HC Deb 09 June 1976 vol 912 cc1410-2
2. Mr. Robin F. Cook

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the progress of his consultations on agricultural tied cottages.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Hugh D. Brown)

Discussions are continuing with interested parties. Some of them have still to let me have their observations.

Mr. Cook

Is my hon. Friend aware that on Saturday there was a meeting of the Scottish committee of the farm-workers' section of the Transport and General Workers' Union which appears to have decided in favour of a licensing system combined with a statutory obligation on local authorities? Does he accept that this important change in the attitude of the main union representing farm workers in Scotland underlines the case for specific Scottish legislation on this issue? Will he say what consultations he is having on tied accommodation outside agriculture?

Mr. Brown

If I may take the last point first, to extend any investigation of this subject into the possibility of legislation covering tied accommodation generally—and there is something to be said for that—would considerably extend the period of consultation. I am aware that the meeting to which my hon. Friend referred took place on Saturday. I share the concern of the TGWU on this subject. There is agreement on the need to protect those who are most vulnerable, such as the sick, the disabled, the aged and the widowed. I have made that clear to all interested parties.

Mr. Fairgrieve

Will the hon. Gentleman welcome this example of Scottish industrial democracy, where both sides of industry in Scotland agree that the tied cottage system should remain and is no danger to Scotland—an attitude far different from that taken in England?

Mr. Brown

That is a rather naïve approach to this question which does not do it justice. I have made it clear to the farmers' union, separately, and only last month in the presence of the TGWU, that we shall fulfil this commitment. I seek the co-operation of both sides, landlords and workers, in doing something about a problem that should have been tackled years ago.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Does my hon. Friend accept that whilst there must always be a case for "on-the-job" housing, which is what tied cottages are, there is no case for that accommodation being used as a lever both to depress farm workers' wages and to act as a form of discipline in terms of their conditions?

Mr. Brown

I quite agree. One of the serious questions facing the industry is the financial implications of total abolition. I take the view that so long as farm workers are among the lowest paid workers in Scotland we need to be concerned about them.

Mr. Corrie

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that what is required is for local authorities to make houses available for agricultural workers coming off the land when they are ill, when they want to leave the industry, or are retiring? Would not that solve a lot of problems?

Mr. Brown

The farmers are well represented here today. We are taking one of the special Scottish considerations into account here, namely, the reorganisation of local government and the commitments of housing authorities. It is because of that that I want time to ensure that there will be adequate housing provision in the remoter areas.