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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, my noble friend is right that the taxpayer cannot pay for a system in which someone would house himself at the taxpayers' expense in a property markedly more expensive than he would at his own expense. That is why we have taken steps to deal with extremely expensive property. It is also why my right honourable friend announced that housing benefit will be able to meet market rents up to the point of the average rent for that kind of property in that area. Above that average the housing benefit system will pay 50 per cent. of the difference between the average and the market rent. We believe that that will strike the right balance between the landlord, the tenant and the taxpayer.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, does the Minister also agree that there is another group which gravely needs to see some limit set on rents? I refer to students, who are excluded from housing benefit.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, as my noble friend rightly points out, the Government decided quite correctly that students are supported through the student grant system and through the student loans which are now available. Students ought not to be dependent on the benefits system which is designed for another and quite different group of people. We think

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that is the case and therefore the question of rents for students does not arise within the housing benefit system.

Youth Services

3.1 p.m.

Baroness David asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in the light of recent proposals to reorganise the National Youth Agency and cut its budget for 1995-96, they remain committed to the youth service.

Lord Lucas: Yes, my Lords. The Department for Education's objectives include support for statutory and voluntary youth services. They also include the broader aim of furthering the personal, social and moral development of young people. The National Youth Agency is currently the subject of a periodic policy review. The review team's interim conclusions have now gone out to consultation. Ministers will not be formulating their views until the final report is submitted. I have placed a copy of the interim report and evidence in the Library.

Baroness David: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. However, is he aware that there is still considerable doubt among all those involved in the youth service about the commitment of the Government because of what they have done? Is he further aware that the Youth Service Advisory Committee and the maintained youth service sector are very concerned at the department's recent proposal to dismember the National Youth Agency and restructure it without consultation with the voluntary sector and to cut the agency's budget by £200,000? Why is there a need for change, and why the haste? It is only four years since the National Youth Agency was set up. Can the Government never leave anything alone and give those who are clearly involved and have a great commitment a proper chance to get the thing going?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, every non-departmental public body is subject to review every five years and it is quite proper that that should be so. In the case of the National Youth Agency, as I said in my first reply, the interim report has been published. Ministers have yet to take a position on it. Indeed, they will not take a position until the final report has been published. Many organisations were consulted in the run-up to the interim report. That included a very large number of voluntary organisations. It is open to any organisation, voluntary or otherwise, which has opinions based on the interim report to submit them to the department and to Ministers. They will then be considered.

Baroness David: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the review was published only before Christmas and the responses have to be in by the middle of February? That is not much time.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, there are two elements to my answer to the noble Baroness. First, most organisations—indeed, so far as we know, all major organisations concerned with the youth service—have

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been involved in the consultation in the run-up to the interim report. Secondly, the department believes that there is enough time between now and the spring to produce the final report and to make the decisions thereon. If that turns out not to be the case, decisions will not be made in haste. They will be made in a proper time.

Baroness Lockwood: My Lords, were the local authority associations consulted about the increased responsibilities which it is suggested they should undertake in this reorganisation? If they were not consulted, and if they are not supportive, as I believe to be the case, do the Government have any fall-back proposals to take over part of the funding and the responsibilities which it was proposed the local authority associations should assume?

Lord Lucas: Yes, my Lords, the local authority associations were consulted. We are aware that they have concerns about the proposals in the interim report. They are due to see my honourable friend the Minister responsible for further and higher education shortly. As I have said, Ministers have yet to form a view on these proposals. This is the report of an interim working group and are not the Government's own proposals.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the statement in The Times Educational Supplement of last week, where the leader says:


    "the National Youth Agency is threatened with dismemberment by the Department for Education, apparently because it provided a very effective national voice for a youth service under threat, but proved less amenable to toeing the official line.


    In particular the NYA, under its outspoken director, Janet Paraskeva, has fought hard to save youth service funding from the increasingly damaging effects of local spending cuts"?

Is there any truth in that, or is this usually very responsible newspaper indulging in baseless, groundless and senseless speculation?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I would not dream of saying any such thing about The Times Educational Supplement. But on this occasion there is no truth in that thought. We do not envisage under any circumstances the dissolution of the National Youth Agency, which has done a great deal of good work. All that is taking place is an ordinary review of how best the National Youth Agency should be funded and how best it should achieve its objectives.

Business

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m. my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that is to be made in another place on child support.

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Agricultural Tenancies Bill [H.L.]

3.7 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 1 [Meaning of "farm business tenancy"]:

Lord Carter moved Amendment No. 1:


Page 1, line 10, after ("conditions") insert ("or the agricultural condition").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 1 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 2 and 3. With this group of amendments we return to the interesting discussion we had in Committee on the definition and the nature of a farm business tenancy proposed under the Bill. In Committee we discovered the extraordinary irony that the Government have succeeded in producing an Agricultural Tenancies Bill in which the new agricultural tenancy does not have to meet the agriculture condition. With this group of amendments we hope to put that anomaly right to some extent and also to deal with the real concern expressed in Committee and outside the House about the need to put the essential terms of the farm business tenancy in writing.

I say immediately that it is clear from the amendments that we are not attempting to change the fact that there are three conditions in Clause 1 of the Bill; the business condition, the agriculture condition and the notice condition. We accept that, but we believe that the amendments and the argument I shall be developing turn round the Government's approach to one which we believe is more sensible.

We suggest that there should be an obligatory notice in writing—the notice conditions in the Bill are optional—which will also set out the terms of the tenancy. We propose no restriction on those terms. This is not a prescriptive amendment, to use the phrase which the Minister constantly deployed in Committee. We do not propose any restrictions beyond those already in the Bill.

Having established that the obligatory notice shall be in writing and set out the terms of the tenancy, then either the business or the agricultural conditions can be fulfilled. At this stage we accept reluctantly, although we may wish to come back to the issue at Third Reading, the extraordinary idea developed in Committee which the Government appeared to be entirely happy with; namely, once a farm business tenancy, always a farm business tenancy. I believe that we all agreed, including Members of the Committee on the other side of the Chamber, that it was odd that once a farm business tenancy had started then, no matter what happened afterwards, one remained in that circumstance. The example we had was the farm which became a golf course with a small field and four chickens in it, although it still remained a farm business tenancy.

The idea of the obligatory notice in writing is not new. Perhaps I may quote from the Housing Act 1988, Chapter II, Section 20(2), as regards an assured shorthold tenancy. It states:


    "The notice referred to in subsection (1) (c) above is one which—-


    (a) is in such form as may be prescribed;

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    (b) is served before the assured tenancy is entered into;


    (c) is served by the person who is to be the landlord under the assured tenancy on the person who is to be the tenant under that tenancy; and


    (d) states that the assured tenancy to which it relates is to be a shorthold tenancy".

There is not a great deal between that proposal and what is already in the Bill which I am not attempting to amend except in one important respect. We suggest that the notice should set out the principal terms of the tenancy.

Perhaps I may deal with the notice having to be in writing. At Committee stage we were all unclear about the oral agreement. For reasons which I understand, the Government believe that if they require all farm business tenancies to be in writing, people will make oral agreements in order to get round the Bill. The noble Earl kindly agreed in Committee to write to me to explain the situation and that he did.

Without in the least wishing to comment on the opacity of the noble Earl's letter, which I am sure he had some help in drafting, I believe, having read it four times, that I am now beginning to understand what it says. Perhaps we may make sure that we all understand it. There was a lack of clarity and understanding throughout the Committee.

In the letter the noble Earl says:


    "As I said in the debate, section 2 of the Law of Property (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1989 provides that a contract for the sale or other disposition of an interest in land"—

and obviously a tenancy is an "interest in land"—


    "must be in writing. Short leases are excluded from this provision. A short lease is a lease for a term not exceeding three years at the best rent that can reasonably be obtained without taking a premium".

The noble Earl was careful in Committee to say that the Bill would not remove agricultural tenancies from the normal law of property. As I understand it, the only oral agreements then can be short leases, provided that that is a correct understanding of the letter. It will be extremely helpful to the House if it is made clear whether oral agreements apply only to leases of less than three years.

Amendment No. 3 states that the notice condition should set out,


    "the terms of the proposed tenancy".

In Committee on 12th December, at col. 1133 of the Official Report, the Minister said,


    "It is no part of a deliberately simply and streamlined Bill"—

and the Bill is certainly that—


    "to write in provisions about deemed covenants for oral agreements. It is for the parties to decide what conditions and arrangements should apply in respect of their agreements, whether written or oral in nature. It is not for the Government to do so. The whole point of the Bill is to allow the parties to an agreement maximum freedom to decide on the terms which suit them best".

As always, having read that and having been persuaded by the eloquence and oratory of the noble Earl, we have accepted that point. We have allowed the two sides to state what the tenancy should be in the notice conditions. Having agreed what they are, they should at least be set out in the notice.

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Clause 13(2) deals with arbitration. We also return to the phrase, "the terms of the tenancy", where the arbitrator has to take into account all the relevant factors. There will certainly be discussion about that in later amendments. Those factors include in every case the terms of the tenancy. The phrase to which I have referred is already in the Bill. We have taken it from there and put it into the notice condition.

In the next group of amendments we shall be dealing with the need for guidance. Under the terms of the tenancy that could be part of the non-statutory guidance. I emphasise that we are proposing a very simple and not over-prescriptive approach. If the landlord and tenant wish to set up a farm business tenancy they exchange notices which are obviously in writing. They say that they intend to do this or that. The notice will include the main terms of the tenancy and, as I say, it is entirely up to the parties to decide what the terms are.

In Clause 1(4) (a) (i) the notice shall identify,


    "the land to be comprised in the proposed tenancy".

So there is already one term of the tenancy in the Bill. That having been achieved, the tenancy agreement is signed. As long as it either fulfils the business or the agricultural condition, there is a farm business tenancy. If the oral agreement for a term in excess of three years has to be in writing under the Act which I have quoted, and if the agreement is for less than that period, it is highly unlikely that the landlord and tenant will exchange a written notice and then have an oral agreement. But if they do so—and we have not attempted to change it in the Bill —and if our amendments are accepted, provided the oral agreement fulfils either the business or agricultural conditions there will then be a farm business tenancy. If the oral tenancy is for over three years that will be left to the courts in any event, which is the case at the moment.

We have come a long way to meet the Government. We have accepted the three conditions; namely, the notice condition, the business condition and the agricultural condition. But we have altered their order of importance. We ask the Government to consider that the notice condition should be the obligatory one in writing with the terms of the tenancy as decided by the landlord and tenant. Then, as long as the tenancy in practice fulfils either the business or agricultural condition, there will be a farm business tenancy. I beg to move.


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