HC Deb 04 May 1976 vol 910 cc1067-197

Order for Second Reading read.

3.40 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Peter Shore)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

No Labour Minister could fail to feel deep satisfaction in introducing a measure which will affect the lives of large numbers of people who have been subjected to a relationship that is outmoded, unacceptable and unjust. The abilition of the tied cottage has been a major objective of the farm workers of this country for almost a century. As long ago as 1885, Joseph Arch of Barford, the founding father of the National Agricultural Labourers' Union, became a Member of this House. He was the first agricultural labourer to do so and he called then for equal security for farmers in their holdings and farm workers in their cottages. Although the union did not survive into this century, its successor, now the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers, has made the abolition of the tied cottage part of its campaign from the foundation of its existence.

There arc some 70,000 agricultural tied cottages in England and Wales. These cottages are the accommodation of about half the full-time farm workers and their families. To the 70,000 we must add another 20,000 cottages occupied by retired farm workers and their families.

Every year some 1,200 families face eviction without necessarily having anywhere else to go, when the farmer obtains a court order for possession. Every year there is evidence of evictions in distressing and humiliating circumstances.

The Bill sets out to change this situation, and to change it radically. It will abolish a longstanding injustice and provide in its place a just balance between farmer and farm worker, landlord and occupier-tenant.

The Bill should, in my view, have virtually no effect on agricultural efficiency. Indeed, sensible use of the Bill's provisions should in the longer run encourage agricultural efficiency. It will certainly encourage—not discourage— youngsters who would like to make agriculture their career.

We have turned our minds to this problem on many occasions. In 1963 our Swaffham Pledge was that, We would ensure that no farmworker is evicted from a tied cottage until alternative accommodation is provided. Successive attempts were made to fulfil this pledge in the 1964–70 Parliament, but they were not successful, and evictions continued.

We therefore determined to bring the matter to a proper conclusion and in our 1974 manifestos undertook specifically to abolish the tied cottage system. Such is the purpose of the Bill now before this House. The way for it was prepared by the consultative document which my predecessor issued last August. It said, The Government's overriding aim is to disengage farm workers' conditions of employment from the circumstances in which they are housed. We are consciously distinguishing agricultural from other tied housing. They are important, too, but there is no other industry where the fact of accommodation provided by the employer/landlord enters so extensively and so controversially into the relationship between employer and employee.

Following our consultative document, we held detailed and frank discussions with a wide range of interested bodies such as the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers, the National Farmers' Union, the Country Landowners Association and the associations of local authorities. I will not claim that there were no points of disagreement in these discussions, but I am informed that they were certainly wholly free from rancour. Indeed, they have been extremely useful and constructive. I should like to thank all those who responded to the consultative document, or who took part in the subsequent discussions, for their contributions.

I have made clear already that I do not agree with the National Farmers' Union that the Bill will impair agricultural efficiency. Nor do I accept the NFU's view that the imposition of a re-housing duty upon the local housing authority—which the NFU has welcomed in general terms—is a duty that has no real substance. I shall say more about that a little later. I can of course appreciate the NFU's anxieties, so let me make plain at the start that the Government have not set out to penalise or frustrate farmers in the course of their business. We are redressing a balance and providing a system which we hope and believe will be of general benefit.

The governing provisions of the present and unsatisfactory system are those in Sections 32 and 33 of the Rent Act 1965, as amended by the Agriculture Act 1970. Their effect is that no residential occupier may be evicted without a court order and, in the case of agriculture, the court must normally delay the effect of an order for up to six months. This can be less if agriculture is likely to be seriously prejudiced.

The farmer's right to obtain possession of his cottage in these circumstances is absolute. He does not have to have an incoming worker earmarked for the cottage. He does not have to offer any grounds or reasons for wanting possession. The worker in the cottage may have retired after 40 years' service with his employer. He may be redundant because of a change of farming system. He may have had a row with the farmer. It does not matter. The farmer knows, as does the farm worker, that the farmer can get vacant possession of the cottage. The farmer may intend to sell the cottage, perhaps as a second home. He may intend to let it outside agriculture, or leave it empty on spec. It has no effect on the case.

I do not suggest that famers set out to oppress their farm workers. What I do say is that the system is unjust and inherently liable to abuse. Even the best-intentioned farmer may face a difficult and distressing dilemma. He may have a genuine need for a cottage for an incoming worker and thus feel that he is driven to the courts to obtain an order to evict his former employee. It is often said that many possession orders now sought against occupants of tied cottages are based on collusion—a collusion between farmer and farm worker. In other words, legalised homelessness is contrived as an ultimatum to the local housing authority. That the present system can work in such a way is no defence of it. Rather, it is its final condemnation. A system that is inherently unjust and relies in the last resort upon subterfuge is intolerable, and it really must go.

I should like to take the House through the main provisions of the Bill. It is, I regret to say, a formidable document. It is complex because it applies the broad equivalent of a Rent Act code to the special situation of agricultural workers. But to avoid further complicating the Rent Acts themselves, we have gone for a self-contained Bill.

There are three main parts to the Bill, which I want to mention in some detail. Part I, with Schedule 2, establishes, by a series of definitions, who is to benefit from the provisions of the Bill. Next, Part II, with Schedules 3 and 4, sets out the basic rights conferred by the Bill and deals particularly with security of tenure and rents. Part IV lays a rehousing duty on local housing authorities and creates the agricultural dwelling-house advisory committees. The other parts of the Bill are essentially of a supplementary or ancillary character.

Let me turn to these main parts in turn. Part I and Schedule 2 deal with the qualifying worker. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who is to wind up the debate, will deal later with the definitions of agriculture and forestry in Clause 1 and with the provisions for qualifying workers in Schedule 2. Nevertheless, I should explain who we see as the qualifying worker benefiting from this Bill. He is the agricultural worker who has been employed in agriculture full-time, normally for two years before the circumstances occur that entitle him to benefit from the Bill. We are looking for the genuine farmworker. Some such definition is necessary if we are to keep out those who might otherwise see a very short spell in a job as an easy means of jumping the local authority's housing queue.

I regard two years as a reasonable qualifying period, although I do not think it should be longer. It is also right that the qualifying period should apply to employment in agriculture and not be restricted to employment with the one farmer. The latter would revive again at least the temptation of abuse and would impose a wholly artificial constraint on job mobility.

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

I have anxieties on the horticultural side where a worker may be employed on a fruit holding or in a glasshouse, or may move to a co-operative. Since the question of employment in a co-operative is not spelt out and defined in the Bill, will the right hon. Gentleman give his mind to that point?

Mr. Shore

I shall certainly look further at that matter. I accept that there are circumstances in which the situation may not be sufficiently spelt out. I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will take that matter on board and will deal with it when he replies to the debate. If not, I am sure that we can deal with the matter in Committee.

Once a worker has qualified in this way, provided that he remains in occupation of the farmer's cottage, or another one taken in exchange, he remains qualified even if he goes on to part-time work or retires. The Bill also brings into protection by means of Schedule 8 former agricultural workers who are already retired now and living in accommodation provided by their ex-employers.

Farm workers who qualify will be protected occupiers as long as any contractual rights of occupation exist. That is so long as they are occupying their cottages under licences or tenancies granted by the farmer. Subsequently, when they remain in possession after contractual arrangements have ended, they will become statutory tenants. Normally, of course, licences are terminated with the end of employment, but it may not always be so if, for example, a farmer is content to let an ex-worker go on occupying the cottage after his job has ended.

To become protected occupiers qualifying workers will have to be occupying cottages under licences or tenancies in situations broadly similar to those of protected tenants under the Rent Acts. There is, however, an important difference. To obtain full Rent Act protection a person must be a tenant and must be paying a rent of at least two-thirds of the rateable value. Because many farm workers are not tenants but licensees and are paying no rent or a very low rent, both these requirements are disapplied in so far as protection under the Bill is concerned.

Qualifying farm workers benefit as either protected occupiers or statutory tenants in their own right. Their widows or widowers benefit similarly as successors. Where there is no surviving widow or widower, the protection and benefit can pass to another person—that is, to a member of the farm worker's family who had been living with him in the cottage during the six months before his death. We are accordingly providing for one successor to the farm worker and not, as do the Rent Acts, for two successors. The reason is simple. We accept that there are special circumstances where farmers have provided, and continue to provide, accommodation in conjunction with the running of the farm.

I should like to make two important points before leaving this first Part of the Bill. Both are related to security of tenure.

The first point concerns the coming into effect of the Bill. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary intends to deal with the question of a separate appointed day for full-time forestry workers. I want to make clear, however, that because the Bill is fundamentally about security of tenure, we intend to use the appointed day procedure to bring into operation all the other provisions just as soon as possible after enactment. There will have to be a short interval. I would not expect this to be more than about eight weeks. But if there is any sign of attempts to pre-empt the legislation and to disturb occupants of tied cottages on that account during the Bill's passage, it will have to be cut down even more. I must make clear that the Bill protects any qualifying person subject to proceedings under the existing law on the day it comes into operation.

The second of these two points is that the Bill does not apply where the landlord is, for example, the Crown, a Government Department or a local authority. As I have mentioned, we have applied the relevant provisions of the Rent Act 1968. It would be inconsistent if this part of the Rent Act code alone were to apply to the Crown and Government Departments and to local authorities.

I entirely agree, nevertheless, that agricultural workers so housed and employed should in practice enjoy the same benefits and protections as those who are covered by the Bill. Detailed discussions with the exempted bodies and the local authority associations are in train. But I can now say that the Crown, along with other exempted bodies, has every intention of observing the spirit of the Bill's provisions under appropriate administrative arrangements.

Mr. Victor Goodhew (St. Albans)

What will happen in the case where the owner of land containing a tied cottage dies and where the farm and cottages are transferred to the Crown? Will the transfer to the Crown in such circumstances make any difference to the rights, or non-rights, of the tenant of the cottage?

Mr. Shore

I had not envisaged the circumstances involving a change of ownership in which a farm becomes part of the Crown property.

Mr. Goodhew

It happens quite frequently.

Mr. Shore

I had not specifically envisaged that situation. I am not clear that there should be any difference in the situation in regard to any tenure already achieved under a previous ownership of the property. I do not think that we need to make special arrangements to cover that contingency.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Hemel Hempstead)

Will the Secretary of State say why it is necessary to enable agricultural workers in EEC countries to qualify for this period? Perhaps it is unlikely to happen, but the situation could arise where a person coming in at the beginning of the ninety-first week and qualifying in that way would jump the local authority housing queue.

Mr. Shore

I believe I should leave that matter to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to deal with at the end of the debate. The situation in regard to the European Community regulations is complicated and it is difficult to establish whether there is a reciprocal obligation.

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Will the right hon. Gentleman say what will happen to land which is surplus to Crown requirements and which then passes into private hands—in other words, what will happen to the security of tenure of people in those cottages?

Mr. Shore

They would come under the normal provisions which I have already described. I see no difficulty in anticipating what would happen in those circumstances.

Part II of the Bill is headed "Security of Tenure". This part, together with Schedules 3 and 4, spells out the basic rights which the Bill provides for qualifying farm workers. It also, naturally, deals with rent.

Workers and their widows who are protected occupiers or statutory tenants will enjoy security of tenure because Clauses 7 and 8 provide that an order for possession can be sought again them only on certain specified grounds, such as nonpayment of rent due. The scheme of discretionary and non-discretionary grounds is identical to that found in Section 10 of and Schedule 3 of the Rent Act 1968. Many of the grounds are also identical but, most important, we have omitted Case 7 which allows an employer to gain repossession within the 1968 Act from a former employee when he wishes to house a new one.

The farm worker's contractual right to occupy his cottage normally derives from a licence and not from a tenancy. Many matters which would be spelled out in a proper tenancy agreement will be left vague. This may be satisfactory while employment continues. However, there can be real difficulties when an ex-worker remains in possession as a statutory tenant under the terms of the Bill and various features of the occupation may be open to challenge.

The Bill seeks to deal with this intrinsically difficult problem by laying down through Clause 11 and Schedule 4 the terms of the statutory tenancy. Where not previously specified the Bill spells out what is to happen about such questions as when rent is to be paid and services such as electricity or water supply provided by the landlord, repairing obligations, access and so on. The schedule also allows for the terms and conditions of the statutory tenancy to be varied within certain limits by agreement between the landlord and tenant.

Mr. Thomas Swain (Derbyshire, North-East)

Could my right hon. Friend enlighten me on one point? On the assumption that a farm worker has been working for an estate, what is the position? I will illustrate with two cases in particular. The right hon. Member who used to be the Prime Minister, Sir Alec Douglas Home, and the Duke of Devonshire are designated as farm workers today and very soon after this Bill comes into operation they will be redesignated gamekeepers possibly, at the age of about 55. Will they still get protection of tenancy under their redesignation?

Mr. Shore

I would certainly not accept that an obligation and a right given to a tenant farm worker under this Bill could be evaded simply by a change of designation and job. Therefore the answer to my hon. Friend's question is that it will depend upon that answer of which I spoke at the beginning—the definition of the categories of farm worker and other agricultural workers laid down in the relevant clauses of the Bill.

I should like to turn to the question of rent payable. The Bill does not interfere with the arrangements about rent between farmer and farm worker during employment. This will be as at present a matter for agreement between them, subject only to the provisions of the Agricultural Wages Act 1948.

According to the Tavistock Survey of 1974, over 80 per cent. of farm workers in tied cottages paid no rent at all. For those who did, the average was well under £1 a week. That was in 1974. There is nothing in existing legislation to prevent a farmer and farm worker agreeing to the registration of a fair rent and to its being charged, but that seldom happens.

As I have said, it is different when the farm worker leaves the farmer's employment, and so the Bill brings in formal rent provisions when the statutory tenancy begins. Clause 12 provides that a rent can be agreed between landlord and tenant within certain limits. I expect to see this provision used in the case of retired workers when a landlord feels that he must recover something by way of rent but is not necessarily seeking the maximum statutorily permitted.

When, however, an active worker is dismissed or leaves for another job, while staying in occupation of the cottage, the farmer will naturally expect to be able to charge a fair rent. In practice it can take some while for a fair rent to be registered. Therefore the Bill allows for a provisional rent of 1.5 times the rateable value to be charged until a fair rent is decided and registered. The fair rent machinery of the Rent Acts, including the right of objection to the rent assessment committee, is brought in by the relevant Clauses but with certain irrelevant matters excluded.

While on the subject of rents, I should remind the House that the provisions of the Bill extend the rent allowance scheme now available to help tenants of private landlords with their rent to all statutory tenants under the Bill whose rent is at least two-thirds of the rateable value of the cottage.

I come to the other major group of issues, in Part IV of the Bill, which is concerned with rehousing.

The Bill provides that a farmer will be able to apply to the local housing authority to secure the provision of suitable alternative accommodation for a worker he is housing and who has left or is due to leave his employment. There are three grounds for an application and all must be present together if it is to succeed. First, there must be an incoming worker in prospect. Secondly, the farmer must be unable to rehouse the ex-worker from his own housing resources. Thirdly, the rehousing must be in the interests of efficient agriculture.

With my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture I shall be issuing guidance on criteria to be used in assessing agricultural need. I am leaving it to my hon. Friend to comment later in this debate about the working of the proposed statutory advisory committees of agricultural experts and, also with other more directly agricultural points. I simply point out that in assessing the applicant's case the local authority is required to take full account of any advice tendered by a statutory committee established under Clause 30 of the Bill.

If the farmer's case is substantiated, the local authority will be under a duty to use its best endeavours to provide the suitable alternative accommodation, either directly or through some oher agency, such as a neighbouring authority or a housing association. Meanwhile, of course, the ex-farm worker remains with full security of tenure.

The Government have set out to be fair. It has been put to me, nevertheless, that to require a housing authority to use its best endeavours in these circumstances is to impose only a weak duty. That is a point of view which I do not share. Nor do I think it is one which is likely to be shared by anyone who thinks seriously about the matter.

The decision will be taken by the housing authority, which will also be considering other applications for rehousing from persons on its housing list. If the Bill said that in every case of agricultural need, whether the need was very urgent or less urgent, the ex-farm worker must be given top priority for rehousing over all other claimants, the result would be unacceptable. It would mean a family with young children in overcrowded and unfit accommodation being passed over in favour of an ex-farm worker who was perfectly adequately housed in the farm cottage and whose replacement by a new worker, though desirable, was by no stretch of the imagination urgent and essential. I could not expect housing authorities made up of responsible elected members to abandon their responsibility for assessing priorities for rehousing and effectively put decisions on priority into the hands of the agricultural industry.

Mr. Goodhew

I apologise for interrupting the right hon. Gentleman again, but when he says that the local authority is to use its best endeavours to house these people and then goes on to say that someone has to decide how urgent it is that the cottage be occupied by another farm worker, how on earth is he or anyone else to decide what is to happen? Is he handing over to his right hon. Friend the responsibility for deciding whether there should be a herdsman in charge of a herd of cattle, or whatever it is? This is an essential part of the agriculture of this country. He cannot put that on to the local authority.

Mr. Shore

Nor would I seek to do so in the terms in which the hon. Gentleman has put it. Perhaps the point will come out more clearly when my hon. Friend speaks more fully on Clause 30 but, as the hon. Gentleman will recall, we have proposed that a statutory advisory committee be set up and it will in fact give that very advice, which I should certainly not feel at all capable of giving. But the committee will be able to give that advice and will be composed of people drawn from the industry who will know the circumstances of the farm. It is with that advice that the local authority will consider its duty to use its best endeavours to re-house.

Mr. Charles Morrison (Devizes)

Is it not likely to be the case that there will be varying standards of best endeavours in different parts of the country, and is it not the case that there is nothing in the Bill which insists that the local authority should take the advice of the advisory committee?

Mr. Shore

I agree that there could be a variety of interpretations. There could also be a variety of circumstances which make the variety of interpretations both necessary and right. The point ultimately is the confidence which we have in the combined effect of expert judgment being given by people drawn from the industry on the question of need and the confidence that we have in the responsibility and responsiveness of both housing and local authorities in seeking to meet local problems and, above all, in interpreting what is placed upon them as a duty in statutory form to use their best endeavours.

Mr. John MacGregor (Norfolk, South)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Shore

No. I should like to make some progress. I have not been unwilling to respond to interventions.

Another way in which the duty could, in theory, be tightened would be to make it absolute. It could simply state that, if satisfied that the application is made out, the authority shall rehouse. But that would be to impose a duty which, in some circumstances, could not be complied with, because, from the very moment that it arose, the authority would be failing to fulfil it as long as the ex-worker was not rehoused. Even with the best will in the world, suitable alternative accommodation cannot always be provided overnight.

I am convinced that there is no viable alternative to casting the duty in fairly general, although I believe cogent terms. Under the provisions of the Bill, housing authorities will be able to respond to the essential requirements of farming efficiency through flexible and appropriate administrative arrangements instead of, as now, having to try to cope on an emergency basis with the results of deadlines imposed by the courts. I have no doubt that with good will and common sense on all sides—I am sure that there is a good deal of both—this new system can and will work and that in every way it will be an improvement on the present scheme of things.

Tied cottages, although widely spread, are concentrated in certain areas—notably the South-West and the SouthEast—so that the burden on local authorities will be uneven. But a Bill which sets out to give security of tenure to farm workers and their families should not impose a sharp and heavy burden upon any individual authority. Rather, there will be an incentive upon farm workers, farmers and local authorities to co-operate.

Mr. MacGregor

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that many country areas—for example, Norfolk—have below average incomes in employment other than agriculture and that they have had higher than average rate increases in the past two years partly because of the switch of central Government grants to metropolitan areas. Will additional central Government funds be made available to local authorities which have specially heavy obligations imposed upon them by the provisions in the Bill?

Mr. Shore

The ordinary arrangements for housing—they are not restricted—are available to local authorities. I have no doubt that those facilities will be taken up rather more by authorities which are likely to find obligations imposed upon them under the provisions of the Bill.

We believe that the Bill will remedy an injustice. It will provide a fresh start —a new, coherent and comprehensive system for the three principal parties, the farmer, the farm worker and the local housing authority. In short, the Bill provides to farm workers and their families living in tied cottages security in their homes; to farmers with a genuine agricultural need for the cottage, first, open access to the housing authority and, secondly, a chance to establish that need with the advisory committee; and, to the housing authority, the opportunity to plan ahead for the conscientious discharge of its duty and to be ready to provide accommodation in the ongoing exercise of its housing responsibilities.

I confidently commend this measure to the House.

4.14 p.m.

Mr. Francis Pym (Cambridgeshire)

I declare an interest in that some of the men who work on my farm are housed in cottages which go with the farm.

The Secretary of State, opening the debate, referred to the discussions which had taken place between the various interests in the industry. The right hon. Gentleman said that they had taken place without rancour. I am sure that is true, for it is very much in the character and tradition of the industry. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman's speech was made without rancour, and I shall seek to do the same.

Despite the speech made by the Secretary of State, this is a bad Bill. It is obviously complicated, as he admitted, and I thought that he left a good deal of work to be done by his hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, including certain points about which I was not sure that the right hon. Gentleman was altogether clear.

At any rate, the Bill is difficult to understand and is bound to be uncertain in its operation. It is a good example of what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) and his colleagues were trying to rectify in their report on the preparation of legislation. I do not mean any disrespect to the draftsmen, who draft upon instructions.

In the speech which we have just heard, some desirable and theoretical objectives emerged, but the case for the Bill as it stands was not made out. If, as the Minister said, it is so good, why does it not apply to Scotland? The answer is that the agricultural section of the Transport and General Workers Union is against it. On the other hand, the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers has been campaigning for the abolition of tied houses for many years, and this is the Government's attempt to satisfy that aspiration.

The Bill is unnecessary. Few people want it. According to the Arthur Rank Centre report, only 5.3 per cent. of farm workers questioned about it thought it desirable to abolish the tied cottage system. Other surveys have produced other assessments, but nothing which could remotely be described as a widespread desire for a change of this kind has been shown to exist.

Apart from a number of particular problems, to which I shall come later, these proposals will not help the expansion of home grown food supplies, which is a vital national necessity now in view of the huge increase in the cost of our food imports as a result of the fall in the value of the pound. Nor do I think that these proposals are of any real benefit to farm workers, though I recognise that some of them will welcome the Bill.

At no stage in the discussions on this subject has anyone denied that there are a very few cases of distressing hardship as a result of evictions. The consultative document is fair. In paragraph 8 it refers to "a handful of cases". The National Farmers' Union talks about 20 to 30 cases a year. But compare that with a case which occurred last September in which 10 families were being evicted by the National Coal Board in one town at the same time. That does not seem to disturb the. Government in any way, but the far fewer number of cases, although only a handful, in agriculture causes them to bring forward this substantial piece of legislation.

Altogether there are, as we know, about 1,000 or so court orders each year, many of which are obtained by collusion between the parties—I agree that that is not a happy aspect of the present system—but only a handful of cases end in most unhappy circumstances. I think that the House would be in favour of finding ways of eradicating all such instances if that were possible. But the Bill will not end hard cases—indeed, it may increase them—and it will certainly change the precise circumstances in which they occur.

The Bill will bring about new problems, and that worries me because we are dealing with families and with people. In some ways the Bill does not go as far as the Government's earlier statements indicated. In so far as the Bill represents a genuine attempt at a compromise between the dogma of the Labour Party and common sense, it is to be welcomed.

The Bill does not actually abolish tied houses. It does not remove the right of a farmer to house his staff in his own dwellings. Nor does it give full security of tenure to farm workers. It attempts to give security of housing, but in a way which will affect many other families.

Local authorities and others will have to take decisions which will lead to hardship somewhere. From that point of view, we are being taken from the existing system with its advantages and defects—nothing is perfect—to something which will not work. If the supply of houses available were better, it would be easier. The agricultural industry has invested heavily in housing to the benefit of everyone on the land. Until a year or so ago new houses were being added to the stock, which is regarded as being of a pretty good standard in agriculture. But, because of the high taxation which we all suffer under this Government and the lack of long-term confidence in which they have enshrouded our economy, the majority of planned building of new agricultural houses has been shelved. The Country Landowners Association pointed that out in evidence to the Wealth Tax Committee. The Association said that about two-thirds of planned housebuilding on farms had been postponed or abandoned.

The report from the Department of Land Economy at Cambridge, published last March, in paragraph 27 states: On the 40 farms in the sample, —admittedly, they were fairly large farms of about 1,000 acres— plans to build 29 new houses have been deferred or given up altogether and plans to make substantial improvements to other houses similarly deferred. When the House considers the extent to which agriculture has contributed to the provision and improvement of housing in the countryside, almost all the finance coming from its own resources, it must conclude that any damage to the continuation of investment in housing in the industry is a bad act of government.

There are already too many disincentives to the industry and the Bill adds another formidable one. Worse than that I fear that the existing stock of houses available to agriculture will be reduced by changes in occupation, sales or other reasons.

The Bill proposes a highly complicated procedure for rehousing and gaining repossession. One must ask whether that will work better than the existing system, because if it does not it will be harmful to make the change. The main difficulty lies in the proposed arrangements for finding alternative accommodation. If the farmer has not another house to offer—and most have not—the plan is to try to use the resources of the local authorities. At least to a small extent, that happens already by mutual agreement or as a result of a court order. But in the Bill the obligation on the housing authorities is limited and circumscribed. There is no certainty about it. Clause 29 (6) states that authorities must use their best endeavours to provide the suitable alternative accommodation. Naturally, the farming world is dismayed and alarmed by such phraseology because it is not solid or definite. Nor does it match up to the undertaking given by the Parliamentary Secretary when speaking about the need to ensure a root over the head of the farm worker and to provide on-farm accommodation. He said: This is likely to be best met by putting a formal responsibility on the local authority to provide suitable alternative accommodation. It sounded then as if there would be an absolute obligation on local authorities but we know that that is not so.

Mr. Shore

There will be an obligation.

Mr. Pym

The right hon. Gentleman says that it is an obligation, but if an alternative dwelling were not forthcoming from the local authority the farmer could be in dire trouble. There can be no confidence that the Bill will work satisfactorily. The industry would like to see an absolute obligation on authorities to make a house available. That would solve their problem which in many cases cannot wait. But if such an obligation were to be imposed it would be at another family's expense. The imposition of yet another overriding duty on local authorities is, to say the least, controversial. They already have a duty towards the homeless and ex-Service men, and even that is not foolproof.

The Chairman of the Association of District Councils put the issue fairly in his letter to the Daily Telegraph on 27th April when he said: The Government is in no position to tell any district council whom they should or should not house. The letter continues: The more special cases therefore that have to be met, the longer will those on council housing waiting lists have to wait their turn for accommodation …The tied-cottage question cannot be looked at in isolation. It is part of the local overall housing problem, and I am certain that district councils will continue to meet their obligations in this field as they are already doing in cases where farm workers and others are required to vacate their tied accommodation. The Bill to some extent acknowledges the sentiment of that letter because in using their best endeavours authorities are charged in Clause 29(7) to take into account the urgency of the case, the competing claims on the accommodation which they can provide and the resources at their disposal. That provides more than adequate grounds for refusing which many district councils might have to do, however reluctantly, because of long waiting lists and all the other deserving cases which they must consider. So, in a well-intentioned attempt to be fair all round everyone is put in an invidious position and local authorities might have to make some terrible choices.

Farmers believe that there is no method of enforcement and they cannot therefore be expected to have confidence in the system. That will affect their attitude to the other houses they have available at present. Estimates of the number of houses available vary from 3,000 to 12,000—the number mentioned in the consultative document—but, according to the Tavistock Institute report, many are being repaired. Whatever the number, it is minuscule in relation to the 850,000 estimated unoccupied houses in Britain today. If the houses can be released it would be of benefit. That requires either the certainty of alternative accommodation for the farm worker or some scheme for letting on a purely temporary basis.

That is described in paragraph 12 of the consultative document which describes how such an arrangement might work. The scheme is often referred to as the "North Wiltshire Scheme" which is practised by about 40 local authorities. That is a side issue to this Bill but I hope that it will receive further study, because the House wants to see the best use of our housing stock.

If we impose an absolute obligation of the local authorities we are unfair to them and those on their housing lists. If we do not impose that obligation we place agriculture in an uncertain and unsatisfactory position. It can be compared to the irresistible force meeting the immovable post. It is a contradiction in terms.

In itself, that is enough to condemn the Bill, but there are other criticisms to make. The proposed process for obtaining possession is complicated and cumbersome. It is also expensive, as the Financial Memorandum makes clear. It would cost an extra £5 million to £6 million over each of the next five years without much noticeable advantage. If there were ever a time not to put extra burdens and expenses on local authorities it is now, and surely, it is contrary to Government policy.

Apart from the cost, there is now the likelihood, in many cases, of delays in regaining possession, with all the serious consequences for the farmers involved. If the farmer has no other suitable dwelling to offer, which few of them have, he approaches the local authority. However willing to help, the local authority may be reluctant or unable to make an offer and may require proof that vacant possession of a particular house is needed in the interests of efficient agriculture.

That involves the activation of the agriculture dwelling houses advisory committee, which must be appointed and convened. That takes time since it must deliberate, decide and report back. In some cases the Minister of Agriculture may be interested, as Clause 30(8) indicates. The length of time taken will vary, although I think that all those interested will understand the urgency of the matter and come to the quickest possible conclusion. But it will be a highly significant conclusion with far-reaching implications for the farmer.

Should there not, therefore, be provision for some kind of appeal procedure? That would cause further delay, but in a case where the advisory committee found against the farmer, should there not be a right of appeal because of the serious implications for the farmer? I cannot think that it would be invoked often, but it should be there. I shall be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary refers to that possibility in his winding-up speech.

I hope that full use will be made of the land agency and surveyor's profession, which, not unnaturally perhaps, is not mentioned in the Bill but which has great experience of everyone on all sides involved in agriculture.

Having gone through this process, the local authority is required to do no more than to take full account of any advice tendered", to quote Clause 29(4). It will do that of course and, hopefully, in most cases act in accordance with advice—but again there is no certainty. I ask the Minister where and how the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service comes into all this. Apparently it is willing and eager to advise, but there is no mention of it in the Bill. The House would like to know what rôle, if any, is envisaged for it.

Finally, on this central aspect of the Bill, suppose all the decisions are in favour of granting the farmer vacant possession but in the final stage the housing authority says "No". Suppose it says that it is sorry but it cannot provide another house. What happens then? Every approach and representation will have been made, taking much time and perhaps much expense, but to no avail. I suppose the farmer can take the local authority to court, but what a daunting prospect, and what a lengthy and expensive procedure! Anyway, what case could there be? The local authority will not necessarily have done anything wrong. It will have had other considerations to overlay its decision. So there could be a complete impasse. I suppose that the farmer might have a case for damages because of the delay, but I do not see how even that allegation could easily be made to stand up.

If we must have such a scheme—and we on the Conservative Benches do not agree with it, because of its complexity —have the Government considered giving the agricultural dwelling-houses advisory committees more power? Would not an element of greater certainty be introduced if the advisory committee's advice, subject to appeal, were invested with the power of direction—the suggestion which has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison)? I do not like direction, but a method must be found to prevent the whole rehousing process envisaged here ending, even in only a few cases, in a nonsense.

I confess to a natural dislike of Part V. It is the insidious process of more and more people looking further and further into other people's business, and all at public expense. Can there be enough advantage for the industry to justify the cost and the time It must mean still more forms or another questionnaire, and yet more visits to busy farmers. What the country needs in its present economic troubles—and the Government at least pay lip service to this, even if their actions often contradict their words—is a single-minded dedication to productive output and efficiency. That must apply to farming as to all else. Deliberate diversion into a cul-de-sac such as this could be a waste of time and effort when everybody on the land should be getting on with other things.

It is not clear to me what are the precise powers of the local authorities under Part V. Clause 31(4) (b ) refers to the notification to local authorities, and instructs them to inform that person what action, if any, they propose to take as a result of the notice with respect to the dwelling-house. What are the options and criteria? We should like an assurance that nothing like a compulsory purchase order either could or would be contemplated. What is meant by those words?

As for Clause 35, I intensely dislike the Government's waiving a planning condition that they find inconvenient and absolving themselves by Act of Parliament from a difficulty that no citizen or organisation could circumvent. I know that the Bill could not work without that clause, but that is another good reason for not having the Bill.

I turn to another aspect, the qualifying period, which we on the Conservative Benches believe is too short. Ninety-one weeks' work on the land out of 104 to qualify under the Bill is too brief and insignificant a period. Double that period or, say, five years out of the last 10 would be more appropriate. To activate the procedures and conditions laid down here on the basis of only 91 weeks' work is out of proportion. We shall press this point. The Secretary of State said that he was immovable on it, but I hope that he will look at it again. Many people would be quite happy to do farm work for just a couple of years to establish certain rights. I believe that the farm workers themselves, highly skilled and professional as they are, would wish for a more realistic and substantial qualification.

I doubt whether farmers will risk taking on a farm worker on that basis. After all, the wife or family might find that they disliked the isolation after two years. Agriculture has gained a great deal over the years from new entrants from outside the industry. Employers will have to take great care now to prove what previous work a prospective new employee has done.

This qualifying period applies to work done anywhere in the European Community. I should be very surprised if the Secretary of State found as a result of his inquiries anything that could be described as a reciprocal arrangement in any other country in the Community. That is extremely unlikely. His hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett) made a substantive point to which the House will wish an answer. Even if it did not apply to the Community, a farmer would certainly require to know accurately whether a new man or woman had worked in agriculture for any part of the previous 104 weeks. A stiffer qualifying test would be acceptable throughout the industry, including farm workers, and would be more appropriate.

I also want to raise a point about Clause 5 and the width of these provisions for the dependants of a deceased farm worker to become statutory tenants. The industry has a good record and reputation for looking after its workers' families no less than its workers, but under these provisions a principle of succession is established which extends security of housing to those with no connection with agriculture except through parentage. Clearly, that would not apply in every case, because many sons or daughters would follow on. Of course, the widow or dependent family must be housed, but these houses are indispensable to agriculture. Whatever arrangements are made must take that into account. There is also a slight disincentive to a farmer to take on an older man. Has that aspect been considered?

Here I should like to mention particularly retired farm workers and their housing. This section of the community has always been given special consideration. I understand from all the reports I have read that about 20,000 tied houses are now occupied by pensioners. Housing authorities have also been very helpful here. Some operate a scheme begun in Hampshire under which farm workers put their names on the council list five years or so before retirement. This has proved effective and has worked smoothly. It is an area of the rehousing problem where the local authorities could be willing to play a part on the basis of an absolute duty. I think that they will accept that four or five years' notice is a very different proposition from a sudden request as envisaged under the Bill.

I remind the House that we are debating the Bill against the ever-increasing, important and urgent need to expand our agricultural output. This is an overriding national objective. The Secretary of State said blandly that in his opinion the Bill would have no effect on that, but we cannot escape the overriding need to increase the output from our own land and resources.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Will my right hon. Friend direct his comments particularly to the livestock farmer? How is the livestock farmer to cope and look after his livestock in the long-drawn-out procedures laid down in the Bill? Is it not likely that such farmers will come out of livestock production entirely, and therefore defeat the purpose laid out so clearly in the Government's White Paper "Food From Our Own Resources"?

Mr. Pym

My hon. Friend is right in that the livestock sector is the sector most directly affected, because that is where there is the absolute necessity for farmworkers to be on the job, housed very close to the farm. I am sure that livestock farmers will have these anxieties. It does, of course, particularly apply to that sector because animals cannot be left for very long. It is the delay and the uncertainty of the arrangements in this Bill which are causing such anxiety.

I quote from paragraph 9 in the consultative document which says: The tied cottage system is concentrated within that sector of the agricultural industry which makes the overwhelming contribution to the nation's larder and its balance of payments. This imposes on us a duty and a responsibility to think very hard before tinkering about with one element in the highly successful performance of our food producers. One of the many reasons for this success has been the mobility of labour combined with excellent promotion prospects and opportunities in agriculture.

Farm workers can, and do, go up the ladder to managerial level, but it could not happen without the housing system. Promotion has not been hindered or hampered by house hunting problems. What has been happening for years in agriculture is the envy of other industries in which the work forces have faced insupable difficulties in moving house. One reason for our comparatively poor performance nationally is the difficulty of moving the labour force. In agriculture there is nothing to stop mobility of labour, and nothing to stop the worker from getting to the top. It will be more complicated and more uncertain now if the Government have their way. In addition, the industry is being discouraged from providing housing on the massive scale we have known.

The consultative document also says in paragraph 28 in relation to the Tavistock Institute report: By any reckoning therefore, agriculture has made a contribution towards employee housing which is notable both in itself and by comparison with provision in many other major industries. I also quote the last paragraph of the summary to which I have referred, which was undertaken by the University of Cambridge Department of Land Economy, where it says: New investment projects have been delayed, partly as a result of uncertainty over the tied cottage. Over the country as a whole, the number of houses which might have been built by farmers and which may have been lost for ever, represents a deplorable loss. Despite their good record on housing, the agricultural and forestry industries have been singled out by the Government in the Bill not, in my view, for the benefit of farm workers or food production but to satisfy their own outdated political dogmas. This Bill touches only one-tenth of tied houses. The Secretary of State cannot claim that he has justified it this afternoon. It is ill-timed, and, in its present form, is not properly workable. I advise the House to vote it down tonight.

4.43 p.m.

Miss Joan Maynard (Sheffield, Bright-side)

In the last 30 years there have been 27 Acts of Parliament for farmers. There have been only two for farm workers. The Bill makes a third and to some extent redresses the balance. I welcome the Bill and thank the Government for honouring a long-standing pledge by the Labour Party on this issue, which is so important to farm workers. It is particularly important that the Bill gives security of tenure.

I will deal with the points that the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) made about lack of rancour in our industry. I have been connected with this industry all my life, and I have heard a great deal about the good relations and co-operation in it. In practice, my experience has been that all the cooperation has come from our people and that all has been well until there has been difficulty about tied cottages, for whatever reason. It could be that there is a disagreement with the employer, a man could be too ill to work in the industry, he could have an accident which prevents him from continuing his work in the industry, or he could become too old. Then what happens to the good will? I have known men who worked for farmers for 30 years, and they have said to me "I have a good boss." Suddenly that boss changes when the worker can no longer work on the farm, and bang goes the good will.

Again, the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire says that farmers have a history of caring for their men and the families. I wish very much that I had taped the many stories of anguish told to me by farm workers which give the lie to what the right hon. Member says. He talks about the number of evictions, and I agree that the number in the industry has been greatly reduced. But eviction is merely the tip of the iceberg. It is not whether a person is evicted, it is whether the power is there to do it. That is what counts. This power has hung like the sword of Damocles over the heads of our people for many years.

This is a historic day for farm workers. The point has been made consistently by farmers, and again today by the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, that farm workers do not want the Bill. That is the kind of statement which is heard from the bosses, and when the farm workers say it they are simply mouthing the bosses' arguments. Of course, they are still living in tied houses. It is the farm workers' union which speaks for farm workers. I have been a member of that union for 30 years and I cannot remember a single resolution—

Mr. Colin Shepherd (Hereford)

The membership of the National Union of Agricultural and Allied workers is only 39 per cent. of all farm workers. How can the hon. Member for Sheffield, Bright-side (Miss Maynard) claim that she speaks for all farm workers?

Miss Maynard

I do not accept the hon. Member's figure. Our union represents over 50 per cent. in the country as a whole and many more in certain counties.

I cannot remember a single branch meeting or county or national conference where there has been a resolution calling for the retention of agricultural tied cottages. But I can remember many calling for the abolition of the system.

Mr. Corbett

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the only place where one finds that kind of unanimity among farm workers is in the graveyard?

Miss Maynard

That may be a good way of putting it. Farm workers are a very skilled group and are among the most important workers in the country, with a production record second to none. Unfortunately, we live in a society which is not concerned about loyalty, hard work and honesty. It is a society in which people get only what they fight for and what they are strong enough to enforce. If that had not been the case this Bill would have come many years ago.

The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire says that this is a matter of dogma. Anything with which the Opposition disagree becomes a matter of dogma. The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire talks about a lack of houses in rural areas. There is a lack of houses everywhere, but I hope that he does not blame farm workers for that. It is his people who own the land, his people who mainly control the local authorities in those areas, and his people have often been in Government.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

The hon. Lady mentioned that one gets in this world only what one fights for, and she implied that because the union was not very strong it had not managed to secure the abolition of the tied cottage. Is she suggesting that the National Union of Mineworkers is insufficiently strong to secure the abolition of miners' tied cottages?

Miss Maynard

No, but because the NUM is so strong it does not have the problem which exists in the agricultural industry.

The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire said that on many occasions the farmer will be unable to provide an alternative house. There are 12,000 empty tied houses. The tied cottage system is feudal. It gives a bad image to the industry and I would have hoped that the farmers would be glad to be rid of it. I forecast that once the system has been ended a few years the farmers will have forgotten all about it and all about the hoo-ha they are now creating.

We in the union do not accept that the livestock farmer needs a cottage to enable him to carry on his business. There are such things as telephones and cars these days. Let me remind the House that I was brought up on a farm and I understand about cows calving in the middle of the night—

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)

Do they ring you up and tell you?

Miss Maynard

It is possible for the farmer easily to telephone the stockman or the dairyman and to have him on the farm within 10 minutes. How does the farmer manage to get the veterinary surgeon to the farm? The vets do not live on the farms, and but for the dairy herds many of the vets could well go out of business.

Farmers have security of tenure. I support that, and I support the new clauses in the Agricultural (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill to extend that security of tenure to the nearest relative, with certain conditions. But why should farm workers not enjoy the same kind of security? The tied cottage system is inhuman and has meant untold suffering for farm workers and particularly for their wives. It is wrong for any man's home to depend on his job. I do not believe that any hon. Member would like to be in that situation.

Mr. Cormack

The Prime Minister does.

Miss Maynard

That comment is almost beneath contempt. There is no comparison between the Prime Minister and the farm worker, and there is a difference in their respective incomes. Under the system the children of farm workers suffer because they are moved from place to place, and that interferes with their education.

Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall )

Does my hon. Friend recall that the wife of the previous Prime Minister disowned that tied cottage and refused to live in it?

Miss Maynard

I was at 10 Downing Street when I said to the last Prime Minister that it was the nicest tied cottage I had ever been in. He replied that he had opted out of the system. I appreciated that because neither he nor his wife liked it any more than our people do.

The real answer to the tied cottage system is to pay the rate for the job to the farm worker with his many skills so that he can buy a home of his own like other people.

It will, of course, be said that there are many other groups of workers who live in tied accommodation. That is wrong, too. We shall be asked why the Government have singled out the farm workers. The reason is that they have suffered longer and much more severely than any other group. They are more vulnerable because they work in small groups or singly. They live in rural areas which are dominated by landowners and farmers, and their trade union is not as strong as those of the industrial workers. Many more farm workers are dragged through the courts than any other group of workers, often because they have simply become too ill to work in the industry, because they have had an accident and can no longer work, or perhaps because they have simply reached retirement age. Our people have therefore been humiliated by being dragged through the courts like common criminals.

Mr. Cormack

Why does the hon. Member persist in talking about "our people" and "his people" and all such divisive nonsense? If the farm workers have been suffering as much as she suggests, why did they not all join her union?

Miss Maynard

I did not create the division. It is there in reality. Ellen Wilkinson, who was a highly respected Member of this House, said that the Tories did not preach class war because they were much too busy practising it.

It is no good the Conservatives saying that this has become an expedient for securing council accommodation, in other words that there is collusion between the farmer and the farm worker in order to get a court order, and that that is why many of our people are taken through the courts. That may be true, but the practice flows from the tied cottage system. If that system did not exist our people could not be dragged through the courts in this way.

Mr. Hugh Rossi (Homsey)

Surely the need for the collusion and subterfuge arises from the reluctance of local authorities to rehouse at an early date. They will rehouse only where there is a possession order, and that forces the parties to go through the paraphernalia of getting a possession order. Without that requirement the collusion would be unnecessary.

Miss Maynard

The collusion would be unnecessary if the system did not exist. The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire said that local authorities had to house many other people. When it is suggested that many other types of workers live in tied cottages it should be remembered that no other union pays out as much as between £10,000 and £15,000 a year in defending their members in the courts as does the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers. I have often been with our people at court hearings and I know the anguish they suffer on these occasions. I heard a judge say to one couple It may be a hard thing for me to say to you, but land is more important than people. The truth will out. That remark is the truth of the matter and has been the truth for many years as our people have been kicked around in this rotten system. The Bill will restore dignity and human status to farm workers.

Farmers say the Bill will be ruinous for the industry and ask how they will be able to get workers if they cannot offer tied houses. I will give them the answer, though I am sure they know it already. The way to acquire a labour force is to pay the rate for the job in an open, free and competitive market for labour. They are always saying that they believe in freedom and competition. Why de we not have some freedom of competition in this situation?

Farm workers leave the industry not because they do not like the job but because it is impossible to bring up a family on the level of wages paid in the industry.

Mr. David James (Dorset, North)

Does the hon. Lady know of any farm worker who is in fact getting the basic agricultural wage and not considerably more?

Miss Maynard

That depends very much on the area in which a farm worker is living. In a low wage area such as Norfolk, where there is less competition for jobs, farm workers might well be fairly near the basic rate in many cases. If they live near industrial Teesside, they will be getting more than the basic rate because farmers have to compete with the adjacent industries for labour. If the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. James) thinks that most farm workers are receiving a high rate, why does he think the NFU resists so bitterly every wage claim we make?

Mr. Shepherd

Surely the NFU opposes wage claims so strenuously because it knows that people of the likes of the hon. Lady will be crawling all over their backs with every increase in food prices which the extra wages produce.

Miss Maynard

It is rather difficult to interpret that intervention. We have quite high food prices and very low wages in the industry. I hope the hon. Member is not suggesting that the wages of farm workers have produced high food prices in this country.

We have heard a great deal about the burden which the Bill will place on local authorities. This could easily be overcome if farmers paid the rate for the job so that farm workers could afford to but their own homes.

Abolition of the tied cottage system is a key question for farm workers. It is inexorably linked to the battle for better wages, as the farmers well understand. Militancy is a dirty word among employers because it means that people are willing to speak their minds and to fight for better wages and conditions. How can a person fight for better wages when his home depends on his job? What greater sanction can there be against anyone? I know of workers who have spoken out or written to the Press urging more militancy on wages by the union subsequently being sacked and put out of their homes. About 10 days ago, I had great difficulty persuading farm workers in a tied house to agree to be interviewed on television. So much for our much-vaunted freedom. Where the tied cottage system exists, freedom goes out of the window.

The Bill is crucial for farm workers, but some improvements are necessary. The Government said in their consultative document in August that the aim was: to disengage the farm worker's job from his home". That is the crux of the matter and I believe that aim to be right.

Under the Bill, there are two kinds of tenants—protected occupants and statutory tenants. The protected occupant is a farm worker who has the same rent relationship with his employer as at present. He has a so-called privileged rent, which is less than the statutory rent, and presumably he will have no rent book.

I want to see all farm workers become statutory tenants. As long as the relationship between farmer and farm worker in relation to rent remains the same, there will not be the complete disengagement between a worker's job and his home which the Government have said they believe to be essential. No one wants to be obligated to his landlord, let alone to his employer. As long as privileged rents remain, they will continue to act as bait to bring people into the industry.

Privileged rents will be part of a man's wage and he will still be in a grace and favour situation in relation to his employer. Privileged rents deter farm workers from asking for their just deserts. They will be asked to do overtime and weekend work and to accept lower wages in return for the so-called privilege of a lower rent. We know that nobody in our society is given any privilege without paying for it and farm workers have always paid very dearly, particularly in terms of wages, for this privilege.

The gap between the average pay of farm workers and industrial workers is now £17 a week and it has been getting wider over the years. This is an expensive payment for the so-called privilege of a lower rent. That £17 a week is the real rent of the cottage.

I believe that the Bill should also cover estate workers who do some farm work and who are essential to the running of the industry and whose wages are closely related to farm workers, and gardeners who, like farm workers, grow food and whose wages are also closely related to those of farm workers. This is an issue we can deal with in Committee. It would be wrong to exclude these workers from the Bill.

The Opposition believe that the qualifying period laid down in the Bill should be extended. I think that it should be reduced. I understand the reason for this period and welcome the fact that it relates to time spent in the industry and not on a particular farm. But a year would be much more appropriate. Surely that should be long enough for a farmer to know whether a worker is suitable. If he is unsuitable, surely it is the farmer's mistake for engaging him in the first instance. The worker should not be penalised for that mistake.

I end as I began by welcoming the Bill. It has been a long and hard fight to get this far. Personally I shall devote every moment of my time to ensure that the Bill becomes an Act. I believe that I was sent to the House to help working people. As a sponsored Member of Parliament for farm workers, I shall rejoice with them when the Bill becomes an Act.

5.11 p.m.

Mr. David James (Dorset, North)

Both my parents were farmers, and I, too, have been a farmer. I have a son who is an agricultural labour in all his inclinations. I have spent my life, bar the war years, in the countryside. With the utmost respect to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard), I cannot recognise the life of the countryside in the terms in which she describes it. It is not the country in which I live. She does not describe the people whom I meet in the local. The people she describes do not talk about the things that are spoken of by those I know. Nonetheless, I recognise the Bill's good intentions.

I believe that the Bill suffers from two defects. I ask the hon. Member for Brightside to consider seriously whether in practice the Bill will improve the lot of the farm labourer. Secondly, I think there is no doubt from every document that one has ever read on this subject that the Bill will have a disastrous impact on agricultural production. That is surely something we must consider carefully.

I am staggered that a country of animal lovers such as ours should even contemplate keeping livestock intensively without having people on the spot. I am staggered that it is not realised that skills are interchangeable in modern, highly integrated farms. A stockman may be down with flu or on holiday, in which case it must be the tractor driver who helps with the difficult birth of a calf. As all skills are interchangeable in farming, a specialised case cannot be made out for those who deal with stock on the premises, or for those who deal with machinery or cereals who are on a telephone perhaps only a few miles away.

Another vital matter is the time factor. Very often in cereal farming there may be an unexpectedly bright day when farm managers want to get people out an hour early for harvest purposes. I have suffered a great deal from this myself when my son has been working on a farm, as one telephone is in my bed-room. If the farm managers wanted to get him out of bed at five in the morning, the telephone would ring on my side of the bed. He was only a mile away from the farm, but there is an enormous advantage in people being really close to the farm on which they work.

Does the House appreciate the full extent to which a modern farm is labour intensive and a highly integrated exercise? I shall quote a specific case to illustrate my point. I have in mind a farmer who lives in my constituency but whose unit is just outside it. He has a unit with a thousand pedigree breeding sows turning out about 25,000 porkers a year. The farm is situated well away from anywhere else owing to the dangers of bacillus coli building up. It is surrounded by barbed wire almost as is a concentration camp. If the farm is approached by car it is necessary to drive through three basins of antiseptic. If hon. Members wanted to visit this farmer friend of mine—and they would be very welcome—they would have to strip to the buff, go through a shower and put on special clothes afterwards. That would apply even to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

The people who work in the unit very often have to go through that procedure four of five times a day. For example, they begin work early in the morning and go back for breakfast. When they return they have a second shower. When they return from lunch they have a third shower.

The unit is utterly dependent on eight people who live in a group of cottages rather like the fo'c'sle of a ship. They are, in effect, a ship's company. They are extremely highly paid. They have alternate weekends off and three weeks' holiday a year.

If a unit is to be run on that basis the farmer cannot afford to have one of his houses occupied by someone who is no longer part of the team. It is as though someone were to sign off his ship but keep his berth in the fo'c'sle. It just is not possible. The most enterprising farmers will be seriously wondering whether they should continue indulging in such a high degree of capita] expenditure. They will be considering whether they should be cutting back on housebuilding projects.

For many years there has been a group of contemplative nuns in my constituency. There are 40 or 50 old ladies living behind a grill. They are entirely dependent for their livelihood on their farm. It was very sad that a few years ago their farm manager died, leaving behind a wife and seven children in the manager's cottage, a cottage that was crucial to their livelihood. I agree that the hon. Member for Brightside and the Government Front Bench have a point which needs examining very carefully, but I had to tell the Reverend Mother, who is naturally a religious person, and very reluctant to do what I felt bound to advise, that she would have to go through the process of taking the family to court to gain possession. I told her that if she did not do so she would not be able to gain another manager. In the end she obtained a possession order and the family was at once rehoused by the local authority.

Miss Maynard

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the gentleman who died was just as crucial and important to his wife and seven children as he was to the nuns? Does he agree that the family was in a much more difficult position than those who wanted the house? Is not that the crux of the matter? It seems that the hon. Gentleman is saying that the need for a farmer to run his farm to make a profit is more important than the woman and family he has described having security of tenure. Does he appreciate the difficulties that she faced, especially at a time when she had lost her husband?

Mr. James

I think that the hon. Lady has missed the point of my story, which is that the farm was being run by 46 contemplative nuns. They may be called "the farmer", but 46 ladies of prayer have every bit as much right in this world as one woman with seven children. I agree that it is exceptionally difficult to get the balance right. The balance is not perfect at the moment, but I do not think it will be improved by the Bill.

I suggest that matters work as they now stand because a farmer can obtain a possession order and the local authority has to rehouse those who are homeless. In my opinion that is a great deal better than the situation which would apply under Clause 29(6), where a local authority would have to use only its "best endeavours" to provide suitable accommodation. All I am pleading for is balance.

Mr. Stanley Newens (Harlow)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there are many cases in which farm workers are evicted or faced with possession orders, cases in which the local authority will not rehouse? This happens when farm workers have failed to complete the residential period which is required by the local authority. Does he agree that farm workers in that position are faced by an impossible state of affairs?

Mr. James

I have no doubt that that may be so in some parts of country, but it is not in the area from which I come. All I know is that a really good stockman, or a skilled farm hand, can get a first-class job, and a better paid job, anywhere else in the country if for any reason he falls out with his boss.

5.19 p.m.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Hemel Hempstead)

No one can accuse the Government of rushing their fences. It was back in 1894 when the farm workers first started the campaign to abolish the tied cottage system. That was 82 years ago, and it is a testimony to the farm workers' patience and tolerance that it took them the best part of 30 years to persuade the Labour movement to associate itself with this view by including a promise to abolish tied cottages in an election manifesto in 1964.

I regret—but I am not surprised—that the Conservative Opposition have spoken in the debate in a way which demonstrates once again that both their faith and their feet are set firmly in feudalism. To stand up in the House and argue that a man's house shall be tied to his job is feudalism. The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym), to point a cliché, showed the unacceptable face of feudalism in his remarks from the Dispatch Box.

Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland)

Will the hon. Gentleman comment on the position in the coal industry? If it is feudalism in agriculture, surely it is feudalism in the coal industry?

Mr. Corbett

I am coming to that. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard) demonstrated the vast difference between the muscle power of the National Union of Mineworkers and the muscle power of the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers.

We are all extremely grateful for the large number of interesting and helpful reports and surveys that have been sent to us. The Grubb Institute Report published in November of last year, "The Future of Agricultural Housing" in commenting on the consultative document, argued the case for an agricultural housing agency. In paragraph 6.3 the Institute came to this conclusion: We regard the severing of the tied relationship as of major importance, because our analysis indicates that this relationship is the key factor leading to the intense feelings within the agricultural industry about tied cottages. We do not have to accept all we are told by these surveys, but at the least they tell us what we did not know before. I regard that extract from the report as a significant comment.

One of my criticisms of the Bill is that it leaves that position unchanged, because protection and security do not come into play until there is a breakdown in the relationship. Opposition Members should bear in mind that to this extent the Government have listened to the comments of the National Farmers' Union and others upon the consultative document. It is unfair to suggest, as the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire suggested, that the Government are acting out of blind dogma and have gone ahead without consultation and without taking into account comments made in consultation.

The relationship between the farmer and the farm worker is fundamental. The farm worker starts off with an unfair disadvantage in his dealings with the farmer. He knows that if he pushes matters too hard—especially if he brings in his union—he can end up by putting his family on the street. Opposition Members should respect and acknowledge that fear. They may say that this is not the way to deal with that fear, but it is wrong to pretend that the fear does not exist.

I welcome the Bill to the extent that it gives farm workers what they have sought since 1894—added security for the tenant. I also believe that the proposal for advisory committees with independent chairmen will be welcomed by the industry. That proposal will result in keeping these matters out of the courts, and that is a step forward. The decision is left in the hands of those who work in and know the industry, and that is an advantage. We might speculate that certain aspects could go wrong, but at the point of arbitration the people who will take the decisions will have experience and knowledge of the industry and its quirks.

A report sent to us by the Arthur Rank Centre was not welcomed by the General Secretary of the NUAAW. The report argued primarily for a licensing system, which did not find favour with the General Secretary. A comprehensive survey was carried out, from which it emerges that the most universal single reason it is possible to isolate for the intense feeling that is experienced is insecurity. Whether that feeling is real or imagined, it is there. Farm workers face the fear that after a row with the boss, or the death of the farmer and a change of ownership, they may be rendered homeless. It is as well for us to accept with some humility that no hon. Member on either side of the House has to face that prospect. Even if an hon. Member had to face such a problem his salary is slightly different from that earned by an agricultural worker.

The report comments on the findings of the survey as follows: That there is a need for some sort of remedy for insecurity is evidenced by the 54 per cent. of our sample who mentioned insecurity as one of the disadvantages of the tied cottage. We cannot know from our survey just how great an anxiety this factor is, but no other disadvantage was mentioned by more than 11.6 per cent. of our sample. Those interviewed were encouraged to mention as many factors as they liked, but insecurity was mentioned nearly five times as often as any other disadvantage. The National Farmers' Union, in the brief which it helpfully sent to us for the debate, argues that not all farm workers wish for this change. I accept that absolutely. Why should we expect unanimity among farm workers on this or any other matter any more than we would expect to find unanimity amongst vicars, bank managers or Members of Parliament? Of course there will be differences of view. The secretary of the branch of the NUAAW nearest to my constituency wrote to a farming journal putting on record his individual view that the tied cottage system worked well in his experience. The views of people on both sides of the industry will be coloured by individual experience. Not every farmer takes the view of the National Farmers' Union. It is idle to pretend that all do.

The survey which has been sent to us by the Royal Agricultural Society of England, conducted by Dr. Ruth Gasson, an agricultural economist at the University of Cambridge, is a survey of 40 farms in the South of England, and it is purely random. But it makes the point, to which not all members of the NFU suscribe, that, Farmers thought it essential for the proper running of the farm to have 60 per cent. of their employees living on the premises". It goes on to give some percentages. There are differences of emphasis within the ranks of the NFU itself on the provisions of this Bill. I would expect to find that this difference of emphasis has a lot to do with the kind of enterprise in which they are engaged.

It is perhaps a little easy to overstate the industry's case for having people living actually next door to the particular enterprise. I acknowledge that there is a case although some of my hon. Friends may not go that far. However, the fact of the matter is that at the moment about 52 per cent. of full-time farm workers in England and Wales live in tied cottages. Therefore, almost half of our farming enterprises manage to exist without their workers living in tied cottages. I do not want to make heavy weather of this but one would like to know the percentage of farmers who actually employ farm workers. That is just another straw in the wind.

I must also confess to amazement over the attitude of farmers generally as stated in this debate. It strikes me as quite extraordinary that farmers should have volunteered over the years to provide housing for those who work with them. It is an additional capital investment and expense on top of the rates and taxes which, like the rest of us, they are paying. They have the right to expect that in return for those rates and taxes, like any other member of the community, housing should, by and large, be made available.

It is quite an extraordinary phenomenon in this industry and something flows from it. Anyone with even the most brief acquaintance of the industry must be horrified by the inevitable photographs which appear on television screens, and in newspapers, of the heartbreak of evictions with bailiffs smashing down the doors, crying children, and with the police standing by to see that there is no physical violence. That is a situation which the industry has very much brought on itself because over the years it has said "Do not bother about it. We will provide the housing."

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

The hon. Gentleman paints a picture of evictions from agricultural houses, with people crying outside, as though it occurs only in this industry. It also occurs frequently with local authorities. In the London borough of Camden, for instance, there have been frequent intrusions by television cameras when tenants have been evicted and they may suffer far more under the tyranny of a bad local authority than they ever would under farmers.

Mr. Corbett

I think the hon. Lady misunderstands me. I am not saying that evictions happen only in agriculture. I am saying that many times when evictions are in the news, in my experience, they happen to be in agriculture, and that gives the industry a bad name. Whether she agrees or not, that is the point I am making. I am not saying that it happens exclusively in the agricultural industry.

There was talk earlier about the need, under existing legislation, for a certain amount of collusion between farmers, as employers, and farm workers to secure repossession of cottages by trying to secure rehousing of a worker who was leaving the farm. This also happens in urban areas, too. We all know it does. But it is worth making the point that, by and large, in rural areas it has taken place with Tory dominated councils which have not been carrying out their housing responsibilities. Those farmers, who act in collusion, as employers, are often the self-same councillors because that is the nature of representation on many of those bodies who turn a blind eye to this sort of thing.

This leads me to a more serious point. In the Arthur Rank survey it was pointed out that only 18 per cent. of farm workers living in tied accommodation have their names on local authority housing lists. I find that quite incredible. I have discussed it with farm workers in my own constituency who say—and I understand it—that they do not want to go and live on a council estate or that the estate is in the wrong place. I repeatedly say to them, "Put your name down and have it there as a safety measure if nothing else. You do not have to take up the offer of the council house if and when it is made by the local authority, but if you leave it until you have to call on existing legislation, and find yourselves at the mercy of the local authority, the first question they will ask is 'Are you on the housing list, and for how long?' ". I hope that the union, of which my hon. Friend the Member for Brightside is such a distinguished member, will see whether some encouragement can be given to its members about this suggestion.

The House will agree that, by and large, the agricultural industry has a very good record of labour relations primarily because of the nature of the activity itself. It is almost becoming unique for a man to be his own boss, to work with his own hands and skills and talents, and to be left to get on with the job. There is also, of course, the devotion of farm workers to a job which they enjoy doing. We should acknowledge that. Anything we do in this House should help that process and not hinder it. It is for this reason that the Bill is to be welcomed despite some of the criticisms made of it. This industry does not just need skilled men and women. Increasingly, it needs to retain them. One way in which we shall help to retain a skilled and devoted labour force, which must be the envy of many other industries, is by removing the uncertainty which, I have no doubt, many of those living in tied cottages feel.

I have referred to the brief given by the NFU. It is not overstating the case to say that I do not read into that brief total opposition by the NFU to this measure. I was at a meeting of Tring NFU last night. We meet about once a year for a lively exchange of views. No one at that meeting spoke against the principle of this measure. They were concerned about someone going off and working in a Common Market country.

The second point which came up—and it has been referred to in the debate—is that there is a phrase in the Bill about local authorities using "best endeavours" on rehousing. I understand the NFU's fears. They are wondering whether there are ways, during the Committee stage, in which the obligation, or commitment, could be written more firmly into the legislation to try to relieve them of some of their justifiable anxieties. It is one thing to say that there will be an obligation to rehouse, but it is an industry which needs people and workers to live near their enterprises. They want to be assured that when these problems do arise they will be dealt with as speedily as possible.

I hope that the Bill gets a Second Reading and goes on to become the law because I believe that it is right to enact it. It is right that this House should say to those who provide us with a large proportion of our food, "We see no reason why you should not stand in the same fair and free relationship with your employer as every other worker in the country."

5.40 p.m.

Mr. Colin Shepherd (Hereford)

I am glad to be able to agree with some of the comments of the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett). I have tried to approach the Bill from the viewpoint of one who is not directly involved in agriculture and who can therefore take as near as possible a disinterested third party view. I agree that that is difficult. It has not been easy to maintain objectivity in view of the conflicting arguments and the emotionality which is sometimes used and sometimes over-larded.

I have discussed this matter in equal depth and content with branches of both the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers and the National Farmers' Union, to which I have easy access. I am grateful to them for the time that they spent spelling out their concerns both ways—one about the situation and one about the results of changing it in the wrong way.

Cutting through the meat of the discussion with the NUAAW, it came to the point at which we could agree that the three real issues worrying the farm workers were: What happens if I die? What happens if I am disabled? "What happens when I retire?" Those are absolutely valid questions and are related to the question of security which has been emphasised by the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead. It is when we try to solve those three problems that we start to go in different directions.

At no time in my discussions with the NFU have I found anyone on the farming side—or even in the market place, among non-NFU members—who has taken an absolutely hard line or said, "That is their problem, not mine." There is genuine concern. The dispute, for a long time, has been about how to solve it.

This Bill is guilty of the defect of overkill. It is a sledgehammer to crack a nut. It sorts out the problems, but it does so in a far too heavy-handed a way and at far too great a cost to the industry and its whole future. We must be careful not to stifle the industry which has been built up, and which is supreme among all countries, by making it impossible to operate.

The part of the world that I have been able to study is one of predominantly livestock farming.

Miss Maynard

Would the hon. Gentleman explain how they manage in the Common Market without tied cottages?

Mr. Shepherd

As far as I can deduce from the material available to me, accommodation is taken for granted in the Common Market, with the exception of Italy, where they have the same problems as we have. The main answer is the tremendous number of small family units in the Common Market which do not employ. The fragmentation of the scene in France creates problems in other directions but not with tied cottages.

Mr. Evelyn King (Dorset, South)

It makes food more expensive.

Mr. Shepherd

As my hon. Friend says, it also makes food more expensive. We have a tremendous record in this country of producing food economically.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)

Talking of sledgehammers, surely the hon. Gentleman does not mean that the efficiency—the supremacy, as he regarded it—of British agriculture depends on the maintenance of the tied cottage. Is he suggesting that?

Mr. Shepherd

No, I am not suggesting that. What I am saying is that the manner chosen for trying to dispose of the tied cottage issue is likely to jeopardise the industry's effectiveness. This is a matter of opinion. I must take a balanced summary of the arguments that I have heard on both sides and formulate my views accordingly. I will come later to what I have deduced to be the effects of the Bill and to what concerns me, when the hon. Gentleman may be able to go with me a long way.

Much has been said about the wish for good relationships betwen employer and employees. This applies not just in the farming industry but in all industrial relations. This trust is easily upset. I detect a great deal of concern on both sides that the trust betwen farmer and farm worker, between employer and employee, will disappear, that they will not feel able to talk and discuss the matter, that there will be a "We shall talk through my solicitors" type of approach.

I have said that the Bill is a sledgehammer. The desire to provide security of housing is commendable, but the cost for agriculture and the social cost will be high and must be counted. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard), in a speech to which I listened with interest, talked about the availability of cars and telephones. I agree that they exist, but, as she said, the need to live further off the job will not only involve higher rents because tenants will not have the advantage of protected occupancy or the tied cottage rate—it will also be a drain on their financial resources. They will need more money to work.

Miss Maynard

Will the hon. Gentleman not accept that, if farm workers were all statutory tenants and had to pay a rent, say, equivalent to that of a council house in the area, the practical effect is that the farmer would pay that much extra on the wage or that the man, being a free man, would go to work somewhere else? It is as simple as that, and he knows it as well as I do. That is why I am for the status of statutory tenant for all our people, rather than that of protected occupant. We do not want any of the so-called privileges of low rents.

Mr. Shepherd

I agree that if all were statutory tenants, a higher wage would be payable. But that brings me back to my earlier intervention, which the hon. Lady chose to ignore—that a higher wage for no benefit of production will lead to higher costs of food and therefore higher prices in the shops. I am surprised that the hon. Lady and her hon. Friends should be pushing that aspect of the matter.

This is the cost of this exercise to agriculture and the community. Once again, we have to weigh up whether that is desirable. The hon. Lady cannot have her cake and eat it when it comes to prices. Higher wages for no benefit other than statutory tenancy across the board has other connotations as well.

Miss Maynard

Will the hon. Gentleman agree that in no industry have workers such a good production record as in farming? Where has that got them in terms of wages? Absolutely nowhere. As for his argument that if they got more wages, production would not increase, my answer is that the production increase which they have achieved over many years has got them nowhere in terms of wages. I know why it has not. The other point is that food prices are very high at the moment, and the other thing—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

Order. The hon. Lady has already made one speech, and she has made a fairly good intervention.

Mr. Shepherd

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for your prevention of a second speech.

I shall not deny the record. I applaud farm workers for their record of productivity and achievement. However, the hon. Lady draws attention to a point that I was wishing to make a little later. The standard, quality and style of life is one that makes it highly desirable, especially for those seeking employment in the agricultural industry in my part of the world, in due course possibly to use to facilitate jumping the housing queue.

The dependence of the Bill on the phrase that the district councils shall use their best endeavours is both the hinge-pin and the weak point of the Bill. It is the hinge-pin because at the end of the road it will always fall to the district council to provide housing. Nothing in the Bill can work unless the district council does provide housing. To provide housing it will have to want to provide housing, and it will have to be able to overcome its other difficulties. It is the weak point of the Bill because of the commitment of the district council— the district council that has a waiting list of needy cases.

What hon. Member present in the Chamber can deny that a good deal of his correspondence and time is taken up in trying to sort out housing problems of people who have been waiting on the housing list and who are absolutely stuck and stymied? Here we are trying to find a means by which people can move ahead of the queue and jump it. The priorities of housing committees and housing authorities are a nightmare for them in trying to judge who is the most deserving as they come up.

The housing stock in itself is a difficult matter. If there is inadequate housing stock and the requirements have changed, it will take a substantial period to meet needs, and housing authorities are sometimes reluctant to invest in a large programme of housing accommodation knowing that if it is to be council housing it will cost the ratepayers about three times the rent received. There is also the question of the location of homes.

All of these points were raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) in a rumbustious and thunderingly good opening speech, which showed tremendous appreciation of the depth of the problems involved.

If we accept that the housing matter will not easily be solved, we find that it is not difficult to imagine the situation of a district council with no housing available and refusing to help. The stock of service houses will become more and more tied up, until we get—as the hon. Lady would like—a totally statutory tenancy situation. What happens then, when all the service houses have statutory tenants? Will the farmer be allowed to build another house? Will he be able to afford to build another? Most important, will he want to? Or will he shuck that responsibility on to the housing authority?

As the number of houses is reduced and more people become more static because they dare not lose the benefit of a statutory tenancy, we shall get restriction on mobility, in terms of both job and location. The ambitious and highly skilled must be mobile in order to develop their skills and to get around and experience the agricultural industry.

The qualifying period, as I have indicated, is an avenue for queue-jumping. A two-year period—91 weeks out of 104 —is a short time if one is fed up with Manchester or Sheffield, Brightside, and wants a nice house in Herefordshire. The measure will temper with caution the wish of livestock farmers to invest and expand, and it will almost certainly stop the further building of houses.

Another point that has not yet been covered today is the threat to milk production. If it becomes more difficult to house people because of statutory tenancies developing and because of stockmen living away from the job, the temptation will be to take the golden handshakes available and opt out of milk production. As things stand, we do not have sufficient milk in Britain.

The horticultural scene is threatened by the Bill. The orchards in Herefordshire depend upon people being able to go out and switch on sprays immediately the temperature drops—not on people having to get into a car and drive about five miles, taking 15 minutes. When the temperature drops below freezing point, the sprays must be switched on. The blackcurrant crop, which forms the basis of our Ribena and so on, depends on someone being there at the time. The poultry industry must have people in attendance—the right people in the right place. That is the overkill aspect that makes me wonder.

There is also in the Bill a financial provision for the district councils to be able to provide more housing. Frankly, the provision is hopelessly inadequate. It is a piece of misrepresentation. Perhaps the Minister would care to comment upon this matter later. According to my counting, there are 333 non-metropolitan district councils in England and Wales. For these, £5 million per year is to be allowed. That gives £15,000 per district council per year—1¼ houses each.

Where will each district council put its 1.25 houses—at one end of its area or the other? Bearing in mind that many district councils cover an area of 500 square miles or more, it can be seen that the inadequacy of this provision comes to the fore. It will take a long time to provide the necessary housing to be able to realise the wishes of Labour Members on this matter.

As a result of all this, I ask myself why it is that there is so much pressure to bring this measure forward. I cannot help but think that this is a means of extending the grip of bureaucracy and Socialism into agriculture, which for years has been independent, with an independence of mind, spirit and action. Agriculture has a proud record of independence. It is not so much that it is frantically wished by everyone to abolish tied houses, although some concern has been shown. In Scotland, as has been mentioned, 70 per cent. of farm workers live in tied houses, yet there is no great clamour in Scotland, nor does the Bill claim to cover Scotland. The real move behind this measure is an attempt to control agriculture through controlling the mobility and availability of the labour force.

5.58 p.m.

Mr. Bruce Douglas-Mann (Mitcham and Morden)

I shall not say that the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd) spoiled a very good speech, but he spoiled the most reasonable and moderate speech that we have heard from the Opposition Benches today. I thought that he would at least concede that there was some case for the Bill, when every hon. Member must know that there is an overwhelming case for it.

The hon. Gentleman must know that with the changing pattern in agriculture, as mechanisation has been increasing the need for land workers on each farm has been diminishing. The falling numbers employed in agriculture are a reflection partly of the miserable wages paid in agriculture but also of the steady increase in mechanisation. A farmer whose father may have employed about 15 workers in the past now finds it increasingly attractive, if he employs only three workers, perhaps, to sack one, to sell his cottage and to make a profit out of it, thus creating one additional homeless family. That is the pattern that has been developing throughout England and Wales. It is one of my regrets that the Bill does not extend to Scotland, because no doubt that is happening in Scotland as well.

It is wrong to suggest that there is no need for this Bill. Corporate owners are going into agriculture and buying farms simply as investments and, in pursuit of capital gains, are exploiting the people who work in them. There was an example only last week in this category, when a farm was taken over by a Danish farmer who had decided to invest in British agriculture. His idea was to organise the entire farm so that there would be little need for many employees, and those he needed he would bring with him. He has given the workers notice and will probably proceed to sell off the farm cottages for use as second homes.

I cannot believe that responsible Opposition Members—and there are still some who fall into that category—will pretend that in such a situation no change is required in the law to protect agricultural workers. The hon. Member for Hereford acknowledged the fears of workers as to the situation if they became disabled, or what would happen to them when they retired, or to their widows following their deaths. However, the hon. Member did not go on to suggest measures to correct the situation. He says he regards the Bill as a sledgehammer, but he made no suggestion as to how a proper measure could be achieved. Perhaps he will make his views clearer in Committee and will then suggest what steps should be taken to deal with the situation.

The hon. Member made no mention of the possibility of redundancy, or other problems. There is a continuing diminution in the level of employment in the industry and there is great incentive for the farmer to chuck the farm worker and his family—or, indeed, a widow and her family—out of the house. Therefore, a measure such as the present Bill is vital, and is many years overdue.

I accept that there are difficulties for farmers, which can be serious. Problems arise because some workers need to be close to their jobs. Difficulties arise when the farm is situated well away from other available housing. But it must be remembered that it has been estimated that there are 12,000 empty cottages of this nature throughout the country. Therefore, it is desirable to bring that accommodation into use as soon as possible.

I recognise that there are difficulties in ensuring a proper balance between interests that should not but do conflict. On the whole, I believe that the Government have achieved the right balance. I was originally attracted by an adaptation of the idea put forward by the Grubb Institute that agricultural cottages should be transferred to an agricultural housing agency which, in turn, could grant tenancies. I think that eventually we may reach a solution on those lines, and certainly a situation in which cottages are not owned by the farmer. Such a proposal would mean that the housing agency would be responsible for ensuring that a house would be available to the agricultural worker on the spot. However, I believe that this Bill, as a transitional measure, has the balance substantially right.

The overwhelming majority of local authorities in agricultural areas are blessed, if I may so call it, with Tory councils which have not been the most active in making provision for local authority housing. I hope that in future those authorities will see to it that the housing stock in their areas is increased to ensure that alternative accommodation can be made available when needed.

I hope that the fact that there will be a duty to rehouse agricultural workers, following the ending of their employment for whatever cause, will not prevent others in rural areas from obtaining council houses. That is a danger, and I hope that it is adequately covered by the Bill's use of the words "best endeavours" and by the setting up of the agricultural dwelling-house advisory committees. I hope that those committees will take account of the needs of others.

After the system has been set up for some time, we may have to consider introducing a pre-licensing system. In respect of certain farms it may be vital for the farmer to be able to obtain possession—

Miss Maynard


Mr. Douglas-Mann

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard) obviously does not agree, but if an employee for any reason ceases to work on a farm, or decides that he can obtain a better job elsewhere, the farmer in certain circumstances must be able to obtain possession. I am merely saying that there may be a case for a pre-licensing system. However, that proposal may have to be grafted on to the legislation after this Bill has been in operation for a period of time.

Dr. Colin Phipps (Dudley, West)

What is the objection to rural local authorities providing all rural housing? Why should any part of it be the farmer's responsibility?

Mr. Douglas-Mann

I agree with my hon. Friend. That is part of a municipalisation programme which I should personally like to see carried through to its full extent. My hon. Friend knows my commitment to municipalisation. However, at present we are limited by certain constraints on public expenditure, and therefore I would not put the acquisition of rural housing as my top priority; there is an even greater need for municipalisation. However, I certainly hope that as a result of the Bill local authorities will acquire more and more agricultural cottages, whether they be occupied or vacant.

I agree that it is wrong the employers should possess such an overwhelming amount of bargaining power. Many of us know, from going round the constituencies at election times, how many agricultural workers are loth to express their views. They are afraid to make their views known even to the local candidate, for fear that it might spill out to their employers. I went to one village in Essex in which every house belonged to the same farmer. I came away without the promise of a single vote, but when the ballot box was opened the Labour votes were overwhelming. They dared not express their views because they did not wish to offend their employer. They felt that their homes and their jobs could be at risk.

I agree that it would be desirable if the full statutory rent were to be paid, and even more desirable if agricultural cottages were taken out of farmers' hands altogether. However, as an interim measure I emphasise that the Bill has the balance about right. It imposes an increasing obligation on local authorities to use their endeavours to build or buy more houses. I hope that local authorities will take advantage of the North Wilts scheme of taking leases of houses that are not immediately required by the owners. That is one of the satisfactory transitional means of ensuring that adequate housing is available.

For the most part, adequate housing is available in the agricultural areas and there is also no shortage of land. Much of the problem in many urban areas is one of not enough land on which to build houses, but there is no such problem in the rural areas. There is no problem with planning permission, either. The farmer can get and the local authority can give permission to build.

Mr. Shepherd

How would the hon. Member cover this in cases where the structure plan expressly goes against such development in villages? If I may quote the structure plan with which the hon. Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Phipps) will no doubt be familiar, it does not allow for development of this kind outside the market towns or the main urban centres.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

The great majority of such plans make an express exception for agricultural cottages. The hon. Gentleman intervened, but he does not even see fit to listen to the reply. I would have thought he would be aware that the vast majority of structure plans make express exception for the building of cottages for agricultural workers. The cost of building in the rural areas is certainly very much less than the average cost, so in practice there is no serious constraint on the provision of adequate housing.

The fundamental problem that we are discussing is a problem of housing, but it is also a problem of human relations. If hon. Members on the Opposition Benches cannot understand that it is intolerable to be in a situation in which one cannot express one's mind, or voting intentions, even, for fear that one will lose both home and job, they are living in a past age.

Mr. Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)

On the question of people's voting intentions, the hon. Gentleman is making a very serious allegation. He says that he knew how the inhabitants of a certain village voted. Are we to believe that in spite of the declaration of secrecy he made a note of the ballot box numbers. went to the polling station and saw that ballot box opened at the count, and followed it through? I believe that he is making an irresponsible and inaccurate allegation.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

The hon. Gentleman has perhaps been present at even more counts than I have. One does have a certain indication of the places from where ballot boxes have come, and I do not think I am offending against the declaration of secrecy that I made when I say that when a ballot box is spilled open one can see quite a number of the votes cast. If the hon. Gentleman does not know that, I do not know what he has been doing at the counts he has attended.

The point that I wish to make is a serious one. This Bill involves a number of difficulties, which the Government have tackled bravely. We cannot pretend that we can be certain that the system will work perfectly. There will have to be balances, and points conceded on both sides. There will be difficulties, but I think that the Government have got it about right. I hope that when we implement the Bill we shall bear in mind the possibility that it may he desirable to introduce a limited pre-licensing system. In the meantime, the important thing is to get as much housing as possible made available, and to ensure that agricultural workers have security and the bargaining power that others take for granted.

6.15 p.m.

Mr. Geraint Howells (Cardigan)

I thank you for calling me to speak in this very important debate, Mr. Speaker. I declare my interest once again as a livestock farmer with three tied cottages on my property—cottages that are occupied by shepherds and cattlemen. After listening to different views of hon. Members on both sides of the House I am proud to say, as a farmer and a Liberal, that I welcome the Bill. It will do a power of good for the farmers and the farm workers of this country.

Perhaps one of the main reasons for my welcoming the Bill—a reason which many right hon. and hon. Members of this House do not know—is that I was brought up on a hill farm in Cardiganshire with a total acreage of 250. I remember the days before the war, when the gross takings were only £60 and we used to pay a farm worker £5 per annum and he was living in. They were the bad old days, and here we are in 1976 and it is my duty as a radical and a Liberal to do what I can to help the workers and the farmers alike. I never forget the days in the 1930s, when things were so bad for the owner-occupier and the worker on the land.

Although I welcome the Bill, I have a few reservations, especially regarding council housing, but I shall come to that later. The system of tied cottages in agriculture has generated a great deal of heat over the years, both from those who wish to abolish it completely and from those who see its destruction as a severe blow to agriculture. These points of view have produced extreme statements from both sides, but I think that the whole problem should be approached from a reasonable standpoint, so that the interests of both the farmer and the agricultural worker are adequately protected.

The Government are continually urging the farm industry to increase production, and they are right to do so. In the Government White Paper on "Food from our own resources" they exhort the British farmer to make every effort to increase production and thus make his contribution towards an improved balance of payments. The then Prime Minister, speaking at the Royal Welsh Show at Stoneleigh last year, said: The Government policy is to establish a framework which can give confidence for the future for the consumer and for the producer, so that he can plan and invest. At this time above all we need to make the best and most economic use of our resources, not only of land but of the skills of our own agricultural industry. The recent survey shows that a large percentage of farmers believe that the abolition of tied housing will have an adverse effect on production, but I do not believe that. To attract and keep labour in the agriculture industry, they say, it is essential that they should be able to offer accommodation to key workers. In one farming journal a farmer is quoted as follows: We would have more confidence in the future if we knew we would be allowed to keep the staff housing we have. This is a key to future confidence. We cannot produce without labour. As a farmer, I believe that in many branches of the industry, such as the dairy and livestock sectors, it is vitally important to ensure that the staff concerned live as near to their jobs as possible, and the tied cottage system has, over the years, worked very well in this respect, from both the employer's and the employee's point of view. This is an aspect that must be safeguarded in any legislation. Farming is dependent on an efficient and dedicated work force if output is to increase. However, the work force has declined dramatically over the last 15 years. In 1960 there were 505,000 full-time workers in the industry: today there are in the region of 233,000 men—a decrease of over 50 per cent. If we are to have a thriving agriculture industry this trend must be stopped.

It makes good sense, therefore, that an employer should want to offer incentives to his workers to prevent a further drift from the land, and it would seem that providing good, cheap housing could be one effective way. At present there are about 90,000 farm workers—nearly half the work force—in tied cottages, representing a capital investment by the farmers of £1,800 million. On the other hand, housing in rural areas is scarce and council housing is woefully lacking, and it could therefore be said that the farmer is making a contribution to the resources of rural areas by providing much-needed housing.

The Tavistock report, published last year, provided some interesting and important statistics, which destroyed some of the myths perpetuated by those who do not understand agriculture or its needs. The report makes it clear that a commonsense approach should be adopted rather than passionate, unreasoned accusations.

One much-used argument is that the system leads to disadvantages in pay. The report shows that the mean take-home pay of workers in tied cottages is 17 per cent. higher than that of those not living in tied accommodation. This argument also holds good for groups of workers doing the same jobs. The report also find that there are no appreciable differences in the numbers of hours worked by those who live in tied accommodation and those who do not.

The report concludes:

"If those living in tied cottages receive higher than average wages, yet do not work longer hours … it must be tentatively concluded that farmers either place their more highly paid workers in tied houses or that employees living in tied houses tend to become better paid."
Miss Maynard

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, because of the shortage of dairymen, probably more dairymen live in tied houses than general farm workers or tractor men and that might be one reason why they tend to be more highly paid? Does he also agree that the Tavistock Report—he is quoting selectively—clearly made the point that nobody could disagree that for any man to have his home dependent upon his job was detrimental?

Mr. Howells

I agree with the sentiments expressed by the hon. Lady. I shall go on to prove that there are two sides to the argument.

Workers in tied houses tend to stay longer and acquire valuable specific experience of their employer's farm, which, it could be argued, is good for the industry. For these reasons, we must resist abolishing—we must improve, not abolish—a system which has many good aspects, by putting forward a workable alternative.

It would be disastrous to disrupt the pattern of rural housing—a procedure which could lead to a farm worker being without a house or a job. Stringent safeguards should be devised to protect the farm worker against unfair eviction, on the one hand, and the farmer against an unsatisfactory employee and tenant, on the other. A great effort should be made to improve rural housing.

The Government's proposals, as they stand, do not abolish tied housing, and I feel that the farming community's worst fears have not been realised. On the other hand, the Bill provides security of tenure to a certain section of farm workers who were not previously protected.

However, the Bill has one serious defect—the housing authority's obligations in the matter of rehousing. It seems to me that the Government's proposals are unfairly weighted against the farmer. Although the responsibility for rehousing tenants is placed on the housing authority, plenty of loopholes are provided to enable the authority to evade that responsibility too easily.

My view is that there should be an automatic obligation on the housing authority to provide alternative accommodation to the tenant, thus freeing the housing for essential agricultural accommodation. I hope that in his winding-up speech the Minister will give us that assurance.

We would also like an assurance from the Minister that legislation will not result in the drying up of rural tied housing, which makes such an important contribution to efficient farming today, and that the Government will take steps to tackle the problem of housing in rural communities without delay.

Being a practical farmer, I had to look at the Bill as a farmer and as an employer. In my view, the benefits to a livestock farmer, once the Bill is on the statute book, will be—

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the subject of housing, may I ask whether it is the Liberal Party's view that this House should lay down that, in any circumstances, the local authority should be under an obligation to rehouse a dispossessed farm worker before other families, whatever their needs may be?

Mr. Howells

That is my personal view, and I have advised my colleagues that it should be the Liberal Party's policy. In my view, an agricultural worker who is turned out of his tied house should have the right to a council house, if the Bill is to work. That is a view held by my colleagues and myself.

As the law stands, a farm worker can stay on in a tied cottage for six months. The majority—90 per cent.—of farmers and farm workers are reasonable people. Only a few will not keep to the law. If a farm manager is not very well—he may not be able to work for the next five or 10 years—as a reasonable farmer, I would not force him out of his tied cottage. But if the Bill goes through I shall have the right to go to the local housing authority to discuss the problem, and the farm manager will be rehoused by the authority.

The major objection to the Bill is contained in Part IV—"Rehousing". Clause 29, which lays down the duties of the relevant housing authority, is sufficiently loose to create massive loopholes for the housing authority to escape through. For example, subsection (6) provides that the authority shall use their best endeavours to provide the suitable alternative accommodation. The words "best endeavours" have no legal meaning, in my view, and place no legal obligation on the local authority. I should like to see inserted there a provision that once the local agricultural advisory council has given the local authority the go-ahead it should have the right to act and help to rehouse the farm worker.

Similarly, subsection (7) provides that the authority shall assess the priority to be given to meet the applicant's case by taking into account the urgency of the case, the competing claims on the accommodation … and the resources at their disposal. That subsection gives the authority not only the power to make all kinds of value judgments, but a whole list of possible excuses for avoiding its responsibilities.

The clause provides no method of appeal which allows the applicant to challenge the authority's decision. The only course of action open to him is to apply for a mandamus order through the High Court, which is an expensive procedure. Furthermore, as the NFU points out, the local authority can easily avoid such an order by showing the existence of competing claims for accommodation in its area or by saying that it simply did not have a council house available.

If there is to be any real benefit from the Bill—this applies equally to the farmer and to the farm worker—it will be achieved only by strengthening Clause 29 and placing on local authorities a mandatory responsibility to provide accommodation if the local agricultural advisory committee decides that there is a proven case for rehousing on grounds of efficient agriculture.

Local authorities should have a statutory obligation to rehouse anyone in the agriculture industry leaving a licensed or otherwise tied cottage. Special housing finance should be made available to housing authorities to enable them to implement an urgent building programme to deal with the increased housing needs created by that proposal.

An hon. Member from the Government Benches said that he would like to see the day when farm workers are paid enough to enable them to buy their own houses. I hope that day comes soon.

I have advised my colleagues in the Liberal Party to support the passage of the Bill tonight.

6.31 p.m.

Dr. Colin Phipps (Dudley, West )

I have to declare an interest, which is probably unique on this side of the House because not only am I a farmer; I also own a tied cottage. I enjoy being a farmer, but I wish I were not the owner of a tied cotage—that is not the most enjoyable part of being a farmer. For a long time I have felt that housing in rural areas should be the responsibility of local authorities and that it should not be part of a farmer's investment in the industry.

It is a pleasure to follow the speech of the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells), since I agree with much of what he said.

If we do not impose an obligation on local authorities to provide housing in rural areas we will impose obligations on farmers. I find it difficult to understand why farmers, as a group, should be singled out by statute to be obliged to provide rural housing for people who do not work for them. That seems totally unjust.

Miss Maynard

Can my hon. Friend explain why skilled farm workers should not be paid the rate for the job, so that they can buy their own homes and relieve farmers such as him of this terrible burden? They should be paid the rate for the job so that they can buy their own homes, like other people.

Dr. Phipps

I was not arguing against my hon. Friend's view. I shall be delighted when that day arrives.

We could be imposing an obligation on an arbitrary group of people—farmers with properties—to house members of the rural community at a fixed rent, irrespective of whether they work for members of that group. One might just as well say that because he is well paid an hon. Member should provide a house for one person in the town which he represents. When a company builds a new factory in the urban area the local council provides the necessary houses. Why should this not be done in rural areas? I am not arguing that rural workers should not buy their own houses, or that local authorities should not provide them, but one does not right one wrong by creating another. The Bill is in danger of creating another wrong.

Ministers, and my hon. Friend for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann), have argued that local authorities must provide local housing under the Bill, but there is no such obligation in the measure. The infamous Clause 29, in subsections (6) and (7), does not provide that obligation, because of the reference to competing claims on accommodation. I can imagine what my local housing manager would do with that clause. He would always say that there were competing claims, and I am sure that they would be justifiable. More rural houses is the answer to the problem. The Bill protects rural councils—most of which are Conservative-controlled—and I am surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard) supports that.

I asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, in a Written Question: What percentage of all housing is provided by local government in rural as opposed to urban, areas of England and Wales? My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State told me in an answer that I received today: Immediately prior to local government reorganisation in 1974 — which was the last date on which that could be done before the change from rural and urban districts— it was estimated that housing authorities in England and Wales provided 20 per cent. of all housing in rural districts and 31 per cent. elsewhere. That is the nub of the problem, and the cause of the difficulties faced by farmers and agricultural workers. In the past farmers have been pleased to provide this kind of housing, which is essential in certain types of farming, but so long as only 20 per cent. of housing in rural areas is provided by local authorities it is ridiculous to expect the Bill to have any direct effect. Not enough housing in rural areas is in the possession of local authorities to enable them to solve the problem. The solution is not to impose an obligation on an arbitrary group of people who happen to be farmers owning property we must solve the problem in toto. To pick out farmers will damage agriculture, because they will be forced to sell their houses as soon as they become empty.

My tied cottage is insured for £10,000 and the land attached to it is worth about £12,000. The rateable value is £143 a year and I shall be allowed to charge £4.12½ a week rent. The cost of insurance and maintenance of the house, because of improvements that I have made, is more than that. I do not want to sell it, because it is an attribute to my farm, but if I am obliged to supply it to an individual who does not work for me, at a rent of £4.12½ a week, I hope that the Government will give me the opportunity to ask for a compulsory purchase order from the local council and that the council will take it over at its market value.

The Bill imposes on farmers an arbitrary duty which should be placed upon local authorities. Such authorities are mainly Tory-controlled, but we are now the Government of the country and we should impose an obligation on those authorities—an obligation that is shared by every other local authority in the country—to provide houses for the people who live in their areas. If that means increased rural rates, so be it. For many years the farmers have subsidised rural rates by providing cheap housing. About 90,000 houses of this kind exist, and they represent an investment of between £700 million and £800 million in agriculture. I would prefer to see that money invested in other ways. The return on it is infinitesimal, apart from the convenience that it provides.

If the problem is not tackled, farmers will sell their houses. That is no solution, unless there is something to replace them. If we are to solve the problem of tied cottages we must take on the obligation to provide rural houses. We cannot say that that is the farmers' obligation. We cannot say that we will right a wrong by granting security of tenure to agricultural workers and then insist that farmers provide houses irrespective of whether the people living in them work for them.

I believe that the whole House will welcome the Bill, which is long overdue. But we cannot effectively right one wrong by producing another. We must accept our responsibilities as a nation and Government, make money available, and ensure that rural housing is provided to solve the problem.

6.40 p.m.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West )

Regrettably, if the Bill becomes law it will be known as "Maynard's mischief". After 30 years of lying on the shelves of the Socialist Party archives, it has been dusted off, and the extreme Left has managed to bring it forward as part of the old gospel of the Socialist manifesto. I remind the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard) that in Russia today the system is one of tied cottages for the farm workers. Nevertheless, there are many Labour Members who support many of the old shibboleths of Marxist philosophy, of which that is one.

Mr. Buchan


Mr. Rees-Davies

I shall give way a little later.

The Bill covers only England and Wales, because the workers of Scotland, who are a sensible crowd, refuse to have anything to do with it.

We in Kent want none of the Bill. I am aware of no farmer or worker in my constituency who wants the Bill to be introduced. In Thanet, with about 250 tied cottages, there is not a farmer or worker who supports the Bill, as far as I am aware. In East Kent the tenants pay no rent or rates. I know no exception to that. They live on site in suitable homes with no cost of travel, and most of them with the advantage of free farm produce.

Miss Maynard

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman accept from me that my union has dealt with more tied cottage cases from Kent in the past two or three years in particular than from any other county in the whole of England and Wales?

Mr. Rees-Davies

The hon. Lady may challenge my statement, but my investigations show that there hast been only one genuine eviction order in East Kent in the past five years. Out of the total of about a thousand a year evictions under court orders for possession, it is claimed that there are only about 20 real eviction orders in the current year. I believe that that figure is accepted by the union.

The reason why the Bill is a shibboleth of the past came out in an aside by the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett), when he said that the whole concept of tied cottages or living on the premises where one worked as part of one's employment was one of feudalism. Not only do I dissent but I take the view that it is a concept of the greatest modernity and the most progressive thing that one can do.

One of my principal concerns in the House over many years has been to try to look after the interests of the tourist industry. I have been deeply interested in the planning of new hotels and restaurants and similar premises. It is an integral and essential part of the life of those who serve the tourist industry that they shall live in tied accommodation. Almost as many live in tied accommodation as farm workers do.

I remember challenging very strongly both Tory and Labour Ministers on the matter. I shall challenge the new Secretary of State for the Environment, because one of the most important things he can do when granting planning permission for any hotel or similar building is to make certain that there is proper accommodation for the staff and, incidentally, proper parking facilities and transport arrangements.

It is equally essential that the miners shall live in tied cottages. There are more tied cottages in mining than in farming. Tied cottages are equally necessary for forestry, which is not included in the Bill. The Forestry Commission is covered by the Bill only to the extent that it may be brought under it in the future. The reason for its exemption now is that it is essential that forestry workers shall live in suitable accommodation on the site.

Whether we deal with them, the clergy or others, the fact is that tied accommodation is a great advantage. For example, it would be a great advantage to us to have accommodation for our secretaries. It is difficult today to obtain something which gives one an enormous tax advantage. It is immensely valuable to have accommodation provided rent-and rate-free in which one can live near one's work. The barristers who can live in the Temple are another example, living on top of their work at rents lower than they would otherwise have to pay—or, rather, than they used to pay in the old days.

The hon. Gentleman is 50 years out of date when he talks about the concept being feudal. It is an immeasurable advantage to be able to stay in accommodation provided by one's employer close to the work.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

I am not sure whether the hon. and learned Gentleman is being serious or is speaking with his tongue in his cheek. Does he seriously suggest that a secretary should be available here at all hours of the night? One of the problems in the tourist industry is tied accommodation. That is why such a large proportion of those who work in it are foreign. British families are very reluctant to become dependent on tied accommodation, because then they have no home when they retire or lose their job.

Mr. Rees-Davies

I do not accept that. The chefs and others very much like being in accommodation where they very often have the great advantages of having their food provided. The same is true of those who work on the farms and live in tied accommodation. They frequently enjoy the farm produce.

Miss Maynard

Would the hon. and learned Gentleman like to live in a tied house and have his home dependent on his job? Would he like to be one of the 20 who were evicted?

Mr. Rees-Davies

I should be delighted to live in a tied house. In normal circumstances one would not be evicted. We cannot introduce legislation for the sake of 20 evictions in a country where there are many tens of thousands of houses. We do not legislate for the unique, specialised case, the numbers of which are minimal, as the hon. Lady knows.

I turn to the financial advantages, which are very great. For example, if the Minister were fortunate enough to have a flat or other accommodation close to the Palace of Westminster which he could provide for a secretary on beneficial terms, it would be extraordinarily advantageous. I merely underline that a person who can live in his accommodation rent-and rate-free has a very considerable advantage. That is why the workers do not want to be deprived of that opportunity.

I come to how we deal with the important question of the person who occupies a tied cottage during his working life—incidentally, the hon Member for Brightside is wrong about that—and is quite happy to live there because his only concern is what is to happen when he retires. How right he is. The point is that when he retires and may have to move out of that accommodation, it is right that accommodation should be provided for him. I can say straight away what should be done, and it is a course which the hon. Lady and her hon. Friends can now press the Chancellor of the Exchequer to adopt. They can insist that mortgage interest relief be given to anyone who purchases a tied cottage with a view to his retirement. At present, such relief is not obtainable. If it were given, it would enable people to purchase such cottages for their retirement.

I believe that there are two classes of people who are the tenants, licensees or occupiers of tied farm cottages. All of them want homes of their own when they retire. Either they would like the homes in which they are living—and in certain circumstances they might be able to purchase them—or they should be given the advantage through tax relief of buying tied cottages in the villages or areas in which they live at present with a view to their retirement.

If people are not in that position they will fall into one of two categories. I give the figures. At present, there are 63,000 out of 135,000 farm cottages which are subject to the tie. That is roughly half. Of those, 20,000 are tied but are let to pensioners. In other words, about a quarter of the total, thanks to the kindness and generosity of farmers, at present are let to those who have given them valuable service. That is a measure of the unique sense of loyalty of the farming community to those who serve them. Those 20,000 are people who are remaining in their cottages. Why should not they have the chance, which obviously the farmer would give them, to buy their houses, and why should not there be also a duty imposed upon local authorities to rehouse retired farm workers?

I cannot go along with the Liberal viewpoint that the farm worker should be given an absolute priority over everyone in every case. But I can go along with the argument that, if a man has spent a great many years of his life as a key worker in agriculture, he should have priority when he becomes a pensioner. If we do this, I believe that we can meet the position of those to wish to buy their homes and that we can also meet the position in part of those who ought to and want to become tenants of council houses. Incidentally, we can also meet the position, which is partly met, of those who remain in their tied cottages. I do not believe that it is impossible.

Of course, the real way to deal with this is to put an end to the acute shortage of rural housing. What has caused this is "Maynard's folly". The moment that it became apparent that the agricultural workers' union was successfully pressing the Labour Government, the result was many empty houses. There is an estimated figure of 12,000 empty cottages around the countryside. But it is not only there. There are many people who are willing to invest and to provide and build cottages for farm workers, provided that the tie is not removed. For, just as it is necessary to provide accommodation in hotels and restaurants or above small businesses to enable their owners the better to conduct them, which is the modern tendency, so it is necessary in the mining industry, in police authorities and in the Armed Services. It is one of the patterns of today to encourage people to live close to their work and to occupy the premises concerned at cheap rents.

Mr. Roderick MacFarquhar (Belper)

Let me correct the hon. and learned Gentleman on one point. It is that tied police cottages in villages no longer provide local villagers with local police protection. That is totally out of date. The policeman in a tied police cottage may have no relationship with the village in which he lives and is not on call.

Mr. Rees-Davies

The hon. Gentleman must be careful about correcting me on a subject on which I am something of an expert. There is very little about which I do not know when it comes to police matters. I never said that the local policeman lived in the local village. But I assure the hon. Gentleman that in my constituency there are not only tied cottages but they are placed in eminently suitable centres where they can be used to cover the districts which they serve. We have a number of admirable tied cottages on one corner of a council housing estate which provide excellent accommodation for the police of Margate, Cliftonville and nearby villages.

Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Ormskirk)

As the hon. and learned Gentleman is a self-confessed expert, he would do well to use words carefully. When he says that it is necessary to have tied accommodation, does he really mean that? I know of many occupations where it is not necessary, though it may be desirable from the employer's point of view.

Mr. Rees-Davies

When I said that I had expert knowledge, I meant about police matters, and not generally. But, on the general matter, I think that it is necessary, because it is for the employer to decide what is necessary and best for his industry. In agriculture, employers have concluded that it is a necessity, and I think that they are right, though in my view "desirable" is a sufficiently strong word. Certainly it is thought desirable and necessary in the police and in the Armed Forces, and I have argued repeatedly that it is essential in the hotel industry.

It is difficult to draw a difference. The only difference which has been drawn for the agricultural worker is that it was in the old Socialist Party archives in the past. It was one of the left-overs which had been lying about for many years and it was brought forward when it was decided that it was time to prepare some manifesto.

I now deal with the likely future cost. There is no doubt that Miss Ruth Gasson put her finger on the pulse accurately when she concluded her report on a study for the Department of Land Economy at Cambridge University in March 1976 with these words: Production would be bound to fall, as present tasks would be carried out less efficiently and because of the switch to less productive systems. Employment would also be reduced. The ultimate losers would not be large business farmers … but the nation as a whole, which could expect to be faced with steeply rising costs for a smaller volume of food. I share that view, because I have worked out the cost which would be involved as a result of moving people from tied cottages. First, the worker would have to pay up to £8 to £10 a week, plus rates, for the rent of his council house, whereas at present he pays nothing. In most cases the worker would have to drive from the town, or if he was lucky, the village in which he lived, to his place of work, which at present he does not have to do. The cost of a car and petrol is considerable, and it is no use saying that he should take rural transport because that is extremely unreliable. Thus, he has imposed on him the duty to buy a car and the responsibility to be able to afford it. All this will put up costs and ensure that men will tend to move out of the countryside.

Dr. Phipps

How does the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) account for the fact that only 40 per cent. of agricultural workers are living in tied cottages at present? Should not his arguments apply to the 60 per cent. who do not?

Mr. Rees-Davies

In fact 63,000 of a total of 135,000 farm workers are living in tied houses. More would be living in tied cottages but for the threat of takeover in the Bill.

It seems quite plain that financially it is considerably to the advantage of the worker in the tied cottage to stay there, rather than move out, because his costs will be very much higher. Clearly, it is also to the advantage of the farmer to keep the man. It is to the advantage of the nation to keep down costs and to do so by using the facilities that the farmers are prepared to provide.

I do not take the view that Clause 29 can stand as it is. It does not in any sense order the Thanet District Council, for example, to house farm workers. It gives no sense of priority, and to "use their best endeavours" is inadequate and not legal terminology which the courts would want to consider or adjudicate on.

Farm workers will become very unpopular if it is known that they are queue-jumping the waiting lists for council houses. It is not an attractive thing to do. The Chairman of the Association of District Councils, Mr. Duncan Lock, has said categorically that councils will continue to meet their obligations to farm workers as they have been doing in cases where farm workers have been required to vacate their houses. They will continue to do that despite this measure. Perhaps it would be a good idea for councils to introduce a scheme of registration of key workers similar to that which exists for some industrial workers. In Thanet we have a scheme in which key industrial workers can have priority. I think that priority should be given to a retired farm worker when he moves out of acommodation which is being made available for another incoming worker. In certain circumstances it will be necessary to apply this provision to key workers. The situation would not apply in Thanet, where we are famous for cereals and we do not have any kind of intensive animal farming, but it will apply in areas where herdsmen are required.

This has been an enthusiastic debate and it augurs well for the future. But I hope we can rid the Socialists of the view that there is anything modern or progressive in their approach. In fact it is the reverse. Modernity and progressive views will be heard ringing from this side of the House until the conclusion of all the stages of this Bill.

7.5 p.m.

Mr. Bruce Grocott (Lichfield and Tam-worth )

I declare a constituency interest before I begin. Although I have no personal financial interest in farming, I represent a constituency in which there is a considerable amount of agricultural activity. On the Labour side of the House it is increasingly rare to represent such a constituency, because the division between the two parties is becoming increasingly one of urban and rural interests and seats. Therefore, there is a kind of unreality about debates of this sort, because many who speak have a financial interest in the industry, which inevitably makes this kind of debate rather different from others in this House.

Having an agricultural interest in my constituency, I have frequent talks with both the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers and the National Farmers' Union. On this and all kinds of issues, they find themselves in direct conflict with each other. I have an interesting relationship with the National Farmers' Union in my constituency. I meet its members fairly frequently, and they form a most effective pressure group. In all the books about pressure group activities, the National Farmers' Union should take a high place—indeed most modern journals refer to the way in which it has been effective over the years. However, I offer it this advice: it is in danger of overkill. So many times in the past it has put out far too many pamphlets to hon. Members and has given far too much advice, much of which is often conflicting.

The example I can give is not exactly related to agricultural tied cottages, but it shows the conflicting evidence that I have had from the NFU. I always talk to my farmers on financial and tax matters. They were very quick to point out that the Socialist capital gains tax is a most iniquitous measure, which is likely grossly to over-value agricultural land. Being an innocent about the value of agricultural land, I listened to what they told me. A few months later along came the Community Land Bill, and they then told me that it also under-valued land. Then they said that capital transfer tax would tend to over-value agricultural land. This leaves the innocent rather bewildered about the value of agricultural land. Perhaps there is a strong financial interest behind all this. Perhaps farmers are concerned not with land use but with its profitability. This is an understandable objective of any capitalist organisation.

The National Farmers' Union is guilty of inconsistency, but it is consistently guilty of overestimating the dangers of Government decisions, objectives and legislation. Farmers always say that Government actions will threaten their interests. They are like prophets of doom.

Every time I see my farmers one of the first things I say is "I am glad to see you all here," because six months previously they had told me that they would have no chance of being in business if the present trends continued. But they all come back again, and no doubt they will do so in the future, as their fathers have before them.

Their arguments for the protection of agricultural tied cottages are quite ludicrous. I am told that it will be quite impossible to run any kind of dairy undertaking without the agricultural tied cottage. I am told that the cottage is esesntial because the worker must be on the spot at all hours, day and night. One never knows, apparently, when a cow will have a calf or when a sheep will have a lamb. We are told that there will be dire consequences if the worker is not present. My wife managed to have sons on a couple of occasions, once very recently, and I found no need to employ a midwife in a tied cottage anywhere near the house. This argument seemed a little out of touch with modern developments, particularly in transport.

It is suggested that we are singling out agricultural interests and tied cottages, as opposed to all the other types of tied cottages that the National Farmers' Union is so fond of using as examples. There are, however, crucial differences between agricultural tied cottages and mineworkers' tied houses or Ministry of Defence tied houses. One crucial difference is that the other types are publicly-owned and publicly accountable —and that makes all the difference in the world. The mineworker's tied house is allocated, at least in part, on the basis of discussion with the National Union of Mineworkers. It would make all the difference if the agricultural tied house were allocated on the basis of sensible discussions between the owner and the union, and if I, as an MP, could appeal to a public body if the tenancy was being conducted unsatisfactorily. There is a vast difference between the case of an agricultural tenant threatened with eviction from a tied cottage and a worker in a publicly-owned house who is in the same position. In the case of the latter one can bring pressure to bear, and there is a much better chance of redressing the grievance.

I do not like private landlords, particularly when they also control the tenants' jobs.

Mr. Rees-Davies

The hon. Member had better address himself to the position of the hoteliers and the caterers, because there are as many tied houses in that industry as there are in mining and farming.

Mr. Grocott

I should be interested to see the statistics for hoteliers and caterers. I note that the hon. and learned Member was prudent enough not to include them in his speech.

Mr. Rees-Davies

The answer to that question—I do not know whether it is correct—comes from an organisation that is dearly beloved in the hearts of Socialists. The breakdown is given in the 1974 report from Shelter, where it says that tied houses among hotel and restaurant staff number 70,000, compared with 96,000 in the mining industry.

Mr. Grocott

The hon. and learned Member has made an excellent case for the public ownership of the catering industry. I am interested not so much in the statistic that he quoted as in the proportion of the workers in the industry who are in tied houses. That proportion is high for agriculture, and that is the difference from other cases that have been quoted. I believe that we should look carefully at the various kinds of private tied housing, and perhaps a Bill to deal with that aspect will be forthcoming in the next Gracious Speech.

I turn now to the local authority involvement in the provision of houses in rural areas. Responsibility in this respect is very much attributable to the activities of farmers and others who were members of the rural authorities in the past. The old rural district councils were dominated by farmers and agricultural interests, and they pursued the most disastrous housing policies. In my constituency the old rural district council—and one good aspect of local government reorganisation was that it rid us of the rural district councils—sold off priceless building land to private developers who erected expensive housing on it. The result is that now the local council, in seeking to provide more local authority housing, is being forced to take the gardens from existing council houses because of the shortage of land. The blame for this sort of ludicrous policy lies with agriculture and the farming interests, and the people who sat on those local authorities.

This debate has been going on for 70 years, and that is long enough. There can be no real compromise on an issue such as this. The NFU is fond of saying that we should not swallow hook, line and sinker the argument advanced by the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers, but either one accepts the principle or one does not. I do not. and that is why I support the Bill.

7.17 p.m.

Mr. W. Benyon (Buckingham)

The hon. Member for Lichfield and Tam-worth (Mr. Grocott) let the cat out of the bag, as did the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann), when he said that he did not like private landlords per se. That is the background to so much of the debate. The hon. Member for Lichfield and Tam-worth thinks it right to single out agricultural tied accommodation, but in his constituency there must be school caretakers and even a steward of the Labour Club. Those people are there to protect valuable assets. The same applies to a considerable extent in agriculture particularly in dairying and other stock enterprises. One hundred Friesian cattle represent an asset of £40,000, without the milking equipment, the buildings and the feeding stuffs which may be there. Do Labour Members suggest that no one should be present but that someone can be summoned by telephone in the event of an emergency?

The Bill follows the pattern which has been all too familiar in recent years. It is a typical child of this Government. The process starts with agitation, a commitment is written into their manifesto, the Labour Party comes to power, consultations begin with the NFU and other interested bodies and the difficulties start to appear. The whole thing is then thrown over to the parliamentary draftsman who produces a long, complicated and difficult Bill for us to consider. The effect is of benefit to no one except lawyers. If ever a statue is raised to the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) it should be in the Inns of Court. He has done more to give sustenance to the legal profession than any other political leader.

I congratulate the Department of Environment on producing a question and answer consultation document, a method which could be followed by many other Departments when Bills such as this are presented. The Department has tried to set out the questions in the language that would be used by farmers and farm workers.

At a meeting with farmers last week I read to them question 49: What could I do if the Advisory Committee gave me unqualified backing and the Housing Authority did nothing about it? The answer was: As with any other Housing Authority matter, you could take up the matter with the officials concerned, or with your local council representative. If all else failed it would be open to you to take the Housing Authority to Court on the grounds that they had failed to fulfil their obligations under the Bill. I am sorry to have to tell the Government that the answer produced an amused reaction from my audience. Under the terms of the Bill, it is impossible to sue local authorities. They have a ready-made reply. They can say that they have used their "best endeavours" and are putting the claims of one applicant on the housing list against another. I am advised that it is impossible in law to bring such an action in the courts.

I hope that I shall not embarrass the hon. Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Phipps) if I say that his contribution was the one refreshing speech from that side of the House. Until he spoke, I wondered whether we were all living in different worlds. The situation described by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Bright-side (Miss Maynard) does not exist in my part of the country. We do not know what she means by the conditions she described today.

Ideally, housing in rural areas should be freely available so that workers can please themselves how they are housed. But that is not the situation, and that is why the farming industry has invested an enormous amount of money in tied houses.

I should have declared an interest when I started my speech. I am a farmer and I own tied houses. Because of the nature of my enterprise, I was forced to produce two new houses 18 months ago. My part of the world is an expensive area of the country and it was impossible to get a lower tender than £12,000 per house. Perhaps I was wrong, but I went ahead with that undertaking. There is no possibility of that sort of investment in future. The Bill makes it totally unattractive.

The Bill must be judged on two criteria —how it affects the tenant of a tied house and how it affects agriculture. They are obviously intertwined and the effect on both is bad. The great advantage of the existing system is that it allows mobility of labour. Listening to hon. Members opposite, I find it difficult to believe they could ever have been connected with producing a contract of employment in this industry.

My employees are highly skilled and in short supply. It is no good saying, as the Secretary of State said in introducing the Bill, that the first necessity is to persuade a local authority and the advisory committee that there is an incoming worker ready to take the position. It is impossible to get staff of the calibre of person I am employing unless I can show the employer and his family a house in the condition it will be in when he occupies it. If I told a worker that a house was occupied but that I would ask the tenant to allow us to see it, he would ask when it would be available and what state it would be in when he occupied it. Workers can pick and choose now. The Bill will be a shackle from which farmers will find it impossible to break free.

Mobility ensures far greater independence for workers in agriculture than for those in other industries for whom homing needs reduce mobility and the choice of jobs. It is illogical and dishonest to apply these strictures only to agriculture. The qualifying period of two years must be lengthened. If no other changes are made to the Bill, this period must be extended. In my area, it will be regarded as a short cut to the local authority waiting list.

One of the best points raised by the NFU is that if this measure must be introduced, it should be introduced in stages. The difficulties with forestry have already been admitted. If this Bill is introduced too quickly the effect will be cataclysmic. All informed opinion believes it will have a very great effect on production. Consideration should be given to a phased introduction.

We are told in the Financial Memorandum to the Bill that £5 million will be made available for local authority rural housing. I calculate that this will pro. duce 300 houses, though it is difficult to judge with today's rapidly rising building costs. However, they will not be in the right place, and 300 houses spread all over England and Wales will not be much use.

I was agog when the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells) was speaking. He has three houses occupied by employees on his farm in rural Wales. I was longing for him to tell us how far they were from the local community and how he would get by if one of the houses became unavailable. Unfortunately, he skirted round this point and a great deal more besides. I agreed with the hon. Member that we should make local authorities responsible for housing displaced workers who have the accolade of the advisory committee, but the Bill does not do this.

Mr. Geraint Howells

For the hon. Member's information, the three tied cottages in my possession are within a mile of the village of Ponterwyd.

Mr. Benyon

The hon. Member is very fortunate. From comments in the agricultural Press, it seems that many people from the Principality are not so fortunate. It seems that only farmers are to be denied the final right of appeal to a court of law. This places them in a totally different position from others who are involved in landlord and tenant legislation. This cannot be just or right. Nowhere else is a licence to occupy made into a statutory tenancy. The situation facing the farmer is unfair.

The real tragedy is that the Bill will mean more empty houses at a time when the housing position is getting worse. As in other matters, Socialism is synonymous with shortage. It is not the employee, the employer or the consumer who will benefit. The only possible beneficiary is the lawyer. That is a true assesment of this Bill.

7.32 p.m.

Mr. Roderick MacFarquhar (Belper)

I welcome this measure as a historic Bill that will give agricultural workers a security that they have long demanded but have been denied. A number of speakers, especially from the Opposition Benches, have alluded to the relative smallness of the problem at this stage. That casts shame upon the House rather than gives cause for congratulation—shame that this legislation was not put on the statute book decades ago.

I shall concentrate briefly on rehousing. From the farming community there has been some exaggeration of the vital necessity of having the agricultural worker cheek by jowl, or by something else—of having the stockman next to the herd. But as the Bill admits, in some sections of the industry there is a case for having the agricultural worker living as close to his job as possible. The collusion system, which I think most hon. Members condemn—it is certainly condemned by all my right hon. and hon. Friends as being undignified, unjust and a ridiculous means of proceeding to a rehousing—was in some cases more satisfactory than what we may be about to introduce in the Bill. It was without doubt more satisfactory for the farmer, but it was also more satisfactory for the agricultural worker.

The system was more satisfactory for the farmer because it gave him a guaranteed if rather tortuous way of ensuring that he got hold of his housing. However, perhaps it was satisfactory for the farm worker, especially in the event of his dying and leaving a widow, in that the possibility of rehousing her in more congenial surroundings, perhaps with more companionship than in an isolated tied cottage, was made possible.

Under the legislation that I hope will be given a Second Reading today, what will local councils do, especially under the reorganised system of local government where, unlike the old days of rural councils, we now have in many areas, certainly in my constituency, a combination of both urban and rural areas? When housing officers have to make a choice between families who are housed shockingly badly in their towns or cities—and there is much accommodation of that type in the two towns in my constituency —and families who are living in acceptable rural accommodation, such as a tied cottage, there is no doubt in my mind which families they will choose to rehouse. Indeed, there is no doubt which families should be rehoused—namely, those who are living in the substandard urban accommodation.

My worry is that we are replacing the historic injustice that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard) described as a feudal system with a system that will have a harmful effect upon the farming community, a community which in some sections, as the Bill acknowledges, needs to have men close to the job.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Phipps) has stressed the impact that the Bill will have upon the farming community. He stressed the burden on the farmer, and the unfairness of it. I shall stress the burden on the agriculture industry, and in doing so I shall make three suggestions.

I discussed my first suggestion with members of the local branch of the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers. In its simplest form it concerns potential retirees—agricultural workers who are at the age of retirement or about to reach it. I suggest that it should be compulsory for a local council, in conjunction with the new advisory committees that the Bill would establish, to conduct a census so that the precise location of older agricultural workers is known, and the likely demand that they will make upon local accommodation. Given a five-year lead time, there could be a statutory obligation for the local council to provide housing for such workers on retirement.

Secondly, I suggest that the local housing department, after discussion with the advisory committees that are to be set up, should have a list of tied cottages rather like the current lists of families in need of housing that councils have. Tied cottages should be graded according to the relative urgency from the industry's point of view, such as the need for a specific farmer to have a specific house occupied by someone employed by him for his farm. If we had a system of grading tied cottages, it could be accepted, for example, that grade I urgency was not a fatuous demand by the farmer. It could be agreed by a representative of the agricultural workers' union, a representative of the NFU, and the housing officer that there was a grade I case of a farmer urgently requiring a worker in a house for the conduct of the farm concerned. In such cases there should be a statutory obligation for the local authority to rehouse.

My third suggestion relates to a matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West, namely, the shortage of council housing in rural areas. We all know that such housing has never been built because according to the old rural councils, it destroyed the amenity value of the villages. The farmers preferred—and they ran the old councils—to have tied cottages. In the old days it was probably a cheaper system than building council houses in villages and destroying the nice rural atmosphere.

Surely it would be possible for the Government, with the plethora of figures now available to them, to isolate those districts in which the need for rural council housing will be especially urgent —where, if the farmers are deprived on a large scale of the possibility of housing their workers close to their work, there will be serious damage to the industry. The Government would then be able to enter into discussions with the local authorities, and perhaps have powers to persuade them to do much more than the rural councils did in the past to build council houses in villages.

This is a historic Bill, which is long overdue, but it is essential that while we are serving the interests of the agricultural workers—which most Members want, and certainly all my hon. Friends want—we must try also to protect the industry in which they work.

7.40 p.m.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

I am sorry that my Member of Parliament, the hon. Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar), considers this to be a historic Bill, for I consider it to be yet another example of the utter irrelevance and lack of realism of Socialism in our society at the present time. I hazard the guess that more farmers and farm workers in that part of the world which I share with my Member of Parliament will share my view, not his.

Seventy years ago the union represented by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard) began fighting this battle. I have little doubt that at that time, long before the Welfare State, long before the achievement of powerful unions, there was oppression of farm workers and their families. It may have been right then to seek to relieve the farm worker of the widespread serfdom that held him in thrall to near-feudal farmer landlords, but is it not absurd to introduce legislation aimed at dealing with a situation which no one in his right mind could say still exists?

Is there widespread eviction or misery? Of course not. The Government's consultative document refers to a handful of cases of formal eviction. The number of eviction cases is probably fewer than the number of evictions of miners. It is conceded all round that a fair proportion of evictions are collusive between farmer and farm worker to get the farm worker a council house.

Is there widespread misery and suffering? There are about 800 tied cottagers in my constituency. Despite the length of time that this matter has been before the public eye and my well-known accessibility to all my constituents, not one has complained to me about the system of tied cottages or sought my support for the Bill. Many of them must be members of the Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers, represented by the hon. Member for Brightside.

Is there no protection for the farm worker under existing legislation? Again, the opposite is true. Labour's Rent Act 1965, following Labour's Protection from Eviction Act 1964, followed by Labour's Rent Act 1968 and Labour's Agriculture Act 1970, guaranteed security of tenure to the majority of farm workers for six months—only marginally less than the security accorded to private rented tenants elsewhere, which, incidentally, has destroyed the private rented market and distorted the demand for council housing.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

If the hon. Gentleman is arguing that the Agriculture Act 1970 gives such massive protection, will he tell the House why his friends in the House of Lords in 1970 removed a clause which gave protection to the tenant when the farmer proved that the cottage was reasonably necessary for the efficient operation of the farm? Why did the 200 or so Members of the House of Lords who have farms and farming interests collaborate to oppose that clause?

Mr. Lawrence

I was not here and I do not know, but if the evil which the Bill purports to attack is so great as to occupy valuable Government legislative time and energy, why did not the Government seek to introduce it in those years between 1965 and 1970 when they had a real majority in the House? Can we escape the conclusion that this, like so much else, is less necessary legislation than another Labour Government's sop to their trade union masters? Again, as frequently happens, the farmer, the farm worker and the housewife will all be the sufferers together.

Are farm workers suffering from appalling housing conditions? The Tavistock Institute report shows that the living conditions of farm workers are just as good as are the living conditions in tied accommodation for miners, policemen, teachers and clergymen, for which no pressure for legislation exists.

Is there shocking pay for the occupants of tied cottages? Again, the Tavistock Institute report shows that their pay is significantly higher than the pay of those who live otherwise off the farm. In all these circumstances, it is no surprise to learn from the Shelter report that only 5.3 per cent. of farm workers want tied cottages to be abolished.

Astonishing as the fact may be to dyed-in-the-wool Socialists who have been fighting the battles of yesteryear for so long that they find it impossible to stop, the world has moved on since 1906, and other evils have replaced those that once existed. This battle is one which has certainly become irrelevant. But the Bill is not just irrelevant. It is harmfully unrealistic.

Miss Maynard

If it is so irrelevant, why are the Opposition expending so much energy to prevent the Bill from being passed through the House?

Mr. Lawrence

The energy I am expending is to try to stop the Government introducing irrelevant legislation. If my hon. Friends do not seek to do that, the Bill will go through on the nod. There does not seem to be much point in introducing legislation which is supported by only 5.3 per cent. of those who work on farms.

Mr. F. P. Crowder (Ruislip-Northwood)

Is the figure really as small as 5.3 per cent.?

Mr. Lawrence

I assure my hon. and learned Friend that 5.3 per cent. is the figure produced by the Shelter report. Although the Opposition have the greatest regard at all times for Shelter, it can hardly be said to err on the side of the views held by the Opposition. Therefore, we can assume the 5.3 per cent. to be a high figure rather than a low figure. It is no use blithely talking about making more local authority housing available, as the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) suggested, or giving the farm worker higher wages to enable him to buy his own house, as suggested by the hon. Member for Bright-side. However desirable those aims may or may not be—and I find the hon. Lady's desire for more owner-occupation quite exciting—they are both utterly unrealistic aims for achievement at the present time. How can it help the shocking housing situation in so many semi-rural areas to deter farmers from building houses or letting cottages and thereby taking the pressure off the council house lists? What would those who come to my surgery weekly, complaining about bad housing conditions and the length of time they have been on the council housing list, have to say if I told them that some farm workers who were perfectly happily housed in available houses near to their work had jumped the list because farming is so important?

If priority is not be given to farm workers in, for example, such areas as East Staffordshire—and priority need not be given under the Bill where "best endeavours" is to be the test—evictions are likely to mean the rundown of dairy, poultry and pig farming in my constituency. That point was well made by the hon. Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Phipps). It is also the point made by one of my farmers who has written to me in the following terms: We have a 450 acre farm five miles from here with two service cottages, one of which is the farm house. If these cottages are lost to agriculture we should most certainly have to give up our pig enterprise after spending about £10,000 on purpose-made buildings. Is that the reality which the Government are pursuing? There are 12,000 empty tied cottages around the country which would soon be occupied if the Bill were dropped. If the Government were single-minded about homelessness, would the Bill be introduced?

The Government's other policy in farming is to encourage maximum self-sufficiency in food production. That is good, and that policy is outlined in "Food from Our Own Resources". Yet Ruth Gasson's study, relied on by Labour Members, concludes that production would be bound to fail if tied cottages were abolished, and employment—which is important to Members on both sides of the House—would also be reduced. The ultimate losers would be not large business farmers but the nation as a whole which could expect to be faced with steeply rising costs for a small volume of food. How often do we have to set these obvious truths before Labour Members? Is that the reality which the Government seek?

The Government have told local authorities to curb their spending. That is good. Yet the Financial Memorandum requires £5 million a year for five years. Is that the reality the Government are seeking?

I cannot honestly believe that a Government who seek to improve production, to keep down local authority costs and to reduce homelessness can be enthusiastic about this Bill. It will be substantially amended in Committee and in the end may well turn out to have been an utter waste of time.

This brings me to my concluding point. In the time I have been in this House one thing, above all else, has been made clear to me—we are churning out too much legislation at a speed as though it were going out of fashion—too much, too ill-considered, too ill-directed and too ill-drafted. When are we going to stop producing this rubbish? When all has been said and done about this Bill, what will be the only argument left standing? It will be the one with which the Secretary of State began. The system, he said, is "inherently liable to abuse". Little or no abuse will have been proved, at the end of the day, any more than it has been proved during the course of this debate, but there is the remote possibility. What, oh what, sort of insanity is it that makes people who come to this place, particularly on the other side of the House, keep saying "Here is the possibility of an injustice; let us legislate, legislate, legislate"?

Legislation cannot cure every existing evil, let alone every possible evil. It is time we stopped, and by stopping this Bill we shall be making a good start.

7.52 p.m.

Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Ormskirk)

I do not know why the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) is here if he does not accept that this place should legislate. He asked many questions in his rather florid speech but never produced a single answer. Rather he put his hands together, as is his wont, and bemoaned the effect of legislation without looking clearly at the iniquities of a longstanding system which this Bill is trying to eradicate.

The hon. Gentleman, with many of his hon. Friends, as on many previous occasions, has come to us pleading about the catastrophe which will engulf the farming industry and agriculture in general as a result of the Bill. We have heard it all before. We heard it when the farm workers got their Saturday afternoons off. We were told that it would bring the farming industry to its knees and lead to catastrophe. It did not. We heard also, when the wages board was set up, that it would ruin the industry and dissipate profits. But none of these things happened and farmers, certainly in my part of the country, have become more efficient and affluent. This is not a Bill which seeks to damage agriculture or farmers. What we are doing ought to have been done a long time ago—to give a series of rights to farm workers who have been badly treated by this House, and by the country, in the past.

One Conservative Member asked why we were debating the Bill today when the iniquities of the system were much more serious in previous years. It is true that they were, but that is no argument against the Bill. It is, perhaps, a reflection on my own party that it did not have the wherewithal, or the courage, to introduce the Bill at a much earlier stage. It has taken us 70 years to get to this Second Reading tonight and although that is a long time, nevertheless it is welcome.

I welcome the Bill and hope that it will get a Second Reading. It honours a long-standing commitment by this party successively, though various Parliaments, to the farm workers of this country.

The complaints we have had from the Opposition, and the case against the Bill, seem to be only that it will, in some way, be detrimental to the farmer. No one has talked about the disadvantages of the present system, or the advantages which will accrue to the farm worker under this Bill. What disadvantages will the Bill bring to the farmer? The only one we have heard is that the mobility of his labour will be increased and he will lose the ready access on his doostep of his farm workers.

Farm workers have been tied not only to their cottages but also to their farmers for too long. It is a degrading system for a farm worker to be beholden to his employer not only for his job but also for the cottage in which he lives and brings up his family.

Mr. Nick Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that farm workers are forced into that employment?

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

No, not necessarily, but they have a great deal of difficulty getting out of it.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Perhaps the hon. Lady will contain her impatience and excitability for just a moment. I was saying that farm workers have a great deal of difficulty in getting out of that situation. That is the major reason which has been put forward by the Opposition tonight for opposing the Bill. They do not wish farm workers to have the mobility to move around the country and to enter different employment—which has been the prerogative of other workers for a long time. That is one of the frequent arguments put forward by Conservative Members.

Mr. Crowder

Would the hon. Gentleman address himself to the figure of 5.1 per cent. which my hon. Friend mentioned? At the moment on the Labour Benches we have about 1 per cent. attendance. That is not very high and does not show great enthusiasm.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

The figure which the hon. Gentleman mentioned as quoted in the report was 6 per cent. A more interesting figure from the same source was the number of evictions in a year. Why was that figure not quoted? Why have we not had a single figure from the Opposition about the number of evictions? The fact is that 50 per cent. of our farm workers live in tied cottages and are tied to their employers.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman


Mr. Kilroy-Silk

We know of about 1,200 evictions every year. This is an intolerable situation and one which has needed to be remedied for a long time and which this Bill will remedy. One of the abuses of the tied cottage system is the large number of evictions which still occur. This is particularly important at a time—

Mr. Rossi

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

I will finish the point. The hon. Gentleman is used to bullying but I am afraid that he will not be able to bully me.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman


Mr. Kilroy-Silk

The number of evictions is particularly important at a time when there is not freely available alternative accommodation. This is particularly a problem in agricultural areas.

Mr. Rossi

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way because I am sure that he does not want to mislead the House. He has not had the advantage of listening to the whole of the debate and he has considerably overstated the number of evictions. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard), who is a great supporter of the Bill, has said that there are only about 20 evictions a year. There are some 1,200 possession orders, most of which are obtained by collusion in order to persuade local authorities to accept their housing responsibilities. That is the evidence that the House has been given.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

There are 1,025 possession orders, as it happens, but we do not know whether there has been collusion. We have no evidence to suggest that they are the result of collusion.

The farm worker who lives in a tied cottage is tied not only to his cottage but to his job. That has serious implications for his relationship with his employer. He is not as free or as able as other workers to negotiate freely with his employer over wages when he happens to live close to his employer and his home is always in the possession of his employer.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Will the hon. Gentleman give way on this precise point?

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

No, I will not.

This is perhaps partly the reason for the traditionally low wages in agriculture, for the exploitation for which that industry is well known and for the low degree of unionisation among its workers. How can they develop a free relationship with their employer in which they have the ability to negotiate freely over wages and conditions, to belong to and participate in the workings of a trade union, when not only their jobs but their homes and the prosperity of their families are tied to the good will which they must extract from their employers?

Nor is there any security for them in their home. Their security depends on their constantly renewing and obtaining the good will of their employer. As many of my hon. Friends have said, it is a relic of the feudal system that we should have had to retain the tied cottage system for so long and have not abolished it earlier.

The Bill does not, unfortunately, abolish the system, but at least it goes some way towards ameliorating many of the problems with which the system is associated. At least it gives security of tenure to many people who have not had it in the past. Unfortunately, we have lost some of the provisions which were in the consultative document. One example is the absence from the Bill of a register of agricultural cottages. There are many other aspects of the BM which I hope will be not weakened in Committee, as Conservative Members seem to wish, but tightened.

This is a historic Bill. It begins a new era for farm workers. It has been long awaited. It is to be largely applauded and welcomed. I know that it will be welcomed by all the farm workers in my constituency who want the freedom and dignity of a home of their own in which they have security of tenure and who want not to be constantly beholden to their employer for their home as well as for their wages. It will also enable them, for the first time, to stand up freely to ask for higher wages and to bargain collectively as they have not been able to do in the past. I give the Bill my warm support.

8.2 p.m.

Mr. Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)

The hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) seems to have little practical knowledge of the industrial relations in agriculture and the present relationship between farmers and the highly skilled and expensive labour that they now employ. I would incur your wrath, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I were to stray into the realms of Scottish divorce, but over the last few years the House has got rid of collusion in divorce. All that one can say about this Bill is that, under it, the House is getting rid of collusion in the evictions of farm workers.

In the last few years, in my constituency in Lincolnshire, the local Press has reported eight cases of farm workers being evicted. In each case, when I have written to the agent of the farmer concerned, I have been told "Leave it alone." It is the only way in which we can be certain that someone who wishes to leave the industry can get the necessary priority in obtaining a council house. I have never come across any real hardship in any of those cases.

The agricultural worker will now lose that priority in obtaining a council house when he wants to leave the industry. If one wants to arrange for the chap who does not like the job, or is not suitable for it, to get a council house, one goes through the eviction procedures and the local authority has to house him. The National Farmers' Union itself is very worried about this point. It is honest enough to say in its brief: It could be argued that the Union's fears about the consequences of abolishing the service house system are without foundation because the Bill imposes a duty on local authorities to provide a house for an occupier leaving a farm service house … This duty has no real substance and cannot give farmers confidence that Council houses will be forthcoming as and when legitimate applications are made by farm workers who wish to leave the industry. Clause 29 obliges local authorities merely to ' use their best endeavours' ". That is not good enough.

The part of Lincolnshire that I am privileged to represent still has a large agricultural element. In most constituencies in England the number employed directly in agriculture is falling dramatically, but in North Lincolnshire 14 per cent. of the population are still directly employed in that industry.

The Shelter survey found, from an admittedly small sample, that almost half the farm workers were totally indifferent to the Bill and the abolition of tied cottages. That is the position in my constituency. The local representatives of the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers are lukewarm and indifferent to the Bill.

Today, one can afford to keep on a farm only good men, and good men demand really good houses. In practice, most of the housing now made available to valuable farm workers is much superior, in construction and amenities, to any council house. I have a great deal of sympathy with the argument that the industry has an enormous amount of capital tied up in its houses. It is a burden that we can ill afford at the moment. Some of us were fortunate enough to get 50 per cent. grants under the Livestock Rearing Regulations to modernise and renovate houses and to build new ones. Without that help, many farmers would have been in a difficult position today.

We are concerned about stockmen. We cannot argue quite so positively, on a large arable farm, for the absolute necessity of having the men on the spot. It is a convenience; not a necessity. But it is necessary to have a shepherd, a pig-man or a cowman available on the spot. Anyone with experience knows that one's profit and the performance of the herd or flock depend on the individual skill of one man. No one can say why one shepherd has 120 per cent. lambing and a good return while another, on the same farm, cannot do as well. Individual men have particular skills and a particular feel for the job. They are the men who must be housed on the spot. They must be on hand to deal with emergencies.

One of the greatest expenses and hardships for anyone today is the business of getting to work. It is an enormous advantage to have a modern house immediately next door to one's work. Even if one lived in the nearest village, in a council house, one would still have to travel to work. Travel to work in itself is not eligible for tax relief. I am constantly filling in, accurately but sometimes on the lines of a fairy story, Schedule E expenses claims for the various people I employ. If a man has a motoring allowance, he pays tax on it unless he fills in a complicated form at the end of the tax year—a form which most employers have to fill in for these people. So it is a great disadvantage and expense to live far from one's work.

Much rural council housing is among the worst housing in the countryside—perhaps five or six houses in a block, with no facilities for drying clothes and no wash basin by the lavatory. Much rural council housing compares badly with the best type of farm accommodation.

The present system has some enormous advantages. The figures have already been quoted. We have well over 135,000 modernised farmhouses available today, 70,000 of which are occupied by farm workers, 26,000 by outside workers, 20,000 by retired farm workers, and 7,000 by farmers' families. As my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) has said, at present there are 12,000 empty houses—empty because of the fear that the Bill has brought to people. I know that many people are already looking at the contracts of employment that they have made with other people in the countryside in order to be certain that there is no reference to their conditions being the same as those of a farm worker, for fear that the procedures in the Bill will be extended to cover people other than those who work on farms.

I find that there is no desire for the Bill whatsoever. It will reduce the amount of good housing available to people who work in agriculture. It will take away one of the great advantages of going to work on a farm today, where one gets with one's job a good modern house, in excellent surroundings. In many cases council houses are not suitable. They are certainly not suitable for stockmen. In many cases they do not have the right facilities for drying clothes, for keeping dogs, and so on.

Having gone through the gesture of introducing the Bill, very late in the Session, I hope that Labour Members will feel that honour has been satisfied. I hope that the Bill will die, as many other Bills have died, by starting the parliamentary process so late in the Session. The Government must have second thoughts.

8.11 p.m.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

I certainly hope that the Bill will not die. I was present when a delegation of about 200 farm workers came to the House about two years ago. They impressed me greatly with their determination and their suffering. They were not people who spoke from the heights of farm ownership. They were not people who owned 500 or 1,000 acres, and told other men what to do. They were the people who received the orders. They had the marks of toil on their hands. They came to this House with the very strong message that the tied cottage in agriculture had to go. They pointed out that it was a promise that the Labour movement had been making for many years.

From the Opposition Benches we hear talk of progress and modernity—as though because a promise is of long standing it somehow loses worth, as though if an idea is old it is somehow diminished in value. I do not suppose those who propose that notion would think that the Habeas Corpus Act 1679 is of diminished value because it was passed then. They would say that it is the keynote of our individual liberty and freedom. So it is for a Socialist promise, a basic promise set out many years ago when the Labour Party was first formed and when it started on the path that has produced a majority on these Benches. It is a promise that we aim to keep.

This matter goes to the Opposition, because on many occasions Conservative Governments have done U-turns and disenchanted their followers. There have been occasions on which Labour Governments have done the same thing. Keeping a promise is something that heartens our supporters. They say "That is the sort of Government we want—a Government who stick by their election pledges." We included this one in the Queen's Speech.

On the basis of that lobby of farm workers, largely from Kent, I put forward a Ten-Minute Bill to abolish the tied cottage. It was designed simply to chivvy the Government along and to remind them of the promise. We were then in a minority position, and it was very difficult. We are now back in a minority situation, to a differing degree. However, to the Government it was a reminder of their promise.

By the publicity surrounding my Bill, I received evidence from all over the country about the difficulties and hard ships that are faced by farm workers. I received evidence about the hardships of people in other occupations, but the overwhelming majority of evidence was about the difficulies faced by farm workers. There was no question in my mind that the opposition by Conservatives was due to a doctrinaire approach—that they were the people who owned the land and they were the people to determine the future of their goods and chattels, and the people included in that category.

The hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) has now left the Chamber, but I am happy to say that he included in his speech mention of much Labour legislation. I raised the question with him that if the protection afforded by legislation was so great, why did the Conservatives in the House of Lords block a clause of the Agriculture Bill in 1970 which would have required a farm owner to say that a cottage was necessary for the efficient running of his farm? Why was that clause deleted after being passed through the House of Commons without the support of the then Conservative Opposition? The fact is that they were simply not prepared to make even the most modest compromise in the situation. They wanted total power.

Although, happily, we have only two dozen or so actual evictions every year, the fact is that if an agricultural worker lives in tied accommodation he is subject to a great degree of intimidation. The tied accommodation prevents a proper relationship developing between an employer and his employee, such as that which exists in other circumstances. It allows a farm owner to require a farm labourer, or a farm worker of some sort, to undertake extra duties. It gives the owner an edge, because if the worker does not perform those duties, at the back of his mind there is always the question "What happens about my accommodation? Will I come up against the boss? If so, what will happen? Will I be evicted?" There is that continuing threat of intimidation at the back of these situations.

It is true that evictions are comparatively few, tragic though they are. However the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers deals with between 500 and 1,000 cases every year. Although those cases do not result in actual eviction, they are stories of misery, concern, deprivation and worry over a long period, which are eventually solved without resort to the courts.

When I put forward my Ten-Minute Bill in 1974, the NUAAW was kind enough to send me some details in a letter, which said: Here are a few details of recent cottage evictions dealt with by this Union. Mr. and Mrs. Hogben of Faversham—3 children between 4 and 7 years of age. Evicted … Mr. Golding, dependant wife and family of teenage children, of Wingham, were evicted. Spent nights in a St. John's Ambulance Hall. Of course, Opposition Members who talk about this matter say that eviction is not really so bad, but how many have actually spent a few nights in a St. John's Ambulance hall because of a decision of their employer? I suspect very few of them have done that, because they are the people in the big house. They are the people with the power, and they expect obedience from their employees. They are the people who simply do not understand that there is a different point of view over eviction, especially on the part of those who suffer from the situation.

The NUAAW also gave me details—these were published in the Kent Messenger —of another farm worker who was evicted, a Mr. Henty. The threat of intimidation frequently goes with the question of union membership, so that frequently, alas, membership of the NUAAW is very difficult. There is no doubt that if a man is a member of a trade union and is regarded by a farmer as being a bit bolshie, the moment can be picked when a job can be dispensed with and a person can be evicted.

Mr. Henty was not a disloyal employee and, indeed, worked on the farm for 13 years. He was then made redundant. Was he a bad worker? Was he ill? Was he evicted as a result of a farming accident—of which, unhappily, there are far too many? None of those reasons is apt in this respect. Mr. Henty, as he admits, was bought. The Kent Messenger sets out his case. Mr. Henty said: My advice to young people is to keep well clear of the tied cottage. You are owned by the farmer and once you are in, you are in for life. I had no choice over whom I worked for. I was bought. He points out that when the farm changed hands the new employer decided not to employ him and Mr. Henty's services were dispensed with and his tenancy came to an end. He had no control over the situation and was not consulted about the change of ownership. That is what he meant when he said he was "bought".

Opposition Members tend to speak in glowing and romantic terms about people buying little houses with honeysuckle growing over the porch, and about people who save up to become part of our property-owning democracy, which is no doubt a laudable thing to do, but when Mr. Henty was made homeless after working on that farm for 13 years, he was awarded £437 in redundancy pay. That was in 1974, and fortunately a Labour Government have now significantly improved that situation. The report in the Kent Messenger goes on to say that with that small amount of money the couple were determined to escape the tied cottage system. They had to look for property at the bottom of the market and eventually found a house at East Farleigh for £8,500.

At the age of 51, with some small savings behind him, Mr. Henty realised that he had left it too late. The property was valued, and he could not obtain enough mortgage to cover the cost. Mrs. Henty said: The worst part about it 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. That is a vivid and graphic illustration of the difficulties experienced by one agricultural worker and his family.

Let me continue to deal with the topic of intimidation. Some hon. Members may have seen the BBC television series about life in the country. Cameramen from BBC2 wanted to film a farm worker carrying out his work on the farm on which he was employed, but they were not allowed to do so. The camera crew was not allowed on the land, because the farm employer decided that he would not permit the television unit to film his employee. Instead, the filming took place in a nearby pub.

Mr. Alan Clark (Plymouth, Sutton)

Invasion of privacy.

Mr. Cryer

Is it an invasion of privacy to film an employee loyally carrying out his work? That man had probably given years of his life to that farm. Instead of the employer's saying "It is splendid that you have been chosen to be filmed by the BBC, because you are a good worker: it is a credit to you that they want to show you at work on the land", the employer said to the BBC cameraman "No, you cannot go on my land". That is a stark example of the attitude displayed by Conservative Members and those they represent.

I wish to make the further point that although evictions do not always take place, the farm worker faces uncertainty because of the possibility of accident through his contact with farm machinery. Fortunately, from 1st March the Agricultural Inspectorate came under the auspices of the Health and Safety Commission. That is regarded as a very good move by the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers because, by and large, it is true to say that the agricultural inspectors were not regarded with any great degree of confidence by the employees. It is worth reminding the House that if an employee is injured at work on the farm, he faces the strong possibility of having to end his stay in the cottage in which he lives. That happens through no fault of his own.

It is obvious that the Opposition are extremely confused on this issue. In their speeches some of them said that many people would resent the fact that farm workers would be given priority on local authority housing lists The hon. and learned Member for Thanet West (Mr. Rees-Davies) said that there would be great bitterness and resentment on that score, and that point was echoed by the hon. Member for Burton. It was interesting that the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) said that it was usual to have such priorities in any event. I do not know whether he meant that in his neck of the woods farmers had more pull locally. The fact is that in 1973 the Country Landowners' Association and the NFU put out a Press statement to the effect that it would be a good thing if farm workers were given priority on council housing lists if they were coming to the end of their working life. The Opposition should clarify their position before they make confident assertions on this matter.

I accept that there are certain difficulties in the operation of a farm, but there are difficulties in the operation of a factory. We must try to take everything into account. Under the provisions of Clause 28 a farmer will be able to make application to a housing authority to justify a situation involving a tied cottage. The local authority must make reasonable endeavours to provide alternative accommodation, and the ball is in the farmer's court to justify the case. That gets away from the present situation in which the farmer can make the determination in a patriarchal manner.

It is said by the Opposition that it will be impossible for a farmer to run a farm without his stockman being close to his work. However, we are not told by the Opposition that veterinary surgeons must live on the farm, or that they need to occupy tied cottages. The Bill takes account of reasonable grounds for doubt and uncertainty. In my view, the Bill should work well.

I know that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture has put in an enormous amount of work on this legislation. I know that he has had consultations on all sides and that he has issued a consultative document which has been widely read and greatly appreciated. He is to be congratulated on the job he has done, and the other agricultural Ministers with him.

I shall certainly give this Bill my wholehearted support. There may be one or two corners that need to be rounded and one or two things that need to be tied up to make sure that there are no unnecessary compromises, but I hope that this Bill has the support of the House, because, although we shall face criticism from the vested interests on the Opposition Benches, that is one of the tests of our legislation. We are here not to prop up a mouldering capitalist society but to improve society and push it along on a more Socialist basis, so we naturally expect antagonism, obduracy and dogmatism from the Opposition Benches. But I believe that this Bill will be widely welcomed inside this House on the Government Benches, widely welcomed by the agricultural workers, and widely welcomed by their wives and children, because for too long they have been subjected to the sole arbitration of the farm owner. The fulfilment of the promise to get rid of that power of arbitration is long overdue.

8.30 p.m.

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

May I first declare an interest as an owner-occupier of a farm, with two tied cottages occupied by men who have managed to put up with me for the past 15 years and with whom the relationship has always been harmonious.

I believe sincerely that this Bill has seriously damaged the prospects of many farm workers and in particular two sectors of farm workers—the young and ambitious and those approaching retirement.

First let us take the young and ambitious, on whom the future of our industry and indeed the future of the country, when one considers how much we can save the country, will depend. With the large amount of capital now required to become an owner-occupier or a tenant farmer it is obviously vital that there is a chance of promotion within the working structure of agriculture. The chances of becoming a farmer in one's own right are very slender indeed. Therefore a career structure is absolutely vital for any man entering the industry. It is with this in mind that we have spent millions of pounds on training young men in agricultural skills. But very few farm workers can gain promotion on the one farm on which they start. They must move around.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Bright-side (Miss Maynard), who has not been here for the past few hours, asked how it is—

Mr. Cryer


Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

I have been here—she departed before I did.

Mr. Cryer

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

The hon. Gentleman would not give way to me and I shall not give way to him.

Mr. Cryer


Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

Order. If the hon. Lady does not wish to give way, she cannot be pressed to do so.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman


Mr. Cryer

On a point of order. In the interests of accuracy I must point out that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard) has been out of the Chamber for half an hour for the first time since 3.30 p.m. when the debate started.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

In point of fact—

Mr. Ron Thomas (Bristol, North-West)

Further to that point of order I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard) has been sitting in this Chamber from the beginning of the debate and has just rushed out to get something to eat in order to be back here for the summing up by the Minister.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. The question of who has been here and who has not is going a little wide of order. We shall return to the debate.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

The reason I raised the point is that I never like to refer to what an hon. Member has said unless that hon. Member is there to correct any detail which may be inaccurate.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside asked how EEC farmers manage without tied houses on the Continent. The answer is very simple. On the Continent they have not the same rigid rent control system, which puts promotion beyond the reach of many men in industry in this country because they simply cannot find a house to go with a better job. On the Continent they have not killed off the rented sector. If we abolish tied cottages in this country, we kill off the career structure of those working in agriculture. But it also works against the interests of those approaching retirement age, and in. particular their wives.

In my early days we used to farm 1,600 feet up in the mountains of Wales. Many men in those parts, and their wives, were perfectly content to accept that they lived on the tops of mountain or in isolated areas during their working lives, but when they came to the end of their working lives they often wanted to move down into more inhabited areas, into villages, with their friends. Moreover, the whole concept of welfare in this country is to allow people to remain in their own homes as long as possible. If, therefore, they can get out of an isolated dwelling where they have little in the way of support services into a small bungalow in a more populated area they have a great deal better chance of remaining in their own home to the end of their days than in a isolated farmhouse—and that is what the wives of the farm workers in this country want. I have them coming to me in my surgery and saying "Our farmer is perfectly happy for us to stay where we are, but we want to get into a more convenient bungalows where we can end our days."

The hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk), who is not in his place at the moment, said that mobility was the prerogative of all other workers. Is it? What about the 10 families which the National Coal Board—[Interruption.] I was speaking to Mr. Deputy Speaker, not to hon. Gentlemen opposite. What about the 10 families whom the NCB chucked out on their ears—evicted-last week from their tied cottages? What about the schoolteachers, the clergymen and the railwaymen, of whom I have many in my constituency, and others who form nine-tenths of the tied cottage population? Only one-tenth are in farm tied cottages.

The hon. Member for Ormskirk said that tied cottages accounted for low wages. If so, why is it that 50 per cent. of workers in industry who are not in tied cottages remain within the industry?

Unlike most hon. Members opposite, I started my working life as a farm worker. I was in the Women's Land Army. I was a dairy maid—[Interruption.] I was a very good dairy maid. I know about the hours which farmers have to work.

I confess that, although I trained my cows well, I never succeeded in training them to use the telephone. Apparently the hon. Member for Brightside considers that it is adequate, when a cow is calving, for the cowman or dairy maid to be notified by phone. That is an unrealistic concept. If a cow in my charge were starting to calve, however soundly I might have thought I was sleeping, I should automatically have heard that cow begin to bellow. I guarantee—ribaldry apart on the Benches opposite—that I should be with that cow, respectably clad in gum boots, a long skirt, and a pullover, in two minutes flat. That cannot be done if the farmer has to phone for the cowman.

The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) said that one does not have the vet on the premises. Indeed, one does not. If a farmer has a good dairy maid or stockman, nine times out of 10 he will not need the vet. The vet is and should remain the second line of defence. The stockman, whose instincts are to care for his stock, who can hear what is wrong, and knows instantly when his attention is required, must inevitably live on the spot. Without the stockman our dairy industry cannot survive.

If we are to have this bad Bill, which is against the interests of farmers and farm workers, I support my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) in asking for the qualifying period to be five years. We all know only to well that people drift into agriculture because they want houses. Therefore, two years is not sufficient as the qualifying period. It must be five years. Although the qualifying period could be reduced, I suggest that it is improbable that we should succeed in increasing it. If our stock, pig, poultry and dairy farms are to play the part which they are entitled to play and must play if we are to survive as a great agricultural nation, we must alter the qualifying period at least to five years.

This is a bad Bill, but it can be improved.

8.39 p.m.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

The contribution made by the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) reminded me of the lovely song which I learned as a child— It is dabbling in the dew which makes the milk maids fair. It is a lovely song. I have a good voice, but I shall resist the temptation to sing it now.

I represent part of a steel city—Sheffield. My aim in making this brief contribution is to demonstrate the solidarity of working people generally, and certainly the organised trade union and labour movement, in support of this Bill and their comrades, the agricultural workers. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard) has the complete backing of the great steel constituency which she represents and, indeed, of the entire trade union and labour movement in that city. I want to "solidArise" with the agricultural workers—[HON. MEMBERS: "SolidArise?"] I want to "solidArise"—s-o-l-i-. Oh, never mind.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brightside made a point of coming back from a conference of agricultural workers to be here today. She would not dream of being missing from here for longer than was strictly necessary. Some time ago I went on a picket of agricultural workers with her outside the Ministry. It was midwinter and cold. She and I were the only hon. Members to join the agricultural workers. It was a bleak day and one of the workers was an elderly man who had retired some time before. I engaged in conversation with him and we became friendly. In a few hours he taught me a great deal about the subject, although I had been interested in it for a long time. I asked him why he had joined the picket at his age. He said, "Before I die I want to see the cottages free and not tied. I have worked for that all my life." I discovered that he had tramped from a remote area in Yorkshire to join his union comrades and to demonstrate.

Incidentally, he died a short time ago. He was witty and humorous and he told me some of his experiences as a young man. One of those stories epitomises the feelings of agricultural workers. He said that he had attended a committee where the wonderful things one could do with a sheep's head were discussed. The four wealthy farmers present were asked, "Who gets the rest of the sheep?" Agricultural workers are in a similar position today.

I first became interested in tied cottages after reading Thomas Hardy's novel "Tess of the D'Urbervilles". According to the novel, on Lady Day agricultural workers moved from one employer to another. They put their belongings on farm carts and shouted across to each other to find out what the farmer that their fellow workers had just left was like. The workers regularly told each other exactly what their previous employers were like in language that Thomas Hardy did not use. Those workers lacked security and had to move from one farm to another. It is appalling that today any section of work people should be tied to a cottage under feudal conditions.

Opposition Members argue with a vested interest. They literally lift up their visors, look across at us over the battlements and engage in feudal arguments which should have been relegated to the dustbin long ago. I speak at every possible meeting of agricultural workers.

Mr. Jopling

The hon. Gentleman is repeating a word used earlier by one of his colleagues—feudalism, If he believes that the system is feudal, as I understand he does, what is he doing to deal with what must also be feudalism in the coal industry?

Mr. Flannery

We are talking about the agricultural tied cottages. The hon. Gentleman may assume that those of us on the Labour Benches who are arguing the case for this Bill will do everything in our power to rectify what is happening in that industry. Many councils, such as the council for the Chesterfield area, are taking over old tied cottages and doing them up. I am not an expert on that matter, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that that is our aim, and it will be achieved in exactly the same way.

In meeting the agricultural workers as I have since I have been a Member, through my hon. Friend and others, I have found that their most deeply felt desire is to get rid of the tied cottage. At meetings in the House they pressed the point over and over again and repeated that, with wages, which were so deplorable and have since been slightly improved, it was the matter closest to their hearts. They said that they would never let the issue go. Incidentally, the farm workers were against the Common Market, while the farmers were for it. There are differences between the working men in tied cottages, with their background, and the rich farmers.

We are told that few evictions have taken place. A great part of the struggle has been because of the feudal conditions under which farm workers were held down, and which made many of them realise that if they engaged in the normal practices of any trade unionist their very homes would be in jeopardy. They were held on a leash. It is now clear that in areas where the tied cottage has been abandoned trade unionism, which Conservative Members do not like, has taken a leap forward. The whole trade union movement in such areas is much more powerful, and it will become more powerful.

My hon. Friend said that farmers will soon adjust to the reality of the tied cottage having gone. Of course they will. The whole of agriculture will take a leap forward because free human beings who do not have the threat of eviction hanging over them will now have proper trade union rights, or will be struggling for them without the fear of losing the homes tied to their work.

The Bill is a profound measure which will give the entire farming community a feeling that it has friends all over the country, even among people who are not usually seen to be such. As someone from a steel area, I thought that I should like to show my solidarity with the Bill, which is about to go through.

8.49 p.m.

Mr. Nick Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)

As a Tory representing an urban area, I had not expected to contribute to the debate. I am stung into speech—

Mr. Brian Sedgemore (Luton, West)

To make up the numbers.

Mr. Budgen

—by the frequent references from the Labour Benches to the feudalism of the tied cottage system. The whole basis of feudalism was status, not contract, whereas—

Mr. Sedgemore

It was ownership of land.

Mr. Budgen

But not contract—not agreement freely entered into by adult members of a free society. Therefore, I ask myself whether in this instance the State should interfere and vary a contract which has been freely entered into.

Many people argue that being a farm worker is an unpleasant job. I have never been an employee of any sort and I should not want to be a farm worker. I would not want to be a worker on a lathe in a factory. But no doubt many factory workers would not want to be Members of Parliament. Many factory workers would say that we lead an insecure life, with unsocial hours, that we are dictated to and that we are intimidated by our supporters and our opponents. They would say that there is much that is inconsistent and humiliating in the work of a politician, and they would be right. But we have chosen freely this way of life.

In the same way, the farm worker has chosen freely his contract of employment. He takes into account both the advantages and the disadvantages, and unless we are to say, in an offensively paternalistic way, that the farm worker is such a fool that he must be relieved of the disadvantages of his contract, I believe that we are right, as a society and a State, to say that he is entitled to keep to the contract that he has entered into freely.

Mr. Newens

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that precisely the opposite prevails —that frequently a farm worker is not free to decide what sort of job he wishes to do, and that once he has a tied cottage he is unable to change his job, unlike a Member of Parliament, because he will lose his home and not be able to get another one? Therefore, he is unfree.

Mr. Budgen

That was a good argument in the days of which Thomas Hardy wrote. At a time when there was no free, good public education, when public transport did not exist, when many working people could not afford to buy transport and when, probably, only the very able and the very spirited could opt out of the society in which they found themselves, perhaps there was an argument for varying the terms of the contract into which they entered freely.

There is a second circumstance in which I would be in favour of varying the terms of a freely agreed contract. That is where there is a monopoly employer. I have in mind a monopoly employer like the Army, or the National Coal Board. If a person wishes to be a soldier or a coal miner, he has only one employer, and in cases like that there is a strong argument for the State reviewing the terms and conditions of the contract of employment. But where the situation is one in which a free citizen enters into a contract. taking into account all the advantages and disadvantages, I see no argument for the State stepping in and in a paternalistic way saying to the employee "You are such a fool that you do not understand fully what you were entering into."

That is a philosophic point. But what are the consequences of this measure likely to be? First, I believe that there will be very substantial long-term disadvantages to farm workers themselves. Here, I adopt the eloquent arguments put forward from a wealth of practical and detailed knowledge by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball). All of us know the expense and disadvantage of travelling to work. In the course of my reading today, I remember seeing that the Automobile Association now estimates that it costs 13p per mile to run a motor car. This measure will mean many people having to live some distance from their work and having to travel at expense and inconvenience and in a way that loses them time.

The Bill will also impose on the countryside all the disadvantages that the Rent Acts have imposed upon the town. Here, I may perhaps speak in this rural debate as an urban Tory, because we in the towns have seen the suffocating effects of the Rent Acts. We have Seen the vacant houses. We have seen the badly maintained housing. We have seen the immobility that is forced upon those who live in a privileged position in rent-controlled accommodation. We have also seen the conditions that give landlords a greater incentive to use strong-arm methods to get tenants out of controlled or protected housing. All these evils are now to be inflicted upon the rural community.

The Bill will cause a serious reduction in agricultural efficiency. Here I adopt many of the arguments from my hon. Friends who have detailed knowledge of agriculture. We shall see extra costs in agriculture—

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Name them.

Mr. Budgen

My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough made the same point. If I am wrong, and if there are not to be extra costs in agriculture, and efficiency is not to be reduced, the only way this can be done is by councils providing extra accommodation on a large scale. The result of that will be that over the next five years £25 million will be spent by councils which are already free spenders in providing extra council housing unnecessarily. All that is happening at a time when there is a £12 billion borrowing requirement and we could be on the verge of hyperinflation. All this is in order to placate 5.3 per cent. of farm workers who are against the system of tied cottages, to placate 20 or 30 hard cases a year. If there are only 20 or 30 hard cases a year it would be almost cheaper and easier to give each one of them £200,000 and let them get on with it.

Mr. Cryer

If the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) had been in the debate a little longer he would know that the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers deals with almost 1,000 cases each year, each one of which could result in eviction. As for the 5.3 per cent., the basis of Shelter's information is totally wrong.

Mr. Budgen

I have been in the Chamber for most of the day. Everyone knows that the larger figure was the result of a largely collusive arrangement by which the farmer and the employee got together in the hope of getting council accommodation. I am dealing with the figures given by the Minister in paragraph 8 of the consultative document. This deals with at least 1,000 instances of court orders for possession, but there are only a handful where the end result is eviction in distressing circumstances. The hardship that we are dealing with is limited to a handful, and yet we are going to spend £25 million on it.

It is profoundly wrong for the State to intervene in this area. It is profoundly distressing, and is based on a disgraceful and insulting attitude towards the farm worker, who is described by hon. Members opposite as being such a fool that he is not able to evaluate the deal before entering a freely agreed contract.

9.0 p.m.

Mr. Ron Thomas (Bristol, North-West)

I apologise for not having been present earlier in the debate but I have been detained in a Standing Committee.

I add my support to the Bill. The hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) spoke of her experiences in farming. I was employed for some time by the Milk Marketing Board which involved travelling around Shropshire farms. I therefore know something of how farmers and farm workers live. The hon. Lady reminded me of the many explanations of why cows have long faces. I have heard another tonight arising from the way in which she looked after the livestock.

I understand that about 50 per cent. of farm workers no longer live in tied cottages. It was my experience in many farms in Shropshire that the herdsman, cowman, or dairy manager, or whatever other sophisticated term was applied, quite often lived in local authority housing and was able to hear the cows bellowing before they calved. I did not find that there was ever any difficulty. The worker did not have to live in a ramshackle hut close to the cows when they were calving.

The hon. Lady spoke about career structure and of those agricultural workers who were approaching retirement age. I can assure her that farm workers in tied cottages were most worried as they approached retirement about where they would live after the farmer had exploited them and knocked the stuffing out of them for 30 or 40 years. This was where the feudal system came in. If they were lucky the farmer might put them in a tumble-down cottage with a cabbage patch where they could look after a couple of pigs—

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

What absolute rubbish !

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

Stop that mooing over there.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

Order. Courtesy is required on both sides.

Mr. Thomas

It is foolish to talk about mobility when an agricultural worker is ensnared in a situation in which if he hints to his employer that he is even thinking about taking another job he is threatened with eviction. If he applies to another farmer for a job and both farmers are members of the same regional NFU, the employer is almost certain to hear and before he knows where he is the worker is threatened with eviction.

Anyone who believes, as was suggested by one Conservative Member, that it is evil to give security of tenure, whether in the countryside or in the city, deserves to be criticised. Such a remark is not worth responding to.

The tied cottage system prevents the development of effective trade union organisation and collective bargaining. I should like to see the agricultural wages council abolished and free collective bargaining introduced in the agriculture industry. That cannot happen until the tied cottage system is abolished.

I am a little concerned that the Government have not taken up the main proposals in the consultative document and that there will now be two separate types of tenancies. The consultative document proposed that tied cottage occupancies should be converted into protective tenancies under the Rent Acts. I assumed that that applied to all. It is a pity that the Government have not taken that on board, rather than bringing in a twin definition system which does not go as far.

9.5 p.m.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

We have had a full dose of Tribune Group contributions in this debate. On this side, we respect the views expressed by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard) because she, of all the members of the Tribune Group who have spoken, has had considerable experience of working in agriculture and representing workers in the industry.

It was interesting that little mention was made in the Tribune Group speeches of the many other sectors of industry in which there is tied accommodation. Perhaps the members of the Tribune Group were not here at the beginning of the debate when my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) provided a number of pertinent statistics on tied housing and showed that it existed for the police and the clergy and in local government, mining, hotels and catering. Agriculture is only one sector in which tied accommodation exists.

I represent both urban and rural dwellers. There are many delightful rural villages in my constituency where livestock farming is very important. The agricultural workers there are highly skilled and I am delighted to be able to tell hon. Members opposite below the Gangway that these men are very much part of the community and are treated like anybody else. Indeed, in many villages they play a more important part in community affairs than the land owners and farmers whom hon. Members opposite have been running down so vociferously today.

The new Minister of State at the Foreign Office, who is sitting below the Gangway, represents a rural area. I am sure that the farmers in his constituency, who include the president of the NFU, have made strong representations that this Bill will have a severe effect on the livestock industry. The agricultural workers in my constituency are worried. They work in the livestock sector—dairy, pigs, beef and sheep—and they are deeply concerned about the effect this legislation will have on their industry. There were very few severe cases of eviction in agriculture last year. However, 10 people were evicted by the National Coal Board last week alone—probably almost as many as were evicted from agricultural tied cottages in the whole of last year.

There are a number of questions which I would like the Minister to answer in his winding-up speech. Where a farmer finds, against his wishes, that he has a statutory tenant, will he be compensated for the loss of value of the cottage? If the cottage is in his farmyard, will the farmer be compensated for what could be a substantial loss of value to his farm?

Because of the housing problems in many areas, it is inevitable that some farmers will have to take local authorities to court. The farmers will incur considerable legal fees and have to suffer the loss of an employee's service during that time. Will there be any compensation for farmers, particularly in the livestock sector, who suffer this disadvantage?

It may be a good thing that the provision for the transfer or succession of tenancies to widows should be written into the legislation, but should it be extended to a dependant who has lived in a cottage for only six months, perhaps solely in order to gain possession? I believe that that is going too far.

What about the power that a Minister will have to obtain information? Information for what purpose? Will it be used to interfere with a highly efficient industry? This reeks of Big Brother State once again, which seems to be the hallmark of so much of the policy promoted by the Government.

What about notification of disposal of a dwelling-house? Does this mean that bureaucracy will take control of all agricultural dwellings and, in turn, of agriculture as a whole? How can livestock farmers plan long-term production with so much at risk at regards value of stock, when under the Bill so many people will be able to make or not to make decisions that will directly effect the farming policies that they may wish to pursue?

Let us take a specific case. A farmer whose herdsman leaves him will have to notify the housing committee which in turn will request the advice of the special agricultural dwelling-house advisory committee, which will request the advice of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food ADAS surveyor, who will appraise the farming system and provide factual data and in due course report hack to the local housing committee, which will come to a decision when it next meets.

That is the situation in which the livestock farmer will find himself. It is only then, or perhaps after that stage, that the farmer will know whether his house can be made free for another worker. But even then there could be many more months before the man is rehoused—indeed, it may be years—if the authority is difficult and the farmer has to take it to court.

Who is to look after the stock all that time? I pose that question to those on the Labour Benches below the Gangway —[Interruption.] I have a lot more to say. I say to the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer), who had a long innings in this debate, that there are others who hold as strong a view as he does. We have a right, fortunately, to be able to express ourselves freely in this House, and that is precisely what I am doing.

I remind Labour Members below the Gangway that a great deal has been said about the trade union movement. But I also remind them that the union which has been mentioned so frequently, NUAAW, represents only a minority of those who work on the land in the agricultural industry. Perhaps some of them came into the Chamber rather late and did not hear the Front Bench contributions. The fact is that the union representing agricultural workers in Scotland does not want this legislation. There is a difference of opinion in the very trade union movement that has been put forward by Labour Members as representing all working people. It is a movement which represents a mere 40 per cent. of working people. I hope that the Minister will comment on the many people who are not represented by a trade union who hold strong views about this legislation.

I believe that agricultural workers will find the Bill detrimental to the healthy flow of labour. Workers who in the past have left their jobs quite happily and moved on without any pressure from the farmer, perhaps in many cases going to another job, will now sit by waiting for the council to rehouse them at great expense to the country, an expense which it can ill afford. It will place additional burdens on agriculture.

How right my hon. Friends have been to draw the attention of the House to the special problems of the livestock industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) talked about calving. The fact is that people have to be in attendance when calving takes place. I hope that I shall receive some sympathy from the hon. Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Phipps), who earlier made a quite constructive contribution, if I may say so without sounding patronising. He will know that the farmer and some of his support staff have to be on hand when animals are in labour. Helpers cannot be summoned from a council house perhaps six miles away. Time does not permit, and nature does not work to the hours of the normal working day.

I challenge the necessity for the Bill. The Government are creating a bureaucratic monster to interfere with the most efficient agricultural industry in the world. There is a fine industrial relations record in the British agricultural industry, which is virtually second to none in any other sector of the economy. There is a fine record of relationship between worker and employer, and I am deeply concerned that the legislation will destroy the fine relationship that has been built up over so many years.

I hope that the Minister will answer some of the points I have raised. If he cannot do so, perhaps he will do me the courtesy of writing to advise me of the answers. I shall go into the Division Lobby against the Bill because it is damaging to the industry and to the worthy and skilled people who serve the industry so well.

9.15 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Rossi (Hornsey)

The last farmer left my constituency in 1895, yet, according to the last census of 1971, we still have, curiously enough, four agricultural workers.

I have had no great lobby from constituents of mine either for or against the Bill. Therefore, I am in the unique position of being able to take a somewhat detached view of the arguments. I have been listening with great fascination as my right hon. and hon. Friends and hon. Gentlemen disputed with one another as to how necessary it was for farmers to have workers living on the farm. I have learned about stockmen, dairymen and general labourers—about cows calving in the night and the respective merits of someone who knows the animals to be on the spot as against the adequacy of the telephone and the motor car.

I was most impressed by the firm assurance given by the Secretary of State for the Environment—the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore), whose rural atmosphere must vie with that of Hornsey—that the Bill as drafted will have no adverse effect on the efficiency of the agriculture industry. That was not the view of the National Farmers' Union, which may be said to have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo but which, at the same time, has some knowledge of the problems.

The right hon. Gentleman's view is not the view of 60 per cent. of the workers who, in the Arthur Rank Centre report—glowingly recommended, somewhat selectively, by the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett)—stated that they needed to live in tied cottages. The right hon. Gentleman's view is not echoed in the findings of Ruth Gasson, who, in her study "Tied Cottages on Large Farms" for the University of Cambridge Department of Land Economy came to the conclusion that Through allowing operations to be carried out at the critical time, through enabling the farmer to compete for labour and to attract and retain the services of the best workers, the tied cottage system helps farmers with really large businesses to maintain and improve their efficiency. It would not be impossible to run farms such as these without any accommodation for workers. It would be quite impossible to achieve anything like the present levels of efficiency and output. The Government's own consultative document expresses the greatest reservations, and an anxiety not to go too far. It states that the tied cottage is concentrated within that sector of the agricultural industry which makes an overwhelming contribution to the national larder and the balance of payments. In view of this expert advice from farmers, farm workers, independent studies and the Government's consultative document, impliedly, why do we have the Bill?

We have been told during the course of this debate that there has been a campaign for some 70 years, and that this must be the justification. We have also been told that it is wrong for people to live under constant threat of eviction, and, worse still, under threat of losing both their job and home at one and the same time. No one would deny this and it is a matter that requires investigation and remedy. The first question we must ask ourselves is "What is the size of the problem?" and the second is "Is this Bill the most effective means of solving the problem, or is it, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd) stated, a sledge-hammer to crack a nut?" In terms of people at actual risk, as distinct from people at a psychological disadvantage, the problem is minuscule. Several hon. Members have quoted the various reports and studies that have been made into the matter.

The Secretary of State told us that there are about 70,000 tied cottages in respect of which there are about 1,200 possession orders a year. Out of these the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard) said that there were between 20 and 30 evictions a year. In the Tavistock report we are told that 45 per cent. of those evictions occur during the first five years of employment, which could imply that perhaps the people concerned should not have been put into that employment and that particular home. The Tavistock Report goes on to say that 6 per cent. of all farm workers, at some time or other, faced the threat of eviction but that in the majority of cases they found another home—another tied cottage—on another farm because of the flexibility of the system. It would be extremely dangerous to remove that flexibility and to fossilise accommodation in the way that we have fossilised accommodation in our urban areas through successive Rent Acts, from which the people of this country are suffering.

We have also been told that of the 1,200 possession orders—a number of hon. Gentleman have mentioned this matter—the majority are collusive. They are merely brought about as a device to obtain accommodation from local authorities because of the points schemes they have adopted and because those authorities will not look at a prospective tenant unless there is a real threat of eviction. Therefore, when we look at the evidence from the farm workers themselves, one finds conflict with the evidence, or the statements made by hon. Members who represent the workers' union and who told us that the overwhelming majority of members of that union are in support of the Bill or in support of the total abolition of tied accommodation.

However, they themselves admit that this is a small and weak union, and reports and surveys suggest that it is unrepresentative of a large proportion of the farm working population. If one turns not to the statements that are made in this House on behalf of that union, but to what the farm workers themselves are saying to the people who carried out the surveys, one hears that 60 per cent. of the farm workers thought there was a need for farm workers, or some farm workers, to live in tied accommodation, while 83 per cent. of those approached considered that they derived a benefit from the tied accommodation system. As several of my hon. Friends have said, only 5.3 per cent. thought that the tied cottage system should be abolished. Therefore, one asks again—why have this Bill?

When one considers the agriculture industry as such, the question seems almost unanswerable. For all the villainy that it is suggested exists in farmers' hearts towards their workers, they have a capital investment of £1,800 million in providing homes so that their workmen can live on the job and do it more efficiently. The relationship that emerges —again, not from those who come to this House with a political vested interest but from all the impartial studies—is very good indeed.

What other industry provides, by private capital, homes for 14 per cent. of its retired workers and their widows? That is what the farming community has been doing, in addition to homes for the workers. When one talks about risk and security of tenure against a background of figures like that, one begins to wonder whose leg some hon. Members are trying to pull, and why.

The curious historical fact is that, for reasons of its own, the Labour Party has given a pledge to abolish the tied cottage system. No doubt it found it to its electoral advantage to make that pledge in some areas, and that is why it made it. But a somewhat more cautious approach is taken in the consultative document. It says that there is a need to ensure that there is no adverse effect on agriculture from any steps that the Government may take. In the Bill itself, we find that the Government have departed completely from the concept of the abolition of tied cottages.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) said, the Bill does not give a farm worker security of tenure of his own home. It gives him security of housing. The hon. Member for Brightside complained that the Bill does not give the full Rent Act protection to farm workers in their cottages. The matter was adequately summed up by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) when he said that the Bill is a cumbersome bureaucratic device to remove the need for collusion between farmer and farm worker in order to ensure that the local authority produces accommodation for the worker when the farmer needs his accommodation back. So this elaborate bureaucracy is to be set up at considerable expense to the community as a whole.

In the end, according to the best considered opinion, this scheme will not work. It falls between two stools. The farmer is left with no absolute guarantee that he will get his cottage when he needs it, without considerable, damaging and expensive delay. The local authorities consider that a burden is being thrust upon them which they do not want. They complain bitterly that they will be directed on what priority to allocate their own pool of available housing. Members of the local authority world have gone on record with that complaint in public statements.

Therefore, we start from a very unsatisfactory attempt at compromise—the "best endeavour" situation, which really is neither fish nor fowl. It will leave the local authorities, the farmers and the farm workers all dissatisfied and getting the worst of all possible worlds. All will be done at public expense.

Listening to the debate, what I found rather curious was that while we heard a great deal about the attitude of farmers and farm workers, we heard very little about the views of the district councils. They have produced a paper containing their comments. They are quite unhappy. What they say is that if the Government wish to put the agriculture industry in a situation, in which over a period of years, it loses the accommodation that it needs for its greater efficiency and productivity, or in which the burden is placed on the local authority, the Government should make resources available to provide the houses that are needed.

That is where the Government are failing in their duty. They are falling between the two stools that I have described, because they are simply not prepared to make the effort themselves and to provide the resources themselves. By playing off the farmers against the local authorities, they hope that somehow, out of that mess, a solution will be found, or that at least those voices that are raised on behalf of the farm workers' union will be stilled, because the Government will be seen to have produced a piece of paper that pretends to do a great deal but which ultimately will do very little.

If we are to pursue this new concept that the Government are introducing—the concept that local authorities must use their best endeavours to rehouse a certain section of the community in priority to all others, care must be taken as to the precedent that this is creating, because other sections of the community will not be slow to argue on their own behalves that something similar should be done for them. Why should farm workers be put in this situation, as distinct, for example, from the police, or from Service men, ambulance men, people working for London Transport, or teachers? Each of those categories can show and prove its importance and worth to the community as a whole, and most of them can show that they are in great difficulties themselves when their jobs are terminated and they have to leave the homes that go with the jobs. The Government are creating a precedent, and that precedent will be followed.

From the results of studies that we have seen, it is apparent that there are other schemes. As my hon. Friends have mentioned, the real problem is the feeling of insecurity that arises, particularly when a farm worker falls sick or retires, or—for his widow—when he dies. That is the nub of the problem.

No one would deny that this is a situation that we must try to meet if we possibly can. In the past the problem has been met relatively adequately by the device of possession orders, forcing upon the local authority the need to rehouse where otherwise it would not. It was a rather fatuous device, in the sense that it put people to a lot of unnecessary expense. Obviously, if one could find a way out of that, so much the better. But the Bill does not find a solution by creating the bureaucracy that it creates —the bureaucracy of these new consultative committees to which people will have to go, and the certificate that has to be sent to the local authority, and so on. The consideration by the local authority when it has a case suddenly thrown in its face will be on the question whether it should give priority to that family or to some other family.

What is needed is a more planned approach. This has been suggested convincingly by Shelter, among other organisations. What is envisaged is a system of registration and licensing, whereby farm workers go on to the council housing lists. The council will know that a farm worker aged 40 will, in 25 or 15 years' time, come to the local authority to ask to be housed. The local authority, with the necessary Government assistance, can then deploy its resources. However, the Government are avoiding that course under this Bill.

I promised to give the Minister 25 minutes in which to reply to the debate. I conclude by saying that we believe that the Bill is unsatisfactory and that it will damage agriculture. It will not help the workers, who do not want the legislation. There are far easier ways in which to alleviate the many human problems that exist—problems with which we should like to deal if we were given the opportunity to do so.

9.36 p.m.

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

We have today debated a historic measure, and it is not surprising that it has aroused such strong passions on both sides of the House.

The debate has been both interesting and useful. The most interesting feature of the debate is the complete lack of appreciation and perception displayed by Conservative Members as to the position of a farm worker and his family living in an agricultural tied cottage. The striking aspect of the speech made by the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) was the total absence of any reference in his remarks to the position of the farm worker. He spoke at length of the farmer and of local authorities but made no reference at all to the farm worker—or any reference he made was totally spurious. That attitude was echoed in the speech of the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi). Opposition speeches gave the impression that the farm worker and his family do not want security of tenure but are happy to live in a house in which they have no right whatever should they cease to work on the farm.

The Opposition's case has been based on a statistic drawn from the Arthur Rank Centre report, to the effect that only 5.3 per cent. of farm workers favour the abolition of the agricultural tied cottage. Let us look at that report and examine the way in which the question was posed. Farm workers were not asked whether they were in favour of abolition but, instead, were asked "Do you think there are any categories of workers who need to live in tied cottages to do their job?". The result was that 60 per cent. replied "Yes" and 40 per cent. replied "No". Some of the 40 per cent. who said "No" volunteered various reasons—and a few, not surprisingly, said that they had replied "No" because they were in favour of abolition. Therefore. it is a nonsense to say that only 5 per cent. of farm workers are in favour of abolition.

It is as though an opinion poll were conducted on the basis of the question "Will you vote Conservative?", to which 40 per cent. reply "Yes" and 60 per cent. reply "No". Some of the 60 per cent. then add that they take that view because they do not like the Leader of the Conservative Party, or because they think that the party represents the bosses, and a fraction say "We shall not vote Conservative because we intend to vote Labour." Again, it is a nonsense to draw from that the conclusion that 5 per cent. will vote Labour. It is ridiculous to use statistics in that way.

I turn to deal with some of the more practical points made in the debate. Let me start by dealing with the question of which workers and their families will be covered by the Bill. It is our intention that the Bill shall apply to whole-time workers whose wages are subject to the Agricutural Wages Act, and the definition in Clause 1 of the Bill is drafted accordingly. This is the most sensible and understandable way of drawing a boundary which has to be drawn somewhere. It also makes it easier for us to focus on the work which is actually done rather than on the mere title of the job.

It is equally evident that there has to be a qualifying period of service under the Bill. We obviously do not want the special provisions of the Bill as regards rehousing to be abused as a short cut to a council house.

There are quite a few factors, however, which can modify this period of two years. It is intended that weeks not worked full time because of illness, disease or injury shall count towards the two years, as shall holiday weeks and weeks during the whole-time employment in which fewer than 40 hours are worked by agreement between the worker and his employer. Finally, we propose to allow for up to 13 weeks for any other reasons which does not have to be specified—for example, weeks spent unemployed or in employment outside agriculture. A person whose employment in agriculture ceased as a result of sickness or injury consequent on his employment will be regarded as qualified irrespective of the time he has served.

The term "agriculture" is defined in the Bill as including forestry, but provision is made for a different operative date for the application of the proposed procedures to whole-time forestry workers. Unlike the situation in farming, relatively little is known at present about the tied housing situation in private forestry. This will be remedied through a survey to be initiated by the Forestry Commission, the arrangements for which. I am glad to say, are now well in hand. The Government have still to decide the date for applying the Bill to housed workers engaged exclusively in forestry. As far as workers employed only partly in forestry are concerned, they will be covered by the Bill from the date it applies to farm workers if the remainder of their work counts as qualifying farm work under the terms of the Bill.

I turn to one of the key features in this measure—the agricultural dwelling-house advisory committees. Each of these will consist of three people, one representing the employers, nominated by the National Farmers' Union, one representing the workers, nominated by the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers, and the third an independent chairman.

A number of hon. Members have commented on the fact that we do not intend to proceed with legislation as envisaged in our consultative document. The proposals now contained in the Bill provide a much more direct system for calling on local authority housing without the very complex and costly administrative machinery which registration would have required. I believe that this approach will allow a much more individual and up-to-date consideration of cases than would have been possible solely under a registration scheme. I say to my hon. Friends the Members for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) and Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar) and to the hon. Member for Hornsey, who raised this point, that even if we had a register it would have constantly to be updated because the farming system is always changing and a farmer may have a stock enterprise for a few years and then go out of stock completely and into arable farming.

The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire asked whether there could not be an appeal system against the advisory committees. We considered whether there should be appeals against the committees' findings, but we concluded that it was not necessary. If we provided for appeals against the committees we should be creating a new tribunal from which there would be an appeal to the High Court, and we should be making the arrangements much more complicated than they are. Furtermore, we believe that the responsibility for housing decisions must at the end of the day rest with the housing authority.

The way in which any application by a farmer to a local authority to house an outgoing worker is dealt with will depend on the authority's being satisfied that agricultural need genuinely exists. Agricultural need has already been defined in relation to the approval of planning applications for agricultural dwellings and, while the situation of the farmer wanting to house a new worker in an existing cottage is not the same, that will serve as a useful starting point in considering guidelines.

The farm worker, the farmer or the local authority can call on the advisory committee to provide advice if they so desire. If the committee wishes to call on the professional advice of the agricultural development and advisory services of the Ministry, it may do so. I am sure that the impartiality and expertise of the committees will be widely recognised and prove valuable in this context.

The other main agricultural innovation in the Bill, apart from the advisory committees, concerns the information which we, in the Ministry of Agriculture, propose to gather to help housing authorities to plan their likely commitments so that they can act as promptly and effectively as possible in rehousing outgoing farm workers where the need and urgency have been established. We propose to conduct a kind of census of accommodation available to farmers, including any accommodation on which they have a call for example, whether on the farm in question or on another farm in which the farmer has an interest. That will help considerably to build up for each area a picture of the extent and distribution of these properties and the nature of their occupation—for example, whether they are occupied by serving farm workers, by retired workers or their successors, or by others. This information will be sent by the Ministry to the local housing authorities, and in individual cases relevant parts will be available as background material for any advisory committee's deliberations.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Belper, who raised this matter, will recognise that, on the basis of this information, should the local housing authority wish to draw up its own register of agricultural tied cottages, it will be able to do so, and it will also be able to indulge in the kind of planning for which the hon. Member for Hornsey asked.

Mr. Pym

Will an opportunity be given to the House of considering any arrangements under which this information will be acquired? The hon. Gentleman said that the Ministry would circulate local authorities and make these arrangements? Will the House have an opportunity of considering the detail?

Mr. Strang

I will consider whether we can do that. I think that the hon. Gentleman would want us to push forward with this proposal without delay. It is important that we get the information from the farmers as quickly as possible in order to process and disseminate it to the local authorities. This information, which will help the system to work, will be of advantage to the industry and to the local authorities.

I next turn to the attitude of the farmers to this measure, because much has been said about this matter by hon. Gentlemen opposite.

Mr. Goodhew

Before the Minister does that, will he apply his mind to a point which I made when his right hon. Friend was referring to Clause 6, which exempts those who are tenants of the Crown? I attempted to make it clear that in cases of estate duty, and so on, farms were transferred to the Crown in place of estate duty and that the tenants, who were the same tenants, suddenly became tenants of the Crown. [Interruption.] Hon. Gentlemen may check that if they wish, but it is quite true. Will the Minister deal with the difference between the position of that person— [HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."]—who, simply because of the death of the owner, the farmer—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

Order. Mr. Strang.

Mr. Strang

There will be a difference in law between the position of Crown and other property, but there will be no difference in practice because, as we have made clear—my right hon. Friend made this point earlier—we have undertaken to ensure that, through administrative arrangements, farm workers in tied cottages on Crown property will be on even terms with farm workers in other agricultural tied cottages.

I turn next to the attitude of the farmers. I acknowledge at the outset that many practical farmers have been genuinely apprehensive about the nature of this reform and the effect that it might have on their farming operations. To some extent that is based on a misunderstanding of our intentions. There is no doubt that the word "abolition" has confused many people. Hon. Members sometimes think "abolition" means "demolition." There has been scare-mongering in the Press and some hon. Members from the Opposition have added to that confusion in the industry.

Mr. Goodhew

Will the hon. Member give way?

Mr. Strang

I cannot give way.

Mr. Goodhew


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. If the Minister does not wish to give way, he must not be pressed.

Mr. Strang

I recognise that some farmers are genuinely concerned because they feel that when a worker essential to the farming operation ceases to work on the farm, the farmer will not be able to obtain that cottage for an incoming worker in any circumstances. The Bill makes it clear that the Government recognise that where there is an essential need, the farmer should be able to secure that cottage for an incoming worker, provided that alternative satisfactory accommodation has been made available to the employee.

The National Farmers' Union recognises that the Government are determined that nothing in this measure shall adversely affect agricultural efficiency. I refer the House to the latest edition of the British Farmer and Stockbreeder, the official journal of the National Farmers' Union of England and Wales. The headline on the leader reads: Tied cottage plan can work if enforced The first sentence reads: With all its defects, the Bill to abolish the agricultural service house system is very far removed from what most farmers had feared and it provides yet more testimony to the NFU's moderating role in safeguarding farmers' interests. [HON. MEMBERS: "Read it all."] I have read it, and that is a substantially fair statement. An article by the editor, Monty Keen, is entitled: Revised tied cottage rules could help farming". The opening sentence of that article says: If, but only if, district councils play their part in rehousing ex-farm workers the Bill to abolish agriculture tied cottages could be of positive benefit to the farming communty".

Dr. Phipps

Surely that is the point which a number of hon. Members on both sides have tried to make. The Bill would be of benefit if it contained teeth to make local authorities provide alternative housing. But the Bill does not do that. It contains no time limit and it therefore has no teeth.

Mr. Strang

My right hon. Friend dealt with that point at length. We cannot put an absolute priority on local authorities to provide a house the day after a farmer asks for it. There must be a balance of priorities. There will be an urgent need in some cases but there will be other circumstances in which the need will not be so urgent and in which it can wait, perhaps, to the end of the season in the case, for example, of a fairly large arable farm.

Mr. Goodhew

The Minister should read Clause 6.

Mr. Strang

The farmers' constructive attitude is in sharp contrast to the attitude taken by the Tory Party. The Government were accused by the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) of dogmatic and doctrinaire Socialism and the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire said that the Bill will damage farm businesses and all who work on the land. That is nonsense and the vast majority of hon. Members recognise that.

The Opposition have not only shown themselves to be out of line with the NFU in their estimation of the practical effect of the Bill on farming but have shown no understanding of the position of farm workers and their families and of the case of the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers.

The case for this legislation does not rest on the number of actual evictions of farm workers and their families which take place every year. Nor does it rest on the number of eviction orders granted by the courts, though I must say that the figures on evictions and court orders in themselves justify the Bill. What Conservative Members fail to realise is that these figures are simply the tip of the iceberg. They are manifestations of the basic lack of security which afflicts all farm workers and their families who live in tied cottages.

Mr. Pym

Why, then, does the Bill not apply to Scotland?

Mr. Strang

The commitment applies to Scotland. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will decide the nature of the measures in Scotland and their timing

The Tory Opposition may not understand the deep insecurity which affects farm workers and their families, but the NUAAW does. That is why the union has been campaigning for abolition of the agricultural tied cottage since its creation. The Bill has been warmly welcomed by the NUAAW. I quote from the statement issued by the General Secretary on its publication: The conceding at long last of security of tenure to the occupants of tied farm cottages will remove the fear of homelessness which has for generations been part and parcel of the lives of farm workers and their families in their employers' houses. I pay tribute to the contribution and the help which the leadership of the NUAAW has given to us in introducing the Bill. I also pay tribute to the enormous contribution which my hon. Friend the Member for Brightside (Miss Maynard) has made throughout the years as a member of the union campaigning on this issue, now as a Member of Parliament and, perhaps most crucially, as a member of the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party.

Some months ago I watched a BBC farming programme devoted exclusively to the tied cottage issue. The centre piece of that programme was an interview, perhaps predictably, with a farm worker who was a member of the union but against abolition. Many farm workers have undoubtedly misunderstood what we mean by abolition. Some of them thought that we would prevent them from continuing to live on their farms. I am glad that the hon. Members for Cardigan (Mr. Howells), a farmer, is voting with us and is recommending his Liberal colleagues to do the same.

That programme was very interesting. At the end of a long interview with the farm worker, the interviewer turned to the farm worker's wife, who had been sitting beside him, and asked what would happen to her if her husband had a serious accident and could no longer work on the farm. She replied, "I don't know". It had always been that way. Suddenly the film stopped and we were brought back to the studio. Although the producer did not realise it, those 20 seconds said more about the agricultural tied cottage than everything else in the programme.

That is what the agricultural tied cottage is about. It is about the insecurity of the farm worker who has a young family and a young wife and knows that if he gets on the wrong side of his boss and loses his job there will no longer be a roof over their heads. It is about the insecurity of the wife who sees her husband's health deteriorating and knows that one day he will no longer be able to work on that farm and also knows that they do not have another house to go to. It is about the insecurity of the older farm worker. I commend the Bill as a historic reform.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 291, Noes 258.

Division No 118.] AYES [10.0 p.m.
Abse, Leo Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W) MacFarquhar, Roderick
Allaun, Frank Flannery, Martin McGuire, Michael (Ince)
Anderson, Donald Fletcher, Raymond (llkeston) Mackenzie, Gregor
Archer, Peter Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Mackintosh, John P.
Armstrong, Ernest Foot, Rt Hon Michael Maclennan, Robert
Ashley, Jack Ford, Ben McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)
Ashton, Joe Forrester, John Madden, Max
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) Magee, Bryan
Atkinson, Norman Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) Maguire, Frank (Fermanagh)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Freeson, Reginald Mahon, Simon
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Freud, Clement Mallalieu, J. P. W.
Bates, Alf Garrett, John (Norwich S) Marks, Kenneth
Bean, R. E. Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Marquand, David
Beith, A. J. George, Bruce Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)
Benn, Rt Hn Anthony Wedgwood Gilbert, Dr John Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Ginsburg, David Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Bidwell, Sydney Golding, John Maynard, Miss Joan
Bishop, E. S. Gould, Bryan Meacher, Michael
Blenkinsop, Arthur Gourlay, Harry Mellish, Rt Hon Robert
Boardman, H. Graham, Ted Mikardo, Ian
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Grant, George (Morpeth) Millan, Bruce
Bradley, Tom Grant, John (Islington C) Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Grocott, Bruce Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N)
Broughton, Sir Alfred Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Molloy, William
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Moonman, Eric
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Hart, Rt Hon Judith Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Buchan, Norman Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Buchanan, Richard Hatton, Frank Morrison, Charles (Devizes)
Butler, Mrs Joyce(Wood Green) Hayman, Mrs Helene Moyle, Roland
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Healey, Rt Hon Denis Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick
Campbell, Ian Hefter, Eric S. Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King
Canavan, Dennis Hooley, Frank Newens, Stanley
Cant, R. B. Hooson, Emlyn Noble, Mike
Carmichael, Neil Horam, John Oakes, Gordon
Carter, Ray Howell, Rt Hon Denis Ogden, Eric
Carter-Jones, Lewis Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) O'Halloran, Michael
Cartwright, John Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Orbach, Maurice
Castle, Rt Hon Barbara Huckfield, Les Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Clemitson, Ivor Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey) Ovenden, John
Cocks, Michael (Bristol S) Hughes, Mark (Durham) Owen, Dr David
Cohen, Stanley Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Padley, Walter
Coleman, Donald Hughes, Roy (Newport) Palmer, Arthur
Colquhoun, Ms Maureen Hunter, Adam Pardoe, John
Concannon, J. D. Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill) Park, George
Conlan, Bernard Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford) Parker, John
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Jackson, Colin (Brighouse) Parry, Robert
Corbett, Robin Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Pavitt, Laurie
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Janner, Greville Pendry, Tom
Crawshaw, Richard Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Penhaligon, David
Cryer, Bob Jeger, Mrs Lena Perry, Ernest
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Prentice, Rt Hon Reg ,
Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh) John, Brynmor Prescott, John
Davidson, Arthur Johnson, James (Hull West) Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Davies, Denzil (Llanelli) Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Price, William (Rugby)
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Radice, Giles
Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C) Jones, Barry (East Flint) Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)
Deakins, Eric Jones, Dan (Burnley) Richardson, Miss Jo
Dean, Joseph (Leeds W) Judd, Frank Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Kaufman, Gerald Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Dempsey, James Kelley, Richard Robertson, John (Paisley)
Doig, Peter Kerr, Russell Robinson, Geoffrey
Dormand, J. D. Kilroy-Silk, Robert Roderick, Caerwyn
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Kinnock Neil Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Duffy, A. E. P. Lambie, David Rodgers, William (Stockton)
Dunn, James A. Lamborn, Harry Rooker, J. W.
Dunnett, Jack Lamond, James Rose, Paul B.
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Eadie, Alex Leadbitter, Ted Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)
Edge, Geoff Lee, John Sandelson, Neville
Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Sedgemore, Brian
Ellis, John (Brlgg & Scun) Lever, Rt Hon Harold Selby, Harry
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) Lipton, Marcus Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
English, Michael Litterick, Tom Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)
Ennals, David Lomas, Kenneth Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Leyden, Eddie Short, Rt Hon E. (Newcastle C)
Evans, loan (Aberdare) Luard, Evan Short, Mrs Renee (Wolv NE)
Evans, John (Newton) Lyon, Alexander (York) Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Lyons, Edward (Bradford W) Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. Mabon, Dr J. Dickson Silverman, Julius
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) McElhone. Frank Skinner. Dennis
Small, William Tierney, Sydney Whitlock, William
Smith, Cyril (Rochdale) Tinn, James Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Smith, John (N Lanarkshire) Tomlinson, John Williams, Alan (Swansea W)
Snape, Peter Tomney, Frank Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Spearing, Nigel Torney, Tom Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Spriggs, Leslie Tuck, Raphael Williams, Sir Thomas
Stallard, A. W. Varley, Rt Hon Eric G. Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham) Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V) Wilson, Rt Hon H. (Huyton)
Stoddart, David Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd) Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Stott, Roger Walker, Harold (Doncaster) Wise, Mrs Audrey
Strang, Gavin Walker, Terry (Kingawood) Woodall, Alec
Strauss, Rt Hon G. R. Ward, Michael Wool, Robert
Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley Watkins, David Wrigglesworlh, fan
Swain, Thomas Weetch, Ken Young, David (Bolton E)
Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth) Weitzman, David
Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery) Wellbeloved, James TELLERS FOR THE AYES
Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E) White, Frank R. (Bury) Mr. Joseph Harper and
Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW) White, James (Po11ok) Mr. James Hamilton.
Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Adley, Robert Fairgrieve, Russell Langford-Holt, Sir John
Aitken, Jonathan Fell, Anthony Latham, Michael (Melton)
Alison, Michael Finsberg, Geoffrey Lawrence, Ivan
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Fisher, Sir Nigel Lawson, Nigel
Arnold, Tom Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N) Lester, Jim (Beeston)
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Awdry, Daniel Forman, Nigel Lloyd, Ian
Baker, Kenneth Fowler, Norman (Sutton C' f' d) Loveridge, John
Banks, Robert Fox, Marcus Luce, Richard
Bell, Ronald Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St) McAdden, Sir Stephen
Bennett, Dr Reginald (Farenham) Fry. Peter McCrindle, Robert
Benyon, W. Galbraith, Hon T. G. D. McCusker, H.
Berry, Hon Anthony Gardner, Edward (S Fylde) Macfarlane, Neil
Biffen, John Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham) MacGregor, John
Biggs-Davison, John Glyn, Dr Alan Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)
Blaker, Peter Godber, Rt Hon Joseph McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)
Body, Richard Goodhart, Philip .McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)
Boscawen, Hon Robert Goodhew, Victor Made!, David
Bottomley, Peter Goodlad, Alastair Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown) Gorst, John Marten, Neil
Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent) Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) Mates, Michael
Bradford, Rev Robert Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry) Mather, Carol
Braine, Sir Bernard Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) Maude, Angus
Brittan, Leon Gray, Hamish Maudling, Rt Hon Reginald
Brocklebank-Fowler, C. Griffiths, Eldon Mawby, Ray
Brotherton, Michael Grist, Ian Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Grylls, Michael Mayhew, Patrick
Bryan, Sir Paul Hall, Sir John Meyer, Sir Anthony
Buchanan-Smith, Alick Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)
Budgen, Nick Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Miscampbell, Norman
Bulmer, Esmond Hampson, Dr Keith Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)
Burden, F. A. Hannam, John Moate, Roger
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss Monro, Hector
Carlisle, Mark Hastings, Stephen Montgomery, Fergus
Carson, John Havers, Sir Michael Moore, John (Croydon C)
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Hayhoe, Barney More, Jasper (Ludlow)
Churchill, W. S. Heseltine, Michael Morgan, Geraint
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Hicks, Robert Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral
Clark, William(Croydon S) Higgins, Terence L. Morris, Michael (Northampton S)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Holland, Philip Morrison, Charles (Devizes)
Clegg, Walter Hordern, Peter Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)
Cockcroft, John Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Mudd, David
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W) Howell, David (Guildford) Heave, Airey
Cope, John Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Nelson, Anthony
Cormack, Patrick Hunt, David (Wirral) Neubert, Michael
Corrie, John Hurd, Douglas Newton, Tony
Costain, A. P. Hutchison, Michael Clark Normanton, Tom
Crouch, David Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Noll, John
Crowder, F. P. James, David Onslow, Cranley
Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutaford) Jenkin, Rt Hn P. (Wanst'd & W'drd) Oppenheim, Mrs Sally
Dean, Paul (N Somerset) Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead) Osborn, John
Dodsworth, Geoffrey Jones, Arthur (Daventry) Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Jopling, Michael Pattie, Geoffrey
Drayson, Burnaby Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Percival, fan
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Kaberry, Sir Donald Peyton, Rt Hon John
Dunlop, John Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Pink, R. Bonner
Durant, Tony Kershaw, Anthony Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch
Dykes, Hugh Kimball, Marcus Price, David (Eastleigh)
Eden, Rt Hon Sir John King, Evelyn (South Dorset) Prior, Rt Hon James
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) King, Tom (Bridgwater) Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Elliott, Sir William Knight, Mrs Jill Raison, Timothy
Emery, Peter Knox, David Rathbone, Tim
Eyre, Reginald Lamont, Norman Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Fairbairn, Nicholas Lane, David Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)
Rees-Davies, W. R. Sims, Roger Townsend, Cyril D
Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts) Sinclair, Sir George Trotter, Neville
Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex) Skeet, T. H. H. Tugendhat, Christopher
Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Smith, Dudley (Warwick) van Straubenzee, W. R.
Ridley, Hon Nicholas Speed, Keith Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Ridsdale, Julian Spence, John Viggers, Peter
Rifkind, Malcolm Spicer, Jim (W Dorset) Wakeham, John
Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey Spicer, Michael (S Worcester) Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW) Sproat, lain Walker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)
Roberts, Wyn (Conway) Stainton, Keith Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Ross, William (Londonderry) Stanbrook, Ivor Wall, Patrick
Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey) Stanley, John Walters, Dennis
Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire) Steen, Anthony (Wavertree) Weatherill, Bernard
Royle, Sir Anthony Stewart, Ian (Hitchin) Wells, John
Sainsbury, Tim Stokes, John Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
St. John-Steves, Norman Stradling Thomas, J. Wiggin, Jerry
Scott, Nicholas Tapsell, Peter Winterton, Nicholas
Scott-Hopkins, James Taylor, R. (Croydon NW) Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Shaw, Giles (Pudsey) Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart) Younger, Hon George
Shaw, Michael (Scarborough) Tebbit, Norman
Shelton, William (Streatham) Temple-Morris, Peter TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Shepherd, Colin Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret Mr. Spencer Le Marchant and
Shersby, Michael Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S) Mr. Cecil Parkinson. Sllvester, Fred
Silvester, Fred

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).