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The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that these are considerations which might well need to be borne in mind when this package of proposals falls to be reviewed, if that is your Lordships' wish, by the Procedure Committee in due course. So far as concerns the point about the number of Questions, there are benefits and disadvantages in them. The fact that we have four Questions each day from Mondays to Thursdays, when

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we sit on Mondays, exposes Ministers to greater scrutiny on those points than happens to be the case in another place. I venture to take a different view from the noble Lord about the amount of time which would be taken up on Fridays. The intention of the Group on the Sittings of the House, followed by the Procedure Committee and by your Lordships, was to save time and to expect that, if Friday sittings took place more often, we would aim to rise at about 2.30 p.m. That means that there would be a sitting of only three-and-a-half hours. If we were to have half an hour of Questions that would limit that time. That is a consideration which was very much in your Lordships' minds on 10th January.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, as the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, had no European connection whatever, I have no hesitation in supporting what he said. The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, raised an important point. Does the Chairman of Committees agree that it is one of the most important areas of our debate and that we should not be deprived of the opportunity of asking Questions on a Friday?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, there is substance in what the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, has said. The proposals are seen as a package and therefore the intention, which arose out of our debate three weeks ago, is that they will be reviewed as a package. Undoubtedly, the comments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, will be taken into account if and when the occasion arises. I believe that it will arise.

I would not attempt to answer the noble Lord's first point. I well remember that when a couple of weeks ago a noble Lord suggested that the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, had not linked his Question with Europe he immediately came back and did so.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, looking at the matter from an entirely domestic aspect, and excluding any European aura, will the Chairman of Committees be kind enough to explain to the House how the answering of four additional Questions per week will effect the efficiency of Her Majesty's Government and their Ministers? I am sure that the noble Lord will answer the point indirectly if he wishes. However, if the capability of the Government and their reputation in the country depend on such a fragile consideration the Government must be in dire straits.

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I do not believe that we can lay this matter at the door of the Government. I am not here to defend the Government or aspiring Members of any future government. It is not for me to judge; it is a matter for the House to decide.

There are still spaces for Starred Questions over the next 15 days; that is, until 14th February. As a matter of fact there is not so much pressure for spaces for Starred Questions during the first four days of the week as one might think.

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Air Passenger Duty

3.3 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are satisfied with the operation of air passenger duty.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Henley): My Lords, yes. The duty will yield some £315 million in a full year. The consultation process, which began after the November 1993 Budget, is continuing and some significant changes to the duty have arisen from that consultation and have been welcomed by the air transport industry.

Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that Answer. Is he aware that it is a most complicated duty to collect? The duty is supposed to be £5 in respect of journeys to the European Community and £10 in respect of journeys elsewhere. However, is my noble friend aware that as regards flights to Norway, a country which decisively rejected membership to the European Community, the duty is only £5? Furthermore, when travelling to Switzerland, one pays only £5 on a journey to Geneva or Basle but £10 on a journey to Zurich.

Is it no wonder, therefore, that the cost of collection is estimated by British Airways to be more than £11 million per year for that company alone? Would it not be reasonable if the airlines were allowed to offset the cost of collection against the duty payable or if there were a more simple means of collection?

Lord Henley: My Lords, my noble friend implies that the tax is complicated. In fact, it is simple—£5 in respect of flights to EU or EEA countries and £10 in respect of flights elsewhere. That is why in respect of Norway, which is an EEA country, the duty is £5.

As regards airports in Switzerland, I am advised that Basle and Geneva straddle the border between Switzerland and France. It was decided, therefore, that for pragmatic and simpler reasons—one did not know into which country the passengers would offload—to treat passengers as though they were exiting into France and to charge £5. Zurich is totally in Switzerland and therefore outside EEA.

I am not prepared to accept the figure which my noble friend gave relating to the cost of collection to airlines. I appreciate the airlines' anxieties relating to the cost and that is why, following discussions between the airlines and Customs and Excise, it was agreed that we could use a special accounting system for air passenger duty that allows airlines to use samples and surveys of passengers. That will simplify procedures and keep costs down. I am confident that modern information technology should enable them to do the job relatively cheaply.

Lord Eatwell: My Lords, is the Minister aware that this tax is being levied in an inequitable and arbitrary manner? Is he aware that, for example, as regards the same round-trip journey between London and Glasgow,

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if the journey is made on a three-day return ticket the tax is £5 but if it is made on a return ticket valid for more than three days it is £10? Will the Minister explain that extreme difference in taxation on the same journey?

Lord Henley: My Lords, it is simply a question of keeping such a tax as simple as possible. The noble Lord and others may laugh but there comes a point when a return journey ceases to be a return journey and becomes two separate legs of two different journeys.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, will the Minister explain why, as regards my return journey from Aberdeen to London, leaving on Monday and returning on Friday, which is five days later, the tax is only £5?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I must take further advice on the matter because I am getting different figures from the noble Lady and the noble Lord. If the House will bear with me, it must accept that there are occasions when a return journey is one journey, and can be seen as that, and when it is not that but two journeys.


Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 this afternoon my noble friend Lord Goschen will, with the leave of the House, repeat in the form of a Statement an Answer to a Private Notice Question in another place on security in the Channel Tunnel.

Agricultural Tenancies Bill [H.L.]

3.7 p.m.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to acquaint the House that they, having been informed of the purport of the Agricultural Tenancies Bill, have consented to place their prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament, for the purposes of the Bill.

Read a third time.

Clause 4 [Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 not to apply in relation to new tenancies except in special cases]:

Lord Carter moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 3, line 27, leave out from ("applied") to end of line 31.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we return to a matter that has already been discussed. However, I thought it important to table the amendment again in order that the Minister will accept that it is worth consideration when the Bill reaches the other place. It relates to the important issue of surrender and regrant under the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986. I shall paraphrase what I said on Report. Preserving security for the existing tenant where there is an expressed surrender and regrant is as important as the surrender and regrant which occurred by the inadvertent operation of the law.

We accept that the Government's intention is that all tenants with existing protected tenancies shall have that protection continued and shall not inadvertently lose their security when the Bill becomes law.

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I have discussed the matter with a number of practitioners since it was dealt with on Report. They are anxious about an inadvertent surrender and regrant or an expressed surrender and regrant. It is entirely a matter of good law and practice and not a point of principle on the operation of the Bill. It seems that there is a strong feeling among those who must deal with these matters that if landlords and tenants wish to exchange land or rearrange an estate or if tenants are moved around within an estate, the tenant may find, without realising it, that he has lost the security which he has under the 1986 Act and he will end up with a farm business tenancy.

On Report the Minister put the point well when he said:

    "As drafted, the clause provides protection for people who have an existing tenancy under the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 against losing their rights under that Act—for example, their security of tenure—simply because a variation in their tenancy agreement has effect by operation of law as an implied surrender followed by the grant of a new tenancy".

The Minister seemed to accept an important point because he said:

    "We accept that in those circumstances it would be inequitable for the new tenancy to be excluded from the scope of the 1986 Act when the parties had not intended that to happen".—[Official Report, 23/1/95; cols. 894-5.]

On Report, the Minister made a fair point when he said that the amendment as drafted would affect all tenancies under the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 and he was concerned about the effect of that. I understand that. However, I have tabled an amendment with the same wording but I accept that there is a weakness in it. I hope that the Minister will be able to say that the point will be dealt with when the Bill reaches the other place. That would satisfy those practitioners—and there are a number of them—who are saying that there is a weakness in the 1986 Act with the new Act coming in. The Government's intention is that all tenants who are now secure under the 1986 Act should remain so unless they decide expressly to come away from the 1986 Act and have a farm business tenancy. But if they intend the security of the 1986 Act to continue, there should be some words in the Bill which will allow that to happen.

At present, that matter is causing anxiety. If, for reasons of good estate management, holdings are rearranged on an estate, tenants are concerned that they will be caught unless there is a provision in the Bill to take account of the problem. I beg to move.

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