Consequential Amendments

Part of Orders of the Day — Agricultural Tenancies Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 6:35 pm on 19th April 1995.

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Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd , Meirionnydd Nant Conwy 6:35 pm, 19th April 1995

I shall be brief, as I know that other hon. Members want to speak.

Undoubtedly, there was a need for the Bill. In the 1900s, 90 per cent. of the land was let. Today, the figure is 30 per cent. I suppose that the Bill is an attempt to address that problem. I do not support the Bill, because of some misgivings, which I shall briefly enumerate now. Although balance is important, as the hon. and learned Member for Harborough said, there has to be balance between the rights of the tenant and those of the landlord. I do not think that the Bill addresses that balance.

Farming is, of course, a long-term enterprise. There is no such thing as real, useful short-term farming. I do not know what the future holds, nor do I profess to have a monopoly of wisdom on the subject. I sincerely believe, however, that there are problems in the Bill.

It is quite evident that there will he short-term lets, as they are more beneficial to landlords. Short-term lets are not good for the environment. They are not particularly good for communities, for tenants or for the land at large.

I made the point in Committee about Tir Cymen, the Welsh version of country stewardship schemes. I am still not certain about the answer. Will the tenure schemes that are typically available under that scheme be available if land is let, say, for two or three years, or whatever? I still wish to hear from the Minister at some stage about that matter.

The farming industry is the backbone of our rural communities. It is a long-term occupation, and in my view is unlike any other business, because more often than not it provides a home as well. There is a village in my constituency where virtually every farm is let. Some 90 per cent. of the occupants of the village are directly involved in farming. It is important, therefore, that the Bill should work.

We understand full well the notion of freedom of contract, the equality of bargaining and so on, but one must look at supply and demand. There is an insufficient supply of land, but there is a great demand. Therefore, that in itself will dictate terms that may well be onerous for all concerned.

The amendments today are welcome and useful, and I wholeheartedly endorse each one of them. They show that the Minister listened to debates in Committee, for which I am grateful.

Earlier, the Minister curtly put down one of his hon. Friends, saying that he had no control over the timing of the RICS guidelines. That was disingenuous, because, on many occasions during the passage of the Bill, he relied on those coming forward. The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Knapman) was right: we may find ourselves in no man's land—I am sorry to use the word "land"—where people go on to the land without the necessary back-up of those provisions. Therefore, I again request the Minister please to bring as much influence as he can to bear on that point.

The change in inheritance tax has been mentioned. That measure is a double-edged sword. If the big investors move in, land values will escalate, which cannot be good for farming. With regard to the retirement scheme for farmers, European Union moneys are available, so why do we not apply for them?

I listened carefully to the debate about monitoring. It is 100 per cent. vital to many communities that we monitor the Bill. In my constituency, one family in every five relies wholly or in part on agriculture. That is how important the Bill is to me, as it is to many other hon. Members on both sides of the House.

I said on Second Reading that the Bill was a curate's egg, that it needed strengthening and bettering in many regards, but I am afraid that in many respects that has not happened. However, I do not have a monopoly on the future. I sincerely hope that the Government are right, and if they are, I hope that I shall have the good grace to admit it in due course.

I had misgivings, and I still have those misgivings. Monitoring the situation and making available parliamentary time if necessary are musts. I appreciate that the Government have in all sincerity tried to address the problem. I hope that they have been successful, but I still have grave doubts about it.