HL Deb 28 October 1976 vol 376 cc731-5

[Nos. 11–13.]

Clause 17, page 23, line 36, after "if" insert "either (a)".

Page 24, line 5, at end insert "or, (b) on the last occasion when there died a sole (or sole surviving) tenant (within the meaning of subsection (1) above) of the holding or of such an agricutulral holding as is described above a direction as mentioned in (i) above or a grant as mentioned in (ii) above was made in favour of any person mentioned in paragraphs (c) or (d) of subsection (1) above.

The Commons disagreed to these Amendments for the following Reason:

Because they would unduly restrict the operation of the provisions about succession in Part 11 of the Bill.


My Lords, I beg to move that this House doth not insist on its Amendments Nos.11 and 12 to which the Commons have disagreed for the Reason numbered 13: Because they would unduly restrict the operation of the provisions about succession in Part II of the Bill". There is little I need say on this Amendment, because the matter of the duration of the scheme has been debated at considerable length in both Houses. The issue, though extremely important, is a relatively straightforward one. On the one hand, the Opposition wish to see the application of the scheme—that is, the right to apply to the Agricultural Land Tribunal for the vacant tenancy—restricted to one generation, whereas the Government, on the other hand, believe that it should provide for two transfers within a family beyond the existing tenancy, which will cover up to two generations.

I should explain, so as to make the position quite clear, that there is no inevitability about the two transfers when a direction has been made by the Agricultural Land Tribunal. When a tenant dies and his close relative applies for and is granted the tenancy, it does not follow automatically that on the first successor's death, his successor will get the tenancy. On the contrary, the same procedure will have to be followed again, and except where the tenancy passes by agreement, applicants will have to apply to the Tribunal and go through all the tests as to eligibility and suitability as before. And the landlord on his part will have the same opportunity to apply to the Tribunal for consent to the operation of the notice to quit. What Clause 17(5)(f) provides for is that, after the second succession under the terms of the scheme, the right to apply to the Agricultural Land Tribunal for a direction entitling the applicant to the vacant tenancy will cease to have effect.

I am sure that your Lordships will appreciate that the Government's decision was not an easy one and it was not taken lightly. But we feel most sincerely that we have struck the right balance between the interests of the landlord and his family on the one hand, and the tenant and his family on the other hand. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House doth not insist on its Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason numbered 13.—(Lord Strabolgi.)


My Lords, this Amendment is of course of a very different nature. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, said that the Government's decision was not an easy one, nor was it lightly taken. I am bound to say that I think that it was a wrong decision. We put down an Amendment seeking to limit the transfer of the tenancy to one generation; the Government have sought to limit it to two generations.

The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, said that there is no inevitability of transfer. But the fact is that under this Amendment a landlord loses the right to his farm for up to 90 years. If one assumes that the average length of a tenancy is 30 years, the existing tenant may have it for 30 years, he can pass it on to his successor, under the operation of this Bill, for another 30 years, and it can go on to the successor's successor for a further 30 years. So in effect the landlord has lost the right to his farm, lost the right to choose the tenant of his farm, and indeed lost the right to his assets for what may be 90 years. That is virtually in perpetuity, because one shudders to think what would happen after a family has been in a farm for 90 years if the landlord then wishes to get back his farm.

I believe that this is a very damaging feature of the Bill. I will quite simply tell your Lordships why: because it effectively will put an end to the landlordtenant system, in so far as no tenant farm which comes up for letting is now likely to be let, unless the circumstances were out of the norm. It may be that a landlord will find that there are prevailing reasons why he should let a farm, but now that the provisions of this Bill are to become an Act any landlord will know that when a farm becomes vacant, if he then lets it again he will lose the right to that farm for up to 90 years.

I really believe that this will deal a savage blow not only to agriculture but to tenant farmers, because however reasonable the arguments may be for the hereditary tenancy system the Government have, by the Bill, put a situation about where there will not be any farms to let. Therefore, there will not be any new tenant farmers, and any prospective tenant farmers will know that they are going to find it very difficult indeed now to hire a farm. I fear that it will be this Government who will be remembered as a Government who have effectively removed the ability of aspiring young men to become farmers in their own right, and they will be remembered as the Government who have dealt a savage blow to the landlord-tenant system.

I am bound to say that I feel that this kind of measure, together with the measure which we were discussing yesterday, and which we will be discussing tomorrow—the Rent (Agriculture) Bill—are the type of measures which are introduced for one specific case. Understandable though the reasons for that introduction may be, they are introduced to remedy specific cases of hardship; and yet the effects that they are going to have on the total running of agriculture are going to be quite enormous. I do not want to mince my words in the slightest about that. I do not want, by not mincing them, to sound offensive to the noble Lord because I do not want to be offensive; but I want to make it perfectly clear to him that I believe that this provision in the Bill, which another place has sought to keep, is going to result in there being very few farms to let; and the noble Lord, Lord Strabolg, will be able to think back and realise what a great disservice this was to British agriculture.

I remember the noble Lord, Lord Peart, saying with justification the other day that there have been a lot of good Ministers of Agriculture who have come from the Party opposite, such as the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Barnburgh, a most distinguished person. They did a great deal for British agriculture, and would not underestimate that one little bit. But I will say this, that they did not produce this type of measure, which will have a debilitating effect on agriculture and on tenant farmers in the future.


My Lords, rise to support my noble friend. This evening we are witnessing rather a sad and solemn event; nothing less than the demise of the landlord and tenant system, which over the past 200 years has been, I would almost say, the glory of British agriculture. Without it, we would never have made the strides in the world which we did. We were the pioneers of almost every agricultural invention for over 150 years, and that was very largely because we had the landlordtenant system and the landlords themselves were interested in the improvements of their farms and in innovations. You just have to go back 150 years and consider the history of agriculture since then. What was the forerunner of our agricultural show? It was the Duke of Bedford and the Woburn sheepshearing. He had his tenants and he looked after his tenants. Granted, there were some bad landlords, but on the whole the system worked so that the standard of agriculture in Britian was the envy of the whole world. That was the position right up to well into the present century.

My Lords, times, I agree, are different. There are new shibboleths; new, false doctrines going about; and we have to bow the knee to them. But I question whether we have been right to exchange for the benevolent landlord, the banks, insurance companies and finance houses. My Lords, it is a sad story that this should have happened to British agriculture.

On Question, Motion agreed to.