.
As the noble Lord, Lord Burton, said, even Scottish legal experts get it wrong. I am sure that the noble Baroness will forgive me for not being as conversant with Scottish law as I am with English law. However, I have taken the trouble to find out a little about the Scottish stivation. I believe that whereas any " decent " farmer understands that a dyke is something which goes down in the ground, in Scotland it is something which sticks up in the air. However, I was giving an example of a tenant who was obliged to keep a stone dyke in good repair. I suggest that the maintenance of a stone dyke might well have no value to the tenant's holding, and could be inordinately expensive at today's prices, or under pre- 571 sent day conditions; but, nevertheless, under the law he could be held to be liable to repair.
The obligations of the tenant referred to in Section 5 of the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act 1949 will, in many cases, cover much the greatest parts of the tenants' obligations in relation to fixed equipment under the lease. If we were to take away the arbiter's powers to delete any item, which is referred to in that section, we would remove much of the powers which would be given to the arbiter to delete any item from a list of works on the grounds that it is unnecessary or unjustified. In other words, the passing of this Amendment would be a very severe limitation on the arbiter's powers to delete items. I suggest, given the example I have outlined, that it is desirable that the arbiter should have this power with the stringent safeguards which I have mentioned.
§ Lord BURTON
I am worried about the noble Lord's reply. I cannot see why any landlord should insist that the tenant does some work which is not necessary or justified. In particular he mentioned a stone dyke or wall. If the landlord was specifying that this had to be repaired there is probably good justification for it being repaired. I do not know if he is suggesting that there should be a few sticks of wood stuck in holes where the dyke has fallen down. I am very particular with road widening where the road authority are always trying to put up wire and posts instead of replacing walls. This is unjustified because a wall, properly maintained, should last for a long time, whereas posts and wire will probably last from between eight to ten years. I cannot see any necessity for this part of the Bill. I should like to support the noble Baroness in saying that it should be deleted.
§ Baroness ELLIOT of HARWOOD
I. have listened to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, with great interest. I should like at some other period—not in this Committee—to argue that a dyke is an important piece of agricultural equipment in a country where snow comes at least once a year and where the only way in which you can protect your sheep from snow is by having dykes. I will not argue that point which is something which perhaps 572 only applies to the North of England and parts of Scotland. It is a pity if the Government will not consider this Amendment. Unreasonable demands will not be made. Demands such as the noble Lord mentioned could be not only reasonable but essential for the good of the farm. That is a point where I am arguing a dyke versus a fence. Snow can blow through a fence whereas snow gets held up by a dyke. I hope the noble Lord will consider this. I do not propose to press the Amendment. On the w hole, landlords make reasonable requests and this one—certainly in parts of Scotland and in certain climates—would be reasonable.
§ Lord BURTON
Could the noble Lord tell us whether there is any case where there has been an unjustifiable demand on the tenant?
§ Lord MELCHETT
I do not have any cases in front of me; but I do not feel guilty about that because when I give a particular case I am told by noble Lords opposite that it is wrong to make a law on one bad case. One has to look at these things in general principles. The noble Lord said he did not think a landlord would ever make an unjustifiable and unreasonable demand. I am not going to cast aspersions on landlords; but to take another example, maybe landlords never commit theft or murder but it does not mean to say that the law against theft or the law against murder should not apply to them. The fact that one does not expect people to do things is not necessarily an argument for not making sure that on the Statute Book we have a sensible framework of laws which reflects what everyone hopes all will do. There has never been any suggestion by Members of the Government or anybody discussing this Bill that the behaviour outlined in the Bill as being expected of landlords was not the way the vast majority, if not all the landlords in Scotland, are likely to behave. I do not think that is necessarily an argument for not legislating.
I am entirely with the noble Baroness and the noble Lord on the great value from the farming and amenity point of view of stone dykes. I would not want my example to be taken as suggesting that a barbed wire fence is any substitute. But it is possible, however much snow there is, 573 that a farmer could give up keeping sheep for one reason or another. It is in that situation that a stone dyke may not be as necessary as it was in a previous time.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Baroness ELLIOT of HARWOOD moved Amendment No. 2E:
§ Page 17, line 19, leave out subsection (2).
§ The noble Baroness said: Subsection (2) we believe to be unnecessary, as the arbiter will already have had an opportunity of exercising a discretion in relation to varying the time or times for remedying breaches. If the breaches have not been remedied at the expiration of such time or times, the notice to quit should become incontestable without the intervention of the Land Court. We feel very strongly that subsection (2) is quite unnecessary because the arbiter will already have had the opportunity of exercising a discretion in varying the time or times for remedying the breaches. I think the Government should consider the suggestion that this paragraph is unnecessary and could be deleted. I beg to move.
§ Lord MELCHETT
I hope this is something on which the noble Baroness and I will be able to agree. Her Amendment would have the effect of removing from this clause the provision which allows the Land Court to be brought in to specify a date for the termination of the tenancy by notices to quit in the event of the tenant failing to do works within the period specified by the arbiter.
This provision is designed to be helpful to the landlord, as it would allow the Land Court to fix a date for the termination of the tenancy which is to be not earlier than the date on which it could have been terminated if the landlord had given notice to quit on the expiry of the period originally specified in the demand or (if there was no period mentioned) on the date the demand was given. Alternatively, if this was later, the date may be fixed at six months after the expiry of the period specified by the arbiter or as extended by him.
574 There thus seems to me to he achieved a fair balance between the landlord's and the tenant's interest. The tenant gets at least six months' notice from the ending of the period he was given to do the work, and the landlord will have to wait less time than if he had had to wait for the expiry of the period or extended period fixed by the arbiter before being able to give his notice to quit. I would understand if the noble Baroness were worried that the involvement of the Land Court would necessitate extra expenses; but the landlord would not himself have recourse to the Land Court in this connection unless he thought that it would be to his advantage to do so. Here again, we are dealing with a fairly rare occurrence. Tenants are not being given notice to quit regularly for breach of the conditions of their lease. In the rare case which may occur, I am sure that this safeguard would be an advantage to both parties.
§ Lord BURTON
I think the noble Lord's arguments would be very sound had it not been for the fact that if you apply to the Land Court you may have to wait for six months.
§ Baroness ELLIOT of HARWOOD
Perhaps the noble Lord will consider this again and discuss it with his advisers. I think what the noble Lord, Lord Burton, has said is most apposite. However, I beg leave to withdraw this Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 7.54 p.m.
§ Baroness ELLIOT of HARWOOD moved Amendment No. 2G:
§ Page 18, line 14, leave out from beginning to end of line 17.
§ The noble Baroness said: On this point, the arbiter has already been given power to extend and further extend the time to remedy a breach. It would be absurd and illogical to allow a further opportunity to extend the time after his award has been made. To do so would create greater uncertainty and make arbitration a ludicrous procedure, both protracted and immensely expensive. We therefore feel that the wording which the Amendment seeks to remove is unnecessary. I beg to move.
§ Lord MELCHETT
It might be helpful if I made a general remark before going 575 on to discuss this particular Amendment, to make it clear that the Government's intention in bringing forward these clauses was to bring the law in Scotland more closely into line with that of England and Wales: and I hope that will serve as some justification to the noble Baroness for the fact that here is an English farmer putting arguments against her Amendments this evening.
The provisions we have been discussing, and more particularly those which are not parallelled in Clauses 11 and 12 of the Bill—that is the clauses which deal with this subject in England—are broadly equivalent to provisions which have been contained in the English law since the Agriculture (Notices to Remedy and Notices to Quit) Order 1964. The words which the noble Baroness wishes to delete are in fact contained in Article 13(1) of that order. This provision deals with a situation where a tenant has been given notice to quit because of a breach of the conditions of the tenancy by failure to do works, and has then referred the notice to quit to arbitration under Section 27(2) of the Agriculture Act 1949. The provision is designed to meet the case where, owing to unforeseen circumstances, a time which was quite reasonable when it was specified has become unreasonable and therefore enables the arbiter in such a case to extend the period. The arbiter must of course take into account the length of time which has elapsed since the service of the demand. Indeed, there is no difference in principle between the words it is proposed to delete and the immediately preceding passage in the Bill. The first part deals with a case where the breach has been remedied but not in the time allowed and allows a notional extension of time so that the tenant cannot be held to be in breach of conditions of the lease only because he has not acted within the time specified. The passage which the noble Baroness seeks to delete deals with the other type of case, where the breach has not been remedied already and allows the arbiter again to extend the time, but in this case it is an actual extension rather than a notional extension. I hope the noble Baroness will see that there is quite a good case for leaving these words in the Bill and that she will not press her Amendment.
The Viscount of ARBUTHNOTT
This is the second time the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has said that the Government's justification for introducing some of these proposals is to bring the law concerning landlord and tenant in Scotland into line with that in England. I think this is a had principle to go on, and perhaps I could ask the noble Lord to take this back and think about it—because we have already heard how very different farming is in the two countries, historically and from the legal and practical point of view. They are very diverse. I think it is unsound, therefore, to justify so much of the Government's case on that principle and I hope that this will be reconsidered.
§ Lord BURTON
Had the noble Viscount not made that point, I had intended to make it myself on the next Amendment. It seems to me that the provisions we are discussing regarding the enforcement of tenancies are not so often used in England because in England the matter of whether or not a tenant pays his rent is very much more stringent than in Scotland. In England, if he fails to pay his rent and the time has expired, then he has no appeal and can be put out: but the position in Scotland is very different because right up to the last minute, even where he is taken to court, lie can pay the money in even if it is several months overdue. If we are going to bring Scotland into line with England on these matters, I cannot understand why the Government have not seen fit to bring Scotland into line with England on the question of the payment of rent.
§ Lord MELCHETT
I am not sure of the answer on the payment of rent but suspect, from the little legal knowledge that I once had, that it may well be to do with the fundamentally different systems of law which I accept exist in the two countries. I am not pretending that the Government wish to bring everything done in Scotland into line with England. At the same time, these provisions are already fairly much paralleled in the two countries. Although there may be differences between the legal system in Scotland and that in the rest of the United Kingdom, I would not accept that there are vast differences in farming between, say, some of the areas of Wales and much of Scotland and, indeed. some of the lower lying areas of Scotland and much of the rest of 577 the country, in particular some parts of Northern England. So while I accept that there may be underlying legal differences, I would not accept that there are great differences in farming practice.
The other point I would make on the general issue that has been raised is that in Wales, where the landlord/tenant relationship had worked very well for a considerable period of time—indeed, probably since the 1948 and 1949 Acts were passed—there came a period with some new landlords when there were a series of very had cases, which I do not think anyone denies, and harassment of tenants took place. and it was to meet those cases that the change in the law was very largely suggested.
The noble Lord said that there may have been only one case which has aroused any publicity in Scotland, but I do not think there can be any guarantee that what happened in Wales some time ago, which led to a great deal of ill feeling in the farming community as a whole, could not happen in Scotland at some time in the future, if these changes were not put on the Statute Book. I think that that is a consideration which should weigh very heavily with all of us, because, after all, a new landlord—indeed, as I believe was suggested by a noble Lord opposite on Second Reading, it may be somebody who has not been involved in farming before, who does not understand the way landlords and tenants have traditionally behaved towards each other—may come in and cause a disproportionate amount of ill feeling on all sides of the farming community. I hope that while these provisions may not be used they will stop that from happening.
§ Baroness ELLIOT of HARWOOD
I listened with great interest to the noble Lord. In some ways, I think that some of the legislation in Scotland—and I do not speak as a Scottish Nationalist, because I am not one—is in advance of that in England. I say that in no criticism of England; it is simply that I sometimes believe we are ahead. I believe, from my conversations with the Scottish Landowners' Federation, that we have never had any of these troubles, and as regards these efforts to bring the situation in Scotland into line with England we have never needed the same kind of legislation.
578 If the Government are not prepared to accept any of these Amendments, I hope that they will not upset the relationship between the tenant and the landlord, and what has happened in Scotland in the past. I do not want to press this Amendment. I would just say to the noble Lord, while I am talking about Scotland, that my father was a Scotsman but I am not a Scottish Nationalist, although I have worked all my life in agriculture in Scotland, and I do not believe that some of these provisions in the Bill which apply to Scotland are necessary. As I said, I shall not press the Amendment, but I hope that what has been said will be looked at, and that at a later stage we may have some alterations. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 13 agreed to.
§ Clause 14 [Agricultural holdings in Scotland: further restrictions on operation of certain notices to quit]:
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Lord BURTON moved Amendment No. 2H:
§ Page 19, line I4, leave out from ("quit ") to end of line 16.
The noble Lord said: This Amendment seeks to delete the words:
unless in all the circumstances it appears to them that a fair and reasonable landlord would not insist on possession.
§ What worries me is that the Land Court can adjudicate only on what has already been to arbitration and this provision certainly does not question whether a tenant is a good or a bad farmer. The chances are that a landlord is trying to remove a tenant only because he is a bad farmer, and to give a bad farmer the protection afforded by this clause seems to be quite unreasonable. I agree that this is a wrecking Amendment—I make no bones about it—but the clause is such that it ought to be wrecked. In another place, the same Amendment was moved in Committee and was defeated by only one vote. I hope that your Lordships will give the clause more consideration than it received there, and I am sure you will all come to the conclusion that the clause is a bad one.579
§ What has not apparently been considered is the length of time the proposed proceedings will take. One does not get arbitration at a day's notice, let alone a second arbitration, and one could well have to wait weeks for a hearing. I mentioned the possibility of six months just now, and I believe it is quite normal for the Land Court to make only two circuits a year, so it could well take a considerable time. In addition to this, it appears that there would be very substantial expense. Indeed, it would not be unfair to say that what the Government are creating on top of what is already very complicated legislation is a lawyers' picnic. Failing acceptance of this Amendment, we really must consider that the Government arc producing what we could well call a had tenant's charter. I beg to move.
§ Lord MELCHETT
As the noble Lord has said, this amounts to a wrecking Amendment, and it will not come as any surprise to him to hear me say that I could not possibly consider accepting it. Indeed, to accept it would make the enactment of Clause I4—as I think he intends—to a large extent completely meaningless. Maybe I can try to dissuade the noble Lord from doing that by explaining what the clause is intended to do.
The clause intends that where a tenant is given a notice to quit for a failure to remedy a breach of the conditions of his lease, involving a failure to do works, the tenant has a right to give a counter notice and, if he does so, then the notice to quit will not have effect unless the Land Court consents. The effect of this is to transfer the type of notice to quit which we are considering from the incontestable to the contestable category.
The intention of subsection (4) is to give guidance to the Scottish Land Court as to the considerations which they are to take into account when such a notice to quit is referred to them. They are to consent to the-notice to quit unless it appears to them that a fair and reasonable landlord would not insist on possession. The Amendment would, by deletion, remove the criteria which the Land Court are to weigh. The clause would then require the Land Court simply to consent to any such notice referred to them. This would 580 virtually remove the protection which this clause seeks to give to the tenant, and of course there would then be no point in the tenant serving a counter notice in wile first place.
It is true that giving the power to the tenant to serve a counter notice means that the landlord has to refer his case to the Land Court before the notice can become operative, and there might be the very rare case where a landlord, having proceeded as far as a notice to quit, would not for some reason take the final step of taking this to the Land Court. In such a case, the tenant might benefit from the clause after the noble Lord had amended it, but in general, as I said, the Amendment defeats the whole object of the clause and I could not possibly accept it.
The noble Lord has said that the intention is to create a lawyers' picnic. I cannot accept that, and I am surprised that the noble Lord should suggest it, because my understanding is that very few cases arise now so there will be very few cases where a tenant is able to take something to the Land Court. So I cannot see that this will really make Scottish lawyers a lot of money. Indeed, my hope would he that we would remove any chance of a tenant being treated unfairly and unjustly. The noble Lord prefaced his remarks by saying that a landlord will take this action only if he wants to get a had tenant out. I hope the noble Lord is right, but there is no guarantee that that is the case. The noble Lord believes it, and I certainly believe it in the vast majority of cases, but there is no guarantee that that is the case. But if that is the case, it will not lead to a lawyers' picnic. It will merely provide a safeguard for those tenants where the noble Lord is unfortunately proved wrong, and the landlord is getting a tenant out not because he is a bad tenant, but for some other reason.
§ Lord BURTON
It appears to me that the only reason why there are very few cases is that the law is already too complicated. Here we have a very substantial increase in the amount of litigation which will be brought about if one tries to bring one of these cases. I feel very strongly about this matter. It has been brought to my attention that Scottish business is usually put right at the end of business, 581 that it is treated with a good deal of contempt and that if I were to press this Amendment the Committee would be counted out. There are only two more Amendments to be dealt with tonight and l am therefore very reluctant to withdraw this Amendment. We might then see whether or not other noble Lords wish to count out the Committee.
§ Lord MELCHETT
May I point out to the noble Lord that I have a feeling that it is the result of a conversation with the noble Lord sitting behind him, Lord Balerno, that he has made this point about Scottish business. This afternoon the noble- Lord. Lord Balerno, and other Scottish fish farming interests took a very great deal of the time of the Committee in pressing to a Division an Amendment which is quite clearly not appropriate to this Bill. Indeed, that was said by the noble Earl who speaks on agriculture for the Opposition in this House. The noble Lord, Lord Balerno, is quite entitled to press Amendments to a Division and I make no complaint about that. On the other hand, for there then to come a complaint that Scottish business has been pushed to the tail end of the day because of the length of time that was spent discussing an Amendment which, with great respect, both Front Benches, by and large, agreed did not belong in the Bill, seems to me to be a little unfair.
§ Lord BURTON
Looking across the Chamber I do not believe that there is anyone on the Government Front Bench who comes from Scotland. Certainly when we have sought this evening to get answers on Scottish business there has been nobody to answer us. This is contempt and I feel very strongly about it. I cannot withdraw the Amendment.
§ Lord MELCHETT
Could the noble Lord tell me what are the questions on Scottish business which I have not been able to answer, because I am not aware of any? I have done my very best to answer all the points which have been put to me by both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, and I am not aware that there has been any point which has been put to me on any of the Amendments which have been moved by noble Lords opposite that I have not done my very best to answer.
§ Lord BURTON
I am sure that none of us has any complaint to make against the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, who has fought a very noble rearguard action in this matter. Indeed, it has been rather unfair on him that the Government should have put him up in this way to deal with Scottish business, but there have been matters which, if he cares to look through Hansard, he will see—
§ Lord BURTON
I cannot remember exactly offhand, but I remember that in one answer to me the noble Lord said that he was not aware of the time that it takes to go to the Land Court. Naturally the noble Lord has no experience of this. And why should he? I feel that it is only right that there should be somebody on the Government Front Bench who can speak for Scotland.
§ Lord COLLISON
May I comment upon the situation now? I understand that this evening we are finishing after Amendment No. 2K, and we are very close to that Amendment. What is now being proposed means that we are going away with a rather unpleasant situation left behind us and I would not want that to happen. Obviously I am no Scot and certainly I am not a lawyer. However, reading the Bill as drafted it seems quite clear, whatever else may be said about the Amendment, that if it is pressed it will make nonsense of the two paragraphs involved. If the tenant serves a counter notice on the landlord, the landlord cannot operate the order unless the Land Court agrees that he should do so. If one eliminates all the words after " quit ", the Land Court has no option but to say, " Yes ", and that makes nonsense of the whole procedure. I am not arguing the rights and wrongs or the weights and counterweights of the proposal. I am simply saying that the case which has been put tip by my noble friend on the Front Bench for not passing the Amendment this evening is perfectly justified. I would not want to go away feeling that we have finished up on a rather offensive note.
With regard to the debate on fish farms, I listened carefully and with very great interest to all that was said, but I had to agree with my own colleague who pointed out that the Agriculture (Miscellaneous 583 Provisions) Bill was not the place to deal with that issue. We spent a very long time upon it. Everything that was said and done then was said and done with very great courtesy. May we, therefore, please, not finish like this? I would suggest to the noble Lord opposite that the proper or nice thing to do would be to withdraw the Amendment at this point. There is another stage.
§ Lord BALERNO
The Land Court of Scotland is a very revered institution. It has done a lot of good work and has been going for nearly the whole of this century. To put in those sentences which the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, and my noble friend Lord Burton proposed to delete is an insult to them. I fully support this Amendment and I hope that it will be pressed.
§ Lord MELCHETT
With great respect, the noble Lord says that this is an insult to the Scottish body which he mentioned. I really do not believe that that can be said. The noble Lord, Lord Burton, made it quite clear that this is a wrecking Amendment. He used the phrase himself. I was going to put it a lot more moderately and point out to him that it made the clause more or less redundant, but the noble Lord has made it quite clear that this is a wrecking Amendment. To try to support the Amendment on the ground that the words in the Bill should not be there seems to me to be unjustified.
§ On Question, Amendment negatived.
§ Clause 14 agreed to.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Lord BURTON moved Amendment No. 2K:
§ After Clause 14, insert the following new clause:
§ " Agricultural holdings in Scotland: variation in rent
§ . In subsection (3) of section 7 of the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act 1949 (which makes provision for the variation of rent of an agricultural holding) for the words " five years " there shall he substituted the words " three years ".
§ The noble Lord said: This Amendment is intended to change, in Scotland, the times for which one can revise the rent from a five year period to a three year period. In days gone by it was not unusual to have a 14 year lease with a 584 break for rent revision after seven years. No one in their right mind would consider such proposals in the present day and age when the value of the pound is changing so quickly. Equally, in 1949 a five year lease was really not unreasonable. Now, however, if we look back to what one could get for a pound in 1971 and what one can get today, one sees that inflation makes a nonsense of five year leases and it seems not unreasonable to bring Scotland into line with England and make three year agreements the order of the day. Here again, the Government seem to have omitted to bring Scotland into line with England. It is extraordinary how they seem to bring Scotland into line with England when it suits their hook but not when it suits other people.
§ I gather that the argument against this is that this Bill is not the correct vehicle for such an alteration. However, the Government have shot their own feet from under them in this argument. They have produced highly controversial measures into this Bill at a late stage to bring England into line with Scotland. Therefore it seems not unreasonable to bring in a non-controversial Amendment for the purpose of bringing Scotland into line with England on another matter.
§ One of the biggest drawbacks of the five year term as opposed to the three year term is not the loss of increased rents for two years but the fact that after five years the increase in rent required is so big that the tenant finds great difficulty in gearing himself to such a big increase. It is obviously desirable that the increases should come in easy stages. Having to deal with tenants in England and in Scotland, I see a steadily increasing differential in value between Scottish and English rents. Indeed, I am certain that I should not be out of line if I said that Staffordshire rents are at least one-third higher than similar rents for comparable ground in Inverness-shire. The result of Scottish rents becoming steadily less economical is that the landlord is left with less money to plough back into improvements and repairs, with resulting steady deterioration of the fixed equipment of tenanted agricultural holdings. This must have an adverse effect on agricultural efficiency and I ask the Government seriously to consider accepting this Amendment. I beg to move.585
§ Baroness ELLIOT of HARWOOD
Having said to the noble Lord that we were not very keen about having all the English law and the Scottish law made similar, he could well turn to us now and say that when it suits us we prefer to have the English law rather than Scottish law, which I freely admit would be a perfectly fair criticism. However, in thinking of this quite dispassionately, as long as the tremendously high inflation goes on it is a big handicap not to be able to make any alterations unless you change the tenant, because then for the new tenant you can make a new lease at a different rental. Rut the number of tenancy changes is so small, and under this Bill will be smaller still, that the matter is really very difficult. While I am not keen about making rentals higher than they ought to be, I think on this occasion it is a handicap that we cannot move in Scotland under five years whereas in England they can move under three years.
However, I understand that there would need to be an alteration to the 1949 Act, which is at the moment what we are governed by, and that on many occasions this suggestion has been put to the Ministry of Agriculture and they have said that it is not feasible. So while I freely admit that on this occasion I am looking to English law rather than to Scottish law, I would ask the Minister to see whether this can be incorporated in the Bill because I know the Department has been approached about it on many occasions.
The Viscount of ARBUTHNOTT
I support this Amendment but I should also like to take this opportunity, which I should have done before, of apologising for not being present during the Second Reading when two statements were made by two of my noble friends, Lady Elliot of Harwood and Lord Balerno, who are here now to hear me say this. I think their comments could be used in the wrong way, and this flows from the fact that in Scotland we normally have a chance to alter the tenancy and the rent only every five years. What they were saying in relation to another part of the Bill was that the security of tenure provisions worked reasonably well in Scotland, or words to that effect. The trouble is that because we have this opportunity to change only every five years that statement 586 cannot really be tested, any more than one could say that they have not worked well.
This leads me again to the temptation that there seems to be in bringing forward all these provisions, first to deal with matters which should be the subject of a much wider review than the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, and secondly to bring into line the legislation in the two countries, where the practices are different, flowing from the different legal systems. That confounds my support in principle that in this instance it would not be a bad idea not just to bring the Scottish law into line with English law, but because rents and other tenancy provisions should he reviewed more often than five years in times when agricultural development is moving so fast and inflation has to be taken into consideration as well.
§ Lord MELCHETT
I am grateful to the noble Lord and to the noble Baroness for freely acknowledging that on this Amendment we are all changing sides. I admit that having argued quite strongly that it was wise to bring the law in Scotland into line with the law in England on some of the previous Amendments, I now wish to take a different line.
I certainly do not intend to put forward the argument that I think the noble Lord, Lord Burton, suggested I might, that the Bill was not a suitable vehicle for this sort of change. That may well be the case, but it did not get us very far earlier today with his noble friend Lord Balerno. In any event, it does not seem to me to be the main argument on which the Government's opposition to this Amendment rests—the most persuasive argument, although it may well be a perfectly valid one.
I was sorry that no noble Lord has taken the opportunity to congratulate the Government on the steps they have taken to control inflation. Although it is a little late in the evening and we are discussing the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, as inflation has been prayed in aid in moving the Amendment I thought it might have been courteous, if may put it that way, at least to acknowledge that the Government have taken major steps to get inflation under control, and all the signs are that next year we 587 ought to see inflation being cut yet again. I am not saying that that is the only argument I have to deploy against the Amendment, but it is certainly one.
I appreciate as well the arguments put forward that the landlords are disadvantaged as compared to their English counterparts, hut I regret I cannot agree that this new clause should he added to the Bill. The clause was put forward in another place and rejected, and the arguments presented there of course still apply. I understand that the Scottish Landowners' Federation and the National Farmers' Union of Scotland, along with the Scottish Department, have had discussions over the years about possible amendments to the Agricultural Holdings Acts, including an amendment to the provision for the variation of rent of an agricultural holding. I also understand, although I again proffer my apologies for not actually being a Minister at the Scottish Office, that no agreement with respect to rent variation has yet been reached.
There are three points I should like to make to noble Lords opposite on the Amendment. First, while the minimum period for rent revision at the moment is five years, the information which we have suggests that the average period within which rents are revised is considerably longer than this. According to our latest information, the average period is between six and seven years. This presumably means that in many cases at the moment it has apparently not been found necessary to revise rents as quickly even as every five years which the law now allows.
Secondly, a rent may be revised if the landlord undertakes improvements to the holding for which a rent increase is payable. He does not have to wait until five years have expired before receiving increased rents in return for any expenditure which the landlord has incurred. Thirdly, the proposed change would apply only to leasehold tenure under the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act. As noble Lords opposite will know far better than I, there are in Scotland other forms of tenure—landholder and crofting. Landlords of landholder and crofting subjects may only seek revision of rents for periods of seven years, and revision of rents of leasehold subjects every three years in 588 Scotland might, I would suggest, be held to be somewhat anomalous in relation to these other classes of land tenure. I hope for the reasons I have given that, while I confess I have far more sympathy with this Amendment than the others which noble Lords opposite have moved on these clauses of the Bill, they will accept that we cannot accept the Amendment, and I hope they will not press it.
§ Lord BURTON
Perhaps I can start by joining my noble friend behind me in apologising for not being here for Second Reading. We have had difficulties with the postage and there have been delays in getting notice so that I missed the Second Reading debate. I should have liked to be here. I would have disagreed with my noble friends Lord Balerno and Lady Elliot of Harwood on the question that my noble friend behind me has just spoken about, about the current Bill for security working satisfactorily. but perhaps more of that on Monday.
At this juncture, I should like to take the opportunity of saying again, in protest at what is happening in Scotland, that the Crofters Bill took only one week on its Third Reading after the Report stage, which makes it totally impossible for us in Scotland to deal with business. How can we consult on what has happened on Report when most of the bodies have not even got a copy of the Bill. On this Bill, I received my copy only this morning, although I have been trying for a week to obtain a copy. The House has had a Whitsun Recess. But it is very difficult to carry on business if one cannot get the Papers. No fault, I may say, lies with the Public Bills Office or the Printed Paper Office. But again there is no one from Scotland on the Government Benches, and it appears that the Government are quite ready to throw Scotland into an adverse position vis-à-vis England. This is not reasonable.
The reason I said that I understood this Bill was not a proper vehicle for this Amendment is that I understand that the Scottish Landowners' Federation were informed when they visited Scottish Office officials that this was the reason for not including it, and that is the only reason I put it in. But now the ground seems to have shifted and it is really quite intolerable. I suggest that the argument that rents arc normally revised in Scotland 589 only over a six-year average is largely due to lack of management. In my own case, because rents are low and the estate is becoming totally uneconomic, I have had to cut down on staff. I have got rid of my clerk of works, which throws more work on the factor, and if he gets behindhand with rent adjustments and the like this is not surprising. This has been brought about by other Government legislation, and to make this additional burden seems to me totally unreasonable.
§ On Question, Amendment negatived.
§ Clause 15 agreed to.
§ Lord STRABOLGI
This seems to be a convenient moment to halt the Committee stage, as we have made good progress and have completed Part I. I beg to move that the House do now resume.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.