asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he last met representatives of tenant farmers; and what subjects were discussed.
I meet tenant farmers and their representatives regularly to discuss matters of mutual interest.
When will the Minister reply to my urgent letter of six weeks ago posing questions to him about grass keep and the transfer of tenancy between father and son? Does he accept that his suggestions about planning guidelines, taken with the threat to country structure plans and the reduction of protection for agricultural lands, could leave tenants facing incontestable eviction orders, without adequate compensation?
I have a copy of the hon. Gentleman's letter. It is a long, three-page letter, to which we are trying to give him a detailed reply.The proposed changes in planning procedures would not put tenants in a worse position than they are in now in terms of protection or compensation. All proposals for the development of agricultural land will still require planning permission. Local authorities will have to look at each case on its merits in the light of general Government guidance. Moreover, if a landlord is granted planning permission, a tenant can receive additional compensation—a sum equal to four years' rent —over and above the basic compensation. Compensation is also available for improvements and other tenant rights.
When my right hon. Friend last met the tenant farmers, did they congratulate him on the Government's policy which allowed farm rents to be charged on the earning capacity of the land?
As far as I can remember, that particular point did not come up, but I am pleased to say that the Agricultural Holdings Act 1984 has had the effect of encouraging rather more tenancies. Certainly the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers' surveys in 1985 and 1986 have suggested that there has been an increase in fresh lettings in the private sector since Parliament passed that Act.
Is the Minister not at all concerned about the fact that there are now 5 per cent. fewer tenanted farms than there were when the Government took office, partly because of the predictable failure of the legislation to which he has just referred, but also because of the deplorable conduct of Tory-controlled local authorities, and, indeed, the Scottish Office, which have been disposing of let smallholdings? Will he acknowledge that the Labour party's proposals for a land bank to make land available to let to tenant farmers is the only way in which more tenants will be able to come into the industry?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will long have the opportunity to sit on the Opposition Benches spending money, of which, mercifully, he will never have control, on various wildcat schemes that he might think are a good idea for the time. In the months that lie ahead the Labour party's agricultural policy will get just about as much support as it has always had.