HL Deb 23 February 1984 vol 448 cc873-86

1. For the purposes of paragraph (b) of Case I, a certificate of the housing authority for the district in which the living accommodation in question is situated, certifying that the authority will provide suitable alternative accommodation for the tenant by a date specified in the certificate, shall be conclusive evidence that suitable alternative accommodation will be available for him by that date.

2. Where no such certificate as is mentioned in paragraph I above has been issued, accommodation shall be deemed to be suitable for the purposes of paragraph (b) of Case I if it consists of either—

  1. (a) premises which are to be let as a separate dwelling such that they will then be let on a protected tenancy (within the meaning of the Rent Act 1977); or
  2. (b) premises to be let as a separate dwelling on terms which will afford to the tenant security of tenure reasonably equivalent to the security afforded by Part VII of that Act in the case of a protected tenancy;
and the accommodation fulfils the conditions in paragraph 3 below.

3. The accommodation must be reasonably suitable to the needs of the tenant's family as regards proximity to place of work and either—

  1. (a) similar as regards rental and extent to the accommodation afforded by dwelling-houses provided in the neighbourhood by any housing authority for persons whose needs as regards extent are similar to those of the tenant and his family; or
  2. (b) reasonably suitable to the means of the tenant and to the needs of the tenant and his family as regards extent and character.

(2) For the purposes of sub-paragraph (1)(a) above, a certificate of a housing authority stating—

  1. (a) the extent of the accommodation afforded by dwelling-houses provided by the authority to meet the needs of tenants with families of such number as may be specified in the certificate; and
  2. (b) the amount of the rent charged by the authority for dwelling-houses affording accommodation of that extent; shall be conclusive evidence of the facts so stated.

(3) If any furniture was provided by the landlord for use under the tenancy in question, furniture must be provided for use in the alternative accommodation which is either—

  1. (a) similar to that so provided; or
  2. (b) reasonably suitable to the needs of the tenant and his family.

4. Accommodation shall not be deemed to be suitable to the needs of the tenant and his family if the result of their occupation of the accommodation would be that it would be an overcrowded dwelling-house for the purposes of the Housing Act 1957.

5. Any document purporting—

  1. (a) to be a certificate of a housing authority named therein issued for the purposes of this Schedule; and
  2. (b) to be signed by the proper officer of the authority; shall be received in evidence and, unless the contrary is shown, shall be deemed to be such a certificate without further proof.

6.—(1) In this Schedule "housing authority" means a council which is a local authority for the purposes of Part V of the Housing Act 1957, and "district", in relation to such an authority, means the district for supplying the needs of which the authority has power under that Part of that Act.

(2) For the purposes of this Schedule a dwelling-house may be a house or part of a house.".")

These amendments concern retirement provisions for smallholdings based on the retirement provisions for tenancies generally. I know that the Government have helped the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, to draft them so I therefore assume, I am sure with confidence, that they are acceptable to the Government. As I said, they are on the lines of the general retirement provisions in the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the amendments which the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, is moving are in the name of my noble friend Lord Ridley. I have great pleasure in accepting the amendment, and shall accept also those to which the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, has spoken when we come to them.

Lord Bishopston

My Lords, we support the amendment and are very pleased at the Minister's response. We raised the matter of smallholdings at an earlier stage and also pointed out the very considerable value that they have. We hope that the Minister will also take into account some of the other observations made during earlier stages before the Bill goes to another place.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Northfield moved Amendment No. 10:

[Printed earlier.]

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 1 [Minor amendments with respect to statutory succession]:

Lord Belstead moved Amendment No. 11:

Page 15, line 22, after ("let") insert— ("(a)").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, with this I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 12, 13, 14, 15 and 22.

Amendment No. 12: Page 15, line 23, after ("landlord") insert— ("; or (b) by virtue of an assignment of the current tenancy;") Amendment No. 13: Page 15, line 24, after ("grant") insert ("or assignment")

Amendment No. 14: Page 15, leave out lines 38 to 42 and insert— ("(a) shall apply whether or not any tenancy granted or obtained (otherwise than by virtue of an assignment) as mentioned in those provisions related to the whole of the land held by the tenant on the occasion of whose death, or with whose agreement, the tenancy was so granted or obtained, as the case may be: and") Amendment No. 15: Page 15, line 47, at end insert ("and subsection (5) shall apply where a tenancy is assigned to joint tenants one of whom is a person such as is mentioned in that subsection as it applies where a tenancy is assigned to any such person alone.")

Schedule 5 [Transitional provisions and savings]: Amendment No. 22: Page 40, line 41, leave out from ("holding") to end of line 43 and insert ("held by the tenant on the occasion of whose death, or with whose agreement, it was so granted or obtained, as the case may be.") The purpose of these amendments is to permit transfer of a tenancy in the context of Section 18(5) of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 (which makes provision for inter vivos succession by agreement between the parties concerned) by means of assignment as well as, as is presently the case, by surrender and regrant. The amendments are in response to the amendments of my noble friend Lord Renton—Amendments Nos. 63 and 64—which were withdrawn at the Report stage.

My main reasons for proposing these amendments are these. Assignment is a simple form of transferring a tenancy, although it is a method which can only be used where the whole of the land comprised in the tenancy is to pass to a successor. Although most tenancy agreements contain an absolute bar on assignment, this bar can be waived simply by the landlord where an inter vivos succession is agreed. There is, therefore, advantage in extending the range of methods available to parties on such an occasion, and as a result of this amendment assignment will be available to the parties as a means of implementing their agreed arrangement if they so desire.

There may well be cases where it is simpler to resort to this form of transfer rather than to use the method of surrender and regrant, with its attendant carrying out of outgoing and incoming valuations, claims for dilapidations, and other matters arising at the end of a tenancy which can be avoided on assignment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Belstead moved Amendment No. 12:

[Printed earlier.]

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Belstead moved Amendment No. 13:

[Printed earlier.]

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Belstead moved Amendment No. 14:

[Printed earlier.]

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Belstead moved Amendment No. 15:

[Printed earlier.]

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 2 [Statutory succession by person nominated by retiring tenant]:

Lord Prys-Davies moved Amendment No. 16: Page 21, line 44, leave out head (e).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we are back with an aspect of the law on statutory succession. We on these Benches are glad that part of that law is surviving. We welcome very much Schedule 2 because it represents an important improvement. However, I fear that its importance is overshadowed by the fact that Clause 2 remains intact. I say overshadowed because that clause, in our view, represents a departure from the policy of agricultural legislation of the past 100 years which was always aimed at strengthening the position of the tenant. Nevertheless, we welcome the provisions of Schedule 2.

We ask the Government, however, to have second thoughts about paragraph 2(1)(e). By virtue of this paragraph the right to nominate a successor is conferred only on a tenant who will have attained the age of 65 on the date when the succession is to take place. I believe that in Committee the original starting point to the discussion was the desirability of introducing a retirement provision and that it was at that stage probably age-related. I believe that the original amendment which my noble friend and I submitted was age-related, but that was amended.

In the course of the debate in Committee the point was made by many noble Lords that the right to nominate a successor should be available to any tenant who simply wished to retire from farming, irrespective of the reason—a farmer who has not attained the age of 65 may well wish to retire because of ill-health and to nominate a successor. Again, it may be that he wishes to take early retirement and assign the tenancy to his successor. There is much support in our society for the principle of early retirement. It seems to us that a farmer should not be precluded from taking early retirement. Yet, as I understand the clause, that would be the position. Once Parliament accepts that there is a right to nominate a successor the exercise of that right should not, in our view, be dependent merely on arriving at a certain age threshold. I beg to move.

4.59 p.m.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, first I would just say that the age of 65 was agreed after a lot of discussion within the industry and with an eye to the recommendations of the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, which in paragraph 634 chose 65 as the appropriate age at which a transfer of this kind should take place. We are, of course, talking about voluntary retirement. No element of compulsion is involved. So far as the existing machinery is concerned, a tenant may approach his landlord with a proposal to retire at any time under Section 18(5) of the 1948 Act. That existing machinery remains unaffected.

In talking here as we are about the new arrangements which are being made for inter vivos succession where the matter is not necessarily agreed, I think we come to a difficulty. For instance, the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, says that the health of the tenant may come into it: it may be necessary for the landlord to take a view that the health of the tenant is not very good and the moment had come when this machinery should be put into effect. I think that this would present very great difficulties for the ALT. I do not think that it would be appropriate for the health of tenants to be examined in that way. If, after all, a tenant is suffering from ill-health to such an extent that his farming record is suffering, the good husbandry provisions of legislation can be brought into play.

I return, if I may, to my original point. The age of 65 for these retirement provisions was proposed by the NFU and the CLA because they felt that it was right and that it was as far as they ought to go, and because they knew that it was the age that had been recommended by the Committee of the noble Lord, Lord Northfield. For the reasons that I have attempted to give, I should be very reluctant to go further than that.

Lord Northfield

My Lords, I do not think that our report should be called in aid too much on this point. I think that the committee was really dealing only with retirement at that point. It may be that we just failed to consider the idea of handing over earlier. I would resist using the report in this context.

May I just ask the Minister whether in fact the possibility of handing over earlier than death—which I think is a very laudable objective—is covered by the amendments that he has just moved referring to assignment? Could the matter be dealt with that way?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I honestly do not know the answer to the question which the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, has just asked about assignment. I rather think that the answer is no. One wants to rest upon the amendments which we have put forward in the enormously long amendment dealing with voluntary retirement, to which of course this particular amendment is aimed.

Lord Prys-Davies

My Lords, we very much regret once again that the noble Lord the Minister is unable to accommodate this amendment. It is an amendment which is addressed to the situation of a tenant who wishes to retire and to nominate his successor. But with that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 3 [Minor and consequential amendments]:

Lord Northfield moved Amendment No. 17:

[Printed earlier.]

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Northfield moved Amendment No. 18:

[Printed earlier.]

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Belstead moved Amendment No. 19:

Page 37, line 9, at end insert— ("(2) In section 10(8) of that Act (construction, etc.), for the words "paragraphs (a) and" there shall be substituted the word "paragraph".").

The noble Lord said: This is a drafting amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Northfield moved Amendment No. 20:

[Printed earlier.]

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Northfield moved Amendment No. 21:

[Printed earlier.]

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 5 [Transitional provisions and savings]:

Lord Belstead moved Amendment No. 22:

[Printed earlier.]

The noble Lord said: This amendment is consequential on Amendment No. 11. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Belstead

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

Although this Bill is comparatively short, it has occupied your Lordships for well over 30 hours. My noble friend Lord Swinton and I are most grateful to your Lordships for the detailed scrutiny given to the Bill. There is widespread agreement on the need for this legislation and on its principal objective—to make more tenancies available. But opinions differ on how precisely this should be achieved. That is why the Government took the view that any changes which were likely to be able to stand the test of time had to be based on proposals which in the first instance came from the industry itself. We are indebted, therefore, to the Presidents of the National Farmers' Union and the Country Landowners' Association for coming forward with an agreement which made this Bill possible.

Your Lordships tabled nearly 90 amendments in Committee and more than 100 at Report. The result has been a number of very worthwhile additions to the Bill. It is a tribute to the good will shown on all sides, both within and outside your Lordships' House, that we have been able to arrive at the rent formula which now forms Clause 1.

I recognise that it can be argued that Clause 2 does not go far enough. But one of the lessons of the 1976 Act is that there are grave dangers in tampering retrospectively with agricultural holdings legislation. This is why the Government were careful to retain the non-retrospective nature of the provisions relating to succession.

So far as the rest of the Bill is concerned, we have taken on board the proposal of my noble friend Lord Sandy s that the basis for assessing income for the commercial unit test should be set out in a statutory instrument and we have restricted the number of tenancies to which a successor can succeed. I must apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, for the fact that we have not yet been able to come forward with amendments on eligibility for succession, but I give an undertaking that we are still working on this. The Bill now encourages some increase in the turnover of tenancies by facilitating voluntary retirement. Thanks to my noble friends Lord Ridley and Lord Sandford and to the noble Lord, Lord Gibson, the Bill now incorporates amendments reinforcing conservation agreements between landlord and tenant.

The Government are also indebted to my noble friend Lord Renton for several important technical amendments, and we still intend to bring forward an amendment to meet my noble friend's proposal to empower the Lord Chancellor to vary the sixth schedule rules. In fact, that amendment was moved on Report by my noble friend Lord Caithness, who has also moved into the Bill a safeguard against the three-year rent cycle being restarted where new fixed equipment has been provided. With those few examples, I believe that we now have a more comprehensive Bill which will encourage farm tenancies. For that I have to thank your Lordships' House. I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

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

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, if I may say so, has carried through this Bill with his usual charm and good will. He says that he is pleased with it and we have done a good job but that some people may disagree with that. To use a slang expression, he can say that again. I have just been handed a letter which appears in the Farmers' Weekly. It is headed: CLA has reneged on the rent bargain". It is quite a good letter. It is signed by a furious farmer who says that his name and address is with the Farmers' Weekly. I shall try to be as brief as possible. I could be very brief indeed in the words that I use about the Bill but I shall refrain from that.

The phrase in the Queen's Speech was that legislation would make more farming tenancies available". What have we got? We have a Bill that is supposed to satisfy a deal between the CLA and the NFU and which, at the same time, is going to produce more farms to let. My noble friends have pointed out what the NFU has given up without getting what it wanted in its place. The noble Lord, Lord Middleton, has done a wonderful job for his organisation. It should be proud of him. I congratulate him on the manner he has gone about, quietly and efficiently, getting what he wanted. The noble Lord, Lord Stanley, has fought hard for his organisation but the cards were stacked against him. The landlord lobby was too strong for him.

What about the main purpose of the Bill? I have heard or read a number of times, seen on television and been told personally, that the landlord-tenant system is something that we must protect and continue. It has become legion. Here, then, was a Bill in which there was a chance to do something. Many noble Lords opposite, as did the NFU, the agricultural press, the TFA and even the CLA, put their names to the chance that this Bill provided. But what will the Bill, in its present form, do to stop the decline in tenanted land that has continued since the end of the 1914–18 war?

The Bill brings us virtually back to the 1948 Act and the 1958 Act which operated up to 1976. I have shown noble Lords previously the graph that I am now holding. I assure noble Lords that the graph which dates from 1948 is as accurate as I can make it based on the figures available. The graph shows a straight line from 1920 all the way to 1976. I must ask the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, whether he agrees with it. The noble Lord has left this matter aside every time that I have mentioned it. He has never indicated that he agrees with the graph. In order to satisfy the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, I have allowed for an insignificent hiccup between 1976 and 1982. Nevertheless, what has been done to alter the steady decline that has been taking place?

I would ask noble Lords seriously what has been done to stop the decline that occurred during the period I mentioned and to which we are now going back. I should like to emphasise that point strongly. Frankly, I think that the answer is that practically nothing has been done. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, instanced a few things that have been done in the Bill, but few of them will achieve anything. There is certainly nothing in Clause 1 unless landlords think that the wording is so vague that they believe that they can continue getting rents up every three years. They could do this before. They were able to do it between 1948 and 1976 when the law was the same.

There are those—I think they are probably right—who say that, in some cases, the Bill may have the opposite effect and that if the NFU has got what it wanted, namely, more control over increases in rent, this may make landlords unwilling to let more land. You have a choice. In my opinion, Clause I will have neither effect.

Clause 2 returns us to the pre-1976 position when, as I say, the decline was also taking place. What leads one to think that landlords will take any different view now from their view then? I know that the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, in reply to an earlier debate, said that the present Government had created a climate of opinion among landlords that they had been better treated in the past by Conservative Administrations and would therefore be more willing to let farms. The noble Lord suggested that there were more farms to let last year than the year before and that this was due to the climate of opinion that had been created. However, my noble friend Lord Bishopston knocked the legs from under that contention when he pointed out that the new Act had not come into effect and might not come into effect for quite a while.

What else has been done in the Bill? It has made provision for earlier retirement to allow a successor to take over. I believe that the effect will be very minimal. It might have been better if the noble Lord had accepted our amendment put recently by my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies. There will be minimal, if any, effect. To try and discover what else the Bill does to produce more tenancies, one can go down the list on the front of the Bill, as amended, and find from Clause 4 downwards useful changes to tidy up various other Acts. Not one of them really does anything to produce more tenancies.

I would prefer to ask what the Bill has not done. It has done nothing that will definitely produce more tenancies. The noble Lord, Lord Walston, put forward a scheme that would definitely have kept land in the tenanted sector. It was turned down. My noble friend Lord Northfield put forward a scheme to give the Crown Estate some powers to get more land into the tenanted sector. My noble friend admitted that the effect might be minimal. Again, however, the suggestion was turned down. We had an amendment rejected to stop institutions taking land out of the tenanted sector. That is happening at an alarming rate. I quoted the figures in Committee. We got short shrift as we say in the north-east of Scotland.

We tried to retain succession. Whatever else noble Lords may think, this keeps land tenanted. We supported the noble Lord, Lord Monk Bretton, on his plea for a plan that would have helped a little. Again, the effect would have been minimal, but it all adds up. Not one of these amendments did the Government accept. It makes me wonder whether the Government really care about the tenanted sector and whether the sentence in the gracious Speech was simply a cloak for producing a Bill that would get rid of the almost pathological objections of the Government's noble friends to succession. I do not know what will happen to the Bill in another place. For all that we have achieved here on the so-called main objective of the Bill, we might as well have handed it over to the other place three months ago and not wasted our time.

5.18 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords. I nearly cried over the references to wasted time. My noble kinsman is, I think, making too much of the Government's intentions. I agree with what they have done in the Bill hut, as I said on Second Reading, it is only a small step forward. I give the Government at least credit for trying to take an agreed step forward. They have not used retrospective legislation to produce further examples of the see-saw achieved by the two ruling parties since the end of the war. Those parties must take the responsibility for the mess that now exists.

The Bill itself is useful. From the point of view of the tenant farmer, the sensible and fair conditions for arbitration will he very useful as farming faces a very difficult future. I have no doubt that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, will be disappointed by the rents that he is able to obtain for his clients. Without doubt, the climate will not be so favourable as it has been over the past 10 years. I welcome therefore the arbitration proposals. It is only right to look at my noble kinsman's graph. There is some chance, I believe, that it may be improved. If you leave the three generation succession in the Bill, then no landlord except an extremely noble landlord will think of throwing his control and his cash away in giving a fresh tenancy, whereas there is a good chance of him doing so if it is for one generation and to one tenant.

However, the Bill is a step forward. If it is to succeed in its objective, then the Government will have to remove some of the fiscal anomalies which exist between let land and owner-occupied land. That would assist the Bill greatly. But of course that is not the province of this House. I hope that the Government realise that the only real hope of making the Bill work as regards its objective of getting more tenanted land would be to remove some of these anomalies.

I am disappointed that the Government have not accepted certain amendments. Some of them were not major amendments, but they would have been useful. However, on the whole, the Government have been fairly co-operative, except of course over the ludicrous provision for the appointment of the arbitrator, which I suppose they have retained from the point of view that, if one is going to be reasonable about some things, it makes one feel better if one is wholly unreasonable and stupid about one factor.

However, apart from that, this is a useful Bill. It does not contain anything like the number of provisions that I should like to see it contain. But I do not think that we should quibble too much when it is a step which might well—and I go no further than that—improve the position as regards the availability of tenanted land. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead—even when he was being most unreasonable about the appointment of the arbitrator—has always clothed his unreasonableness in a very charming manner.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

My Lords, in view of the differences of opinion that this Bill has caused, I now realise why my right honourable friend Mr. Peter Walker was not anxious to introduce this Bill, even though he was promised three years ago that there was no dispute. I think that my noble friend Lord Belstead is saying. "Yes".

I am, therefore, surprised that—despite remarks made by my right honourable friend Mr. Michael Jopling that agreement reached between the parties must be upheld—Clause I (the main plank of the Bill so far as I am concerned) has been changed. It has not been changed to break faith or, indeed, to alter the philosophies—and I cross swords with the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie there—except, possibly, as regards the omission of the words, "earning capacity". However, as regards that, I have had a very helpful answer from my noble friend Lord Belstead this afternoon. I know that Clause 1 will be examined very carefully in another place before it returns to us.

I hope also that the problem of retirement for the new tenant will he looked at again. I do not think that your Lordships—and I in particular—have done justice to this problem. I know that the matter is fraught with problems, most of them human problems, and I realise that compulsory retirement gives the National Farmers' Union great problems. I was interested and surprised to hear that it also gave similar shivers down the back of my noble friend Lord Middleton. I realise that I am a maverick in this matter so far as both the NFU and the CLA are concerned, but that is the great privilege of being a Member of your Lordships' House.

Having disagreed with practically every-one—particularly all my noble kinsmen—at some stage or other during the Bill, I should like to thank noble Lords, and my noble friend Lord Belstead in particular for appearing to be so patient, humorous and tolerant in giving such careful answers to me, even though I did not like some of them very much.

Lord Northfield

My Lords, I should like to echo the words of thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, who has been extremely courteous to us all not only in the Chamber but outside and in private meetings. I have said before that I do not recall Ministers being quite so courteous before and he has excelled in that direction. I am also grateful to him for what he said about introducing in another place the rules concerning eligibility, which are extremely important and which he has not yet been able quite finally to draft in response to my amendment.

I should like also to say "thank you" on behalf of the members of my committee. The dust was blown off our report and it came in useful on all manner of occasions. A number of our recommendations have been implemented, particularly those concerning retirement, rights of succession and even—and I come to it now—the recommendation about getting as near to the market as we can. I say no more than that. We dragged the Minister from the jaws of socialism back to the market, and it is rather nice to have that achievement behind us at this stage of the Bill.

I hope, in that respect, that nobody will actually finely read the Bill if it goes through in its present form. If they get to the fine print they will encounter the point that we were arguing about earlier about arbitrations being extremely difficult and acrimonious over the meaning of "appreciable scarcity". In such circumstances I hope that, as happens now, arbitrators will use their common sense and use the Bill only as a guideline, and that the Bill will be forgotten as regards its small print and the dangers that it could cause.

There are two matters about which I am very upset and which we have found in recent weeks could contribute in a direction contrary to the intentions of the Bill. I agree with my noble friend Lord John-Mackie that the Bill will have very little effect on the number of tenancies. But there are two matters that will have an effect in the contrary sense and one of them was announced during the course of the debates. We know that 10 per cent. of land is under institutional and public sector ownership. I will not give the figures, but Government departments, local authorities, Crown and religious institutions, conservation authorities, financial institutions and so on, together own 10 per cent. This is a very important bedrock of the tenanted sector—very important indeed. It is the foundation for keeping a reasonable tenanted sector throughout agriculture. But during the course of the debate it was announced that the Government intend to sell off their tenanted sector to owner-occupiers. It really is a bit much to come before the House and say, "We want to preserve the tenanted sector, but we shall lead the way as the Government by doing the exact opposite". It is very hard for us to stomach that.

Secondly, we saw that on Monday in The Times there was an announcement that one county authority is planning to sell 15,000 acres possibly to owner-occupiers. But again there is no Government guidance that the better thing to do is to sell the land to an institution that will keep it in the tenanted sector as one block. How much better a solution that would have been! Moreover—and this is going in the same direction—when we pressed the Minister to say that he would give guidance to local authorities in this matter, he said, "We can't interfere with local government any more". We felt heartbroken for him in view of how far the Government have gone in that matter.

It is rather hard to have a Government saying that they want to preserve the tenanted sector, but leading the troops in the opposite direction as regards these two vital matters. There are these 15,000 acres under Government control and we suggested that they could have been handed over to the Crown Estates Commissioners and formed the basis for putting another extra rung in the ladder of farming opportunity. Now those acres are going to be sold off to owner-occupiers. What a tragedy! It is not a very good start for this Bill, as much as we congratulate the noble Lord on the way in which he has handled it in the House.

Lord Middleton

My Lords, I did not plan to speak, but the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, has just paid me some compliments for which I thank him. However, I am not sure that I am too happy about them, because I must say to your Lordships that I do not accept in any way whatever that I have been trying, during the passage of the Bill in your Lordships' House, to undermine the common view that was reached by our industry as a whole as to how to rescue the landlord/tenant system and the recommendations that were made by the industry to Government. If I have done anything during the passage of this Bill, I have endeavoured to increase their effectiveness.

5.30 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords. I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Belstead for all the time and trouble that he has taken in listening to, and in some cases accepting, my amendments. We have not agreed on everything and I should like to see some further amendments, a matter which I shall pursue. However, the parts of the Bill which I disliked are a great deal better and a great deal more workable than the original parts that were given a Second Reading in this Chamber. That is due largely to his efforts and to those of my noble kinsman Lord Swinton. Landlords and tenants—in fact, the whole of agriculture—have cause to be grateful to them.

The Bill has given us the opportunity to discuss many of the points raised in the report of the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, and doubtless in more detail than he thought possible at one time. We are all grateful to him for his very considerable help and experience. I hope that, whatever the divisions that have been caused in the past few months within the industry as a result of this Bill's parentage, they will soon be healed; but it will take movement on all sides. Those involved will have to sway some very entrenched opinion, and I particularly draw to the attention of the House the letter to which the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, referred earlier. There are far too many other pressures on farming, and for those involved not to provide a more united front will only exacerbate the situation.

Finally, let us spare a thought for those who have to implement this legislation—the surveyors. Much has been said about them and perhaps I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, my old friend Lord Stanley of Alderley, and any other Doubting Thomases with the words spoken by Winston Churchill in 1932, but which are equally applicable today: A love of justice and equity and a firm resolve to deal with every issue on its true merits, without fear, favour or affection, are inseparable from the rightful discharge of a surveyor's duty.".

Lord Sandford

My Lords, I should also like to congratulate my noble friend on the Front Bench on his courtesy and doggedness in handling this Bill and to thank him for three things. First, I should like to thank him for rating me up to the rank of Viscount—it was unexpected recognition at an unexpected moment—and to thank him on behalf of those of us who sought to persuade him that this was a good moment to modify this legislation so that it allowed agriculture to have more regard for conservation, both as regards estate management practised by the landlord and as regards the husbandry as practised by the tenant farmer.

At various stages in the Bill I have suggested to my noble friend that the same recognition is due to the importance which both the landlord and the farmer should attach to the value of diversifying the enterprise on the farm into other things besides purely production of food. Since the last stage I have had a further meeting with my noble friend and I am encouraged to hope that that is a matter which might he dealt with in another place. I am most grateful to my noble friend.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, very briefly, I should like to thank your Lordships for your words on the conclusion of this Bill. I acknowledge the value of the experience which your Lordships' House has to give to a Bill of this kind. Perhaps it is best exemplified by the fact that at one moment during the lengthy debates of the House on this Bill I counted no fewer than eight former Ministers of Agriculture in the House. Of course, throughout the whole of the proceedings we have had the benefit of the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, whose report has been so important to this matter over the past few years, but in particular to the proceedings in your Lordships' House. The Government Front Bench count themselves fortunate to have the noble Lords, Lord John-Mackie, Lord Bishopston and Lord Prys-Davies, opposing, because the opposition is always tough but it is always self-evidently fair.

Very briefly, I would just make these points in answer to the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie. I believe that real benefits will flow from this Bill for tenants as for landlords. The fact that the three-generation succession will not apply to new tenancies in the future is a provision which is fair, and it will be a direct encouragement to new lettings in the future. I believe that the ending of multiple succession will mean that more tenancies are likely to become available. I also believe that the arrangements for five-year starter tenancies, which we are providing for by administrative arrangement coincidentally with the passing of this Bill when it goes to another place and when it becomes law, will be to the benefit of tenants. I believe that the greater encouragement for voluntary retirement through the extension of the inter vivos succession arrangements will also help tenants to feel that there will be a greater turnaround of tenancies. I think that a more satisfactory rent formula, clearly designed to reflect arbitrators' current practice, is contrary to the letter to which the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, referred, is substantially a reflection of the agreement which was reached between the NFU and the CLA, and is a sensible and fair formula, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, who has been so extremely helpful and constructive on this Bill, very kindly said.

The noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, asked me a direct question. He produced that formidable document—the graph—which he has had about him during the past few months and asked: did it or did it not represent the exact truth? Well, not exactly, my Lords. I am advised that the decline in the tenanted sector has been much greater in the past seven years since the 1976 Act than it was in the seven years prior to that Act. I think the noble Lord and I would agree that this must stop. I believe that, with the very realistic capital transfer tax relief which has been provided by the Government during the past three years, with the low rate of inflation which we have now achieved, which is of benefit to both sides of the industry, and with the provisions of the Bill, we have a better prospect for the future for more tenancies. In that hope and in that belief I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

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