|Previous Section||Home Page|
Mr. Paul Marland (Gloucestershire, West): In view of the cautious words at the beginning of the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin), perhaps I should remind the House of my interest in farming. More significantly, and as a matter of caution, I remind the House that, sadly and reluctantly, I am still a name at Lloyd's. I apologise for missing the Minister's speech at the beginning of the debate and that by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr Strang). My reason for missing them was that I was at the sitting of the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee which was interviewing the chairman of Lloyd's about Lloyd's self-regulation. You may be interested to know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I have never in my life heard such a puny justification of self-regulation.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes): Order. Interested as I might be in a private capacity, in my public guise I must tell the hon. Gentleman that he is out of order and must return to the debate on Second Reading.
Mr. Marland: I thought that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and the Minister might be interested to know why I arrived late in the Chamber. I thought that it was important to state the exact reason. I welcome the Bill, as do most hon. Members who have spoken. I pay tribute to the National Farmers Union and the Tenant Farmers Association for negotiating on this matter between themselves for, I think, more than five years. I am glad that the NFU is giving the Bill the nod of approval, certainly in my constituency, and that is added justification for taking matters forward.
It is sad that Labour appears to have changed its view. It cannot understand that, to make a market, one needs a willing buyer and a willing seller. It appears that that is what the Bill will provide. Labour's attitude should come as no surprise to Conservative Members because for ages it has claimed that it is the friend of the farmer and the farm worker. It is a friend to as many people as it can possibly convince that Labour believes in their best interests. Sadly, that does not always turn out to be the case. A recent example is to be found in the export of live animals, because, in 1975, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East voted for the restoration of such exports. We have been discussing the issue in the House for the past fortnight. The matter has been brought up two or
Column 94three times and, twist and turn as he may, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East cannot get away from the fact, because it is on record, that he voted for the restoration of the export of live animals.
Mr. Marland: Many tenant farmers have a vested interest in the export of live animals to the European Community and I wanted the House and anyone listening outside to appreciate that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East is in favour of such exports and has voted for them in the past.
The Bill will bring new entrants to agriculture and give the industry new vigour. All industries need vigour, and let me make no bones about the fact that farming is a business. I am sure that you will let me get away with saying that, Madam Deputy Speaker. Vigour and new blood need to be brought in all the time, and farming is becoming more and more specialised. Hon. Members have said that the capital requirements of those involved in farming are becoming greater. Technology is developing and the knowledge of farmers is becoming greater.
Sadly, I was not able to go to Cirencester on the three-year management course which my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) attended. It obviously did him a lot of good. Farming is a specialist business, and out are going the small farmers and those people who for reasons of their own want to quit the business. Dynamic young men and women are coming in. It is probably significant that I have a parcel of land which I intend to let to a young farmer who lives near my farm. He is much more dynamic than I am and I shall welcome him to my farm because he will bring to it vigour, dynamism and excitement.
People want to own land for all sorts of reasons, but they do not necessarily want to farm it. They want to own it for fishing, conservation, tree planting, shooting, pride of ownership or the privacy that it gives them. There is nothing wrong with any of those aims. Term agreements will be helpful because they will ensure that a farmer does not lose control of his land. That is surely at the heart of the measure. No long-term contracts are coming on the market, because landowners do not want to lose control of their land for many years.
It is right not to fix term tenancies: there should be no minimum or maximum. The market will shake itself out and at the end of the day will reach the right conclusions. Rents will accurately reflect the opportunities in agriculture. It is right for a farmer to take the opportunity to generate wealth from a tenanted farm outside a town or urban area by adding value to his product, whatever it might be, through selling it directly to the consumer. However, he should pay a higher rent than a hill farmer.
Recently, many of us had an opportunity to meet some hill farmers who came to the House and gave us an extremely nice dinner of Welsh hill lamb. They told us that some of the difficulties that they were facing might
Column 95force some of them off the land. They said that it was right and proper that, when their rents were being decided or reviewed, the difficulties they were facing should be taken into account. So be it: if there has to be a rent reduction to keep them on the land, we should welcome it and pave the way for it.
The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) made great play of the fact that there was too much short-termism in farming and in the tenancies that are currently available. He is right: there is much short-termism in letting, for the reasons that I gave
earlier--landowners do not want to part with their land for long periods. That is why there is such a growth in grazing tenancies, in the number of Gladstone v. Bower arrangements and in the number getting permission from the Ministry to have tenancies.
Mr. Marland: Nothing surprises us about the Opposition or about what goes on on the Opposition Benches. Earlier in my speech, I mentioned that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East, Labour's Front-Bench spokesman, had voted for the export of live animals.
The Bill will bring an end--
Mr. Marland: It is accurate to say that many businesses use rented property. Why should agriculture be any different from engineering? If an engineering business wants to occupy a factory from which to run its business, there is no problem--it can take the premises for whatever length of time it wants. It should be precisely the same with agricultural businesses.
Mr. Llwyd: The hon. Gentleman must know that an engineering business comes under part II of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954, which allows it an almost automatic renewal of its tenancy. There is no such provision for agricultural tenancies in this Bill.
Mr. Marland: Perhaps that point should be studied further. A good landlord and a good tenant would want their arrangement to continue. Whether it is an engineering business or a tenanted farm, it does not appear
Column 96to me that, in the long term, it makes any difference. As we all know, my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury has volunteered to serve on the Standing Committee and he may wish to raise that point during its proceedings. It is right that we should provide the opportunity for people to occupy land on a term agreement, to be worked out between the landlord and tenant. They can go forward together on that basis.
I am glad that the new arrangements for tenant compensation at the end of a tenancy will reflect the value that a tenant has added to the holding, whether it is quota, a building improvement or the establishment of new enterprises on the land. The landlord and tenant can come to an arrangement either before the start of a project or, if the tenancy comes to an inexplicably early end, reach a proper agreement to compensate the outgoing tenant and/or his family or those whom he leaves behind in the event of his untoward death. The question of tenant right should also be discussed in Committee. If a tenant dies when crops are growing--for example, when the wheat crop is just ready for harvesting--under current provisions that crop would belong to the landlord. I hope that that problem can be sorted out in Committee because it is an important aspect, especially for short-term tenancies.
The change in inheritance tax is something that all with an interest in the Bill will welcome, as will all those with an interest in the health of the countryside. The 100 per cent. relief from inheritance tax will ensure that newly available land for letting will come on to the market. I am absolutely certain that that is a major feature of the Bill, because many would-be landlords have been waiting to see the precise financial arrangements. I compliment the Treasury, which has agreed to this provision, because it will bring many new jobs and opportunities to the countryside.
The Bill will create not privilege but an opportunity for new entrants into agriculture. It will create opportunities for wealth creation in the countryside. It will create opportunities and jobs for the 48,000 agricultural workers who have already been mentioned. What will they say when they hear about the antics of Labour Members tonight? What will they say when they hear how their jobs and their future are jeopardised by Labour Members, who appear to be advocating a massive running down of opportunities in the countryside? Labour Members should seriously reconsider their position between now and 10 o'clock, because there is no doubt that what they have said will have a serious effect on the countryside.
Mr. Booth: Does my hon. Friend deprecate the fact that the number of agricultural tenancies has fallen to about 10 per cent. of all landholdings? Does he agree that the Bill will help to redress that imbalance to its previous position of almost 80 per cent. of landholdings?
Mr. Marland: I do not know whether the traditional figure is 80 per cent., but I am certain that there will be a tremendous increase in the amount of land that is available for letting, for all the reasons that other hon. Members and I have given.
As I said earlier, I am sorry that I missed the bulk of the debate. I wanted to explain in greater detail to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, why that happened, but you would not let me. I am really sorry that I have not heard the entire debate.
Column 97You may think, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I am again deviating from the subject, but I promise you that I am not. My hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury will back me in my assertion that there is a major problem with Gloucestershire county council. It is controlled by Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who have run it into a massive debt of £129 million, and it has a large agricultural estate. For some time, my hon. Friend and I have urged the council to reduce its debt. More than once, we suggested that it should liquidate a large part of its agricultural estate, for which it could obtain many millions of pounds.
Mr. Tyler rose --
Mr. Tyler: Had the hon. Member been present during an earlier part of the debate, he would have heard hon. Members on both sides of the House recognise that county farms are the essential first rung on the tenancy ladder. That does not mean that it is the only rung, or that, if one takes away all the rungs above, one will be left with something that is worth preserving on its own. As a Conservative Member said, to cut the ladder at the point where people would be prevented from getting on that first rung is of no assistance to the tenanted sector. Hon. Members on both sides of the House acknowledged that before the hon. Gentleman returned from dealing with the matter of Lloyd's upstairs.
Mr. Marland: I wondered what defence the Liberals on Gloucestershire county council would come up with, and the hon. Gentleman has just given me a foretaste of that. Labour and Liberal members of that council have been saying precisely what the hon. Gentleman has just said, but the object of the Bill is to create more opportunities for new entrants--whether they be young, middle-aged or old men--to come into the industry. Justification no longer exists, therefore, for the hon. Gentleman's friends on the council to hang on to the agricultural estate. They should consider seriously the opportunity of selling it off.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend in the middle of his excellent peroration. Is not the real point about smallholdings that they could be perfectly well managed by a private or institutional landlord? Tenants would have security of tenure--they would still be there--but the tremendous capital value would be released. I agree with my hon. Friend about Gloucestershire county council. I put it in touch with someone who would do what he suggested, but it refused to listen to that person's advice. The council should reduce its landholding.
Mr. Marland: I am grateful for my hon. Friend's support. I am sure that we shall hear more about the matter because there will be some twisting and turning from the Liberals, as has been shown by the comments of Liberal Members.
Mr. Enright rose --
Column 98that, earlier in the evening, a National Farmers Union delegation from west Yorkshire was here in the House? I was buttonholed for half an hour by a gentleman who hired his farm from North Yorkshire county council, and who complained about what might happen to him as a result of the Bill. That council, of course, is controlled by the Conservatives.
Mr. Marland: I obviously cannot discuss specific cases with the hon. Gentleman, but I am certain that, if he wanted to buy his farm from North Yorkshire county council, he probably could do. I do not know the debt position in relation to that council, so it is not possible for me to make a constructive comment on that point. Nevertheless, I welcome the Bill. I wish it well in every way. I hope that it has a speedy passage through Committee and that, between now and 10 o'clock, Opposition Members will change their minds. 9.7 pm
Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South-West): The Bill shows an important philosophical difference between the Labour party and the Conservative party. Conservative Members believe that society is best ordered by unbridled exercise of social position and the power of accumulated wealth. Labour Members recognise the strength and contribution of those forces, but we seek a society in which all people can live without fear of exploitation or harassment, and in the knowledge that the law will provide them with economic and social justice.
The notion that an agricultural tenant should have security of tenure for life was introduced by a Labour Government in 1947. It was part of a package of measures that were designed to bring stability to an industry that, before the second world war, had witnessed crushing depression and chronic insecurity.
The Bill is portrayed as part of a liberating process that will release land to be farmed by new tenants, and that will facilitate the expansion of progressive and successful operators in the industry. Labour Members do not believe that the interests of the industry and of the countryside will be best served by denying future agricultural tenants the benefit of a reasonable measure of security of tenure and of statutory protection in the complex relationship that they have with their landlords.
The Government, apparently with the full agreement of the landowning and tenant farmer organisations, are throwing to one side the whole panoply of legal safeguards and protections which have been developed over the years to prevent the tenant from becoming a victim of his landlord and to give him a legal framework in which he can invest with confidence and which will enable him to give of his best to the land. In its place is to be a system that has at its heart a key fallacy: that the parties to an agricultural tenancy are free agents and come as equals to the negotiations. In this respect, the Bill opens the way to a revesting of power in agricultural landowners, which will place them in a position not dissimilar to that held by their forebears in the 18th and 19th centuries.
All this has been done on the pretence that landowners will now be encouraged to award more lettings of their land to new entrants into farming. How shall we know whether this gamble has paid off? It has been estimated by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors that 1 million acres of agricultural land will be released for letting as a
Column 99consequence of the Bill. The Country Landowners Association estimates the figure to be 1.6 million acres. Wisely, the organisations give no idea of the period of time over which these acreages might be released.
Both estimates were made before the Government announced that let agricultural land is to qualify for 100 per cent. inheritance tax relief. Therefore, it is possible that the figures may be revised upwards. Indeed, that may be the only positive effect on tenancies. It was, as the Minister graciously acknowledged, mentioned in our document on encouraging new entrants into farming.
Apart from the public relations figures issued by interested bodies, what will tell us how many new tenancies will be created over a period of, say, five years from the date of Royal Assent? No doubt landowners will wish to include the reletting, under farm business tenancies, of land at present covered by grazing agreements, Gladstone v . Bower arrangements, Ministry- approved short lettings and other ingenious licence tactics which avoid the creation of an agricultural tenancy.
Also included in the total new lettings will be a substantial acreage of bare land. That will enlarge the size of neighbouring farms and provide no opportunity for a newcomer in the industry. In addition, there will be the let farms that become available during the period of assessment and that will now be let on farm business tenancies. We must be careful not to include them in the figures for "new let" land.
Assuming that at least half of the 1.6 million acres is composed of land at present in hand but which would be let to new tenants on farm business tenancies, and assuming that the average size of the holdings let is to be 250 acres, we should expect 3,200 new tenancies for commercial farms over, say, the next five years. We shall see. A tally could also be kept of the acreage of farmland which, over the same period, ceases to be tenanted, such as farms currently owned by British Coal.
Mr. Jones: I was using a putative figure to minimise the numbers. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that, if farms were to be 150 acres, considerably more tenancies could be expected. What causes a sharp intake of breath is the absolute nature of the Bill's intent. There have been no half measures and no visible compromises. It might have been sufficient to open the door to many new entrants into farming if landlords had been given freedom of manoeuvre for tenancies of less than five years and lettings to tenants of a certain age or for holdings of, say, less than 80 acres, or to introduce period tenancies, the compulsory retirement of tenants at 65 or one of the many other proposals that must be on the table. Instead, the sword has been taken up and the rights of several generations of future tenants have been severed.
Column 100farms of 250 acres--I calculate that the total land available would be in the region of 600,000 to 700,000 acres. That is still a substantial figure.
The right of the tenant to serve a counter-notice on his landlord when he is told to quit the holding has gone. Also gone is the sensible connection between the rent that the tenant is asked to pay and the productive capacity of the land. The tenant is now left to the vagaries of an imperfect open market in which agricultural rents are set on an upward course. Also gone is his entitlement to compensation for disturbance when he is ejected from the farm. All that is left is compensation for improvements that have received the landlord's approval. That provision has been described by the National Farmers Union as a hard-won concession.
Gone are the model clauses that made clear which repairs were the responsibility of the tenant and which were the responsibility of the landlord. The division is now left for the landlord to determine in the terms of the agreement that he offers to the tenant. Worse, where there is no agreement, confusion and uncertainty will prevail and will lead to endless legal wrangles.
Gone is the statutory right of the tenant to claim compensation for damage caused by wild animals and game birds, which only the landlord has the right to kill. That may be a small point, but it is indicative of a determination in this legislation to wipe the slate completely clean. The list could be extended by going more deeply into the schedules of the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986. One consequence of the Bill is that the tenant of a 1,000-acre farm, with all the capital equipment and employment that is needed to run a farm of that size, could have less security of tenure and fewer rights when dealing with his landlord than the occupier of a small corner shop in Newmarket. How has that come about? The answer is that it is the result of a famine of agricultural tenancies.
We are told that landlords were deterred from creating tenancies because of the introduction of succession of tenancies in 1976; many hon. Members have said that. If that is true, why have landowners not taken the opportunity to let more land since 1984 when the succession provisions became optional for new tenancies? The truth is that the famine began long before 1976. Its cause lay in the level of returns that landlords and their advisers felt they should get from rents. Institutional owners, an important source of let land, felt that they could get a better return on their investment elsewhere and individual owners were advised that they would make more profit from taking their farms in hand.
The House should remember that open market rents were built into agricultural holdings legislation from 1947 to 1984. Under the operation of that formula and before the introduction of succession, the supply of tenanted land seriously diminished. Open market rents failed because the demand for farms outstripped supply and the rent that many new entrants were prepared to pay was in excess of what could be supported by the productive capacity of the farm. Those entering tenancy agreements with high rents lived in the hope that inflation would rise to reduce the cost of their rent in real terms. In many cases, they badly
Column 101miscalculated and disaster befell them. It is to be seriously doubted that there can be such a thing as an open market for agricultural tenancies.
If the Country Landowners Association is to be believed, following this legislation, there will be an initial rush of privately owned land offered up for rent. After approximately five years, the flow of new tenancies will have slowed down and the turnover will be mainly in existing tenanted farms. If, as seems likely, we witness at the same time a further restructuring of UK farms, with amalgamations and multiple-ownership arrangements, the demand for tenanted whole farms will, predictably, increase and the supply will either begin to decline again or will remain static. The inevitable result will be to drive up rents.
Furthermore, all the bidders for a single tenancy will not be starting with the same advantages. A neighbouring farmer who estimates that he can run a nearby farm without increasing his labour force by using his own buildings and by making greater use of his existing range of machinery can offer a higher rent than an efficient newcomer who proposes to run the farm as a self-supporting enterprise. Similarly, applicants with sources of income from outside agriculture will tend to distort the market for the normal working farmer.
The difference between conditions 30 years ago and the conditions that will apply after the Bill becomes law is that having forced the rent as high as he can get it, with or without arbitration, the landlord will always be tempted at the end of the term to seek an even higher rent from a new applicant. The way will be clear for him to repossess the farm.
During the debate, we were told with monotonous frequency that the package has been agreed with the whole industry, including organisations representing the interests of tenants. We know, however, that the Farmers Union of Wales has maintained its opposition to the proposals throughout.
Also, in October 1992, the National Farmers Union and the National Federation of Young Farmers Clubs were clear as to the points that they were aiming to secure in their discussions, following the publication of the Government's consultation document. They considered it vital that a legal framework be maintained, to ensure that tenancies were let on fair and reasonable terms. They demanded a minimum term for the letting of not less than 15 years, with two years' notice of termination after the term was ended. They asked that an existing tenant who had proved suitable be given the option of continuing his or her tenancy when the fixed period came to an end. They said that wide statutory provisions were needed, relating to the payment of compensation at the end of the tenancy. They expressed total opposition to freely negotiated rents at open market values.
What has changed since those demands were made? Few of them feature in the legislation and the National Farmers Union has slipped quietly into line behind a triumphant Country Landowners Association. Significant numbers of their members have misgivings, however. One of the strong points persuading the NFU and the Tenant Farmers Association to accept the package was that existing agricultural lettings would not be affected by the introduction of farm business tenancies. In our opinion, however, they should not be too complacent. On the face of it, existing tenants are safe from threat, but as the Bill becomes law, the landowner will have an even
Column 102greater incentive to engineer the termination of old arrangements, or--in the case of pre-1986 agreements--to persuade the tenant's children to give up their rights of succession. Cash bribes are an obvious approach, but the tenant must also watch for the stealthy move--for example, sending a farm business tenancy agreement for the son or daughter to sign when the father is on his deathbed, in the knowledge that, for succession to operate, the successor must apply to the agricultural land tribunal to have the tenancy assigned to him or her. A tenant might be moved to a larger or more productive farm on the estate, on the condition that he or she entered into a farm business tenancy. The landlord might even accompany the transfer with an unenforceable verbal promise that the tenant's son would succeed him to the tenancy when the time came.
At all times, existing tenants will be well advised to be watchful. They should also not assume that their rents will be unaffected by the operation of the collateral open market for farm business tenancies. Rents on new lettings, which will inevitably be higher, due to competitive tendering in an undersupplied marketplace will, as my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) said, be used as comparables in traditional rent reviews, in much the same way as residential rents are quoted for farmhouses.
On the supposed principle that the parties to a farm business tenancy agreement are free to come to their own understanding as to the terms that are to apply to the letting, it is true that neither party is forced to enter into an agreement, but beyond that the landlord has the asset and will create the terms under which the property is let. In most cases, the tenant will come to the negotiation as a supplicant.
If tenants are young, they will be keen to farm, eager to prove themselves, full of optimism and prepared to give the enterprise everything that they have got. The terms of the tenancy will be offered to them on a take-it-or- leave-it basis. Even if they take legal advice and are told the extent of their obligations and the precariousness of their position under the agreement, they will still sign because there will be only one thought in their minds--they want to farm more than anything else in the world.
That is hardly a negotiation between equals. The landlord, or his agent, will rely on the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors model agreement, appropriately modified by counsel to suit the needs of his estate. From his point of view, the landlord is merely being prudent. He may not know the potential tenant and will want to be able to escape from the agreement and repossess the farm, if the going gets difficult. He will be looking for no more rent than his land agent has told him that he can expect and he does not want the farm to deteriorate, but he also does not want to use his capital to carry out improvements for which he can expect the tenant to pay. If the tenant is young, the landlord will want to keep the farm on as tight a rein as possible, within the terms of the agreement.
Sir Jerry Wiggin: I apologise for not being here at the start of the hon. Gentleman's speech. I hate to interrupt, given the exciting nature of what he is saying, but his theme assumes the present situation--no competition and no farms to let elsewhere. He is stating the present situation--the result of a Labour Government's
Column 103legislation--in which there is a virtual monopoly. If there were plenty of farms for the hypothetical young man to rent, none of the problems that he describes would exist.
Mr. Jones: I hope that the hon. Gentleman was not at the meeting about Lloyd's, or at least is not affected by it. He misses the point. The supply of land is limited, no new farms are being created, and existing tenants will hang on to their tenancies, so we are talking about a small number of farms. Had the hon. Gentleman been here at the beginning of my speech, he would have heard the number that I expect. Sadly, he was unable to be here.
The inequality between landlord and tenant has been recognised by Parliament in the letting of domestic housing, and tenants have been given protection under the Housing Acts. Until the introduction of this Bill, Parliament recognised the multiple problems that can arise between landlord and tenant and sought to give the tenant adequate safeguards and protective rights in a series of Acts of Parliament from 1887 onwards. All that is now turned aside and the agricultural tenant is told that he must look out for himself.
On a wider point, there are other problems with the Bill. I refer to the duties of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food as set out in section 17 of the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986. It seems strange that a Minister with such a wide-ranging duty to balance countryside interests has drafted a Bill to cater almost exclusively for the interests of agriculture. That is a dangerously myopic approach to a set of long- standing problems. It is in the best interests of both landlords and tenants to be able to enter into new tenancies and leases that permit the widest possible use of rural land, bodies of water and other natural and man-made resources in the countryside. The Minister may contend that a new, wider set of definitions will confuse rather than clarify, but such an assertion only ossifies definitions that are increasingly outmoded and limiting to rural enterprises and associated employment opportunities. The Agricultural Tenancies Bill should cover all agricultural, silvicultural, natural, man-made, heritage, conservation and environmental land management uses and other related uses. New definitions should cover all existing and foreseeable enterprises and uses of rural land, buildings and bodies of water, including keeping livestock for the production of medical products; growing crops for industrial purposes; conservation; preservation; and enhancement of the countryside environment.
If the current, narrow definitions are not expanded, all other rural tenancies and leases must come under the terms of the Landlord and Tenant Acts, principally the 1954 Act. That general legislation was not designed to cater for such uses and enterprises. Indeed, the 1954 Act specifically excluded agricultural holdings. The result may be that, where a landlord and tenant agree to a variety of uses for rural land and buildings, they must enter into more than one type of tenancy or lease to comply with the legal requirements of their overall agreement. That duplication of professional charges and paperwork is far from the efficient and economic framework which the Government purport to introduce.
Over the coming years, we shall monitor the position closely. Inevitably, the lack of security of tenure for farm business tenancies will lead to disappointment,
Column 104disillusionment and hardship. Landlords are being given back the full range of power and privilege that they exercised in former years. We shall expect them not always to seek perfection in their tenants, to be compassionate with tenants who become ill or meet misfortune and be understanding when tenants are no longer young. The function and exercise of the power returned to them is larger than the matter of pure economics.
The Opposition solemnly repeat our commitment to the family farm as the unit that has shown most resilience throughout the devastating economic storms that have swept through the history of agriculture. That unit is most in harmony with the rural environment. We also repeat our commitment to farm tenancies for the working life of the tenant. Such tenancies encourage good husbandry, and give the tenant confidence in dealing with his land and dignity in dealing with his landlord.
As the farming and landowning organisations have reminded us in discussions on the proposals, the economics have changed, as have the needs of agriculture since 1947, or even within the past 20 years. The economics and the science of economics may have changed, but the countryside changes more slowly and human nature changes even more slowly, if at all. The need for social justice was one of the guiding principles behind the now-to-be- disregarded agricultural holdings legislation. We shall not forget that fact when we look at the workings of this legislation when we are in government in years to come. It was enlightening to see many Conservative Members intimate that most people outside the House reckon that we shall be in government after the next election. Why else would they be so concerned about our stance on the Bill?
The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Michael Jack): One could hardly describe the speech of the honMember for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones) as riveting. If that was an example of new Labour, it shows that the Opposition must undertake much more modernising.
I thought that the idea of a wind-up speech was to reply to the telling points of hon. Members on the other side of the Chamber. The hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West did not reply to any of the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) and my hon. Friends the Members for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin), for Stroud (Mr. Knapman), for Harborough (Mr. Garnier), for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton- Brown), for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) and for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Marland). All we heard was a dirge of despair and depression about the future.
Mr. Jack: That exactly sums up the Opposition's approach to the matter. The doomster approach was backed up by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang), who in his opening dragged along as much of the luggage of agricultural history as he could. The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright) dallied in a dilettante way with the classical approach to agriculture, and I think that the best that we can say to him is, "rhubarb".
Column 105The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) was supportive, for which I thank him.
The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) made some interesting points, which I shall discuss later, as did the hon. Members for Lancashire, West (Mr. Pickthall) and for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams).
I was interested in a press release that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East issued on 18 November 1994, in which he said: "Security of tenure is essential for the family farm"-- as though that was a newly discovered truth, which had not dawned on the Conservative Benches for many a long year. I was surprised that neither he nor his hon. Friends mentioned the construction of the Bill in clauses 1, 5, 6, 7, 16, 23, 24 and 25, all of which concern various aspects of security that are central to the subject of agricultural tenancy.
Dr. Strang indicated dissent .