Clause 85. — (Interpretation.)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28th April 1948.

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Photo of Mr James Reid Mr James Reid , Glasgow Hillhead 12:00 am, 28th April 1948

I beg to move, in page 64, line 47, at the end, to insert: Providing also where any person is required to incur expenditure on land which has only become agricultural land by virtue of designation under this Subsection that person may appeal to the Land Court within twenty-eight days on the ground that such expenditure will not yield an economic return and if the Land Court sustain the appeal the appellant shall not be required to incur that expenditure. This Bill contains a great number of provisions with regard both to landlords and to tenants of agricultural land which may be highly onerous and expensive. When we were considering whether these provisions were justified in the public interest, I have not the least doubt that every Member of the Committee had in mind land which is agricultural at this moment and is agricultural when the inspector goes to see whether the landlord and the tenant have been doing their job properly. We adjusted the Clauses in the Bill on the footing that they applied to land of that character. Now, when we come to the definition of "agricultural land" in Clause 85, it is found to include every other kind of land as well, in certain events. It includes not only land which is agricultural in the ordinary sense now, but, land … which is designated by the Secretary of State for the purposes of this Subsection … as land which in the opinion of the Secretary of State ought to be brought into use for agriculture. That is to say, this Bill applies not only to agricultural land proper, but to any other kind of land which the Secretary of State thinks might be turned over from its present use to agricultural purposes.

9.0 p.m.

We did not, and I do not now, take any exception to the Secretary of State having that very wide power, because in the present food situation of this country it is obvious that some power of that sort may turn out to be very useful in certain cases. What I say is that, if we try to apply this Bill to that kind of land, we must watch what we are doing. Now, that kind of land, of course, will not be acquired for agriculture. It has never been used for agriculture before; therefore, putting into operation all the provisions of this Bill on land of that character will be much more difficult and expensive than it would be on land which is already agricultural, and on which the equipment only wants a certain amount of renovating or extension to bring it up to date. Therefore, it seems to us proper to put some limitation on the power of the Secretary of State to direct uneconomic expenditure, up to certain limits.

We had a discussion about that, and we came to a reasonably fair arrangement, under which if the expenditure is above a certain limit there is an appeal to the Land Court, except in the case of Clause 34, which is the emergency Clause. There, I am bound to say I think the Bill is still defective, because it leaves the Secretary of State entitled to put upon existing occupiers uneconomic burdens without their having any right of appeal for relief. The Secretary of State's defence was, "This is an emergency matter which may arise at short notice, so that I have not time to wait for an appeal." Here, we have a different story. This is not an emergency provision. This is a provision in the ordinary course. We propose that where any person is required to incur expenditure on land which only becomes agricultural because the Secretary of State says it is to be so, then that person may appeal to the Land Court on the ground that the expenditure will be uneconomic, and he ought not to be compelled to incur expenditure of that character.

I would not mind if the right hon. Gentleman would accept this Amendment subject to some limitation of amount. I do not think there should be appeals on small amounts, and if the Secretary of State wished to make a qualification of that kind I should not object. It is quite clear that to take a piece of land which has never been agricultural before and, by means of a direction, try to bring it up to the standard set in this Bill, may produce an astonishing amount of expenditure on a quite small acreage, which will not approach being economical at the end of the day. If the national necessity requires us to incur capital expenditure of that sort, then something ought to be done to assist, and the burden ought not to fall on an individual. In our present state, when capital expenditure is being limited for economic reasons, I should doubt whether this would happen; but it may be that we shall get out of our financial crisis before we get out of our food crisis—I do not know what may happen—and, if we did, it might be that the Secretary of State would start directing people to incur very large capital expenditure without their having any recourse at all, so far as I can see, in a certain event. In certain events there will be an appeal, I agree; but I am not at all clear that the Bill, as it stands, gives a general right of appeal, and if it does not, I think that there ought to be such a right.

Photo of Mr John Wheatley Mr John Wheatley , Edinburgh East

Even if we were prepared to accept this Amendment, I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman will agree that it cannot be included in this part of the Bill, which is the interpretation Clause. That is merely a minor point, and if it were the only objection, it could have been overcome. As I have said, we cannot accept this Amendment, because we must remember that the Secretary of State enjoys the presumption, in fact and in law, of being a reasonable man, and he is not going to design land which will not give an economic return, looking to the future and to the development of the land. I would remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the Secretary of State takes powers to acquire land compulsorily under Clause 46, or to serve a direction in respect of good husbandry and estate management, in which case there is the right of appeal on the part of the landlord or tenant. Accordingly, it seems quite unnecessary to give this further right of appeal to the Land Court. If there is to be this right of appeal to the Land Court, the work of the Land Court will become even more full and complicated, which, in the circumstances, I do not consider justified.

Photo of Mr James Reid Mr James Reid , Glasgow Hillhead

I understand the Lord Advocate has given an undertaking that the Secretary of State will act reasonably in this matter, in the sense that he will not direct uneconomic expenditure. If that is an undertaking, I am prepared to withdraw the Amendment.

Photo of Mr John Wheatley Mr John Wheatley , Edinburgh East

I said "economic," taking the long-term point of view, but we cannot gauge that during the currency of the first year or two of acquisition. I can give an undertaking that the Secretary of State will not design land unless it can be put to good agricultural use, bearing in mind the future long-term policy.

Photo of Mr James Reid Mr James Reid , Glasgow Hillhead

On the footing that there is an undertaking, taking the long-term view, that there will be no direction for any uneconomic expenditure, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.