The Government have always encouraged authorities to maintain county council smallholdings, and I am aware of the good work of organisations such as the community land trust at Fordhill farm and Stroud Community Agriculture in my hon. Friend’s constituency in supporting smaller agricultural holdings. The management of county council smallholdings is ultimately a matter for individual authorities to determine.
I thank my hon. Friend for his answer and for responding to the Adjournment debate a few weeks ago on the same topic. Like me, he perceives the value of county farm estates. However, will he continue to examine ways in which we can secure the future of those county farm estates? They are continually under review, which can sometimes lead to their sale. We must therefore consider solutions such as community land trusts. I hope that my hon. Friend and his officials will continue to investigate the matter.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work on the matter over many years. He may be interested to know about community finance solutions—an initiative by Salford university, which is undertaking a national demonstration programme that will partly support several community land trusts in their work and help local people establish them when necessary. I hope that that may form part of the solution that he seeks. I am aware that Gloucester county council is examining the matter on a case-by-case basis as the portfolio comes up for renewal to determine what it will do. That process has gone on for a long time and must be left to local decision makers. However, we should all be interested in the model of community land trusts for the future of farming.
I am sure that the Under-Secretary joins me in acknowledging the role that county council estates play. In the event of selling county council smallholdings, will he examine the rights of sitting tenants, especially those of their sons and daughters, so that their future in farming is not overlooked?
I acknowledge the hon. Lady’s point. Sometimes tenancies are held in a family for generations but suddenly come to an end as the land is disposed of. She is right to highlight the matter as requiring closer attention. We believe that tenancies give farmers the flexibility that they need to adopt new practices. They also provide an effective way into farming for people who could not otherwise farm. Indeed, their origin is in encouraging people to farm who did not have the land and the means to do it. In one sense, when generations have continued on the same smallholding, it is the equivalent of bed blocking. However, we must acknowledge that the matter is a genuine concern for many families and we should enable the next generation to continue in farming.