HC Deb 19 June 1974 vol 875 cc489-92

3.58 p.m.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to abolish the system of tied cottages. This is in accordance with the pledge contained in the Labour Party election manifesto to abolish the agricultural tied cottage. I understand and appreciate that the Government are sympathetic to this measure.

I propose to do this by amending the relevant sections of the Agriculture Act, 1970, namely Section 99(2)(a)(ii). That subsection would be deleted and the following words substituted: that it is not reasonably practicable for the owner of the premises to carry on an agricultural business in which he is engaged unless the premises are available for occupation by a person employed or to be employed by him. These words were approved by the House to be part of the Agriculture Act, 1970, but they were replaced by a phrase more accommodating for landowners by the House of Lords, which is not entirely free of farming interests.

However, in my view the protection, though improved, would still be inadequate, and therefore my Bill will also contain provisions whereby if a tenant of a tied cottage had lived in the cottage and worked on the land for a period of at least 10 years, the farmer would not be able to obtain possession of the cottage unless and until the local authority was able to offer suitable alternative accommodation.

These provisions would cater for the genuine cases of farmers who need such tied accommodation in remote areas where access is not easily possible at the various times when help is needed on a farm. The provisions would also protect the tenant from greedy landowners who evict tenants in order to be able to sell or rent agricultural cottages as second homes to city gentlemen. Thus, the Bill would be a short enactment which would remedy a situation which has existed for far too long.

The evils of the tied cottage system must be remedied, and it is hoped that the Government will be able to provide time within a heavy legislative pro gramme for this modest measure. I know, as I said before, that the Government are sympathetic to the aims of my Bill.

The Bill aims to prevent the heartrending situations which are involved in, alas, too many evictions. In 1973, 500 cases were reported to the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers and these went to court for eviction orders, but many other tenants were forced out by threats and intimidation without any resort to court action.

A not-untypical case which was reported in the Kent Messenger towards the end of last year illustrates the point graphically that although one farmer may be fully sympathetic and humane, when a farm is sold the new owner in effect buys the farm worker with the cottage and he may then proceed to evict.

The Kent Messenger reported: A farm worker who was bought with the farm' was evicted in the snow on Wednesday—a victim of the tied cottage system". The victim said: My advice to young people is to keep well clear of tied cottages. You are owned by the farmer, and once you're in, you're in for life. I had no choice over whom I worked for—I was bought. That farm worker was clearly not content with such a situation, and he tried to extricate himself from it by what I suppose hon. Gentlemen opposite would call the noble method of trying to buy his own home but at the age of 51, with some savings for the first time in his life from redundancy payments, Mr. Henty found that he was too late. A property at which he was looking was valued at £5,500. He just could not afford to obtain a big enough mortgage to cover the cost.

The worst part about it —said Mrs. Henty— was that he was offered a really good job as a field services worker, but he could not take it because there was no accommodation. We have been trapped by the system. A further case occurred at York. A herdsman went to see his wife who was having a baby at her mother's home in London and on his return he found that the furniture had been moved from his tied house and put into a barn.

In both those cases the employees had worked loyally for more than 10 years, and so would have been protected by my Bill from these heartless evictions.

Many agricultural workers are approaching retirement and dread the age of 65. At present. 50 per cent. of agricultural workers in Kent are aged 55 or over and so could face eviction in any of the next 10 years or less due to old age or, like any other farm worker, due to ill health or injury sustained at work terminating their employment and consequentially their tenancy of a tied cottage.

I have received letters from vicars' wives and schoolteachers imploring me to extend the provisions of the Bill to their case. One vicar's wife wrote: Dear Sir, Having lived in a tied vicarage for 34 years in Wales (the vicar has now retired) I know the agony of living in a tied house. If an incumbent dies during his occupation —or becomes ill— his family have to move out after two months. Do you think you could outlaw tied vicarages along with other residences? It will not be possible within the terms of a short enactment to cover that sort of situation. The main problem arises not in these peripheral cases but among agricultural workers. Recently a delegation of more than 200 agricultural workers visited this House. Many of them explained that during their child hood they were promised the abolition of the tied cottage system and they are still waiting for that to happen. It is small wonder, when so many promises have been made and so many not kept, that people grow cynical about the actions of people who have power within their grasp.

I hope, therefore, that the House will accept my Bill. It will provide protection for tenants, yet preserve rights for farmers who can prove genuine need. It will ensure a cast-iron protection for those farm workers who have worked loyally in British agriculture so that they no longer need fear ill-health, injury or old age. I ask the House, in the name of common humanity and decency towards our fellow human beings, to give me leave to introduce the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Bob Cryer, Mr. Martin Flannery, Mr. A. W. Stallard, Mr. Max Madden, Mr. Stanley Newens, Mrs. Audrey Wise, Mr. Dennis Skinner, Mr. Fred Evans, Mr. Brian Sedgemore, Mr. Phillip Whitehead, Mr. Roger Stott and Mr. Thomas Torney.