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5.30 p.m.

The Earl of Kinnoull: I am not sure whether the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, has tabled a serious amendment or whether it is for discussion purposes only. If it is a serious amendment—and I am not trying to be offensive—it is the most terrible among the 95 that appear on the Marshalled List. It goes to the kernel of the agreement of the industry, which is security of tenure. It took three or four years for the industry to

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reach that agreement and in my view it would be a backward step if the Committee were to accept the amendment.

Under subsection (6) of the amendment the noble Lord has listed eight deadly sins, not seven as in the 1986, 1976 and 1948 Acts. He has introduced a further deadly sin; that when one reaches the age of 65 one must retire. The landlord can serve a notice, go to court and at the age of 65 one must retire. That is a monstrous suggestion. It also adds to the point that landlords will be encouraged to take on tenants who are over the age of 60. They will not be encouraged to take on young farmers, which is what we want. The proposal is a backward step.

The noble Lord, Lord Carter, suggested that perhaps taxation was behind the Bill. I do not believe that to be the case; I hope that inheritance tax will find its way as has been suggested. The Bill is about security of tenure. The noble Lord was right to say that it should be pointed out to the industry what it might be taking on, but I feel that the industry is already well aware of that. There has been enough discussion about the Bill outside this Chamber and it has been welcomed generally.

Lord Carter: The noble Lord mentioned my name in regard to taxation. I said that taxation is outside this Bill and that has as much to do with the reduction in lettings as does the 1986 Agricultural Holdings Act and the Act that preceded it. It is not a point that we can discuss under this Bill, and to blame the reduction in lettings entirely on the weaknesses of existing legislation, which needs to be improved by this legislation, is not the entire case. I believe that taxation plays a big part.

Lord Stanley of Alderley: Following on the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, perhaps I may say that if we were allowed to deal with taxation in the Bill we would not need to have the Bill. I entirely support what was said by my noble friend, and I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, that this is a wrecking amendment. However, the noble Lord raised one good point and I hope that my noble friend Lord Howe will think seriously about it. It related to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, on Amendment No. 10, which dealt with housing. I hope that my noble friend will give serious consideration to the matter, reminding the industry about the housing problem. However, I fear that Amendment No. 13 is a wrecking amendment.

Earl Howe: I have listened with great interest to the debate. I am sure that we all realise that the loss of a family home is a very sensitive and potentially emotive issue. The landlords who contemplate letting farms which include a farmhouse will be well aware of that. We have debated the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, which gave rise to some interesting discussions. Views clearly differ on the best way of tackling the issue. Should it be a matter for the individuals concerned or should there be prescriptive legislation?

The noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, advocated a protectionist approach in the belief that it would be advantageous to the tenant. I agree that such an

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approach may benefit those few lucky tenants who manage to obtain a residential farm business tenancy. However, it would not benefit tenants in general or help us to revive the tenanted sector. Sadly, as I have already said, the Labour Party seems unable to learn from experience. Excessively protective legislation works to the disadvantage of the people whom it is designed to protect. That is so well illustrated by the agricultural holdings legislation that I must confess I find it surprising that the Labour Party wants to go down the same path.

The effect of the amendment would be that all land agents, advisers and landowners would look for ways of avoiding its restrictive provisions. Depending on circumstances, they might opt for share-farming arrangements or contract farming. Alternatively, they could split the house and the land, letting the land on a farm business tenancy but letting the house on an assured shorthold tenancy so that they could regain possession at the appropriate time. Some might simply sell their farmhouses and let the bare land to neighbouring farmers. That is just what we see happening at present. Given the fears that have been expressed about fragmentation of farms, I wonder whether Members of the Committee opposite really believe that to be desirable.

We and the main industry organisations representing tenants as well as landlords take the view that tenants are businessmen who are capable of making important decisions. The conditions under which they occupy their homes are clearly of prime importance to them. It is not something insignificant that they are likely to overlook. Farmers managing on Gladstone v. Bower tenancies and other such short-term, insecure arrangements are in that position at present—or in a worse position. In the Bill we have ensured that they will have at least 12 months' notice when a tenancy is to end. That will give them time to make alternative arrangements—much more time than the two months which assured shorthold tenants in the private residential rented sector are entitled to, and possibly more than they need.

As Members of the Committee are aware, one of the main objectives of the legislation is to encourage lettings so that it will be easier for people to move and to find a new farm to rent. I am convinced that this is the best approach, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, will accede to the overwhelming balance of opinion within the Committee and withdraw his amendment.

Lord Gallacher: I am grateful to all Members of the Committee who have taken part in the discussion, even though the anticipated rejection of the new clause took me a little by surprise. I refer to the severity of the shots that were fired. We see this as in no sense a wrecking amendment. On Second Reading we said that to the best of our ability we would seek to improve the Bill. While an improvement of this kind may not be directly discernible, it has the merit of alerting the public in general, and would-be farmers in particular, to what could be the reality of a situation in which they move into a farm business tenancy under the terms of the Bill.

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In the light of the criticisms, and if none of the grounds for repossession outlined under subsection (6) is appropriate, one is tempted to ask what ground for repossession is left. Surely the answer must be that there is none. That appears to us to be a dangerous situation. To dream up grounds such as the landlord disliking the tenant does not strike one as being a serious attempt to improve a parliamentary Bill in Committee.

The noble Lord, Lord Middleton, suggested that we needed to be hard-nosed about the issue. He mentioned pub tenants and the police. There are categories of people who are in similar positions on retirement. However, the police, as a result of the structure of their salaries, are well able within reason to make provision. Where they are not, local authorities are often inclined to help. The police are county council servants and local authorities are inclined to view sympathetically the service that they have received from the police. At the end of a tenancy, the agricultural workers of a farm will have greater security in a service cottage—we know them as tied cottages—under the Rent (Agriculture) Act 1976 than is to be offered to farmers under this Bill.

The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, came at me with regard to the fact that I had postulated a retirement age of 65 in subsection (6) (a), but the subsection refers to 65 and "suitable alternative accommodation". I know that the noble Earl's experience of repossessions is probably now a lot more extensive than it was when he first took an interest in the building society movement; but it is a harsh process and nobody should be under any illusions about that. Whether it is a thrusting young farmer filing his petition in bankruptcy or an elderly farmer being turned out because his fixed term tenancy is at an end does not in any way diminish the harshness of that process.

We have tried to be constructive. The Minister made a jibe that it is a protectionist approach. Farming and agriculture in this country have been protected substantially. No one denies that. The 1947 Act was the work of a Labour Government. I admit that it implemented promises made to farmers for their magnificent efforts to feed the nation in wartime. But nevertheless, those promises were kept. On this side of the Committee, we do not apologise for protecting farmers. Neither do we apologise for tabling an amendment of this character.

We realise that there could be difficulties, and fragmentation is one of those difficulties. We realise also that agents may seek ways in which to seek to escape the implications of the clause, if it were added to the Bill, by diverting the farmhouse tenancy away from the farming land arrangements. Nevertheless, it is worth the Committee's consideration and if it is not to be considered seriously by this Committee in this House at this time, I should be a very disappointed man. Nevertheless, I seek the Committee's leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 agreed to.

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