§ 5.10 p.m.
§ LORD BESWICK
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, That the House do again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Beswick.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The Lord Royle in the Chair.]
§ Clause 91 [Supplementary provision and interpretation and extent of Part V]:
THE MINISTER OF STATE, SCOTTISH OFFICE (LORD HUGHES) moved Amendment No. 29:
Page 82, line 34, at end insert ("and nothing in the said section 88 shall authorise any infringement of the exclusive privilege conferred on the Post Office by section 24(1) of the Post Office Act 1969 (telecommunication systems).")
§ The noble Lord said: The purpose behind Amendments Nos. 29 and 30 is to ensure that when river or local authorities are operating flood warning systems and use radio or telephone communications, the monopoly of the Post Office should be preserved. I beg to move Amendment No. 29.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 91, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 92 [Provision of flood warning systems]:
§ LORD HUGHES
Amendment No. 30 is a similar Amendment for the Scottish flood warning systems. I beg to move.
Page 83, line 38, leave out paragraph (ii) and insert—
("(ii) Nothing in this subsection shall authorise any infringement of the exclusive privilege conferred on the Post Office by section 24(1) of the Post Office Act 1967 (telecommunication systems).")—(Lord Hughes.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
LORD HUGHES moved Amendment No. 31:
Page 84, line 20, leave out ("the same meanings respectively as in") and insert ("subject to section 93(3) of this Act) the meanings assigned to them by section I of")
§ The noble Lord said: Although the second of the next two Amendments, Nos. 31 and 32, is fairly lengthy it is a purely drafting Amendment arising out of the Government's consideration of a subsequent Amendment tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Haig. I should like to say that we are indebted to him for having drawn this point to our attention. Clause 93 provides generally that local authorities may combine in the exercise of their powers under Part VI of the Bill to provide and operate a flood warning system. The intention of Clause 93(2) as drafted was, first, to apply the general powers relating to voluntary combination of local authorities under the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1947, to combinations of local authorities for the purposes of a flood warning system; and, secondly, to ensure that where local authorities have combined for the purpose of providing and operating a flood warning system any reference to a "local authority" in Part VI of the Bill shall be construed as including a reference to a combination of local authorities.
§ I am advised that the method of doing this in Clause 93(2) as drafted is not in fact satisfactory for these purposes. The Amendments which I am now speaking to will achieve what we had intended and what the noble Earl, Lord Haig, wants in relation to his Amendment, and they will lead to a more ready understanding of Part VI of the Bill as it applies to the combinations of local authorities. The Amendment to the definition of "local authority" in Clause 92(2)(b) paves the way to the Amendment to Clause 93 and is in line with the definition of "local authority" in the Flood Prevention (Scotland) Act 1961. I beg to move Amendment No. 31.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
I am grateful to the noble Lord for his explanation of these Amendments, and also for his 167 references to my noble friend Lord Haig. I was not quite clear whether or not what he said implied that he wished to accept the Amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Haig.
§ LORD HUGHES
No. These Amendments accomplish the purpose which the noble Earl wanted to achieve by his Amendment No. 33, which we would invite him not to move.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
I am grateful for that explanation. What the noble Lord now proposes to do, therefore, fulfils the purpose of Amendments Nos. 33 to 36 which are to be moved to Clause 94?
§ LORD HUGHES
No. Amendments Nos. 34, 35 and 36 are on a slightly different point. The Government do not wish to accept these Amendments, but they arc not in fact covered by what I am doing. Amendment No. 33 will fall because Amendments Nos. 31 and 32 accomplish its purpose. But Amendments Nos. 34, 35 and 36 will still have to be spoken to.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to. Clause 92 as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 93 [Combinations of local authorities]:
§ Amendment moved—
Page 84, line 28, leave out subsection (2) and insert—
("(2) Subsection (2) to (4) of section 119 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1947 (which relates to voluntary combinations of local authorities) shall apply in relation to any such combination as is mentioned in the foregoing subsection as they apply in relation to the combinations mentioned in subsection (1) of the said section 119, and in the said section (2) to (4) as so applying any reference to a function of a local authority shall be construed as including a reference to any power or duty of the local authority so far as relating to the flood warning system with which the combination is concerned.
(31 In relation to a case where local authorities have combined under this section any reference in this Part of this Act to a local authority shall (unless the context otherwise requires) be construed as including a reference to the combination of local authorities, and "area" shall be construed accordingly.")—(Lord Hughes.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 93, as amended, agreed to.168
§ Clause 94 [Arrangements with other bodies]:
EARL HAIG had given Notice of his intention to move an Amendment (No. 33):
Page 84, line 39, after ("authority") insert ("or combination of local authorities").
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
T beg to move Amendment No. 33 standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Haig. First, I should express his apologies to the Committee that, by reason of an urgent engagement in Edinburgh, he is prevented from being with us to-day. Secondly, may I ask that in debating Amendment No. 33 we should also discuss Amendments Nos. 34, 35 and 36?
§ LORD HUGHES
If the noble Lord will permit me, just before he entered the Chamber I had pointed out that the Amendments which have just been accepted accomplish the purpose of Amendment No. 33 which should not in fact be moved; but that Amendments Nos. 34, 35 and 36 cover a different point and should be spoken to.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD. I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, for explaining that to me, and I must apologise for not being here to start with to hear his wise words. Therefore I do not move Amendment No. 33.
§ 5.20 p.m.
LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD moved Amendment No. 34:
Page 84, line 40, after ("with") insert ("a river purification authority or")
§ The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 34, I should like also to discuss Amendments Nos. 35 and 36. As has already been said, this Part of the Bill deals with the provision of flood warnings in Scotland. The point of Amendments Nos. 34, 35 and 36 is to bring into Clause 94 at the appropriate points mention of river purification authorities as among the bodies that may be consulted by the local authorities in this connection.
§ River purification authorities, which have responsibility for river management in Scotland in this capacity, have already installed a number of gauging weirs for measurement purposes, and these are, as it were, the basic material for putting up 169 flood warning devices. The noble Earl, Lord Haig, has called my attention to the fact that the River Tweed, for instance, has no less than 20 such gauging stations. Of course, they would not all be useful because many of them are in the lower reaches where you would not need more than one or two, but normally a gauging weir would be a suitable point for fixing flood warnings which would give warning to some central point when water levels rose to a dangerous level and action needed to be taken.
§ I should think it would be normal that local authorities would consult and work jointly with river purification authorities in installing these schemes. It would seem to me that this would be the natural thing for them to do, so I hope that what I am asking for in these three Amendments is no more than what would be done in practice anyway; and because it would be the normal practice it would seem to be wise to include the name of these authorities in the Bill. I beg to move.
§ LORD HUGHES
The clause as drafted enables local authorities to make arrangements with any other person for apparatus owned by that person to be incorporated in a flood warning system provided by the authorities. In this connection "person" is defined in the Interpretation Act as including all sorts of bodies, corporate bodies and others, and would include a river purification authority. For that reason I cannot advise your Lordships to accept the Amendment because, by singling out the river purification authority in this connection, it would immediately cast doubt on the power to make arrangements with others who have similar systems.
For instance, water boards, Electricity Boards, the Secretary of State himself, and landowners all have systems which can be brought into use in this way; and no-one perhaps more so in the North of Scotland than the Hydro-Electric Board. Therefore, it did seem to us that perhaps the noble Earl, Lord Haig, was rather misled by this reference to "person" to think that it excluded river purification authorities as such. On the other hand, it may not be that at all, because when the Bill was in another place the Scottish Office received many representations from Members of Parliament on the same subject. I think the river purification 170 authorities may have made the assumption that because the reference was to "person" it would exclude co-operation with themselves, and they invited quite a number of Members of Parliament to put this point to the Secretary of State.
I am therefore glad to be able to assure the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, that it is fully recognised that river purification authorities have a very wide knowledge and experience of rainfall and river gauging which can be usefully drawn upon, and it has been envisaged all along that local authorities wishing to install flood warning systems will co-operate fully and closely with the river purification interests. Indeed, the Government referred, in another place, to the special role which it was hoped the river purification authorities would play; but, because there are a number of other statutory bodies which also have a very direct interest in river gauging work, it would be inadvisable to attempt to specify the particular bodies with whom a local authority may enter into arrangements. As has been said so often in so many different cases, as soon as one starts to specify within a general position, one casts doubts on the right to consult those who are not in fact so specified. I hope, therefore, that the noble Earl, Lord Nugent, will feel able, on behalf of his noble friend, to agree that what is being asked for is in fact accomplished, and that he will feel able to withdraw the Amendment.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
May I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, for dealing so comprehensively with the point which I raised on behalf of my noble friend Lord Haig? It may be that my noble friend was misled as to the meaning of "person", but the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, will not be surprised when I say that I was not. I felt there was some point in this Amendment because the river purification authority is the specific authority responsible for the management of rivers, in so far as such responsibility exists in Scotland, and of course the answer which the noble Lord gave me is a familiar one when Government Departments are unwilling to see their Bills amended. However, I feel that I have already been rather bold in trespassing so far over the Border into Scottish affairs, and I am certainly not disposed to press something from this 171 position in the South of England. In these circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ LORD HUGHES
Perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to say that we have no resentment. In fact, he did it so well that momentarily I confused him with his noble friend and called him an Earl.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 94 agreed to.
§ Clauses 95 to 98 agreed to.
§ 5.28 p.m.
LORD CRAWSHAW moved Amendment No. 36A:
After Clause 98, insert the following new clause:
§ Compensation for compulsory acquisition of agricultural land
§ ".Where any interest in land is compulsorily acquired or is sold by agreement to a party possessing compulsory purchase powers and
- (a) the land is used for the purposes of agriculture within the meaning of the Agricultural Holdings Act 1948 and is so used by way of a trade or business;
- (b) the person carrying on the trade or business is displaced from the land;
- (c) where apart from this section the compensation would be assessed on the agricultural value of the land;
§ The noble Lord said: I put down this Amendment because, although I knew that it had been fairly well discussed in the other place, even after reading their proceedings there were certain doubts in my mind, and I am hoping that the Government will be able to clear up these doubts and perhaps give me some assurance on one or two points. Compared with acquisitions in other fields, farmers do have special problems which I shall hope to explain. I might add at this stage that the National Farmers' Union is in full support of this Amendment. If the effect of this Amendment is to make compulsory acquisition harder I welcome that, for too often good, fertile, clean land is grabbed when, with more thought and imagination, marginal or waste land could well be used. After all, land is part of a farmer's business, and it always grieves me to think of the time and money spent on it and then to see it 172 submerged underneath a heap of concrete or other buildings.
§ I can start on one point of common ground, because I think everybody agrees that where land is taken for the benefit of the community as a whole, the owner or occupier, or tenant, of that land, should not suffer. I think everybody agrees with this principle. What I want to ask is whether the existing law ensures that this happens. At present, the compensation is paid at the existing or market value at the date of acquisition, and I concede that this is an improvement from the former position. But, to my mind, it still does not reflect the cost of reinstatement of that farmer. Land is an integral part of a business, and it does not need much imagination to realise the effect on the business when a man is dispossessed. But to my mind that is not taken into account at present, for losses start at, and I believe should be compensated from, the moment when it is widely known that a farm is, so to speak, doomed. What is known as planning blight sets in. Such things as Government improvement grants are immediately withdrawn; no new electricity supply will be given; no new fixed equipment will be put in, and a farmer's own expenditure will not be reflected in the compensation paid; labour drifts away, and this causes heavy expenditure to the farmer who has to engage contractors, and so on.
§ From then follows the changeover period to a new farm, if indeed a farmer can find one. He will have to compete at auction with adjacent farmers, who know that by acquiring a neighbouring farm they will be able to gain from economies of scale and spread their overheads more widely. They will therefore be willing and able to pay an inflated price. I can speak about the present anxiety in Rutland, where 4,000 acres are liable to be submerged for the Emping-ham reservoir. It is a large proportion of that county, and we may well find 20 or more farmers, with compensation already agreed and in their pockets, competing for a shortage of acres, a situation that will automatically inflate the price.
§ When the farmer finds his new farm there is a three-year period of acclimatisation—because that is about the time it takes for a farmer to find out what his new farm is like and to learn how 173 to manage it. For instance, a man moving from a sandy soil to a clay soil will find completely different conditions and will have a good deal of difficulty in adjusting himself. Although, as I said, we all agree that the dispossessed farmer should not suffer, the Minister of Housing and Local Government said on February 27 that land should be priced purely and simply on its value in the open market. But that will not reflect the cost of a farmer's extra expenses needed to reinstate himself as before.
§ For this reason, I should like to see farmers compensated in the same way as displaced traders, who are at present paid up to three years for loss of profits, with compensation for disturbance and loss of good will. I should like to see us follow the principle of the judgment in the case of West Midlands Baptist Trust Association Incorporated v. Birmingham City Corporation, where there was a compulsory order providing for the acquisition of a church and the court held that the compensation should be determined at the cost of reinstatement. That is all I want to see in this Bill. I beg to move.
§ LORD BELSTEAD
May I say a word in support of my noble friend before the Minister replies, because I should like to ask a couple of questions? I think we have all followed with interest the points made by my noble friend, and possibly there is common ground in the Committee that if someone is dispossessed for the good of the community then the community ought to ensure that the person dispossessed should not suffer. I think my noble friend has given us good examples of land being increasingly needed.
He reminded us of a reservoir in his part of the country, but there are also the ever-open jaws of the motorways, and behind lurks the Ministry of Transport Green Paper. Many of us who are keen on transport support that Green Paper, but if we lived on the line of one of those new motorways we should not be quite so happy. There is also the Roskill Commission, which is sitting at the moment, and ready to gobble up a very great amount of land. I speak with particular feeling, having lived just outside a town which was to have been doubled in size, although that did not happen. Also, we know for a fact that 50,000 acres are taken out of agricultural use each year.
174 May I draw your Lordships' attention to another possibility, which I do not think my noble friend mentioned, but which I have seen happen at first hand? If there is mass dispossession for something like a new town, suddenly a flood of applicants for land is released on to the market, and this is bound to be reflected in local prices. I suggest that the case for a change seems to be cast iron, although I must say that I do not quite know whether I like the precise terms of the Amendment.
It seems that the Amendment does not differentiate between freeholders and tenants, and it implies that the basis of valuation as the open market value—a definition which I understand is derived from the Act of 1919—is wrong. But I am not quite sure that the words,compensation … at a level which takes full account of the cost of equivalent reinstatement",put something concrete in its place. Can the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, tell us what is the exact situation if a tenant is dispossessed? I apologise for my ignorance, but I have read the Report of the proceedings in another place and I am still not quite sure.
In the case of freeholders who are dispossessed, I thought the date of valuation was the date of the notice to treat, but my noble friend has said that it is the date of acquisition. I wonder which is correct. Whichever is correct, though interest on the final price is payable from the relevant date, I most certainly support my noble friend in saying that that is poor compensation for rises in land values during protracted negotiations. We know that in the last 15 years the rise in land values has been about 10 per cent. per annum, and that can mean a lot to someone when negotiations are protracted. Finally, would not the noble Lord agree that if some payment could be made during negotiations before the final price was decided, that might allow some dispossessed farmers to get on and seek for land as soon as they know that they are going to have to leave?
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
I should like to support this Amendment, but may I make one point which has not so far been raised? When a farmer is dispossessed of his farm, presumably for the good of the 175 community, he has to sell all his stock; and it may well be, if he has to wait a year or 18 months, or even two years, before he can find a new farm, that the value of the cattle and sheep is much higher than when he was dispossessed. Therefore it is only fair for the Government to compensate the farmer fully up to the cost of re-stocking the farm. I do not suggest that they should compensate him to an extent where he is able to buy more stock than he had previously, but I think that the Government ought to compensate him for any rise in the value of stock when he has to re-stock.
I have the greatest sympathy with this Amendment, but I wonder whether this is really the time and place for it. This is a very complicated subject. In fact, a detailed examination of the law relating to compensation for compulsory acquisition, together with recommendations for amendments, has been made by the Chartered Land Societies' committee; and various other professional bodies, too, are at work on the same thing. The field covers more than agriculture; and it covers many different aspects of agriculture which the noble Lord's Amendment does not cover. Indeed, his noble friend Lord Belstead has struck at one of the weak points already. So although, as I say, I have the greatest sympathy with this Amendment, and although I know the agricultural community feel very strongly that they are not getting enough compensation and that something should be done about it, I am sure it cannot be done in this way in this Bill. I know that this Bill is a miscellaneous provisions Bill and that it has an enormous number of different aspects to it, but we really cannot add one more aspect of so complicated a nature, and I hope the noble Lord will not seek to press the Amendment because I should hate not to be able to support him.
§ LORD BESWICK
I go all the way with the noble Lord, Lord Henley, on one point; namely, that this is a complicated matter, and I am not sure that I am going to be able to give an absolutely satisfactory answer to the different points which have been raised. First of all, however, taking the Amendment that we are considering, I have to say that it is not clear what the effect of it 176 would be, and several noble Lords have pointed out that it is not a water-tight Amendment. It is not clear partly because the words in subsection (c), for example, do not appear to have any significance by reference to existing legislation, and the circumstances in which the clause would operate are thus uncertain; and partly because the instruction to "take full account of the cost of equivalent reinstatement" appears to mean something other than actually paying the cost of equivalent reinstatement. I am not quite sure what is meant there. What is the difference between "taking full account of the cost of equivalent reinstatement" and paying for equivalent reinstatement? The drafting of this Amendment, therefore, is not sound, and I suggest that the noble Lord would not be wise to press it on that account, if on no other.
But there is a feeling here which I recognise, and it may be that I can say something about that. I appreciate that there are some people who feel that the farmers do not get the full amount needed to enable them to set up again as farmers in another part of the country. First of all, may I point out to the noble Lord that the effect at the moment, without this Amendment, is that the farmer gets what his land is worth, just as if he had decided of his own choice to move elsewhere and had put his farm up for sale voluntarily. A number of noble Lords—the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, and the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, himself—pointed out that there were other expenses involved in uprooting oneself from a farm and having to move and establish oneself in another farm. That is true; but there is provision here for disturbance and for removal costs, and these payments for consequential losses are on top of the market price for the land. For example, the noble Viscount spoke about the sale of stock. There is provision, of course, for taking into account the forced sale of live or dead stock. That would come under the category of the disturbance payments. Where circumstances justify it, there can be compensation for loss of profit; so again I think the present position covers the various special considerations which apply to a farmer.
I was asked about the position where a farmer going out to bid for another 177 farm had to bid against adjacent farmers, and it was suggested that an adjacent farmer would be prepared to bid a little higher because he could efficiently and economically take over the farm. But this possibility of bids by adjacent farmers would be taken into account by the valuer when he came to assess the market value of the farm which was being taken from the farmer. One cannot have this both ways. If there is a possibility of the adjacent farmers putting up the market value of a farm, then this is taken into account when assessing the market value of the farm which is being compulsorily acquired. I was asked by the noble Viscount about the possibility of an interim payment during negotiations, and I am able to assure him that in cases of hardship the possibility of advance payment is there now; indeed, up to 90 per cent.
The noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, asked about the application of the case of West Midlands Baptist Trust Association v. Birmingham Corporation, as a result of which the assessment of compensation is now made by reference to a date much closer to that at which the occupier will be looking for new premises. This is the position; this applies now. I can assure the noble Lord that what was found in that case is applied when the assessment of compensation is now made. The noble Lord asked me about planning blight. If land is designated for compulsory acquisition at some time in the future and the farmer is able to show that he cannot sell it except at a depreciated price, he can require the public authority concerned to buy it at its full, undepreciated price.
I think that answers all the different points that were put to me, and on the basis of those assurances the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, may feel able to withdraw his Amendment.
§ LORD CRAWSHAW
I thank the noble Lord for his reply. I think certain of the difficulties arise from my inability, at any rate, to reconcile the statement of the Minister of Housing and Local Government on February 27, when he said that land should be priced or valued purely and simply on its value in the open market, and the judgment in the case of West Midlands Baptist Trust Association v. Birmingham Corporation. 178 There seems to be a difference here, and I have not really found the answer to it. I would also make the point that in these cases a farmer is not moving of his own choice. I think that is different from the example which the noble Lord quoted of a farmer moving of his own free will. But in view of the doubts expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Henley, about the time and place for this, while reserving my right to bring it up again at another time, for the moment, although this is a problem which is much in the forefront of the minds of many people concerned with farming, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 99 [Agricultural tied cottages]:
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE moved Amendment No. 37:
Page 87, line 14, leave out head (ii) and insert—
("(ii) that the efficient management of any agricultural land or the efficient carrying on of any agricultural operations would be seriously prejudiced unless the premises are available for occupation by a person employed or to be employed by the owner; or").
§ The noble Earl said: It has been suggested to me that it might be for the convenience of the Committee if we were to discuss together all three Amendments (Nos. 37, 38 and 39) on Clause 99. If that course were agreeable we should still have to take decisions separately on these three Amendments, because they cover two quite distinct points. Amendments Nos. 38 and 39, in the names of my noble friends Lord Massereene and Ferrard and Lord Crawshaw, and my noble friend Lord Balerno, are concerned with the length of time for which a farm servant has been in employment and occupancy of his house before the termination of his employment. This is an Amendment which was recommended after great care and consideration by the National Farmers' Union of Scotland. My noble friends who are moving Nos. 38 and 39 will no doubt put forward the case in their favour and I hope that their arguments will be considered favourably by the Government.
§ The first Amendment, No. 37, is in my name and in that of my noble friends Lord Nugent and Lord Belstead. It is concerned with a different point: how to 179 reconcile possible hardship which may arise from the vacation of an agricultural service tenancy house with the needs of efficient agriculture. This is a question which affects the whole of Great Britain in one way or another. Although there is much less feeling about it in Scotland than in England, I think that it affects Scotland basically to a greater extent. In England, or at least in South and Central England, one very often finds in country districts a large number of rural villages all fairly close together, perhaps not more than a mile or a mile and a half apart, and none of the farms is very far from the villages. Sometimes they are even concentrated all round them. So it is not very difficult for a good many agricultural workers to live in these rural villages which are not specifically attached to any farms. Possibly the only farm worker who may have to reside on the farm is the stockman who has sometimes to look after animals during the night.
§ In Scotland and, of course, in other parts of England, especially in the North, it is very different. Not only in the remote areas, in the Highlands, on the Borders or in the upland districts, but in East and Central Scotland and in the Lowlands too where heavy arable cultivation is practised, one may often find six or seven miles of road with six or seven large farms each of them a mile apart, each having perhaps six, eight, or ten farm workers' houses attached to it. There may be no other human dwelling on that stretch of road at all; although it is not a remote area but a heavily cultivated arable area. The nearest village or small town may be seven or eight miles away from some of these arable farms so that it is not always very convenient, even in these days of quick transport, for most of the farm workers to live off the farms. I am told that a great deal of the heat, controversy and emotion associated with service tenancy houses in farming is centred in Norfolk—for some reason which I have not really studied and do not understand. But I do not think we ought to legislate on an important matter like the agriculture of the whole of the United Kingdom on measures which are dictated by the peculiarities of East Anglia. I do not think the question is quite the same elsewhere; and certainly not in Scotland.180
§ There are advantages in living in a service tenancy house and there are disadvantages. The advantages are that the rent is usually much lower the house is sometimes better than a council house (sometimes not so good, but quite often these days better and more commodious) and, in addition, there are tax advantages because the occupier does not pay tax on the value of his house or on his perquisites. Furthermore, some agricultural workers find it more convenient to be near their work. But there are also disadvantages. The disadvantages are that when employment terminates, whether at the instance of the employer or of the employee, the house has to be vacated and the worker has to move elsewhere. This does not only happen in agriculture. There are lots of other occupations in which service tenancy houses are required; for example, school teaching. In some country districts, school teachers must leave the service tenancy house, which belongs to the education authority, if and when they are dismissed. I do not think there would be any question of allowing the school teacher to stay on in the house, even for six months, with nobody to teach the children in the school. When there is a condition of that sort which is dictated by social, industrial or agricultural requirements then one must consider how to reconcile economic efficiency with the avoidance of hardship.
We all thought that a fairly good attempt to do that had been made in the Rent Act of 1965 which is specifically changed by Clause 99 of this Bill. In the 1965 Act it is provided that if an order for possession is granted to what is called the "owner" of a service tenancy house—he may, of course, be a tenant farmer—then the court may suspend that order if they think that course is justified and reasonable. In considering how to exercise its power the court is directed by the Act of 1965 to consider several points, one of which is in Section 33(5)(b) which reads:
whether the efficient management of any agricultural land or the efficient carrying on of any agricultural operations would be seriously prejudiced unless the premises were available for occupation by a person employed or to be employed by the owner; "—
§ which means the farmer.
In this Bill that is deliberately changed. What this Bill proposes is that if the
order for possession is given within less than six months of the termination of employment, which it probably would be, then for the rest of the six months—it does not go further than that—the court shall suspend the execution of the order unless it is satisfied of four conditions, one of which replaces this condition in the 1965 Act. The new wording in this Bill is:
… unless the court is satisfied … that it is not reasonably practicable for the owner of the premises "—
which again means the farmer—
to carry on an agricultural business in which he is engaged unless the premises are available for occupation by a person employed or to be employed by him.
§ Whether or not he is acquainted with the law, anyone with any experience of the way in which Acts of Parliament are interpreted by the courts (sometimes with great difficulty) will realise that it is a serious matter to say that the fanner shall not be able to recover possession of a service tenancy house which he needs; not because it will prejudice the efficient carrying on of his business but because it is not reasonably practicable. He has to prove that it is not reasonably practicable to carry on an agricultural business at all. Of course that could be, and no doubt would be, interpreted in a great many ways; but what is the point of changing these words unless it is deliberately intended to contemplate a lowering of the standards of agricultural efficiency for the sake of prolonging the occupation of a service tenancy house by an employee who had terminated his employment?
§ There are many other Amendments to Clause 99 which have been suggested or proposed. But my noble friends and I did not want to sponsor any of them because we want to agree to all that can reasonably be agreed to in order to reduce to the absolute minimum any hardship which may be incurred by a service tenancy employee who, in spite of his contract that the house goes with his job, may still find it difficult to get other employment; or who for any other reason may suffer as a result of the termination of his employment and the tenancy of a house. But I put to the Government, and to your Lordships, that it is definitely a mistake in the national interest that we should here contemplate 182 a reduction in our agricultural standards of efficiency.
There is a definition in the 1965 Rent Act which, I think, is satisfactory. It says:
Whether the efficient management of any agricultural land or the efficient carrying on of any agricultural operations would be seriously prejudiced …
I do not pretend that any form of words is always certain to be interpreted in the right way, but I think those words are clear and sensible enough; and if, instead of saying it is going to interfere with agricultural efficiency, you have to show that it will make it impracticable to carry on farming at all (which seems to me to be the meaning of this new definition) that is a change which could have very damaging effects.
§ I am not suggesting that in most parts of the country there are numerous cases in which it is necessary to claim repossession of a tenancy, or that that is very widespread. I am told that it is something which happens on an intensive scale only in Norfolk. But it does happen elsewhere, too, and if this provision is allowed to become part of our law it seems to me that we are allowing ourselves to contemplate the lowering of our agricultural standards at a time when it is so desirable in the national interest that they should be raised. I do not think that is right, whether it is done on a small scale or a large scale.
§ The Government have already been asked to show whether there is any general reason to think that the provision in the 1965 Act, which we want to maintain, is not working well and fairly. It is difficult to give evidence on that. According to the figure given in another place, there have been only 17 evictions since 1965. I am not sure whether that means physical evictions; and it is very difficult to know how many of the orders for possession given by the courts which did not involve eviction created real hardship. We have done our best to find out how many there were in England and in Scotland; but we cannot get any evidence to show that the 1965 Act—which was an improvement from the point of view of the tenant on previous conditions—has worked unfairly or has caused undue or avoidable hardship. I am putting it now to the Government 183 that it is a very dangerous thing for the future of our farming that we should allow a provision to be made which breaks a contract even though the breaking of it would mean—I will not say less prosperity for the farmer because that is a personal matter, but less agricultural production for the country.
§ 6.8 p.m.
I am wondering whether the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, is not making too heavy weather of the question of changing these two paragraphs. I agree that the former reference to "efficient management" was probably preferable to "reasonably practicable", but I do not think it is going to make all that difference to the agriculture industry as a whole. I said during the Second Reading debate (I do not want to make a Second Reading speech again to-day, although I think the noble Earl has done so) that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food resisted great pressure to take the agricultural service house out of the general context of service houses. I said then that the agricultural service cottage represented only one-seventh of the whole issue, and the Minister was under pressure to deal with it separately; as if all the other industries where there are service tenancies did not exist. The Minister did not do so, but in a circumstance where there is great emotive feeling he has made a compromise which seems to me a very reasonable one.
I sympathise with the farmers who will find it marginally more difficult to obtain possession and I entirely agree with the noble Earl that the old Act worked perfectly well and there were almost no cases of hardship. I entirely agree that there were few cases of eviction. Nevertheless, it is an emotive issue. I think that the Minister did well to make this compromise and it would be a pity if we looked a gift horse in the mouth. We might have had something so much worse. I hope that the noble Earl and his friends will not see fit to press this issue, because I should feel most unwilling not to support them; yet, for the reasons I have given, I do not feel that the Amendment is worthy of my support.
§ LORD BALERNO
I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Dundee for 184 putting these three Amendments together. I think it is easier to talk to my own Amendment in conjunction with No. 37. There are two points I wish to make. The first is that with the spread of industry into the countryside there is an increasing attraction for farm workers to leave agriculture and go into industry without leaving the place where they reside, and the pressure on tied houses is certain to build up in some areas in the near future. That is an important point, and we shall get into considerable difficulties about it if we do not watch out. The point my Amendment deals with is the probability that someone will take a job on a farm with a tied cottage in order to get a job in an adjacent factory, and so the Amendment provides that a person must have been in the employment of the farmer for six months before he can qualify for the benefits of a tied cottage.
My noble friend Lord Dundee said that the 1965 Act was working satisfactorily and I think that that is generally agreed. In spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Henley, said, I think that the onus is on the Government to show the real need for a change. I do not think that we should just change for purely Party political reasons. The position of a modern farmer in relation to the housing of his workers is getting increasingly complicated and expensive. Some forty years ago I had about twenty tied cottages for employees and that position has remained for many years. Up to the present time, I have never had any major difficulties about the removal of employees, in spite of the fact that it has been extremely difficult to get local government housing in our own district and that we have a large paper mill in close proximity.
I would ask the noble Lord who is going to reply how many cases of eviction from agricultural tied cottages there have been in Scotland during the last five years since the passing of the 1965 Act. If we are to get efficient and highly skilled labour, as we must have for our modern livestock enterprises, we must give them good quarters in which to live, and what is happening now throughout the country is that two, and in many cases three, cottages are being put together into one house and renovated. That takes between £2,000 and £3,000, because if we are hoping to get really good men we have 185 to give them not only "mod. cons." but also central heating and other things like that. That is our objective: to have every one of our cottages provided with central heating. Therefore the ability of a farmer to be free to give houses to his workers is important. That is why I support the Amendment of my noble friend, which is a much clearer statement of what is required than the original statement in the Bill.
§ LORD DONALDSON OF KINGS-BRIDGE
I cannot see that the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, has much to worry about, because if anybody takes a job with a tied cottage with a view to going into a factory, his maximum time in that cottage is six months. I think that the noble Lord's argument is far-fetched. The clause as it stands, without any alteration, is a complete protection to farmers at the end of six months. What we are arguing about is the period from one month up to six months. The noble Lord is right in saying that what every farmer fears is that his workers may go to work in the local shoe factory and he will not be able to get his cows milked. But I cannot see what the fuss is about. I think it will be much better to leave the clause as it is. It gives a very small leverage on the side of the worker who is being badly treated. It is a rare case, but I see no objection to giving him that. It takes nothing away from the farmer who wants to get rid of a man. If it is a dairying job, Clause 2 covers it; if it is an animal job, it is covered at spring time and at harvest, but possibly not at Christmas. I think the Government would be foolish to make any change here. My own view is like that of the noble Lord, Lord Henley—that it would be quite unnecessary to give way on this point. There are more important things to be discussed later.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
I cannot agree with the noble Lord who has just spoken. I agree with my noble friend Lord Dundee that it would be better to take these three Amendments together, and I am quite happy to speak to my Amendment now. My Amendment is somewhat akin to that of Lord Balerno's Amendment, the only difference being that I have taken heed of what the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said on Second Reading. I 186 suggested on Second Reading that it would be fairer to the farmer if the employee had to be in the farmer's employment for six months before this clause could apply. The noble Lord then said that there might be reasons outside the farm-worker's control, and he may have to give in his notice before six months. That, of course, is quite true. But in my Amendment I have provided that if there are circumstancessuch as illness of the occupier or his family, which in the opinion of the court make the foregoing condition unreasonablethese should be taken into consideration.
I cannot think of any other reason, apart from illness or bereavement, that would make a farm-worker want to leave his employment in under six months, unless he was going to a better paid job, possibly in a factory. In those circumstances, it would be unfair to the small farmer. As I said on Second Reading, if the small farmer employs only one agricultural worker, he would then lose the whole of his labour force. He has two options before him: he either has to hire a contractor, and contractors are unreliable and expensive, or he must employ somebody who does not require accommodation, and that is difficult.
The 1965 Act is working very well. I understand that the local authority associations and workers' unions have said that there have been hardly any evictions. My experience of the 1965 Act is that if a worker will not go, it usually takes ten months to a year to get him out. It is always one's wish to find him alternative housing, and if one cannot find it the local authority is under an obligation to do so, but (it depends, of course, on the employer's local authority) they are inclined to drag their feet; and if it is a kind employer, it is my experience that they will drag their feet for ever. I have had three of these cases. I had one man who took a job as an agricultural worker. He threw the job up within three days and got work driving a lorry, earning, I think, with overtime £27 a week. That is all very well, but it was hard luck for me, because on that farm I was employing only two men, and he represented half of my labour force. I had to get in contractors and, as I say, they are unreliable. So I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson.
187 I think that my Amendment protects the worker, and I see no objection to it. Without any doubt, as my noble friend Lord Dundee said, if employees are to get an extra six months' grace it will damage the efficiency of agriculture. It will mean that 18 months go by while you apply to the court—and you will probably not apply before three months; you always give the man a good chance—and allow for a probable appeal; and the case may then again go to court, with another appeal, and drag on and on. Under the 1965 Act the court has full power to extend the time that the man can remain in the house.
I would press the Government strongly to put something down on Report stage that will protect at any rate the small farmer. It does not matter so much if a man is employing 12, 15 or 20 men; if he loses one man, who remains in his house for a couple of years, I do not suppose that that farmer would be too worried. But it is extremely difficult for the small farmer employing only one or two men, and I would press the Government to think over this problem seriously.
§ LORD FORBES
I should like to support my noble friend Lord Dundee on this Amendment. I wonder whether the Government have given full consideration to the position of dairy farmers. Do the Government realise that the cowman, when he finishes milking the cows, say, at half-past five in the evening, does not go away and not appear again until the cows have to be milked next morning. That cowman has to go back to look at his stock, probably before he goes to bed, and he may have to get up in the night to see to a cow calving. Normally you would have the house where this cowman lives adjacent to the steading. What would be the position if the house were occupied by a commercial traveller and the cowman who was supposed to be looking after the cows was living five miles away? He could not just walk into the steading and see what was going on. That is not farming.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
One could think of a number of cases of that nature, but it seems to me to be slightly exaggerated. I think that the noble Lord, 188 Lord Henley, had the position right. We had a good discussion on this point on Second Reading, and we are now on the Committee stage. It seems to me that, as the noble Lord, Lord Henley, pointed out, the Government have taken a reasonable step. We are not discussing anything of a very long or permanent nature; as my noble friend Lord Donaldson said, it is only a matter of three months or six months. As I say, we have had a good deal of discussion on this subject and the Government have taken a reasonable attitude about it. I hardly think it is a matter that ought to be pressed by the Opposition.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
May I ask the Government why they do not practise what they preach? In nationalised industries there are plenty of tied cottages, but the Government do not make a clause like this apply to them. Why should this be applied only to private employers in agriculture and not to nationalised industries?
§ LORD BURTON
I should like to support my noble friend on this Amendment. I cannot understand the altitude of noble Lords opposite, who seem to feel so strongly about this subject. In these days when a farm worker, say, a cowman, is in great demand, no man has any difficulty in getting a job with a house. Although my noble friend, Lord Dundee, has said that the position may be rather different in the urbanised areas in England, the position in the rural areas is not acute. The implementation of the Bill as it now stands might well cause greater hardship than it seeks to dispose of. It is not only of the farmer who will be without a cattleman, or something like that, that I am thinking, but also of the incoming worker. The Government do not seem to be considering the man who is coming into the job and who may be kept waiting by this ridiculous aspect of the Bill to protect probably a bad worker.
If something was put into the Bill to protect a worker in the case of illness, or a widow or family in the case of bereavement, I am sure my noble friend would drop the objection. The Bill as it stands merely protects the lazy, the man who does not want to work, or the bad character looking for a house for nothing. 189 I have about 100 employees and over a twenty-year period I have only twice had difficulties. In both cases the men were bad characters who were only with me for a short time. One of them dragged on for over nine months before I could get him out, and it caused considerable difficulty and inconvenience. I cannot see why noble Lords opposite are so emphatic about this matter.
§ LORD WALSTON
I hope the Government will resist this Amendment. It is never easy to please everybody in this matter of tied cottages, but one has to hold the balance between hardship to the farmer and hardship to the worker. Of course it is bad luck on the farmer— especially the farmer who has only one or two men—if he is left with one of his two cottages, or his only cottage, occupied by somebody who does not work for him. That is cruel, I agree. But it is also extremely bad luck on the farm worker and on his family if he is debarred from looking for a better job, or taking a better job that is offered to him, so that he can give a better start in life to his children and a higher standard of living to his family, because he will lose his house if he takes that better job. You have to balance up those rival claims: hardship to the farmer and hardship to the farm worker.
I do not think that this happens very often in actual practice. I am sure that what happens far more often than eviction is that the farm worker who wants to go somewhere else, possibly to work for another farmer where the boss is a better man, where the opportunities for overtime or promotion are greater, where he would have a more interesting job, or who wants to get a job driving a lorry or working in nearby industry, does not allow himself even to contemplate it because he is afraid of losing his house. That is something at the back of the minds of many farmworkers, even with the protection that they have at the present time.
I remember many years ago an old foreman on my own farm. He had been there ever since he was a boy, starting work at the age of 14. When he was between the ages of 65 or 70 I suggested to him, in what I hoped was a somewhat gentle and friendly way, that perhaps the pace of modern fanning was rather too hot for him and he would be more comfortable 190 if he retired on a pension. He swallowed and said: "Very good, sir. Do you want me to leave next week? And do you want me to give up my cottage at the same time?" It suddenly occurred to me that here was this man who had worked on the same farm for over fifty years, but who had never had security and had always felt that at some time an arbitrary boss could come along and turn him out of the house in which he had lived for fifty years. He had never had the freedom to go and look for something different and to make life better for himself. That is the type of story which we must remember whenever we are talking about tied cottages. It is not the actual statistics of evictions that the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, asked for, that matters; it is the number of people who are denied the freedom to choose the job they want because they happen to live in somebody else's house. Any protection that can be given to those people must have the support of all of us.
I agree at the same time that we must take a realistic view of the problems of farmers. Here we have a reasonable compromise. There are always a certain number of bad farm-workers who will deliberately take a job in order to get a cottage, and make use of the security that gives them to get a better job. I think the numbers are minimal. There are bad fanners who will deliberately penalise and keep a farm-worker under because he is living in a tied cottage and the farmers know that they have a stranglehold on the workers. Those numbers are minimal also, and I do not think we need consider such people. We must take this on the conflicting claims of both sides, and the claim of the individual farmworker warrants at least a 12 months' period.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
Why will not the Government apply this to their own tied cottages? They do not apply it to their own tied cottages. What the noble Lord is really saying is that farmers should provide free cottages for workers to go to other jobs.
§ LORD WALSTON
I wish the noble Viscount—strong memory, bad memory, many things to think about, or few things to think about—would say things which come out of his mind and out of his 191 mouth, but not put words into my mouth which I have not said.
I am not clear what the noble Lord, Lord Walston, has said. I think he said there was a restriction on farmworkers' families, if they happened to be adults and so on, looking for another job. This is not so. I think the noble Lord said that, or gave that impression. If a farmworker has a large family there is no restriction on the children looking for work, obtaining work, getting cheap housing and a big family income. There is no restriction whatsoever.
§ LORD STRATHCLYDE
We have heard a great deal about the hardships on the worker and the hardships on the farmer. I wish some people would consider the hardships on the animals who are not fed at the proper time because the house, which was available for the man who feeds them, is no longer available and he has to travel long distances. That applies not only to dairy farming, but also to stock where, in my part of the country, stock have to be kept under cover for six months of the year, and have to be fed during the whole of that time. I wish noble Lords opposite would think of that.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ LORD BESWICK
We are dealing with a matter in which there is a conflict of interests. It would appear that there are some noble Lords—the noble Lord, Lord Henley, my noble friend Lord Walston—who are able to overcome their own selfish interest and consider the interests——
§ LORD STRATHCLYDE
May I ask the noble Lord if he will give way for just one moment? Would he be good enough to ask the noble Lord to whom he has referred how many cottages he has, and how many men he employs, and then consider the small man who has only one or two men to do the work on the farm? It really is appalling to hear the kind of speech that we have had from the noble Lord opposite. I am ashamed to listen to it.
§ LORD BESWICK
If I have brought in a more personal note I am sorry, but I brought it in in relation to two noble 192 Lords whose speeches impressed me, and impressed many other noble Lords in this House. Because I say that they were regarding this from the point of view of someone other than their own particular positions, I was not intending to say—and I did not say—that all those who have taken the contrary view are necessarily selfish. Certain arguments have been put forward and certain Amendments have been suggested. In one case particularly I think the Amendment is a reasonable one, and I shall endeavour to answer it in a reasonable way. I do not think that the agitation shown by the noble Lord is justified. I suggest that we should try to look at this in a more dispassionate manner.
The fact of the matter is that since the changes proposed in this Bill were announced representations have been made by a number of different organisations. We have had representations from the National Farmers' Union, from the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers, from the Scottish Landowners' Federation and from the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers. There are these different points of view which have been expressed by these different organisations. It is not surprising that in the case of the Scottish Landowners' Federation and the N.F.U. they object to this six-months provision that is put into the Bill. It is not surprising, either, that there are branches of the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers who would like us to implement what they consider to be a pledge given to them for complete protection; in other words, no eviction unless alternative accommodation is available. But, after all, it is not an unreasonable thing. I understand as well as noble Lords opposite the position of the farmers and, of course, of the animals. But here are some human beings who are saying, "Before you put me out into the street, I should have another home to go to." That is something fundamental to ask for and this point has been put forward with some force.
There were, as we know, many farm workers who came up to the House and lobbied against the proposals that we are putting here because they do not think they are going far enough. But the Government have taken what they believe to be, in all the circumstances, 193 a reasonable and a fair stand. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, used the word "compromise". I think that was the expression which my noble friend Lord Walston suggested, too. I am putting it to noble Lords that, although this satisfies neither the one side nor the other, taking a responsible view in all the circumstances the Government are putting forward a compromise which ought to be accepted.
One or two points of some detail have been raised. In particular, as I say, I was impressed by the Amendment put forward by the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard. He has an Amendment which, on the face of it, would seem to be as reasonble as any of them. If I am not accepting it, it is not because I consider him to be taking up a selfish posture. I believe that he is mistaken in believing that it is necessary to have the kind of Amendment he has put down in order to ensure fairness to both sides. The noble Viscount says that there may be those who would take a farm job for the sake of the cottage that goes with that job. But surely anyone who is prepared to go as far as that, who is prepared to uproot himself and take a job, knowing that he is going to move into another job later on, is likely, I put to the noble Viscount, to be prepared to stay for six months in order to qualify for the protection that he would get even if the noble Viscount's Amendment were accepted. I do not think the noble Viscount is dealing with the possibility of abuse. I do not think he is dealing with the kind of case he seeks to deal with, the case of the man who deliberately is abusing the protection which the law provides, or intends to provide.
On the other hand, there may be a case where a man takes a job, and with it a house, yet for reasons which are quite proper, quite reasonable and quite acceptable, gets the sack. If the noble Viscount's Amendment was accepted, that man would not have protection. I put it to the noble Viscount that with his Amendment he would not be catching the bad cases but would be likely to put at risk those who had a genuine reason for wishing to move, or indeed for quite genuine reasons lost their job at the behest of the farmer
194 The noble Viscount seeks to provide even further protection by pointing out that there shall be regard to the circumstances of the farmworker's family. But of course, in such a case we already have protection in the clause as it stands, because a court would specifically have to have regard to the comparative hardship as between the sitting tenant and the incoming worker. I hope, therefore, that in all the circumstances the noble Viscount will feel that the qualifications in the clause take into account, and the court when having regard to those qualifications would take into account, the kind of considerations he has set out in his Amendment.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
I am concerned with the rogues. They are very few and far between, I know, but they do appear. I have experienced this. I had a man come into the house in the way I described. But I had another man come in, and I think he gave the job up in five days. He burnt all the wood in the house, all the shelves; he filled the gas meter with pieces of gramophone record, and the Gas Board thought that I had done it. The noble Lord has no idea what one has to put up with.
§ LORD BESWICK
The noble Viscount seems to be in difficulties all round. He would be well advised to go and see his local Member of Parliament. I am sure there are other ways of helping him, rather than by amending the Bill in this way.
I was asked about the number of evictions in Scotland. As a matter of fact, the figures, if any, are not readily available. I can, however, tell the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, that the position in Norfolk is not quite so bad as he thought. Of the 18 cases of actual eviction, physical eviction, since 1965, there were some 6 in the whole of East Anglia. Norfolk has not therefore the monopoly of the problem, such as it is—I say here again, advisedly, "such as it is". But the point is not how many are evicted; the point is how many are living with the fear that they could be evicted. That is what we are trying to deal with.
It has been suggested that we must have regard to the man coming in for the efficient working of the farm. But 195 if we want to have a good man coming in, if we want to have a good choice, if we want to have the possibility of proper recruitment into this industry, then one of the best things we can do, surely, is to see that when men come in to work in the industry and take a service tenancy of this kind they have at any rate the minimum protection which is laid down in this Bill. I feel that, if it is a matter of the efficiency of the industry, we are doing something which in the longer term will be in the best interests of efficiency.
I am sorry to interrupt, but unfortunately if one has a bad man on the job, and cannot get a good one in, it is a very short time before the cows are giving half, or less than a half, of their potential, and one may lose a large number of them, costing thousands of pounds. It is a serious matter.
§ LORD BESWICK
I am not trying to ride off the possibility of a serious case. I am suggesting that if the noble Lord has a case such as that, if he looks at the second of the four qualifications he will find that he is covered. On the other hand, the noble Lord has said there are these bad people. The noble Lord, Lord Burton, seemed to indicate that farmworkers were likely to have a larger proportion of difficult people than in other industries. I do not believe that that is true. But, if it is the case, then for goodness' sake! let us improve the conditions of the farmworkers on the land. And one of the ways in which we can improve them is by giving them this extra protection.
I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, who gave a very good description of the worker's extra comfort (I think that was the word he used), from modernisation of the cottages, and putting one, two or even three, he said, into one, with heating and all the rest of it, that that is fine—that is absolutely fine. But how much better is it if the family know that at any rate they cannot be turned out within six months, unless it be that there is a special case of the type which the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, indicated! And then the courts would have regard to that.
§ LORD BESWICK
If it is as urgent as that, if it is a question of two or three days, or a week or two, then, as the noble Viscount told us, the present position is equally bad and we are not worsening it by the proposed Amendment. This reminds me to tell the noble Viscount that this period of six months is not in addition to the time taken to have court proceedings. I can give him some figures to show this, but it is not an additional six months period.
I put it to the Committee that, although I realise that there are problems, and although I realise that we must have regard to the very real difficulties that face especially the dairy farmer, I believe the Government have adopted a position which is reasonable and fair, and which is a compromise in an area which has given rise to so much bitter controversy over the years. I think we should be well advised to accept the Bill as it now stands and to reject the Amendment.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
I must thank the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, for trying to introduce this reasonable note and asking us to accept a compromise. But I think it is fair to remind him that when his colleagues in another place were putting the 1965 Act on the Statute Book, in the words of the Attorney General, the criterion in our Amendment was put on the Statute Book in a most considered manner, with the Attorney General specifically saying he considered that the Government had achieved the right balance with those words; and this was carefully debated in Committee. That is the reason why noble Lords on this side of the Committee are doubtful whether it is wise to accept a compromise in order to get agreement: because, having made a settlement, as it was thought, to settle everything in 1965, noble Lords now come along and ask us to go one step further. The advice coming from the noble Lord, Lord Henley, and the noble Lord, Lord Walston, in that respect does not quite square up with the previous experience, especially when the spokesman for the National Union of Agricultural Workers in another place made it absolutely plain that so far as he was concerned it was not the end of the road and that he was going to ask for much more.
197 Noble Lords really must face the facts of this situation. Farmers would be absolutely delighted if local authorities built sufficient houses so that they could get rid of all their tied houses; they have to carry them simply because there is no other way of housing the farm workers. It is true that to-day there are some 200,000 farm workers in council houses—thank goodness there are!—and there are only 100,000 farm houses left. But if farmers could be relieved of the lot of them, believe me, they would be absolutely delighted.
I do make this point to the noble Lord, Lord Beswick: that it is not wise advice to say "accept this compromise", because if we do we shall be asked in two or three years' time to accept another one. The practical point here does not concern the big farmer with a number of cottages. He can manage for several months, possibly, with one cottage less. Often I have done it on my own farm, and other noble Lords will have done it. I would always be perfectly willing to let a man have six months, or even longer, to make sure that he got out in comfortable circumstances. The man we are talking about is the farmer with a single farmworker—usually a dairy farmer—and he is absolutely "sunk" if he loses his cottage for six months.
In the terms of the criterion of Clause 99(2)(a)(ii), this is now so loosely worded that the court could take the view, "Well, the farmer could carry on if he could get a relief dairyman to milk his cows for him". The criterion has been significantly weakened from what it was in terms of the efficient production of the farm in the 1965 Act. This is the point
§ to which we are objecting, because we know that it will seriously affect especially the small farmer with a single farmworker. For this reason we must ask noble Lords to look at this more closely.
§ Let us, however, remove the emotive atmosphere. All of us engaged in farming are perfectly well aware that the problem is not to get fellows to go out of the farm cottages but to get them to go in. With 20,000 or 30,000 farm workers going out into industry every year, the boot is entirely on the other foot to-day. As my noble friend Lord Balerno said, any wise farmer is taking endless trouble nowadays to make his farm cottages as comfortable and attractive as possible, to let them all without any rent at all—indeed to do anything he can to keep his men. So the bargaining position is entirely with the farmworkers. It is not a case of hard-hearted, all-powerful farmers pressing the farm workers: it really is quite the other way round.
§ We are simply arguing now on the technical point that we think it unwise to make further concessions, at the expense of the efficiency of the farm, in order to please the National Union of Agricultural Workers because we are quite sure that they will simply ask for another one. For that reason, my advice to the Committee is that they should accept this Amendment as being thoroughly reasonable.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 37) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided:—Contents, 62; Not-Contents, 43.199
|Aberdare, L.||Cork and Orrery, E.||Kinnoull, E.|
|Ailwyn, L.||Craigavon, V.||Lansdowne, M.|
|Albemarle, E.||Craigmyle, L.||Latymer, L.|
|Balerno, L.||Crawshaw, L.||Lauderdale, E.|
|Barnby, L.||Daventry, V.||Macpherson of Drumochter, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Derwent, L.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.|
|Berkeley, Bs.||Dundee, E.||Milverton, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Elliot of Harwood, Bs.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Bethell, L.||Falkland, V.||Mowbray and Stourton, L. [Teller.]|
|Bledisloe, V.||Forbes, L.|
|Boston, L.||Fortescue, E.||Napier and Ettrick, L.|
|Bourne, L.||Glendevon, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Brooke of Cumnor, L.||Goschen, V. [Teller.]||Poltimore, L.|
|Brooke of Ystradfellte, Bs.||Gray, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Gridley, L.||Rockley, L.|
|Burton, L.||Grimston of Westbury, L.||Rowallan, L.|
|Carrington, L.||Hastings, L.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Conesford, L.||Hertford, M.||St. Helens, L.|
|St. Oswald, L.||Stonehaven, V.||Swaythling, L.|
|Sherfield, L.||Strange of Knokin, Bs.||Teynham, L.|
|Somers, L.||Strathclyde, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Addison, V.||Henley, L.||Serota, Bs.|
|Beswick, L.||Hilton of Upton, L. [Teller]||Shackleton, L. (L. Privy Seal.)|
|Birk, Bs.||Hughes, L.||Stocks, Bs.|
|Blyton, L.||Jacques, L.||Stow Hill, L.|
|Boothby, L.||Leatherland, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Bowles, L. [Teller.]||Lindgren, L.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Buckinghamshire, E.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, Bs.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Champion, L.||McLeavy, L.||Walston, L.|
|Crook, L.||Maelor, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Delacourt-Smith, L.||Milner of Leeds, L.||Williamson, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Moyle, L.||Wilson of Langside, L.|
|Douglass of Cleveland, L.||Nunburnholme, L.||Wootton of Abinger, Bs.|
|Evans of Hungershall, L.||Phillips, Bs.||Wright of Ashton under Lyne, L.|
|Gardiner, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Platt, L.|
|Henderson, L.||Popplewell, L.|
On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ Clause 99, as amended, agreed to.
§ 7.4 p.m.
LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD moved Amendment No. 39A:
After Clause 99, insert the following new Clause—
Additional case in which court must order possession where dwelling-house subject to regulated tenancy
(".After Case 13 of Part II of Schedule 3 to the Rent Act 1968 there shall be added the following:—
§ Case 14
§ Where the dwellinghouse was at any time occupied by a person responsible (whether as owner, tenant or agent of another) for the control of the farming of the agricultural unit of which the dwellinghouse forms a part and
- (a) not later than the commencement of the tenancy the tenant was given notice in writing that possession might be recovered under this case, and
- (b) the court is satisfied either that the dwellinghouse is required for occupation by a person employed or to be employed by the landlord in agriculture, or that the dwellinghouse is required for a person responsible or to be responsible (whether as owner, tenant or agent of another) for the control of the farming of the agricultural unit of which the dwellinghouse forms a part:
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move the new clause standing in my name. This clause concerns a limited point with regard to the recovery of an agricultural 200 farmhouse which has been let off to a private tenant and is wanted back by the farmer for occupancy by a farmworker or farm manager. The 1968 Rent Act provides machinery for a farmer to recover possession of a farm worker's dwelling-house which has been let off to a private tenant and is wanted back by the farmer for occupancy by a farmworker for the working of the farm. But the 1968 Act stopped short of extending this same machinery for recovery to farmhouses, except in the case of an amalgamation of farms as in Case 13 of the 1968 Act. This means, as the law now stands, that there will sometimes be cases where a farmer needs to recover possession of a farmhouse let off to a private tenant and cannot do so, to the detriment of the farm or holding. My new clause would provide the machinery for the farmer to recover possession of the farmhouse when he so needs it, subject to his following the correct procedure and safeguards as in the case of farmworkers' dwellinghouses. The specific safeguard is that the farmer, when letting the farmhouse to the tenant in the first place, must give notice at the beginning of the tenancy that repossession of the farmhouse might be wanted at some time in the future, if he is to qualify for the relief of this machinery.
§ This qualification of course means that the relief which would be given for recovery of farmhouses would only apply in the future; that is to say, where the farmhouses are already let off this new clause could not affect those tenancies. But in the future when for some reason the farmer has a spare farmhouse and lets it off, and it is not in connection with 201 amalgamation, and he gives notice when he creates the tenancy that he may want it in the future, he would be allowed to use this machinery in the 1968 Act. Obviously it will not affect a very great many cases, but it could be important in this farming industry, where changes are so rapid now, and for all we know there may be more farmhouses becoming vacant in the future. I would think it is a small improvement which I do not think could be emotive or cause difficulty, and I hope very much that the Government will be able to accept it. I beg to move.
May I add a few words in support of this Amendment. It seems to me that sometimes, particularly in the areas in the West, farmhouses built in the old-fashioned days are much too large, and the farmers want to let them off. That is quite useful from the tourists' point of view, but sometimes farmers are reluctant to let them because they fear they will never get them back. I think this Amendment goes some way to making better use of the old, large farmhouses than is made at present.
§ LORD BESWICK
This Amendment would widen very considerably the provisions of Case 13 of the 1968 Rent Act under which a farmhouse can be let on a regulated tenancy subject to a right of repossession in certain special circumstances. I must say frankly that I think the proposed Case 14 is too wide. Case 13 makes an exception from the general security of tenure provided by the Rent Acts; and this could be justified only in special cases and with proper safeguards. Accordingly, Case 13 is restricted to farmhouses rendered surplus by approved amalgamations. It does not allow possession to be recovered from the ex-farmer, an ex-employee or their widows. It requires the right of repossession to be exercised within a limited period. And finally the house must be required to house a farm worker. None of these conditions would apply under the proposed Case 14, which would simply render Case 13 superfluous. The farmhouse rendered surplus by amalgamation is a special case.
I must say that although the noble Lord moved his Amendment most persuasively, I am a little surprised that he puts forward this proposal to allow repossession 202 from the ex-farmer or his widow, because in the debate on the 1967 Bill the noble Lord then said:The new clause … makes special provision for the retiring farmer or his widow to continue to live in the spare farmhouse if they wish to do so. I quite accept that it is both humane and sensible, and the proper thing to do. In fact, unless such was done there probably would not be an amalgamation at all, so it is an entirely sensible thing to do."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7/3/67, col. 1405.]That is what he said then, and I really do not see what has happened since that time to persuade the noble Lord to change his mind.
Moreover, the proposal here is to sweep away the time limits within which the right of repossession may be exercised. It is reasonable that the owner should have a period of years in which to make up his mind whether he is going to need the house. But it is not reasonable that he should be able to exercise that right indefinitely. After a period of years an occupant will tend to settle down and regard the house as his for as long as he needs it. He may be getting on in years or his circumstances may have changed. I really do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Henley, has taken this category of case into account. Surely, it would be wrong for the occupant to remain indefinitely subject to immediate eviction. The time must come, I am putting to noble Lords, when the house should be treated like any other rural dwelling which is not let to farm workers.
Lastly, the proposal we have before us would allow possession to be recovered so that the house could be sold with vacant possession to an incoming farmer. This would be a greater breach in the security of tenure provided by the Rent Acts than we could justify on agricultural grounds. The general principle is that people who pay the rent for a regulated tenancy should have the corresponding security. We have made exceptions to this rule for the benefit of agricultural landlords in well defined cases. Tied cottages are one, and farmhouses rendered surplus by amalgamation are another. These are cases that can be defined and justified with due safeguards. The proposed Case 14 would bring in a great variety of cases, though they might be few in number.
This matter has been debated at length on previous occasions. Indeed, noble 203 Lords opposite put forward a similar proposal during consideration of the Rent Bill of 1965. We then put forward proposals of our own which became the present law. These proposals were worked out after lengthy discussion both in Parliament and with the interests concerned. They represent a fair and balanced solution to what is a difficult issue. If there are farmers who have the surplus houses to which the noble Lord, Lord Henley, referred, surely the right course for those people who are fortunate to have more houses than they need is to make up their minds what they want to do with them. They can sell; they can let the houses at a low rent; or, of course, the house can be let to a worker, thus releasing a cottage straight away which could be let on a Case 12 basis.
I suggest, therefore, that the new clause is not only unsuitable in its present form, but also unnecessary, and frankly I can-not see how any provision of this kind could be drawn up which would not create as many problems as it would solve. I am recommending that we do not accept the proposed new clause.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
I must thank the noble Lord for that reply, but I am bound to say that it seems a little unbending. I think he was less than fair to me on the question of amalgamations. I think that, subject to superior legal opinion, Case 13 would govern Case 14 if Case 14 was put into the Act: that is to say, that Case 13 which now governs amalgamations would continue to stand. In other words, the position of the ex-farmer and the widow would continue to be protected.
I was surprised that the noble Lord should interpret my Case 14 as superseding Case 13. It did not seem to me entirely fair that he should quote back at me my support for that particular case. Naturally, there is no intention whatsoever to weaken the position of the ex-farmer or the widow, because I specifically made the point in commending my Amendment to the Committee that this does not deal with the case of amalgamations. This arises only where for some reason the farmer has a farmhouse going spare outside the case of amalgamation. Either the noble Lord's brief was not entirely fair, or his argument was not.
204 With regard to the other point that the noble Lord made, that the owner should not have the right indefinitely to recover, this is arguable. Maybe a term should be put to it. But I cannot accept that he considers it to be a solution that the farmer can either sell off the farmhouse or let it to a farm worker. If he sells it off it is lost to farming for good. I do not think that this is necessarily going to be in the interests of agriculture.
However, the noble Lord has cast doubts on the technical soundness of this Amendment. I personally am persuaded that there is a good point here; and all the debates I have read about this matter in another place have convinced me that there is a good point, albeit a small one. I believe that we can perfectly well cater for the position now covered in Case 13, of the ex-farmer and the widow. But I should like to make absolutely sure that this new clause is correctly drafted so that it limits the application to the very narrow field to which I want it to apply; then, if the Committee will allow me to withdraw it now, I should like to put it down on the Report stage. I hope that the noble Lord and his advisers will give this a fair consideration, because I really believe that this Amendment could be made without any damage to anybody but with advantage to the farming industry. In the light of the noble Lord's reply I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 100 agreed to.
§ 7.18 p.m.
LORD BESWICK moved Amendment No. 40:
After Clause 100, insert the following new clause:
§ National Agricultural Advisory Service
§ ".The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food may, instead of maintaining the National Agricultural Advisory Service provided for by section 1(1) of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1944, give effect to the purposes for which that Service was established (which relate to the provision of advice and instruction on agricultural matters) through such other organisation as he may consider appropriate; and accordingly, the said section 1(1) shall be amended by substituting, for the words ' shall, as from the appointed day, establish and maintain a National Agricultural Advisory Service', the words ' shall make provision through such organisation as he considers appropriate'."205
§ The noble Lord said: It will be recalled that in moving the Second Reading of this Bill I gave notice that I should be introducing this provision. It is designed to facilitate the proposals announced by the Minister of Agriculture on April 9 for the unification of the Ministry's professional, scientific and technical service. The basis of these proposals is the management consultants' recommendations that unification would make possible a more efficient and more economic service to the farmers. My understanding was that the case commanded approval when it was put on Second Reading, and I therefore leave it at that, although of course if there are questions I shall be glad to answer them. I beg to move.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
I am not very much wiser from what the noble Lord has told us about this new clause, and I was rather hoping that he would give us some explanation of what is really contemplated in the Ministry of Agriculture. Those noble Lords who are here now are interested in this subject, and I should therefore be grateful if the noble Lord, if he is in a position to do so, would give a few words of explanation about just what changes are contemplated.
§ LORD BESWICK
I am sorry; I thought I was meeting the convenience of the House in keeping my remarks short. The existing services, the National Agricultural Advisory Service, the Agricultural Land Service, the Veterinary Services and the Drainage and Water Supply Service, are the services affected. As noble Lords know, they have earned an excellent reputation for their high standard of service to the farming community, and the efficiency of the industry owes a great deal to them. But, given the change that is taking place in the industry, we decided, on the basis of the advice tendered to us by the consultants, that the organisation of these services ought to change to meet the changing needs of farming.
In particular, we have the changes in farming techniques which make farming to-day increasingly capital intensive. For this reason, farmers cannot afford to consider investment or husbandry problems in isolation. No aspect of the work of the professional and technical services 206 in the advisory or grant field can satisfactorily be tackled except in the context of the development policy of the farm as a whole. Only through a unified service, it is suggested, can we ensure that individual problems—whether on drainage, buildings or husbandry—are examined from this "whole farm" point of view, or that the full range of expertise within the Department can be placed quickly and economically at the farmer's disposal. In addition, by removing unnecessary demarcations between the separate services, unification will enable the number of officials separately visiting farms to be reduced, and requests for advice and applications for grants to be dealt with more promptly.
I should say, however, that one feature will not be changed; the Minister has already given firm assurances, which I now repeat, that it will continue to be the duty of officers engaged in advisory work to give farmers impartial advice. The Minister is therefore proposing, subject to consultation with those concerned, to unify the technical services. The names of the separate services will need to be replaced by a new name for the service as a whole. The name of the "N.A.A.S." is, however, enshrined in Section 1 of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1944. There is no comparable legislative provision involving the names of the other services affected by the proposals for unification. The sole purpose of the amending clause I am now introducing is to remove the name "National Agricultural Advisory Service", without in any way changing the obligation upon the Minister to continue to provide the advisory service. I apologise again to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, for trying to curtail my remarks in the beginning. I hope that, with this extension of what is involved, he will feel more able to support my Amendment. Again, I beg to move the Amendment.
§ LORD BALERNO
It is with some hesitation that I venture to interfere in this English and Welsh matter, but I should like to know whether this Amendment would make it possible for the Ministry of Agriculture to move its advisory services more into line with what we in Scotland have adopted, where the advisory services, though paid for by the Government, are channelled through the 207 colleges of agriculture and the university departments.
The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, went out of his way to stress the impartiality of the National Agricultural Advisory Service. Perhaps one sees things differently from the other side of the Border, but I think there have been occasions when the advice given by the advisers of N.A.A.S. in England has been curiously in consonance with what happens to be the ideas of the Government of the day, whereas in Scotland we have had greater independence in our agricultural advice. My purpose in intervening here is really to point out to the Government of England that they seem to have given themselves an opportunity to improve their agricultural advisory services, and I would strongly advise them to take advantage of it.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
May I thank the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, for giving us these few words of explanation; and also for having endeavoured to study our convenience? I quite understand what he was doing, but I think the noble Lords who remain in the Chamber are here for their intrinsic interest, rather than apprehension of other events that might follow, and therefore their time is well spent.
Personally, I feel a very great interest in what is proposed. In years gone by I have been closely associated with these various services, and I recognise that the change which is now contemplated is a very big one, and will mean very great changes indeed for these technical services. I know them well; I have known their chief officers, and many of their other officers, for many years, and I have a great affection for them. Therefore, being a conservative by nature (with a small "c") I am slightly reluctant to see this change being made. However, I am bound to recognise the cogency of the reason in moving towards a unification of technical services. I entirely accept the noble Lord's point that capital expenditure on the farm to-day, Where more and more capital is required, must be looked at for the farm as a whole, and therefore there is this technical need to unify the services. Provided that it can be done in a happy and harmonious way, so that the many officers concerned 208 are happy in their new relationship in the new structure, I should be the last person to criticise it. In fact, I should like to be the first to commend it, to express my very best wishes to those concerned, and the hope that the new unified service will win for itself as fine a reputation in the future as the single services have had in the past.
It is quite true, as my noble friend Lord Balerno says, that occasionally there have been allegations that there was not impartiality, and that the Scottish structure, based on the universities and colleges, has the appearance of being more independent of Government, and therefore more impartial. However, as I well know, from both inside and outside, the technical advice given by all these specialised services has always been not only highly expert, but also completely impartial. There is no doubt about that at all. Therefore I can assure my noble friend that he need not be anxious for us in England and Wales; we feel that we are very well served. I would conclude by again thanking the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, for giving us this word of explanation; and in thanking these admirable technical officers for their great services of the past, I give them my best wishes for their services in the future under a new name.
I should like to give my support, and that of noble Lords on these Benches, to this Motion.
§ LORD BESWICK
I should like to say from this side that I appreciate v/hat the noble Lord has said about the services which have been given by N.A.A.S. and the other technical services. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, that it is not proposed to move to the Scottish system, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, says, that does not mean that there will be any loss of the impartiality for which the services have been noted in the past. I am glad to think that the new services, the details of which have still to be worked out (consultations are going on), will have the good wishes of both sides of the House.
§ Clause 101 agreed to.
§ LORD BESWICK
I wonder whether, before the next Amendment is put, I may 209 put another proposition to the Committee. We have made extremely good progress and we are now coming to a completely different part of the Bill, so far as the subject matter is concerned, although the Amendments are all within Part VII. So I suggest, if it has the general agreement of the Committee, that the House do now resume.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
I agree with the noble Lord's proposal that the House should now resume. I think that this would be a convenient moment, as we have reached a natural break. There are some major matters of completely different interest coming in the last part, and I agree with the noble Lord that they could be better dealt with at the beginning of a new day.
§ LORD BALERNO
Can the noble Lord give us any idea of when the House will again sit in Committee on this Bill?
§ LORD BESWICK
The proposal has been put, and it has been put down in the documents that have been circulated and discussed through the usual channels, that we should take this Bill again next Monday. I beg to move that the House do now resume.
§ Moved, That the House do now resume.—(Lord Beswick.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to: House resumed accordingly.