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Clause 30—(Restrictions On Termination By Notice Of Tenancies Of Holdings)

Volume 438: debated on Wednesday 4 June 1947

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I beg to move, in page 31, line 30, at the end, to insert:

"(e) for excluding the application of Subsection (1) of this Section in relation to sub-tenancies in such cases as may be prescribed, and for making such provision as appears to the Minister expedient for the purpose of safeguarding the interests of sub-tenants, including provision enabling the Minister or the Agricultural Land Tribunal, where the interest of a tenant is terminated by notice to quit, to secure that a sub-tenant will hold from the landlord on the like terms as he held from the tenant."
This Clause provides that notices to quit, given in respect of agricultural holdings, shall not have effect, except in certain cases, where they are disputed by the tenant. As the Clause is at present drafted, it does not contain very adequate provision as to what is to happen to the sub-tenant. The Clause deals with the position where the freeholder gives notice to his tenant, and the tenant disputes it. In the event of a dispute the Minister, or the tribunal, will have to decide between them. That is in the case of all notices to quit, except in the exempted cases referred to in Subsection (2). On further examination of the Clause, it has become apparent that there may be curious anomalies arising out of the position of sub-tenants.

I will give the Committee some examples. Supposing the landlord, the freeholder, gives a notice to a tenant having himself obtained planning permission to use the holding for non-agricultural work, with the result that his notice to quit would be excluded from the operation of the Clause by virtue of Subsection (2, c). The notice, in those circumstances, would be effective against the tenant. But supposing the tenant had let to a sub-tenant who was in occupation of the holding, the question would arise whether the subtenant could be given notice, and compelled to leave the holding. As the Clause is at present drafted, this situation might well arise. The tenant, having been given notice by the landlord, when he in turn came to give notice to his sub-tenant, the sub-tenant would be entitled to dispute the notice under the terms of Clause 30, and the tenant could not possibly get the sub-tenant out, because the tenant could not say that he himself came within the provisions of Subsection (2, c). He would not be able to show that he wanted to use the agricultural holding for the non-agricultural purposes for which planning permission had been granted. The position would result that notice against the tenant would be effective, but notice against the subtenant would be ineffective.

A similar situation might arise in a hardship case. The freeholder with a strong hardship case might give notice to the tenant. The tenant might dispute it, but not have hardship grounds himself to dispute it successfully. But when that tenant, having let to a sub-tenant, came to give notice to the sub-tenant in order to get him out, he would not be able to do so because the sub-tenant might be able to say, against the tenant, that it would involve greater hardship to him if he were evicted, than it would to the tenant. There, again, you would have a case where the notice would be good against the tenant, but not against the sub-tenant.

In order to protect the interest of the sub-tenant this situation should be considered. The landlord, the freeholder, gives notice to the tenant. The tenant disputes the notice. Justice would seem to require that inasmuch as the notice might result in the sub-tenant having to go, the sub-tenant should be given a voice on whether the freeholders' notice to the tenant was good or bad. There is another case which requires some provision and that is where a freeholder gives notice to the tenant, but the tenant is not interested, is not concerned to dispute that notice, and does not take any of the necessary steps. It might well be that the subtenant would be very anxious indeed to dispute that notice. In those circumstances, it would be unfair to compel the tenant to dispute it, because the tenant might be content to leave the holding. Justice seems to require, in that case, that the sub-tenant should be entitled to say to the Minister or the tribunal, "Put me in the shoes of the tenant, and let me dispute.the notice which has been served on the tenant."

Those are several alternative sets of circumstances which I give as examples to satisfy the Committee that some sort of further provision is necessary for, the purpose of protecting, in one case, the landlord and, in another case, the tenant. I hope that from what I have said it will be apparent that the circumstances which may arise would be of extreme complication. The way in which we have sought to deal with this is to ask for powers to make regulations. We could, of course, have sought to introduce into the Bill a Clause which would have been extraordinarily long and elaborate. I would add in support of that assertion that the question of deliberate evasion also arises. To frame a Clause which would not only deal with the circumstances which I have adumbrated, but also be effective against any possible attempt at evasion would result in one of those extremely long Clauses which one sometimes sees in the Income Tax Acts, running into several pages. I hope that the Committee will think that we have taken the proper course in asking for powers to make regulations to deal with these circumstances. I would remind the Committee that the regulation-making power is limited to the case of sub-tenants, and as time goes on, if we do not want the regulations which we first thought would be required, we shall be able to modify, abandon or cancel them. In order to meet the needs which I have described, we are asking for powers to make the regulations with the object set out in the Amendment, and I hope that the Committee will think that is the proper course.

I did not fully comprehend how far this Amendment takes us. I should like to be assured by the learned Solicitor-General that the making of regulations will not include the regularisation of irregular sub-tenants. As the Minister is aware, a large number of tenancy agreements contain clauses prohibiting sub-tenants without the approval of the landlord, and it may be that regulations made under this Amendment would have the effect of regularising any subtenancy.

While I think we agree that on the whole, this proposal improves the Clause, I do not think the statement of the learned Solicitor-General should be allowed to pass unchallenged, that a Clause to deal on this matter effectively would have been of inordinate length. This Clause, as it stands covers two and a half pages of the Bill. I think that it is hardly open to question that when we are legislating, as we are here, for a considerable period of time, the length of the Clause scarcely matters at all, provided the object is achieved. The Government when they first drafted the Bill should have drawn the Clause, whatever its length, so as to meet the purposes they had in mind. This is my main point. They failed to do that, because the burden on Parliamentary draftsmen at this time has become quite intolerable, and the surfeit of legislation, which we in this House find hard enough, bears even more hardly on those servants of the State whose task it is to draft these Parliamentary Bills. Had they a lesser burden, they would have done their job properly, and the excuse of the hon. and learned Gentleman would not have been necessary. I think that I express the view of all on these benches in saying that this Amendment is a slight improvement, and that we are prepared to accept it for what it is worth.

May I have an answer to my question? If not, I am prepared to elaborate it. I think that my contention is one that should be met.

4.15 p.m.

The learned Solicitor-General has explained the complicated nature of this Amendment. We all desire to see the position of subtenants and tenants and the position of landlords amply safeguarded, but I think that the question which the hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. York) has put, regarding the possible regularisation of the irregular sub-tenant by the insertion of these words, deserves an answer from the hon. and learned Gentleman. I do not think that there are many cases—I speak with knowledge of Scottish agriculture only—in which sub-tenants are very much in vogue, but no doubt the hon. Member for Ripon, who represents an important agricultural area in Yorkshire has some special cases in mind. Speaking for Scotland may I say there are cases where arrangements of an irregular character have been entered into in the past between Owners and tenants-in-chief regarding leases or tenancies, and there have as a result been serious disputes, often involving litigation. I am speaking only of leases between landlords and what I describe for want of a better definition as tenants-in-chief. How much more desirable it would be that there should be no element of doubt whatever as between tenants and sub-tenants whom have—

It is clearly laid down that the part of the Bill under consideration shall apply to Scotland and Northern Ireland, otherwise I should not have intervened. I want to impress on the Solicitor-General that he should try to give a fairly detailed answer to the question which has been put. I am against sub-tenants in agriculture, as I am against sub-tenants of most kinds, but we all know that sometimes there is inserted a clause in an original lease which says that the landlord's assent should not be unreasonably withheld, and the question of the acceptance of sub-tenants may arise. I think that the learned Solicitor-General should be in a position to make it clear that there will be no question whatsoever under this proposed Amendment of regularising agreements entered into between the original tenant and sub-tenant which will make permanent an arrangement entered into which might give rise to all sorts of inconveniences to the parties concerned.

I asked for an assurance that the regulations that are made under this Amendment will not include provisions the effect of which would be to regularise irregular tenancies.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.