§ 5.23 p.m.
§ Lord Belstead
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Belstead.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.137
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The LORD JACQUES in the Chair.]
§ Lord Howard of Henderskelfe moved Amendment No. 54:
§ After Clause 7, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Appeals to the Lands Tribunal.
In section 77 of the 1948 Act (Provisions as to Arbitration) after subsection I there shall be inserted the following subsection—
(1A) An appeal by way of application by any party to an arbitration under section 8(1) of this Act (arbitration on terms of tenancies as to rent) shall on any question of law or fact (including the amount of the award) lie to the Lands Tribunal against the award of any arbitrator appointed by the Minister or by the President of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors; provided that any such appeal under this subsection must be brought within one month of the date of issue of the award".
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move the new clause which appears in my name and in the names of other noble Lords. The new clause reflects the dissatisfaction (I shall put it no stronger than that) that was felt on all sides of your Lordships' Committee in many quarters and for many different reasons, with Clause 1 of the Bill as it came before us. The Bill has had a curious genesis. I shall not dwell on that now, but I hope that at a later stage we may be able to improve the Bill in order to achieve the aim which we have all set out to achieve.
§ Despite the extreme courtesy of the noble Lord who is in charge of the Bill—courtesy for which we thank him—and despite the charm with which he discharges his duty, he has given us virtually nothing. Certainly we have not received in response to our earlier amendments any firm assurances which would enable us to say, "Right, we are very happy, and we know that the Government will duly amend the Bill on Report so that it meets the dissatisfaction which was felt in so many quarters".
§ Thus we are faced with the Bill as it is printed, and we have to take it as it stands. We cannot imagine something which is not there. Therefore, we have put down the present amendment containing the new clause, which I must at once confess is somewhat unusual in that at present, in general, there is no right of appeal from the decision of an arbitrator save on a point of law, which has to be made by way of case stated in the county court.
§ The grounds for the new clause are as follows. As the Bill at present stands, there is a new rent formula, and it is highly complex. We believe that it does not have a proper objective, it does not state what it is actually setting forth to achieve. It is certainly much longer and more complex than anything that we now have, and even if it is amended it is likely to remain more complex than any existing provision.
§ There will be a great deal of scope for discretion on the part of the arbitrator in determining, where there is reliance on the productivity or the profitability of the holding, in what proportions that should be divided by way of rent to the landlord and profit to the tenant; in determining what, in our words, a prudent tenant would pay and a prudent landlord would accept; and in determining what should be knocked off for scarcity value.
§ We know, for example, that under the Rent Act, if a rent officer decides to knock off perhaps 40 per cent. 138 for the scarcity value of a particular property, then that, however arbitrary it may be, is what the law calls a finding of fact. I am not a lawyer and I have no professional qualification. Therefore, I have to accept the advice that I am given on that point. I should hardly have thought that it was a question of fact, but that is what the law tells us it is. In the present context, any finding of that kind should be appealable.
§ We do not believe that at this stage, when we are faced with such a complex formula, such a complex way of achieving what has hitherto seemed a relatively simple result, the arbitrator should have an urestricted and an unsupervised freedom to do precisely what he likes. In similar cases there could be results which would vary very widely, not merely from locality to locality but from one farm in a neighbourhood to another farm in the same neighbourhood.
§ Earlier in today's proceedings we were told of congratulations which had been received regarding the plain English of a Government form. We cannot claim that our new clause is perhaps as eloquent as that, but it is certainly in plain English, and I hope that it says exactly what it means and is not in any way capable of being misunderstood.
§ The appeal to a court of law by way of case stated depends on being able to separate out questions of fact from questions of law. Where these are, as we believe they are in this particular case, inseparably intertwined, I do not see how you can possibly separate out these two questions. There are some comparable areas, say under the Leasehold Reform Act and, indeed, in rating. In both cases, lands tribunals have done extremely valuable work not only in settling what might be disputed points of law but in laying down acceptable guidelines that extend the areas where the law and discretion are intertwined.
§ There has been talk in some quarters about the fact that the thing has worked perfectly well up to now because arbitrators have been extremely sensible, have gone on doing what they have always done and have paid no attention to what the law actually says. If this is true (there may be some truth in it), then it is also true that it brings the law into disrepute. I do not think that any of your Lordships would wish to argue that we should do anything further to bring the law into disrepute at a time when this, in another field entirely, is exercising the minds of trade unions, of the other place and of our greatnewspapers. Anything that we can do to encourage those who have to operate the law to operate it according to the law and not according to what they think it ought to be, should be encouraged. The one thing that should not be encouraged is what an eminent arbitrator said about this: that the whole thing was a load of fudge anyhow, he would determine it according to what the rent ought to be and damn what the words actually said! That cannot be good. It is what we are seeking to avoid.
§ In seeking to avoid fudge and to ensure that the law is observed and is properly carried out, we have put down this amendment, which is not as novel as it may seem. At an earlier time in this Committee stage I declared myself, I think, an unrepentant and an unreconstructed Englishman. I did not say that nothing good came from north of the Border, and in this case I intend, in fact, to cite Scottish legislation as a precedent for what we are doing now. The proposed 139 wording follows closely Section 5 of the recent Agricultural Holdings (Amendment) (Scotland) Act, which gives a full right of appeal against the arbitrator's findings on questions of law or fact and against the award.
§ It has been suggested that this may lead to a large number of appeals, that appeals waste a great deal of time and that it will lead to great uncertainty. I do not believe that that is the case. I believe that there may be a few appeals but that they will settle into a general framework within which the law can operate properly, as it does now. I have stated previously that there are very few arbitrations, let alone appeals against arbitrations, and valuers, generally speaking, are able to settle the matter amicably. I am sure that by making this provision in the new clause it will lead to the same procedure, whatever we get by way of a new Clause 1. I beg to move the insertion of the new clause.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
I should like to apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Howard, for not being in my place when he began his arguments in support of his amendment. I understand that the National Farmers' Union is uneasy about the amendment, fearing that it may be a recipe for unnecessary litigation and expense. On the other hand, the resolving of a dispute between landlord and tenant as to the rent payable by referring the dispute to arbitration does, of course, deprive the citizen of his common law right of access to the courts. We should be clear about that. It is therefore arguable that there should be a right of appeal to another source of authority such as the lands tribunal—an authority which has the confidence of the farming community.
One's fear is that if arbitration under the regime proposed in Clause 7 is not seen to be judicial, then the parties may not be satisfied with the status quo, with a system that deprives them of a right of appeal on fact or law and a right of appeal as to the award. We on these Benches therefore consider that there is considerable merit in the amendment that has been proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Howard.
§ Lord Renton
I would only wish to add that it is a fundamental principle that prevails throughout the whole of our legal system, except at any rate on this one occasion to which the noble Lord, Lord Howard, has referred, that there should be an appeal. Indeed, throughout the civilised world this is regarded as a principle of natural justice. I am therefore another who would wish to support the amendment.
The Earl of Caithness
I sympathise with the thought behind this amendment, and particularly the reservations of the noble Lord, Lord Howard, with regard to Clause 1. I do not, however, like the amendment. Let us take the appeal on matters of law. There is ample provision at the moment under existing law to appeal on a point of law to a court. I do not think that the lands tribunal is the right vehicle for an appeal of this type. As regards an appeal on fact, that is very dangerous. We have a number of other bodies in the industrial world wanting to appeal on fact, and this could lead to all sorts of difficulties for an arbitrator. If an appeal was made on fact, he might be guilty of misconduct in its technical sense while not 140 committing a shameful act. I would have thought that this was a dangerous precedent to follow.
The noble Lord. Lord Howard, mentioned that the Scottish Act had introduced a rent clause on appeal on fact for arbitration. It is worth remembering that in Scotland there are lay members of the arbitration panel whereas in England and Wales they are all professionals, members of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors or the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers. That is the key difference. I do not think, therefore, that a true comparison can be drawn between the Scottish situation and the English situation. For those reasons. I do not think I can support the amendment.
§ The Earl of Kinnoull
I am encouraged by what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, and by my noble friend Lord Renton, I am sure that it is a fundamental principle that there should be a right of appeal. I am surprised that my noble friend Lord Caithness should talk about its being a dangerous principle. He is a fine Scotsman. He did not object, so far as I know, to the Act going through. It has been in Scottish Acts for quite a few years; it has not simply been introduced in this past year. It has been a fundamental principle of Scottish law that there could be an appeal on both fact and law. Nothing has happened, so far as I know, that gives any reason for thinking that that is a dangerous principle. I support the amendment strongly. I hope that my noble friend will be persuaded that it should be accepted by the Government.
§ Lord Belstead
I think the noble Lord. Lord Howard, laid a considerable amount of emphasis on the new rent formula. Which, of course, we have now left behind us in Clause 1, but I should just like to remind the Committee that the formula is not designed to alter the level of rents. It is precisely because it has been asserted by some noble Lords that the formula, as drafted, could have an effect on rents that I have undertaken on behalf of the Government to take the rent formula away to try to meet the apprehensions which have been voiced; apprehensions with which the Government do not agree, but nonetheless I am very ready to do that.
Rather than concentrate, therefore, as the noble Lord did at the beginning of his remarks, on the rent formula, I would rather ask the Committee to concentrate on the principles which underlie the making of arbitrations in agricultural holdings cases. Those principles are two and they are enshrined in Schedule 6 of the 1948 Act. My noble friend Lord Waldegrave specifically asked for an assurance that Schedule 6 would remain in being when we were originally debating Clause 1 of the Bill.
I think I am right in saying that those two principles of Schedule 6 underline the making of arbitrations in agricultural holdings cases. They are that the arbitration should be quick and that it should be inexpensive. Honestly, the more one extends the arrangements for the making of arbitrations, the further one is bound to get from the ideal and closer to a process of judicial judgment. I think it is fair to say that in a sense an arbitration is an appeal in that the 141 two parties have been unable to arrange their case together and so they look to the professional judgment of the arbitrator to settle the matter. In particular, I really do think we want to take the very greatest care not to add unnecessary costs to the arbitration process which surely must be of primary importance to the tenant whose whole livelihood may be affected by the outcome of an arbitration.
The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, referred to how the system of arbitration would be seen as it exists in Clause 7 of the Bill. The noble Lord said, in effect, that if it was not seen as being judicial then there was need to have an appeal. Of course, the arbitrator is a professionally qualified land agent. Incidentally, the system is different from that in Scotland where there is a facility to appoint unqualified arbiters; I am sure they are admirable appointments, but nonetheless they are not the same as the appeals which are made in England and Wales.
Precisely because the arbitrator in England and Wales is a professionally qualified land agent (but not a judicial figure) then, as the noble Lord who moved the amendment very fairly said, the present procedures provide that if a rent arbitration raises questions of dispute over points of law, the arbitrator can himself refer that aspect of the case to the county court. There is also provision for application to the county court against an error of law which is apparent on the face of the award; so to provide for appeal to the Lands Tribunal would, so far as the legal aspects are concerned, be imposing one appeal system on top of another.
I should like to make a further point, which is that the need for this amendment has not been called for by the industry in England and Wales. I think that although the right of appeal, of course, sounds right in natural justice, the reason why the industry have not requested it has probably two underlying reasons: one, I think, is because of confidence in the impartial performance by arbitrators, which is, of course, a tribute to their profession. I think the second reason is the fear of high costs of litigation to which tenants might be subjected if the facts, or the amount of an award, were to be referred to a higher court.
Then there is one final consideration which I have to lay before the Committee: because of the constant and heavy pressure on the whole system of justice, both civil and criminal, any proposal to introduce new remedies or to increase recourse to the courts or tribunals really does have to be examined with care to see whether it is essential. This is, I know, a matter to which my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor attaches great importance. The reasons which I have already tried to give to the Committee lead me to doubt whether it would be essential to create this new demand on the legal system. I therefore put it to the Committee that, whatever the reasons for including a right of appeal in Scotland, it has not been called for by the farming industry in England and Wales, and would be most unwelcome so far as the courts are concerned.
In this country we have a panel composed solely of fully qualified arbitrators, and ever since the 1948 Act the system, without the right which has been called for in the amendment, has worked; and, so far as I know, it has worked very well indeed. I hope, therefore, that 142 the noble Lord, Lord Howard, and my noble friend Lord Kinnoull, will feel able not to press this amendment.
§ Lord Howard of Henderskelfe
It is precisely because the previous system worked well under clearly understood, simple guidelines that we feel that what is now going to be an extremely complicated system needs some method of interpretation which is not dependent upon (I will not say "when" because that will convey the wrong impression) the individual thoughts of a single arbitrator, however highly qualified. I very much regret, therefore, that I cannot ask the leave of the Committee to withdraw this amendment.
The Earl of Caithness
Before the noble Lord divides the Committee, if that is his intention, I would point out that we do not know what the new Clause 1 is going to be. Would it not be more sensible to let my noble friend Lord Belstead bring back the new Clause 1, because that might allay all the fears?
§ Lord Howard of Henderskelfe
It is precisely because we do not know that I wish to press it at this stage. We have two further stages yet to come. If, in fact, on Report we get a beautiful new Clause 1, it is perfectly open to us to remove the obnoxious new clause which I have moved, on Third Reading. I am afraid I must stick to my decision and divide the Committee on this matter.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 54) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 71; Not-Contents, 134.143
|DIVISION NO. 3|
|Ardwick, L.||Jacques, L.|
|Barnett, L.||Jeger, B.|
|Beswick, L.||Jenkins of Putney, L.|
|Bishopstone, L.||John-Mackie, L.|
|Bowden, L.||Kagan, L.|
|Briginshaw, L.||Kaldor, L.|
|Broadbridge, L.||Kilbracken, L.|
|Brockway, L.||Kinnoull, E. [Teller.]|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Kirkhill, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Lee of Newton, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Lindsey and Abingdon, E.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.|
|Collison, L.||Lockwood, B.|
|Dacre of Glanton, L.||Longford, E.|
|David, B.||Lovell-Davis, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Mcintosh of Haringey, L.|
|Devonport, V.||Molloy, L.|
|Dilhorne, V.||Monson, L.|
|Donnet of Balgay, L.||Nicol, B.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Oram, L.|
|Gaitskell, B.||Phillips, B.|
|Gallacher, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Galpern, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Renton, L.|
|Hale, L.||Rhodes, L.|
|Heycock, L.||Ridley, V.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Howard of Henderskelfe, L. [Teller.]||Salisbury, M.|
|Hughes, L.||Serota, B.|
|Irving of Dartford, L.||Shackleton, L.|
|Stallard, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Stewart of Alvechurch, B.||Tryon, L.|
|Stewart of Fulham, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Stoddart of Swindon, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Taylor of Gryfe, L.||Wootton of Abinger, B.|
|Airedale, L.||MacLehose of Beoch, L.|
|Allerton, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Alport, L.||McNair, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Mancroft, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Mansfield, E.|
|Avon, E.||Mar, C.|
|Barnard, L.||Margadale, L.|
|Bauer, L.||Marley, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Mayhew, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Merrivale, L.|
|Burton, L.||Mersey, V.|
|Caccia, L.||Middleton, L.|
|Caithness., E.||Molson, L.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Cathcart, E.||Montagu of Beaulieu, L.|
|Cockfield, L.||Morris, L.|
|Colwyn, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Cornwallis, L.||Moyne, L.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Murton of Lindisfame, L.|
|Crathorne, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Onslow, E.|
|Daventry, V.||Orkney, E.|
|Davidson, V.||Pender, L.|
|De Freyne, L.||Penrhyn, L.|
|De La Warr, E.||Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.|
|Denharn, L. [Teller.]|
|Diamond, L.||Porritt, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Dormer, L.||Reay, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Dundee, E.||Rochdale, V.|
|Effingham, E.||Rochester, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Rodney, L.|
|Elton, L.||Romney, E.|
|Faithfull, B.||St. Davids, V.|
|Fanshawe of Richmond, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Savile, L.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Seear, B.|
|Gainford, L.||Shaughnessy, L.|
|Gisborough, L.||Simon, V.|
|Glanusk, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Glenarthur, L.||Spens, L.|
|Greenway, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Grimston of Westbury, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Strathspev, L.|
|Hanson, L.||Suffield. L.|
|Hanworth, V.||Swinfen, L.|
|Harris of Grenwich, L.||Swinton, E. [Teller.]|
|Hives, L.||Terrington, L.|
|Holderness, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Homsby-Smith, B.||Tordoff, L.|
|Hunt, L.||Tranmire, L,|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Trenchard, V.|
|Inglewood, L.||Tweedsmuir, L.|
|Kilmany, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Kilmarnock, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Kitchener, E.||Waldegrave, E.|
|Lawrence, L.||Walston, L.|
|Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.||Wigoder, L.|
|Long, V.||Wilson of Langside, L.|
|Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Windlesham, L.|
|Lyell. L.||Winstanley, L.|
|McAlpine of Moffat, L.||Wise, L.|
|Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Wrenbury, L.|
|Mackie of Benshie, L.||Wynford, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.144
§ 5.59 p.m.
§ Lord Renton moved Amendment No. 55:
§ After Clause 7, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Rules for conduct of arbitrations:
In section 77 of the 1948 Act for subsections (2) and (3) there shall be substituted the following—
(2) The Lord Chancellor may by order make rules for the conduct of arbitrations under this Act and. in so far as it may be necessary for that purpose, may vary the provisions of the Sixth Schedule to this Act.
(3) The power to make orders conferred on the Lord Chancellor by this section shall be exercisable by statutory instrument (which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament) and shall include a power, exercisable in the like manner, to revoke or vary any order made thereunder.".").
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 55. The purpose of this amendment is to give the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor the same power to make rules for agricultural arbitrations as he has for the agricultural land tribunals under Section 73 of the Agriculture Act 1947. The rules for the procedure of the agricultural land tribunals made, as I say, by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, give general satisfaction, and they have the advantage that they can be amended by statutory instrument without the need to introduce a Bill; that means, without having to wait some years before a Bill is introduced by chance on this subject.
§ My noble friend Lord Belstead, in his reply to the last debate, said very properly that the procedures of agricultural arbitration should be quick and inexpensive. I suggest to him that they should also be reasonably informal and flexible and not too rigid, but unfortunately their procedure is at present governed by the Sixth Schedule to the Agricultural Holdings Act 1948, and of course any improvements to that can only be made by amending the schedule by statute. Unfortunately, the present procedure is in several ways unsatisfactory for dealing with the many different kinds of matter which are now referred to arbitration under the Act, including of course principally rent arbitrations.
§ May I give two examples of the defects in the present statutory procedure. For example, under paragraph 6 of that Sixth Schedule the party in the position of a defendant has to deliver his statement of case without having seen the statement of case of the applicant. That seems to me to be contrary to every rule of justice. It is totally inappropriate to those cases which arise under the Agricultural Holdings (Notices to Quit) Act 1977, Section 2, and particularly under Cases D and E.
§ Those are cases where possession is claimed on the grounds of the breaking by the tenant of the tenancy agreement. Of course, we all know that such claims give rise to various rather technical and difficult questions: for example, whether the tenant is estopped by his conduct from denying that he is an assignee of his father's tenancy and so bound by its terms. In cases like that it is surely only fair to the defendant that he should know the case made against him and be given a proper opportunity of answering it when he has seen it. which at the moment under the statutory procedure he has not got.
§ Now another example. Under the Sixth Schedule there is no provision for the relaxation of the time 145 limits for delivering the statements of case. They have to be delivered within 28 days of the appointment of the arbitrator. That was increased from 14 days in 1963, and under a schedule to this Bill it is to be increased to 35 days. Fair enough. But so far as I know there is no other court, tribunal, or arbitrator which is confined to a rigid time limit whatever the circumstances, so that if that time limit is exceeded through no fault of his own he is shut out from putting his case forward at all. There is another example of injustice arising from statutory provisions.
§ I suggest that that sort of rigidity is something which we should get rid of, and this Bill enables us to do so. It is even more important to do so after the defeat of the previous amendment in the last Division, because there is to he no general right of appeal, only the limited right of appeal under the 1977 Act. Surely, is it not absurd that arbitrations—which should, as my noble friend said, he quick and inexpensive, and I say flexible—should be governed by such a rigid statutory procedure while the procedure in the Agricultural Lands Tribunal is governed by rules made by the Lord Chancellor, which is the case with nearly all legal proceedings in this country? They are governed either by rules of the High Court, to which the Lord Chancellor is a party, or by rules made by the Lord Chancellor himself.
§ This amendment is a probing amendment—I would not wish to divide the Committee at this moment—and I should be grateful if noble Lords on either side of your Lordships' Committee would express your opinions as to the merits of this, and when my noble friend has had a chance to consider the matter further, no doubt in consultation with the Lord Chancellor, perhaps then we may get this matter properly and finally resolved at Report stage. I beg to move.
I have listened with great interest to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, speaking in support of his amendment. Under the existing legislation (that is, Section 77(2) of the 1948 Act) the Minister is empowered to make rules for expediting, or reducing the costs of, proceedings and arbitrations—full stop. That is as far as we go. When I first read the amendment I thought that it was a fairly sweeping amendment; that it gives to the Lord Chancellor, by order, the authority to make rules for the conduct of arbitrations. I was in some difficulty in defining the phrase "conduct of arbitrations", but the noble Lord, Lord Renton, has helped the Committee considerably.
The noble Lord has shown that what he has in mind is that the parties should disclose their case, and that there ought to be a flexible timetable. I should have thought that those are matters which we ought to welcome, certainly in the changed climate if and when this Bill is enacted. I should have thought that the amendment would be helpful to the arbitrator, and indeed helpful to those who have to prepare the cases before they appear, or in appearing, before the arbitrator. We would support the principle of the amendment.
§ Viscount Dilhorne
I should like to support my noble friend Lord Renton very vigorously. There is only one thing I wish to add, and I shall take a very 146 short time doing it. It concerns the rigid time limit and the appointment of an arbitrator. The current practice is to delay the date at which it can be said that the arbitrator is appointed, to give the longest possible time for the notice to be put in within time. This one might call a purely benevolent contrivance to save the parties from the catastrophic consequences of not serving the notice in time. The Government propose to ameliorate this situation by extending the 28 days to 35 days; but it does not get round, or get rid of, the problems caused by retaining a mandatory time limit.
The purpose of this amendment is to bring these rules which are under the Sixth Schedule under the ordinary rules of the court. There is nothing exceptional about that. It does not propose to amend the Act.What it proposes is to enable the Lord Chancellor to bring in rules concerning arbitrations which enable time to be extended to overcome the rigid application which can only work to the disadvantage of really all the parties concerned. These are the same powers that arbitrators have under the Arbitration Act.
§ Lord Belstead
The statutory code for agricultural arbitrations has endured substantially unamended since 1948. If I may be forgiven for repeating it, it has served well in the great majority of cases. If there are specific improvements for which a case can be made out there is the opportunity in the Bill to do something about them.
If my noble friend Lord Renton will forgive me, the disadvantage of his amendment is that it would mean that we should have to look in two separate places—first in the Act and then in a supplementary order which was made by the Lord Chancellor—for the full details of the law relating to agricultural arbitrations. That would be the disadvantage if the amendment were made.
The advantage has been clearly explained by my noble friend and supported by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, and by my noble friend Lord Dilhorne. Indeed, my noble friend, as I should have expected of him, has supported his general case with two specific cases. First, my noble friend complained about the unsatisfactory situation which exists at the moment concerning silence, in so far as the legislation is concerned, on the requirement that cases should be exchanged. It is perfectly true that at the moment nothing is being done about that, though it is a matter to which we could turn our attention in the Bill. The other example which my noble friend gave was the question of the time limit for the period set for the presentation of cases. There, we have done something, because we have extended the time limit from 28 to 35 days.
I realise that that answer does not meet head on the case which my noble friend made, which, in a word, is the need for flexibility. In view of the three speeches which have been made, I ought to, and I do, undertake to approach the Lord Chancellor to see whether it might be possible for the Lord Chancellor's office to consider taking this on. I shall not weary your Lordships with the difficulties that there are in asking any department of Government to take on any additional work, but I shall do what my noble friend 147 has asked me to do and come back and report on it at the next stage.
§ Lord Renton
I am grateful to my noble friend, to the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, and to my noble friend Viscount Dilhorne. I shall make one quick point. The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, properly referred to the power under Section 77 of the 1948 Act on the part of the Minister to do two very limited things—this is the power of the Minister not of the Lord Chancellor: it must be—for expediting arbitrations or for reducing their costs. That does not deal with the fundamental problems which I mentioned.
It is relevant to what my noble friend Lord Belstead said, when he said that we do not want people to have to look in two places, to point out that they have to look in two places at the moment: they have to look at the Act (and they will have to look at this Act) and they also have to see whether the Minister has made any order.
In the further discussions with the Lord Chancellor's department and the Lord Chancellor himself, I hope that the Minister's powers will be done away with and will be absorbed into the powers to be given to the Lord Chancellor. That will overcome the problem. I am grateful and I look forward to the report stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ The Earl of Kinnoull moved Amendment No. 56:
§ After Clause 7, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Joint applications.
After section 77 of the 1948 Act there shall be inserted the following section—
77A. The court may on the joint application of the persons who will be the landlord and thetenant in relation to a tenancy which will be a tenancy to which this Act applies authorise an agreement excluding in relation to that tenancy such provisions of this Act, of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976, of the Agricultural Holdings (Notices to Quit) Act 1977 or of the Agricultural Holdings Act 1983 as may be specified in the agreement; and the provisions so specified shall have no effect in relation to that tenancy.".")
§ The noble Earl said: For three days—this is our third day in committee—we have been struggling in all parts of the Committee to find ways to strengthen the landlord and tenant system, to stop the decline and, as my noble friend says, to bring fresh blood and fresh life into the system.
§ The amendment in the names of my noble friends and myself seeks to do that. It is the principle that I want to discuss. In previous amendments we have had fixed term tenancies, which my noble friend Lord Onslow moved and which sought to encourage landlords to offer tenantsthe possibility of farming. We had the retirement amendment, moved by the noble Lord, Lord John Mackie, and the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, moved in a different form. We then had an important statement from my noble friend when he stated that outside the Bill the Minister intended to increase the period of time for the extension of the Section 2 licences which my right honourable friend can issue under the 1948 Act. This was an important power which my noble friend rightly said he saw as a useful support for the landlord and tenant system.148
§ The amendment concerns the term "contracting out" of the Act. It is taken from the Landlord and Tenant Act, 1954, which deals with commercial tenancies. There the landlord and the tenant can make joint application to contract out of the Act. I am not sure that the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, will agree, but the principle is good so long as it does not drive a coach and horses through the security of tenure. I believe that there are ways to restrict this principle. This is a probing amendment, so the restrictions are not included, but I believe that there are ways which could usefully be considered by my noble friend and the Committee. I hope that my noble friends will support the principle of the amendment. I beg to move.
§ Lord Walston
I agree with the noble Earl on two things that he said. The first is that there is much to be said for enabling willing tenants and willing landlords to agree to a term of tenancy between them. I also agree with his wish not to drive a coach and horses through the present security of tenure but my worry is that, as this is drafted, it does drive, if not a coach and horses, at least a fairly substantial Victoria or brougham through the present legislation and desired legislation.
As I see it, the sort of situation that might arise if this amendment were adopted would be that when a farm became vacant and the landlord was looking for a tenant, a large number of people applied and he let it be known (either directly or indirectly) that preference would be given to that tenant who was prepared to make use of this clause, even if he had offered a lower rent or his qualifications were not so good. It is obviously in the interests of the landlord to have a term tenancy. Therefore if, out of the scores, or possibly hundreds, of applications for the tenancy, one tenant could be found who was prepared to offer a term tenancy he would be most likely to get it.
If the noble Earl and his noble friends or other noble Lords could, between now and Report stage, evolve a method by which this difficulty could be overcome, I should be far more sympathetic to it and so would my noble friends, but I cannot support it as it stands.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
My noble friend is entitled, if he wishes, to move a wrecking amendment, but he should not hide his light under a bushel. He should say, as I say, that this is a wrecking amendment.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
On this occasion we are unable to support the noble Earl's amendment. As the noble Earl has conceded, this amendment echoes the opting out provisions contained in the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954 relating to business tenancies, but we cannot compare an agricultural tenancy with a business tenancy. We are not comparing like with like. With a business tenancy which was provided for by the relevant section in the 1954 Act, as amended, the parties have in mind a short-term tenancy. It may be a weekly tenancy, a monthly tenancy or a quarterly tenancy; but it is the firm intention of the parties that the tenancy shall not exceed a period of six months. They have in mind. in general, a short-term tenancy, 149 a temporary tenancy, whereas with an agricultural tenancy we have in mind a long-term investment. If this amendment is approved this is a way of by-passing the enactment, and it would be a disincentive to long-term investment.
§ The Earl of Onslow
As your Lordships know, I am very much in favour of the concept of limited, short-term tenancies. I hope that I shall be able to bring to your Lordships' House at Report stage a fairly detailed amendment (which will be drafted by somebody with knowledge and skill in legal affairs) which will enable the Minister to make regulations in such circumstances as to be definitely limited to short-term tenancies. I really think that this one goes much too far. I tend to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Walston, that it will produce a situation where you can only have a tenancy if you agree to go to the court and ask for this limitation to be put upon it.
I think that at some stage we must go to limited forms of short-term tenancies. Equally, I think that there is force in the argument of the NFU that it should not become a permanent and automatic feature of the landlord and tenant relationship. I think that the idea behind it—to enable short-term tenancies—is a very good one, but it goes much too far. I hope that (with considerable help from others who are cleverer than I) I shall be able to produce an amendment at Report stage which will cover the points raised in the Northfield Report and the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Walston, but will still enable us to update and give teeth to Section 2 rather than to introduce a totally new concept.
§ Lord Belstead
In moving this amendment my noble friend Lord Kinnoull has reminded the Committee that we have been at this Bill in Committee for three days. I should like to assure my noble friend that it does not seem like that to me. Indeed, when we moved into Committee about an hour ago I was reminded of the humorous monologues of Gillie Potter who, some years ago, I used to hear on the BBC and who started one of his talks with:Here we are all assembled, eager, excited and, I trust, sober, to enjoy a periodical ten minutes of edifying uplift tempered with innocuous hilarity".On this amendment we have certainly seen a certain amount of diversity. My noble friend moved the amendment with the plea that it was a modest little amendment which would make a small but valuable improvement to the Bill. That was followed fairly quickly by my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley, who simply said, "It is a wrecking amendment". Finally, the short debate which we have had was wound up by my noble friend Lord Onslow, who used the opportunity to make, with his customary skill, a plea for short-term tenancies.
In replying to the amendment, perhaps I may make a point which has not been made. On this amendment I think that for a second we ought to look back. I am advised that the very first Agricultural Holdings Act, which was of 1875, introduced for the first time a statutory code of compensation on quitting. However, the Act did not prohibit contracting-out, with the result that landlords almost invariably chose to do so. The 1875 Act therefore became largely ineffective, 150 because people contracted out. As a result, in 1883 it was followed, so I am told, by a further Act which prohibited contracting out. In a sentence, I do not want to see us go through that again. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Walston, had justice in his assertion that we could see that this would drive a coach and horses through the legislation. When I say "the legislation", let us remember that what we are talking about is legislation which has stretched over the years relating to those vital things: rents, security of tenure and compensation.
My fear would be that, if this amendment were made, we might see that there would be competition between aspiring tenants which might serve only to bid up the conditions which they would be prepared to accept in the interests of obtaining a new tenancy; and that we would end up with a form of key money paid not in cash but in kind. I hope that my noble friend will forgive me if I add the Government's voice to others in criticism of this amendment. I can understand why my noble friend has put it forward, but it really does give us concern and I hope that my noble friend will feel that he does not have to press it.
§ Lord Monson
Surely this Conservative Government, of all Conservative Governments, purports to believe in the principles of the free market. Why, therefore, do they not allow these principles to apply to agriculture?
§ Lord Belstead
That is a good question and the answer, fortunately, is readily available. It is available—and there are many noble Lords in the Committee this evening who could answer it so much better than I—within the agricultural holdings legislation which has been built up over the years and which is particularly tailored to the needs of agriculture. The success of farming, after all, depends on the land and the way it is looked after. That is why we have separate legislation for agricultural holdings.
§ Lord Hylton
Before the noble Earl who moved the amendment makes up his mind what to do with it, may I ask whether he will consider writing into his amendment, perhaps at some future stage, a provision that the tenancy must endure for (shall we say?) 15 years or 20 years, so that the period of security would be quite long but not indefinite and not totally uncertain, as the law has been standing recently?
If this debate is to continue, I think we should remind ourselves that we are trying to legislate (we are not bound to legislate in any way) to give effect to the so-called package and agreements that were before us and were brought in by the meetings of the CLA, the landowners and the tenants. This would be very far outside the whole basis of what they agreed upon together, and, in that sense, it would justify the term used by my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley, "a wrecking amendment". That is from their point of view; although, of course, Parliament is entitled to legislate how it likes. But we are trying (and we have so far succeeded, I think) to keep within the bounds of the agreement made by the two sides of the industry.
§ Lord John-Mackie
Regardless of what we think of this amendment, the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, if he had listened to his noble friend the Leader of the House, would have realised that it is Parliament that is dealing with this, and not the CLA and the NFU. I must make it clear that the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, has every right to bring this forward. We have agreed that we are dealing with a Bill in connection with which amendments have to be debated and that the CLA and NFU package has nothing to do with it.
I entirely agree with every word that the noble Lord opposite has said, if I may say so. I said, though, that we must bear in mind that we were trying, if we could—and I was one of those who would like to, if I could—to legislate within the consensus and not go against it. This would go against that consensus, and I am merely reminding noble Lords of that.
§ The Earl of Kinnoull
I believe that the CLA and the NFU have made a valuable contribution, but I hope that this Chamber will make an even more valuable contribution to what we are trying to seek, which is, in the words of my noble friend, to meet the needs of the agricultural holdings. I am frightened that we are not meeting those needs. In fact—and this is not being over-dramatic—we are looking today at the fairly rapid death of the landlord and tenant system. The situation will not be helped by the present state of this Bill. My simple amendment was not a wrecking amendment but a probing one. It was intended to encourage Members of this Chamber to express their views, as they have done. I am most grateful to all Members for speaking as they have.
The problem with the short-term tenant is the social and moral problem of turning him out of the house. Turning him out of a house after some 20 years is not easy, socially or morally, whereas if you contract out of the landlord and tenant security system it is, in my view, a much more positive commitment; and it is for that reason that I suggested it to my noble friend. I do not wish to detain the Committee any further on this most important side of trying to preserve the landlord and tenant system. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 57, 58 and 59 not moved.]
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Lord John-Mackie moved Amendment No. 60:
§ After Clause 7, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Sale of smallholdings
§ No land held by a smallholding authority for the purpose of smallholdings shall be sold by the authority unless the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (or the Secretary of State for Wales in the case of Wales) is satisfied after affording opportunity to all persons interested to make representations and objections in relation thereto that the land is not required for the purpose of a smallholding and certifies accordingly.").
§ The noble Lord said: We have put down this amendment at the request of people interested in the whole question of the sale of smallholdings. As we know, there has been quite a lot of feeling about the fact that several councils, no doubt because of the restrictions put on them by the Government in the way of spending, have taken the opportunity presented 152 when smallholdings have become vacant to sell. I see that one council dealing with a batch of smallholdings to sell has tenanted them. But the main point we have here is that there should be no question of smallholdings being sold without permission from the Minister. I am sure that is something which would satisfy much of the feeling there has been about the sale of smallholdings in various parts of the country. I beg to move.
§ Viscount Ridley
I hope the Government will resist this amendment with the success it has so far shown this afternoon. I think I am justified on what my noble friend Lord Swinton said on Second Reading, that he will do this and that it is Government policy not to accept this proposal. I am sure your Lordships will not be surprised when you hear me say that local authorities will regard this as a totally unjustified attack on their powers of decision. Quite a lot of powers of local government have been removed by this Government since they came into office. They came into office pledged to a bonfire of controls; the fire went out rather too soon. However, this is a control that I think should not be brought back at any price. If a local authority wants to sell land which it owns, surely that is a decision which it should be entitled to take. If the Minister is tempted to intervene, then I think the Government should be bound by their own logic and buy the land themselves from that local authority.
I do not think it is possible to ask local authorities to make economies and sacrifices at the moment, which definitely does mean selling assets, and then try to prevent them from doing so. Nor can I imagine a more cumbersome and expensive process than, as the amendment says,affording opportunity to all persons interested to make representations"—and so on. That looks like having a public inquiry into the sale of every small parcel of land in future, and surely that would be a bureaucratic nightmare which this Chamber should not countenance.
The power to veto sales of smallholdings disappeared in the 1970 Agriculture Act. To bring it back, I submit, would be making the provision of smallholdings mandatory, which it is not now, and also a retrograde step and a waste of everybody's time.
The only possible exceptions to this rule might be where the tenancy of a smallholding was artificially terminated as it might have been had the Amendments Nos. 46 and 49, which I moved two weeks ago, been accepted where the tenant is, as it were, asked to leave by the smallholdings authority. There should be some protection over the land in that case. It might be of interest to your Lordships to know that there is ony one county council in England with a definite policy of selling smallholdings, and that is Derbyshire. It is hardly controlled by members of this party. It is said to be controlled by the far Left of the party opposite. I do ask the Government not to accept the amendment.
§ Lord Northfield
I have a good deal of sympathy with the amendment, and I was rather surprised by the remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley. The fact is, as he says, that the power existed in the Minister until 1970 and was then abolished. It may well be that 153 he is right in saying that the Derbyshire County Council want to sell, and there has certainly been pressure in Norfolk and in Shropshire. I would not be surprised if in the years to come there was pressure elsewhere, on the grounds that this is in many cases an asset which is now at historic cost and on which a nice profit can be made and invested elsewhere. There is nothing wrong with that except that we have to set other criteria. One other criterion in judging whether that is a proper decision to make is whether smallholdings are in the national interest and whether they perform a very important function as the gateway (as the Wise Committee called it) in helping people to get into the industry.
I want to make my next point very strongly. My own Committee found that smallholdings provide something like 15 per cent. of the opportunities for new entrants to come into the industry. Fifteen per cent. is not a negligible figure. In other words, it means that if the idea of selling smallholdings gathered pace we would be losing a significant part of entry possibilities for people, whether they are young or old, into the industry. So, if I may say so, the particular interest of particular local authorities is, in my view, overridden by the national policy, which is to try to keep opportunities for entry into farming as open as possible. Therefore, it is important to try to prevent these county sales.
The second point I would like to make is that this is not a burden on local authorities. We examined the figures and found that the investment was worth something like £200 million, taking the country as a whole. That is not getting a bad return. In other words, these are not a drain on the total capital and income problems of the counties, taken as a whole. So there is a second reason for saying, "Go steady on this because wider issues are at stake".
Part III of the Agriculture Act 1970 gave the Minister power to call for further reviews of the progress made by local authorities in reorganising their smallholdings in order to make a better estate of them all; in other words, to make more really viable holdings out of the total that they own. That is a very important power, and the local authorities have been encouraged to carry out these reviews in order to try to get the smallholdings as a whole into a more viable state.
I should like the Minister to tell us whether the department is now prepared, given the lapse of time since 1970, to call for some more reviews. There are powers-1 have just been reading them again in Part III of the 1970 Act—to call for reviews to make sure how our stock of smallholdings is being managed, is being reorganised and is being made more viable. That would give the country as a whole a better chance to bring up to date our thinking about these smallholdings. But I repeat that we really must say to the noble Viscount, and to the local authorities who are behind him, "Please take into account national considerations about the need for farms to let in our community and do not always be influenced by what might well prove to be short-sighted anxiety to make a capital profit." That would he the last way in which we ought to be using this very valuable stock of land, which provides a useful opportunity for young people to enter farming.
§ Lord Collison
May I briefly support this amendment? I entirely agree with what my noble friends have already said. Of course I, too, have an interest in the existence of smallholdings to which people can go after they have worked in agriculture, maybe for years. I am speaking in terms of agricultural workers. They want to find smallholdings and we want them to be there for them. In fact, the stock is not very large, although, as we have heard, 15 per cent. of the people who go into agriculture go into these smallholdings. It is important that we make sure that they continue to exist. Everything else that could have been said has already been said, so I shall merely say that I support this amendment.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
We, too, should like to support the principle of this amendment, but I shall not go over the arguments about the stock of smallholdings and entry upon the farming ladder, which are extremely important. I should like the Government to accept this amendment, because that would show their bona fides. This Bill is intended to make more land available for letting and to improve entry upon the ladder, and the Government are backing an agreed measure. At the same time, I am afraid about the pressures on local authorities. I do not think that they sell to make a capital profit so much; it is just that they want to sell because they are extremely "strapped" for money due to the other policies of the Government. So, if the Government accepted this amendment, it would raise an interesting situation in which, on the one hand, the Government were trying to reduce the money, and, on the other hand, they would have to accept the responsibility for prohibiting a sale if it was in the interests of the general agricultural industry and of the farming ladder which is so essential to that industry. So this is a very useful amendment and I am sure that the Government will look favourably upon it.
§ Lord John-Mackie
I think everyone agrees—and certainly the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, will agree—that this Bill is meant to retain as many farms, large and small, as possible in the landlord-tenant system, but up gets the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, and damns it. The amendment may not be very well worded, hut, as everybody has said, it is something that we should look at very carefully. I am obliged to my noble friend Lord Northfield for what he has said, and he put the case very well. As the noble Viscount can see, there is considerable support for this amendment and to damn it in the way he does shows that he is not very keen on the Bill.
§ Viscount Ridley
Before the noble Lord sits down, will he acknowledge that I made a long speech in favour of statutory county council smallholdings on a previous day, and I do not recall his supporting what 1 said at that time?
§ Lord Hylton
I hope that local authorities will not be pressurised by short-term financial considerations into selling off their smallholdings willy-nilly. I hope, also, that before they sell off any they will take into consideration the importance that there may be, particularly in remote places, in part-time holdings. I hope that they will not assume that every single smallholding 155 must be a full-time one which gives employment to a whole person for a whole year.
I can think of many situations where people who are very valuable in the local rural scene may earn half a living from their smallholding; for example, the man who drives a school bus in the morning and afternoon, and the man who has a part-time milk delivery round or something of that sort. There are all kinds of part-time jobs in villages which can be combined with agricultural smallholdings. This amendment may provide us with the opportunity of asking the Government whether they have any advice to give to local authorities on this point of the part-time holding.
§ Lord Belstead
I am a little worried that the Opposition Front Bench is becoming fuller. I hope that that does not mean that this is the preparation for a Division on this important amendment, which has given rise to lively debate, but rather that the Opposition Front Bench finds that this is a moment for a pre-prandial period of reflection and mental improvement.
I should like to say "Thank you" to my noble friend Lord Ridley for making the simple point that the Government in May 1979 issued guidance to local authorities, saying, among many other things, that they should have freedom to retain or dispose of any interests in land which they owned, and I must make it clear to the Committee on this amendment that the Government do not intend to go back on that guidance. In our view, the sale of smallholdings is a matter about which local authorities should be allowed to make their own decisions.
But may I add one point which I have not heard made during this short debate? In exercising its own commercial judgment. a smallholdings authority may not necessarily be deciding, simply by selling a proportion of its smallholdings, to relinquish. It may be deciding to rationalise its management by selling some of its land and using the proceeds from that sale to maintain and improve buildings and equipment on existing holdings, in order to promote greater efficiency. Iam grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, for nodding, because I thought your Lordships might say that that is rather a two-faced way of saying that something is being done when, in fact, something else is being done.
It is right to remember that one of the difficulties of running smallholdings in this country is that it is known that the costs of administration are about 20 per cent. higher than they are for landlords if they are running their own private let land. Therefore, particularly at this time and in the financial situation in which we have found ourselves over the last few years, there are bound to have been calls, from time to time, for local authorities to consult within themselves as to whether they ought to make a rationalisation of that kind.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Collison, for taking the time not only to attend the Committee but to take part in this debate. His very long experience in these matters, even though I am not agreeing with him on this amendment, is certainly appreciated by all of us. He made the point that there is quite a high percentage of entrants into agriculture who are to be 156 accounted for by those who take up smallholdings, and the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, made the point that it is hoped that smallholdings provide a ladder. I think that the first point is absolutely right, but regrettably the second point is less so.
The latest figures that I have—and I think that they are not much more than a reflection of what the Northfield Committee discovered—show that, out of a total of some 7,000 tenants in England and Wales in the 10-year period to 1980–81, an average of only 14 tenants per year moved on to other farms in the private sector. I wish, as I am sure all Members of the Committee wish, that that figure was higher.
§ Lord Belstead
It is indeed: I agree with that. But it is not very much good putting forward the argument that there is a long ladder up which tenants of smallholdings are climbing at the present time, because the ladder is short and they are not climbing in very large numbers. I wish those numbers were greater.
I would say on behalf of the Government that we intend to leave to local authorities the decision as to whether they feel that they have to rationalise their holdings at any time. We do not consider that it is a part of central Government's function to "second guess" the decisions of local authorites in that respect. On those grounds, we cannot support the amendment.
§ Lord Northfield
I hesitate to intervene again but I find the Minister's reply disappointing. Certainly my committee said that we quite understood there should not be a blanket veto on all sales—and that is why I nodded my head—because there was need to rationalise estates and perhaps to sell some land in order to buy other land and make particular units more viable, which is part of the direction given under the 1970 Act.
My committee set out some proposals in respect of that matter. We said that if local authorities want to sell smallholdings, at least they should be encouraged to do so on a sale and lease-back basis; so that if an institution, for example, could be persuaded to buy land and lease it back to a local authority, they would get the capital they were looking for but the land itself would not go out of smallholdings use. That, after all, is the main objective of this Bill—to preserve the opportunity of tenancy.
It is very disappointing that the Minister has not addressed himself to alternatives of that kind. We could find a way of giving the Minister not so much power totally to veto but power to say that certain lands comprised of smallholdings shall remain part of the national stock of smallholdings. If local authorities want to sell land to someone else, all well and good, provided that they do not go out of the national stock of smallholdings.
There are precise proposals about that aspect in our report. If the Minister does not intend to comment on them—which itself is rather disappointing, given that the report has been on the table for four years with those proposals in it—then perhaps we can all return to this matter at Report stage and put down an 157 amendment to that end. At least the Minister should be furnished with the power to retain such land in the national stock of smallholdings while leaving certain freedom with the local authorities, if they insist upon that.
§ Lord Belstead
The noble Lord, Lord Northfield, is being absolutely consistent. I know that he has raised this line of argument earlier in the progress of the Bill, and the points of which he has reminded the Committee were set out in his very valuable report. But I would be misleading the Committee if I did not say that the implications of the guidance which the Government gave to local authorities when we came into office in May 1979 are that we intend local authorities to have freedom of discretion in these matters.
Of course the Government do not wish to see smallholdings being taken out of agricultural use. One of the valuable comments which my noble friend Lord Ridley included in his words this evening was the evidence he gave that local authorities are in the main—indeed, he put it even more starkly than that—not embarking on some kind of wholesale policy involving the sale of smallholdings.
With that comfort, I must also be intransigent so far as that which the noble Lord has put to me about the wish he has to see the Government at least move some way towards becoming more involved in smallholdings matters. We do not intend to do that; we intend to leave it to local authorities.
§ Lord John-Mackie
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Northfield for what he has said. We on this side are very disappointed at the reply of the noble Lord, Lord Belstead. I do not know that we have any evidence that a local authority has sold any smallholdings in order to rationalise its estate and use the money for constructing new buildings or buying new land. Certainly I have never heard of such a case.
It is rather peculiar that the noble Lord the Minister is very anxious that the Government give to local authorities the power to sell and to raise money, but not the power to spend it: the Government curtail their spending but are prepared to let local authorities raise money in that way. There is quite a lot of feeling about this matter, and I believe that we should divide the Committee and see what that feeling is.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 60) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 64; Not-Contents, 96.158
|DIVISION NO. 4|
|Airedale, L.||Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.|
|Alport, L.||Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Collison, L.|
|Barnard, L.||Cornwallis, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||David, B.[Teller.]|
|Bishopston, L. [Teller.]||Dean of Beswick, L.|
|Bowden, L.||Diamond, L.|
|Briginshaw, L.||Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Donnet of Balgay, L.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||McNair, L.|
|Gaitskell, B.||Molloy, L.|
|Galpern, L.||Nicol, B.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Northfield, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Peart, L.|
|Hanworth, V.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Heycock, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Rhodes, L.|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Hughes, L.||Seear, B.|
|Jacques, L.||Shackleton, L.|
|Jeger, B.||Shinwell, L.|
|John-Mackie, L.||Stallard, L.|
|Kilbracken, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Kilmarnock, L.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Kirkhill, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Lee of Newton, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Lockwood, B.||Underhill, L.|
|Longford, E.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Lovell-Davis, L.||Walston, L.|
|Mcintosh of Haringey, L.||White, B.|
|Mackie of Benshie, L.||Winstanley, L.|
|Allerton, L.||Mar, C.|
|Auckland, L.||Margadale, L.|
|Avon, E.||Maude of Stratford-upon-|
|Bauer, L.||Avon, L.|
|Bellwin, L.||Mersey, V.|
|Beloff, L.||Middleton, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Molson, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Boston, L.||Morris, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Buccleuch and Queensberry, D.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Napier of Ettrick, L.|
|Burton, L.||Northbourne, L.|
|Caithness, E.||O'Neill of the Maine, L.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Onslow, E.|
|Cathcart, E.||Orkney, E.|
|Coleraine, L.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Colwyn, L.||Penrhyn, L.|
|Dacre of Glanton, L.||Peyton of Yeovil, L.|
|Davidson, V.||Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.|
|De La Warr, E.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.)||Portland, D.|
|Devonport, V.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Dilhorne, V.||Reay, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Effingham, E.||Ridley, V.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Rochdale, V.|
|Elton, L.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Faithfull, B.||Salisbury, M.|
|Fisher, L.||Saltoun, Ly.|
|Fortescue, E.||Sandford, L.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Savile, L.|
|Gisborough, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Greenway, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Grimston of Westbury, L.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Holderness, L.||Strathspey, L.|
|Hornsby-Smith, B.||Swinfen, L.|
|Inglewood, L.||Swinton, E. [Teller.]|
|Kilmany, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Kinloss, Ly.||Tranmire, L.|
|Kitchener, E.||Trumpington, B.|
|Lane-Fox, B.||Tweedsmuir, L.|
|Long, V.||Vaizey, L.|
|Loudoun, C.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Waldegrave, E.|
|Lyell, L.||Windlesham, L.|
|Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Wise, L.|
|MacLehose of Beoch, L.||Wrenbury, L.|
|Mansfield, E.||Wynford, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.159
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Lord Walston moved Amendment No. 61:
§ After Clause 7, insert the following new clause:
§ ("National Land Trust.
- (1) The Minister may by order establish a National Land Trust for the purposes of acquiring land to let to tenant farmers subject to the conditions prescribed in subsections (2) to (5) below.
- (2) The Trust shall not be empowered to cultivate land in its control for more than twelve months after acquisition or the termination of a previous tenancy.
- (3) Subject to subsection (2) above the Trust shall let all land within its control to tenant farmers from time to time.
- (4) The Trust shall not be empowered to sell any land within its control other than small parcels for which planning permission has been received: and the funds thus generated shall be used for the purchase of further land or for the improvement of existing holdings.
- (5) The Trust shall be empowered to borrow funds from the Exchequer and from commercial sources at the best rates available.
- (6) The power to make orders under subsection (1) above shall be exercisable by statutory instrument; and any instrument containing such an order shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.").
§ The noble Lord said: If I were going to deliver a sermon to your Lordships I would take as my text two statements by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead; the first, in introduction of this Bill, that its object is to promote the number of farms for tenants and to encourage the tenant farming system, and the second, one in which he spoke very wise words very recently to this Committee, when he said that the success of farming depends upon our land and the way it is looked after. Both of those are sentiments with which I think all of your Lordships will be in complete agreement.
§ This amendment which is now before the Committee is, in my submission, the most—I might almost say the only—positive step in this Bill which is going to promote those two objectives. At worst, if the amendment is, as I hope it will he, accepted by the Government, it will ensure that there is no further diminution in the number of tenanted farms. At best it would over the long term create an ever-increasing number of tenanted farms. If it, or something very similar to it, is not adopted the inevitable result can only be still further erosion of the percentage of farms which come on to the market for tenants and an increasing number of owner-occupied farms. That is something which is inevitable and which must be faced by the Committee, by the House and by the country.
§ The proposals which are set out very clearly here are to create a land trust, a national land trust, which would in very many respects be analogous to the National Trust, for which we all have such a very high regard. Its object would be to protect a part of our national heritage which is at present subject to very grave threats. It would, incidentally, fulfil the objectives of the movers of the last amendment, to protect the county council smallholdings, even in those cases where the county councils themselves decided it was in the interests of their own counties, their own authorities, to sell off that land. That, I am sure all your Lordships—the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, and others—would agree, is a far better way of dealing with this matter of ensuring that the county council smallholdings are retained in their present form, as the bottom rung of the farming ladder 160 available to tenants, new entrants into the industry, hut in no way interfering with the freedom of the county councils to dispose of their land if they so wish.
§ There are objections, of course, to these proposals. Several objections have been and will be raised. One objection, which I would describe as an emotive objection, not one based on serious objective study, is that this is nationalisation by the back door. Are those who use that argument objecting to the National Trust because it is nationalisation of our historic homes and beautiful houses by the back door? Is their hatred of nationalisation such that they would rather see those great houses and beautiful houses become derelict empty shells because they dislike the whole concept of nationalisation? No, of course, they do not feel that strongly; they want to see them preserved. Also, if it is looked at objectively, I believe those same people would want to see our form of agricultural holdings, our form of tenant farms that we used to have, and are having to a diminished extent, at least preserved in their present form, and if possible increased. So I would suggest that nationalisation by the back door is not an argument which any serious student of this matter can possibly sustain.
§ The next objection is, "Ah, but this would lead to a great deal of bureaucratic administration". It could lead to bureaucratic administration, but it need not do so. For many years I had the privilege of being a commissioner of Crown Estates, one of the largest landowners in this country, and I defy anybody—tenants, observers, people involved with it, people on the outside—to say that the Crown Estates are administered in a bureaucratic manner.
§ The correct way to administer large estates, whether privately owned or owned by institutions, colleges, the Church, the state or the Crown, is to employ specialists. The large body of well qualified estate agents are well equipped to do all the detailed day-to-day work. But in addition, superimposed above them, we need the equivalent of the old-fashioned private landlord. There should be, on a regional basis, a body of people—commissioners, or call them what you will—who are well known to the farmers who are their tenants and who are available on the telephone if there should be any problems or complaints which the tenant does not wish to take to the estate agent or where he thinks he is getting a raw deal. These commissioners would by appointed on an honorary basis, and they would be paid very little. But their job would be to visit, at least once a year, every farm in their region. There is no reason why that should be a bureaucratic organisation.
§ The third objection, which I freely admit is by far and away the most serious, is that of finance. Where would the money come from in order to finance the purchase? We must remember that the purchase is always freely negotiated; there is no question of compulsory powers. Where will the money come from to make this possible? In the first stages a small amount would have to come from the Treasury. Is that such an appalling idea? Is it such a poor investment? If agricultural land is a poor investment, why do our institutions pay such high prices for it? Why are they so anxious to buy agricultural land? They believe it to be a very sound, long-term investment—and we are talking about the long-term here, not about taking 161 over in 1983 and getting out in 1985 because something else becomes rather more attractive.
§ This is a long-term, permanent investment. Surely the billions of pounds which are coming in and which will be coming in to the Exchequer from capital assets —not just from North Sea oil but from the sale of British Telecom and all the other proposals for privatisation—can be used. Surely it cannot be considered a poor investment. We should put a small proportion of that money into our national heritage and our own land in this country.
§ I ask your Lordships to cast your minds back to what would have happened had we been doing this 20 years ago, in the early 1960s. Land was bought then for £300 an acre and gave a return of perhaps £10 or £15 an acre at the most. If that land had been owned by the state it would now be worth £1,500 an acre or more, and the rent from it, instead of being £10 an acre, would be £50 an acre or more. That is not such a bad investment. There is no reason to think that it will be very different in the years ahead.
§ In addition to the Treasury, which I look on primarily as a pump-primer in this enterprise, I believe there would be a very large number of small investors who would like to buy land stocks. After all, again reverting to the insurance companies and the institutions, if they are prepared to do it on behalf of their policy holders and investors it cannot be all that bad an investment for the investor himself if it can be bought in small units of f1,000, £5,000 or £10,000. I believe that money would be forthcoming from those sources once this scheme got under way.
§ This amendment would not only make a real contribution to the declared objective of the Bill to make more land available for tenants but would also make a very substantial contribution to the environment. One cannot expect the growing proportion of institutional investors to look at land in the same way as did our forbears, who were the creators of the environment that we so love. They considered it to be a permanent asset which they could pass on to their heirs in perpetuity. The policy of the institutions and the insurance companies is that they must look after the shorter term interests of their investors and their policy holders. A National Land Trust would not have that responsibility. It would have the responsibility of maintaining and enhancing the environment. That would fulfil the role that our great improving landlords did in the 18th and 19th centuries.
§ For example, I quote what is very much in the papers today—Calke Abbey. If we had a National Land Trust there would be no problem. The land around that magnificent house, with its great history and possessions, could be bought by the National Land Trust, the whole estate could be preserved as an entity, and the country would benefit. Financially, the investment would be sound. Many examples of that kind will no doubt come to your Lordships' minds.
§ Therefore, on all those grounds I ask most earnestly that your Lordships put out of your minds prejudices about land nationalisation, bureaucracy and all the cant phrases which people who have an instinctive opposition, but who do not want to bother themselves to think seriously about these matters, can trot out. Look at this matter objectively and accept that the 162 amendment will promote the objectives of the Bill and promote the long-term interests of the countryside. I beg to move.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
Almost all speakers in these debates, which have extended over many days, agree enthusiastically that it is in the long-term interests of the industry and of the country that there should be a substantial let sector. We have been reminded that the Northfield Committee recommended that it should amount to 15 per cent. or 20 per cent. of the total agricultural area. What has also become clear is that the agricultural case for preserving the let sector merges into the social argument.
However, all this is very difficult to reconcile with the shrinkage of the let sector. We on this side of the Committee consider that it would be naive to believe that the Bill will arrest the decline of the rented sector. We may well be coming up against an obstacle or a defect in the system which has served us well for decades. The obstacle or the defect is that landlords will not let land because they consider it to be against their commercial interests to do so. There is no active market in farms to let. We believe that as the scarcity of let land becomes more pronounced there will be growing support for the kind of proposal contained in the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Walston, and which is supported to some degree in an important paragraph in the Northfield Report.
On the Second Reading, the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, described the proposal as back-door nationalisation. The noble Lord, Lord Walston, has dealt with that criticism. The noble Earl also made the significant forecast that this solution might produce more tenancies. The whole object of the exercise is to produce more tenancies. The land trust envisaged in the amendment would be a means of selective intervention. Time may well show that only by such means can we preserve a significant let sector. We consider that the amendment is relevant to the problem, and support it in principle.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Lord Northfield
In this country, there has been a long tradition of public and semi-public ownership of land. That is the very first point I want to register with the Committee. Ownership by the Government, Government departments, local authorities and so on, is already 6½ per cent. of the land area of this country. That is a substantial slice of the let sector. In the past, the Church, the Crown, the Oxbridge colleges and other such institutions have performed a valuable function in maintaining the let sector. They have been perhaps almost as important as private landlords in maintaining the tradition of good estate management and the principle of the intimate management of estates.
By a majority, my committee recommended that something along the lines proposed in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Walston, should be considered by the Government. That was after many months of trying to find a better way to bolster and retain the let sector. I speak with thoughts about the many months that we spent in consideration. I would guess that the Conservatives on that committee were finally aware, as my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies has said, that 163 there is practically no other way to make a real job of trying to keep a significant let sector in this country. That is why on the committee they voted in a majority to try this experiment.
I think that the noble Lord, Lord Walston, was wrong in linking the proposal to the National Trust. I think that the right link is with the Crown Estates Commission. It now manages 250,000 acres of land. It does that to the satisfaction of everyone—the tenants, the State, the Treasury and everyone else. The land is handed over by the Crown and the money goes to the national Treasury, although theoretically it is earmarked for the Civil List—but that has now increasingly become a fiction. This area is now a publicly-owned sector of farms.
The way to proceed with this idea is to give the Crown Estates Commissioners powers to augment their holdings and to hold more land. Perhaps they do not even need the powers. The answer is just to give them the land. We should set about the job of expanding their role steadily and quietly. That should be done in their system of management and with a particular objective in mind.
The Crown Estates Commissioners appoint receivers. They do a very economical job in land management. As the noble Lord, Lord Walston, said, they try to keep very close to the tenants in the traditional way that good landlords do. I am sure that they could continue to do that with a higher acreage than 250,000 acres. In my view, the objective would be to try to provide the missing rung on the ladder. That is the area where we need more tenancies.
On the last amendment the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said that the problem with farm holdings is that people are stuck in them. There is nothing to move to, there is such a shortage of farms of the intermediate size. The right way to expand the activities of the Crown Estates Commissioners is for the Treasury to get hold of land—I shall say how—from time to time as it becomes available to place in the holding of the Crown Estates Commissioners where the land is suitable and is inside the 200-acre size. I shall come to the funding of this in a moment. That is the missing size which we need in order to keep a realistic and real ladder in existence in agriculture.
I know that the problem is the money. Land today gives a return of 2 per cent. to 3 per cent. Money has to be borrowed at 10 per cent. or more. I see the point, and the noble Lord, Lord Walston, dealt with it effectively. This is an investment for the future. I do not expect any Chancellor of the Exchequer to start finding large amounts of money for this purpose. When capital transfer tax comes along on particular estates, and there is a danger that that estate will be fragmented—sold to the tenants and become owner-occupied—at least there should be the possibility of the Chancellor accepting that estate, particularly if it is suitable and in the 200-acre farm size, in part or complete payment of death duties, or capital transfer tax as it is now called.
There should be the kind of discretion that we have linked with the heritage fund, and so on, and which was the original intention of the National Land Fund. 164 I am sure that we should resurrect this and use as a ready mechanism the Crown Estates Commissioners. There is a good deal of evidence from abroad that such schemes are successful. I do not know why we should stand out alone on this matter. Such a scheme has parallels in other European countries, in New Zealand and even in Canada. No one in such countries is getting worked up about the issue of land nationalisation.
I wish to say a final word about land nationalisation. No doubt the main argument that the Minister will refer to will be nationalisation by the back door. For what it is worth, my view is that the idea of nationalisation of agricultural land is a dead duck. No Government, even a Left-wing Government, are likely to go in for the wholesale nationalisation of agricultural land. For a start, nearly 65 per cent.—or perhaps now 70 per cent.—of land is owner-occupied. I cannot see any sense in going through the trauma of extracting land from owner-occupiers. Secondly, of the remaining 30 per cent., or 35 per cent. as it may now be, a large proportion is in perfectly "good" hands—I put "good" in inverted commas. It is in the hands of colleges, the Church, the Government, financial institutions, and so on. There is no particular benefit in nationalising that land. With the other 15 per cent., 20 per cent. or 25 per cent. in the hands of private landlords, I honestly cannot see any Chancellor raising vast amounts of money in one fell swoop—in one nationalisation Act—at 10 per cent. plus in order to buy an asset returning 2 per cent. or 3 per cent. in annual rents.
The Government should stop running away from the issue, fearing that it is nationalisation by the back door. They should look at the perfectly reputable examples of the land in the hands of the Crown Estates Commissioners and similar schemes abroad. They should realise that nationalisation of agricultural land has become a parrot cry now and very little else. It is not really on the cards. Finally, if a Left-wing Government were really intent on nationalisation, none of this would matter. The fact that there had been any movement in that direction in this small attempt to help put right the agricultural ladder would not make the slightest bit of difference. It will not create a precedent that would encourage anyone else along that road. For all sorts of reasons, I think that the amendment is a very good idea, even if I differ slightly from the noble Lord, Lord Walston, on the precise mechanism.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
I should simply like to support my noble friend. I think that the details of the scheme have been put over in a practical way and I believe that the objections to it have been dealt with. However, I look forward with great interest to hearing what new objections the noble Lord the Minister is to raise.
§ Lord Belstead
I was encouraged to hear the words of the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, on the subject of land nationalisation, but of course there is a lack of credibility between the wise words of the noble Lord and the policies which are pursued by his party. I hope that he, and indeed his noble friends on the other side of the Chamber who I think consistently give good advice to your Lordships on agricultural matters, will 165 forgive me for saying that. I do not say it to make a party point; I say it because there is still genuine apprehension in people's hearts and minds, and if we heard from the noble Lord's party the kind of wise words that he has uttered, the apprehension would be dispelled.
I recognise that the new clause moved by the noble Lord, Lord Walston, is not along those lines; indeed the word "nationalisation" does not appear in the brief for my reply. But the basis of the proposal is that the National Land Trust, which the noble Lord told us about when he made his Second Reading speech, and which he has again told us about in moving the new clause, would, so far as one can see, initially be funded by Government; and there is a difficulty about where the money is to come from.
So far as the initial outlay is concerned, the noble Lord suggested that it should be borrowed from the Exchequer or from commercial sources. But if the money were to be borrowed from commercial sources, the proposition need only be taken to the finance houses at this very moment. No doubt they would consider it as they would any other commercial proposition, and it would not need any legislation at all. After all, that is what financial institutions operating in the agricultural land sector already do; and the noble Lord knows that very much better than I do.
However, as the noble Lord made clear in moving the amendment, it would be expected at any rate a very large proportion of the funds would come from the Exchequer. The noble Lord will correct me if I am wrong, but my understanding has always been that institutions tend to buy tenanted land if they possibly can, rather than land with vacant possession. They also enter into sale and lease-back arrangements. Therefore, they are able to buy land relatively cheaply, but in doing that they do not really increase the total stock of tenanted land. Therefore, this so far sounds like an argument in favour of a national land fund, which would increase the stock of tenanted land.
But surely here comes the problem. If the National Land Trust which is proposed by the noble Lord was to buy vacant possession land and then let it, the economics of the transaction would be very different. Land would be bought at a premium and its value would be reduced immediately it was let. In addition to that, the sums involved would not be small when it came to purchasing and establishment and equipment costs, as well as staff salaries, and possibly even the need to run the trust on a regional basis. But above all, the cost of the land, which would of course attract the vacant possession premium, would be a major item of expenditure which would have to be met.
So while I recognise and applaud the noble Lord's aim to make available more tenancies, which I at once concede is entirely in the spirit of this legislation, I believe that the problems attendant upon his proposal would be very formidable indeed, and for the reasons that I have given I think that we must continue to look to the private sector.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Lord John-Mackie
Knowing the Government's attitude to these questions, I thought that the noble 166 Lord's reply was predictable. But surely by this time the noble Lord must be seized of the point that has been made. It is that unless at the Report stage the noble Lord is to produce a proposal regarding Clause 1, there is nothing in the Bill that indicates that it will do anything at all to increase farm tenancies. Practically every noble Lord who has spoken has said that and the point has been made in all the lobbying that we have experienced.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Walston, that the new clause would at least result in more land becoming available for the tenanted section. On these Benches we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Walston, for putting down the amendment, and I hope that it was the remarks that I made on the subject at Second Reading which tempted him to do so. Had we put down an amendment of this kind, as we wished to do, we would straight away have been accused of back door nationalisation. So I am very glad that the proposal has come from the Benches on which the noble Lord, Lord Walston, sits. The noble Lord has argued very well, as has my noble friend Lord Northfield, that this is not back door nationalisation, but is a matter which should be considered very carefully. As I have previously said, and as I wish again to emphasise, it would seem to be the only actual provision in the Bill which would make more land available for the tenanted section.
As I have said, the reply of the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, to the effect that the cost would be too high was predictable. The noble Lord, Lord Howard of Henderskclfe, perhaps twitted me—I was going to say fell out with me—for saying that at present all the land that is changing hands is bought by institutions. It was his experience that farmers were grabbing the land—I think that that was the expression he used—straight away as it came on the market. I am speaking of vacant land, and if farmers can pay the kind of prices that are at present being bandied about, I cannot see how the prices can be regarded as realistic for the purposes of farming. We must also bear in mind the rents that are being offered.
As the noble Lord, Lord Walston. said, a trust could be set up, with people putting money in it, and with some support from the Treasury. I feel that the reply by the Minister did not really demolish the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Walston, on how to finance such a trust, nor the arguments of my noble friend Lord Northfield.
As the noble Lord, Lord Walston, will be aware, many years ago he and I wrote a discussion pamphlet on land nationalisation, and I then put forward exactly the system which he has suggested for the administration of publicly-owned land. I stand by that today. If it were done in the way in which the noble Lord has indicated in the debate, such a system could be perfectly easily administered without any great bureaucracy at all.
There is only one point that worries me. I hope that we would have quite a lot of private money in the trust and not too much from the Treasury. I say that because since I wrote the pamphlet it has been my experience that if one allows the dead hand of the Treasury to interfere, the administration becomes bureaucratic. I see the Chief Whip on the other side of 167 the Chamber scowling at me. I know the time,and he told me— —
§ Lord John-Mackie
That prompts me to remind the Committee of the time when the then Mr. Snowden, on being accused in the other place of laughing, said, "I wasn't laughing; I was sneering". I think that the noble Lord was listening to me with rapt attention in order to try to find out when I was going to stop.
I close by saying that we support Lord Walston very much indeed. If he cares to put his amendment to the vote, we shall give him all the support that we can.
§ Lord Walston
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, for his final words and for what he said earlier. However, what he did not mention is that when our discussion pamphlet was written he was in favour of land nationalisation and I was against it. I think that the noble Lord has since somewhat modified his views. I have not, in this case, modified my views.
So far as I can make out from what was stated by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, who is always a very persuasive arguer in these matters, he has not made the best case that I think he almost might have been able to make, in spite of the paucity of the material at his command. The noble Lord had very little on which to base his arguments. He had only two points to make so far as I understood them. The first was that this was going to cost too much and that no money was available for it. If he tells me that the Government are so concerned with short-term objectives that they are prepared to cash in on national assets of enormous value and not to reinvest, particularly in a project that inevitably and undoubtedly will appreciate enormously in value over the years ahead, and that they are simply concerned with money supply and what will happen in the next two or three years, he is putting the Government in an even worse light than I thought.
However, that appears to be his argument: We have no money. We are selling a great many of our national assets, and privatising them, and we are not prepared to invest in this particularly very sound investment. "What is more", say the Government, "we are not interested. Inevitably, it follows that, in the preservation of the countryside, we pay a lot of lip-service to the protection of the environment, but we as a Government are not prepared to do one of the things that lie easily within our power to do". So how can you expect other people to do it? That follows from his argument.
Secondly, the noble Lord says the institutions will do it well. They buy tenanted land and they let it. Yes, they do. But what they also do is to wait until that land becomes vacant and then sell it at the enhanced vacant possession price.
§ Lord Walston
It is true. Many do it, and I can give the noble Lord examples. Private investors do the 168 same. That is why the erosion of tenanted land increases. I do not think that the noble Lord the Chief Whip is now looking at me with rapt attention. He is looking at me because he fears that his dinner is getting cold.
§ Lord Denham
If the noble Lord is going to be very much longer, I wonder if it would be for the convenience of the House that we should adjourn during his speech and return to hear the final part afterwards.
§ Lord Walston
I think that the noble Lord would be right if I were going to be much longer. I was simply demolishing to the best of my ability, and as briefly as possible, the very poor arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead. I hope, but without much confidence, that the noble Lord will think again about this. I can, however, assure him that in spite of the offered support of the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, I shall not divide the House at this stage on this issue. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Denham
I think that this is probably the right moment for us to adjourn for dinner. We shall not re-start this particular Bill before 8.45 p.m. but equally, I think it is highly probable that the business that we are taking in between may take marginally longer than an hour. If your Lordships who are interested in this Bill wish to know, we shall not restart the Committee proceedings until 8.45 p.m.
I beg to move that the House do now resume.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.