HL Deb 28 October 1976 vol 376 cc727-9


Clause 17, page 21, line 38, leave out "and without prejudice to section 20 of this Act)".

The Commons disagreed to this Amendment for the following Reason:

Because the words left out are needed in view of the restoration to the Bill of Clause 21 (Application by not fully eligible person to be treated as eligible).


My Lords, I beg to move that this House doth not insist on its Amendment No. 7, to which the Commons have disagreed for the Reason numbered 8. It may be for the convenience of the House if I deal at the same time with Amendment No. 17, to which the Commons have disagreed but have proposed Amendments Nos.18 and 19 to the words restored to the Bill.

My Lords, during discussions in Standing Committee in another place there was pressure for some means of avoiding too rigid an application of the definition of "eligible person". The Government had no desire to introduce the possibility of further hardship in the application of the rules of a scheme which was intended to prevent hardship, and as a result, moved the inclusion of Clause 20. This clause allows the Agricultural Land Tribunal to exercise a certain amount of discretion over the conditions of eligibility when it appears to them that in all the circumstances it would be fair and reasonable to do so. The Opposition in both Houses have opposed this clause—most sincerely I realise—but if I may take a simple case where a son had worked on the farm alongside his father for four years 11 months and 28 days and his father then died, should the son not be allowed in any circumstances to apply to the tribunal for the vacant tenancy? That would be the position if the discretionary Clause 20 were not in the Bill.

The Government believe the case for Clause 20 to be a strong one and another place has restored the clause to the Bill, but with two Amendments to meet points made very properly by noble Lords opposite. It was pointed out by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and other noble Lords at the Committee stage that the phrase, "to some extent" on page 27, line 18, went too far and would allow close relatives who hardly started to qualify to apply under the clause for consideration. This was not our intention. The Government wish to help the applicant who is a near miss on the basic terms of eligibility, not the applicant who is only just a starter. Therefore the words, "to some extent" have been replaced by "to a material extent" which is Amendment No. 18. This gives a different and more positive emphasis and closely resembles an Amendment moved by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers.

Amendment No. 19 is also a simple one. Noble Lords opposite strongly criticised as obscure the drafting of Clause 20(4). I must say that I agree that they were absolutely right on this. The words in Amendment No. 19 serve no practical purpose in that they cover a contingency with which the tribunal could deal whether or not they were in the Bill. Therefore, it would be better if they were omitted altogether. Amendment No. 7 is a consequential Amendment as Commons Reason No. 8 makes clear. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House doth not insist on Amendment No. 7 to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason numbered 8.—(Lord Strabolgi.)


My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for explaining so clearly exactly how these Amendments work and for refreshing our minds as to the context in which they were moved. I say that quite sincerely because sometimes when these Amendments come back from another place one finds them a little complicated and difficult to fit into the pattern of our own debates. We had a long debate—and quite rightly so—on the question as to who was eligible to claim a tenancy. Of course, if you wish to claim the right to the tenancy of a farm—and those are strong words—you have to show that you are eligible to do so. Clause 17 makes clear the hoops you have to go through. One part of it says that you have to be a husband, wife, daughter, child of the deceased and so forth, and the other part says that you have to serve five years out of the last seven years on the farm. On the assumption that you have eligibility as a test, that is reasonable, but what we felt was unreasonable was that having decided on the provisions the Government then put in Clause 20. This says that if you are not eligible, Clause 20 permits you to be eligible. This seemed to us to be an absurdity.

The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, mentioned the case of a son who has been there for four years 11 months and 28 days. Of course this is a great hardship, but if you draw a line anywhere in any Bill you are bound to find cases of hardship and I am not sure that that in itself is a just reason for including Clause 20. However, another place has considered this; it has decided that Clause 20 should be put in, and has modified Clause 20. As the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, quite rightly said, it has modified it by saying that a person has to have served not just some part of a probationary period on the farm but a material part. The noble Lord, Lord Janner, will be delighted to know that that in itself will give a lot of possibilities for lawyers to argue the difference between "some part" and "a material part". I agree that there is some difference; I am not quite certain how much difference, because I presume that "material" is rather less than "major", and "major" must be more than 50 per cent.; so presumably if "material" is not as large as "major" it nevertheless means something less than 50 per cent.

So here we have this clause put back with this Amendment which will allow people to claim a tenancy if they have had some part of their time on the farm which is rather less than 50 per cent. but rather more than just some part. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, for explaining this, and indeed to another place for deciding that even though they wanted this clause put back they nevertheless felt that it should be put back in a slightly strengthened form to that in which it came here.

On Question, Motion agreed to.