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Lord Carter: My Lords, I did not state that with regard to equalisation. The noble Lord, Lord Stanley,

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suggested that the relief should be equalised at 50 per cent. It is an interesting idea from the Benches opposite to which we are listening with great interest.

Viscount Mountgarret: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I know that percentages or levels of taxation were not referred to. I simply had uncomfortable feelings that someone could deal a card under the table. I hope that my noble friend Lord Stanley was not putting forward such a proposal, or we might find ourselves in gentle disagreement.

Concern has rightly been raised on housing. That issue frightens me because if one seeks to dot too many "i's" and cross too many "t's", one cannot cover every aspect. Properties in the rented sector outside agriculture almost dried up because it was felt that security of tenure for the tenant was sacrosanct at all costs. Of course, I am sure that everyone will agree that people who occupy their homes should be treated properly and not evicted without thought. That would be desperately unfair. We had a successful shorthold tenancy Act. The rented tenanted sector--it is an essential part of the housing and property industry--has now increased.

What shall we do with the agricultural side? It is popularly supposed that farmers will automatically take the farmhouse as well as the land, but that does not always work. Reference has already been made to smaller holdings. Efficiency and the greater size of farm machinery has led to those smaller holdings becoming larger. But that does not necessarily mean that the houses which may be scattered around are all needed by the farmer. If difficulties arose on housing, landlords might feel that they had to let the land separately from the house. That would be unfortunate.

No landlord whom I know would want to see anything but long-term tenancies; whether it is annual, a 10-year term, or whatever else, is beside the point, it does not matter. If you have good farmers and good tenants you want to keep them and see them year in, year out. They become your friends and you work with them. It is a partnership. Therefore, if a good man takes a lease and lives in the house, he is there for a considerable time. However, if a prospective tenant farmer signs an agreement which gives him, say, only three years' security of tenure and the farmhouse is included, he knows beforehand what agreement he is entering into. There is no compulsion on him, no force, nothing; it is up to him. It would be unfortunate if we were sidetracked in the Bill on the housing problem.

Finally, I support the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, who said that the Bill stems from a desire to let long rather than short. I wish to quote from the brief of the Tenant Farmers' Association in case noble Lords have not seen it. At the end, the association states:


    "We fear that political uncertainty could be the greatest incentive to let short particularly in the early years ... This Bill does not affect the terms of existing tenancies and it is important that any future legislation should similarly avoid retrospection".

That is the one point which makes me anxious about the Bill. It was passed in 1976 against all advice and I can still see the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, standing and wagging his finger at the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, and telling him: "This Bill will not work.

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What happens to the succession of tenancies if the whole tenancy sector dries up?". That Bill allowed for existing tenancies under the 1948 Act to be held for three generations. It was wrong to break that contract. I am sorry to have to say it, but only recently we saw the leasehold reform legislation passed by the party to which I have the honour to belong. The legislation tore up the sanctity of contracts on leases freely entered into by people. Here we have a potentially excellent Bill and I very much hope that landlords and tenants will enter into agreements for 10, 15 or whatever number of years so that they have stability on which they can build and something to which they can look forward. However, I should like an undertaking from my noble friend and the Government that any future legislation affecting tenancies will not affect any tenancy entered into under this Bill. Although the Bill sounds good, I am concerned that the absence of such a provision will be a detraction.

5.45 p.m.

Viscount Hampden: My Lords, I apologise for making an unscheduled appearance; but since we have managed to get through 16 speeches in under two-and-a-half hours, I am sure that noble Lords will forgive me if I add three minutes to the time of the debate. One learns many things in your Lordships' House, and last week I learnt not to ring the Government Whips' Office on a Friday afternoon if one wants to speak on a Monday because one's name gets lost.

I must also declare an interest in the debate. Like many noble Lords, I am a landowner and we have been involved with landowner-tenant situations for many generations. While preparing for the debate, I rummaged in the archives to see what earlier agricultural tenancies might help us and I came across a simple one. The rent was a small sum of money--1,500 head of garlic and 12 barbed arrowheads! The only stipulation on the tenant was to appear with a white stick in the park once a year among the reapers. I am not sure what the white stick was for, but the barbed arrowheads were certainly for the Battle of Bannockburn, since that was the date of the lease. So noble Lords can see that we have been involved with landlord and tenant relationships for 700 years.

As to the Bill, we have heard from a number of your Lordships of the broad agreement of the CLA, the NFU and the tenants' association. I hope that I shall not be one of those whom the Minister described as "oblivious to the evidence" in front of me when I say that I have certain doubts about whether the Bill will work. It seems to me that when three parties who do not normally see eye-to-eye manage to get together and agree on something, the time for that agreement has probably passed. However, I may be wrong.

The evidence before my eyes is that for the past 10 years I have been my own estate agent in Sussex. I have 25 tenant farmers with land varying from 1,000 acres to 50 acres, and in all those years I have not received a single inquiry as to whether I had any farms to rent. So I wonder whether there is a demand for tenanted farms. Of course, I have to say that Sussex is Southdown chalkland and Wealden clay and does not yield a great deal. The noble Lord, Lord Yarborough--whose speech

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we much enjoyed--will know that one of his tenants or neighbours came to a farmers' shoot last week. When he was asked what his yield was, he said that it was 4.5 tonnes to the acre, and I do not think he got another shot that day. He was pushed to the end of the line.

One aspect of the Bill may help. I have a problem which I suspect many landlords have with tenants who are getting on in age: their families do not wish to follow them into the farms; they have seen the light and gone elsewhere. The farmers have got into a situation where they farm to make a living, not a profit; their energy is running down; the farms are running down. They do not have enough money to retire elsewhere; and because the rent is based on pound per acreage and 100 acres at £30 is £3,000, they have a very nice farmhouse for £3,000. However, if they tried to find rented accommodation in the village or the town it would probably be much more. A term tenancy would get round that problem because the tenant would know exactly when he has to give up, and by preparing for it he can help himself. That raises the matter of the farmhouse which was mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Carter and Lord Northbourne: what does one do about houses for farmers?

I was interested in the contributions from the noble Lords from Wales. I have great sympathy with their position because as a child I was brought up on my grandfather's estate in south-west Wales--a lovely estate which was given to his family by Henry Tudor as a reward for marching from Pembroke to Bosworth Field in 1485 and helping Henry Tudor onto the throne.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos: Hear, hear!

Viscount Hampden: My Lords, whether the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, will say "hear, hear" when I tell him something interesting about my grandfather, I do not know. He was the only Member able to vote against the Parliament Act 1911 in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. In 1910 he was Unionist Member of Parliament for Brighton and voted against it. Then, after his father died, he came up to your Lordships' House and voted against it again. So I do not think he would be on the same political side as the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn.

I am not an expert on reading Bills, but one point which seems important to me in the country is continuity. We know that the 1976 legislation on succession just did not work because it loaded the dice too much in one direction. I was talking about it to my tenant farmers and the ones who have been there for the second and third generation appreciate the environment and the place where they have been brought up. Since the environment seems to play more and more of a part in our deliberations about the countryside, it is important that by passing the Bill we do not stop the continuity of father to son or father to daughter. With that, I welcome the Bill, but it has some worries for us.


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