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Earl Howe: My Lords, I have listened with interest to the noble Lord's reasons for wishing to make these amendments to the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986. However, much as this will disappoint him, I regret that I am no more persuaded than when he proposed the same amendments at Committee stage.

Throughout all the discussions leading up to the Bill, the Government have assured the industry that the new legislation would not be retrospective and that we would not amend the 1986 Act. The new clauses set out in Amendments Nos. 32 and 34 would breach that commitment. I recognise that the amendments are intended to facilitate diversification in the first case and conservation in the second case. But the fact remains

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that they would be substantial alterations to the parties' rights in relation to existing tenancies. The first new clause would have the effect of making it easier for a close relative to succeed to a succession tenancy. This would be a major change; and there would be those who would ask, including no doubt some of your Lordships, why in that case we could not impose various other conditions on succession tenancies, or indeed abolish succession rights altogether. If we have given a commitment not to interfere with existing tenancies, which the industry fully supports, we cannot simply say that this is an amendment which is meant to be helpful. To some it will be unhelpful.

For similar reasons, I am afraid I am not able to accept the other new clause set out in Amendment No. 34 which would alter the good husbandry responsibilities applying to all existing tenancies under the 1986 Act. Even with the best of intentions, we cannot pick and choose some areas to tinker with.

Turning to Amendment No. 33, the noble Lord explained very clearly some of the complexities of the rent provisions contained in the 1986 Act. Naturally, I consider that the approach to rent contained in the Bill is a very great improvement on Schedule 2 to that Act.

The real difficulty with the amendment tabled by the noble Lord is, of course, that it is not concerned with any provision within the Bill itself. Its effect would be to amend the statutory rent provisions applicable to a tenancy granted not under the Bill but under the 1986 Act. As I have just made clear, we do not wish to make retrospective changes, however meritorious a case could be made for those changes. The noble Lord's amendment is, I do not doubt, well-intentioned in that he seeks to correct what is seen as a technical deficiency in the present rent provisions. I make no comment today as to whether there is such a deficiency: however, if the agreement were to be made there would be an impact on existing tenancy agreements which might work to the disadvantage of one party or the other.

I suspect—indeed I know—that the noble Lord will not like these arguments. But the Government are committed to not interfering retrospectively with existing tenancies. We intend to honour that commitment. I hope that the noble Lord will understand when I invite him to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Carter: My Lords, I certainly understand the Minister, but I do not agree with him. I would be prepared to concede that Amendments Nos. 32 and 34 are at least debatable: they stretch the 1986 Act. I am advised that perhaps we should not have grouped Amendment No. 33 with the other two. It relates clearly to a highly technical point, where an apparent weakness has been discovered in the 1986 Act. The Government are taking a very intransigent view. Leading practitioners point out an obvious anomaly in the 1986 Act which they have the chance to put right, and they take up this very stubborn attitude that, even though it is bad law, they are not going to change it. I shall certainly want to take advice on Amendment No. 33 and return to it at Third Reading—or perhaps the Minister will have a chance to reflect on what he said and

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consider whether, on the technical point in this amendment—a point that I put to him before we entered the Report stage—it is worth considering. As I say, the point is highly technical, but I am told that it is very important. In the light of the Minister's reply I shall certainly withdraw this amendment, but we should look again at Amendment No. 33. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 33 and 34 not moved.]

Clause 35 [Crown land]:

Earl Howe moved Amendment No. 35:

Page 16, line 20, after ("land") insert ("or, if there is no such department, such person as Her Majesty may appoint in writing under the Royal Sign Manual").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, this is a technical amendment to the provisions relating to Crown land. I am advised that there may be some such land not forming part of the Crown estate where the management may rest with government departments as a matter of administrative practice rather than by virtue of statute. In such cases it is desirable to have a means of removing any doubt about who is to be regarded as the owner of the interest in that land for the purposes of this Bill. The amendment achieves that objective. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 36 [Interpretation]:

[Amendment No. 36 not moved.]

Lord Gallacher moved Amendment No. 37:

Page 17, line 32, after second ("a") insert ("written").

The noble Lord said: This amendment is directed at Clause 36(3) in the Bill, which provides that,

    "A tenancy granted pursuant to a contract shall be taken for the purposes of this Act to have been granted when the contract was entered into".

Therefore, we are advised that, if there is a contract before 1st September 1995 for a tenancy which is granted after that date, the tenancy will be governed by the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 and will not be a farm business tenancy. Contracts for leases of three years or under do not have to be in writing as under Section 2(1) of the Law of Property (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1989. A landlord, or a tenant, might therefore find that he had entered into a contract without being aware that he had done so or of the consequences. If the contract was in writing, which is the purpose of the amendment, the parties would probably apply their minds to what they were doing and so the accident would not happen. If they did not, there would be clear evidence that there was a contract and so the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 would apply.

I move the amendment in order to have the benefit of the noble Earl's view on the proposition which is contained in my reasoning in support of it. I beg to move.

Earl Howe: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for explaining the problem so clearly. We certainly do not want to set any traps in the new legislation. We thought that Clause 1(4), read with Clause 36(3), was satisfactory. But in view of the unease which has been

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expressed by the noble Lord, I am prepared to have another look at the matter and, if necessary, return with a government amendment at a later stage. I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Gallacher: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for his assurance. In the light of that assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule [Consequential amendments]:

Earl Howe moved Amendment No. 38:

Page 28, line 27, at end insert:

("The Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 (c. 5)

30A. In Schedule 6 to the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 (eligibility to apply for a new tenancy under Part IV of that Act), in paragraph 6 (occupation to be disregarded for purposes of occupancy condition), in sub-paragraph (1) after paragraph (d) there shall be inserted—
"(dd) under a farm business tenancy, within the meaning of the Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995, for less than five years (including a farm business tenancy which is a periodic tenancy),".").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, this amendment is similar to one tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, at Committee stage which I undertook to consider. It is grouped with the noble Lord's amendment, Amendment No. 39, which seeks to cover the same point.

The amendment in my name would safeguard the interests of an applicant who hoped to succeed to an agricultural holding under the succession provisions of the 1986 Act and who had to prove that he or she did not already occupy a commercial unit of agricultural land. Schedule 6 to the 1986 Act lists various types of short-term tenancy which should be disregarded for that purpose. This amendment would add to the list agricultural land occupied under farm business tenancies for a fixed term of less than five years, including periodic tenancies. As such, it is a genuine consequential amendment. Clearly such tenancies could not have been included in the 1986 Act because they will not exist until the Bill comes into force. I beg to move.

Lord Carter: My Lords, we have today dealt with three groups in which we and the Government have put down very similar amendments. I believe that so far the score is one to one: the Government have accepted one of our amendments and we have accepted one of theirs. I am prepared to let the Minister win two to one on this occasion. I do not propose to move my amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 39 not moved.]

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