HL Deb 12 February 1947 vol 145 cc613-6

5.42 p.m.

THE DUKE OF MONTROSE rose to call attention to the eviction by the National Coal Board of a miner who is ill, his wife and three children from a tied cottage in Fife in order that they might put in another miner, and to ask why the National Coal Board have powers to make such an eviction while the same powers are denied to farmers who have equal necessity to retain their tied cottages for the use of farm servants; and to move for Papers. The noble Duke said: My Lords, this Motion refers to a certain miner who was to be evicted from a cottage which belongs to the Bowhill Colliery Company, Dunfermline. Your Lordships will remember that when we had the Hill Farming Bill before us a great deal was said about the tied cottage and the evils which were said to relate to it. We were told how the tied cottage system laid the way open for land owners and farmers to exploit the poor working man and to turn him out of his home in circumstances which might amount to cruelty. We repudiated the implied suggestion, and said that that was not our policy with regard to tied cottages.

But we also said that it was necessary, in certain instances, to have tied cottages for certain key men, and that when those key men became too old or were too sick to carry on their work, the owners of the cottages should have the power to remove them and to put others in. The Government said "No." They disapproved entirely of the tied cottage system, it was intimated, because in their view it led to all kinds of cruelty and other evils. In the light of that, what took place when the National Coal Board took over this colliery was a little surprising. There was a cottage tied to the colliery. In occupation of that cottage was a miner who had been ill with neurasthenia for two years. He had a wife and three children. The first thing the colliery agent did when the National Coal Board took over was to say to that man: "This is a tied house; out you go. I am going to put another miner in here." That is exactly the power for which we asked when the Hill Farming Bill was being debated in this House, but we were told that it would be an evil thing. In this instance, as I have said, almost the first thing that was done under the Coal Nationalisation Bill was to take steps to evict a man out of a tied cottage.

The man's poor wife, with her three children, went out and raked up the sum of seven shillings and sixpence. She then went to see the representative of the colliery company, put the money down and said: "There is the rent. Will you please take it and leave my man in the house?" The agent refused to take it. He said: "I mean to evict you." Why did he not take the money? Why did he refuse it? He did so because he knew that if he took it as rent, the cottage would come under the Rent Restrictions Acts, and he would never be able to get rid of that miner. He thought that he was going to get away with it, but as I came into the House to-day I received a message to the effect that the Sheriff of the County has stepped in, in the name of justice and Christian sympathy, and has refused to allow the eviction to take place.

This episode shows that there seem to be two distinct ideas in the minds of the Government, as a result of which there is one law for the Socialist Government and another for the common man. The Socialist Government are to be allowed to evict people from a tied cottage, even if the principal occupier is sick; they are to be allowed to turn a sick man, with a wife and three children, out into the street in this weather. But the Sheriff has acted out of Christian sympathy in this case, and will not allow it to be done. If turning people out of tied cottages is wrong, then the principle should apply to all cottage owners, whether Government or private individuals. If it is right to turn people out, then it does not matter. The question I would ask is: How does it come about that the Government can evict from a tied cottage, after saying all the unkind things they did say about landowners and farmers, and how can they refuse the same power to the farming community or to anybody else?

5.45 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord has just said the Government appear to think there are two sides to this question. So far as my information goes, there seem also to be two definite sides to the sad story of a man threatened with eviction. First of all, I would say with respect that I think the noble Duke is under a misapprehension. Under the Rent Restrictions Acts no greater powers to secure possession of a house are available to the National Coal Board than are available for securing possession of an agricultural cottage. The owners in both cases possess the same powers.

If I am right in assuming that the case to which the noble Duke refers is that of Mr. Peter Fleming, 25, Eighteenth Street, Bowhill, Fifeshire, the facts I understand are as follows. He was employed at Bowhill colliery at various times between October, 1931, and July, 1943. In December, 1942, he was given occupation of a house belonging to the colliery company and at that time he signed an undertaking that he would vacate the house on the termination of his employment with the colliery company. Since July, 1943, he has not at any time been employed in the mining industry, but it is understood he has been in regular employment at Donibristle Royal Naval Air Station since July, 1945. He has, however, remained in occupation of the house belonging to the colliery company, and it is understood that his rent was considerably in arrears.

A court order for his eviction was made in May, 1946, but the colliery company agreed to suspend action on the order, with a view to recovering the arrears of rent and giving him a further opportunity of obtaining alternative accommodation. A further action for eviction was raised in January, 1947, and the Sheriff-Substitute adjourned the hearing until February 11, 1947 (that was yesterday morning) in order to give the defendant an opportunity to seek legal advice. On February 11, 1947 (I repeat, yesterday morning), the Sheriff-Substitute allowed him to retain tenancy of the house for another month provided he endeavoured to get work in the coal industry and paid the due arrears of rent. He has now paid the arrears in full.

The noble Duke will appreciate from this short indication of what I am informed are the facts of the case that this man, though he has not been employed in the coal mining industry since July, 1943—that is for three and a half years—has remained in occupation of the colliery company's house and is still in occupation of it. On the general question, I should like to make it clear that had this been the case of an agricultural worker, powers no less ample to secure possession of the cottage would have been available to the owner than are available to the National Coal Board in relation to houses owned by colliery companies.

5.50 p.m.


My Lords, there are reasons for the man not working in the coal mining industry since July, 1943. But this gives point to what we said in the debate on the Hill Farming Bill. We said that a shepherd might get work with a Hydro-Electric Board and we wanted the power to turn him out of a tied cottage in such a case. But the Government said that it did not matter what work he got, or for what period he had lived in the cottage. If he had lived there for years he was still to be entitled to go on living in the house, and that is exactly what we were disputing. I do not think the answer is at all satisfactory, but I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.