Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Viscount Addison: I thank my noble friend for his reply. The intention is really more to stimulate advice rather than to be too objective.

Will my noble friend the Minister give his formal approval to the guidance being drawn up by the agricultural industry working party in the same way as ministerial approval was given to the NFU guidance on straw burning?

Earl Howe: We have yet to see it. I am sure that we shall wish to pass comment if there is some matter in the guidance which we believe should be amended. But, clearly, we have always said that any forms of guidance prepared by the industry bodies in a responsible fashion, as of course they will always do—I cite model clauses as another example—are matters the Government warmly welcome. I am sure that we shall be in a position to welcome the guidance when it emerges.

Lord Stanley of Alderley: Perhaps I may intervene. I have referred to guidance previously. Such information

13 Dec 1994 : Column 1256

will give us guidance on what we should consider before we enter into a tenancy. Is there any chance of our seeing that guidance before the Bill leaves the House?

Earl Howe: My understanding is that the work is fairly far advanced. However, I believe that it will be touch and go as to whether we shall see the finished version before the end of January which is when the Bill is scheduled to leave this House. I believe that some publication should emerge relatively early in the spring.

Viscount Addison: I thank the Minister for his reply. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 36 [Interpretation]:

The Deputy Chairman (Baroness Serota): In calling Amendment No. 82, I should point out to the Committee that if this amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 83 or 84.

Lord Carter moved Amendment No. 82:

Page 17, line 9, leave out from ("includes") to end of line 14 and insert ("the breeding and keeping of animals and the growing and harvesting of plants to gain income from those animals or plants, their products and derivatives and associated environmental benefits and includes fallow or other set-aside arrangements and any activity coming within the scope of the Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union, and 'agricultural' shall be construed accordingly.".

The noble Lord said: In moving the amendment, I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 83 to 86. The amendments are all in connection with the definition of agriculture. The definition which appears in Clause 36 is the one with which we are all familiar. It arose in the 1947 Act and has been used continually in Acts of Parliament concerning agriculture ever since. The department more or less admits that every time an Act of Parliament involves agriculture, it ducks away from the chance to introduce a new, more modern definition.

The chance now arises in this Bill. We admit immediately that if we were to change the definition in this Bill it would apply only to farm business tenancies. But at least it would provide a lead so that as other agricultural Bills were produced over time we could use the more updated definition.

We know from our discussions yesterday that the new farm business tenancies do not have to meet the agricultural conditions in the Bill. Despite that, we shall still seek to persuade the Government to adopt a more up-to-date definition of agriculture. The obvious omission from the existing definition in the Bill is arable cropping. I do not know off the top of my head how many acres are involved in arable cropping in this country. The figure runs into several millions—perhaps 9 million or 10 million. But that aspect is omitted from the definition of "agriculture". We can all relax. There is no need to worry about osier land because that is referred to in the definition. I simply illustrate the absurdity.

We were told yesterday that horse grazing is agricultural but horse keeping is not. While the horses are grazing they come within the definition of "agriculture" but if one puts out feed for them or saddles

13 Dec 1994 : Column 1257

them up, it is a non-agricultural activity. That is daft. It is time we had a look at the definition to see whether we can improve it.

The existing definition comes from the 1947 Act. We know that this Bill intends to establish the tenancy system for the indefinite future. Perhaps that is not as indefinite as some Members of the Committee might like to think. But it is time that the definition was revised to take account of the major changes that are under way or which may take place. I cite one example. The farming of sheep for medical products seems to lie outside the express examples which are given of agricultural use in present law. Energy crops such as miscanthus are not obviously included. Does willow for biomass have to be considered as an osier bed to fit within the definition of agriculture?

The approach taken in the amendment is to define "agriculture" from first principles rather than to revise the present list. The amendment makes clear that agriculture is a commercial activity that is based on animals and plants although that may be a means of delivering environmental objectives.

I suspect that the Government will argue that it is important to maintain a stable definition consistent with those used in planning, rating and other areas. However, the proposed definition can be used only in this Bill on farm business tenancies. It is important to recognise the evolution of the industry and not permanently to defer the issue. In any event, the Government have themselves slightly altered the definition by deleting the last phrase of the present definition of livestock,

    "or the carrying on in relation to land of any agricultural activity".

There is the problem of set-aside. It is not covered by the definition. We have been told that we should ask the Minister whether he regards fish farming as "agriculture". I have a long brief from the Agricultural Law Association which I shall not read to the Committee. It helpfully points out the four areas at which we should be looking. I say immediately that I am entirely happy for the Government to take the matter away and return with their own version. The amendment is a genuine probe to see whether we can improve the definition as we go through the Bill.

The four areas that the Agricultural Law Association believes should be considered in any redefinition refer to new activities in agriculture. I have mentioned some. Others appear in other amendments in the group. Clarification is sought of the grey areas which we all know exist. I have referred to horse grazing and horse keeping. The problem of diversification of agriculture has been referred to a number of times. The Minister has stated that one of the objectives of the Bill is to encourage the diversification of agricultural activities. That is not caught by the present definition. Above all, there is the simplification of the definition.

It may be easier to move away from the definition we have put forward to simpler definitions of principles. I understand the problems of the Government. The parliamentary draftsman always says, "If you have a list, you will leave something out". For that reason we have not moved from the definition since 1947. That does not seem to be an improvement. There is scope for

13 Dec 1994 : Column 1258

improvement and for bringing up to date the definition with which we are all familiar. In that spirit, with the intention of helping the Government and the industry to have a more modern definition, I beg to move.

6.15 p.m.

The Earl of Kinnoull: It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak to Amendments Nos. 83 to 86 which stand in my name. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, put the matter clearly. We are looking for a modern definition of "agriculture" in the Bill. I had hoped that after 82 amendments—my noble friend has accepted only one amendment in his name—that the three amendments in my name might have been accepted. However, I was discouraged when I read the notes on clauses because they state what I suspect my noble friend may say, namely, that the definition—the noble Lord, Lord Carter, says that it comes from the Agriculture Act 1947 and the 1986 Act —is a non-exhaustive definition. I am not sure what that means. However, it is stated that any amendment might call into question the meaning of the term "agriculture" wherever it is used in statute law. It is a fairly depressing thought that we can never alter or modernise the word "agriculture" in a new Bill which we hope will involve many new entrants into farming.

My amendments concentrate on areas of what I term non-agricultural uses which are coming more and more into play in agriculture. Amendment No. 83 refers to,

    "the growing of crops for the production of fibres, fuel or for other industrial purposes".

Amendment No. 84 refers to,

    "leisure purposes and environmental preservation and enhancement according to national policies".

Amendment No. 86 refers to "transport or leisure purposes".

I shall not go into great detail. I say only that with regard to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, I am not happy with the suggestion of linking the amendment with the common agricultural policy of the European Union. That policy may well change.

Earl Howe: I am not unsympathetic towards the aims of the amendment as so ably explained by the noble Lord, Lord Carter. I accept that even the most hallowed definition of anything can benefit from occasional clarification or updating. My remarks which follow will be relevant also to the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Kinnoull.

There are unfortunately two main problems with the amendments. First, Clause 36 sets out the definition of agriculture for the purpose of this Bill only. It is not within the scope of this clause or, I submit, of the Bill, to amend the definition of agriculture in all the other myriad places where it appears on the statute book. In any case, to seek to do so would raise many and complex issues which would require a great deal of time to consider and debate properly. That is not to say that I would not enjoy a debate of that kind, but, that being so, we could only amend the definition for the purposes of this Bill. We would then create a situation where one definition of agriculture applied for the purposes of the

13 Dec 1994 : Column 1259

Bill while another definition applied for all other statutory purposes. That seems to me a recipe for confusion rather than clarification.

My second objection is this. It is a lesser objection, but even so I shall explain it. Not all the proposed additions which the noble Lord included would fall appropriately within the definition of agriculture. To take the example of set-aside land, there was a provision under the five-year set-aside scheme (though not under the current Arable Area Payments Scheme) for land to be set aside to a non-agricultural use. Some farmers converted land to golf courses, for example, under that scheme. In my view, it would be wrong to redefine agriculture so that those golf courses came within the definition but other golf courses obviously did not. Nor is the growing of plants to gain income a concept that is obviously agricultural, since it would embrace all commercial forestry, for example.

The draftsman who drew up this definition of agriculture, which I believe dates from the Agriculture Act 1947, had the wisdom and foresight to make it an inclusive definition. That is, it does not rule out activities as being agricultural simply because they are not mentioned. For that reason, the definition is a flexible one and can adapt to changing circumstances. Just as I do not imagine that there was ever any doubt that arable land—which the noble Lord cited as an example—was agricultural, despite not being mentioned, so it seems equally certain that land left fallow—whether as part of a traditional rotation or under a set-aside scheme—would also qualify. I am not saying that the present definition could never be improved upon, but merely that I see no pressing need to do so at this time and for this Bill only.

The Bill allows considerably more scope than the present legislation for tenants to diversify their activities into non-agricultural areas without the nature of the tenancy being called into question. It is partly for that reason as well that I see no additional need to extend the definition of agriculture, particularly if it would lead to a discrepancy between this Bill and other legislation as to what was and what was not agricultural.

I am sorry that I have sounded so negative, especially as I am not unsympathetic to what the noble Lord is trying to achieve, but I hope that once again he will be not unsympathetic to the arguments that I have put forward.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page