Consequential Amendments

Part of Orders of the Day — Agricultural Tenancies Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 6:41 pm on 19th April 1995.

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Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler , North Cornwall 6:41 pm, 19th April 1995

I have only one major quibble with the way in which the Minister introduced the Third Reading, and that is that he implied that his was the parentage of the Bill. If the Child Support Agency was to look at it more carefully, it would say that he might be the adoptive or the foster parent, but the real parentage was that of the Tenancy Reform Industry Group.

We should all pay tribute to the way in which the industry came together, without which the legislation would have been impossible. There was no sign of it coming forward from the Ministry until the Tenant Farmers Association, the National Farmers Union, the Country Landowners Association and the young farmers got together. That is a tribute to the work they have done.

I pay tribute to the Minister and his colleagues for persuading the Chancellor to make the important change in inheritance tax, but I remind him, as I reminded the House on Second Reading, that three years ago his colleagues on the Finance Bill Committee voted down just such a reform when I put it to that Committee. We must make it clear that that is not a concession; it is to try to introduce the end of some discrimination in tax. That is why hon. Members on both sides of the House believe that it is long overdue.

There seems to be some consensus now in the House that the present situation with regard to tenancy is unsatisfactory. Even the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright) said that the Bill would make things less worse. If all the legislation that came before us in the House and emerged into the open air made things less worse, we would all be much happier than we sometimes are at the standard and quality of legislation that is passed.

Earlier, the hon. Member for Stroud said that it was his objective to ensure that the purpose of legislation such as this was to ensure that there were freely negotiated contracts. It seemed from what the Minister said in introducing this debate that he concurred. I suggest that freely negotiated contracts are not themselves the end; they are the means to an end. The ends upon which we should surely all be agreed are threefold.

First, there should be ready access for new entrants. I think that that is agreed throughout the House. Secondly, we should seek wider involvement in agriculture generally. It filled with me with dismay to hear the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) expecting a greater involvement of the large City institutions in the ownership of land. That is not the purpose of this legislation. Surely what we should be seeking is the greater involvement of a number of smaller enterprises, giving them more opportunity. The short-termism of the City institutions is not on all fours with the long-termism of stewardship to which the hon. Member referred.

Thirdly, we want to try to give wider opportunities to those who are making a success of agriculture, but on a small scale. When they seek to expand those opportunities, we want to ensure that more land is available.

It follows from all this that our previous discussion this evening about monitoring the success of the new tenancy, arrangements, the new farm business tenancies, will be extremely important. We all take seriously what the Minister said in answer to the concerns expressed on both sides of the House.

It also follows that we need a period of stability to build up the confidence to enable those changes to take place. Therefore, I too welcome the declaration from the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman that the Opposition will not be seeking to introduce any retrospection if and when they are in a position to review the legislation.

I imagine that it is unlikely that any incoming Government, of whatever colour, or of multi-coloured, would seek to undo this legislation in a relatively short time, unless it had clearly gone wrong. I hope that even the present occupants of the Treasury Bench would accept that, if things have clearly gone wrong, we shall all have to return to the matter within a short period.

I do not have time to go into any great detail, but there is one nagging worry that I think hon. Members on both sides still have, and that concerns the timetable for the preparation and publication of the RICS guidelines. I hope that the Minister will use his good offices to ensure that those are brought forward as speedily as possible, even if they are not in their final form, for consultation and fine tuning.

Subject only to that particular concern, I welcome the legislation, and I hope for all our sakes that we will not have to return to the issue in the near future.