§ Where under any contract of employment of a workman employed in agriculture current at or made after the commencement of this Act, the provision of a dwelling-house or part of a dwelling-house for the occupation of the workman forms part of the remuneration of the workman, and the provisions of Sections fourteen and fifteen of The Housing, Town Planning, etc., Act, 1909, are inapplicable by reason only of the house 352 or part of the house not being let to the workman, there shall be implied as part of the contract of employment and as from the commencement of the occupation or of this Act, whichever date is the earlier, the like conditions as would be implied under those provisions if the house or part of the house were so let, and those provisions shall apply accordingly as if incorporated in this Section with the substitution of "employer" for "landlord" and such other modifications as may be necessary.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
I think these words will make the matter perfectly clear, and therefore I will accept them.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I should like to make a personal explanation as my veracity has been called in question. I have now got the circular, and it reads as follows.
Not in Committee, on another subject. We are now on another Clause. Personal explanations should come at the, end of Question Time.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
On a point of Order. When the veracity of an hon. Member has been called in question, is it not customary to allow him, if he has an opportunity of quoting a document which he was asked to quote, and which at the moment he was not able to quote, to make that explanation?
I do not think so, when we are in Committee and on a different subject. I have never heard it done before.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Further Amendment made: Leave out the word "earlier" ["whichever date is the earlier"], and insert instead thereof the word "later."—[Sir A. Boscawen.]
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
I beg to move, at the end of the Clause, to insert the wordsProvided that this Section shall not affect the obligation of any person other 353 than the employer to repair a cottage to which this Section applies or any remedy for enforcing any such obligation.The effect of the Amendment is this: When we inserted this Clause at an earlier stage on Report, it was feared it would transfer from the landlord to the tenant any obligation that lay upon him to undertake these repairs. I undertook then to make it quite clear that no such transfer of obligation should take place under the Clause, and this Amendment carries out that undertaking.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I understand the right hon. Gentleman is now making a modification in this Clause, in accordance with the circular which has been sent out by the Farmers Union. This is the circular which is the cause of the Amendment:This Committee is of opinion that, provided the suggested new Clauses relating to tied cottages and repairs to cottages are modified in the one case, so that husbandry is not prejudiced, and in the other case, so that the liabilities of owners under tenancy agreements shall not be transferred to the tenant (i.e., the employer), the Government should…. pass the Bill into law without delay.So that the passing of the Agriculture Bill into law without delay is contingent upon the abandonment or the alteration of the Clauses I have just read.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."
§ Mr. INSKIP
I should like to enter my protest against the form in which this Clause is drafted. I cannot imagine a more cumbrous method of legislation than that which has been adopted in this Clause. If hon. Members will look at the last sentence of the Clause, I think they will see a sentence which appears for the second time within a week and which never before has been seen in an Act of Parliament. It is not only legislation by reference to the Housing, Town Planning, etc., Act, 1909, but it is legislation by reference, and the Act which is referred to is to be modified, not in accordance with anything which is precisely laid down in the section, but it says, "and such other modifications as may be necessary." One has no power at this stage to amend drafting, but I enter a respectful protest against such 354 loose and slipshod methods which are now adopted apparently by the draftsman as if that were the proper way of drawing up Acts of Parliament. I should like to refer to another looseness of expression in this Clause, where it says that "the like conditions as would be implied under those provisions," that is Sections 14 and 15 of the Housing, Town Planning, etc., Act, 1909. If hon. Members will refer to Sections 14 and 15 of that Act, they will find there is only one condition which is implied, and not more than one condition, and yet this Clause, to the great obscuring of its true object, speaks about the implication of the like "conditions," in the plural. It should be perfectly easy for any unskilled draftsman to put into intelligible language what is intended to be done by this new Clause, as now amended by the proviso moved by the right hon. Gentleman, and I hope those who are responsible for this Clause will perhaps pay attention to the proper method of drafting Acts of Parliament, instead of using such slipshod methods as have been chosen in this instance.
§ Mr. RONALD McNEILL
I had no idea that my hon. and learned Friend behind me was going to call attention to the words he has mentioned. I should like in a very few words to endorse what he has said. I am perfectly certain that neither of my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench can have any sort of responsibility for the drafting of this Clause. I cannot imagine anything more slipshod and more slovenly than the words "such other modification as may be necessary." I should like to hear the opinion of one of His Majesty's Judges the first time my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General has occasion to appear before him under this Act and to hear the comments that a judge would make when he is called upon to construe his powers under these words, "such other modifications as may be necessary." I can imagine a judge saying that that gives him complete discretion to do whatever he likes.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I think my hon. and learned Friend is a little bit hard upon the draftsmen. He must remember the reason why all these Clauses are badly badly drafted is that they have more than is possible for any human being to do. It is the result of the way in which it is endeavoured to force legislation through this House and the absolute 355 necessity of drafting new Clauses in a hurry. When Clauses are drafted in a hurry bad legislation must ensue. I do not know how many Bills they have drafted either on this side or some other side of the House. Clauses were put in which were never intended when the Bill was introduced. But if it is likely to be popular with a certain class of people and a certain desire to have a Clause put into the Bill, the result is that we have a Clause drafted in the way in which this Clause is drafted. As my hon. and learned Friend says, it is governed by the last words "such other modifications as may be necessary," that is to say, it leaves it to the judge practically to decide what is necessary in the Clause, what modifications may be put in, or what modifications may be left out. We shall have gentlemen perhaps saying that this is judge-made law. We shall have a new Act to interpret what is the meaning of this Clause if it happens to be against a certain section of the community, and we shall have another Act to over-ride what is called judge-made law. Let me point out as an illustration of what I am saying. You have only to turn over the page and you will see a Clause that occupies five pages. I defy anybody either to understand or to draft a Clause which occupies five pages of the Paper. The same rule applies. These draftsmen have to do in a few moments what ought probably to take them many weeks. I would point out to my hon. and learned Friend, who I am sure has the interests of the law at heart, to exercise his great ability to persuade the Government to moderate a little of their anxiety for legislation. They would probably find that the cases in the Courts would diminish and the legislation which is affected would be simple and could be understood by the people.
Sir J. HOPE
It seems to me we are introducing some quite extraneous matter into the Agriculture Bill. With regard to housing, I, personally, have always protested against the Housing Acts that have been passed both this year and last year as in no way dealing with agricultural housing. Now suddenly, at the last moment, in a Bill which does not profess to deal with housing, an eye-washing Clause has been put in which it is hoped will help agricultural housing. I am not prepared to oppose this Clause 356 though I do not believe it will help housing in the smallest particular. I think it will more confuse the issue and make it more difficult. Agricultural housing in Scotland, as we all know, is in a very bad state. I myself moved an Amendment in the last Housing Act, which was refused, suggesting that the subsidy which was then granted under the last Housing Act of 1919 should be extended to assist the reconstruction and enlargement of houses. That was a proposal which would materially have assisted agricultural housing in Scotland. That was not accepted, and nothing has been done. Anyone who knows Scotland knows that housing is not progressing favourably or elsewhere, but it is not progressing at all with regard to agricultural housing. Will this proposal help it? I do not believe it will for one moment, and I think it will confuse the issue. I should very much like to know how it will affect the question of houses which are let on farm leases. In Scotland, as is well known, these houses are let under a lease, the tenant accepting them in a good state of repair and being responsible for keeping them in a good state of repair. If, on the other hand, structural alterations have to be done to these cottages the owner is chargeable. That is the present law under the lease. It has gone on for some years, and nothing very much has been done. One of the drawbacks is that the tenant has accepted the houses in a good state of repair, and during the currency of the lease the tenant farmer has not raised the question because he was afraid he may have to pay for the repairs. We have still got this question of repair to clear up. I do not believe under this proposed law we shall know. Under the Housing Act for Scotland, Section 25, there is a proviso that if an owner of any house suitable for occupation fails to keep that house fit for human habitation, then he has to put it into a state of repair; but there is to that Clause a proviso that if the house is not capable, without reconstruction, of being put in a state fit for human habitation, then the owner has the alternative of putting it into a state of repair, or may close it down, because it is supposed to be unreasonable to pay more for reconstructing the house than the house is economically worth. I want to know whether this proviso in the Housing Act will apply. I strongly sup- 357 port any legislation which will deal with agricultural housing and improve it, especially in Scotland, but I should like to know exactly how this Clause is really going to promote housing. If the Government wants to do anything they should assist and encourage private enterprise, and assist not only new construction but also enlargement.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I understand that Sections 14 and 15 of the Act of 1909 are incorporated in the Bill. I have Sections 14 and 15 of the Act. I have read them rather hurriedly, but I do not see in them any proviso which says that if the landlord or the owner is not putting the house in repair then he shall not be obliged to do so.
It does not seem to me to be relevant. I have been puzzling my brains to know how it comes in under this Clause. I really cannot discover it at all.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The Clause incorporates Sections 14 and 15 of the Housing and Town Planning Act, 1909. If there were anything in either of those Clauses which bore out the contention of my hon. Friend I think it would be relevant, but there is nothing which does that. I presume I am right in supposing—I have read this as carefully as I can
One hon. Member has referred to the Act of 1909, and another hon. Member to the Act of 1919. They had better both adjourn and settle matters.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Perhaps I may be allowed to say a few words on the Clause which would be relevant. I have no very great objection to this Clause. I think it is right for a house to be put in a fit condition for human habitation. What my hon. Friend says is to a certain extent true, namely, that there are a large number of cottages—I am very sorry for it—in rural England which are certainly not up to modern requirements. What he result is going to be I am not quite certain, because the words "fit for human habitation" are rather vague. I am not 358 quite sure what interpretation may be put on them by the local authorities who, under this Clause, are called on to interpret them. Provided they interpret them in the sense that the walls must be thick and waterproof, that the roof must be in order, and the floor sound, I have no objection. If they interpret them to mean that there must be a number of bedrooms, sitting-rooms and a parlour, and all that sort of thing, then, though personally nothing would please me better than to see these arrangements carried out, I do not see where the money to do it is coming from. That is the great difficulty from which we are suffering in all this sort of legislation. It is quite easy to sit here and say that we ought to do this or that, but it is not so easy, especially after a great war, to find the money. The proper course for the Government—I am not for a moment suggesting that they should abandon the Clause—would have been to have put in some words defining what, in their opinion, is the meaning of "fit for human habitation." So far as I know, there is no definition in the Act of 1909. If there is I have nothing further to say but this point is a very serious one, and worthy of consideration. I should be very much obliged if my right hon. Friend would tell me whether there is any definition in that Act, or if there is any definition which is accepted as common law by the Courts of Law.
§ Sir E. POLLOCK
My right hon. Friend really raises points which I think he can answer himself. I sometimes believe that, being so good a student of Acts of Parliament and of law, he is really thinking aloud on doubts which are passing through his mind rather than addressing me, and wishing for an answer.
§ Sir E. POLLOCK
If he will look at Sections 14 and 15 of the Act of 1909 he will see the words are that the premises should be fit for human habitation. These words were passed in an Act of Parliament now 11 years old. So far as I know they have given rise to no difficulty, and—I may be wrong—to no reported case upon them. It is a question of fact in each case whether or not a dwelling is fit for habitation. In some situations and in some places a dwelling may be quite fit for habitation; in another place it may suffer from some disadvantage which may 359 have to be put right. In all cases it is a question of fact, and the right hon. Baronet will not find a definition in law, because you cannot define what is a question of fact. Although he may search for a long time through these Acts of Parliament, I do not think he will find a definition. I hope that that may assist his researches still further.
§ Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.