HC Deb 22 July 1976 vol 915 cc2098-135
Mr. Francis Pym (Cambridgeshire)

I beg to move Amendment No. 11, in page 33, line 47, at end insert: 'for the same employer or 182 out of the last 208 weeks in every other case'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we may take Amendment No. 12, in page 33, line 47, at end insert: 'unless he occupies a dwelling-house which was built and made ready for occupation on or after the operative date or the date of operation for forestry workers as the case may be'.

Mr. Pym

Amendment No. 11 deals with the definition of workers who are to qualify for and benefit from, if those are the right words, the privileges that are given in the Bill. The Bill provides for a qualifying period of nearly two years—namely, 91 weeks out of the past 104. In our view, that is too short a period. We believe that it will open the door to abuse.

In Committee we moved an amendment to make the definition five years or, alternatively, two years for working for the same employer. That compares with this amendment, which is either two years for the same employers or otherwise three and a half years. After the debate in Committee, when our amendment was defeated by eight votes to seven because the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells) was not able to be present, we decided to return to the subject on a more modest basis.

We wish to question how long somebody should work in agriculture before being regarded as virtually a permanent agricultural worker. We say that two years is not long enough. We fear that a minority will put in only two years' work to qualify for the privilege, which is to be gained under the Bill as it stands, of getting these housing rights. Although only a small number of people may do that, I fear that it will be done by some. They are more likely to do so in present circumstances when the supply of housing is rather short and waiting lists are rather long. There is a natural desire among some people to find a house in any way possible. We should regret that there should be any opportunity for a minority, however small, to move into a house on the terms provided by the Bill and to claim that they are agricultural workers when they have no intention of staying in agriculture for very long.

It is important for farmers and employers generally to choose their staff wisely. Indeed, they already take a great deal of trouble in choosing employees, and I believe that they will always do so. When, however, a person takes on someone as an employee, he can never be sure that he has chosen someone who will be a success and who will stay in the job for a long time. If a mistake is made, and if someone cons a farmer into taking him on in order to get a house, the result is unfair on everyone, producing a hardship, which in a way is harder than anything suffered under the tied house system as it now exists.

Throughout the debate we have heard of the consequential hardships that will arise as a result of the Bill. They will be hardships greater than anything that the Bill seeks to cure. I am concerned that someone who obtained the right of occupancy in such a way would be doing so on a basis that was unfair to genuine farm workers. It would be unfair to established and professional farm workers. In many cases they would resent people acquiring a house and the right to stay in it by, as it were, the back door. It is for that reason that we have tabled Amendment No. 11. We seek to alter the two years provision to three and a half years. We hope that the Government, notwithstanding the views of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard), who seeks to make it an even shorter period, will feel that in all the circumstances the longer period is wise and right.

Amendment No. 12 relates to the same schedule but to a different issue. Its purpose is to exclude from the Bill any house that is built after the Bill becomes an Act, if it is enacted, or after the operative date. In other words, it refers to new houses. Therefore, the amendment is related to investment in housing.

The agriculture industry has a fine record of housing its workpeople. If that were not so, clearly the Bill would never have been put forward. The industry has housed its workers without causing any trouble to Governments and without imposing in any way on local authorities. It has invested successfully for the purpose of its own business and its own workpeople. It has invested in housing of a good standard. Obviously, by definition, new housing is of a high standard, but the industry has modernised many old houses to bring them up to a high standard.

I cannot keep from the House my belief that because the industry has been so progressive in its housing policy, and so successful in looking after its staff, doing so on an independent and private basis, the Government feel that they must intervene and interfere. There is undoubtedly a doctrinal aspect to the Bill.

The fact is that new houses are not being built by the industry at present. I referred to this on Second Reading. We know that plans for building new houses on farms have been cancelled. We want to see new houses going up on farms, but that will not happen if the Bill remains as drafted.

Surely the Government share the view that it is in the national interest for agriculture to continue contributing to new housing in the countryside. If it is to do so, however, it will require more than an amendment to the Bill. It will require a reduction in taxation. It might require the Chancellor to change his mind about one of the matters to which he referred this afternoon. It might require better prospects for the industry and more confidence. That will be necessary before farmers invest in new housing. The industry will also require an amendment to the Bill so that if a farmer invests in a new house, which is expensive, and puts a farm worker in it, he will know that he will be able to retain the house for his business for all time. That is the purpose behind the amendment.

Miss Maynard

I shall speak against the amendment. I find it hard to believe that anyone would undertake two years' hard labour in agriculture merely to get a house. I find that an unacceptable proposition. As someone who was born and bred in the agriculture industry, I cannot accept it. I think that two years should be the maximum.

When farmers engage men, they have to judge those that they are to employ. The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) has said that a farmer can never be sure. Obviously he cannot, but it is strange that the better employers tend to keep their farm workers for a long time, whereas bad employers tend to be constantly changing their workers. The character of the employer is rather more important than judgment, although the two matters may well go together.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the good housing that is available in tied accommodation. I agree that some of the houses are good, but some are very bad. Generally, the bad houses tend to be occupied by older workers. The right hon. Gentleman says that there is a need to build new houses in the rural areas. I remind him and his hon. Friends who own the land that it is their friends who control the local authorities. The workers do not own the land or dominate the district councils. It is not the responsibility of the farm workers if we do not have enough houses in certain areas.

We have heard a lot from Opposition Members about the Bill being doctrinal, but there has been a considerable amount of doctrine from the Benches opposite. Hon. Members opposite always remember those whom they represent in this House.

8.0 p.m.

Mr. Charles Morrison (Devizes)

I declare again the interest I declared in Committee, though I must tell the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard) that, as far as I am able, I endeavour to represent all my constituents. The implication of the hon. Lady's remarks is that all agricultural constituencies represented by my hon. Friends must include 20,000 or 30,000 hard-faced farmers. That is not a very realistic proposition.

I support Amendment No. 11 very strongly and I stress the importance of Amendment No. 12. I am convinced that without Amendment No. 12 no more new houses will be built by agricultural landlords or owner-occupiers. How on earth could it be otherwise? The industry has a fine record in providing new housing for the benefit of its workers and, ultimately consumers. But what will be the future incentive for landlords and owner-occupiers to build new houses? Only in the first instance will they have any control over who occupies a house. They will be unable to obtain an economic rent if the occupier leaves the industry but remains in a house. They will rely solely on the good will of local authorities, and this will vary in different parts of the country.

I hope that the Minister can tell us why and how landlords and owner-occupiers will build houses in future and what incentive there is for them to do so.

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

The Minister said earlier that no farm workers will suffer if the Bill becomes law. He could not be more wrong. If the Bill is passed in its present form, it will destroy the ladder of promotion in the farming industry.

Farms in my constituency are generally quite small, but many employ a shepherd or young herdsman who wishes to get experience in one type of farm and then moves on to another. If the Bill becomes law, those people will be unable to do so.

On an early-morning radio programme eight weeks ago I heard the General Secretary of the National Union of Agricultural Workers say that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard) did not speak for the union. He could not be more right. The hon. Lady does not speak for the workers in the industry that I know. I should declare an interest, because I was once an agricultural worker. The Bill will destroy the ladder of opportunity for young and ambitious men, which is something for which they will not easily forgive the Government.

Mr. John MacGregor (Norfolk, South)

I start by expressing my frustration and annoyance that we are having to condense debates on important matters because of the guillotine.

For reasons beyond our control, no hon. Member from Norfolk was able to serve on the Standing Committee which considered the Bill. I was involved in the Finance Bill Committee. However, I have taken soundings and had consultations with many Norfolk farmers, agricultural workers and district councils, and I find that the only opportunities to express their views are on this amendment and the amendments to the important Clause 29, which, it seems, we shall not reach. This is another example of how the guillotine is preventing us from giving proper consideration to the Bill and to representations from all parts of the country. I regret my inability to inform the House of the views put to me about Clause 29 and the obligations of local authorities.

In Norfolk we had a system which operated in consultation with local authorities and proved very satisfactory in dealing with farm workers approaching retirement. Local authorities were always advised well in advance, and the arrangements were worked out with the NFU. This system would not deal with the case of someone who had to leave a tied cottage and needed accommodation in a council house quickly, but it would have been possible to work out a way of dealing with the problem.

Farmers are now alarmed at certain parts of the Bill. Local authorities assure me that they will use their best endeavours to help, but they can give no guarantees. Unless major changes are made to the Bill farmers in many parts of Norfolk will sell surplus tied cottages immediately and the remainder as soon as existing tenants no longer need them. There will be a big rundown in the number of these cottages. Farmers fear that they will be unable to get back their accommodation because local authorities will not be able to deal quickly enough with tenants who have to leave.

As the Government are determined to push the Bill through, they should try to meet those legitimate fears and avoid the dangers which might arise. There are two fundamental ways in which it could be done. One would be to amend Clause 29 and make it a statutory obligation on local authorities to deal with this problem. Alas, we are unlikely to have the chance to debate that proposition. The other way would be to accept this amendment. Many farmers feel that it would be reasonable slightly to extend the period in the definition.

I say to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard) that it is no good looking at the past. What matters is what will happen in the changed situation. Some people will attempt to persuade farmers that they would be good agricultural workers in an attempt to jump the council house queue. That is one of the legitimate fears of local authorities and farmers in the new situation created by the Bill.

By accepting Amendment No. 11, the Government would be meeting their major objectives and also the legitimate fears of the farming community and district councils. By extending the period, it is probable that those who took up agricultural employment and benefited from the Bill would be genuine agricultural workers. Councils would have a little more time to deal with the problems with which they would be faced in certain circumstances and they would be able to deal much more easily not only with the demands of farm workers nearing retirement—we have dealt with that problem in Norfolk—but with the case of someone who is evicted because of unsatisfactory work, sickness or any other reason.

Fewer people would be going through this process if the time was extended and fewer obligations would be imposed on local authorities. It would guarantee that the farmer was more likely to get his cottage back when he needed it in the circumstances that we described earlier. It is not unreasonable to ask that the period be extended. It would still meet the Government's main objective for the legitimate long-term agricultural worker.

I hope that, even at this late stage, the Government will accept the amendment. I hope that they will also do something about Clause 29 and insist on statutory obligations for local authorities. If we cannot debate that matter tonight, I hope that the other place will do something about it. If those things are done, the damage that might be caused by the Bill will be greatly mitigated. The loss of confidence among farmers will also be reduced and there may not be the selling of cottages to cope with surplus and transitional situations. In that event, we may be able to say that, given that the Government are determined to get the Bill through, at least they got it through in a more acceptable and sensible form.

Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster)

I should like to make a few brief remarks now on Amendment No. 12 and reserve the remainder of my comments for the rest of the evening. This is a vital amendment because in my constituency there is a virtual freeze on new agricultural house building. In reinforcing support for the amendment, however, I should like to refer to the existing stock.

There is a large number of empty cottages in my large constituency. I am sure that that is the situation throughout the agriculture industry as a whole. That is the direct result of this measure. If it is passed, those cottages will be sold not to constituents who need housing but to others coming in from outside who want second homes. The net result will be a desperate need for council housing. That situation is not unique to towns. There is a desperate need in the country as well. That situation will add to the general crisis regarding matters affected by this measure. I recommend Amendment No. 12 as well as Amendment No. 11.

Mr. Strang

I think that we have had a useful debate on these amendments. Their effect would be to restrict the opportunities for protection under the Bill, first, by extending the qualifying period to four years in the industry or two years with a single employer and, secondly, by disqualifying any such qualified workers who happen to be living in a dwelling-house built and fit to occupy after the respective operative dates for agriculture or, as the case may be, for forestry. The substance of both amendments was raised and exhaustively debated in Committee. Therefore, we need not spend a great deal of time on them.

Mr. Fell

We have reached the stage in this House where almost everything is sent to Committees upstairs. Not all hon. Members are able to read everything that goes through in Committees. Therefore, it is up to the hon. Gentleman to tell us all about the Committee and not to wipe it off just like that.

Mr. Strang

I am happy to tell the hon. Gentleman all about the Committee. The House has to operate to some extent on the basis that Members who are deeply interested in certain matters, but who are unable to serve on the relevant Committees, will take the trouble to read the arguments put forward by the Opposition and the replies to them.

I note that the Opposition have moved their position slightly on Amendment No. 11 in that the period of service in the industry has come down to four years from five years, which they argued in Committee, and that they now agree with us that the worker should have the opportunity to break his agricultural employment for a limited time without losing his qualification. Nevertheless, the arguments rehearsed in Committee and in the farming Press over recent months have not shaken me in my conviction that two years in the industry is long enough to sift out the genuine farm worker from anyone who might be tempted to use the Bill as a quick step to assured housing.

Further, I am still convinced that, as I said in Committee, to provide for restriction of the qualifying period to service with one employer, however short that period might be, could lead to abuse and to restrictions on mobility. In the light of that argument, I hope that the amendment will be withdrawn.

We should bear in mind that the Association of District Councils recommended that the qualifying period should be two years. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. MacGregor) was unable to serve on the Committee, but we had some valuable discussions on these matters. From what the hon. Member said, it is obvious that he has looked at the report of our proceedings. We are putting a statutory obligation on local authorities. I welcome the fact that the hon. Gentleman informed the House that local authorities in Norfolk will use their best endeavours. As the Association of District Councils said, what more can a council do than its best to provide alternative accommodation? The hon. Gentleman put his finger on the important point that, at the end of the day, what counts—I do not want to dwell too long on this point, because it is peripheral to the amendment—is the co-operation that will take place in practice between the local authorities and the farming industry.

8.15 p.m.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon), who spoke on a number of occasions in Committee, repeated that the Opposition support the concept of the agricultural dwelling-house advisory committees. I am convinced that we are establishing a framework that will enable us not only to give the farm worker the security that he needs but will meet the legitimate need of the industry for accommodation for incoming workers.

The hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) does not seem to appreciate that the problem that faces a farmer when a worker who ceases to work on his farm refuses to vacate a cottage already exists. Under present legislation, although a worker has no right in law to that roof over his head, everyone recognises that the farmer has to carry on, often for a period of six months, without possession of the cottage. We are creating a better arrangement. Where a farmer needs a house for an incoming worker and the occupying farm worker and his family will be happy to move out to alternative local authority accommodation, particularly if he is about to retire or to move to work which has nothing to do with farming, the local authorities will have a statutory obligation to help by providing accommodation.

On Amendment No. 12, I see no point whatever in providing security of tenure to farm workers and then depriving some of them of it because their employer chooses to put them in a new cottage, That is intolerable and would inevitably result over the years in fewer workers housed by their employers being protected by the Bill. This is absolute nonsense. How could we justify a situation where a farm worker living in a cottage built three years ago was protected, but in future a farm worker living in a cottage built two years from now would not be protected?

Apart from that, where planning consent has been given after enactment of this legislation for the building of an agricultural dwelling I should have thought that the farmer's case on grounds of agricultural need, should he seek rehousing in order to use the house for an incoming agricultural worker, would be pretty strong as long as there had been no significant change in the nature of the enterprise.

If the farmer's purpose in building a new cottage on his farm was genuinely to house a worker for an enterprise for which there was a legitimate need, I should have thought that the farmer could be confident that the house would continue to make a contribution to the industry. We hope that in future local authorities will build more houses in rural areas where they are needed. Some representatives of the agriculture industry, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard) pointed out, might be well placed to ensure that that type of housing policy is adopted more vigorously in rural areas.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

Is the hon. Gentleman confident that, following the Chancellor's statement today and the form of words he used, the sound advice that he has given can be followed?

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

It is quite impossible.

Mr. Strang

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman would expect me to enter into a debate on the precise words used by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor when he referred to the constraints on new council housebuilding. However, my right hon. Friend also said that there would be no constraints where there was real need for new housing.

It is difficult to estimate what the additional need will be. At present, two houses are required for a farm worker and an ex-farm worker. That situation will not be changed by this legislation. It is

difficult to estimate precisely what effect this measure will have on the demand and need for new council housing. At present, the local authorities have to meet the position of the farm worker and his family. The difference here is that the farm worker will not be under threat of eviction but will get the offer of accommodation from the local authority which he will be able to accept if it is suitable.

I hope hon. Members appreciate that it would be wrong to allow these amendments to be carried. If the Opposition insist on pressing them, I urge my hon. Friends to vote against them.

Mr. Pym

The Opposition are disappointed. The Minister was eloquent about his convictions, many of which we think are misguided. As we are disappointed, we shall divide the House. I ask the Opposition to support the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 264, Noes 300.

Division No. 269. AYES [8.19 p.m.
Adley, Robert Cordle, John H. Gorst, John
Alison, Michael Cormack, Patrick Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Costain, A. P. Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Critchley, Julian Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)
Awdry, Daniel Crouch, David Gray, Hamish
Baker, Kenneth Crowder, F. P. Griffiths, Eldon
Banks, Robert Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford) Grist, Ian
Bell, Ronald Dean, Paul (N Somerset) Grylls, Michael
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay) Dodsworth, Geoffrey Hall, Sir John
Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham) Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Hall-Davis, A. G. F.
Benyon, W. du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)
Berry, Hon Anthony Dunlop, John Hampson, Dr Keith
Biffen, John Durant, Tony Hannam, John
Biggs-Davison, John Dykes, Hugh Harrison, Col Sir Harwood (Eye)
Blaker, Peter Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Hastings, Stephen
Body, Richard Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Havers, Sir Michael
Boscawen, Hon Robert Elliott, Sir William Hawkins, Paul
Bottomley, Peter Emery, Peter Hayhoe, Barney
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown) Eyre, Reginald Heath, Rt Hon Edward
Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent) Fairbairn, Nicholas Heseltine, Michael
Bradford, Rev Robert Fairgrieve, Russell Hicks, Robert
Brittan, Leon Farr, John Higgins, Terence L.
Brotherton, Michael Fell, Anthony Holland, Philip
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Finsberg, Geoffrey Hordern, Peter
Bryan, Sir Paul Fisher, Sir Nigel Howell, David (Guildford)
Buchanan-Smith, Alick Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N) Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Buck, Antony Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Hunt, David (Wirral)
Budgen, Nick Forman, Nigel Hunt, John (Bromley)
Bulmer, Esmond Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd) Hurd, Douglas
Burden, F. A. Fox, Marcus Hutchison, Michael Clark
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St) Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)
Carlisle, Mark Fry, Peter James, David
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D. Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd)
Channon, Paul Gardiner, George (Reigate) Jessel, Toby
Churchill, W. S. Gardner, Edward (S Fylde) Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead)
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham) Jones, Arthur (Daventry)
Clark, William (Croydon S) Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife) Jopling, Michael
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Glyn, Dr Alan Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
Clegg, Walter Godber, Rt Hon Joseph Kaberry, Sir Donald
Cockcroft, John Goodhart, Philip Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W) Goodhew, Victor Kilfedder, James
Cope, John Goodlad, Alastair Kimball, Marcus
King, Evelyn (South Dorset) Neave, Airey Sims, Roger
King, Tom (Bridgwater) Nelson, Anthony Sinclair, Sir George
Kirk, Sir Peter Neubert, Michael Skeet, T. H. H.
Kitson, Sir Timothy Newton, Tony Smith, Dudley (Warwick)
Knight, Mrs Jill Normanton, Tom Speed, Keith
Knox, David Nott, John Spence, John
Lamont, Norman Onslow, Cranley Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Lane, David Oppenheim, Mrs Sally Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)
Latham, Michael (Melton) Osborn, John Sproat, Iain
Lawrence, Ivan Page, John (Harrow, West) Stainton, Keith
Lawson, Nigel Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby) Stanbrook, Ivor
Le Marchant, Spencer Paisley, Rev Ian Stanley, John
Lester, Jim (Beeston) Parkinson, Cecil Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)
Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Percival, Ian Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Lloyd, Ian Peyton, Rt Hon John Stokes, John
Luce, Richard Pink, R. Bonner Stradling, Thomas J.
McAdden, Sir Stephen Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch Tapsell, Peter
McCrindle, Robert Price, David (Eastleigh) Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)
Macfarlane, Neil Prior, Rt Hon James Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
MacGregor, John Pym, Rt Hon Francis Tebbit, Norman
McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury) Raison, Timothy Temple-Morris, Peter
McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest) Rathbone, Tim Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Madel, David Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal) Townsend, Cyril D.
Marten, Neil Rees-Davies, W. R. Trotter, Neville
Mates, Michael Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hun[...]s) Tugendhat, Christopher
Maude, Angus Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex) van Straubenzee, W. R.
Maudling, Rt Hon Reginald Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Mawby, Ray Ridley, Hon Nicholas Viggers, Peter
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Ridsdale, Julian Wakeham, John
Mayhew, Patrick Rifkind, Malcolm Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Meyer, Sir Anthony Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW) Walker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)
Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove) Roberts, Wyn (Conway) Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Mills, Peter Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks) Wall, Patrick
Miscampbell, Norman Ross, William (Londonderry) Walters, Dennis
Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey) Warren, Kenneth
Moate, Roger Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire) Weatherill, Bernard
Molyneaux, James Royle, Sir Anthony Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Monro, Hector Sainsbury, Tim Wiggin, Jerry
Montgomery, Fergus St. John-Stevas, Norman Winterton, Nicholas
Moore, John (Croydon C) Scott, Nicholas Wood, Rt Hon Richard
More, Jasper (Ludlow) Scott-Hopkins, James Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Morgan, Geraint Shaw, Giles (Pudsey) Younger, Hon George
Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Morris, Michael (Northampton S) Shelton, William (Streatham) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Shepherd, Colin Mr. Fred Silvester and
Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester) Shersby, Michael Mr. Carol Mather
Mudd, David
Abse, Leo Canavan, Dennis Dunn, James A.
Allaun, Frank Cant, R. B. Dunnett, Jack
Anderson, Donald Carmichael, Neil Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Archer, Peter Carter, Ray Eadie, Alex
Armstrong, Ernest Cartwright, John Edge, Geoff
Ashley, Jack Castle, Rt Hon Barbara Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)
Ashton, Joe Clemitson, Ivor Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Cocks, Michael (Bristol S) Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)
Atkinson, Norman Cohen, Stanley English, Michael
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Coleman, Donald Ennals, David
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Colquhoun, Ms Maureen Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Conlan, Bernard Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)
Bates, Alf Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Evans, John (Newton)
Bean, R. E. Corbett, Robin Ewing, Harry (Stirling)
Beith, A.J. Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill) Faulds, Andrew
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Crawshaw, Richard Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Cronin, John Fitch, Alan (Wigan)
Bishop, E. S. Crosland, Rt Hon Anthony Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W)
Blenkinsop, Arthur Crowther, Stan (Rotherham) Flannery, Martin
Boardman, H. Cryer, Bob Fletcher, L. R. (Ilkeston)
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Dalyell, Tam Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur Davidson, Arthur Ford, Ben
Boyden, James (Bish Auck) Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Forrester, John
Bradley, Tom Davies, Denzil (Llanelli) Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Davies, Ifor (Gower) Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Freeson, Reginald
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Deakins, Eric Garrett, John (Norwich S)
Brown, Ronald (Hackney S) Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)
Buchan, Norman de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey George, Bruce
Buchanan, Richard Dell, Rt Hon Edmund Gilbert, Dr John
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green) Dempsey, James Ginsburg, David
Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE) Doig, Peter Golding, John
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Dormand, J. D. Gould, Bryan
Campbell, Ian Douglas-Mann, Bruce Gourlay, Harry
Graham, Ted McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Grant, George (Morpeth) Madden, Max Sheldon, Robert (Ashton u-Lyne)
Grant, John (Islington C) Magee, Bryan Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Grocott, Bruce Mahon, Simon Short, Rt. Hon E. (Newcastle C)
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Mallalieu, J. P. W. Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Marks, Kenneth Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Hardy, Peter Marquand, David Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Silverman, Julius
Hart, Rt Hon Judith Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Skinner, Dennis
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Mason, Rt Hon Roy Small, William
Hatton, Frank Maynard, Miss Joan Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Hayman, Mrs Helene Meacher, Michael Snape, Peter
Heffer, Eric S. Mellish, Rt Hon Robert Spearing, Nigel
Hooley, Frank Mendelson, John Stallard, A. W.
Hooson, Emlyn Millan, Bruce Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Horam, John Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Stoddart, David
Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H) Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N) Stott, Roger
Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen) Strang, Gavin
Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Moonman, Eric Strauss, Rt. Hon G. R.
Huckfield, Les Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey) Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Swain, Thomas
Hughes, Mark (Durham) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Moyle, Roland Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Hughes, Roy (Newport) Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Hunter, Adam Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill) Newens, Stanley Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford) Noble, Mike Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Jackson, Colin (Brighouse) Oakes, Gordon Tierney, Sydney
Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Ogden, Eric Tinn, James
Janner, Greville O'Halloran, Michael Tomlinson, John
Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Orbach, Maurice Tomney, Frank
Jeger, Mrs Lena Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Torney, Tom
John, Brynmor Ovenden, John Urwin, T. W.
Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Padley, Walter Varley, Rt. Hon Eric G.
Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Palmer, Arthur Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Jones, Barry (East Flint) Pardoe, John Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)
Jones, Dan (Burnley) Park, George Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)
Judd, Frank Parker, John Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Kaufman, Gerald Parry, Robert Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Kelley, Richard Pavitt, Laurie Ward, Michael
Kerr, Russell Peart, Rt Hon Fred Watkins, David
Kilroy-Sllk, Robert Pendry, Tom Watkinson, John
Kinnock, Neil Penhaligon, David Weetch, Ken
Lambie, David Perry, Ernest Weitzman, David
Lamborn, Harry Phipps, Dr Colin Wellbeloved, James
Lamond, James Prentice, Rt Hon Reg White, Frank R. (Bury)
Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Prescott, John White, James (Pollok)
Leadbitter, Ted Price, C. (Lewisham W) Whitehead, Phillip
Lee, John Price, William (Rugby) Whitlock, William
Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Radice, Giles Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Lever, Rt Hon Harold Richardson, Miss Jo Williams, Alan (Swansea W)
Lewis, Arthur (Newham N) Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock) Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Lipton, Marcus Robinson, Geoffrey Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)
Litterick, Tom Roderick, Caerwyn Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Lomas, Kenneth Rodgers, George (Chorley) Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)
Loyden, Eddie Rodgers, William (Stockton) Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Luard, Evan Rooker, J. W. Wise, Mrs Audrey
Lyons, Edward (Bradford W) Roper, John Woodall, Alec
Mabon, Dr J. Dickson Rose, Paul B. Woof, Robert
McCartney, Hugh Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Wrigglesworth, Ian
McDonald, Dr Oonagh Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock) Young, David (Bolton E)
MacFarquhar, Roderick Rowlands, Ted
McGuire, Michael (Ince) Sandelson, Neville TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
MacKenzie, Gregor Sedgemore, Brian Mr. Joseph Harper and
Maclennan, Robert Selby, Harry Mr. Thomas Cox.
Mackintosh, John P.

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Strang

I beg to move Amendment No. 13, in page 34, line 36, leave out from 'agriculture' to end of line 6 on page 35 and insert: 'and the occupier's employer either—

  1. (a) is the owner of the dwelling-house, or
  2. (b) has made arrangements with the owner of the dwelling-house for it to be used as housing accommodation for persons employed by him in agriculture.

(2) In this paragraph— employer", in relation to the occupier, means the person or, as the case may be, one of the persons by whom he is employed to work in agriculture; owner", in relation to the dwelling-house, means the occupier's immediate landlord or, where the occupier is a licensee, the person who would be the occupier's immediate landlord if the licence were a tenancy'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

With this we may also consider Government Amendment No. 26 and the following amendments:

No. 14, in page 35, line 6, at end insert: '(4)(a) This paragraph shall not apply to any person with whom the employer has made housing arrangements if such person acquired the dwelling-house or any interest therein with a view to occupying it as his residence at such time as he might retire from regular employment and

  1. (i) either at the date of making the housing arrangements or within six months of the operative date or the date of operation for forestry workers gave notice thereof to the employer and the occupier and
  2. (ii) a court is satisfied either that the owner has retired from regular employment and requires the dwelling-house as a residence or the person has died and the dwelling-house is required as a residence for a member of his family who was residing with him at the date of his death;
Provided that if a court is satisfied that notwithstanding the condition in sub-paragraph (i) above is not complied with the court may dispense with the requirement of that subparagraph. (b) A person who satisfies the requirements of sub-paragraph (a) above shall be entitled to an order for possession against both the employer and worker as if he fell within Case 10A of Part II of Schedule 3 to the Rent Act 1968'. No. 15, in page 35, line 6, at end insert: '(4)(a) This paragraph shall not apply where the dwelling-house is let under a tenancy for a term of years certain not exceeding eight months and
  1. (i) the dwelling-house was at some time within the period of twelve months immediately preceding the period of occupation by the qualifying worker occupied under a right to occupy if for a holiday and
  2. (ii) the employer or the person with whom the employer has made housing arrangements gave notice in writing to the qualifying worker and the employer, as the case may be, of such circumstances not later than either the commencement of the qualifying workers occupation or the operative date or the date of operation for forestry workers;
and for the purposes of this sub-paragraph a letting shall he treated as for a term of years certain notwithstanding it is liable to determination by re-entry on the happening of any event other than the giving of notice by the landlord to determine the term;
(b) An employer or person with whom the employer has made housing arrangements satisfying the requirements of sub-paragraph (a) above shall be entitled to an order for possession against the tenant or occupier as the case may be as if he fell within Case 10B of Part II of the Rent Act 1968'.

Mr. Strang

This group contains two Government and two Opposition amend- ments. Paragraph 3 of Schedule 2 defines the term— dwelling-house in qualifying ownership for the purposes of the Bill. As the terms of an agricultural worker's employment may make provision for his occupation of the dwelling-house, but this will not necessarily be the case, it has been necessary to devise a test to establish the link between a worker's employment and his housing, and to preclude the possibility of employers making arrangements for housing their employees either off the farm or in dwelling-houses not owned by them, and thus evading the provisions of the Bill.

To this end the Bill at present provides the test of whether the employer has housed the worker in a dwelling-house which he himself owns or in a dwelling-house owned by someone with whom he has housing arrangements. Examples of a person with whom a farmer might be likely to make such arrangements include a neighbouring farmer who happens to have a spare cottage, or a member of the farmer's family who owns property on, or in the vicinity of, the farm. The test, in the Bill as drafted, of whether housing arrangements exist is that there must be an agreement between the employer and the owner of the property whereby the owner provides housing accommodation for the employer's workers, and agrees to terminate their rights of occupation when the employer asks him to.

The drafting of the definition of "housing arrangements" at present in the Bill is defective. Courts might hold that housing arrangements, as defined, could exist only if there was a clear written agreement that the employer may direct the landlord to terminate the licence or tenancy. Alternatively the definition might be held to cover tenancies and licences over which the employer in fact had no control. Also, the present definition talks about employed in agriculture as a whole-time worker". This would create a loophole in the Bill, since workers whose contracts were for less than the standard number of hours would not be employed as whole-time workers, irrespective of how many hours they actually worked, and hence would not be protected by the Bill.

Amendment No. 13 removes the notion of "housing arrangements" from the definition of dwelling-house in qualifying ownership", and talks instead of arrangements made by the occupier's employer for the dwelling-house to be used as housing accommodation for persons employed by him in agriculture. Hence the definition will be more closely tied to the purpose for which the arrangements are made and will ensure that we include those arrangements we are trying to catch—for example, cases where the house is owned by the farmer's wife, a farming company or a neighbouring farmer.

It also talks simply of "employed in agriculture", with no reference to the number of hours worked. The qualifying worker test will, of course, ensure that only workers who have worked whole time, or as permit workers, are protected by the Bill.

Amendment No. 26 is a consequential amendment to paragraph 11(2) of the schedule. This is necessary because of the deletion of the reference to whole-time work in the definition.

It may now be best for the Opposition to speak to their amendments and for me to comment on them when I reply to the debate.

Mr. Rees-Davies

The course suggested by the Minister is probably suitable. I do not understand why the Government produced this substantial new range of amendments now instead of in Committee. It would appear that the previous definition,

  1. (a) to provide housing accommodation for persons employed in agriculture by another person, and
  2. (b) to terminate such licences or tenancies granted in pursuance of the arrangements",
was sufficient for their purposes. However, we on this side of the House raise no fundamental objections to the alterations the Government have made. Suffice it to say that it would be difficult to enter into an agreement with another person to evade the provisions of the Bill having regard to the length of time for which a worker must be employed in agriculture and therefore in possession of the house.

I turn to our important new amendments, which I believe could have been tabled as new clauses. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I have tabled two substantial amendments which have not been the subject of earlier debate in any form. Both proposals come from the Rent Act 1974.

The principle of the Bill is one that we cannot support. It is clear that the Bill intends to protect the tied cottage only for the permanent agricultural worker. Unfortunately, however, there may well fall within the ambit of this Bill quite a large number of houses which one believes should not be covered by it. In particular, there is the example of the house bought by a person intending to occupy it at the time of his retirement. If somebody has bought it with a view to his retirement, under the Rent Acts the Government agreed to a specific exemption to enable a person on retirement to get his house and to get occupation of it. That provision was incorporated into the Rent Act 1974 for that specific purpose.

Amendment No. 14 provides that the paragraph shall not apply to any case where a person acquired the dwelling-house or any interest therein with a view to occupying it as his residence at such time as he might retire from regular employment". It goes on to lay down certain conditions where a court is satisfied either that the owner has retired from regular employment and requires the dwelling-house as a residence or the person has died and the dwelling-house is required as a residence for a member of his family who was residing with him at the date of his death: In that event, if the court is so satisfied, it may dispense with the requirement which would otherwise lead it to be the subject of continuing control in respect of a tied cottage. It incorporates an entitlement to an order for possession in accordance with Case 10A of Part II of Schedule 3 to the Rent Act 1968? I maintain that no serious intention is to be found anywhere in the Rent Act to prevent somebody from the opportunity to obtain possession his own cottage when he retires. If a retired person has bought a cotage—it will frequently be in the country—it should be available to an agricultural worker for a time and thus able to be used by the farming community. It is right that the farmer should be able to let it freely in the knowledge that at the time his own retirement or at the retirement of the person who bought it for that purpose, possession may be obtained. I ask the Government to give serious consideration to incorporating an amendment along these lines or, if they have other views, along similar lines to ensure that on retirement a person can obtain possession.

The other major Opposition amendment raises the question of holiday lettings. In my constituency in the Isle of Thanet and in many other parts of the country many holiday lettings take place in the summer and the same premises are also used for winter lettings. Thanks to the amendments which, in the end, we extracted from the Government, special exemptions exist under the Rent Acts to enable premises to be recovered in these circumstances. It was felt right that one did not need to pursue doctrinal influences to the ultimate Socialist degree to ensure that people could be protected in respect of holiday lettings.

Likewise, in Amendment No. 15 my right hon. Friend and I seek to obtain a special exemption for tenancies within the ambit of what was Case 10B of Part II of the Rent Act 1968 and where they were let in accordance with the provisions of the 1974 Act to enable them to be recovered under Case 10B. Someone may decide that the dwelling-house shall be let for a term not exceeding eight months. When it was let for some time within a period of 12 months immediately before that for a holiday purpose, it qualified under the Rent Acts. We ask that this same qualification be incorporated into this Bill.

8.45 p.m.

There are many ways in which the Government could have dealt with the position of the tied cottage. In the end they decided to make this Bill almost identical with the Rent Acts, incorporating large parts of those Acts and adapting them for this purpose. We therefore see no reason, in view of the abundant precedent, to include the provisions relating to people who retire and those who let premises for holiday purposes, thus excluding them from the operation of the Bill.

I should be grateful for the attention of one or other of the Ministers. I hope that their deliberations are so favourable that I shall be able to get my amend- ments on the nod. If that is what they are deciding, there is an open door. I am prepared to resume my seat forthwith. But if not, I want to make the point plain.

As I said, this is entirely new ground. There has been gradual recognition that the Bill is in danger of trespassing into a far wider field than the Government intended. They could not have intended to ensure that someone who has bought a property to use for his retirement or who wants to let premises for part of the year for use by agricultural workers should not be able to do so. One hopes that they will therefore consider both amendments seriously.

Having said that they wanted to prevent any agreement to evade the legislation, the Government provide in Amendment No. 13 that the farmer cannot evade the arrangement by making an agreement with another person. I do not believe that if someone wished to enter into arrangements with a wide range of workers, he would not be able to do so, but the Government undertook in Committee to look carefully at these matters.

Another such consideration concerns workers in hostels. I want to be sure that the Government's amendments do not cover arrangements by a farmer to house workers in a hostel used for that purpose, or similar arrangements. The Government have not implemented their undertaking to table amendments to ensure that such hostel accommodation would not come within the ambit of the Bill.

It would be very damaging if hostels used for providing proper accommodation for farm workers turned out to be protected as though they were tied cottages, which clearly they were not designed to be. I hope that the Government will assure us that these provisions do not cover such accommodation.

At the same time, perhaps they could explain why they have not suggested amendments to cover that aspect. We raise the point with them. I hope that they will be able to give a considered reply to our contention that action should be carefully limited to agricultural workers in acknowledged tied cottages, and that others should be exempt from these provisions.

Mr. Strang

I am sorry to have to start by informing the hon. Gentleman that we cannot accept any of these amendments. However, the reasons are quite different and it might be helpful if I were to explain that Amendment No. 14 is unnecessary since Case 12 in Schedule 3 covers the same ground.

If the owner of a house subject to housing arrangements can prove the grounds set out in Case 12—basically, that he bought the house as a future retirement home, or that the previous owner who was a member of his family did so and had died and the requisite notices have been served, or the court is satisfied that it is just and equitable to dispense with the notice requirements—the court must make an order for possession. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman will be reassured if I make absolutely clear that we have embodied in the Bill the provision which he has rightly explained already exists in the Rent Act, namely, that if someone has bought a house for the purpose of retirement, that person is able to secure vacant possession when desiring to do so.

Amendment No. 15 seeks to provide basically that a landlord may throw out a genuine farm worker who satisfies the test simply because he has used the house as a holiday home and wished to do so again. This is totally unacceptable and if hon. Gentlemen will carefully consider the effect, I feel sure they will come to the same conclusion.

A farmer should not be able to throw out an ex-worker simply so that he can obtain a higher income by letting the cottage as a holiday home. The hon. Gentleman who tabled this amendment presumably believes a farmer should be able to move ex-workers from cottages into holiday cottages and throw them out altogether when he obtains an order for possession. This runs directly counter to the whole purpose of the Bill, which is to ensure that genuine farm workers as tenants should not be threatened with eviction.

If there is agricultural need for a cottage for a replacement worker and a farmer has available no accommodation other than holiday cottages, he may apply to the local authority to rehouse the worker. Hence, there is no reason, let alone justice, behind this amendment, and I must advise hon. Members to reject it if it is pressed.

The hon. Member raised the subject of hostels. Such hostels are excluded from the scope of the Bill in any event, because hostel inhabitants can in no way claim exclusive occupancy of any part of the dwelling-house. There may still be a residual problem, which the hon. Gentleman fairly raised. We shall certainly be happy to look further at this and I can assure him—and he has the advantage of a legal background—that this is a complex question. A layman, understandably, would find it easy to see an extreme difference between a hostel and a cottage, but there may well be situations coming somewhere between where it is harder to draw the line. If the hon. Gentleman feels it helpful, I can assure him that we are continuing consideration of this matter and perhaps we can help by writing to him when we have reached the end of our consideration.

Mr. Rees-Davies

Can the Minister give a clear undertaking on behalf of the Government that they will at least do something about this matter in another place?

Mr. Strang

I assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that if it is necessary to clarify the position later, we shall do so. I cannot go further at this stage. I should like to continue our consultations and perhaps in due course I can inform the hon. Gentleman of our decision.

I hope that I have given the hon. and learned Gentleman certain assurances in regard to the person who genuinely wants to retire into a cottage bought for that purpose. He will have the same protection as under the Rent Act.

We cannot accept the other amendment, and I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will be prepared to withdraw it.

Mr. Rees-Davies

I am happy with the Government assurance on Amendment No. 14. I agree that there are many complex legal aspects, but I accept the undertaking that they are sufficiently covered.

I must take issue with the Minister on one aspect of holiday accommodation. If he wishes to ensure that holiday lettings are within the scope of the Bill, it is plain that where an employer or other person has made housing arrangements, he should give notice in writing to the qualifying worker or the employer, as the case made be, not later than the commencement of the occupation, or the operative date, or the date of the operation in regard to forestry workers, that the letting is to be treated as being outside the legislation. Let us be clear that the worker would be fully aware of the limitations imposed on a holiday letting.

Nevertheless, it is not a matter that we wish to press further. It is another of the instances that can be looked at in another place to ensure that it will not cut across the existing provisions enabling people to engage in holiday lettings.

The Minister's observations on Government Amendment No. 13 show that the situation is in order subject only to the difficulty involving hostel workers. The Government have said that they will do their best to deal with that position in due course.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Strang

I beg to move Amendment No. 16, in page 35, line 12, leave out from 'which' to end of line 13 and insert:

  1. '(a) he is employed to work in agriculture, and
  2. (b) the number of hours for which he works in agriculture, or in activities incidental to agriculture, for the person or persons by whom he is so employed is not less than the standard number of hours'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

I understand that with this amendment it is also convenient to discuss Government Amendments Nos. 21 and 27.

Mr. Strang

The amendments in this group seek to improve the qualification requirements in Schedule 2 so that they take account of one of the facts of agriculture.

Those hon. Members familiar with farming will be well aware that most agricultural workers, even very highly specialised ones, will often spend some of their time on activities which, whilst not strictly agricultural as we have defined it, are incidental to the conduct of agriculture. I am thinking for example of the stockman who, one day a week at certain times of the year, will drive his pigs to market, or of the tractor driver who also maintains farm machinery. No one would suggest that lorry driving or mechanical engineering if done full time were agricultural activities, but it is another matter where they form part and parcel of a farmer's job. The same type of considerations apply to forestry.

In the Bill, as drafted however, whole-time employment in agriculture is defined as work for the standard number of hours in agriculture, and there is a significant risk here that some workers who are covered by the Agricultural Wages Act and whom we intended to cover in this Bill would not be covered because their genuine agricultural work fell below the Standard number of hours. The amendments therefore provide that an agricultural worker will still be regarded as a whole-time worker in agriculture for the purposes of the Bill even where incidental duties occupy a part of his working week. It is important that there should always be a core of work which is truly agricultural, and reference to a contract of employment in agriculture introduced by Amendment No. 29 should ensure that this core is present.

9.0 p.m.

I should finally like to stress that these incidental duties must have an agricultural connotation. There is no question of going outside what is generally recognised as agricultural employment and bringing within the Bill people who are employed predominantly or exclusively in other work—for example in tourism or catering—where there is nothing agricultural about the work, except its environment.

In the last analysis, questions on the scope of the definition of agriculture would be matters for the courts, but we do not envisage that the flexible and commonsense approach which I have outlined is likely to cause any significant problems.

Mr. Jopling

We are grateful to the Minister for explaining the meaning of the group of amendments, but we are not entirely happy. The new definition is too vague. The first problem that has occurred to us is that of the position of the casual worker. The amendments seem to include within the definition of casual worker the person who goes to a farm for a limited period of time, is employed to work in agriculture under the definition in paragraph (a) of Amendment No. 16, and who works for a week or perhaps two for not less than the standard number of hours. It seems to us that that person would establish himself as someone who worked full-time in agriculture.

I do not have any particular quarrel with that, but the Bill appears to extend the definition of a full-time worker in agriculture to a casual worker who might only be on a farm for a week helping with sheep-shearing, for example, in the summer months. There is a danger that that person, because he qualified under the definition as a person who worked full time in agriculture, might slip into benefiting from some of the advantages which the Bill would bestow upon him.

Will the Parliamentary Secretary set our minds at rest on that matter? Am I right in suggesting that within the definition in Amendment No. 16 a casual worker who works on the farm for only one full week will qualify as a full-time worker? If that is so, is the Minister sure that a person of that sort could not qualify for many of the other benefits which would be totally unreasonable for us to allow under the Bill?

Another aspect of these amendments also concerns us. It is the matter which the Parliamentary Secretary has just explained to the House. Our concern is about the definition summed up in the words "activities incidental to agriculture". We are not sure what they mean. We see that it may have been necessary for the Government to introduce amendments to make sure that the Bill covered the two cases which the hon. Gentleman described—the case of the stockman who goes to market one day a week and drives the lorry there and back, and the case of the tractor driver who may spend half a day a week maintaining the tractors or the equipment. It might be held that because they were not fully employed permanently on purely agricultural work, they could slip out of the net of the Bill. I do not think that we quarrel with that point too much.

We also quite understand, at the other end of the scale, that there are other jobs which do not come within the description of "activities incidental to agriculture". The hon. Gentleman gave the examples of catering and tourism. But between those two extremes there is the problem of a whole number of other jobs that might come into question over these matters.

For example, there are maintenance workers who may be employed on farms, working as builders or joiners, erecting new building structures or new farm gates. There is the case of the lorry driver, when we think it would be quite wrong to include if he clearly spends most of his time driving the produce of other farms and other businesses ancillary to farming. On a number of farms, a lorry is part of the equipment but spends part of its time carrying the produce of that farm and the other part carrying the produce of other farms.

Again, I can think of instances where a farmer has an ancillary business connected with his farm. We are all aware of farmers who have opened farm shops to sell their produce. I know of one farmer, who lives close to me in Yorkshire, who runs a seed business in conjunction with his farm. We all know farmers who have feeding stuffs businesses run in conjunction with their farms.

We have not been able to find any precedent for this definition "activities incidental to agriculture". This anxiety has been raised with us by the NFU, which says that the expression is vague and not one which it has come across in agricultural legislation before, which invariably refers, as does the Agricultural Wages Act, simply to "employment in agriculture".

There is a great problem here. Under the definition of the Agricultural Wages Act 1948, those who qualify under this part of the Bill for this benefit have to come within that Act. There is plenty of case law on the workings of the Act. It protects those who spend most of their time in farm work rather than ancillary jobs. This is what the Parliamentary Secretary is driving at. It is his purpose to have an assurance within the Bill so that people who spend most of their time in farm work rather than ancillary jobs can be covered. This will cover the stockman who drives animals to market once a week, and the tractor driver who spends time each week on maintenance and repairs.

We believe that this definition could bring into the Bill people who work a minimum of time in agriculture and a maximum of time in ancillary activities. It would be totally wrong to include among those who benefit from the legislation people like the pure maintenance worker, the lorry driver, and those who work in businesses ancillary to the farm such as the farm shop, the seed business and the feeding stuff business.

The National Farmers Union is also anxious about this matter. I quote a part of a letter from the Director-General in which he claims that his union is unable to understand the interpretation of the amendment: It could have the effect of bringing within the ambit of the Bill a person who was employed in farm work for a small part of the working week, and who was engaged for the rest of the time on 'incidental activities'. I am thinking, in this context, of estate keepers, gamekeepers or gardeners who might be involved in a limited amount of farm work during the working week. I do not believe that the Parliamentary Secretary covered this point in his opening remarks and we want to hear from him on this matter when he replies to the debate.

Mr. Peter Mills

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for putting the case so well, I am glad to have an opportunity to speak on this matter because it gives me a chance to say something which should be said.

The Minister talks about other jobs being done by agricultural workers. In other words, agricultural workers are flexible. They do agricultural work and other jobs such as repairs and lorry driving. We should pay tribute to them for being so flexible and being prepared to do so many different jobs on the farm.

I have been a farm worker, and I have been associated with farm workers for many years. I believe that the British farm worker is an object lesson to other sections of industry in this country in that he is prepared, without the problems of unions or demarcation lines, to turn his hand to a whole variety of jobs. He is not worried about doing something different from what he does in the normal course of his duties. Not many people are prepared to change as quickly as farm workers, and few people in this country possess such a wide range of skills.

9.15 p.m.

I was on my farm the other day watching the driver of the combine harvester who, instead of calling in the agricultural mechanics, was changing a very complicated bearing on the machine. That man has been a skilled agricultural worker all his working life but he knows enough to change a complicated bearing without calling in the engineers. He wanted to do the job for his own sake because he wanted to get on with the work, and he was also helping us out.

Farm workers are prepared to do a variety of jobs which are not always strictly agricultural, and we should pay tribute to them for that. It seems a pity that the Government should insist upon this sort of legislation, which seems to divide people and which prompts amendments of this nature.

If the NFU is concerned about this matter, it must be cleared up and we must have a far better explanation from the Parliamentary Secretary before the Bill is allowed to go through. It is certainly important to get the matter right now, not only for us but for farm workers and farmers. I am unhappy about the proposals. Farm workers are an object lesson to many other workers. The Minister must make the matter clear.

Mr. Charles Morrison

My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) dealt extremely well with the amendment. The longer he spoke, the more worried I became. I fear that the Minister and his advisers have not thought fully about the drafting of this part of the Bill. The amendments demonstrate just how monstrous it is that our discussions should be curtailed by the guillotine. That means that there is inadequate time to argue about legislation which is complicated and on which it is difficult to be certain of the consequences. I trust that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give a far more satisfactory reply.

Mr. Strang

I can assure the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) that we do not envisage casual workers being covered by the Bill. In order to be covered, they first have to have a contract of employment for a specified number of not less than 35 hours, and they must also have exclusive occupancy of an agricultural tied cottage. The hon. Gentleman will agree that in practice that will effectively exclude the casual workers whom he had in mind. It also excludes the part-time workers.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) took the opportunity to acknowledge just how skilled and flexible agricultural workers are. There is no question but that agricultural workers as a group represent a higly skilled section of the British labour force. It is a great pity that there should still be such a gap between the average earnings of these skilled workers and their counterparts in manufacturing industry.

The whole purpose of the amendment is to make sure that these workers will get the benefits of the Bill. We wish to make absolutely sure that the coverage in the Bill will not leave a loophole whereby a worker who is an agricultural worker for all practical purposes but who does an element of other work which is incidental to agriculture will not be covered by the Bill.

The view has been taken by Opposition Members that we do not want to drive a wedge between agricultural workers who do other duties incidental to agriculture and the full-time stockman or tractor driver. The central purpose of the amendment is to ensure that the very workers to whom the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) referred are covered. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard), we envisage that a large proportion of the estate workers about whom she is concerned will be covered by the Bill. Many estate workers are in practice doing agricultural work as well, but where a worker is engaged full-time in an occupation which is not agricultural, where by normal definition and understanding he is a full-time mechanic or a full-time estate worker, he is not covered by the Bill.

Mr. Peter Mills

If that is so clear, or if it is as clear as the hon. Gentleman appears to think, how is it that it is not appreciated by the National Farmers' Union?

Mr. Strang

I think that the NFU wants to restrict the coverage of the Bill. If it has any interpretation problems, we shall be happy to discuss the Bill with it. One of the good features about the drafting and the passage of this legislation through Parliament to date has been the good relationship we have managed to retain with all the representative agricultural organisations. The CLA and the NFU have had their disagreements with us, and even the NUAAW would like to alter parts of the Bill in a small way, but to date we have had a friendly and reasonable dialogue with all these organisations on this legislation.

Mr. Charles Morrison

It is interesting that the NFU is concerned about this matter, but what matters much more than the NFU in this context is the interpretation that the courts may put on this part of the Bill. The Minister is giving us his opinion, but he knows as well as I do that that may be completely worthless.

Mr. Strang

I have endeavoured to explain the coverage of the Bill as it will be on the assumption that the amendment is carried. I have put it in layman's terms. However, at the end of the day, in the same way as the coverage of other agricultural legislation has to be clarified in court, there may well be occasions when this legislation is tested in court. We are achieving—

Mr. Jopling

I believe that the House is finding it difficult to follow what is in the Minister's mind. We must find out what the Government want and then try to ascertain whether the Bill endorses their thinking. What balance is the hon. Gentleman aiming at when, for example, a person drives a tractor full-time and carries cut maintenance on it full-time, or where a person drives a lorry and does part-time work on the farm as well? That is what we want to know. Is he aiming at 50 per cent. or 70 per cent. farm work and 30 per cent. incidental work? I think he must put a figure before us so that we can examine the Bill more critically to ascertain whether the Government have written into the Bill what they want to do.

Mr. Strang

I do not think that I could put a figure on it. The hon. Gentleman refers to a tractor driver who spends some time driving the tractor, some time maintaining it and some time working as a mechanical engineer for the farm. As far as I am concerned, that man is covered by the legislation. It would be a scandal if he were not so covered.

Mr. Jopling

Will the Minister consider the case of a farmer who, in association with his farms, has an agricultural repair business and has a man who works partly on maintaining the farms' tractors and partly on tractors from outside? Will he consider also the case of a farmer with a seed business and a worker who spends some time selling seeds to the local community and some time working on the farm? Perhaps they are better examples.

The Minister must tell us what sort of split he is considering between farm and incidental work. Is it fifty-fifty, one-third to two-thirds? If he does not tell us, we shall be forced to the conclusion that the Government are groping along in the dark.

Mr. Strang

I cannot put a figure on it. The hon. Gentleman quoted the example of a man who spent some time driving and some time maintaining his tractor. That is not comparable with the time spent by a man working for a farmer's business. It depends on the nature of the work being done by the worker, what farm work he is doing and the nature of his other work. The hon. Gentleman described a worker who was clearly an agricultural engineer, who maintained and repaired the equipment of an agricultural engineering business. He would not be covered by the Bill.

Mr. Geraint Howells

Would not the Minister agree that the answer depends on the employer? If a farmer has a new tractor, a worker need spend only about one day a year on maintenance work. When a farmer has, as I have, a 20-year-old tractor, maintenance work can total 20 days a year.

Mr. Strang

The hon. Gentleman has made a fair point, although we could take this matter too far. It reminds me of the farmer in the North of Scotland who met an oil man who said "I come from the United States, where we have big farms. It takes me a whole day to drive round my farm." The Scotsman replied "I used to have a car like that, but I have since got a new one."

We must leave time for important later amendments. I merely say now that we intend to get complete coverage of agricultural workers which includes those doing estate, maintenance or engineering work which is incidental to agricultural work.

Mr. Jopling

I have not been very satisfied with this debate. We still do not know what is in the Government's mind. I shoud have been tempted to divide the House were it not for the fact that this Bill is under a guillotine and we want to make a little more progress.

I must reluctantly ask my hon. Friends to accept the amendment, although I do not know what the Liberal Party intends to do. If the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells) is having trouble with his tractor, he might do well to sell his Rolls-Royce and buy a better tractor.

Mr. Geraint Howells

I do not have a Rolls-Royce; I have a 20-year-old Ferguson tractor and a new tractor.

We are now discussing matters which are not as important as Clause 29. We should make speedier progress to that clause, which is the guts of the Bill.

Mr. Jopling

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. That is why I suggest that we should not divide the House on this amendment, although we feel very strongly about it. In the circumstances, I have nothing more to say.

Amendment agreed to.

9.30 p.m.

Mr. Strang

I beg to move Amendment No. 17, in page 35, line 16, leave out '(a) where he has only one employer'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

With this it will be convenient to take Government Amendments Nos. 18 and 20.

Mr. Strang

Amendment No. 17 removes the words where he has only one employer". It is simply a drafting amendment. The words are redundant.

Amendments Nos. 18 and 20 make provision for weeks or part weeks absent from work with the consent of the employer, or employers, to count towards the qualifying period. The first applies this new provision for whole-time workers and the second for permit workers.

In looking again at the whole area of employment, we realised that, whilst we had provided in the Bill for agreed holidays and periods of sickness to count as whole-time work towards the qualifying period, we had made no provision for other periods of absence from work by mutual consent between the farmer and his worker to count, with the result that, for example, a worker wanting to benefit from a training course for which his employer was perfectly willing to release him might be deterred from taking up such training in case he forfeited or delayed his qualification for protection under the Bill.

The hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) earlier disappointingly said that he welcomed that two-thirds of agricultural workers were not in the union.

Mr. Peter Mills

My hon. Friend did not say that.

Mr. Strang

I think the hon. Gentleman will find that he did. However, it is not the case that the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers has only a third of all agricultural workers in England and Wales in its membership. We believe that workers should be encouraged to join their appropriate trade unions. I hope that one incidental development of this legislation will be that more agricultural workers will join their appropriate trade unions.

I find it surprising that some Opposition Members should think it right to support the idea that farmers should belong to the NFU, but resent the idea that agricultural workers should belong to the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers, or the Transport and General Workers Union. One of the incidental effects of the amendments will be that, where a worker with the consent of his employer is away on a training course or on legitimate trade union activities, he will not be penalised, but will still be able to notch up his qualifying time for coverage by the Bill.

These amendments will allow any absences agreed between employer and employee to count as whole-time work for the purposes of calculating the qualifying period for whole-time and permit workers respectively. Such provision is in the interests of both workers and farmers who are interested in getting and keeping good staff. I hope that the House will accept the amendments.

Mr. Peter Mills

I think that we must correct the impression given by the Parliamentary Secretary about the attitude of farmers to unions. It is certainly not my attitude. Many farmers are concerned about the attitude of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard), who is not in her place, and the kind of language that she used. If what she said represented the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers, I should not advise my farm workers and others to join it.

Thank goodness, not every union official in that organisation takes the same attitude as the hon. Lady, who talked about hearts bleeding for wicked farmers. Remarks of that kind serve only to drive a wedge between the good relationships between farmers and farm workers. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to be careful about what he says, because not all of us agree with his views or take that attitude towards unions.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 18, in page 35, line 25, at end insert— '( ) absent from work in agriculture with the consent of his employer or, where he has two or more employers, with the consent of the employer or employers concerned, or'.—[Mr. Strang.]

Mr. Strang

I beg to move Amendment No. 19, in page 35, line 39, after 'employee', insert: 'for the whole or part of the week'. This is a drafting amendment to correct what is effectively a slight omission.

The Bill as drafted is silent on the question of hours worked by permit workers, whose employment in agriculture has, as I made clear in Committee, certain special features in that, because of some physical or mental disability, they are awarded permits certifying that they are incapable of normal whole-time work. We thought it right, however, to spell out the fact that a week of work by a permit worker will count towards the qualifying period irrespective of the number of hours involved, since that criterion of whole-time work is irrelevant to the special circumstances of permit workers.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 20, in page 35, line 45, at end insert— '( ) absent from work in agriculture with the consent of his employer or, where he has two or more employers, with the consent of the employer or employers concerned, or'.

No. 21, in page 36, line 15, after 'agriculture', insert: 'or in activities incidental to agriculture'.

No. 22, in page 36, leave out lines 21 to 33.

No. 26, in page 37, line 5, leave out from 'disease' to end of line 6.

No. 27, in page 37, line 18, after 'forestry', insert 'or in activities incidental to forestry'.

No. 28, in page 37, leave out line 19.

No. 29, in page 37, line 23, at end insert—

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