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Public Bodies (Abolition of the Committee on Agricultural Valuation) Order 2014

Volume 753: debated on Monday 7 April 2014

Motion to Consider

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Public Bodies (Abolition of the Committee on Agricultural Valuation) Order 2014.

Relevant documents: 34th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, 22nd Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

I welcome this opportunity to introduce the order. It may be helpful if I explain why the Government have proposed to remove the Committee on Agricultural Valuation. The origins of the committee go back more than 60 years to the Agricultural Holdings Act 1948. On repeal of the 1948 Act, the committee’s existence was continued by the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986. The role of the Committee on Agricultural Valuation is to give advice to Ministers about provisions to be included in regulations on tenant-right matters and the amount of compensation for improvements to be paid to tenants at the end of an agricultural tenancy in England and Wales. Ministers are not obliged to take account of the advice of the committee.

There are no current members of the committee and the last time members were appointed was in 1990. It has not functioned for more than 20 years, hence the committee exists in legal name rather than reality. The Tenancy Reform Industry Group, known as TRIG, has provided advice to the Government on agricultural tenancy issues since 2003. TRIG is a non-statutory body, which comprises representatives of the main industry and professional organisations, such as the National Farmers’ Union, the Tenant Farmers Association, the Country Land and Business Association, the Farmers’ Union of Wales, the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

TRIG has not replaced the Committee on Agricultural Valuation and provides advice on a non-statutory basis across the range of tenancy matters, rather than just on end-of-tenancy compensation provisions. However, the existence of TRIG means that it is no longer necessary to retain the legislative provisions for the Committee on Agricultural Valuation to give specific advice on end-of-tenancy compensation matters.

As noble Lords know, the Government have made a commitment to reduce the number of unnecessary public bodies. In July 2010, my right honourable friend Caroline Spelman, then the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, announced proposals to reform a number of departmental public bodies; these included the Committee on Agricultural Valuation. The Public Bodies Act 2011 provides the legislative mechanism for the Government to carry out reform of public bodies. The Committee on Agricultural Valuation is listed in Schedule 1 to the Act. This enables the Minister to lay an order under the 2011 Act to abolish the committee.

In accordance with the requirements of the Public Bodies Act, a consultation was carried out in England and Wales last autumn. Having carefully considered the consultation responses, it is now proposed to repeal the legislation which provides for the Committee on Agricultural Valuation by an order under the Public Bodies Act.

Welsh Ministers have given their consent to the abolition of the committee. A legislative consent Motion was agreed without debate in the Welsh Assembly on Tuesday 1 April. The abolition of the committee has no impact on the ability of agricultural tenants to claim compensation at the end of a tenancy. As the committee is already effectively moribund, its abolition will have no impact on jobs, nor will it result in any savings for the Government. However, it will remove an unnecessary public body from the legislative framework.

I should probably disclose the fact that I am a landlord and have a tenant. I hope that this explanation has been helpful.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his explanation of the order. I will make a declaration of interest as a farmer, but I have no tenants.

The Minister can relax and be assured that we are happy to endorse the order. He will forgive me if I delay the Committee for a few moments to ask a few questions for clarification. I appreciate that the committee has not met for over 20 years and that the term of the last appointments to the committee expired in 1993. Its abolition will have no impact on the functioning of agricultural tenancy legislation, especially as most new tenancies are now farm business tenancies under the Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995, for which different legislative arrangements apply for end-of-tenancy compensation.

We also have TRIG, as the Minister explained, set up by my noble friend Lord Whitty, to provide advice to government on agricultural tenancy matters as a non-statutory advisory body. Can the Minister confirm that there have been no costs from this committee’s dormancy and that, therefore, there are no savings to be achieved through this abolition.

In the explanatory document, the results of the consultation on this order were summarised. Notably, the Tenant Farmers Association made comments that the abolition should follow the enactment of the amended Agriculture (Calculation of Value for Compensation) Regulations 1978 agreed by TRIG, which have been with Ministers for some time and need urgent attention. I have no doubt that the Minister would want to bring this forward with any further amendments to the compensation regulations as part of the wider package of tenancy reform to ensure that legislative changes are complementary.

In the consultation, the chairman of TRIG also stated that abolition was supported, provided that TRIG’s proposed amendments to the Agriculture (Calculation of Value for Compensation) Regulations 1978 were enacted. I therefore ask the Minister whether the TFA gave any reasons in its consultation response as to why it felt that abolition should follow enactment of the new regulations. Was it consequential in any way or does it merely reveal frustration that these regulations have not been amended since 1983? Does the Minister have a timeframe in mind for bringing forward these amended regulations?

The Minister has already updated us on the situation in Wales, for which I thank him. Finally, I want to widen our consideration to include understanding the current position of his department under the Public Bodies Act 2011. There was some debate in the other place on this point, but no discussion concerning the money saved, which I understand was to be the main justification for the great burning of the quangos. While this order is a tidying-up exercise, no money will have been saved from the committee’s abolition. Will the Minister update this Committee on how much dead wood has now been burnt, how much has been saved by his department and what further savings may be expected?

I should be happy to receive an answer in writing listing the full names with commensurate cost implications of the quangos that have been abolished or reconstituted as a committee of experts, which are being retained and which are still to be reckoned with. We can then judge what percentage have been burnt and how successful the Public Bodies Bill 2011 has been in its contention to save public money. An outline today would be most appreciated, provided that the Minister will confirm that he will write with a full assessment of the Public Bodies Act on his department. With that, I am content to agree to the order today.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for his comments, and for his general support of the order to remove the Committee on Agricultural Valuation. As I said, this order removes what is effectively a moribund body that has not met for more than 20 years. Its removal will have no impact on the relationship between agricultural tenants and their landlords. Qualifying tenants will still be entitled to claim compensation at the end of a tenancy, in accordance with the current legislative provisions.

Following recommendations from the Tenancy Reform Industry Group, we will shortly be consulting on changes to the Agriculture (Calculation of Value for Compensation) Regulations 1978, with a view to updating them as part of measures for wider reforms of tenancy legislation. That partly answers the noble Lord’s question, which I shall come back to in a moment. This will ensure that the compensation regulations and other tenancy legislation are brought up to date to provide a modern framework for the future.

The noble Lord asked various questions, the first of which was about savings. I can confirm that there are no savings. This measure is about not savings but tidying-up. Returning to the issue of the order of the various reforms, the abolition of the Committee on Agricultural Valuation is not dependent on amending the compensation regulations. As part of the agriculture theme of the Red Tape Challenge process, my department will be consulting on a number of changes to reform agricultural tenancy legislation. It was felt that it would be more sensible to take forward amendments to the Agriculture (Calculation of Value for Compensation) Regulations 1978, which were proposed by the Tenancy Reform Industry Group, as part of this wider package of tenancy reform. This will ensure that the proposed legislative changes complement one another.

We will be consulting on all proposed amendments to agriculture and tenancy legislation in 2014 with a view to making the changes in this Parliament where the legislative timetable permits. Moreover, as the legislation currently stands, we would be required to reconvene the Committee on Agricultural Valuation to make changes to the compensation regulations. As there are no current members of the committee, it would be time-consuming and would require a public appointment exercise, which would not be cost-effective. We took the view that abolition of the committee should not be delayed but should take place as soon as possible.

The noble Lord asked a more general question about progress on reform of public bodies. We have made good progress on the major reforms. We have been working to reduce the number of bodies from 92 in 2010 to 36 by 2015. So far, we have abolished 50 non-departmental public bodies. There are now only a few bodies still to be abolished and these are mainly defunct or non-operational. We are also making progress on 120 bodies that were due to be retained and substantially reformed. The vast majority of these are internal drainage boards, for which reforms are under way. Substantial reforms have already been made to the Environment Agency and Natural England. On his detailed questions, I will take advantage of his invitation to write to him.

Has the Minister any idea on cost savings to his department under the Public Bodies Bill to date? That would be most helpful.

Motion agreed.