HC Deb 03 February 1970 vol 795 cc215-6

3.30 p.m.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the law relating to agricultural tenancies in Scotland; and for purposes connected therewith. It may seem an act of temerity to embark upon such a large task as the amendment of Scottish agricultural holdings law through the medium of a Ten-Minute Rule Bill. However, I seek to deal with only one small matter which has given rise to hardship of an extreme kind in a case which is known to my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan), for whose presence here I am grateful.

I have learned from my hon. Friend that the Government are at present carrying out a review of Scottish agricultural holdings legislation. It is a vast subject of considerable complexity. Unfortunately, I have not been able to obtain from him any assurance about when the review will be completed. It is for that reason that I feel obliged to bring forward this proposed Measure in the hope that the House will see fit to relieve what is a grievous hardship and a potentially burdensome situation for tenant farmers.

My hon. Friend knows that my interest in the subject was first aroused by a case in my constituency which achieved some notoriety. It involved a Mr. Brims, of Watten, in Caithness, who was dispossessed of his farm by the landlord because of his failure to carry out certain repairs which left him in breach of condition of his lease.

Under the provisions of the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act, 1949, a landlord in that situation may serve an incontestable notice to quit. This is a matter of considerable importance and can give rise to great hardship, since an extremely trivial matter can be involved. It can be simply that the requirement is to carry out a repair to fencing, or perhaps to ensure that a steading is weatherproof, or some relatively slight matter. There is no requirement that the notice be given in any particular form. It can be presented in an informal letter in which a whole lot of other matters are rolled up, and the severe consequences which may follow from a failure to carry out repairs can lead to the notice to quit being given—a situation in which the tenant has no remedy.

I am sure that the House will agree that this is inequitable. The position was similar in England until 1964, when two orders were laid before the House in pursuance of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1963, whereunder it was required that a notice to remedy a breach of a term or condition of a lease must be in a prescribed form and must specify the period within which the breach is required to be remedied, with a minimum time of six months. In addition, the tenant farmer must be given notice that failure to comply with that requirement may lead to a notice to quit being issued in the prescribed manner.

That seems to be a sensible provision, and it is somewhat anomalous that the law was not amended in Scotland at the same time. However, I recognise that the procedure for the review of agricultural holdings legislation proceeds along independent lines in Scotland.

This case has given rise to considerable concern in my constituency and throughout the North. For that reason, I have taken it up with the National Farmers' Union of Scotland. I have ascertained that the union is anxious to have the law amended and is seeking to have the Scottish law brought into line with English law. In view of that, I suggest that this is a matter of importance which can and should be dealt with quite simply and expeditiously.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Robert Maclennan, Mr. Hugh D. Brown, Mr. Donald Dewar, Mr. William Hannan, and Mr. Archie Manuel.