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Agricultural Tenancies: Annual Report

Part of Orders of the Day — Agricultural Tenancies Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 19th April 1995.

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Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack , Fylde 4:45 pm, 19th April 1995

This has been an interesting exchange on the question of monitoring the effects of the Bill. My hon.

Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) was right, in her sage intervention, to remind us of the question of cost and complexity when people seek information. I shall say more on that later.

The opening exchanges have shown us that Labour Members still have an underlying suspicion about the Bill, and do not fully endorse and rejoice in the benefits that it will bring to the world of agriculture. No doubt we shall hear more about that in due course.

I wrote down what the hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones) said, because I thought it quite interesting—that the Bill was a licence for big farms to get bigger. Clearly he has not read the latest parliamentary briefing sent out by the Tenant Farmers Association, which is an avowed enthusiast of the Bill. The conclusion to that eminently readable document states:

Many owners no longer wish to farm. Family farms offer the opportunities to expand and others wish to enter the industry. That is a succinct way of pointing out that the Bill has the potential to benefit all sorts of agricultural activity, whether large or small. It may well provide an opportunity for the younger farmer—perhaps the son of an existing farmer—to develop his own business on the existing farm by being able to take advantage of the additional amounts of new tenanted land that the Bill will bring on to the market. That deals with the point made by Labour Members on that matter.

The hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West also said that the Bill was seen as a landowners' Bill. I wonder where the hon. Gentleman was during the Committee stage. I seem to recall that organisations like the National Farmers Union, the Tenant Farmers Association and the Young Farmers were cited on many occasions as supporters of the Bill. Therefore, I rebut the hon. Gentleman's claim that it is a landowners' Bill; it is not.

The hon. Members for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) and for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping) were, each in his own way, supportive of a measure to monitor the Bill's effects. The hon. Member for Carmarthen suggested that the IACS form could be used to collect data. Not everyone has to participate in schemes covered by IACS, so there could be a technical hole in that argument.

I want to come to the heart of the matter, and comment on the question of monitoring the uptake of farm business tenancies in the coming years. It is in the Government's interests, as it is in the hon. Gentleman's, to see what happens when, I hope, the House passes the Bill into law. As the hon. Gentleman said, in reply to a parliamentary question from him, I said that MAFF regularly reviews its requirements for statistics, and is considering how best to monitor the new farm business tenancies. Indeed, my officials were starting a review of the information currently available when the hon. Gentleman tabled his question.

As part of the review process, we shall be consulting professional organisations such as the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers, which conduct their own invaluable informative surveys, to ensure that there is no duplication of effort leading to unreasonable burdens on farmers and professional advisers. I hope that that point satisfies my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster.

We will take careful stock of what needs to be done to put in place sensible arrangements for monitoring, and we will publish the results of that exercise.