HL Deb 03 February 1966 vol 272 cc575-7

8.0 p.m.

LORD COLLISON rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are aware that the Rent Act 1965 fails to give the courts power to extend the suspensions of orders for possession granted under the Protection from Eviction Act 1964 in respect of tied farm cottages. The noble Lord said: My Lords I rise to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. I must explain why I have put this Question down. Under the Protection from Eviction Act 1964, a tied cottage occupant who was given suspension of a possession order at the judge's discretion had the right to apply to the court for a further suspension, should he be unable to vacate his house or cottage in the allotted time. Similar provisions are incorporated in the 1965 Act. But recent decisions by county court judges in two cases have demonstrated that where the first suspension was granted under the 1964 Act and the second or third application is made under the 1965 Act, the court does not have the power to grant further suspension.

It appears that the transitional provisions of the new Act do not cover this type of situation which has arisen at this particular time in the agricultural industry.

The county court judges in question conceded that the intent of Parliament was clearly to protect such a service occupant. The wording in the transitional provisions do not allow Parliament's intention to be put into effect. My Union has taken the opinion of eminent counsel who consider that the judge's decision is well founded. It would seem, therefore, that an omission in drafting has had the result that an agricultural worker who is affected in this way finds himself in a very difficult position, and the Act makes it virtually impossible for my Union, or the worker himself, if he wishes to take legal advice, to obtain further protection. It is for this reason that this Question has been put down.


My Lords, yes. I am sorry to say that by inadvertence the necessary provision was not included in the Rent Act. Section 20, the transitional clause to which my noble friend referred, refers clearly to tenancies but does not refer to occupation by license and therefore will not cover some of the tied cottages affected. In fact the number is not likely to be very large. It has been suggested that it is a case of some 40 persons whose suspensions might have had a further extension; but that does not, I think, take into account the difference there may be between tenancies, on the one hand, and tied cottages, on the other; and of course it does not follow that all who asked for a further extension would have got it. None the less there is a difficulty.

It is not to be met, I am afraid, by passing amending legislation. It is pretty clear that it could not be passed in time. These are transitional provisions. And it is pretty clear, too, that, of the cases that would be affected by amending legislation, while some would get protection, if they got it at all in that way, there would be a number of cases before the amend-ding legislation could be put through which would not get any help by that method. Accordingly, since I think your Lordships will agree that retrospective legislation in matters of this sort is inappropriate, my right honorable friend has sought to see what best he could do to meet the human problem involved.

The question of what is to be done for an agricultural laborer or anyone else evicted from his house (I am not talking about the legal question but what action is to be taken to help him) is one for the local authorities, in these cases primarily the rural district councils, who are by far the most likely to be concerned. The rural district councils, while they have been unable to agree to an automatic provision for anyone who was evicted, have nevertheless expressed their wish to help. In a letter of March 8, 1965, their Association expressed the view that rural district councils should treat with sympathy cases where agricultural workers were displaced and that if a man had worked for a period in the district, or otherwise had a connection with it, he should be rehoused, in priority to persons on the housing list, since to do otherwise was to encourage further depopulation of rural areas.

That is of course an expression of opinion by the Rural District Councils Association—actually by their Committee—and it does not bind individual rural district councils. But I am sure that it reflects the intention to be helpful, an intention which I trust will be applied in these cases. My right honorable friend would wish to go further than that if need be: his officers would get into touch with the persons involved in these particular cases and see what could be done by way of suggestion and conciliation to help matters.

I wish that one were able to say: "Well, by a stroke of the pen we can put this all right." But, that being impossible, mainly on the question of time, my right honorable friend has sought to find the most practical form of giving help. I hope that my noble friend Lord Collison will feel that this is a decision by a man of good sense and good feeling, and that it will be carried out in the spirit in which it is intended. These are not just soft words from a Government spokesman. I hope that, while we must all—including myself, because I have some responsibility, I suppose—regret the inadvertence that led to this omission, as my right honorable friend himself regrets it, errors do happen sometimes in preparing and drafting Statutes. This is a case in point. Fortunately it does not affect a very large number of people. I hope that what I have suggested to-day will be accepted as the best that can be done in all the circumstances.