§ Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Lucas.)
§ On Question, Bill read 3a.
THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (LORD LUCAS)
The Amendment standing in my name is the one which I undertook at the last stage to put down. I have placed it on the Paper in its present form for the reason that the dates vary on which tenancies which in short may be described as Lady Day tenancies are determined. One date that is occasionally used is Candlemas—namely, February 2; another is old Lady Day, April 6; and there are also various days in May on which these tenancies are determined. The provision in the new clause which I now move to insert is consistent with the arrangement at which we arrived on the Report stage.
§ Amendment moved—
After Clause 1 insert the following new clause:
2. Notwithstanding any agreement to the contrary a notice to determine a tenancy of a holding or any part thereof on a day earlier than one year after the date of the service of the notice shall be void.
Provided that nothing in this section shall apply to—
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.163
§ Clause 3:
§ Determination of Questions.
§ 3. If any question arises under this Act as to whether a notice to quit has been given in view of the sale or offering for sale of a holding or part thereof, or as to whether the provisions of this Act with regard to the giving of any information or notice in connection with an agreement for sale have been complied with by a landlord or by a tenant, or as to whether a notice to quit is a notice to which this Act applies, the question may at any time after the notice is given be referred by the landlord or the tenant to arbitration under the Agricultural Holdings Act. 1908.
LORD ZOUCHE OF HARYNGWORTH
In the absence of my noble friend Lord Hylton, who is unfortunately unable to be present to-day, I move the Amendment to Clause 3 which stands in his name, to leave out the words "at any time" ["the question may at any time"] and to insert in their place the words "within one calendar month." The clause, as your Lordships see, provides that if any question arises as to whether a notice to quit has been given in view of the sale or offering for sale of a holding or part thereof, or as to whether the provisions with regard to the giving of any information or notice in connection with an agreement for sale have been complied with, and so forth, and if there is a dispute about the matter the question may—at any time after the notice is given be referred by the landlord or the tenant to arbitration under the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1908.It is suggested by my noble friend Lord Hylton that the words "at any time" would be dangerously wide, because they might have the effect of giving a litigious tenant power to harass his landlord some considerable time after the matter had been closed, and, of course, the same thing might conceivably happen from the other side—namely, on the part of the landlord. Therefore my noble friend proposes in his Amendment to limit the time by omitting the words "at any time" and inserting "within one calendar month." It has been represented to me that possibly the House might think that one calendar month rather erred too much on the side of shortness, and that a longer time might judiciously be inserted. In regard to that I am in the hands of your Lordships. But the words "at any time" would be too vague and wide and would give rise to the danger of possible litigation long after the time when it was right that such litigation, if you can call, it litigation, should take place. In 164 other words it would open the door to rather vexatious proceedings. That is, as far as I understand, the argument of my noble friend Lord Hylton, and I beg on his behalf to move the Amendment standing in his name.
Clause 3, page 3, line 3, leave out ("at any time") and insert ("within one calendar month").—(Lord Zouche of Haryngworth.)
There is a difficulty in the way of accepting the Amendment, and it is this. The procedure in the clause is intended to meet what one might call a question of fact. In the earlier stages of the Bill when we were discussing the counter-notice we laid down a certain definite period after which it could not be given. I think we gave two months from the time when the landlord served the notice as the period within which the tenant had to serve the counter-notice, because that was, as far as the tenant was concerned, a question of policy. The tenant had to make up his mind definitely whether he would go at the end of the year or serve a counter-notice. But this particular procedure is, as I have said, for the purpose of deciding certain questions of fact. Under the procedure as laid down in the Bill the landlord has to give notice that he wants to take advantage of the exceptions which the Bill makes. He has to state in the notice the reason why it is being given, and why the tenant cannot therefore claim the extra year. It might be quite impossible for the tenant to find out within a certain time whether or not the reason the landlord gives is actually the case. For instance, the landlord may give notice of his intention, let us say, to create small holdings, which is one of the objects for which he may give notice under Clause 2. Then suppose something happens to deter the landlord from creating small holdings; or it may be brought to the tenant's notice, for instance, that the landlord has some other intention in his mind. You cannot confine a thing of that sort within a definite fixed time. The question of fact on which the tenant will make his appeal—as to whether the land really is going to be used for the purpose specified by the landlord when he gave notice—is a question that the tenant must be given time, it seems to me, to determine. Under ordinary conditions the tenant would naturally be anxious to know at the earliest possible moment what his fate was 165 to be. If owing to the form in which the landlord gives the notice the tenant thinks there is some reason on which he may appeal to arbitration, he is in a state of uncertainty as to whether the decision of the arbitrators will be in his favour or not, and therefore he will be just as anxious as the landlord to get an early settlement of the question. So that under ordinary conditions he will naturally appeal at once. The only case in which he would not be able to appeal at once would be where some change takes place after the notice has been served which, in the tenant's opinion, is fair ground for supposing that the landlord will not be able to carry out his original intention, and therefore it is undesirable to put in any definite time as suggested in the Amendment.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
The noble Lord has, perhaps, given a reason why the words "one calendar month" will not do, but that is no reason for leaving it open for the tenant to raise the question at any time hereafter. I am sure the noble Lord in charge of the Bill does not wish any more than anybody else that an indefinite time should be given. Could not we put in the words "after the notice is given and before it has expired," or something of that kind? That would give plenty of time in which to raise the question, and at the same time would avoid giving any length of time that you like to mention.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
The object which my noble friend Lord Zouche has in view is very evident, and I think most of your Lordships will agree that if it were feasible it is a very proper Amendment to move —namely, that a limit should be put upon the possibility of raising this question, so that after a certain time both the landlord and the tenant should know exactly where they stood. That seems on the face of it a very reasonable proposal; and no doubt the phrase "at any time" opens up a vista as if years after the question might be again raised. My noble friend who has just sat down suggested that instead of the limit being one month the currency of the notice to quit might be the limit. I had great sympathy with the Amendment when it was put on the Paper, but I am bound to say that having listened to the statement made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture it seems to me that the Amendment is not feasible. It is clearly necessary that the 166 tenant should have the right to appeal to arbitration as soon as the facts transpire upon which he can act; and it may easily be, if, for example, a landlord claims exemption from the operation of the Act because he is selling with a view to small holdings, that after a short time it may appear that that intention cannot be carried out. In that case it would he fair for the tenant to have the right to call in question before a board of arbitration the exemption for which the landlord had claimed. I can conceive similar cases in which necessity might be laid on the tenant to wait until the facts transpired before going to arbitration. Therefore I am bound to say that in the circumstances the Amendment is not feasible.
Then comes the proposal of my noble friend Lord Camperdown. I think that ideally his proposal is probably right, but it is rather late in the course of the Bill for us to put in an Amendment of that kind, which would require to be very carefully drafted; and as a matter of fact I do not think it is likely that this question will be raised after the estate has changed hands and the notice to quit has taken effect. No doubt if it could have been put in at this stage it would, perhaps, be better to say that there should be no opportunity of appeal after the period of the notice had expired; but the danger is so small that think it would be hardly worth while to delay the Bill in order to put those words in.
LORD ZOUCHE OF HARYNGWORTH
After what has been said in the course of this discussion I do not wish to press the Amendment. At the same time, I think this is a question which might have been susceptible of some compromise.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Lucas.)
§ LORD CHANNING
My Lords, in asking the indulgence which your Lordships generously grant to newcomers to this House I do so with somewhat more confidence because it seems to me that the efforts of those who really care about agriculture and have tried in their way to lift these problems above the mere Party and class controversy have borne fruit, and that we are nearer in dealing with them to a stage of common ground where we can eliminate the friction 167 between different interests and do something to promote the continuous development of the agricultural industry. I am quite aware that I may seem to be trespassing rather late in the day on your Lordships' attention, but I have had exceptional opportunities of knowing the opinions of the tenant farmers of this country for many years in the Chambers of Agriculture and in the recent discussions on this subject. At a previous stage of this Bill my noble friend Lord Barnard laid before your Lordships' House and before my noble friend on the Government Bench some considerations which were present to the mind of the Central Chamber. I would only say this, that I am confident that the real grievance that is now being suffered by the tenant farmers of this country has the sympathy of every one of your Lordships. I have had the advantage, and it is an advantage which I prize very highly, of serving on more than one great Commission and Inquiry into this question of agriculture, and the fact borne upon the mind of any one who has had the opportunity of thus studying the history and conditions of some of the best managed estates in this country has been this, that the tenant farmers on those estates are those who are most progressive and most tend to advance the interests of agriculture, and that on those estates tenant farmers have the maximum degree of security in the protection of their interests. It is obvious that these sales are increasing not decreasing; they are not so much sales of bankrupt or ill-managed estates, but largely, perhaps increasingly, of portions of the best managed estates, so that the risks to the best type of farmer are even greater. That is the standpoint from which I would venture, with your Lordships' leave, to make one or two observations on this Bill before it passes to another place.
Lord Barnard the other day laid some of these considerations before you, and there is no doubt that there has been very sharp criticism among working tenant farmers upon the provisions of this Bill. I do not myself concur in the wholesale condemnation of the Bill or I may also add of the Report of the Departmental Committee upon which my noble friend on the Front Bench so much relies in defending the form of the Bill as it is laid before you. But I would venture to say that the feeling of the practical working farmers of this country is this—that the real grievance, 168 the vital grievance which has aroused so much anxiety and to a certain extent a great deal of irritation among that class of men has been in their opinion ignored both by the Report of the Departmental Committee and also in the Bill of His Majesty's Government. The real point of the whole question is the decision which was given in the County Court case of Clewlow v, Briscoe, that the compensation for disturbance clause passed in 1906 and afterwards embodied in the Consolidation Bill of 1908 does not apply to the case of tenant farmers who have notices to quit served upon them in order that the landlord may be able to sell his estate with the advantage to the new purchaser of coming into an estate of which he will have immediate possession with freedom to handle. That is the real grievance which they want dealt with and which is not dealt with by this Bill.
It has always seemed to me that it would be far better for agriculture and would not injure the landlord or anybody else if there was a business footing between the two parties to an agricultural contract, in which there might be absolute certainty of justice and fair-play all round. But there is a sense of deep injustice on the part of farmers that when a landowner is able to sell his estate for a higher price owing to giving notice to quit some consideration should not be given to them in those circumstances. Until the County Court decision to which I have referred was given they were firmly of the conviction—and their advisers, the great valuers and estate agents who dispose of these questions as between landlord and tenant, advised them—that they were protected by this section and would receive reasonable consideration for being expelled in this way. I have read, and I have no doubt my noble friend Lord Haversham has fully considered, the evidence given before his Committee by one of the ablest and most respected agricultural agents and experts in the country, Mr. Anker Simmons. In his view this was the essential point of the whole question. He said that in the previous two or three years there had been many cases in which he personally knew of vast losses sustained by tenant farmers owing to Section 11 of the Act of 1908 not being applicable to the cases of tenants who were turned out in these circumstances; and he went on to give an instance which I think any one of your Lordships who reads it will see constitutes a very vivid illustration of real hardship in these cir- 169 cumstances. He describes a case in which he was responsible as the valuer and decider of the relative rights of the two parties, in which the selling landowner, taking this view of Section 11 of the Act of 1908, had deliberately handed over to the purchaser a considerable sum of money in order to cover the claims which the tenants might present to him after he had come into ownership of the land. Mr. Simmons stated in his evidence that while the sale was still pending this decision was come to in the County Court, and that when in the final stage of the proceedings he applied to the purchasing owner and asked him to make good to the tenants out of the sum which had been handed over to him by the selling owner he snapped his fingers in Mr. Simmons's face and said, "They have no claim." He was perfectly entitled to say that. The County Court having decided as it did, there was no legal claim against him, what ever moral claim there might have been. That is a different state of things from what I saw in the newspapers yesterday, where an estate was bought, I think in Cheshire, for industrial purposes and where the seller, receiving, I suppose, a considerable sum for his estate, deliberately released his tenants from a considerable amount of their obligations to him.
What I would press upon my noble friend in charge of the Bill is this. It is, of course, useless at the present stage and in your Lordships' House to do anything more about this Bill. I feel that I owe your Lordships an apology for trespassing upon your time at this late moment. But I do wish to ask my noble friend Lord Lucas—and this is my only opportunity of doing so—whether he will not consider the possibility, when this Bill goes to another place, of dealing with this great and deeply felt grievance of tenant farmers. It seems to me a very real case which ought to be met somehow. The notice of the present Bill precluded any action in your Lordships' House, because a motion to introduce an Amendment of Section 11 of the Act of 1908 would clearly have been out of order under the notice under which this Bill was introduced, so we are powerless here. But I Would ask my noble friend, as representing the Government, whether it might not be possible to meet this, I assure him, very strong and I think not wholly unreasonable demand of the working agriculturists of this country, that something should be done to meet this grievance 170 in addition to the provisions in this Bill. I do not wish to underrate the Bill. Undoubtedly the provision as to counter-notice, especially as improved by Lord St. Levan's Amendment, places the tenant farmer in a much better position for bargaining for fair terms in a new contract of tenancy, and it also gives him elbow room to look for a new farm. But I would ask my noble friend, in conclusion, whether His Majesty's Government cannot consider dealing with the subject in a somewhat wider aspect, either by new legislation or by taking steps to recast the present Bill in another place.
My Lords, I stated when introducing this Bill that it was not intended to cover the whole ground. It was, I explained, only what one might term an instalment, but that it was in our opinion as far as it went a measure of some value and one which there was a fair prospect of being able to get through pretty speedily. We never intended that it should be a compensation Bill, and we have carefully avoided in the Bill dealing with that extremely controversial question. I do not wish to say that the present state of affairs with regard to compensation is in every way satisfactory. I do not think we have at all reached what we may call a final settlement with regard to that. But what I would point out to my noble friend is that the difficulties in the way of it are enormous. One has only to read the Report of this very Committee, some of whose recommendations are the cause of this Bill, to see that. They devoted a considerable amount of time to this question of compensation, and anxious as they were to assist tenants they were unable, after having listened to the very evidence which my noble friend quoted, to make any recommendations in favour of altering the existing conditions of compensation. I mention that simply to show that the compensation question is fraught with difficulty in every possible way. Moreover, we have still to see how the present Agricultural Holdings Act works before we can come to any final decision on that particular question.
§ LORD HAVERSHAM
My Lords, I quite appreciate the difficulties to which my noble friend Lord Channing has alluded, and I can assure him that on the Committee over which I presided we had the most anxious deliberation with regard to 171 the whole matter of compensation, but it was almost impossible for the valuers to say that they could at any time arrive at a proper valuation. Consequently we had to give this up, and we adopted another plan which was popular with the whole of the Committee—namely, the giving of an extended notice. I happened to meet a number of leading farmers yesterday. They were, of course, very open-mouthed with regard to the necessity of giving compensation. I told them what the change was which this Bill would effect, and they said there was no doubt about it that that did make a very great difference in the whole matter and they considered it a great boon to them. Much as I hope my noble friend in charge of the Bill will take up the question of compensation afterwards, I do trust that he will keep this Bill separate and endeavour to pass it as it stands through the House of Commons, because there is no doubt about it that it will be a great boon to the tenants affected. In my opinion the question of compensation cannot be settled except in a different Bill.
§ On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.