HL Deb 10 December 1985 vol 469 cc152-4

6.5 p.m.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Belstead) rose to move, That the order laid before the House on 19th November be approved. [3rd Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move this order and, with the agreement of your Lordships, I will speak also to the Agricultural Holdings (Fee) Regulations 1985, as both relate to different areas of agricultural holdings legislation.

Very briefly, so far as the order is concerned, and as your Lordships may be aware, the Law Commission is currently in the process of consolidating the agricultural holdings legislation. During the course of that exercise the commission discovered three discrepancies in the fourth schedule to the Agricultural Holdings Act 1948 that must be rectified before the consolidation Bill presented to the House last week can be considered by the joint committee. The order corrects those discrepancies. The order is entirely technical.

The regulations, however, are rather more substantive. Your Lordships may recall that Section 8 of the Agricultural Holdings Act 1984 provides for the transfer of the agriculture Ministers' responsibility for the appointment of agricultural arbitrators and persons to make records of holdings in England and Wales to the president of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. As your Lordships may remember, that provision was debated at considerable length during the passage of the legislation in 1984. However, the Government made it clear during those debates that the transfer of functions would not take place for at least a year after the enactment of the new legislation, in order that the industry should not be faced with too many changes at once. In the light of those assurances my right honourable friend announced on 18th December 1984 that the transfer would take effect from 1st January 1986. The necessary commencement order was made on 24th October 1985.

The 1984 Act states that each application for an appointment must be accompanied by the prescribed fee. The purpose of the second regulation is to set that fee at £70. Clearly, a fee of this nature should not be revised too frequently and your Lordships will I hope he pleased to know that the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has given an undertaking that unless anything unforeseen occurs, that fee will be able to stand unamended for the next five years. I beg to move.

Moved, That the order laid before the House on 19th November be approved. [3rd Report from the Joint Committee.]—(Lord Belstead.)

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, we do not need to delay the House over these two orders. As the Minister rightly pointed out, they are simply designed to correct matters. There is one rather amusing sentence in the first order, where it states that sheep, have developed an instinct not to stray". If any animal tends to stray, it is a sheep, and I wonder how long it takes before a sheep gains that instinct. I believe that it will be only after most of its useful life before a sheep ever develops the instinct not to stray.

I note that paragraph 3(3)(a) states that there shall be substituted the words: In areas of the country where arable crops can be grown in an unbroken series of not less than six years, and it is reasonable that they should be grown on the holding or part thereof". Is that to allow for the fact that arable crops are being grown on land where they have previously not been grown and have been found to be successful? What is the reason for that provision?

As to the second order, I would comment only that at one time a fee of £70 would have paid for an arbitrator instead of just for an application to an arbitrator. It seems a very high fee, but no doubt it is calculated on the basis of inflation. Apart from those small points, I believe that we can allow these orders to go through.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the answer to the noble Lord's question concerning the six-year period is that the fourth schedule, which is the subject of the first order, rests on a relatively new concept, giving outgoing tenants in arable areas credit for improving the fertility within the soil by leaving more land under leys than normal farming practice in the area would dictate. That is the answer to the question that the noble Lord put to me.

On Question, Motion agreed to.