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5.7 p.m.

Viscount Addison: My Lords, perhaps I may first declare an interest in having successfully experienced three different landlords while a tenant farmer, on the same holding in Lincolnshire over a period of 20 years. I trust that those same three landlords gleaned the benefit of me as a tenant. I must say that my noble friend Lord Yarborough, whom I must most warmly congratulate on his maiden speech and whose land reached close to mine, was not my landlord. However, his hounds knew most of my farm.

Prior to the Second World War, the countryside was a mosaic of habitats, including small mixed cropped fields, hedgerows, woodlands, ponds and wetlands which held an immensely diverse range of wildlife.

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Specialisation and intensification--heavily supported by production-oriented policies--resulted in an increase in arable land and a decrease in habitats and wildlife which depend on them.

Since the Second World War, we have seen a 32 per cent. increase in arable land and a loss of 34 per cent. of improved pasture. While hedgerows have suffered huge losses as a result of economic incentives to intensify land use, the Government should be congratulated on creating various schemes which encourage the planting of new hedgerows. Since 1984, over 8,000 miles of new hedgerows have been planted in Great Britain, and that includes 2,200 miles of relaying existing hedgerows and 1,000 miles of new hedgerows funded by the Government's farm conservation scheme. Many more new hedgerows have been planted under the countryside stewardship scheme, and individual schemes run by local authorities.

In the forthcoming Environment Agencies Bill, the Government should again be congratulated on not only bringing forward new measures to protect hedgerows of particular importance, but also on introducing new provisions to create free standing national park authorities for England and Wales. The 10 existing national parks, excluding the Broads, cover a total of 3,385,677 acres, much of which is agricultural land.

The RSPB and other organisations support the Agricultural Tenancies Bill as it will enable landlords to prescribe conservation targets and management practices when negotiating tenancies. County councils in England and Wales own over 360,000 acres of agricultural land involving over 5,400 tenant farmers. Many county councils include specific conservation practices in tenancy agreements and this is to be welcomed.

I pick up on the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, and his mention of sustainability. If the Government are to meet their commitments under the biodiversity convention and the sustainable development plan they must seek to influence those activities and policies which have the greatest impacts upon the countryside and its natural resources. As agricultural land makes up 70 per cent. of Britain's land surface, the RSPB is particularly keen that agricultural activities should be carefully modulated to take account of the needs of wildlife conservation. Therefore I wonder whether my noble friend the Minister will consider issuing advice in the form of a code of guidance to county councils, the Ministry of Defence and the Crown Estate on the desirability of including species and habitat targets and specific conservation practices in new farm tenancy agreements. The industry agrees with the principles of the Agricultural Tenancies Bill and we should give the Bill our undivided support and wish it well on its passage.

5.11 p.m.

Lord Prys-Davies: My Lords, as the Minister rightly observed, there is a wealth of expert knowledge on this subject in your Lordships' House, and indeed that has emerged in contribution after contribution in the course of the debate. It is therefore with considerable diffidence that I venture to speak in this debate. However, I assure

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your Lordships that I am not a complete outsider as I was particularly fortunate to be brought up in a Welsh rural community and I am indebted to that community.

I should also like to thank the Minister for his brief survey of the history of landlord and tenant legislation over the past 150 years and for having guided us so clearly through the Bill. But I trust that he will not be impatient with the wise advice which my noble friends Lord Carter from the Labour Front Bench and Lord Cledwyn, a former Minister of Agriculture, have tendered. Obviously, my noble friends Lord Carter and Lord Cledwyn are in need of no support from me. Nevertheless, I should like to emphasise one or two central points which they have made. I apologise if I briefly go over again some of the ground which they have covered.

We have heard this afternoon a great deal about the problems facing new entrants from outside into the farming industry. I think we are all conscious that there is a problem: the shortage of let land. That is the common ground. I for my part would accept that there may be a case for some change in the present law on agricultural tenancies. But that is a long way from saying, as many people do, that this Bill offers the right solution and will on its own revitalise the tenanted sector.

I think we have had few figures quoted by the Minister in this debate. I believe it would be helpful to the House if he could forecast, if he is able to do so, how many acres of land for rent are likely to be freed within five years of the passage of this Bill. I should also like to hear the Government's view on the forecast by the accountants, Grant Thornton, that the Bill will make less land available for letting than is anticipated by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. It would be interesting to have the Government's view on those assessments.

The Minister has quite rightly reminded us that this Bill has been four years in gestation; but there are many farmers in Wales who believe that the farm business tenancy solution proposed by the Bill will not discharge the high hopes placed on it. What they fear is that painful problems will be stored up against the day when the business tenancy ends and it could therefore, if they are right, be a recipe for trouble.

We have heard from many speakers that at the end of the tenancy the tenant will have no right to renew the tenancy. But added to this--I am glad that this has been acknowledged by a number of speakers from the other side of the House--the tenant, or former tenant as he would be, may be unable to find new land to rent. He could therefore be, as we have heard, not only out of business but without a home for his wife and his family. I would have thought that that situation speaks for itself. Is there not a real risk, I feel bound to ask myself, that in the longer term the farm business tenant and his family will be paying too high a price for such a tenure?

A wholly legitimate pressure for more let farmland--I accept that it is legitimate--should not be allowed to produce a simple solution which could lead to painful consequences for the tenant. I thought that that point was very well made in an eloquent letter by a Mr. Harrison, a Northumberland farmer, in last week's

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Farmers Weekly. In a sense, looked at the other way round, it would not be surprising, (would it?) if people, unless they have retained their homes, were put off from entering into a business tenancy. There is something else. I ask myself: is it fair for the Government to open up a path which can prove to be troublesome at the end of the journey?

It is against that background that I should like briefly to make two points. We know that a part of the concept of the farm business tenancy is derived from the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954; but we also know that the Bill, as drafted, does not provide for the right of renewal which is available to the business tenant under the 1954 Act. Would it not be an improvement, and would it not be fair to the tenant, to include in the present Bill at least the right to renewal of the tenancy subject to prescribed conditions? Perhaps we may be told by the Minister, when he replies to the debate, why it is that a right of renewal available under the 1954 Act in respect of the tenancy of a shop or of an office will not be available to the tenant of a farm. I may say that I am not the only one who did not find the arguments against the right of renewal, which are advanced in paragraph 5 of the 1991 consultative document, to be convincing. As a matter of interest, I note that the reasoning given in 1991 was abandoned in the 1992 document. Perhaps the Minister can enlighten us on that when he replies to the debate.

I should like to go back briefly to what has been mentioned by my noble friend Lord Cledwyn about the position in Wales. The Minister in his opening speech took us along a panorama of landlord and tenant legislation. However, there is an impressive tale that can be told about the struggle between landlord and tenant in Wales, to which my noble friend Lord Cledwyn referred, and which led to the setting up in 1893 of the Royal Commission on Welsh Land Tenure to explore tenants' grievances. Given that history, a century later Welsh tenant farmers are wary of the Bill. I hope that the Government will appreciate their anxieties.

It was said by the Minister this afternoon, and it was said in the debate last Wednesday on the loyal Address, that this solution is fully supported by the main organisations representing both landlords and tenants. I wonder whether the Minister's advisers have really read all the submissions from Wales. I find it very hard indeed to find evidence that they have done so. We know that the Farmers' Union of Wales does not support the concept. I very much hope that the Minister will not dismiss their objections as the objections of people who are oblivious to reason or diehards, to use the words which were rather unfortunately used.


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