Clause 75

Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:00 am on 22nd March 2007.

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Agricultural holdings

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Shadow Minister (Justice)

I should like to put a couple of points to the Minister on clause 75. I had an e-mail from the National Farmers Union in which Barney Holbeche, its chief parliamentary adviser, wrote:

“We are surprised that an agricultural holdings provisionhas crept in to a Bill of this kind. Detailed issues concerning agricultural holdings law have been under review by a Defra-approved cross-industry working group called TRIG (Tenancy Reform Industry Group). TRIG produced proposals recently for modest changes to the law which the Government implemented by way of a Regulatory Reform Order. The curious thing is that so far as we know the application of CRAR in relation to agricultural holdings has not been referred to TRIG for farming industry discussion as it should have been.”

Surely the Minister should have had proper consultations with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about the clause? The NFU is slightly concerned, but points out that

“it is unlikely that rent recovery procedures would be much used in agriculture. This is because a tenant who cannot pay his rent on time would usually reach an amicable agreement with his landlord, knowing that if he failed to pay the rent on time he would be in breach of his tenancy.”

Anyone who knows anything about the farming industry knows that if someone is in breach of their tenancy, they are in danger of losing their home and business. Therefore, it is unlikely that the procedure would apply to an agricultural tenancy, but it is possible. There is also concern about lack of consultation. Will the Minister write to me in due course to explain the situation?

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Attorney General, Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, Party Chair, Liberal Democrats 9:15 am, 22nd March 2007

My understanding is that all thelaws on agricultural holdings appear in legislation that deals with agriculture holdings themselves. There is obviously a tradition of dealing with agricultural property relationships separately, and there has been much legislation on the subject. Therefore, in addition to the point made by the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk, I am concerned that the recovery process has crept into the Bill, particularly because it starts offby stating that the process will not apply in most circumstances. Will the Minister consider taking it out of the Bill and putting it in appropriate legislation? That is one of my bugbears. Legislation should be as streamlined as possible. If someone wants to look into the law about agricultural property, tenancy and holdings, they should be able to look at one set of Acts called agricultural holdings legislation and not have to look anywhere else.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs

The Bill was published in July 2006 and has been through the usual Government clearance process. It is very well known to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that CRAR is in the legislation. It is not exercisable to recover rentmore than a year overdue at the time notice of recovery is given. Permitted deductions can include any compensation due to the tenant in respect of the relevant holding. After hearing the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk, I do not think that the recovery process is likely to be used very much, but it is regarded as a useful remedy that ought to be in the Bill. I invite the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his concerns and to allow the legislation to go through.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Attorney General, Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, Party Chair, Liberal Democrats

I shall reflect on that and take advice. I am still not persuaded that the Bill is the right place for that legislation.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Shadow Minister (Justice)

I will do likewise. I will not withdraw my concerns as such but keep them registered. I will have further discussions and come back to the Minister in due course, but I am grateful to her for that initial explanation.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 75 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 76 to 81 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 14 agreed to.

Clauses 82 and 83 ordered to stand part of the Bill.