Retirement of Tenant Farmers from Age 65

Orders of the Day — Agricultural Holdings Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 7:50 pm on 6th June 1984.

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`The following shall be added at the end of subsection (3) of section 2 of the Agricultural Holdings (Notices to Quit) Act 1977— Case J

  1. `(a) at the date of the operation of the Notice to Quit, the tenant uner a tenancy agreement which had been entered into after enactment of this Act, had passed the age of 65;
  2. (b) the tenenacy agreement had provided that this 'Case' shall apply to the tenancy;
  3. (c) for the purposes of this 'Case', a Notice of Retirement shall not take effect for two years from the next term date following the service of the Notice;
  4. (d) the tenant, who is a party to a tenancy agreement to which this 'Case' applies, shall on retirement be paid compensation based on two years' rent, irrespective of whether the tenant serves a Notice to Quit after receiving a Notice to quit under this 'Case'.".'.—[Mr. Hunter.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Mr Andrew Hunter Mr Andrew Hunter , Basingstoke

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

After the drama generated by the debate on new clause 6, I feel that matters can now only go into something of a decline.

The few hon. Members who laboured through the heat of the day in Standing Committee may recall that I moved an amendment in Committee which differed greatly in wording from the new clause now before the House, although the basic motives and objectives were the same. My hon. Friend the Minister listened sympathetically and replied at great length to the amendment which I moved in Committee, stating that there were circumstances in which he "would be happy to table a suitable amendment on Report." It was, therefore, with great regret that I noted his failure to do so. Even at this late stage I hope and plead that he will take on board the sentiments, motives and principles underlying this new clause.

During the consideration of the Bill in another place, and on Second Reading and in Committee here, it was stated ad nauseam that the purpose of the Bill was to restore health to the tenanted sector of the farming industry. That can be achieved only by inducing landlords to release farms which hitherto they would have taken, or might take, in hand, or farm in partnership themselves. I contend that by introducing the concept of retirement the new clause will speed up the turnover of tenanted farms and bring fresh tenancies on to the market to as great an extent as the abolition of future three-generation successions.

The purpose of the new clause can be summarised very simply. It is to provide the landowner and the prospective tenant with an option—I stress that word—to include a retirement clause in a new tenancy agreement. It will enable the landlord, at his discretion, to serve a notice of retirement on a tenant, after that tenant has passed the age of 63, by means of an incontestable notice to quit under section 2 of the Agricultural Holdings (Notices to Quit) Act 1977. The relevant age is 63 because the new clause provides that two years' notice must be given.

I stress again that there is no question of one-sided compulsion. There must be prior agreement between the parties that the tenancy will include such a retirement provision, so that both parties would enter into the agreement with a clear understanding of that provision and the tenant would thus not be subject to any element of compulsion. The tenant would have two years' notice of retirement in recognition of the need for adequate planning and timely liquidation of assets, having regard to national and fanning economic circumstances. In other words, it will safeguard the retiring tenant farmer from being compelled to retire in circumstances such as those currently—one hopes temporarily—prevailing in which the liquidation of certain fanning assets would bring depreciated returns. Furthermore, under the new clause the tenant would receive outgoing compensation based on two years' rent.

I shall briefly outline the arguments in favour of introducing the option—again I stress the word "option"—of a system of retirement. First and foremost, it would be an added inducement to landowners to let, rather than taking vacant farms in hand, and would thus represent a real move towards making more farms available for letting in accordance with the Bill's aim, which both sides of the House willingly accept. On the other hand, if we did not introduce any system of retirement, landlords might continue to let vacant land to neighbouring established farmers or to amalgamate it with other land, simply to avoid the creation of other long-term tenancies.

Obviously the effect of the system of retirement would be to limit the lengths of tenancies. That, in itself, would give more people the chance of farming, and tenancies would become available years earlier than occurs under present legislation, which of course provides for succession only on the death of the tenant.

There are also other advantages to a retirement system. It has most of the benefits of a term tenancy for the landlord, yet it is acceptable to tenants—witness the championing of the new clause by the Tenant Farmers Association. Incidentally, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will pay heed to my suggestion that every effort should be made to enable the Tenant Farmers Association to contribute to our national debates on farming matters. I have very much valued the assistance and briefing that I and other Committee Members received from that association.

A system of retirement would also take much of the uncertainty out of tenancy arrangements, both for the landlord and for the tenant. The landlord would know for how long, at the most, his land would be tenanted. If he wished, he could hold out the option of taking the land back and could offer the tenancy to an older man. On the other hand, the tenant would know exactly where he stood and he could plan for retirement, which sadly many tenant farmers cannot do at present.

A retirement system would remove the problem of an elderly tenant finding it increasingly difficult to cope, running up heavy dilapidations, and getting bitter about a rent which he cannot afford even though, in all probability, it is artificially low. For the landlord, it would overcome the problem of seeing a tenanted farm deteriorate. Clearly the well-wishing and well-meaning landlord would not want to appear to be too hard on an aging tenant.

It is relevant to recall that new clause 6 has already been added to the Bill. It enables county councils, in respect of new tenancies, to retire their smallholding tenants at the age of 65. For the life of me I cannot understand why what should be acceptable for county council smallholding tenants is not likewise acceptable for the broader spectrum of tenants. The new clause is, therefore, entirely consistent with the retirement policy for county council tenants. Its application to tenants generally would be more flexible, as landlords would have discretion to operate retirement from the age of 65, and tenants would not be subjected to compulsion. The tenants would enter into an agreement with the prior knowledge that the tenancy could, at two years' notice, be terminated after he had passed the minimum age of 65.

In the wider discussion and debate generated by the Bill, some concern has been expressed about the effects of a retirement system on small tenanted farmers, particularly in the west country and Wales. I stress once again that this system of retirement would not apply to existing tenants and tenancy agreements. The liquidation of assets and compensation based on two years' rent would amount to a very appreciable topping up of any individual pension arrangements into which a tenant farmer had been able to enter. In particular, the next generation of tenant farmers to whom a retirement policy would apply are likely to be young, well-qualified, trained and highly-educated agriculturists, and there is every reason to believe that they would expect to carry the responsibility of meeting their own pension requirements.

I rest my case on these observations. I argue that a retirement system is just and equitable. If we are serious in our desire to give fresh life to the tenanted sector of the farming industry, a retirement system is essential.

Photo of Mr Eric Deakins Mr Eric Deakins , Walthamstow 8:15 pm, 6th June 1984

The hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) is to be congratulated on bringing this issue before the House during the Report stage of such an important Bill. I have some sympathy with what he seeks to achieve, but, despite his meticulous explanation, I still have some doubts about the advantage to the tenant of his proposal. He spelled out very clearly the advantages to the landowner, but the advantages to the tenant are not so clear. The hon. Gentleman made great play of the fact that the landlord and tenant, meeting as free and equal people in the sphere of commercial activity, would have the option whether to include such a provision in a tenancy agreement. However, if a would-be tenant did not like such a provision, the landlord would not necessarily say, "I give up my right to have this provision in the tenancy agreement." In this rather harsh commercial world, he is much more likely to say, "Fair enough; I'm afraid that, if you don't accept the tenancy term, I will not have you as my tenant. I'll wait until someone else comes along who will accept the tenancy term." That is most likely to happen.

The hon. Gentleman may have been a little unfair on the older generation of farmers. I thought that farming was one of those occupations where experience counted for a great deal, even though, with modern technical knowledge, younger people are likely to be more up to date in their approach. Nevertheless, one should not entirely discount the value of experience. If the new clause was accepted, we might be on our way towards setting up a new system of tied housing. I am worried about the housing implications of the hon. Gentleman's proposal. At the age of 63 or 65, the tenant farmer would obviously have to quit the tenancy, which would mean leaving the farm so that someone else could take over. But would he not be in the same position as the farmworker was in under the tied cottage system? I hope that the hon. Gentleman will elucidate that point, as I am worried that we might be getting into the very situation that we managed to get out of after 20 or 30 years of hard work, particularly on this side of the House.

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

Order. The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Deakins) has concluded his speech.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh , Gainsborough and Horncastle

I support the new clause proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter). It is a useful new clause, and I can well understand the sentiments that prompted him to move it. The 1977 Bill was a disaster for new tenancies, and what is called for is a lion of a Bill to create new opportunities, especially for young farmers. In fact, it is a mouse of a Bill that will do little to create the opportunities needed.

However, I understand the Government's difficult dilemma, hoist as they are between the Country Landowners Association and the National Farmers Union. It is not wise to have government by pressure groups, even those as distinguished as the CLA and the NFU. However, I can understand the difficulties in which the Government would find themselves if the new clause was accepted.

The spirit behind the clause is worthy, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will take the opportunity to make positive noises about retirement provision. Of course term tenancies have disadvantages — a man in his twenties taking on a term tenancy would have to give it up 20 years later, in his mid-40s. and would be left without livelihood, security or a home. But that argument does not apply to retirement tenancies. I take the point made by the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Deakins) that it might be a weapon for the landlord who might turn to another tenant. Surely it is as likely that he will take the land in hand. We are trying to create new opportunities and tenancies. The new clause would help to achieve that aim.

If the new clause is accepted, farmers would probably be the only self-employed people who would be required to retire at 65. Farmers occupy a unique position in any event. It is logical and sensible that people should plan for their retirement. Their sons or the people who might follow them as holders of the tenancies should be able to plan for that day also. For the life of me, I cannot understand why farmers, like other people, should not plan for the future and for their 65th birthday.

Photo of Mr Peter Mills Mr Peter Mills , Torridge and West Devon

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) on proposing the new clause. It is right and proper that he should do so. In principle, I am in favour of retirement at 65. I also congratulate the Tenant Farmers Association on its brief and on the way in which it has handled the case. I agree with my hon. Friend that we must listen carefully to what it says. It has shown clearly how responsible it is in these matters.

It is not unusual for people to have to retire at a certain age. Looking at some hon. Members, it might be better if Members of Parliament had to do so. I do not know why such a rule should not apply to agriculture. I do not understand the NFU's objection and, quite frankly, I do not understand the attitude of some of my farmers in the south-west. I believe that the new clause would be helpful.

The brief from the Tenant Farmers Association puts forward an option—there is nothing compulsory about it. It mentions added inducements to landowners to let vacant farms rather than take them in hand. That is what the Bill is about—it is an inducement to allow more tenant farming. The new clause could help that aim.

The Tenant Farmers Association brief suggests a limit to the length of tenancies, which would give more people the chance to farm and would create more mobility. I agree with that. One of the parts of the brief that I liked best was where the suggestion that the son or the person expected to take over the tenancy could plan his future in the knowledge of the term of the tenancy, rather than having to gamble on whether the existing tenant would continue to a very old age. In the south-west of England I have often come across an elderly looking gentleman who, when I have asked whether he is the farmer, has replied, "Oh no, I am the farmer's son"—yet he is 50 or 55. The aged tenant goes on and on. I confess that a relative of mine did exactly that. When it came to the time of his retirement, his son was almost of retirement age himself. There is a real case for the new clause.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that it is important that farmers should think in a businesslike manner about their retirement. The new clause highlights the importance of taking steps towards that. I declare an interest because I am connected with insurance. It is important that, at the end of their days, tenant farmers have a lump sum through endowment or whatever means to provide for their future so that they do not have to hang on to their tenancies. Both landlord and tenant should contribute to some pension scheme so that the tenant is not turned out of the farm with no house because he cannot afford to buy one. Under a proper scheme, he would have provision for his future.

I hope that the Minister will consider the new clause carefully. He should not take too much notice of the NFU. It is not often that I speak against the NFU, but in this case it would be wise for my hon. Friend the Minister to think seriously about the new clause. It may not be correctly drafted, but I hope that my hon. Friend will consider it carefully because it is a reasonable proposition.

Mr. Jackson:

I support the new clause moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter). It is a pity that we all feel constrained to be brief about this important subject. If the new clause were to be included in the Bill, it would do more than almost anything else to achieve the Government's objectives.

I do not want to repeat the arguments that have been so well put about the way in which the new clause would promote mobility and make more land available for tenancy. I want to address the question of its effects on small tenant farmers. The simple answer to the objection raised on this score by the NFU and others is that the new clause would affect only new tenancies. All existing tenants would be unaffected. They could pass on their tenancies to their successors, and if they did not have successors they could retain the tenancy until they died. All tenants and landlords would be able to enter into contracts providing for retirement, if they so chose, with their eyes open. If the holding was too small to support the setting aside of a proportion of the income towards provision for retirement, the landlord could not in practice then insist on a retirement clause, for he would not be able to find a tenant to take on the land on that basis.

The new clause may look like the imposition of a measure of compulsion — admittedly it sounds like compulsion to say "retirement at 65"—but in reality it is a blow for liberty, a blow for the principle of freedom of contract. I do not understand why we should continue to deny the freedom of tenants to enter an arrangement, with their eyes open, through which they could retire at 65. The new clause accords that freedom of contract to tenants and to landlords, and I hope that the House will support it. If it does not, I hope that the Government will take the opportunity to think again in the future, because the new clause, more than any other measure, would advance the purposes which the Government claim for the Bill.

Photo of Mr Paul Hawkins Mr Paul Hawkins , South West Norfolk 8:30 pm, 6th June 1984

Virtually everything that needs to be said on the subject has been said, and said well, and there is little for me to do in addition to congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) on moving the new clause. I agree with others that its inclusion in the Bill would have a profound effect.

I have corresponded with the Tenant Farmers Association since its birth, I have met its members on several occasions and I have concluded that it is a forward-looking organisation which has organised first-class meetings and prepared excellent briefs for hon. Members.

The whole of agriculture must begin to look forward and stop considering only the troubles of the past and how they affect the immediate future. There is more to farming than next year's price review. We must look 10 to 15 years ahead and lay foundations for the young farmers who will be the tenants and owner-occupiers of the future. The Tenant Farmers Association and my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke have performed a service in putting the spotlight on this issue. I feel sure that the Minister would like something to be done on the lines of the new clause. I hope that he will find ways of introducing the principle of it.

The question of housing worries the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Deakins). People in many trades and professions make arrangements to buy homes, especially as they look forward to their retirement. Policemen, teachers, bank managers and many others, well before retirement, arrange to buy their own homes. I see no reason why the farming community should not do the same. Bearing in mind the pension and other arrangements that the self-employed can make, the lump sums that can be received and the way in which mortgages, at least at present, are readily available, any problems that exist could be overcome. I hope that the Minister's reply will be encouraging.

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean , Penrith and The Border

I, too, support my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) and congratulate him on the splendid way in which he moved the new clause.

I regret that the Government have rejected term tenancies, although I appreciate their reason for doing so. As my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Sir P. Hawkins) said when we debated an earlier amendment, having found unanimity between the NFU and the CLA, the Government were right to seize that unique opportunity and bring an NFU-CLA package before the House. However, I hope that once the Bill becomes law we shall not wait another eight years before looking at some other aspects of landlord and tenant law.

I also hope that the Government will soon come up with some answers to the problems of term tenancies and will give further thought to the whole question of retirement, the subject having been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke. After all, the new clause would offer the next best thing to a term tenancy. It is acceptable to landlords, and it is clear that tenants want such a provision. It would provide a degree of certainty; landlord and tenant would know when the tenancy would come to an end and could plan accordingly.

The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Deakins) wondered what advantages there would be for the tenant. Perhaps it is not up to us to elucidate all the advantages. If a freely consenting landlord and tenant want to enter into a scheme of this type, let us allow them that freedom of contract. It is clear that this system would not be imposed over the whole of landlord and tenant law. Perhaps only a limited number would wish to apply it. Is it our duty in Parliament to prevent people from doing what they freely want to do?

My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke has proposed a completely optional scheme. It does not refer to tenancies created under the 1976 Act or to tenancies that will have been created under this Bill. It would be for landlord and tenant to enter into. Perhaps it has not been sufficiently stressed in this debate that agreement between both parties would be essential.

Hon. Members have pointed out that prior to the Bill there were years of discussion and consultation with the CLA and NFU. When we next come to look at the reforms that are necessary in landlord and tenant legislation, I hope with other hon. Members that we shall spread the net more widely and take into account the views of the young farmers' associations. Whenever we debate these issues, much is said about the first rung on the ladder—the need to get young people into farming—so we have a duty to consult those young people, for they have a wise view to put forward. I echo the comment of my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West that we must consult the Tenant Farmers Association. It and the young farmers have a valid view and we should not disregard it.

Mr. Mark Hughes:

I do not wish to introduce a note of sadness—because I welcome the new clause—but I fear that I could not ask my hon. Friends to support the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) should he press the matter to a Division. At this stage in the Bill, after the discussion that we had in Committee, major problems arise concerning quitting farming to retire. They need more careful consideration in the context of new tenancies which, as the hon. Member for Basingstoke said, are entered into freely by landlords and tenants.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Deakins) spoke of problems over housing. There are others. There is the whole question of how free such agreements would be for new tenants. Would it not be difficult for a prospective tenant to turn down such an arrangement and still expect to obtain the tenancy? We all accept that one way of making tenant farms available is to ensure that there is an exit at retirement, rather than only at death. However admirable the principle, I am not satisfied that what the new clause proposes is the proper exit mechanism.

The hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Sir P. Mills) said that it might be necessary to concentrate in the future on a landlord contribution to a retirement scheme. There is a whole range of possibilities as to how one gets rid of antique tenant farmers. I echo what he said about the age of some farmers. It is possible to meet a septuagenarian and imagine that he is the tenant, only to have him say, "You want my old dad, who is 97."

I echo the plaudits that have been given to the Tenant Farmers Association for the aid that it gave to members of the Standing Committee. It has been a great relief to have had advice from that association as well as from the NFU when dealing with a Bill such as this. I must very reluctantly advise my hon. Friends to abstain from voting in favour of the new clause, if the hon. Gentleman forces it to a Division. We accept deeply the need for completely adequate retirement provisions at 65, whether for housing, pension arrangements or pension funding. We accept that if more tenancies are created there must be a proper exit arrangement prior to death.

With the greatest deference to the hon. Member for Basingstoke, I do not believe that the new clause effects adequately the desire that we have in common: to provide adequate retirement provision for tenants, whether of new or existing tenancies. I do not want to see two classes of tenants, one with adequate retirement provision and the other without it. Therefore, I must advise my hon. Friends not to vote on the new clause.

Photo of Mr John MacGregor Mr John MacGregor Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

Having disagreed about small-holdings with my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Sir P. Hawkins) earlier in the debate—we have disagreed on the issue for some years—I must say that I very much agree with the need to look ahead in agriculture in the next 10 to 15 years and provide for the new entrants with vision, based on realism. That is right. It is something to which my right hon. Friend and I are devoting much of our time. I hope that we are doing something about it. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West on that point.

I recall, as my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) said, that we had a lengthy debate in Committee on his new clause, which was similar in intent, but not in detail, to new clause 7. We have had a good and useful, although inevitably short, debate. It does not matter too much that it has been short, because we had such a long debate in Committee. To some extent, this debate has moved the arguments along.

As my hon. Friend knows, I was attracted by the proposal because I am keen to do anything to increase the flow of tenancies. I was impressed by the arguments put forward. I entirely agree with my hon. Friends and with the hon. Member for the City of Durham (Mr. Hughes) about the way in which the Tenant Farmers Association has put forward the idea. It has done so constructively and sensibly, and argued the case coherently. I know that it has support in principle among many farmers and clearly among some of my colleagues in the House.

At the end of the debate in Committee I gave an undertaking to discuss further the important issue with the industry to find out whether it would be possible to reach agreement on a form of retirement provision which had broad industry support. I stressed then that I saw drawbacks, although I entered into the discussions in a constructive spirit. I have as a result had further discussions with the NFU and the Tenant Fanners Association, which are the main organisations representing tenants' interests. As has been made clear by some of my hon. Friends, the NFU has given much consideration to the problem, but in the end has come out firmly against the proposal.

I share the view of my hon. Friends that it is up to the Government and to the House to put forward proposals for legislation. Although the NFU does not seem to me to be representing the views of all farmers, we must take account of the fact that many farmers—some of whom have expressed the view to me personally as I have travelled around the country—are very strongly against the proposal and deeply worried by it.

8.45 pm

One reason why we must reconsider the proposal is that it has emerged and developed fairly late in the discussions; indeed, even as late as in the parliamentary debate on the Bill. Secondly, we all recognise that the agriculture industry is going through a period of considerable uncertainty, especially with the need to check the costs of disposing of the surpluses produced by the CAP. If the proposal has not been fully thought through and is therefore likely to create further uncertainty and worry in the farming industry in general, and if there are still real divisions in the farming industry, we must think carefully before deciding to impose further problems and uncertainties on the industry.

Mr. Jackson:

If my hon. Friend thinks that this is a good idea but that the problem lies in the relatively late stage at which the matter has come to the surface in the debate, will he tell the House what steps he could take to bring the issue back to the House for consideration so that we could make a positive decision on the matter?

Photo of Mr John MacGregor Mr John MacGregor Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I shall deal with that point at the end of my remarks.

I have been undertaking discussions, and I recognise the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke to meet some of the drawbacks that were spoken of in Committee, but problems remain, although I congratulate my hon. Friend on what he has done. There is much force in many of the arguments that have been put forward. It is very helpful to have such a debate tonight.

Some formidable problems remain. Let me address my mind to some of them. First, I refer to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), although he did not regard the problem as insuperable. Tenant farmers would be the group of self-employed people required to retire at a specified age. I cannot think of any others off hand but, as the Minister who formerly dealt with the self-employed, I can think of a great many self-employed people who do not have to retire at a specified age.

My hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Sir P. Mills) is quite right to say that these days it is not unusual for people to retire at the age of 60 or 65. That is happening increasingly throughout the community, particularly for company employees, including those in the public sector. However, it is not yet generally the case among the self-employed. We would be introducing a largely new principle for the self-employed if we introduced the principle now.

Some problems are involved. We all know that one feature that is important to the self-employed is their independence and ability to decide their own destiny. It is also worrying that there is a difficulty about pension provisions. I recognise that the new clause refers only to new tenancies, so all people entering into such contracts will have plenty of time in which to plan. The worry about such provision comes through most strongly from farmers in areas where they are more likely to have low incomes, and where, although they have not fully taken on board the fact that it will apply only to new tenancies, they feel nevertheless that the same problem of providing for pensions would apply to their sons or daughters, as they embark upon new tenancies.

One way of protecting themselves from that and of ensuring that they have an adequate income in old age is to be able to go on in their job after the age of 65. The final difference is that, on the whole, provisions are made in companies for retirement at 60 and 65, where the employer and the employee contribute to the company pension scheme. That would not be so in this case.

I know that one of my hon. Friends has suggested that we should think about full tenancies, with contributions from landlords to pension schemes. That radical proposal will perhaps need to be considered in the light of proposals such as those before us. However, the argument is not sufficiently well developed to enable us to take that on board now.

The second general problem is that my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke, who proposed the new clause, laid considerable emphasis on the fact that this retirement would be an option. He used that word several times. I know exactly why he did so. He was afraid that because of the supply and demand in tenancies it would turn out not to be an option, but would be an almost automatic clause in future tenancy contracts. It would amount to compulsory retirement.

There are arguments on both sides, but I believe that there are good arguments for saying that it would not be as easy an option as he has made out. We need to explore that point further.

It has been suggested that it would be wrong to require a tenant farmer who has a major business investment in his farm effectively compulsorily to liquidate his assets on reaching the age of 65. My hon. Friend has tried to meet that problem with the two-year notice provision.

Nevertheless, farming would probably still be the only industry involving such major investment where the investor would not be able to make his own decision about when to cease trading, even if he had two years to plan for it. There is the worry that he may have to liquidate his assets at a time that is not of his choosing. It might not be possible for him to realise them at an advantageous price, for reasons outside his control. For example, the immediate reaction after the imposition of quotas could not have been foreseen two years previously, when he was given notice. Therefore, there is a lack of freedom for him to be able to realise his own lifetime investment at the most advantageous time.

Several other points were made by the NFU and others. I did not share all the fears that were expressed; for example, the fear that landlords would let to older tenants in their 50s so that they could ensure a tenancy for a relatively short fixed term. I do not think that that is how it would work out in practice, in most cases. Another difficulty is that there would be no obligation on the landlord to give an undertaking to a tenant whether, and if so when, he would serve a notice to quit based on retirement. The tenant would thus be in considerable uncertainty over when he would have to move to his retirement position. That is not dealt with in the new clause.

Some of my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Deakins) referred to provision for alternative accommodation. Many farmers wish such provision to be made. It is in the clause on smallholdings. It is easier, in the case of smallholdings, to defend and justify that provision, because smallholdings belong to a local authority, even if housing is provided by a different local authority. There is no provision in the new clause for that alternative accommodation. It might be extremely difficult to achieve in practice. Nevertheless, many people are concerned about that.

I could list a few more problems, but I think that I have touched on some of the major difficulties about the proposal. It is therefore with reluctance and regret that I cannot recommend my hon. Friends to allow the new clause to be included in the Bill. As I have said, there is much force in many of the arguments. Anything that will increase the flow of new tenancies is attractive, but even on that point there is the problem whether the flow of new tenancies would be increased by the measure. I have discussed the point with the Tenant Farmers Association. Neither it nor I have yet been able to find a satisfactory way around the difficulties of ensuring that there are new tenancies if there is a compulsory retirement on the farm. The new clause does not solve the problem.

Obviously the subject will be debated much more. The way in which the debate and thinking are shifting is interesting, as we have seen today. However, it is a pity, in a way, that the debate has only just started to move in that direction, and it is difficult to try to deal with some of the objections at such a late stage in the passage of the Bill. Therefore, I must reluctantly conclude that I cannot recommend the inclusion of the new clause, because it is our duty to put on the statute book clauses which are thought through and as free as possible of practical snags.

I shall answer the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson). I cannot give arty parliamentary commitments, but the fact that so many of my hon. Friends are thinking along these lines shows that the debate will not go away. I hope that the subject will continue to be discussed, and. if it is possible to overcome all the problems to which I have referred, it is likely that there will be greater uninimity and, who knows—I do not know when action could be taken, but I would not rule it out—we might reconsider the matter.

Photo of Mr Andrew Hunter Mr Andrew Hunter , Basingstoke

This has been an extremely profitable debate. I thank my hon. Friends for supporting the new clause. I shall withdraw it on the assurance and understanding that the debate has only just started, and will continue on another occasion.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.