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Lord Stanley of Alderley: My Lords, I put my name to this amendment, and I have also tabled a milder amendment. With your Lordships' permission, I should like to address them both at the same time.

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The reason why I support this amendment and why I tabled Amendment No. 5 is this. Listening to the comments of noble Lords in Committee, reading the agricultural press and farming, as I do, in Wales and Oxford, I have been forced to the conclusion that, although the industry group and noble Lords may understand the radical nature of this Bill, it is blatantly obvious that the farmer on the ground just does not appreciate what a change in approach to the tenanting of agricultural land the Bill will cause.

As I have probably told the House I have farmed as a tenant for a little over 40 years. During that time I have enjoyed virtually total security. The tenant could—and I suppose on many occasions I did—tell his landlord to get lost with no fear of reprisal, except of course bad will. But that, for better or worse, will go with freedom of contract. Noble Lords should not for a moment forget that with such freedom comes responsibility. There is a great danger of it causing some very unpleasant situations, as the noble Lord, Lord Carter, also suggested. For instance, let us take as an example the tenant who could well have a wife and children and who might be 40 years old. He could well be evicted from his house—which, incidentally, would not be possible if he were an agricultural worker because he would be protected. This point was forcefully made in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne.

The best way to avoid such problems is, as is suggested in the amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, to make absolutely sure that prospective landlords and tenants understand the matters that should be discussed and decided before entering into a lease.

I would have liked to see a non-statutory model clause. However, when I mentioned that to the industry group it rebuked me in a manner that I can only describe as being like Sir Humphrey rebuking his Minister. Being, as always, fearful of annoying the agricultural lobby, I have managed to tone down my amendment, which only requires the Minister to keep a watching brief on future agreements and obliges him to make sure that both landlord and tenant are getting the best possible advice before entering into an agreement —or perhaps I should say "any old agreement", because that is what I fear could happen.

I realise that neither of these amendments is blessed by the industry group. I fear therefore that my noble friend Lord Howe will tell me that it is dangerous to interfere with such a delicate plant for its flower might wither away if upset in any way whatsoever. Like the noble Lord, Lord Carter, I think I know the members of the industry group well enough to know that they can—indeed they should—take a little criticism from time to time.

While I am about it, I might as well criticise my noble friend, too. If he replies by using the words "anodyne" or "otiose" in regard to my amendment—words that are much loved by civil servants—it will show that his department (not, of course, my noble friend) fails to appreciate the importance of good guidance to avoid future problems destroying the Bill. If my noble friend replies in such a vein, I really will have no alternative,

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much as I should regret it, but to take his advice and support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, rather than move mine.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Geraint: My Lords, I support the Bill, which has been long awaited by the industry. But after saying that, I believe that there is a great deal of merit in the amendment that was so ably tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, and supported by my friend from Anglesey, the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley.

As the years go by—and many of us have been involved in agriculture all our lives—I feel now that I need more guidance than ever before, and especially in regard to the new rules and regulations that come in from Europe. On balance, we need a great deal more guidance if the industry is to succeed in Europe. This is a glorious opportunity for the Government to help those farmers who will be involved in getting a new tenancy.

Looking at the Bill, I believe that the landlord would be far more likely to choose an established tenant with security behind him than prospective young farmers without milk or sheep quotas. I believe that that is what will happen. But I shall not speak against that. What is important is that those young farmers will have guidance and help without all the time having to go to their solicitors. Finally, of course, they will have to use a solicitor, but they need guidance in the few weeks before they do that.

I have just one final question. I asked the Minister this at Second Reading. I wonder what are his views and whether he has considered what was said then about county council smallholdings. I honestly believe that the young farmers of tomorrow will be very keen to have a county council smallholding if they are not successful under this Bill. Guidance could given on county council smallholdings by the Government. I know that they are provided by the local authority and perhaps people will say that we should not get involved in any way, but if the Government would give guidance to county councils to try to persuade them to buy more farms for the young farmers of this country, it would be a step in the right direction. I support the noble Lord, Lord Carter, and other noble Lords who have proposed this amendment. We need it badly. Let us hope that the Minister will accede to our request.

Earl Howe: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, and indeed to my noble friend for explaining the purpose of their respective amendments. Flattered as I am by the implication that my department is the fount of all wisdom on tenancy matters, I have to say that I believe that others are better qualified to prepare guidance for people preparing a tenancy agreement. My officials, I am told, hardly ever even see a tenancy agreement in the course of their everyday duties.

The RICS has established a working party which has been working assiduously on drafting guidance notes. The members of that group are, I believe, well qualified for the task by virtue of their expertise and experience. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, thinks that

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they are doing a good job. The RICS held a seminar last Thursday at which it explained in general terms what it was doing, and this was welcomed.

However, the important thing to realise—and I say this particularly to my noble friend—is that the RICS will not be taking all the responsibility upon itself. It has said that it hopes to have completed its first drafts on each of the various topics by the end of this month. It will then seek comments from the main industry bodies and, I trust, from MAFF as well. The next stage will be to prepare a fuller revised version with a target date of the end of March. That version will be the subject of wider consultation, in the light of which it will finalise the guidance. It should then be in a position to send the text for publication as soon as the Bill has completed its passage through Parliament and to issue it well in advance of 1st September, which is when we hope that the Bill will come into force.

I readily acknowledge that the guidance will be an important source of advice. It is important that it should be full, accurate and unbiased. My department is certainly prepared to contribute to that objective. However, it seems much better that industry experts should take the lead in designing a package with which they and their clients or members can work easily. I hope that my noble friend will agree that that approach, if it does not meet the letter of his amendment, certainly meets the spirit of it. I would not dream of criticising his amendment in the terms that he foresaw that I might do.

A further point that I should make is that this will not be —nor would we wish it to be—the only source of advice. Farm business tenancies will provide greater freedom and flexibility. Industry organisations may want to offer services to help their members draw up agreements for their own circumstances. Other people may rely on their regular land agent or solicitor. Others may turn to textbooks, which no doubt are being written as we speak.

With regard to the query of the noble Lord, Lord Geraint, about county council smallholdings, as I explained in Committee, essentially the decisions that are made by county councils are for them to make as to whether to buy more smallholdings. But the Bill will be helpful to the extent that providing more opportunities for tenants to move up the ladder will leave more openings for new entrants. At present the smallholdings tend to become blocked because the tenants do not move up the ladder.

This is not an area in which the Government should monopolise the field and prescribe the terms which are best for individuals in widely varying circumstances to include in what are essentially private contracts. We are prepared to play our full part in facilitating the production of guidance if the authors would like the benefit of our advice. However, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, that we have no wish to take on a statutory responsibility for producing guidance ourselves.

I do not understand why the noble Lord believes that the absence of government guidance—rather than, as is now envisaged, guidance prepared by those best placed to produce it—will result in landlords and tenants engaging in an uncontrolled and ill advised free-for-all. I simply do not see that point.

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The noble Lord has that look about him which suggests that he is contemplating dividing the House. I hope that he does not divide it. I hope that he will accept that there is good work going on, led by professionals, in which my ministry will be pleased to take a role and which makes official government guidance unnecessary, even if he cannot agree with me that it is inherently undesirable in the context of this Bill.

Therefore, I hope very much that my noble friend and the noble Lord will not press their amendments but instead be content to let current events run their course and await publication of the draft RICS guidance at the end of this month.


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