HL Deb 19 May 1978 vol 392 cc648-55

1.16 p.m.

Lord STRABOLGI rose to move, That the Agricultural Holdings Act 1948 (Variation of Fourth Schedule) Order 1978, laid before the House on 10th April, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move first the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. At the same time I should like, with your Lordships' permission, to speak to the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act 1949 (Variation of First Schedule) Order 1978, which was laid before this House on the 12th April, and to move this formally later.

The purpose of the England and Wales Order is to bring the wording of certain short term improvements listed in Part I of the Fourth Schedule to the Agricultural Holdings Act 1948, for which compensation is payable to outgoing agricultural tenants, into line with current thought on the subject; to extend the payment of compensation, and to add a new tenant right item in Part II of the Fourth Schedule.

It may help your Lordships if I explain the background to this order. The rights of both landlords and tenants of agricultural land are set out in the Agricultural Holdings legislation, notably the Agricultural Holdings Act 1948, as amended. They may also be set out in the tenancy agreements. These rights include those matters for which the tenant may claim compensation from his landlord on quitting the holding and, for that matter, those items for which he may not claim compensation. Improvements for which compensation is payable without the consent of the landlord and other matters for which compensation is payable are set out in the Fourth Schedule to the 1948 Act. But farming techniques change over the years, as I need hardly say. The Schedule no longer fully reflects modern farming practices and is therefore no longer a complete list of those items of husbandry which a tenant may carry out without the consent of his landlord, and for which he is entitled to claim compensation.

Valuation is a highly technical matter and is normally carried out by valuers engaged by the landlord and the tenant to represent their respective interests, with recourse to arbitration in the event of disagreement. The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is advised on these matters by a committee of experts called the Committee on Agricultural Valuation which is set up under the authority of Section 79 of the 1948 Act. The Chief Surveyor of the Land Service of ADAS is the chairman of the Committee. The Committee have issued four reports, all of which have been published. The Statutory Instrument which we are considering today arises directly from the third and fourth reports.

If your Lordships would now turn to the order, we can consider its detailed provisions. It is rather complicated. I suggest that we deal with the Schedule first because it details the changes that are to be made. The Schedule amends certain wording of Part I of the Fourth Schedule to the 1948 Act and adds a new tenant right item to Part II of the Fourth Schedule. First of all, paragraph 1 runs together into one item—the liming and chalking of land which are items 3 and 5 of the Fourth Schedule. These are now held to be similar husbandry operations. Secondly, it modernises the wording of item 6 by, in effect, substituting the word "fertiliser" for "artificial manure". Thirdly, it amends paragraph 7 of the Fourth Schedule. This paragraph relates to the unexhausted manurial value from feedingstuffs not produced on the holding which are consumed by horses, cattle, sheep or pigs or poultry folded on the land as part of a system of farming practised on the holding.

The Amendment will have the effect of extending compensation to the consumption of such feedingstuffs by intensively managed poultry on the holding. In modern day agriculture the system of intensively managed poultry is much more widely used and intensive poultry units are now sufficiently large and numerous for the quantity of manure to be significant. Paragraph 2 of the Schedule to the Order concerns a tenant right matter which does not at present come within the compass of Part II of the Fourth Schedule. It is, I understand, generally accepted among farmers that there are benefits to be derived from the practice of alternate husbandry or ley farming—in other words, a period of grass followed by a sequence of arable crops.

A special scientific working party, appointed by the Minister's Committee on Agricultural Valuation, considered the matter and concluded that there was benefit to be derived from this practice. The scientific working party's ideas have since been subjected to complex field experiments. Although these must continue over many years to obtain a critical assessment of average results, the results so far, taking into account differences between experiments on different soils, show in general terms that benefit can be derived from the use of leys. It would seem eminently reasonable, therefore, in all circumstances to make it possible for compensation to be payable in respect of the residual value of leys. This is therefore what paragraph 2 provides for. To complete the picture, I should point out that the order will be followed, as recommended by the Committee on Agricultural Valuation, by regulations under Section 51 of the 1948 Act to prescribe the method of calculating the value of a qualifying ley, but these regulations are not yet before the House.

May we now look at the articles in the order. Article 3 is the main operative article and gives effect to the Schedule to the order. Article 4 deals with the effect of the new provisions on existing tenancies and follows the lines of the 1948 Act itself. Sections 47 and 64 of the Act gave existing tenants the right to choose between compensation based on custom and statutory compensation under the 1948 Act. Paragraph 1 of Article 4 does the same for the residual value of leys, but brings the material date forward to the time when the order comes into operation.

I should explain, however, that under the Act choice of customary or statutory compensation applied to all the items specified in Part II of the Fourth Schedule as a whole. The tenant could not choose one form of compensation for some tems and another for the remainder. Consequently, a tenant who has already chosen statutory compensation—that is, a pre-1948 tenant—would have to accept that form of compensation for the new item in respect of the residual value of leys if the contrary were not specifically provided for in paragraph 4 of Article 4. Paragraphs 2 and 3 of Article 4 are consequentials. I must tell your Lordships that the Minister is required by Section 78 of the 1948 Act to consult organisations affected by any order to be made under this section and the National Farmers' Union and the Country Landowners' Association have been consulted on this order and have agreed the changes.

In the case of the Scottish Order, the Amendments are to the First Schedule to the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act 1949, which is equivalent to the Fourth Schedule to the English 1948 Holdings Act. The effect of the amendments is to modify Part III of the First Schedule, which deals with improvements for which compensation may be payable to the tenant at the termination of the tenancy, without previously informing the landlord or getting his consent to the improvements. The amendments are given in the Schedule to the order, which is, in effect, identical to the first paragraph of the Schedule to the English order, and the changes are being made for the same reasons that I have ventured to explain in dealing with the English order.

However, the obvious differences between the two orders is that, unlike the English order in the second paragraph of its schedule, the Scottish order does not provide for the addition of a new paragraph to the Schedule to the Act to deal with compensation for the residual value of temporary pasture. The reason is that a new paragraph on these lines would not be appropriate to Scotland because of the different climatic and other physical conditions. As a result of these differences, even on land where there is continuous arable cropping, the level of organic matter seems to be maintained above the levels found where continuous cropping is similarly practised in the South. The evidence from both experimental and advisory work indicates that it is rarely possible to identify conditions in Scotland where crop growth could be significantly improved by additional organic matter from more or longer leys in the rotation.

The Scottish Standing Committee for the Calculation of Residual Values, being aware of the proposals being made for England and Wales, considered whether it should recommend a similar Amendment for Scotland, but concluded that it would not be appropriate to Scottish conditions. I should also add that, in terms of Section 79 of the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act 1949, the Secretary of State for Scotland is required to consult with appropriate interests before making an order under this section. The National Farmers' Union of Scotland, the Scottish Landowners' Federation and the Scottish Branch of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors were accordingly consulted and have agreed to the Amendments embodied in the order. My Lords, I beg to move the first order standing in my name.

Moved, That the Agricultural Holdings Act 1948 (Variation of Fourth Schedule) Order 1978, laid before the House on 10th April, be approved.—(Lord Strabolgi.)

1.28 p.m.

Viscount LONG

My Lords, I am sure your Lordships are very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, for introducing these two important orders, one for England and Wales and the other for Scotland. As they relate closely to each other, there is little point in making two speeches, so I hope that the noble Lord will understand that I shall be making only one, on artificial fertilisers and—bringing in the word which I rather like—just ordinary manure. First, in regard to England and Wales, the change may be given a very gratified welcome, which would be more enthusiastic were the drafting of its terms more explicit. I have never seen a more difficult order to try to pull together and make a speech about. It makes me wonder who can make these orders in such language that we find extremely difficult. I was dismayed to find the words confusing, not to say unnecessary.

The first alteration to the Fourth Schedule to the 1948 Act affecting England and Wales appears at first sight unnecessary and even laughable, where "chalking" is taken out and then, confusingly, put back in again. The remaining Amendments are more serious and relate to improvements to grassland cultivation. Of course, one must recognise that in the last 30 years techniques of grassland management have changed, and hence the new expression "qualifying leys" replaces the original short leys. It is the phraseology which I find difficult, and the alterations make it even more disturbing. One only wishes that in the Ministry of Agriculture—that is probably unfair; in other Ministries as well—the advice of Sir Ernest Gowers was heeded. His well-known book, Plain Words: A Guide to the Use of the English Language, was published in 1948 at the very time of the Agricultural Holdings Act, and here we are now discussing orders that are very difficult to understand.

If we read the proposed terms of the order, which change the Fourth Schedule, we notice how different it sounds. What was lucid is now opaque; what was brief is now lengthy, and what was easily understood has now to be read three times before the meaning begins to emerge. "Fertiliser" is replaced by "artificial fertiliser" when all I knew about the farming world—not being a farmer—was that the word was "manure". So why bring forward this order? If the reasons are technical they could be more readily expressed. When I turn to the parallel alterations to the Scottish Act of 1949, I find the situation much easier. It is certainly not so confusing. The references to grassland and compensation are omitted so we have that worry less on our minds when we try to read through this order.

I understand from the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, that the terms of these two orders have been fully discussed with the National Farmers' Union, the Agricultural Valuers' Association and the Country Landowners' Association, so I need not ask him about that. But may I ask him two questions relating to the regulations that he said would be laid at a later time during this Parliament? Can he let the House know when these regulations will be laid, and whether they will be subject to Affirmative or the Negative Resolution? I shall understand if he cannot answer at the moment, but it would be useful to the House to know, if not now, at a later date. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his extra explanation of these orders. I hope that what I have said contributes a little to the matter, although I am rather confused by the phraseology.

1.34 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Long, for what he has said. I agree that these are extremely complicated orders but, if I may say so, he seems to have understood them very well. On the question of chalking and liming, as I have said, the net effect is to couple the chalking of land with the liming of land as one item, since they are now considered to be equivalent. In fact, the values in the 1969 compensation regulations in respect of both items appear under "Liming of Land", so it is really modernising the nomenclature.

With regard to the old-fashioned word "manure", this also is a change in nomenclature, as it deletes the reference in item 6 of the Fourth Schedule to "artificial manure" and substitutes "fertiliser", since all artificial manures are now commonly referred to as fertilisers.

I agree that these are very complicated orders, although, as is customary, there are explanatory notes at the end of each of them. I was interested that the noble Viscount reminded us of the words, which I always remember, of Sir Ernest Gowers, about plain words. When these orders go out after approval by Parliament, they are always accompanied by a note from the Press Office of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food explaining exactly what happens with them and how they will affect the individual tenants and landlords. The National Farmers' Union and the Country Landowners' Association are, of course, au fait with them and have been so from the beginning because, as I said in my original speech, they have been consulted on them and have agreed.

The noble Viscount asked me about the further regulations to which I referred in my speech. They will be laid shortly and it is hoped, should your Lordships approve them and approval is also given by another place, that they will come into operation at the same time as these orders, which is 1st July next. They will be subject to the Negative Resolution procedure. I hope that answers the various points that the noble Viscount has raised. I beg to move the first order.

On Question, Motion agreed to.