I thank the Minister for handling the Bill with his usual courtesy. He has been wise in listening to the industry throughout its stages. Thanks must also be given to the Tenancy Reform Industry Group, the CLA, the NFU, the Tenant Farmers Association and the Federation of Young Farmers' Clubs, which have all worked extremely hard on the Bill during its passage here and in the other place. On Third Reading in the other place, Lord Carter said that he believed that they could fairly be described as the corporate midwives of the Bill.
However, the Opposition must express some concern about the amount of horse trading that has occurred behind closed doors to arrive at the industry agreement so often referred to by the Government.
The Bill addresses a serious problem in the United Kingdom. The decline in the numbers of people farming is a worrying trend. Farming is still the backbone of the rural economy in most parts of the United Kingdom—to save Britain's rural communities from terminal decline, we need a vital and energetic farming industry. To do that, we need urgently to increase the number of new entrants, and to decrease the average age of farmers, something which hon. Members on both sides of the House have stressed.
We all agree that, to increase the number of new entrants into farming, we must increase the letting of land. The Government, with the Bill, appear to believe that the only way to do that is to remove the security of tenure of agricultural tenancies.
How can we believe that the Government are sincere about encouraging more young farmers to enter farming, when all they have done is take from the people for whom they are supposedly providing? All they have given young farmers is less security, less time to obtain a return on their investments, and less of an incentive for banks to lend them the original investment in the first place.
We have been told that banks will be just as willing to lend money on even short-term tenancies, as the Bill provides a range of compensation measures. Those compensation measures will allow the farmer to regain his money from landlord-approved improvements, and some tenant right aspects. But have the Government heard that banks do not just want their original investment back—they actually charge something called interest? How is a small tenant farmer supposed to pay such sums back with only a two to three-year tenancy?
The Government have been nothing if not constant in doing everything in their power to wreck any chance of growth in the British dairy industry. Their policy on milk quotas, the uncertainty in milk marketing, and now the Bill, all make it impossible for a new entrant to dairy farming. On Third Reading in the other place and on Report here, we have seen Government hostility to protection of milk quotas for tenant farmers.
This is not a Bill for new entrants on small tenant farms. This is a Bill for big farmers to get bigger. As has been said, it will increase the ownership of land by companies with no interest in the rural community or the environment, but a single interest in increasing profits.
We may have to consider the sector that we are discussing again when we are in government. It is encouraging that Conservative Members show so much concern about that possibility, but methinks they do protest too much: if people in the industry were not sure that we would form the next Government, they would not be concerned about our views on the Bill. As I have said, we may have to consider the sector again, but to encourage new entrants we shall not legislate retrospectively.
The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) and the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Gamier) expressed sadness about the Opposition's decision to vote against the Bill. Let me make it clear that, although we agree with the Bill's stated aims, we do not believe that it provides the way forward. It will not work. We consider ours a legitimate position, and we shall ask the House to reject the Bill for that reason alone.