§ 4.51 p.m.
§ The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Lord Peart)
My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Price of Wales to acquaint 1031 the House that they, having been informed of the purport of the Rent (Agriculture) Bill, have consented to place their prerogative and interest, so far as they are concerned on behalf of the Crown, the Duchy of Lancaster and the Duchy of Cornwall, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE, DEPARTMENT of the ENVIRONMENT (Baroness Birk)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time. In order to save the House hearing me make two speeches, I should like to await with interest what other noble Lords have to say and will save my remarks for winding up.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Baroness Birk.)
§ Lord LEATHERLAND
My Lords, it looks as though the tenants of the tied cottage on the Opposition Front Bench have been evicted.
§ Lord SWAYTHLING
My Lords, I feel very strongly that, with all the many Amendments that have been put into the Bill since it arrived in your Lordships' House, much has been done to make it less objectionable to the agricultural industry, and I trust that all the Amendments will be retained. Nevertheless, I feel sure that, if opinions were taken in the agricultural industry, practically all the farmers would wish that the Bill should not become law. It must be remembered that the farmers have the interests of their workers very much at heart, and there has not been any strike or friction between employers and employed. Also, if the opinions of farm workers were sought, I am confident that the large majority would be against the passing of the Bill. Those who studied it would know the effects. Some of the older workers approaching retiring age might wish to see it become law so that they could remain in their houses, although they are well aware of the necessity of housing their successors at work. The younger men, however, would realise that there would be many difficulties in moving to another job to gain experience and to improve their position, in order to climb the ladder of success.
1032 During the course of the Committee stage, the noble Lord, Lord Peart, and the noble Lord, Lord Collison, several times mentioned the question of mobility. It seems obvious that there will be much difficulty in providing houses for new workers, when they are engaged to replace a worker who is leaving his job. I trust that when the Bill is reconsidered in another place, those who vote will consider carefully all that has been said in your Lordships' House during its passage.
§ 4.54 p.m.
My Lords, I wonder whether I may now cast such observations as I was going to make, and I apologise to your Lordships for not being in my seat when this Bill started. I am afraid that the processes of the last Bill went slightly more quickly than I anticipated.
We have now come to the last stage of the Bill and, before it returns to another place with the recommendations which your Lordships have seen fit to suggest should be made to it, I should like to take the opportunity of thanking both the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal and the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, for the acceptable and courteous manner in which they have, as it were, dealt with us as an Opposition. If I may be permitted to say so, they have handled a highly contentious Bill in an exemplary fashion, in a friendly, understanding and considerate manner, and for this we are very grateful. On a personal level, this has been much appreciated and I should like to thank them as representatives of the Government for this generosity of approach. I should also like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, for the way in which she has been prepared to see me individually during the Bill's progress, both outside the Chamber as well as inside it, to try to understand our concern and to see whether there was any meeting of minds. Of course, there was a pretty steely hand, even if it was a delicate one, inside the kid glove and there was not too much give, but I did not really expect that there would be very much give even though I hoped for it. But I appreciate the effort.
I only wish that there had been more give on the part of the Government, because I genuinely believe that if and when the Bill becomes law it will make inroads into the system, efficiency and 1033 running of British agriculture which are quite unprecedented, and which will be infinitely greater than the Government have begun to think likely. Although the Bill is highly contentious, at no time have my noble friends and I disputed what one might call the moral rectitude of the motives which prompted the Bill in the first place. If eviction, anxiety, indignity, fear or oppression are sought to be cured or even alleviated by the Bill, who can castigate such motives?—not I, and not, indeed, any of my noble friends behind me. These are high and worthy principles, but they generate and form strong driving forces. Those aims are, I hope, common to all of us, and in so far as we may have been contentious in some of our Amendments, it was not on those grounds where our dispute lay. Rather was it the recognition that those strong driving forces could, like a ship propelled through the water, leave behind them a wash, the impact of which could be devastating to those caught in it. This made us suggest that the officers of the watch might, with profit, look around and trim their course a little for the benefit of the occupants of the sea, as well as the occupants of the boat.
I venture to think that your Lordships' House has, over this Bill, again done what this House is supposed to do, which is to consider all the aspects of a Bill. It is very lucky for the Government that there is a Second Chamber, because as the Bill arrived to us the Government considered it sufficiently inadequately drafted that they have sought to make, and your Lordships have agreed to make, no fewer than 97 Government Amendments to the Bill, which another place will be asked to accept as improvements. We, for our part, have asked your Lordships to agree that another place should consider the inclusion of 31 Amendments—relative peanuts, numerically. But this is what your Lordships' House is for, and many hours of work, effort and thought have been given to some of these Amendments to try, in a non-Party way, to improve the Bill so that when it becomes law it will operate better.
I am bound to say that it is disheartening and disdaining in the extreme, to think that the operation of the guillotine in another place will result in many of these Amendments not even being considered or spoken to, but being frog-marched out of the Bill straight into the wastepaper 1034 basket by the continuous circulation of Members of another place through the Division Lobbies, irrespective of the merits or otherwise of the unheard of arguments upon which they will be voting.
I had earnestly hoped that more flexibility would be shown by the Government over "best endeavours" Those two words have scared the life out of the agricultural industry. Farmers see the prospect of the houses which are vital to the operation of their businesses being occupied by people who choose to work elsewhere. They fear for their businesses; they fear for their stock; they fear for their farms; and they fear for their future. The local authority can say, "We have used our best endeavours to re-house but we are afraid that we can't" and by those few simple words can be lost, for years, a house which is vital to a farmer. I still do not believe that that can be right. We have tried to improve those words so as not to conflict with the principle of the Bill, yet on every occasion the Government have, with a stubbornness which historically has been attributed to mules, said, "No".
We had four Amendments, each one of which was designed to put a few more teeth into the flimsy sentiments of "best endeavours" but which together might make the Bill work without debilitating agriculture. We said, "Let us put a duty on the local authority to accept the obligation to re-house". The Government said, "No". We said, "Where the ADHAC says that there is a case of extreme urgency, let the local authority re-house in three months". The Government said, "No". We said, "Let temporary accommodation, provided that it is suitable, be used only where the local authority says that it intends to re-house as soon as it can". The Government said, "No". Then, when everything else has failed and the farmer cannot regain possession of a house that is vital to the running of his farm and the local authority cannot or will not re-house, we said, "Let him put up a caravan". The Government said, "No". Indeed, as part of her argument the noble Baroness used these extraordinary words:I think it would be quite wrong to find justification for putting farmers or any other group in a privileged position where a change of land use is involved without first obtaining planning permission".1035 I am bound to say with the greatest of respect to the noble Baroness, because I realise that she speaks for the Government, that I have seldom heard a more irrelevant and more unsympathetic reply. The noble Baroness's brief must have been, "Use any argument that you can think of, however inept or irrelevant, but, whatever happens, at all costs say, No". To suggest, when everything else has failed and a farmer puts up a caravan, that this is a change of land use and a privilege would be almost laughable, were it not said in earnest. It is a last desperate attempt to ensure that, where every other provision in the Bill has failed, a farmer can still carry on his business, yet the noble Baroness says that this would be a privilege.
Let us be clear that if privileges are being accorded it is this Bill which accords them. The Bill gives rights to a small section of people in tied accommodation, rights which are denied to the other 90 per cent. of people who are living in tied accommodation. It gives rights of security of tenure which are infinitely greater than those enjoyed by people in local authority housing, who are not protected by the Rent Acts, who have in law no security of tenure whatever and who can be given notice to quit their homes within 28 days. Whatever the merits, this Bill accords the privileges. I suggest that it is a degradation to the farming community, both to employees and to employers, that the Government should introduce a Bill the effect of which is such as to require a provision for caravans to be made. It is almost anachronistic, yet the effect of resisting such a provision is to result, in some cases, in the operation of farm businesses seizing up.
Throughout the Government have steadfastly refused to acknowledge this dilemma and the Government have steadfastly refused to resolve it. I fear that the Government still do not realise what they are doing. I beg them to give further consideration, even at this late stage, to the Amendments which your Lordships have passed and not automatically to seek to heave them all out in another place. In no way do these Amendments contravene the spirit of the Bill; they merely seek to make it better to operate.
My real worry throughout the whole of the Bill is that it is a Department 1036 of the Environment Bill. The Department of the Environment does not understand the problems of agriculture or the way in which it operates. This has been made crystal clear throughout by the replies which have been given. We have tried to point out to the Government not the unwisdom of the motives, because we agree with them, but the unwisdom of the proposed practices because of the far-reaching effects which they will have. Almost every argument which has been put forward against the tied cottage system in agriculture could have been put forward against the tied cottage system in any industry, yet agriculture, representing only 10 per cent. of tied cottages, has been singled out for this reform, a reform which by its very nature infers that there is no need for the principle of the tied cottage.
If that is so, why do not the Government excise the tied housing system throughout the whole country? They cannot do so because, whatever imperfections the system may have, the tied cottage system is required by the industries that it serves and it is required by the people who serve those industries. The Government and everybody else knows this, but in agriculture the Government have had the pressure of a trade union to push the case. There is nothing new in that; the pressure in the agricultural industry has been there for 70 years. What is new is that every previous Labour Government have felt that pressure but have considered it prudent, on wider grounds, to resist it. Every Labour Government since 1945 knew that their Party Manifesto contained a commitment to abolish only the agricultural tied cottage but every Labour Government until this one knew that the disadvantages of so doing outweighed the advantages. This Government, as we have seen so clearly and so frequently, voluntarily subject themselves to union pressure under the mantle of magnanimity and against all other considerations.
At a time of desperate economic crisis—nobody denies that this is what we are in—at a time of high inflation, at a time of unprecedented overseas borrowing and at a time when food prices at home are soaring, as are the costs of food imports, nobody can surely deny the simple necessity of producing as much food as possible at home. Nobody can surely deny the simple logic of encouraging 1037 agriculture to increase its output as much as possible in the interests of the nation. But this Government do not do that. They continually introduce legislation which, whatever its merits may be, can have at least one certain effect: a restriction upon the ability of agriculture to serve the nation and produce the food.
I am bound to remind your Lordships again of what the Government have done. They have introduced the capital transfer tax, which can only result in farms getting smaller. They have introduced the capital gains tax, which can only result in less money being available for investment in agriculture. They have introduced the Community Land Act, which can only deter building. They have introduced the development land tax, which can only deter selling. They have introduced the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act which will ensure that there are no new tenant farmers. Now they have introduced this Bill, which will give to everybody in any farm cottage at any time, and at a stroke, the right of security of tenure and the right to continue in that cottage for years. Thereby the Bill will ensure that it is more difficult for people to move from farm to farm and that efficiency is impaired; it will also ensure that no new private farm cottages are built.
It is a desperately condemnatory record. Individually the effects of these different Acts in agriculture may be justified and individually their effects may be small, but corporately their effects will be devastating. They are restrictive, they are inhibiting, they are debilitating and they are frustrating. As each Act has been given the Royal Assent, so the tourniquet around agriculture has been given a twist just at the time when in fact it ought to be released. For all its worthy humanitarian motives, which I have never failed to recognise and to acknowledge, I venture to forecast that this Bill can only impede the efficiency of agriculture. It injects a paraphernalia of committees, formulae and uncertainties into agriculture.
The Bill alone will cost £5 million to administer. What is the real cause of the problem? The cause is the shortage of housing, but despite the expenditure of £5 million not one extra house will be built. I will only say this to the noble Lord, Lord Peart, because my guess is 1038 that in his heart of hearts he knows that this Bill will impede agricultural output. His is an urban orientated Government. I do not say that in any derogatory sense whatever but in a factual one. It is town-based, town-bred, town-centred. He may no longer be the Minister of Agriculture but he was a very distinguished Minister of Agriculture and he is a very distinguished man. He is still a Cabinet Minister and he knows and understands agriculture. But even though he is no longer Minister of Agriculture I want to tell him that the agriculture industry still looks to him in a way which I dare say modesty may prevent him from recognising, to uphold and to project the case and the cause of agriculture among his colleagues whose many qualities may well not necessarily include an intimate understanding of the workings of agriculture. The noble Lord, Lord Peart, has that knowledge and if agriculture is to be permitted to give what it should to the nation at this particular time he may be aware that the agricultural industry still looks to him to put the case and he should not be shy to use his knowledge or his influence in conference with his colleagues.
I conclude by saying that, despite our differences, despite the fact that I feel the effects of this Bill on agriculture have not begun to be appreciated, I am grateful to noble Lords opposite and especially to the noble Lord, Lord Collison, who has always expressed his views so modestly and has at least tolerated ours with at least no outward expression of total abhorrence. I should like to thank them for the friendly and courteous way in which the proceedings on this Bill have been conducted.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ Lord MIDDLETON
My Lords, I agree entirely with my noble friend Lord Ferrers that no one with any knowledge of the agriculture industry, and certainly no employer of farm workers, can fail to be in sympathy with the motives behind the long campaign by the National Union of Agricultural Workers to disengage the farm workers' conditions of employment from the circumstances in which they are housed. I have now spent more hours than I care to think about, not only in your Lordships' House but also before the Bill was drafted. Having listened carefully to the arguments, however desirable the objective, I have to 1039 say that when we come to frame legislation, designed in the words of the Consultation Document to remove the social objections to the tied cottage system in a manner consistent with the Government's wider policies and objectives for the national economy as a whole, so that its form and effects ensure that there is no adverse effect upon the efficiency of the agricultural industry, then inevitably we run into the very real difficulties that are apparent when one considers, as your Lordships have done with very great care, the provisions of this Bill.
The two objectives are virtually irreconcilable and that, I have no doubt at all, was obvious to the Department even before the Bill was drafted; but with very great ingenuity they worked out how to give security by extending the Rent Acts for the protection of farm workers. Then we come on to the central problem: once you give protection you are faced with the geographical fact that the farm workers' houses are not conveniently situated in towns and urban areas; they are scattered around the countryside so as to be placed as near as possible to, and usually on, the farm holding which provides employment. Then you are faced with the economic fact that these houses are part of the fixed capital of the farm, just like the farmhouse itself. It is difficult to work many farms without some service housing and some farms cannot be worked at all without some service housing. So how do you get over the problem that arises when a farm worker leaves his employment but remains fast in his former employer's house? "Ah", said the Government, "You put a duty on local authorities to re-house that man, provided, of course, that the farmer can first establish that he must have the house in order to work his farm. That will solve the problem."
But now we come to what seems to me to be an absurdity. Even as things are, without this Bill, the old spectre of the farm worker being turned out of his house with his family and effects, on to the road at the whim of a capricious farmer, to all intents and purposes has been laid to rest. We have had the Rent Act 1965 where an employer can only obtain repossession of a service house at a county court; and Section 33 of that Act says that the court may suspend the execution of any order 1040 they may make and gives power for an extension of suspension.
Then we have Section 99 of the Agriculture Act 1970 which requires a court to grant suspension of an order for repossession for at least six months, and that suspension can, of course, be extended under the 1965 Rent Act. Finally, we have the Employment Protection Act which prevents unfair dismissal. One is therefore tempted to wonder whether the present Bill was necessary at all. But even with the present Bill in operation, as it soon will be, does it really afford any better security for the farm worker in the long term? Suppose a man gives up his job on the farm and becomes a statutory tenant; suppose the farmer needs the house for a key incoming worker and after all the procedure for repossession, application by the farmer, ADHAC, housing authority decisions and all the rest of it, the outgoer is offered a council house suitable in every way, and he accepts it and moves into it, what security of tenure has he got then? As my noble friend Lord Ferrers has just told us, he could be given 28 days' notice for any reason whatever and all the council has to do is to go through the formality of obtaining a court order and the man can be evicted. Is he really going to be any better off than he is at present?
As to the Amendments which your Lordships have made to this Bill, my noble friend Lord Ferrers referred just now to the fact that the overwhelming number were made by the Government, and that is in itself an indication of the complexities involved in drafting this Bill in a satisfactory form. I will mention just two of the Government's Amendments since they are so obviously helpful. The elimination of Clause 32 and the amendment to Clause 30(6) setting a limit to the time in which a local authority must make a decision. I only wish the Government had been equally helpful over meeting our requests to make some provision for temporary accommodation. Here, in my view, they have been unreasonably inflexible and I agree entirely with my noble friend Lord Ferrers on that point.
I do not know how many of our Amendments will be accepted by the Government in another place, although I have a fair idea. Nor do I know what your Lordships will decide to do when the 1041 Bill returns from another place. We have been very thoroughly into the arguments for and against making some provision for temporary accommodation in a case which may so easily arise where a farmer, in order to maintain production, must have vacant possession of a house for a key worker and the local authority cannot find another house, for the man who is stuck there.
This, incidentally, is the very situation which is bothering those farm workers with whom I have discussed this Bill. Of course, they form a very small number, but what they fear is an end to the free circulation which gives mobility and freedom of choice, in my part of England at any rate. What worries them is the thought that when they want to move, after promotion or for any other reason, they will not find a house to go with the new job because there will be someone there who cannot move out. My noble friends Lord Ferrers and Lord Burnham have put with all the force in their power the arguments for temporary accommodation. I firmly believe that the two Amendments now in the Bill, or something very similar if the Government can think up wording which is better, should remain. If all our other Amendments are rejected and these two remain, the legislation might just be made to work. A great deal of difficulty and inconvenience will be suffered by farmers, but it might just work. I agree with my noble friend Lord Ferrers that it will work just that much better if the Amendment deleting the words "best endeavours" and substituting the wording of Section 9 of the Land Compensation Act 1973 is also left intact for the legal reasons I argued on Committee.
My Lords, I was particularly impressed by the quite independent opinion from the Cross-Benches, voiced by the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, on this matter. If I may say so, with his highly trained and logical mind, the noble Lord saw, as soon as the arguments were developed in Committee and on Report, that the lack of provision in the Bill for temporary accommodation was a major defect. He saw from an entirely unbiased position how weak were the Government's arguments deployed in resisting the suggestions we put forward which we felt were practical. It is not easy for those of us who have declared an interest as owners of a farm or farms, with herdsmen, shepherds, or other workers in 1042 service housing, to escape the possible criticism that we are unable to look with a detached view at this Bill. However, I believe such criticism would not be justified. I know we have accepted the principles behind the Bill, and our attempts to improve it are a sincere effort to make it work.
I am encouraged, by the support we have had from other parts of the House, to think that there is a good, logical case for the two temporary accommodation Amendments. Therefore, I urge the Government to look very carefully at the need which they highlight, to make it possible first, for a court to consider a temporary house as alternative accommodation, provided it is suitable, and secondly, for temporary accommodation to be available for an incoming key worker without endless delays in planning procedure, not to speak of outright refusal which one would get in the case of a national park. If the Bill comes back to this House on Friday next without such provisions left in, then I believe your Lordships will be justified in taking the view that the Bill would not be workable.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Lord COLLISON
My Lords, I apologise for not putting down my name on the list. I did not intend to speak again, but in view of what has been said I am prompted to say a few more words. First, may I repeat what I said before, that I appreciate the humanity with which the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, has approached this problem, disagreeing as I do with the practical issues he has brought to bear on the problem. May I thank him also—it would be churlish of me not to do so—for his kind words about me.
With regard to what was said about the Bill, particularly with regard to what the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said, continuously throughout this debate, reference has been made to other people living in tied cottages. Indeed, there are other people living in tied cottages. I am quite sure that at some time, where such a situation is improper for the people concerned, it will be dealt with. But some of the references—for example, the old chestnut about the Prime Minister living in a tied house—I really thought were inappropriate to drag into a debate of this kind. To compare the situation of the 1043 Prime Minister, or any other highly paid worker, with that of the agricultural worker is quite impossible, the two situations are entirely different. It is so damaging for the agricultural worker, and it is a situation so easy to deal with for people in other circumstances.
My Lords, reference has been made to the mineworkers and to the railwaymen. But I would point out that the railwaymen and the mineworkers are employed by one employer, not by thousands of employers. So far as the mineworkers are concerned, when issues arise affecting mineworkers in tied cottages a joint committee has been set up by the employers and trade unions to deal with such cases—but I must not make a Second Reading speech. I listened to the suggestion being made that the Government have given way to trade union pressure. I referred to this before when I spoke on Second Reading. What pressure? If a resolution is passed which requests something of a Government, any Government, that is pressure which I accept is a perfectly proper procedure to follow. But the National Union of Agricultural Workers has not threatened to go on strike, to bring the industry to a standstill; it has not held a pistol to anyone's head. It has simply argued the case, as the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, accepted, on humanitarian grounds, and has pointed out the evils of the tied cottage system. The union has asked the Government to do something about it, and one should not blame the Government for responding after so many years.
The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said the Amendments which had been introduced were not contrary to the principle of the Bill. Yet, against our wishes, the dairymen and stockmen have been eliminated from the Bill, thus cutting the effect of the Bill in half, or perhaps even more so.
My Lords, will the noble Lord, Lord Collison, forgive me for interrupting him?—because I know he would not wish to misconstrue anything I said. At that juncture, when I was speaking, I was referring to the four Amendments to deal with "best endeavours".
§ Lord COLLISON
Yes, indeed, my Lords. Some of the Amendments, at any rate, are much more serious. This is one 1044 of them. Then, there was the attempt to introduce the matter of misconduct as being a reason for not giving security to the worker. A very famous and a very great man, some years ago now, referring to another perhaps much more important matter, said, "Some chicken, some neck!" But if these are peanuts, these are some peanuts! I am very anxious indeed that the National Union of Agricultural Workers, and people like myself—I am no longer active with that union—should see something which we have regarded as a social evil for such a long time dealt with, and dealt with finally. I have said before, and I repeat, that I do not believe that the fears that people have expressed will become fact. There is a great exaggeration here. I have said it before and I say it again—there will be a great exaggeration. There can be the odd case of difficulty, and I have no doubt there will be. But by and large I am sure the new procedure will work. Time will prove whether I am right or wrong, or whether noble Lords opposite are right or wrong. We must wait and see. But I am convinced in my own mind of what I say.
From time to time—not too much I hope—I have intervened in this debate because it is a matter which affects my own feelings so very strongly. In another way I have enjoyed it. Perhaps I have felt a little "het up" at times but, on the whole, I have enjoyed the crossfire of debate. For myself, and if I may for the National Union of Agricultural Workers (and I am not pointing a pistol now), may I offer our sincere thanks to the noble Lord the Leader of the House and to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, for the able and efficient way they have dealt with this Bill. They will, I am sure, be thanked for doing so by the union throughout the years to come.
§ Baroness ELLIOT of HARWOOD
My Lords, as it is the final day of this Bill which we have been discussing I should like to add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Peart, and the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, for the way in which they have listened to us, discussed and argued with us. At times, we have won in a Division. I hope very much that they will encourage their supporters in another place to look at some of our Amendments with a generous eye, realising that, so far as my 1045 colleagues and I are concerned, they are put forward for two reasons.
First, we want to have a very efficient agriculture at this time. It is vital that we cut down on our imports of food. The second point—and I think the noble Lord, Lord Collison, will agree with me—is that the relationship between farmers and farm workers, whether expressed through the National Farmers' Union or the National Workers' Union, is one of the very best in the country. There is not a farmer whom I have known who has not been deeply concerned about his workers and eager to do the best for him and to provide him with accommodation that bears comparison with accommodation for anyone working in industry. The feeling between the farm worker and the farmer, as to 90 per cent. or perhaps 95 per cent., is very good indeed and I do not think that any agricultural workers would feel that they were being hardly treated by the farmer if conditions arose whereby they wanted to retire or wanted to move and we had to get someone else into their house because it is the only one which could be used for dairying or for a shepherd working up in the hills. When you are discussing a Bill of this kind, these things make a great deal of difference.
I do not wish to imply any criticism of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, but I am sorry that this is not a Department of Agriculture Bill. We have all worked with the Department of Agriculture over the years and we know how understanding and knowledgeable are the officials and the local representatives of the Department and how much help we can get from them. They understand about agricultural workers just as well as they understand about helping us to improve production. As I say, there is no criticism of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, who has been excellent all through, but her Department is not concerned about the industry. We are concerned about the industry and we want to do the best we can. Not long ago the Government issued a White Paper Food From Our Own Resources and I took this very much to heart. I felt that we must do everything we could to utilise the land better, to produce more and so on. This Bill is going to make it much more difficult.
In some areas there are spare houses and it will not be so difficult, but in other 1046 areas it will be frightfully difficult. That is why I support what I call the halfway house, something which will tide over the difficulty of getting another house for a man, either the one who is leaving to go into a council house or the one who is arriving to go into one of the farm houses. I hope the Government will put this to their supporters in another place. The halfway house would make it possible to continue to increase production as we all want to do. A great deal of damage could be done to production and efficient agriculture if our Amendments are turned down. I know that all our Amendments will not be accepted, but if they will accept some that bear on agriculture, on farming and on production it would help a great deal. The farm worker is vital in this matter. I am no longer on a county council, but if I were I would take a very strong line with county councillors and say that they must help to rehouse and to provide housing for agricultural workers. If this Bill becomes law, it must be an absolute obligation that the local authority should understand and know what is expected of them. I should take a very tough line. If the Bill is to be effective and if it is to be possible from the farming point of view, the good will and help of local authorities is vital. I would impress upon county councillors the importance of rehousing agricultural workers. If that means delay in some areas, I am sure the halfway house idea is one worth pursuing.
My Lords, this is an extraordinary Bill in some ways. Someone said that only 10 per cent. of people living in tied cottages are in agriculture and that 90 per cent. are in other industries. I do not know what would happen if the principle were applied to the other 90 per cent. There is no doubt that there would be chaos. I want the best for production and for the farm worker, and there must be some compromise on this or it could be a disaster for farming and production.
§ 5.37 p.m.
My Lords, I hope the House will forgive me for intervening in the debate, but there are one or two points which have been raised since I have been in the House and I hope I can help the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and others to realise that their fears are unfounded. First, I should like to say that I think 1047 this debate has been carried on in a very good way indeed. The case on both sides has been presented extremely well. One of the main arguments or contentions is that there is good faith between the employer and the employed in the agricultural sphere.
I think there is very little which noble Lords opposite and the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, have to fear. As I understand it, this Bill will deal with a very small number of people. There may be some who would take advantage of the situation as it now stands, but I think that the fear expressed in the debate of it being a disaster, a crisis, that agriculture will practically disappear is entirely unfounded. I am convinced by the arguments used on the other side that there is no fear of that. On the contrary, we on this side fear that people can be turned out without having any other place to go to. That is something which should be considered and which the Bill intends to consider.
The noble Earl, in a very interesting speech, referred to one aspect of the situation with regard to council houses. I agree with him that under normal conditions a council can turn a tenant out, but if he will look at the Bill itself, one would hardly call it "suitable accommodation" if a council were to offer the person a place to live in and there was any likelihood of them turning that person out. It must be suitable in every respect. One can well imagine what would happen, assuming that a council had in fact given alternative accommodation to a farm employee on the grounds referred to in the Act itself, if they took an arbitrary step to turn that person out, unless of course that person was undesirable or in some way or other came within the ordinary terms on which a protected tenancy could be terminated. So I do not think anyone need fear about that side of it. I do not think the noble Earl need have sleepless nights over that. If anything were to happen about which the public, Members of Parliament or other people interested in the welfare of individuals heard, I cannot imagine that the council would be a very long-lived one.
Generally, I come back to the point we have been making. Those of us who have thought about tied cottages for years have always felt that they are an anomaly in so 1048 far as the Rent Acts are concerned. The whole idea of the Rent Acts from the beginning was to give security to people who were in a position where they might be turned out. It goes back a long way. I remember that it all started at the time of the First World War, when many people were turned out by unscrupulous landlords—again I say unscrupulous ones, which means by very far a minority. Consequently Acts had to be brought in to protect persons from being turned out, and also at that time from paying higher rents. It is consistent with that policy. And although noble Lords opposite have said that I am wrong in this respect, in my view that policy has been an absolute godsend to millions of people in this country since the Acts were introduced. The position of the tied cottage is an anomaly in the circumstances, and I hope that noble Lords opposite will realise that that is so.
We take into consideration the fact that good employers and employees in the agricultural industry get on very well with each other and would be very considerate towards each other in respect of this particular problem, but if the position were to remain as it is those who are really in difficulty because the employer is not as good as he should be, could be turned out.
In the circumstances I think we ought to accept the Act. Quite a number of the Amendments have been—I nearly said rushed through the House; I hope my noble friends will not take that too hard. After all, noble Lords opposite are much greater in number, and I have been sufficiently long in Parliament to know that when the numbers are available it is easy to get them, irrespective of how many are on the other side. They have managed to alter certain parts of the Act which otherwise they would not have done. I hope that when the Bill comes hack from the other place, after due consideration of the points they have raised, they will not obstruct what is an extremely useful and beneficial Act.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Lord WISE
My Lords, we have spent many hours discussing this Bill in the past few weeks. May I very briefly say that I hope your Lordships will give this Bill a Third Reading. May I also hope 1049 that the Government and the Members in another place, when they discuss the Bill in the time available to them under the guillotine, will feel able to accept many of the Amendments that we have made, for with the greatest respect I consider that the Bill has been greatly improved by many of the Amendments which your Lordships have made. In particular, I hope the Government and another place will accept, perhaps in their entirety, the Amendments which we have made regarding provision of alternative accommodation, especially where the committees have decided that the need is urgent.
During our deliberations we have not lost sight of the needs of the agricultural industry, the needs of the land and the needs of the staff on that land. This provision of alternative accommodation is, I feel, the whole crux of the Bill. If it is going to work—and I think it will work—it depends entirely upon the ability of the local authorities to play their part. I think one recognises that they will have extreme difficulties in many instances, but the Amendments which we have passed will go a long way, I feel, to alleviating those problems and difficulties. Possibly too much accent has been placed throughout the whole of the Bill on security of tenure as opposed to the removal of the fear of eviction. It is this removal of the fear of eviction which is the reason why I support the Bill. I hope that it will foster and enhance the excellent relationships which exist now between employer and employee within the whole industry.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Lord SANDYS
My Lords, we have had a full debate on the Bill and my remarks will be relatively brief. I cannot, however, restrain myself from commenting on what the noble Lord, Lord Janner, said, because, of course, he speaks from very long experience of the law. His reference to the very first Rent Act of 1915 drew out attention to this problem, which is, of course, confusing the agricultural scene with the broad issue of housing in the country as a whole. I must say that it impressed me as an extraordinary argument for a very astute lawyer such as Lord Janner to use, to compare what is the law for one of these categories; that is, agriculture, with a law and convention for the other; that is, the public sector housing.
1050 My Lords, I feel that the heart of our discussions has centred upon the irreconcilable objectives within the Bill. I think my noble friend Lord Ferrers stated the case very clearly when he said that he believed that the results of this Bill when it becomes an Act will be restrictive, debilitating and frustrating. Immediately I turn to that basic document, for the health of agriculture, Food from our own Resources, so aptly quoted by my noble friend Lady Elliot. Once again, when one comes to the end paragraph of the same White Paper Cmnd. 6020 where we reach the summary and conclusions, there is a very important sentence which perhaps I may be allowed to quote. In paragraph 57 it says this:The Government will frame their agricultural policies in the light of these conclusions.My Lords, unfortunately they have not framed their agricultural policies in the light of those conclusions. One of the basic conclusions was to expand output. One of the basic provisions for expanding output is, of course, the healthy morale of the industry as a whole. How right my noble friend Lord Middleton was when he referred to mobility of labour. Within mobility of labour is the implicit argument that those who work within the industry should be able to move from a job on one farm or one group of farms to another without difficulty; that there is a career structure, an opportunity to go from one stage of their particular career to another to get better jobs with relative ease.
My Lords, it is our firm conviction that the results of this Bill will make it much more difficult for the energetic and enthusiastic farm worker, in whatever branch of the industry, to do what he wishes to do; that is, to progress up the ladder. I should also like to examine the other end of the ladder, the retirement end, and the situation of the pensioner. Here I believe that the Government have reached yet another of the irreconcilable problems to which we have attempted to adduce our minds.
My noble friend Lord Gisborough addressed his mind to this and gave us the opportunity on Report, as indeed I gave your Lordships the opportunity in Committee, to discuss an Amendment dealing with this particular problem. The Amendment on Report is numbered 42 in the Marshalled List and refers to this 1051 particular situation. Twenty thousand retired farm workers are at present housed by the industry and one can only hope that the situation will obtain in years to come, but obviously it will not because the housing situation is being placed artificially within the restrictions so aptly described as restrictive, debilitating and frustrating, by my noble friend Lord Ferrers. I believe that the book to which the Government should address their mind is that very important little document called Small is Beautiful by Professor Schumacher. The industry itself is dependent on a very large number of individual enterprises. Some may be relatively larger than others, but the essence is that they are small enterprises when controlled by an individual farmer.
I believe that the Government have got the mores of the farm industry wrong. Therefore, we have these solutions which they put forward and I believe that it is going to come to a situation which has in no way been exaggerated. We have been accused of exaggeration by the noble Lord, Lord Collison. We have been accused of exaggeration by the noble Lord, Lord Janner. I do not think the noble Baroness has accused us of exaggeration, because I think she has taken a more reasoned view of the industry. I should like to reply to that in the words used by Sir Winston Churchill, as the noble Lord, Lord Collison, was good enough to refer to him. In a speech made by Sir Winston on 22nd January 1941 in the House of Commons, he said this:I do not resent criticism, even when, for the sake of emphasis, it parts for the time being with reality.My Lords, I believe that the Government in bringing forward this Bill have parted completely with reality. I believe that if the noble Lord, Lord Janner—and I say this with respect to him—had discussed this in some depth with the individual farmers, he would feel that we have not exaggerated over much. I believe that the Amendments which we have pursued in your Lordships' House have been immensely worth while for the industry as a whole.
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, may I first thank the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, for his extremely kind remarks to my noble friend Lord Pearl and myself, 1052 and also for what he said about the atmosphere of the progress of this Bill through this House. I think it is quite true that there has been a fierce battle at every stage, but it has been conducted in a fairly sunny atmosphere. I should also like to thank noble Lords from all sides of the House for those constructive contributions which have been made during the various stages of the Bill. This evening, I should also like to thank my noble friends Lord Collison, Lord Janner and Lord Wise who spoke in favour of the Bill.
It is true that some of the Amendments tabled represented genuine attempts to improve the Bill. On a few, we were able to meet the Opposition—for example, by providing time limits within which local authorities must decide on applications for rehousing. On many others, I am sure—at least, I hope, I am less sure now, having heard speeches of noble Lords—we have been able to convince noble Lords that their anxieties were unnecessary. It is true that a large number of Government Amendments have also been made. Some were to meet representations made in another place and others were fairly technical Amendments, unavoidable in a Bill of this complexity, but I think very important for interpretation. These were agreed upon without contention.
Yet it would be foolish not to accept that real differences have reared their controversial heads between us over the Bill. Of the eight groups of Amendments—and as Lord Ferrers said, they comprised 31 individual Amendments which noble Lords opposite pressed to Division and defeated the Government—three stand out. They have the effect of removing the Bill's protection from a large number, possibly the majority, of agricultural workers living in tied accommodation. These are the Amendments which first exclude dairy farming, livestock keeping and breeding from the activities which count as agriculture for the purpose of the Bill; secondly, the Amendments dealing with forestry, which also remove forestry from the activities which count as agriculture for the purpose of the Bill. No wonder the noble Lord, Lord Swaythling, said that he found it less objectionable at this stage. Thirdly, the Amendments preventing agricultural workers from 1053 gaining protection until they had completed almost four years of full-time work. Even then, they would lose that protection each time they moved farms.
As my noble friend said in Committee, the effect of the Amendments on the definition of "agriculture" will be to remove the protection of the Bill from some 17,000 workers who are engaged full time in dairy farming, livestock keeping and forestry. As my noble friend Lord Collison said, this is hardly peanuts. But because the qualifying worker test is based on whole-time working in agriculture as defined in the Bill, these Amendments also mean that many other farm workers, who do some work in those activities and some in others, may also not qualify for protection. That is why I have said that these Amendments would exclude the majority agricultural workers living in tied accommodation.
Then the third Amendment, which excludes a significant number of agricultural workers, is the Amendment which increases the period for which employees must work whole-time in agriculture from two years to four, and also requires that the last 50 weeks must have been with the current employer. This Amendment will also remove the protection of the Bill from a large number of genuine agricultural workers. We estimate that there are some 7,000 workers living in tied accommodation who have completed more than two but less than four years of whole-time agricultural work, and also that at any time there are 5,000 such workers who have been with their current employer for less than one year.
A great deal of discussion and consultation took place over this particular clause. The National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers, with some reluctance accepting the idea, wanted to restrict it to one year. There can be no pretence that this Amendment is designed to help local authorities. It was, after all, the Association of District Councils' view that the qualifying period should be two years. This Amendment, like those restricting the definition of agriculture, was purely aimed at reducing the coverage of the Bill. In doing so, I believe that it would do exactly the reverse of what has been cited, and that it will stop mobility and act as a disincentive to young people to come into agriculture.
1054 I must say that I find it rather hard to see how these changes tally with what has been said this afternoon about revision, and also with Lord Carrington's claims, which I saw and heard him proclaim on television, that noble Lords opposite are merely concerned with revision. It took two hours to take dairy farming, livestock keeping and breeding straight out of the Bill, which was really taking the large part of the guts out of it. If that is revision, then it is a funny sort of revision to me when you really dig up the Bill in that way. One hour later forestry was felled, so another great slice of the Bill went out.
Yet in this Bill the ADHACs, the Advisory dwelling-house Agricultural Committees, are being set up in order to act in those very cases of urgency which come within the definition of dairy farming, stock breeding and livestock keeping. So immediately there is thrown out of the Bill the part which is absolutely vital to it, and together with the Amendments that have been made they have taken away a great deal of the object in the work of the ADHACs. As the National Executive of the Agricultural Union have said:this amounts to an emasculation of a reform that has been fought for for so many years by agricultural workers.I think, in this area, less talk about revision and more talk about demolition would be more to the point.
The remaining Amendments which I believe important to mention are those altering the re-housing obligation in Clause 28(8), to which the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, referred, and on which he put so much stress. The effect of these is that local authorities would be obliged, by law, to give an absolute, automatic overriding priority to the re-housing of ex-agricultural workers and their dependants. There could be no question, the way the Bill is now framed, of authorities considering the claims of other groups—the homeless, families living in slum, insanitary or overcrowded accommodation, or even people whose homes have been compulsorily purchased. You may ask why not. The reason is that the reference to authorities considering the competing claims on accommodation they can provide has now been deleted.
Therefore, as the Bill now stands, if an authority were to give priority to a homeless family over an ex-farmworker, 1055 they would, irrespective of the relative urgency of the two cases, run the risk of having to pay damages to the farmer. Noble Lords opposite must face up to the real effects of their Amendments, and not simply pretend that they will merely ensure that farmers are given the sort of priority they deserve. I do not believe that noble Lords opposite can really want to see non-urgent agricultural class cases take precedence over other, highly pressing ones. If they do, they are horribly wrong. If they do not, they are horribly mistaken in what they have done to the Bill. But that is the effect of their Amendments.
The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, came back once again to the question of his Amendment on caravans. I can only repeat that it would seem absolutely wrong to cut across the whole of our planning law and planning permission in this particular way and for one particular purpose. What I promised on Report—and I have carefully re-read it—was to do all that we can, and I can, to see that local authorities give some priority to the consideration on planning grounds, but to cut across and again demolish the planning procedure in this way would seem to be absolutely wrong.
The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, have all referred to temporary accommodation, and we debated the issue on several occasions in Committee and on Report. I am sorry that we have not been able to agree with the Amendments which noble Lords opposite put down on this subject. I note their emphasis on the idea that any temporary accommodation must fulfil the requirements of suitability and be followed up by permanent accommodation. The noble Lord, Lord Middleton, said that he would not forecast the attitude that he and his noble friends would take to the consideration of your Lordships' Amendments in another place. Equally, I cannot forecast what attitude will be taken in another place on these Amendments. But I am sure that what your Lordships have said today, and indeed on Report, will be studied carefully and then a decision will be reached on it.
Noble Lords have claimed that they share the Government's concern over the 1056 inequities of the agricultural tied cottage system. The words "humane" and "humanitarian" have been used all the way through by noble Lords from all over the House. Indeed, today the noble Earl referred to the moral rectitude of the motives. But, quite frankly, when all the words have passed under the various verbal bridges what noble Lords opposing the Bill really want to do is to preserve the status quo. And what does it represent? It represents a system that is archaic and inequitable—a system which even the Journal of the National Farmers' Union has described as "uncertain, lengthy, unpleasant and costly". Many opposing the Bill seem to think everyone will be frozen on their farms and in their cottages. This is nonsense. The Bill does not mean that the process of movement and promotion will not continue. Indeed, I believe that they will increase as young people will not want to assume the aspects of agricultural antiquity empitomised by the tied cottage. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, that farmworkers as well as farmers are involved in our food production industry, so one has to look at both sides of the industry and see that both are satisfied.
I think that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, displayed a streak uncommon to him of a very strong built-in pessimism, particularly when he rattled off what I felt was his list of despair. It is true that other industries have tied cottages, but not right to criticise that and at the same time say that one should not at least start somewhere. The place to start was obviously with agriculture, where there has been a commitment over all these years. The fact that it has not been dealt with earlier is no argument for saying that it should not be dealt with if this needs doing, and I think that it has been proved that it does. Although it is long overdue, it should be done as soon as possible.
The Bill removes from the wide range of agricultural workers their present worries about what the future holds, especially after retirement. I recognise, as did my noble friend Lord Peart, on Report, exactly what the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, said when she referred to relationships in the agricultural industry; that the overall record of the industry in providing for its retired workforce is a proud one. Nevertheless, we all know—I know this from my limited 1057 experience of agriculture—that they need more reassurance than being told of the 20,000 or so cases where pensioners or their widows still occupy farm cottages.
They cannot close their eyes to those cases where this does not happen. Nor does it give them individually the assurance they need and confidence in their future. Thus, they want to be certain that they will not be ordered out or taken through the courts either at the end of their job on the farm or after they have retired, and retired workers in particular need to be sure that a change in ownership of the farm is not going to threaten them with the anxieties they face under the present system. In my view, not enough stress was placed on this aspect in our debates; the fact that a change in ownership can result in changes in whole attitudes or in the composition of a farm. This does not apply only to the retired; the Bill at long last will set their minds at rest by offering to them more present security than the good will of their current landlord.
My noble friend and I, as we have said at earlier stages, believe the Bill will work. We believe that the advisory committees will have a valuable role to play and that the local authorities will take their statutory obligation—as set out originally in the Bill—very seriously. Once farmers, farm workers and local authorities have become attuned to the Bill's basic concept, they will, I believe, recognise this long overdue reform as a vast improvement and will not adopt a "No, it certainly cannot work" attitude but will be determined to make it work and be determined to make it work successfully.
§ The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Lord Derwent)
My Lords, I do not think we can go further until we know about the consent of Her Majesty and the Prince of Wales.
§ The DEPUTY SPEAKER
I am sorry, my Lords; evidently the lines of communication between the Deputy Speakers did not work.
§ On Question, Bill read 3a, with the Amendments, and passed, and returned to the Commons.