Amendment of Provisions Relating to Statutory Succession in Cases Not Excluded by Section 2

Orders of the Day — Agricultural Holdings Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 8:30 pm on 6th June 1984.

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Photo of Mr John MacGregor Mr John MacGregor Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) 8:30 pm, 6th June 1984

I beg to move amendment No. 12, in page 7, line 28, leave out 'within the meaning of Part II of the Agriculture Act 1967' and insert 'from "within" to the end of the paragraph'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

With this it will be convenient to consider Government amendments Nos. 13 to 16, 29, 35, 40, 44, 69 and 77.

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

It looks a formidable list of amendments but in fact they are in response to debates in both Houses on amendments from the Agricultural Law Association, and fulfil the undertaking that I gave in Committee on 10 April. I am grateful for the association's help in tackling this complex problem.

We are dealing with the operation of the commercial unit occupancy test. The purpose of the test is to ensure that a would-be successor, who already farmed a commercial unit, should not be eligible to succeed to a tenancy under part II of the Agriculture Act 1967.

The existing provisions in relation to the test are imprecise and have given rise to various anomalies as well as providing scope for evasion. Having looked into the matter, I feel that it is now right to clarify the law. To do so will be in step with other provisions which were added to the Bill much earlier, which are now incorporated in the group of amendments being considered. It will ensure that in the case of a multiple holding a would-be successor may succeed to no more than one holding of commercial unit size. It is designed to make more tenancies available, but it must be done with equity. The new group of amendments is designed to achieve that.

The matter is rather complex, and I could, if required, go over the various paragraphs, but as the amendments probably have the support of the House I shall not do so unless anyone wishes to raise them with me.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham , North West Norfolk

I proposed a number of these amendments in Committee on behalf of the Agricultural Law Association, and it is extremely pleased with what the Government have come up with. One point has been made to the Minister which I should like to repeat. It is the association's fear about paragraph (2) of the proposed new schedule 3A because it does not deal with the case where a survivor is granted an unprotected interest in a commercial unit by a member of his family, other than a spouse, such as the parent, brother or sister, nor does it deal with the case of a family farming company controlled by brothers or sisters. The legal advisers of a farming family could arrange affairs so that the succession could be assured. I know that the point has been made to the Minister, but it is the only point about which the ALA remains worried.

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

I recognise that this is a very complex area of the law. I think we have made it better than it was. It may not be possible to make it perfect. I think that this is the first time that this point has been put to me, and I have not had an opportunity to study it. If it is legitimate and if we can incorporate it in the Bill there will be a last opportunity to do so. I hope that my hon. Friend will support the amendments as they stand.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 13, in page 8, leave out lines 24 to 33 and insert— '(3C) Schedule 3A to this Act, which specifies—

  1. (a) kinds of occupation that are to be disregarded for the purposes of paragraph (c) of the definition of "eligible person" in subsection (2) above; and
  2. (b) circumstances in which a person is deemed to be in occupation of land for those purposes;
shall have effect.'.

No. 14, in page 8, line 44 leave out from 'any' to end of line 2 on page 9 and insert 'relevant land'.

No. 15, in page 9, line 8 at end insert— 'In this subsection "relevant land" means agricultural land which is—

  1. (a) occupied by any person falling within the said paragraphs (a) to (d) (whether he is, where the request is made by a person so falling, the person making the request or not); or
  2. (b) the subject of an application made under section 20 of this Act by any such person.'.

No. 16 in page 9 leave out lines 9 to 12. —[Mr. MacGregor.]