Application of Following Sections of Part Ii

Orders of the Day — Clause 17 – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th October 1976.

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Lords amendment: No. 3, in page 21, line 6, after second "the" insert "sole (or sole surviving)".

Photo of Mr Oscar Murton Mr Oscar Murton , Poole

With this, we may take the consequential Government amendment, in page 22, line 36, leave out paragraph (a).

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Amendment No. 3 is a drafting amendment which has been put in the Bill by the Lords at the request of the landowners' representatives. They felt that the original drafting was obscure, might cause confusion and have unforeseen consequences. The amendment does not alter the intentions of the Bill in any way and I am happy to accept the revised drafting which they find preferable.

As a consequence, it will be necessary —by Government amendment—to delete subsection 5(a) of Clause 17 since it covers the same ground as Amendment No. 3. Clearly it is unnecessary and confusing for the same point to be covered twice in the same manner.

Photo of Mr Michael Jopling Mr Michael Jopling , Westmorland

We welcome what the Minister has said, though he did not say that there was a Division in another place on this matter when the Government were defeated by 101 votes to 48. We very much welcome their change of heart and what the Minister has said.

Question put and agreed to.

Amendment made: In page 22, line 36, leave out paragraph (a).—[Mr. Strang.]

Lords amendment: No. 4, in page 21, line 12, leave out paragraph (d).

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

I beg to move, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment.

This is a scheme for family inheritance designed to avoid hardship when a tenant farmer dies by giving his close relatives the right to apply for the tenancy.

The paragraph which is deleted by the Lords amendment covers an important category of near relative namely the "treated child" which it is appropriate should be included in the scheme and is worded in accordance with the precedent contained in the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. The treated child may well have been treated by the tenant as his own child and it would be grossly unfair to deny him the same rights as any other person within the close family circle. To do so would make him a second-class citizen in relation to the scheme and would be quite unjustified. Moreover it would be out of line with the recent precedent set by Parliament in this respect.

We went over this matter in detail in Committee and on Report. Rather than detain the House by going over the Government's arguments in more detail, I shall leave it there.

Photo of Mr Michael Jopling Mr Michael Jopling , Westmorland

As the Minister has said, this is familiar ground to many of us. We discussed this matter at some length in Committee and on Report and we welcome the fact that another place decided that the arguments used by some of us in this House were correct. We very much welcome this opportunity to try to persuade the Government to change their mind. This amendment had the biggest majority in all the votes on this Bill in another place.

Before discussing the amendment, I should like to take up the opportunity which Mr. Speaker made available at the beginning of our consideration of this Bill today. I raised with him the difficulty of our interpretation of the way in which another place hands down its decisions to us.

I told Mr. Speaker that during the Committee stage in another place an amendment was moved to leave out the letter (d) in line 41 of page 21 and to replace it with the letter (c). This is a substantial amendment and it would be possible to argue that it was restricting the definition of an eligible person.

In Clause 17(1), there is no suggestion that the four categories mentioned there are eligible persons. Our argument is that this amendment, which has not been handed down to us, is very important.

I understand from the Table Office that the opinion in another place is that this is a drafting amendment, but I believe that we are entitled to ask the Government why, if it is a drafting amendment, it was called in another place. In fact, Hansard shows that the amendment was moved and carried. It is a pity that such confusion is allowed to arise on these matters. Earlier, Mr. Speaker said that he will look at the whole affair. I hone that better arrangements can be sorted out between this House and another place.

6.30 p.m.

Photo of Mr Oscar Murton Mr Oscar Murton , Poole

This might be an appropriate moment for me to make a statement in this connection. This House can deal only with such amendments made by the Lords as are formally communicated to it in a message from the Lords. It is clear that no amendment in page 21, line 41, has been communicated to this House. It is therefore equally clear that we cannot consider this amendment.

Since this matter was originally raised by the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling), the Clerk's Department, from greater caution, has been in touch informally with the Lords authorities, who confirm that the amendment in page 21, line 41, was omitted advisedly from the amendments communicated to this House, as it was regarded by the Lords as more properly a printing amendment. However that may be, this House cannot deal with or consider an amendment which has not been communicated to it.

The only course that I can suggest is that the hon. Gentleman should ask his noble Friend who moved this amendment in the Lords to raise the matter with the authorities there.

Photo of Mr Michael Jopling Mr Michael Jopling , Westmorland

We are obliged to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the trouble that you have taken to acquaint us with that view and to the Clerk's Department for the trouble which I know the officials have taken.

I should like to make only one comment before moving on. I find it strange to hear this described as a printing amendment. In fact, the noble Lord described it as a consequential amendment. I should have thought that there was a considerable difference between a consequential amendment and a printing amendment. No doubt this matter can be discussed with the authorities. I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the advice that you have given to me.

Mr. Mark Hughes:

Further to the ruling that you have just given, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Do I understand that, if we pass the Bill, it will exclude paragraph (c) in line 41 and will say "(a) to (c)"? If we have no power to alter what another place has done, and the Bill leaves this Chamber reading, in line 41, he falls within paragraphs (a) to (c) of subsection (1) above", that would place me in an unacceptably difficult position. I should be grateful for your clarification on that matter.

Photo of Mr Norman Buchan Mr Norman Buchan , Renfrewshire West

It is the other way round.

Mr. Mark Hughes:

No. It has been amended in the Lords and we are not allowed to make any change.

Photo of Mr Oscar Murton Mr Oscar Murton , Poole

I understand that this situation would not arise if the House were discussing a motion to agree with the Lords in the said amendment". However, the House is discussing a motion to disagree with the Lords in the said amendment".

Mr. Mark Hughes:

I am not certain whether I made myself clear. We are at the moment discussing Lords Amendment No. 4 which seeks to leave out paragraph (d). However, among other amendments which have not been committed to us is this one which would leave out the reference to paragraph (d) in page 21, line 41. As I understand your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because we may not discuss a matter which has not been referred to us we are not empowered to make the alteration which would restore the reference to paragraph (d) in line 41. It we are not permitted to restore the reference to paragraph (d), although we may debate restoring it in line 12, we are in the ridiculous position that we can put it back in one place and have it excluded in another and not even be able to debate it.

I may have got the wrong end of a lot of sticks, but that is as I read it at the moment.

Photo of Mr Oscar Murton Mr Oscar Murton , Poole

The motion that we are discussing, if agreed to, would have the effect of restoring that paragraph.

Mr. Mark Hughes:

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Photo of Mr Michael Jopling Mr Michael Jopling , Westmorland

Regarding what the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes) said, I was nurturing secret hopes that precisely what he said might happen and that in line 41 we should see the Bill referring to paragraphs (a) to (c). That would have suited me extremely well.

I shall proceed with the motion that we had begun to discuss.

This amendment was agreed by what I think was the biggest majority in any of the votes on the Bill. I was interested to see that the mover of the amendment in another place had the support of most other parties. I noticed Labour names. In fact, the Liberal Party in another place came out almost unanimously in support of the amendment. That caused me to smile a little, because in this House the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells) did not feel able to support it and did not vote on it in Committee. In another place I understand that there were nine Liberal names supporting the amendment. Therefore, I hope that today we shall hear that the hon. Member for Cardigan will be leading his colleagues into the Lobby behind us. We were disappointed that he was unable to be present in Committee, but better late than never.

The definition of those who are likely to be eligible to succeed to a tenancy on the death of the tenant has become something of a moveable feast since these matters were first discussed at the end of November last year. When this affair was first brought to the attention of the House, just before Second Reading on 1st December, we were all talking about whether the son of the landlord should be able to succeed.

As we talked more and more about sons succeeding, knowing that we live in the days of female equality, most of us understood that that would be taken to include a daughter of the tenant as well. A little later it grew again and we started to include the spouse of the deceased tenant, the brother or the sister. These matters did not cause us too much difficulty.

I am trying to show that, when these proposals were first mooted, the categories of close relatives of the deceased tenant who could apply for the tenancy were more confined than they have become. Indeed, on 3rd February, when the Minister announced that the Government were proposing to introduce new clauses covering these succession matters, he said: It will enable a close relative of a deceased tenant who has the requisite agricultural experience, health and financial standing to run the farm efficiently, and who has worked on the farm for a significant period of years, to apply to the Agricultural Land Tribunal for consent to succeed to the tenancy."—[Official Report, Standing Committee C, 3rd February 1976; c. 420.] That seemed fairly confined. When we had a debate on the Floor of the House on 8th March 1976, the Secretary of State for Wales, who came in the absence of the Minister, said: First, it seems to me that in social or human terms a claim to succeed to a tenancy, if the main purpose is to avoid possible hardship, is likely to have real strength only in the case of a near relative, such as a wife or husband, son or daughter, in which I would include adopted or step-son or step-daughter or brother or sister. After all, we do not in normal daily life regard the kinship of a nephew or cousin on the same plane of proximity as that of the really close relatives that I have mentioned, and this seems to me to be a relevant distinction in the present context."—[Official Report, 8th March 1976; Vol. 907, c. 47–8.] That again was an extension. We thought at the time that we knew where we were, but, when the new clauses were laid before us, we found that they contained an even wider description of the category. It appears in Clause 17(1)(d), whereby a "treated child" can also he included among those who can apply for the tenancy. That seemed to us to be a strange extension.

We made it clear in Committee that we thought that this definition went very much wider. Subsection (1)(d) says: Any person (not within (b) or (c) above)"— that is, a brother or sister or child of the deceased— who, in the case of any marriage to which the deceased was at any time a party, was treated by the deceased as a child of the family in relation to that marriage". We thought that it went very much wider indeed, and repeatedly expressed our concern about the implications.

When the Parliamentary Secretary replied, he said: … but also a child who has been treated as a member of the family, should be similarly classified for the purpose of this legislation."—[Official Report, Standing Committee C, 18th March 1976; c. 868.] That went infinitely wider still, and it was because we were opposed to this tremendous extension that we voted at the time against the inclusion of the "treated child". We still feel strongly that many abuses could arise under the definition in paragraph (d).

We were again alarmed on Report, when the Minister of State said: A treated child can include a stepchild, foster child or a child taken in without formal adoption, provided the child was treated by the deceased for any length of time as a child of the family in relation to any marriage of the deceased. It seems that there is opportunity of abuse here, and I base my argument largely on the Minister's own definition in that quotation. He said that it would include … a child taken in without formal adoption, provided the child was treated by the deceased for any length of time as a child of the family …"—[Official Report, 5th May 1976; Vol. 910, c. 1424.] We believe that this would be an opportunity for a young person to buy into the tenancy of a farm.

Nowadays, most young people wanting to start farming only have the opportunity to do so through a tenancy. The price of land has risen to such a height that relatively few people are able to start farming by buying land. Therefore, a tenancy is almost their only way in. I can well envisage that this definition could give rise to the abuses we have referred to.

A father who wanted to get a farm for his son could well go to an elderly tenant and offer him a premium to take in that son, before the son was 18 years old, to work on the farm, with the tenant and his wife treating him as "one of the family"—a phrase which Ministers have constantly used. I can well see that this would be an open door for an older tenant without children, whereby he and his wife could, for a cash consideration, take in a child before that child was 18 years old. It could cause tremendous abuse and provide a very profitable sideline for tenants who wish to make use of it—[Interruption.] The Minister of State is saying something that I cannot hear. If he does not agree, perhaps he will say so. He should certainly say so, because it is his definition which will cause the trouble.

6.45 p.m.

I have referred before to another instance in which this clause could act in a way which is not intended. I refer once more to the situation which I believe exists on a good many farms. During the war, young girls who were members of the Women's Land Army went on to farms. Some of them have lived as family with the tenant and his wife ever since. It seems to me that such a girl, who is, in effect, employed on the farm but is living in as family, could, under this definition, provided that she went on the farm before she was 18 years old, claim the tenancy on the death of the tenant. I am sure that that is not what was intended and it would be quite wrong. I hope that the Government will change their minds even at this late stage. They changed their minds on the last amendment and I hope that they will do so again.

Photo of Mr Norman Buchan Mr Norman Buchan , Renfrewshire West

I hope that the Government will not change their minds. Throughout the proceedings on the Bill, the Opposition have tried to whittle down the number of people who could inherit a tenancy under these provisions. They tried again in the House of Lords, by trying to remove the term "treated child". I applaud the Government, not only for keeping it in the Bill, but for their humanity in including it in the first place. The attempt by the Opposition to distinguish between legality and humanity is nauseating.

In the debate in another place, the Duke of Atholl said: It seems to me that this subsection goes much too far."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 14th June 1976; Vol. 371, c. 945.] One might point out that half the dukedoms of England would not exist but for the illegitimate children of King Charles II, every one of whom would have been cut out from inheritance if the attitude of the present Opposition had prevailed then. Why should they now try to cut off the inheritance of a child who has grown up on a farm as a member of the family? I cast no aspersions on the Duke of Atholl—I do not know his origins—but what I have said is true of half the dukedoms of England.

Photo of Mr Michael Jopling Mr Michael Jopling , Westmorland

Surely the case of illegitimate children comes under paragraph (c). It does not arise under paragraph (d).

Photo of Mr Norman Buchan Mr Norman Buchan , Renfrewshire West

This is becoming a matter of English. The provision says: … who, in the case of any marriage to which the deceased was at any time a party …". I remind the hon. Gentleman that two people are involved in a marriage. There is not only the tenant but the person he marries. I come back to the dukedom analogy. It was from the women that these dukedoms were inherited. The hon. Gentleman should read up his history.

The Government should be supported in retaining this provision and complimented on introducing it. I cannot understand the hon. Gentleman's argument that there could be a profitable sideline here. We have just been discussing fish farming, and now the Opposition are trying to draw an analogy with child farming. In putting the Government's case in another place, my noble Friend Lord Melchett was right except for one thing, and that was when he said: I am sorry if I did not make myself clear. I am quite certain that the tenant would have to be married and treat the child as a child of that marriage before the child would be eligible. As I understand it, even in the case in which it was not necessarily a child of the marriage but was treated in the family as being one of the children of the family, it would be so considered. My noble Friend Lord Paget, made precisely this point when he said: It seems to me quite outrageous that, for instance, in a case where there is a tenant who is living with his mother or his sister, or indeed his deceased wife's sister, and there is a child who is brought up in that farming family"— it has nothing to do with the situation postulated in earlier discussions but just living there on the farm and treated as a child— and works on the farm, running it with the father, one should say, 'Oh no, he doesn't count because there isn't a marriage to relate him to.'". My noble Friend is talking there of this precise business of descending from a marriage.

The wording of the Bill, treated by the deceased as a child of the family in relation to that marriage does not necessarily mean only in the case of an offspring of that marriage, but however it came into the family group, whether by adoption or without the formality of adoption. It can be so treated.

My noble Friend, having said that the child cannot be said not to count because there is not a marriage to relate him to asks: Why the hell should there be a marriage to relate to? Why on earth should this clause not read:'…any person who was treated by the deceased as a child of the family'?"—[Official Report, House of Lords, 14th June 1976; Vol. 371, c. 949–53.] I agree with Lord Paget. He approached it from the opposite point of view because he wished to widen it.

Photo of Mr Norman Buchan Mr Norman Buchan , Renfrewshire West

I wish the hon. Member would read the debate. It seems to me that that is the interpretation that we must come up with on the Bill, because treated by the deceased as a child of the family in relation to that marriage does not necessarily mean the direct offspring of that marriage.

It is interesting to hear the Tory Party on the question of legality, considering their origin. I think that the Government must be supported and applauded on this measure. It would be monstrous if a child brought up on a farm, treated as a member of the family and working on the farm, could be excluded because there was no technicality of adoption, or no technicality of legality concerning his birth.

The hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling), in stressing the importance of entry to farming, said that for many people tenancy was the only way in. Apparently he feels that this should be left open as the only way in, except for the child who has been working on the farm. I wish that he would listen to other advisers than members of the Young Farmers' Club.

I hope that the Government will stand by the clause, and that the Conservatives will get a whacking in the Division. I hope that we shall have more emphasis on humanity in the future, and fewer attempts to cut down a progressive measure.

Photo of Mr Charles Morrison Mr Charles Morrison , Devizes

The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) seems to be attracted by the wideness of the provision, but it leaves uncertainty in my mind. It seems to me that the Government have set out to widen the provision for the succession of tenancies to the maximum possible extent, but that, having set out with that objective, they were not certain where to stop. What they have done, therefore, is to draft a most imprecise subsection, almost with the intention of leaving it to the tribunal or to the courts to make the decision as to what is meant.

Obviously, one can understand the argument in favour of Clause 17(1)(a), (b) and (c). Indeed, very often the type of succession set out in these paragraphs is precisely what happens. The provisions were voted against because, when put into legislative form, they have the effect of reducing the discretion of the landowner. Although these paragraphs are very often normal practice, paragraph (d) creates tremendous uncertainty about the potential successor, and in consequence will give rise to enormous scope for litigation.

The worst aspect of all—touched upon by my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling)—is that it will act as a disincentive to new lettings. The earlier paragraphs leave the landowner in a position in which he knows where he stands, but paragraph (d) does not leave him in that position.

Mr. Mark Hughes:

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that there are landowners in this country whose knowledge of their tenants is so scanty that they would not recognise that a child is being treated as a member of the family?

Photo of Mr Charles Morrison Mr Charles Morrison , Devizes

But the landlord is not in a position to make the decision. The decision will be made by the Agricultural Land Tribunal. It is because of this uncertainty that I am so opposed to the Bill on this point.

My concern in opposition has been increased by the comments made by Lord Melchett in another place, when he was endeavouring to reply to the debate. As I read it, he did not really know what was meant by a treated child. It was at column 947 that he mentioned that a treated child could include not only a step-child and a foster child but also a child taken in without formal adoption. Later, he referred at column 949 to the point made by the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West, and again, at column 953, he spoke in reference to a treated child.

I do not think that Lord Melchett, when replying to the debate, therefore, added any certainty to the intentions of the provision. Indeed, he increased the fog very considerably. I believe that, in consequence of this, as I have already said, there is immense potential for litigation—although it seems unlikely that litigation will take place, simply because landlords in future will be much less inclined to let land than they have been in the past.

If there is one subsection in the Bill which sounds the death knell of the landlord-tenant system, it is this one. Some people say that the system is virtually dead now. I do not accept that.

Photo of Mr Norman Buchan Mr Norman Buchan , Renfrewshire West

The hon. Gentleman spoke of the death knell of the landlord-tenant system, and earlier he referred to the dearth of new tenancies. He is saying, in effect, that he would prefer the choice of the landlord, rather than the treated child which might be the choice of the Agricultural Land Tribunal, but it might still be a new tenant farmer.

Photo of Mr Charles Morrison Mr Charles Morrison , Devizes

It would be a new tenant farmer, as a result of the Bill, but it would be a tenant farmer who would not necessarily be the choice of the landowner. That is what the hon. Gentleman wants, and that is what I do not want. I accept that there is a simple difference between us on this point. What I am emphasising, or endeavouring to emphasise, is that, because of the provisions in the Bill, particularly this provision and the uncertainty that it produces, it is certain that in future when a landlord has an option—he will not have that option very often—he will decide not to relet his land but will take it in hand himself. That may be no bad thing, but undoubtedly it will have the effect of reducing the number of farms available for letting and, therefore, of reducing the number of opportunities for young farmers. The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West may think that is a good thing, but I do not.

I do not think that the landlord tenant system is dead yet. Indeed, if it is dying it is because of the actions of this Government. In spite of that, I am certain that the Bill as it stands, and if it continues to exist in this form, will indeed hasten the end of a system which has stood the agricultural industry in very good stead for many years.

7 p.m.

Photo of Mr Caerwyn Roderick Mr Caerwyn Roderick , Brecon and Radnor

I merely want to make a couple of brief remarks. It was quite atrocious for the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) to suggest that, in a way, there should be a form of slave trade in human beings whereby they would buy into succession rights. The hon. Gentleman talked of abuses of this kind. The people with whom I associate in farming do not normally get involved in such activities. The hon. Gentleman must be living in a very different world if he thinks that that kind of thing would be tolerated. He totally ignores the fact that the Agricultural Land Tribunal will be the last judge of the situation and that it will be in a position to see whether a person had the right of succession. If a person is a member of a family, and has been recognised as a member of a family, he surely has the same rights to succession as anyone else.

The hon. Member for Westmorland aimed some remarks at my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) and indicated that the noble Lord, Lord Paget, was in support of the amendment. If the hon. Member for Westmorland will read column 953 of the debate on 14th June in the House of Lords he will note that the Lord Paget was advocating rights of succession outside marriage which went way beyond what the Conservative Party is prepared to support.

Photo of Mr Michael Jopling Mr Michael Jopling , Westmorland

If the hon. Gentleman looks at column 956 of the report from another place he will see that the Lord Paget of Northampton voted in favour of this amendment. That is all that I have said. If the hon. Gentleman is trying to put another construction on that, then that is a matter for him. All I have said is that this amendment was supported by the Lord Paget.

Photo of Mr Caerwyn Roderick Mr Caerwyn Roderick , Brecon and Radnor

I am afraid that the hon. Member for Westmorland has turned over a few pages and ignored column 953. What is relevant is what Lord Paget said. He said quite specifically that this amendment did not go far enough, that it was not wide enough and that he was opposing it on those grounds. At least he was against what we were intending to do and wanted to delete that paragraph because he wanted to go much further.

May I simply comment on what the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) said. He was quite clearly opposed to any succession protection. He ought to come clean. He is not simply opposed to rights under this paragraph. He feels that the landlord-tenant regime is ended under the Bill. The hon. Member for Devizes, like his hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland, must be living in a different world from mine because we feel that this will be a new dawn for the landlord-tenant system—certainly in my own area. The hon. Member for Devizes refuses to recognise that an adopted child, which is what this paragraph is mainly about, is a member of a family. I am glad to see that we on this side of the House will retain this paragraph, at least I hope that we do.

Photo of Mr Michael Jopling Mr Michael Jopling , Westmorland

Before the hon. Gentleman sits down—I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will take his point up—I think I am right in saying that paragraph (d) does not include adopted children. It was made perfectly clear in Committee that adopted children are already included in paragraph (c). I think I am right about that.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

Mr. Strang indicated assent.

Photo of Mr Michael Jopling Mr Michael Jopling , Westmorland

I detect the Parliamentary Secretary nodding. The remarks of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor were inadvertent and actually wrong because we are not talking about adopted children in this amendment at all.

Photo of Mr Caerwyn Roderick Mr Caerwyn Roderick , Brecon and Radnor

I think it would be best if my hon. Friend could clarify legally adopted" and "recognised as a member of a family". That is the important category. The argument earlier was that someone could join a family—"buy in" was what was said. Any Agricultural Land Tribunal which could not recognise such a situation does not deserve the name of being a tribunal.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

The central purpose of this clause is to remove the hardship which arises from time to time when a landlord serves an incontestable notice to quit on a deceased tenant, and to remove the hardship which affects a new relative. Throughout our discussions the Opposition have consistently sought to narrow the range of that benefit and to exclude as many relatives as possible from this provision. That seems to be basically their central opposition to this measure.

I must respond briefly to some of the points made by the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling). It is not the case that there was some great advance to the proceedings on this legislation by the range of relatives covered. It is worth pointing out that the original new clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes) referred to spouses and sons and, indeed, grandchildren. Furthermore, it is also worth pointing out that the original new clause as tabled by the Government included "treated child".

Let us be quite clear what this argument is about. If the Opposition have their way in supporting their Lordships on this point, that will mean that foster children, step-children, or any child taken into the family who was not formally adopted—the hon. Member for Westmorland is correct on this narrow point—but treated as a member of the family will be excluded from these provisions. In other words, when it comes to legal status the son's status will be very different, if he is a step-child, than if he is a normal full child of both parents of the marriage. Take, for example, someone such as myself who happens to have a stepson and a son of his own. I do not happen to be a farmer and it does not affect me. Is the hon. Member for Westmorland trying to sustain a case on the basis that we should implement legislation which meant that, no matter how much more interested in the farm the stepson was, the stepson should be excluded from the provisions but the full son should be covered? It would be monstrously unjust to introduce that discrimination between these two members of one family.

I would say in conclusion that this is not some new principle that we are introducing in relation to this legislation. This has been taken out of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. I hope that the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) will understand what the argument is about. We are beginning to get into the realms of fantasy when we talk about a profitable sideline for tenant farmers without children if we bring back the phrase "a treated child".

Photo of Mr William Benyon Mr William Benyon , Buckingham

The Parliamentary Secretary will accept that in the case of a second marriage and a stepson, this could result in a new succession to a tenancy after only five years.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

The hon. Gentleman's point is valid, but I think that he will agree that that observation is a criticism of the central scheme rather than the offensive drawing of a line between a son and a stepson.

Photo of Mr Charles Morrison Mr Charles Morrison , Devizes

The Parliamentary Secretary has laid great stress on the point about stepsons. At the beginning of my remarks, as he may recall, I said that this subsection was very imprecise. He is making my point. If he means a stepson or any other category of relation, why is it not spelled out in more detail in the Bill? As it is drawn, this subsection is bound to lead to a great deal of uncertainty. The Parliamentary Secretary is putting his interpretation on it, but there is no guarantee that anyone else will apply the same interpretation.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

Let me try to be helpful. We are intending that this should cover —this is what it means—a step-child, a foster child or a child taken in without formal adoption, who is treated by the tenant for any length of time as a child of the family in relation to any marriage to which he was at the time a party.

I emphasise that the deceased must have been married at the relevant time for the treated child qualification to apply. For someone to argue that he was a treated child, it is necessary for him to have been a member of the family, and during that period it is necessary for the tenant to have been married.

Perhaps I may briefly develop this matter further. The hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) has a fair point in the sense that not everyone outside this House may be familiar with this legal phrase—I use those words advisedly. It is not something new, and I must keep repeating that. Therefore, we intend to prepare a note on this matter for the tribunal secretaries to issue to anyone who enquires.

I have tried to be helpful and to explain to the Opposition why it would be a great mistake if they were to support their Lordships in this matter.

Photo of Mr Michael Jopling Mr Michael Jopling , Westmorland

I am sorry that after all this time of listening to the arguments from the Opposition side of the House, the Government have still not appreciated that the way in which these clauses are drafted is far too wide. Therefore, I can do no more than invite my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote on this matter.

Question put, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 178, Noes 126.

[For Division List No. 330 see col. 1401]

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendment: No. 5, in page 21, line 16, after "Act" insert (except sections 19(14) and 22(8), which are of general application)".

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

This is a drafting amendment tabled by the Government in another place. The Lord Chancellor's Order-making powers under these subsections are of general application, and the reference to them in Clause 17(1) is therefore not appropriate.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendment: No. 6, in page 21, line 21, leave out subsection (2).

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Photo of Mr Myer Galpern Mr Myer Galpern , Glasgow Shettleston

It will be convenient to consider at the same time Lords Amendment No. 14, in Clause 19, page 27, line 9 at the end insert— (14) Provision shall be made by order under section 73(3) of the Agriculture Act 1947 (procedure of Agricultural Land Tribunals) for requiring any person making an application to such a tribunal under this or the following section to give notice of the application to the landlord of the agricultural holding to which the application relates and to take such steps as the order may require for bringing the application to the notice of other persons interested in the outcome of the application.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

These are purely drafting amendments. Subsection (2) deals with the making of an application to the Agricultural Land Tribunal under Clause 19 or Clause 20. These are procedural matters, and the subsection is therefore better placed in Clause 19 than in Clause 17. The purpose of the amendments is to transfer it accordingly, without alteration.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendment: No. 7, in page 21, line 38, leave out and without prejudice to section 20 of this Act)".

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

I beg to move, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Photo of Mr Myer Galpern Mr Myer Galpern , Glasgow Shettleston

It will be convenient to consider at the same time Lords Amendment No. 15, to leave out Clause 20.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

I remind the House that Clause 20 was inserted in the Bill on Report in this House to meet certain criticisms of the eligibility tests in Clause 17. These criticisms were voiced strongly in Committee by a number of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Roderick), as well as by the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells) on behalf of the Liberal Party.

The criticisms were to the effect that the eligibility tests would be applied rigidly by the Agricultural Land Tribunal. The hon. Member for Cardigan pointed out that in some parts of Wales, including his own constituency, there were many small farms which would not be able to provide the principal source of livelihood for the tenant and his son.

Admittedly, small farms ought to be amalgamated whenever appropriate, but the possibility of amalgamation would be raised by the landlord under the provisions of Clause 21—that is, much later in the proceedings than the consideration of eligibility. Close relatives who have worked on these farms at evenings and weekends, when they could well put in a great many hours of work in a year, ought to be able to apply for the tenancy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Phipps) pointed out the other near miss, if I may call it that—the son who was working on the holding when his father died unexpectedly and who had not had time to complete the full five years' qualifying period. It was to meet these circumstances that we decided to introduce Clause 20.

The clause came under attack in the other place and has been criticised by both the Country Landowners' Association and the National Farmers' Union, mainly because the phrase "to some extent" goes rather wide. This phrase is intended to deal with the applicant who is a near miss on eligibility, but it will also cover the applicant who barely starts to be eligible. This was not our intention. In a somewhat surprising move, which fitted the old adage about throwing out the baby with the bath water, the Opposition in another place threw out the whole clause because they did not like the phrase "to some extent" and one other subsection.

Let me make clear to the House, and to those concerned in another place, that Clause 20 fulfils an important function. It avoids undue rigidity in an area where rigidity is not required, anyway. If a certain amount of sensible discretion is to be given to the Agricultural Land Tribunal, Clause 20 provides the way it ought to be done. The Government are determined, therefore, that it will be in the Bill. On the other hand, we have tried to meet the criticisms of the phrase "to some extent" and of subsection (4). This is covered by the consequential amendments.

7.30 p.m.

The first consequential amendment provides that, instead of the principal source of livelihood test being met "to some extent", it should be satisfied "to a material extent". This tightened wording would exclude from the scheme the applicant who barely starts to qualify as eligible in this respect. It would, however, include the two categories of applicant for whom the clause was designed, namely, the applicant who would have worked on the holding for the full five years but who narrowly missed completing the qualifying period because the tenant died before the five years were up, and the applicant who had established a close link with the working of the holding but who could not get his main livelihood from it because the farm was too small. The applicants in either case would of course have to satisfy the other eligibility tests in Clause 17.

We thought very carefully before deciding on the wording of the amendment, and I believe that the expression we have chosen will meet the criticisms which have been made of the clause as originally drafted without detracting from its purpose. I hope that the House will agree.

I turn to the second amendment, in page 27, line 35, leave out from "person" to end of line 41.

The drafting of subsection (4) was criticised in another place and I admit that it is not readily understandable to the layman. The words from "person" in line 3 of the subsection provide that someone who was deemed by the tribunal to be eligible under Clause 20 could not claim, when his suitability as a tenant was being assessed, to have had more experience on the holding than was actually the case. This is an unlikely contingency which the tribunal could in any event deal with. I must agree that its meaning is obscure and it is better, therefore, for the provision to be left out. The basic effects of the clause will not be changed.

Photo of Mr Francis Pym Mr Francis Pym , Cambridgeshire

Amendment No. 7 is a paving amendment for Amendment No. 15 which in the Lords left out Clause 20 altogether. The other place was entirely right in that decision and I hope that it will be supported in this House. That decision was supported in the Lords by the principal Liberal Peers and I hope that the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells) will take the same line tonight, unlike that which he took on the vote on the matter which we have just decided.

I have disliked new Clause 20 all along. As I said on Report, at least the principle behind it should be carefully considered. I do not like it, not only because of what it seeks to do, but because of how it seeks to do it. It is a bad way of legislating.

Clause 17 sets out the circumstances and conditions in which certain relatives of a deceased tenant can seek to obtain succession of the tenancy. There is no general agreement on either the principle or the details of Clause 17. There are many opinions on the matter. We think that it is in any case too wide and that no regard is paid to the landlord or the landlord's son.

There is a definition of "eligible person" in Clause 17 and, whether one agrees with it or not, it is a clear definition. But, a few clauses later, Clause 20 deals with applicants who are "not fully eligible". That makes a legislative nonsense. Clause 17 refers to an applicant being required to have worked a continuous period of not less than five years, or two or more discontinuous periods together amounting to not less than five years, derived from his agricultural work on the holding or on an agricultural unit of which the holding forms part Clause 20 alters and weakens that definition on the basis of saying that if someone is not able to fulfil the definition of eligibility he should be considered on a more lenient basis. That is not wise and means that an ineligible person is to he treated in some circumstances as an eligible person.

There is another definition in Clause 20(6). Clause 17 refers to an applicant's "principal source of livelihood" being derived from his agricultural work on the holding or on an agricultural unit of which the holding forms part. But Clause 20(6) enables people who do not fulfil that condition to be released from it and considered as though they had fulfilled it. Surely it is unsatisfactory to have a definition in one clause which is then weakened in vague terms in another clause.

Even without Clause 20 the changes implied in Part II are major and will have far-reaching effects. But Clause 20 makes it worse. It formed no part of the discussion that the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary had with outside organisations and interested parties before Part II was published. Interested parties in agriculture think that Clause 20 is a mistake.

The Government are going too far even without Clause 20 because the eligibility test is wide enough already. I know that the NFU supports the clause, but that support is mistaken.

This part of the Bill and this clause in particular, together with confiscatory rates of taxation on income and capital, have delivered a body blow to the landlord and tenant system—one of the most successful and enduring arrangements enjoyed by agriculture in any country and which is a direct cause of the real success of the industry in the United Kingdom. That body blow looks like being the most enduring achievement of the last Minister of Agriculture.

I have no objection to the Government's own amendments to Clause 20. I suppose that to a lawyer the alteration of "to some extent" to "a material extent" makes a significant difference but it is still vague and unsatisfactory. I do not like it any more than the existing amendment, but I suppose that it is an improvement in that it is different. The Parliamentary Secretary admitted that the second amendment amounted to jibberish but nothing is lost by omitting those words.

My right hon. and hon. Friends believe that Clause 20 departs from the original intention of this part of the Bill. That cannot be denied and it will give rise to further anomalies and hardships. The original intention of this part of the Bill was to remove the few cases of hardship which occur. But this part of the Bill will increase hardships on individuals and families and Clause 20 will make its own contribution to those hardships and anomalies. We shall therefore press that the amendment be upheld and that Clause 20 should not be part of the Bill.

Photo of Mr William Benyon Mr William Benyon , Buckingham

I support my right hon. Friend. Clause 20 puts the final nail in the coffin of the law of contract. It involves confiscation. I listened with wry amusement during proceedings on the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill to why the Government could not proceed in the case of the Marathon company. They said it was because of the state of the contract. This is confiscation in a sense because it is taking the property of one person and giving it to another. There is no getting round that. There is no getting away from the fact that the clause is the last nail in the coffin. We began with fixed categories of people who could have succession but the definition has been widened out of all recognition. Their Lordships were utterly right to get rid of the clause—they voted in large numbers—and the House should support them.

Photo of Mr Keith Stainton Mr Keith Stainton , Sudbury and Woodbridge

The Parliamentary Secretary remarked that rigidity was not required, that we must look after the marginal cases, and hence the safeguards, the fallback, of Clause 20.

I subscribe to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) said. We need certainty, not rigidity, in this matter. All that we end up with in Clause 20 is obscurity, which the Government recognise, however faintly, by seeking to leave out "some" and insert "a material". Heaven knows precisely what the difference is. I suppose that it is a question of degree, but it remains to be seen what degree.

I plead not for rigidity but for certainty, and therefore I find myself opposed to Clause 20. I intend to vote against the Government motion disagreeing with the Lords and against the Government amendment.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

We take the view that there is a case for flexibility here. We have explained the categories which we should like to be covered by the clause. Furthermore, we believe that we can entrust this element of discretion to the Agricultural Land Tribunal.

If one describes this legislation as confiscation, one is saying that all legislation which strengthens the legal rights of the tenant relative to the landlord is confiscation. Any legislation which makes it harder for the landlord to secure vacant possession of his property is—in the vocabulary of the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon)—confiscation.

Photo of Mr William Benyon Mr William Benyon , Buckingham

Mr. Benyon indicated assent.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

I suppose that the hon. Gentleman is entitled to use the word to convey any meaning that he desires. But—if we may degenerate to the language which I regret is often used in the Press these days to discriminate between extremists and moderates—I think that even some of our great, traditional newspapers might agree with me that that is a somewhat politically extremist use of the word.

Question put, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 173, Noes 120.

[For Division List No. 331 see col. 1403]

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendment: No. 8, in page 22, line 28, after "course" insert: in agriculture or in a subject which would improve his qualification for farming".

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

I beg to move, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment.

The educational concession has caused much discussion both on the Floor of the House and in Committee. I do not intend to go over again the arguments deployed at length in Committee, but I recognise that the amendment is a genuine effort by the other place to find an acceptable compromise between the narrow restriction and no restriction at all. However, I do not believe that the halfway house represented by the amendment is desirable because of the differing standards of subjective judgment that the agricultural land tribunals will apply. How can there possibly be any uniformity in the application of the words or in a subject which would improve his qualification for farming"? During our debate there was reference to esoteric subjects such as archaeology, and it was suggested by Conservative Members that it was inappropriate that that should be seen as a qualification for agriculture. However, when we come to such subjects as engineering, pure science or economics there is much greater scope for arguing that such training is legitimate and appropriate in farming.

What I am saying in no way conflicts with the important speech yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I have a liberal view on education. I believe that many of the people who may have been trained in some of the subjects to which I have referred have gained an experience which could be valuable to them in farming. That is why I and my hon. Friends have held strongly to the view that we should not seek to restrict this educational qualification.

It would not be in the national interest, or in the interest of agriculture, that the son who hopes to succeed to the tenancy in the fullness of time should be discouraged from pursuing his chosen subject for fear that his father might die before he has time to complete the qualifying period of actual work on the holding.

The amendment is unacceptable in principle and because of the practical problems which would arise from it.

Photo of Mr William Benyon Mr William Benyon , Buckingham

When I joined the Navy there was an unwritten rule that the galley never served up twice-cooked meat. I only wish that the same thing applied to legislation. At least their Lordships have tried to get round this problem, and they have taken to heart some of the remarks made during our Committee discussions.

Let me take the Under-Secretary back to March when he said: for example, where the son might want to take a course in business management, or take some of the basic agricultural sciences. Is it really the case that we want to exclude someone who has, perhaps, done a degree in agricultural science but who, having had that experience, wants to live and farm with his father? After all, he will have had to work two years full-time on the holding, in addition to training at university."—[Official Report, Standing Committee C, 25th March 1976; c. 970.] It was for that reason that their Lordships inserted the words in the amendment. That is the answer to the Minister's point. We accept that we are talking about eligibility rather than suitability. The question of suitability will be dealt with by the Agricultural Land Tribunal. We are saying that the degree of uncertainty inherent in the existing wording of the Bill will be greatly reduced if these words are inserted in their stead.

8.0 p.m.

Let me recapitulate the situation. Normally to be eligible an applicant must have five years on the farm, of which three could be at an establishment of higher education. In the worst case there could be a period of two years, when he could be studying Sanskrit or whatever it may be, on which his suitability as a tenant to farm could be assessed. If this happens after a full period of education, it could be anything up to a period of three years earlier to which that experience was related. Therefore, the situation is vague and uncertain.

I have used my experience on occasions, both as an individual and also as a member of a smallholdings committee, in the selection of tenants. There is only one way in which a person can judge, and that is on personal knowledge and judgment of the individual who is applying. That will have to be done by the Agricultural Land Tribunal and the assessment is made on the applicant's professional ability.

Those outside the industry do not realise what damage can be done by a bad or inexperienced farmer, whether he be tenant or owner. The owner entrusts to that person lands and buildings to farm for a long period of time. That person can wreak the most appalling damage, and it may require a great deal of money and time to put it right. The landlord faced with the presence of such a person, is powerless. I know that under the Agricultural Holdings Act an appeal can be made on the grounds of bad farming, but those appeals are rarely made, and if they are they are hardly ever upheld.

Photo of Mr Geraint Howells Mr Geraint Howells , Cardigan

Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that if a young farmer has two years' practical work experience on a farm, and if he carries out that work well and takes a course at a college for a period of three years, he will be a mature person at the end of that period to take over the holding?

Photo of Mr William Benyon Mr William Benyon , Buckingham

That is the whole point of the Lords amendment. It depends on what the person in question was doing. If he has done something outside farming, the only instance in which the tribunal can judge his suitability for the tenancy is where he has carried out practical farming. Farming is a highly technical industry and the standards now required of anybody seeking to enter the industry are great. Unless these words are included, there will be unfairness to the landlord because he will suffer as a result of what happens to the holding, there will be unfairness to the Agricultural Land Tribunal because of the uncertainty and difficulty it will suffer in reaching a judgment, and finally and most important, there will be uncertainty for the applicant. It is much better to tighten the provision and their Lordships' wording should be supported.

Photo of Mr Norman Buchan Mr Norman Buchan , Renfrewshire West

This is a matter of "cauld kail re-het". We have gone over all this ground before, and their Lordships are only giving the House a further opportunity to rehearse that discussion.

Lord Ferrers in moving the amendment in the House of Lords said: If a young man had got fed up with farming and decided to go and do a course on interior decoration and then had gone around London doing up people's flats he would still be eligible for claiming a tenancy … I believe this is an absurdity."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 14th June 1976; Vol. 371, c. 965.] Absurd examples are always used, but the noble Lord gave the game away because the person concerned would still be eligible to claim the tenancy.

The word "eligible" is important in this context The person still has to satisfy other criteria, and that is the first crucial point. The second point is that we are confining the necessity of an agricultural qualification to this one profession. It does not apply to other professions, or even the House of Lords. There needs to be no test or course of any kind to become a Member of the House of Lords. The fact of birth is sufficient. It is a test that we do not apply to other human beings. For that reason the amendment should be rejected.

Incidentally, it is not a test applied to ourselves as Members of the House of Commons. The last Member who entered the House of Commons was a philosopher, and he should make a good Member of Parliament.

Furthermore, we are told that this matter is vague and subjective and will create uncertainty. However, there is no more uncertainty in relation to the person qualifying under the educational aspects than in respect of other qualifications. It is still a matter of eligibility, not an absolute right—in other words, there is no more uncertainty than exists elsewhere. To remove this uncertainty we should have to get rid of the whole proposition in the Bill.

The truth is that the Tory Party is willing to wound but is afraid to strike at the heart of the proposition. On Second Reading debate, in Committee, and even today, Conservatives have still not said directly whether they support or oppose the amendment. This is the seventeenth time I have asked them to say whether they support or oppose the principle. I am willing to be given an answer even at this late stage. But they still will not give that answer and we know why. They will not give it because they represent the landowners and the landlords but still want the farmers' votes. They know that the NFU supports the proposition. Therefore, they have begun, bit by bit, to whittle down these provisions under the guise of sweet reason because they are afraid even now to declare themselves.

Perhaps when the Opposition Front Bench spokesman replies he will say whether he opposes or accepts the principle. That will be an interesting innovation in these debates. Incidentally, the landlords do not pass such a test as they demand of tenant farmers. They do not say that before a landlord's son inherits his estates he must take an agricultural course.

Photo of Mr William Benyon Mr William Benyon , Buckingham

It is his own property, not somebody else's.

Photo of Mr Norman Buchan Mr Norman Buchan , Renfrewshire West

The hon. Gentleman is saying that this has nothing to do with educational qualification or anything else but with the sanctity of property. That is what they are concerned about. At least that is a more honest comment than the remarks that have been made tonight from the Opposition Front Bench. The hon. Gentleman is a Daniel come to judgment.

Photo of Mr Michael Jopling Mr Michael Jopling , Westmorland

It is the landowners' land.

Photo of Mr Norman Buchan Mr Norman Buchan , Renfrewshire West

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wondered whether I should be allowed to continue. It is clear that I have touched on a sensitive issue.

The Opposition are attempting to dodge the main question. I support the Government in their rejection of the amendment. We should not demand only one form of training. It is good that we should seek to introduce a broad and enlightened view into farming circles. It is clear that that is what is needed for the farming representatives of the Tory Party if those who are present are typical examples. I find myself in the unusual position of having supported the Government on almost all occasions over the past year or so. I am astonished at my own moderation.

Photo of Sir Timothy Kitson Sir Timothy Kitson , Richmond (Yorks)

On 8th March the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) was extremely polite when referring to me. I suppose that one should refer to what another Member says about oneself. The hon. Gentleman congratulated me on my speech and suggested that I was the only honest man representing the Opposition in Committee. Apparently I shine out from the murkiness that the hon. Gentleman says is created by my hon. Friends. I thought at the time that it was the kiss of death.

In this place and in another place we have been trying to improve the clause. We are trying to ensure that the efficiency of the industry continues. We believe that, if the clause remains as it stands, it will create inefficiency. Farming in my part of the country is a hard existence. It is not possible for someone to have a year's farming, to decide that he does not like it, to go to university and read something else because he has decided not to stay in farming, and then suddenly, out of the blue, to find that he has a farm available and to return to it, a farm that he had not intended to have anything to do with when he went to university, and take on the running of the farm in an efficient manner.

The young man who goes to university might be a failure at reading languages or at undertaking some other course. However, he might suddenly find that he has a right to go back and farm. We argue that such a situation is not fair on the person who owns the property. Is the best chap taking over the farm? Will the Bill create efficiency for the industry? We say that it will not. That is the argument that we have been putting forward, and surely the Government must recognise it.

Farming is a difficult industry to pursue in any circumstances, and if a person makes up his mind to do something else it is not easy to go back into it. I wish that the Government would recognise that. If I suddenly inherited a boat, I should not go to sea immediately. I should not go down a mine because I had suddenly found that there was a great opportunity under the ground. The same argument applies to agriculture. It is time that the Government recognised that and appreciated that there is much sense in the amendment. I hope that the House will support it.

8.15 p.m.

Photo of Mr Francis Pym Mr Francis Pym , Cambridgeshire

Despite all that the Parliamentary Secretary said, I hope that even at this late hour he will reconsider his position. The hon. Gentleman was wise enough and generous enough to say that the amendment is a genuine attempt on the part of another place to accept the weakness of the original proposals that were identified in the House in Committee and on Report and to go some way towards meeting them by putting in the words contained in the amendment.

The case of my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) is extremely powerful. If words are not added to the Bill such as are contained in the amendment, it means that someone will be eligible who has had only two years' practical experience. We know from Clause 2 that that may be of a rather limited and part-time nature. From the point of view of education and training, he may have undertaken a course in a subject that has no remote connection with agriculture.

I totally agree with the Minister that someone who studies a separate subject is a better person in all senses of the word and a person who is more fit to take part in any activity of life. However, in the context of the Bill, the result is that the qualification is reduced from being what many people thought to be fair and reasonable—namely, five years basically devoted to agriculture—to two years' practical experience. That is the weakness.

I was interested to recognise that the hon. Gentleman was sensitive about the fact that what he was saying could conceivably be construed as being in conflict with what the Prime Minister said yesterday in Oxford. The right hon. Gentleman said some sensible things about education. He spoke about training people to become useful citizens. He made the point—I daresay it is in the hon. Gentleman's mind—that they must be trained and taught in a particular subject or area in which they can make a useful contribution in their working lives. I was interested to observe that the hon. Gentleman was a bit sensitive about that. Perhaps he will explain further what he means. I do not think that he gave an adequate account in his opening speech.

I disagree with almost everything that was said by the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan).

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

It was natural that I should refer to the Prime Minister's speech, as it must be in the minds of many hon. Members today. My right hon. Friend's speech is highly topical. There was nothing in what he said to suggest that those who take degrees in pure subjects should not go into industry. On the contrary, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was arguing among other things that we want more people in industry.

Photo of Mr Francis Pym Mr Francis Pym , Cambridgeshire

I quite agree. We also want people in agriculture with other areas of knowledge and expertise. However, by rejecting the amendment the House would be limiting the eligibility stakes to only two years in agriculture.

I disagree with almost everything that was said by the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West. He indicated that he is not thinking about the well-being of agriculture or its future prosperity. The hon. Gentleman is concerned with Socialism and the other place. He said that it is quite unnecessary for this place to have another opportunity to discuss the mat- ter. He wants a uni-cameral Parliament, no doubt carrying through measures on a majority vote, even if only 38 per cent. of the electorate voted for the Government. That is the sort of Parliament that he would like. The hon. Gentleman's speech excited the PPS—the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Grocott)—to refer to the land as the people's land. That is the good old principle "What's mine is mine, and what's yours is mine, too". I do not think that is a good basis if we are contemplating a prosperous and progressive agricultural industry. That should be the only purpose of agricultural legislation.

I believe that the Parliamentary Secretary was entirely genuine when he indicated that the amendment is, in his opinion, a genuine attempt to get much nearer to what is required without being so restrictive in the course that has to be followed. I hope that on a fair and reasonable basis, bearing in mind the implications of the clause and the whole Bill, that he will have second thoughts.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

Will my right hon. Friend direct his attention to the difference between education and training? I direct his attention to remarks made by a person who is responsible for training in agriculture, to the effect that education is learning how to learn and training is learning how to put into practice what has been learnt. Is not that vital when tenancies are concerned if we are to get the maximum out of the agricultural industry? Is it not for that reason that we have been supporting the amendment that was correctly accepted in another place?

Photo of Mr Francis Pym Mr Francis Pym , Cambridgeshire

I go along with what my hon. Friend has said. I confess that I can imagine cases where someone would be eligible to be considered for succession to a tenancy when he has had only two years' practical experience and has studied a course in some other subject. That is likely to happen. However, there will be other cases where people who have gone through exactly the same process will prove not to be adequate tenants and will not do the job required for agriculture reasonably well and adequately, or not as well as they would have done if they had had proper training in agriculture. There may be some cases where it will be quite suitable and other cases where it will not be suitable.

That is why it is reasonable for the House to support the other place because to some minor extent the words that have been inserted narrow the definition of eligibility. That is why I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will advise the House that, in all the circumstances, this is a reasonable concession to make.

Question put, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 178, Noes 120.

[For Division List No. 332 see col. 1405]

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendment: No. 9, in page 23, line 36, after "if" insert "either (a)".

8.30 p.m.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

I beg to move, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Photo of Mr Myer Galpern Mr Myer Galpern , Glasgow Shettleston

With this we may take Lords Amendment No. 10, in page 24, line 5, at end insert or(b) on the last occasion when there died a sole (or sole surviving) tenant (within the meaning of subsection (1) above) of the holding or of such an agricultural holding as is described above a direction as mention in (i) above or a grant as mentioned in (ii) above was made in favour of any person mentioned in paragraphs (c) or (d) of subsection (1) above.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

The House will recall my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales in the debate on 8th March setting out the reasons why the Government decided on a limit of two successions for the family succession scheme. This was subsequently debated at length in the later stages of the Bill in this House and also in another place. I need not detain the House with a lengthy explanation, therefore, because the Government's views are already on record.

I said earlier that we were dealing with a piece of legislation altering the balance between the respective rights of the tenant farmer and the landlord. This is simply another amendment which will restrict the benefit to tenant farmers and have the effect of tilting the balance further towards landlords at the expense of their tenants.

It is for this basic reason, and for all the detailed reasons that I have explained on other occasions, that the Government find the amendment unacceptable. We consider that the two successions already provided for in Print No. 184 strike a balance which is fair to all the interests and that they are based on an up-to-date precedent.

Photo of Mr Michael Jopling Mr Michael Jopling , Westmorland

As the lion. Gentleman said, we are again on somewhat familiar ground. For that reason, therefore, a very long exposition of the Opposition's views will not be necessary. However, on this occasion we again welcome the suggestions which the other place has put to us in this amendment.

This is a point which we in this House have debated during the previous stages of the Bill, and I make no apology for saying again that in our view it goes too far. I am very sorry that the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) has not returned to the Chamber following the last Division. He was right when he said earlier that the view of the Opposition was that the Bill went too far. We believe that many of the motivations for it come principally from political prejudice and not from a feeling of what is good for agriculture.

The comments that we have heard during our debates today strengthen that argument. Without doubt, the one remark which will cause the greatest excitement in the Press is the interjection that we had from the Parliamentary Private Secretary. As one who spent a year and a half in his seat, I know that I should have had the sack very quickly if I had made such a remark. However, we have a new Minister here, and I am a little diffident about referring to what the hon. Gentleman said, because I know that a PPS is in a very difficult position when it comes to defending himself since he is, as it were, part in and part out of the Government. I know that Parliamentary Private Secretaries should never interject in a debate for which their lord and master is responsible.

We are in the strange position of having a new Minister whose views on the sort of matters we have been debating have not yet been ascertained. We are anxious to hear his views on, for example, the nationalisation of land. The Parliamentary Secretary has done us the great honour of saying that he believes that agricultural land is the people's land—with the implication that the private rights of landlords are to be cast aside. He seemed to be reflecting exactly the views of the Labour Party National Executive Committee and his remarks will be seized upon with great interest by the agricultural Press. Farmers are bursting to know the attitude of the new Minister to the nationalisation of land. Perhaps we have heard an interesting clue as to what that attitude will be.

I am pleased to see that the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West has returned. I said earlier that he was right to suggest that we think that the Bill goes too far. We have been looking at the possibility of a number of amendments to try to blunt its cutting edge. This pair of amendments go a considerable way towards doing that.

Without the amendments, the Bill could have a variable effect. A tenancy granted to a farmer could be handed on to his son and his grandson. Three generations could enjoy the tenancy of that farm.

We discussed this matter in Committee and it was generally agreed that in some cases that period could extend to 100 years. If the succession went from the original tenant to his brother and then to the brother's son, it might last 60 years and would be passed on to only one generation.

There is no reason in the Bill why a tenancy should not be passed from the original tenant to his brother and on to another brother. Such a tenancy would last for an average of, say, 40 years and would not have jumped a generation. Although a case might be made for a limited succession in terms of time, it is difficult to make a case for a tenancy spanning three generations.

We seek to remove the provision which allows a tenancy to pass to more than one generation. We regard that as fair. However one looks at the Bill, there will be someone at the end of the chain who will not succeed. Indeed, as the Bill stands, the great-grandson could not succeed because only two generations are involved. We think that when faced with uncertainty it is right to confine ourselves to the single generation. That is reasonable.

I am disappointed that the Government have not taken up this matter before. This proposal would be widely welcomed. It would mean that many more farms might be available for letting than will be available under the Bill as it stands.

I am sorry that the Government appear to be persevering with their stated attitude. I hope that, even at this late stage, they might be persuaded to change their mind. If not, I shall feel obliged to ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to divide on this amendment.

Photo of Mr Caerwyn Roderick Mr Caerwyn Roderick , Brecon and Radnor

After weeks of arguing, we have become accustomed to the red herrings which the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) keeps bringing into the debate. The hon. Gentleman continues to go outside the matter under consideration and to produce sterile and irrelevant arguments.

The hon. Gentleman referred to motivations coming from Labour Members which might be political. I suggest that he should dwell a little on his own motivations in opposing some of these measures. We have not been motivated on political grounds in trying to seek this protection. I would willingly conduct him to some of the people in my constituency who have been asking me to support these proposals. Those people are not known to be politically motivated in their outlook. Indeed, I am prepared to show the hon. Gentleman some of the correspondence which has come from tenant farmers' widows who are under notice to quit and will not be covered by this legislation. Let him argue with them that they are being political in their desire for this legislation and for it to be retrospective.

The hon. Gentleman surprises me in that he is prepared to support this measure. We know from Committee that he seems to be prepared to support succession to his widow but not to his son. Therefore, he is prepared to cut down succession to one. It is a sad reflection that he has no confidence in his family and is prepared to limit the Bill in this way.

Photo of Mr Caerwyn Roderick Mr Caerwyn Roderick , Brecon and Radnor

No. It is for the hon. Gentleman to consider his family. It is not for me to comment on this matter.

We were sad to learn that the Government were to limit this provision to two successions. Therefore, we shall not support the idea that it should be reduced to one succession.

In Committee there was much talk about succession from one generation to another. It is nothing of the sort. We are talking about a transfer. Certain hon. Members, who have tried to illustrate this transfer, have been erroneous, because the time span can be as little as two or three years.

I should welcome comments by the hon. Member for Westmorland on the briefing given by the National Farmers Union. At all stages in Committee the hon. Gentleman was fond of producing the views of various organisations. However, we have heard little tonight about the NFU's comments on this amendment. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would care to tell us what he thinks of those comments at this stage. I believe that the NFU has done a service to tenant farmers by producing a clear and lucid view on this matter. I welcome the proposal to restore the Bill to its original form.

Photo of Sir Walter Clegg Sir Walter Clegg , North Fylde

I want to make a brief contribution to the debate. This is the first occasion on which I have taken part in this particular argument, but it seems to be treading familiar ground with both sides of the House saying that this is a political matter. One thing I am certain about. If one gets up in this House and defends the landlords' point of view, one will surely incur a great deal of abuse from Labour Members. The last time I spoke in defence of landlords, I was called a reactionary Fascist thug. However, I accept such abuse with some pride as a kind of battle scar.

8.45 p.m.

The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Roderick) quite fairly made the point that the NFU supports the point of view he has expressed. But I must differ from the NFU and its attitude towards this matter generally. My objection to its point of view is coloured by my experience of what protection has done to other types of property. When Parliament imposes protection on pro- perty, it immediately diminishes the value of the landlord's holdings and the landlord gets no compensation. Parliament abrogates the right of people without compensation. The value of a landlord's holdings before the passing of this Bill and afterwards will be entirely different.

Our most recent experience has been the extension of Rent Act protection to furnished houses. The hon. Gentleman said that this provision is a good thing for tenants who are to be protected and of course it is. The people who will suffer from this are not perhaps the tenants, because they will gain certain advantages. The landlords will suffer. But the people who will suffer even more are those who are neither landlords nor tenants—the people who are waiting to get tenancies. They are the people I am worried most about.

I believe that the effect of this clause as it stands will be to dry up the supply of holdings. There will be a tendency when tenancies finally come to an end for the land to be included in the owner's own holding or to be sold off. Yet there is a great queue of people who want lettings.

In my constituency, there is a fine agricultural college. What worries me is not that the graduates are not able enough but that it will be very much more difficult for them to get tenancies to start farming, because at the end of the day the landlords will not re-let their farms. That is precisely what has happened to housing under the Rent Act protection. Thousands of young people are now without housing because Rent Act protection has resulted in landlords no longer letting houses.

This is perhaps an unpopular view. Protection is always acceptable to those who benefit. But the people I am most worried about are not so much the landlords, although they will suffer, as those who want to become tenants of farms. They are the people who will be deprived of the opportunity of working farms which would otherwise be available.

Photo of Mr Caerwyn Roderick Mr Caerwyn Roderick , Brecon and Radnor

Does the hon. Gentleman have any evidence that a large supply of farms is coming on to the market for letting at present and that that supply will dry up? My evidence is that the supply almost dried up years ago. The hon. Gentleman has raised the question of protection, but all we seek here is that the successor of the tenant should have the right to argue his case. He will not necessarily get the protection automatically but simply will have the right to argue for the succession.

Photo of Sir Walter Clegg Sir Walter Clegg , North Fylde

With regard to the latter point, the incoming tenant, if he is to succeed to his father, or whatever the relationship might be, must satisfy the criteria laid down in the Bill. That I understand.

As to letting generally, in my own constituency there have been lettings by landlords in the past 10 or 15 years, and not all the farms that have come to hand have been kept in hand. Some of them have been let out again. This is widespread throughout the country. I am fearful, because of the comparison with other Acts which restrict the rights of landlords to possession, that the stream will dry up.

This is conjecture as to what the future holds, but every instinct I have tells me that this provision will make the landlord and tenant system very rigid. There is a rigid system with the Land Act. People are afraid to leave, or to move from one part of the country to another. The same rigid system will come about in this case, and I do not believe that that is good.

For these reasons I support the amendment, but I regret that it does not go far enough for me.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Opposition Whip (Commons)

I entirely disagree with the line taken by the Conservative Front Bench on the measure, and with this part of it in particular. I welcome the Government's commitment to do something for tenant farmers. I see the amendment as the Minister saw it—as part of an attempt to narrow the provisions by those who cannot quite bring themselves to oppose it. If they disagree with the principle involved—and there is a principle here—I wish they would oppose it outright.

The hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) thought that he would meet with a ready response when he first reacted in a very hostile way to the Government's introduction of the clauses, and there are those—particularly among the Country Landowners' Association—who would be pleased with his reaction.

From then onwards it has been a matter of back-pedalling, rather than opposing the measure, as the hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) has done straightforwardly with honest arguments. Simply to seek to confine the extent of the succession provisions is to try to have it both ways, and I do not think that is of benefit either to the tenant farmers or to those potential tenants for whom the hon. Member for North Fylde was concerned.

The Government's proposals require landlords to do what most of the best landlords do and are proud to do now. The best landlords in my constituency—I am not talking about people who vote for me, and in any case some of the landlords are Members of the other place and do not have votes at all—give succession as a matter of course to tenants and near relatives of tenant farmers who are competent farmers. I can understand that they do not like being forced to do what they would do anyway, but they forget that not all landlords are as they are. There are some bad landlords, and there are some who, for a curious variety of reasons, are not prepared to do the obvious thing.

Some of the bad landlords in this respect are not individuals at all but institutions and organisations. They are among the most reputable and proper institutions. I came across one charitable body which considered that it was obliged, since it was a charity, to put out all tenancies to sealed tender whenever they fell vacant. The unfortunate potential successor, the son, had only one opportunity to bid for the holding. He had to put on a piece of paper a rent at which he could only guess, place it in a sealed envelope and submit it for consideration by the trustees of the charity.

This charitable body was not trying to behave badly. It was trying to behave properly. In the absence of any clear legal provision it acted in a way which was severely detrimental to tenant farmers. That is one kind of bad landlord—not a vicious human being but an institution which would benefit from the kind of control and guidance that the Act will give. But there are bad landlords who ought to be brought into line, and this legislation will do that.

Some of those who oppose the new provisions have not the faintest idea of the insecurity, unhappiness and worry which are the lot of the tenant farmer who wonders whether his son will be able to take over the farm. I can give plenty of illustrations from my experience of the way that permeates their life. It can lead to their saying "For heaven's sake, don't offend the landlord, or our son will not get the farm". It may be an unjustified feeling, but the feeling is most certainly there and it permeates much of the life of the tenant farmer. Those who seek to oppose the measure in a variety of ways have not recognised the extent of that feeling and the shadow that it casts over the life of many tenant farmers and their families.

Photo of Mr Michael Jopling Mr Michael Jopling , Westmorland

A few months ago the hon. Gentleman said, probably inadvertently, that when these new clauses were proposed I had greeted their announcement with instant hostility. I think that is perhaps unfair. If he would be kind enough to look at the Committee report of 3rd February he will see that I said: We shall want carefully to look at what is proposed and to consider it in the light of the Minister's statement that he wishes to strengthen the landlord-tenant system."—[Official Report, Standing Committee C, 3rd February 1976; c. 423.] I do not regard that as instant hostility. I am sure the hon. Gentleman would perhaps wish to phrase his words rather differently.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Opposition Whip (Commons)

Indeed, I would not. I would regard that as the most mealy-mouthed comment on the proposals that could possibly be constructed. I have, however, also had the privilege of reading the hon. Gentleman's speeches in the country which have found their way to being printed in my local papers. Perhaps he cannot control the headlines put on those stories, but they give a very different impression from the meaningless passage he has just quoted.

I greatly regretted the Government's decision to impose the two succession limit. I think they have put the limitations in the wrong place. The fears and reservations of landlords could have been met in other ways by looking more carefully at the competence test in this provision of the Bill and not limiting the succession in this way. The hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) indica- ted that one of the difficulties, since there is an eventual limit, is that landlords are open to the prospect—I think they will be encouraged by their estate agents—to take their farms out of the system when that limit expires and to take them in hand. I am sad that the Government should have chosen this way of restricting the Bill. I think that to go further and reduce it to one succession limit, as the amendment seeks to secure, would be to destroy the proposal almost entirely and to make a nonsense of it.

In many cases the first beneficiaries of the new security of tenure will not be young men at all. They will be old men because I know of many cases—I am sure hon. Members who represent farming constituencies know of cases—where old men have stayed as the tenant long after their natural time of retirement precisely because they knew there was no other way they could keep their son on the farm. The son wanted to carry on fanning, but there was no guarantee that they would take over the tenancy. Therefore, the father aged 80 is still farming and the son is still living in the cottage, aged 55 or 60 and it is that son who will take over. It will not be very long before that son wans to retire and the whole scheme will have expired. The grandson, aged 30, who may be well trained and competent in farming, will enjoy no benefit from this scheme at all. We shall find ourselves back in the situation that men who wanted to retire, who would have retired years ago, and who would have handed over management of the farm instead are hanging on to the control, because that is the only way to keep the farm for their sons.

Photo of Mr Norman Buchan Mr Norman Buchan , Renfrewshire West

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a twin method of dealing with this is to be able to relinquish the farm by resignation, rather than by death, and not to have specified two successions but just succession?

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Opposition Whip (Commons)

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. He and I were both involved in pressing a provision of that kind before the new clause was introduced. The Government's own new clause did not go as far as I would have liked, but we would be making a very foolish mistake if we were to allow only one succession. That would be a very great mistake.

Hon. Members on the Conservative Benches argued strongly, when we were discussing the taxation of agriculture, and capital transfer tax, that farming, if it was to be good farming, must be farming for the future. It must be farming with a recognition that one's interests and one's family's interests rest in keeping up the quality of the farm and not getting the quickest profit with the least recognition of the future.

I was critical of the Government's earlier proposals and I welcome their change of mind on some aspects of agricultural taxation. However, one cannot play this matter both ways. Farming in the future is very much involved in this issue. It is for the good of farming that the competent tenant farmer should have the assurance that, if his son shares that competence, his son can carry on that family business. No landlord stands to lose by that. If the tribunal's test is adequate, no landlord stands to lose by having a good farming son take over from a good farming father. We should be far too restrictive if we confined it to one generation.

9.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr Michael Jopling Mr Michael Jopling , Westmorland

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me, before he sits down—[HON. MEMBERS: "He has sat down."] The hon. Gentleman has made a slashing attack on the amendment. I should be interested to know whether he will explain why four Liberals in the other place voted for it. [Interruption.]

Photo of Sir Arthur Irvine Sir Arthur Irvine , Liverpool Edge Hill

Order. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) appears to be indicating that he had sat down.

Mr. Mark Hughes:

Perhaps I may follow the points made by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). My one private regret is that we have chosen to put a number of transfers as a limitation and that this should be sine die. It does not matter how many transfers take place—there should still be a right of appeal to the tribunal. I regret that in their wisdom my right hon. and hon. Friends did not come to the same conclusion.

We were told by the Opposition Front Bench that there must be a balance that keeps it down to one. I have rarely heard such nonsense. The one succession, as proposed in the amendment, is de facto a wrecking amendment that destroys the whole purpose of this measure, and it should be recognised as such.

The landlord and tenant provisions in British agriculture have been at risk and under pressure from capital and income taxation provisions and from a whole range of other things long before we reached this matter and started dealing with it. It was precisely because the whole landlord and tenant relationship had been historically changed by successive Governments' taxation processes—largely those of my own party when in Government—that the need to do other things to correct the increasing imbalance arose.

The position was that very few institutional landlords or, even more, private landlords, when they had the opportunity to take farms into hand, could not see that there was a considerable tax advantage by taking them into hand. Therefore, the supply of tenancies was being dried up for totally different reasons. When the Opposition Front Bench say that it is this measure that will dry up this supply, their humbug is apparent to anyone who considers agricultural matters for more than a few moments.

The proposal in the amendment is that the transfer should be restricted to one generation. However, with a passing from a father tenant to a brother, what then happens if that brother is 75 years old and it then goes to another brother who is 76? As my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Roderick) has pointed out, the whole process can be dead and finished and the landlord given free access—which, in the end, is where we differ.

Again echoing the words of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, I wish that the Tory Party had had the guts to say "We are on the side of the landlords having exclusive power to choose their tenants." Conservative Members should have said that, instead of carping along. In fairness, I must say that when the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) debated the matter on television with me, he was honest enough to say precisely that, and that that was where the Conservatives stood when they first responded to my putting down the original new clauses, which have now been withdrawn. Ever since then, they have lacked the courage of their own convictions. This paltry amendment that they are trying to get the House to accept is the absolute abnegation of their own convictions.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

It is always a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes) because, more often than not, his contributions to our debates are constructive and responsible. I regret that in the speech he has just made he did not maintain his usual standard. He unnecessarily attacked my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling), who has endeavoured to deal with this Government proposal from the start in a constructive and responsible way. My hon. Friend has endeavoured to reflect the interests of both land owners—not landlords, but those who own land—and tenant farmers. We on this side have certainly received many representations from both parties. I leave it to the House to decide whether the hon. Gentleman's argument held water or not.

I come now to the speech of a Member who does not seem to know whether his party is coming or going. I refer to the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). The fact is that four of his noble Friends in the other place voted for the Lords amendment now before us. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should make clear in this House that on an issue such as this the Liberal Party is thoroughly divided and does not know whether it is coming or going, which is only typical of so many of the stands which it takes on many important issues today.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

No, I will not give way at this stage. So often in the House we see the Liberal Party trying to make political capital in order to capture a few votes. The truth is that many of us on the Conservative Benches have clearly stated that we believe this Government proposal to be very damaging to the landlord-tenant relationship, and several of us have stated that view consistently in the Chamber and in Committee.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed talked about the importance of the tenant farmer in the life of this country and in the production of food from our own land resources. I agree with him to that extent, but perhaps he will direct his attention also to the tremendous problems facing the ordinary business man, let alone the tenant farmer, in trying to pass some sort of business on to his son after all the penal and pernicious legislation passed by this Socialist Government, whether in capital taxation or the additional burden of form filling which has again and again been piled upon our business men.

The hallmark of the present Government and, to a lesser extent, of the last Conservative Government, is, perhaps, that they have tried to legislate for every eventuality. In my view, there are certain things which cannot be legislated for, and this is one of them. All hon. Members on both sides have emphasised that it is only a minority of cases, a tiny number of cases, which are creating a problem and that, basically, the landlord-tenant relationship has been excellent. Even the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed said that the vast majority of landlords have readily agreed to succession of tenancy on their property or farms.

Why, therefore, by forcing this piece of misguided legislation upon the farming community and land owners, are the Government trying to upset what has been a very satisfactory and profitable relationship?

I fully support the honest statement made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg). He put the case in a nutshell, and I endorse every word he said. My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland made the same case though in different words, and reached the same conclusion. We do not like what the Government are doing, and we have said so. We appreciate that in this Parliament we are in a minority, and it is therefore our duty to try to improve the proposals which the Government force upon an unwilling nation. That is why we are supporting the amendment that was passed in another place.

In future the Government will have a lot to answer for by spoiling the unique relationship between landowner and tenant. My hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde said that the Rent Act dried up the availability of private rented property. Many people are today suffering because of that Act which was put on to the statute book by the Government party. Are they now going to do the same with farming? I agree with the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Roderick), supported as he was by the hon. Member for Durham, that in recent years the number of farms becoming available for rent has dried up dramatically because of capital taxation and security of tenure legislation. This legislation we are now debating will dry up the availability even more—and that view is supported by the National Federation of Young Farmers' Clubs. [Interruption.] That laughter is interesting and I hope that it will be taken up by the farming Press which is glaringly absent at present. The hon. Members for the Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) and for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) are laughing about the objectives of the young farmers' clubs and the way in which they operate.

Photo of Mr Caerwyn Roderick Mr Caerwyn Roderick , Brecon and Radnor

In response to the directive from the National Federation of Young Farmers' Clubs I inquired of my local branch and its members applauded me for disagreeing with the National Federation.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

I can only say that the Celts always choose to be different. I remind the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor that the branch of his young farmers' club is part of the national body which came to a different conclusion. I am glad that he has the support of the local branch, but it is a national organisation, the members of which are our future farmers, and vital to future food production in this country, and I attach importance to their views.

I wish to associate myself with the view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland, and I repeat that I endorse the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde. We are not trying to be popular. I have never set myself out to do that. I consider an issue and reach a conclusion on the evidence presented to me. A lot of evidence has been presented to hon. Members on both sides and I have reached the conclusion that, overall, the proposal relating to the succession of tenancies will be damaging to the tenant-landlord situation. We are here to try and improve matters and I therefore fully support the amendment limiting succession to one.

Photo of Mr Norman Buchan Mr Norman Buchan , Renfrewshire West

I plead guilty to a certain personal interest in the Bill and particularly in the amendment. My interest is paternal in that if it is not my own child it is my treated child. I introduced the same principle for Scotland in 1968. That is relevant because the hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) and others based their arguments on the proposal resulting in a drying-up of tenancies. In Scotland we are in the fortunate position of having some evidence. There has been a tendency towards a slow drying up of the availability of tenanted farms, quite apart from any legislation. It is now extremely difficult for anyone to find a tenanted farm.

9.15 p.m.

I want to give the figures for Scotland for the period since I introduced this measure there. In 1967 the proportion of full-time farms let to tenants was 46 per cent. Four years later it was 44 per cent. In 1973 it was 43·5 per cent. and in 1974 and 1975 it was 43·6 per cent. There was a negligible shift over the 10 years, certainly nothing as alarming as the general drying up of tenanted farms in England. Therefore, it is utter nonsense to say that this legislation has a drying-up effect.

However, we are told that it will make matters difficult for those outside, those who are not on a farm, to obtain a tenancy. If the farm is let to somebody on it, somebody outside clearly does not get it. By the same token, if it is let to somebody outside, somebody inside does not get it. There is a greater balance of interest in favour of the man who has been working on the farm. The argument is demonstrably illogical rubbish.

Why is the argument advanced? Are the Opposition in favour of the principle or are they using the amendments as yet another way to try to gut the Bill or to kill it without putting themselves in the position of having to say whether they are in favour of the principle of the Bill?

There have been one or two impassioned speeches. I admired the passion with which the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) said that he admired the balanced judgment of his hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling). Never before have I heard balanced judgment praised with so much passion. We heard passionate speeches from Conservative Back Benchers, but there was total silence from their Front Bench. We did not hear from the official Tory spokesman where they stood, at any rate in the House, though the hon. Member for Westmorland went to an agricultural symposium in Oxford at about Easter and made a devastating attack on the Bill. According to my hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes), he did the same on television, but he has not done it on the Floor of the House. Here the Opposition have presented a balanced judgment which consists of supporting amendments designed to wreck the principle of the Bill.

Does the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) accept or reject the principle of succession to tenancies, as is enunciated in the Bill? I shall gladly give way to him, to the hon. Member for Westmorland or the chairman of the Tory Party's agricultural group if they will give me the answer. None of them rises. They have avoided saying where they stand because they want to please the landlords and obtain the farmers vote. They cannot do both because there is no balanced judgment on this matter. There is no compromise between saying that the landlord has the right to decide the tenancy and the Bill, which says that a tribunal should have the right to do so on the basis of the association of the person concerned with the farm. It is one or the other, and the passion of the hon. Member for Macclesfield for a balanced judgment is so much wasted wind.

My first reason for speaking was to present the figures and to establish the principle. The second matter to bring out is the attitude of the NFU. Conservative Members have quoted the Young Farmers' Clubs, but they have been careful not to quote speeches made in the other place. I am not surprised, in view of the argument there. There are other interests, the most important being those of the farmers. Their organisation, the NFU, says in its brief: Moreover, at the Committee stage in the House of Lords when this amendment was moved and carried, the suggestion was made that the NFU agreed that it might be desirable to provide that succession should not extend over one generation. It is therefore necessary to emphasise that this is not a correct statement of the NFU's view, as was indeed made quite clear earlier this year. The brief goes on to quote that statement and continues: The Union therefore accepts that limitation, since it will still overcome existing hardship cases, and give ample opportunity to study how the scheme operates in practice. The NFU rejects the concept of limitation but is willing to accept it in order to see how its works in practice. However, the union does not agree with the suggestion that only one transfer should be possible under this scheme.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

Will the hon. Member direct his remarks to the intervention by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Roderick) during my speech clearly indicating that his branch of the National Federation of Young Farmers Clubs actually sided with him? Does he not accept that certain NFU branches take a different view from the national body in a similar way?

Photo of Mr Dafydd Wigley Mr Dafydd Wigley , Caernarvon

Having heard the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) coming from somewhere in the middle of the last century, I feel obliged to explain why so many of us from the Celtic lands find ourselves in a different position from other hon. Members. There are few Welsh Members who do not have relatives from the last generation or two who have suffered because of the lack of the sort of provision being built into the Bill.

The hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes) brought forward an amendment about 12 months ago. He is no doubt aware of the suffering which has taken place in rural Wales because of the lack of succession of tenancy for tenant farmers. Although the problem today is not of the magnitude it was years ago, it still remains.

The Conservative Front Bench acknowledges that it remains in a minority of instances, and says that because it is only a minority the provision is unnecessary. If the principle is acceptable for the majority of good landlords, by what token should it not be applied to the bad landlords?

It is interesting to note the argument about the effect the Bill will have on the number of tenancies, but that argument cannot hold water because the tenancies will continue. The only possibility of a reduction is when the tenancy is withdrawn and the farm is sold, and the chance of that happening is reduced by this provision.

The most regrettable aspect of this part of the Bill is that the provision does not go on in perpetuity. It is strange that while the Conservatives believe in the retention of inherited wealth they do not believe in passing on the benefits of hard work put into farms by tenant farmers to their sons.

The hon. Member for Macclesfield was out of step in his criticisms of the Liberal Party when he said that there were three or four Peers in the other place who voted in favour of the amendment. If his party is so united on this issue, why are there only 120 Conservative Members voting in the Divisions? Where are the other 150 or so?

The truth is that the Conservative Party is tied to the landowners who have dictated to Conservative Members what they must do—

Photo of Mr Dafydd Wigley Mr Dafydd Wigley , Caernarvon

They cannot escape that and therefore they are going through this mock battle, taking up the time of the House, when everyone knows that this provision must go through if tenants are to have a better life.

If the hon. Member for Macclesfield were not from a part of the country from which so many of the absentee landlords who have devastated my part of the world came he would be more familiar with the situation which is facing the tenants in my area.

Photo of Mr Dafydd Wigley Mr Dafydd Wigley , Caernarvon

No. The tenant farmers in my part of the world are waiting for this Bill because they know that their futures depend upon it. It is a pity that the hon. Member for Macclesfield does not know the circumstances in real life of people in this situation.

Question put, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 171, Noes 128.

[For Division List No. 333 see col. 1407]

Question accordingly agreed to.

Subsequent Lords amendment disagreed to.

Lords amendment: No. 11, in page 24, line 35, leave out from first "Act" to first "a" in line 36.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

With this we may take the following Lords amendments:

No. 16, in Clause 21, page 28, line 15, leave out: Subject to subsection (3) below".

No. 17, in page 28, line 23, leave out subsection (3).

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

May I remind the House of the debates on the same amendment which took place in Committee and at a later stage in this House.

As the House will remember, subsection (3) was intended by the Government to provide a balancing provision for the landlord, by enabling him to put forward a specific proposal to the Agricultural Land Tribunal that, because the holding is below commercial size, he intends to amalgamate it with other land within two years of the end of the deceased's tenancy to form a commercial holding. This is a more positive and stronger ground than the one in Section 25(1)(b) of the Agricultural Holdings Act 1948, under which a landlord can serve a notice to quit in the interests of sound estate management, one purpose of which would be the reorganisation of the holdings.

However, the landlord's representatives believe that the purpose of the new ground (f) in subsection (3) is liable to be misunderstood by Agricultural Land Tribunals to the exclusion of the wider provision in Section 25(1)(b) and could prove counter-productive as a result. We have discussed the matter with them in considerable detail but they remain firm in their desire to see it removed from the Bill. We accepted this amendment in another place because if there is any possibility of confusion arising as to the purpose of paragraph (f) it is best removed from the Bill, as they have requested.

Amendments No. 11 and 16 are the necessary drafting amendments which follow from Amendment No. 17.

Question put and agreed to.