HC Deb 11 December 1975 vol 902 cc627-30
2. Mr. Lawrence

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the average level of rent paid by retired agricultural workers and widows of retired agricultural workers living in housing belonging to the landowners and farmers who previously employed them.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Gavin Strang)

No official statistics are available. But, judging by data in respect of serving farmworkers, I would expect the average to be low. And I would not be surprised if the majority paid no rent at all.

Mr. Lawrence

Does not the Minister agree that these rents are likely to be extremely low by current standards and that if tied cottages were abolished and their rents put on a fair rent basis, the increases would be savage? Will he not further agree that the Government's proposals to abolish the tied cottage system are likely to cause great distress to elderly people living in these cottages? What does he propose to do about it?

Mr. Strang

I reject utterly the implications of the hon. Member's remarks. The Government have no intention of raising farm workers' rents savagely.

7. Mr. Ashton

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is his estimate of the number of farm-workers living in tied cottages; and how many of these workers are called out on emergencies more that 12 times per year.

Mr. Strang

It can be inferred that at least 70,000 farmworkers live in tied Cottages in England and Wales. But there are no official estimates on this or the frequency with which they are called out on emergencies.

Mr. Ashton

Did not the Tavistock Report State that, of the farm workers in tied cottages, 50 per cent. Were never called out at all and, of the other 50 per cent., a third were called out Probably less than twice a year? Does not this make a mockery of the farmer's Claims that the industry could not run without the tied Cottage System?

Mr. Strang

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. The Tavistock Report, from a fine, independent inquiry has been monstrously misrepresented by certain sections of the farming industry, including farmers and landlords.

Mr. Bulmer

Will the Minister accept that a third of those in tied cottages have retired and are therefore unlikely to be called out, and that the same research to which he referred indicated that a majority of those living in tied accommodation thought it essential for some farm workers to live in tied accommodation in order to do their work properly? Does he understand that the weather waits for no man?

Mr. Strang

I was brought up on a farm and know a little about agriculture and farm workers, but let me make it absolutely clear to the hon. Member that we have no intention of introducing legislation that will prevent farm workers from continuing to live on farms.

Miss Maynard

Does my hon. Friend agree that in 1948 34 per cent. of farm workers lived in tied cottage accommodation, and that in 1975 there are 55 per cent. who live in tied accommodation? Does not this indicate that the farmers are able to hold their labour force in general in the industry only through the tied cottage system and low wages? Will my hon. Friend give a firm pledge that the legislation to abolish the tied cottage system will be introduced by St. Valentine's Day?

Mr. Strang

I must confess to my hon. Friend that I am not sure when St. Valentine's Day is, but I give her the assurance that there is no weakening in the Government's resolve to protect farm workers from eviction and from the threat of eviction in the future.

Mr. Evelyn King

Is it not a fact that herdsmen are called out on emergencies twice a day at milking times and that no herdsman in his senses wishes to walk back to his village in between the two milking times? Is it not a fact, further, that every kind of research has proved the hon. Gentleman to be wrong, and that persons who live in tied cottages like to live in tied cottages?

Mr. Strang

The hon. Gentleman does not seem to understand what this issue is about.

Mr. Evelyn King

I have milked. Has the hon. Gentleman?

Mr. Strang

I have milked, and by hand, too. Let me explain to the hon. Gentleman that under our new legislation farm workers and dairymen will continue to live in their present houses and that nothing will be instantly changed. What will change is that a farmer will not be able to get a farm worker out of a house solely on the basis of agricultural need.

14. Mr. Beith

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what consideration he has given to the particular problems which may arise in agricultural employment in border areas such as Northumberland if the agricultural tied cottage system is abolished in England but not in Scotland.

Mr. Strang

It is too early to say whether any such difficulties will arise. This will depend on the form of legislation introduced by my right hon. Friends and whether local situations would in any way be affected by the separate timetable for Scotland, to which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State referred in his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) on 22nd October—[Vol. 898, c. 458–9.]

Mr. Beith

Does the Minister recognise that, whether this proposal proves a success or a disaster, there is a danger that agricultural employment could, for a time at least, be more attractive on one side of the border than on the other? Does the Minister recognise that it is of the utmost importance that the farm-worker should have a house near his job when he wants one, and that, if he is prevented from obtaining a house because no alternative arrangements have been made for retired workers, due to lack of money in local authorities, he will be in no way helped?

Mr. Strang

I take the hon. Gentleman's point. I am confident that our legislation will turn out to be an enormous success for agriculture. The hon. Member has raised some important issues. Although we are introducing a Bill on devolution, we shall not solve the problem by redrawing the English border so that it corresponds to farm boundaries.

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