HL Deb 19 November 1976 vol 377 cc1644-50

48 Page 41, line 5, at end insert$


The tenant has been fairly dismissed for misconduct in his work on the farm."

The commons disagreed to this Amendment for the following Reason:

49 Because the tenant's behaviour as an employee should not afford a ground for possession.

1.12 p.m.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, I beg to move that this House doth not insist on their Amendment No. 48, to which the Commons have disagreed for the Reason numbered 49. The main theme underlying the whole of the Bill has been to divorce farm workers' conditions of employment from the circumstances in which they are housed. Amendment No. 48 contradicts this basic principle because it means that a worker who has lost his job on the farm will also be liable to lose his home. Noble Lords will remember that we had a very lengthy debate on this matter at Committee stage. The idea of the Bill, as of the Rent Acts, is that tenants should not be at risk of losing their homes unless they misbehave as tenants. This is the point one must hang on to. To make this exception would be contrary to the basic tenet of the Bill.

Moved, That this House doth not insist on the said Amendment, to which the Commons have disagreed for the Reason numbered 49.—(Baroness Birk.)


My Lords, I fear that this is another place where the Government have been inflexible. We heard in Committee about some fairly alarming situations where a tenant's behaviour as an employee clearly made it undesirable that he should remain in possession—cases which were in an entirely different category from those of merely not paying rent, which in the Bill is a matter which the court can consider as a good ground for possession. If I remember rightly, the example we were given was that of a farm worker who set the hay barn on fire and who appeared to be compulsively inclined towards acts of arson. Clearly there are degrees of a tenant's behaviour as an employee that should afford grounds for possession and degrees of behaviour which should not.

I should like to make two points. First, the Amendment did not cover anyone who had not been fairly dismissed and it did not seek to put the case into the category of cases where the court had no discretion. Under the Amendment the facts of the matter would be thoroughly examined by the court and if it came to the conclusion that in all the circumstances—and only then—it was highly undesirable that the man should remain in his house, then it would require him to give up possession. It seemed to me to be a very reasonable provision, and indeed a highly desirable one.


My Lords, as I moved this Amendment at the Committee stage, accordingly I should like to speak on the Reason for the Commons disagreement to the same. As I said on Committee, I fully appreciate the Government's view, but I feel that there is more than just a chance of difficulties arising here, some of which were dealt with on Committee; and again my noble friend Lord Middleton has brought this matter to the attention of the House. The worry to me is that a farm is such a closely knit community that misconduct is very much more noticeable and worrying than it is in urban areas. I believe that this is a genuine worry, and I had hoped that another place would have had more chance to discuss this matter. However, in the circumstances I accept what they have said.


My Lords, if we accept what they have said, then it is with very great reluctance because this Amendment came under the guillotine, and what they said was what was expressed at, I think, the Standing Committee stage. So far as I can see, another place did not discuss this Amendment at all. If the Government believe that they did, then perhaps they would draw our attention to it. But, in my view, although this issue has been discussed in general terms on Standing Committee, I do not believe that the Amendment has, because my noble friend Lord Caithness changed the wording when it was introduced in Committee in this House. I supported him in his Amendment. I believe that the Government are mistaken in this issue, but I do not wish to carry the matter further.


My Lords, I trust that one is at liberty to make articulate one's opinion that the Government attitude in this respect is incredibly inflexible. I think of a strictly parallel case which very fortunately at the moment does not come under the law of the land. There are in various higher educational establishments residences for the vice-chancellors, or the provosts, or the masters or whatever they call them. Let us suppose that one of these individuals were consistently to be drunk and disorderly and were to create justifiable discontent among his students, and the fellows of the college were to get rid of him. Would it really be implicit in the principles of natural justice that he should not be disturbed in the tenure of his lodgings?


My Lords, I think that in relation to this particular Amendment there is a risk that the Bill may turn out to be a charter for those who leave the land, rather than a charter for those who stay on it. I think that a situation will arise in which a man who is dismissed for some fairly unsatisfactory conduct stays in his house because he has a right to do so and he is probably in the way of the long-serving employee about to retire, who might otherwise have wanted that house and been able to get it. Equally, the man who has been dismissed may well find that if he wants to move$ because he may not be frightfully popular in the village one way or another, or with other workers as well as the farmer, after what has happened on the farm—it may he fairly difficult for him to do so. The council will say to him, "You have a house. You have a right to it. Why are you asking us for a house?" If I am right in my interpretation, this I find to be rather a miserable social situation.

The Earl of ONSLOW

My Lords, I think it is very sad that the Government are not accepting this Amendment. I should like to make two points. One, which was made by one of my noble friends, either at Committee or on Report, is on the subject of cruelty to stock. As a farmer, I know that I, at least, would be extremely worried if I had to dismiss a man—in the words of our Amendment, "fairly dismissed for misconduct"—in the circumstances that he had been cruel to stock. I would be very worried if that man could not be got out of his house and a new man could not come in—and I am assuming for the sake of this argument that the "best endeavours" are not working. I would be very worried, and I think it would put a greater strain on the other workers, to try to make sure that there was not a repeat, out of vindictiveness, of the previous misconduct. I am not in any way suggesting that this is absolutely certainly guaranteed to happen; of course I am not. I think it would be a very rare and unlikely thing to happen; but it is a possibility. One final note. When the voters of this country fairly dismiss Mr. James Callaghan from his job, he will have to leave his house for misconduct within 24 hours.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, the arguments which have been put forward are fairly similar to the ones we went through at Committee stage, I think. I am very grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, (to whom I must apologise for calling by a different name last time round), for his support, or lack of dissent, over this matter. As to the point that was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, when he said it is incredibly inflexible and gave his example of a vice-chancellor, I would point out to him that if he looks at the original Bill he will see that under Case IV in Schedule 3 it says: The tenant, or any person residing or lodging with him or sub-tenant of his, has been guilty of conduct which is a nuisance or annoyance to adjoining occupiers …". I should have thought that the example he gave was covered under that. It would be a case where the tenant would have broken his obligations as a tenant, and would really have nothing to do with this particular case; but it does not mean, as the noble Lord seemed to imply, that in every circumstance the tenant has the right to stay there, whatever he does or however he behaves.

Many of the other examples that have been brought up would come under the criminal law, the worker would be prosecuted for them and there would be due execution in law. I would imagine that in some of the more horrific examples given—and they were given before—the worker would probably find himself in entirely different accommodation, in one of Her Majesty's prisons, so he would not be in the house at all. The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, said that he assumed the "best endeavours" not working. There, of course, we part company because I am going to assume that "best endeavours" would be working.

The Earl of ONSLOW

My Lords, I specifically said that in the particular argument I was putting forward the "best endeavours" would not work, and we have had the case—the noble Lord, Lord Monk Bretton, brought this up before—of the patchwork ability. I am obviously, for the sake of my argument, assuming the worst, and I think that if we in Parliament do not assume the worst we are not doing our job properly.


My Lords, I am sure the noble Baroness would agree that the man who goes to gaol for six months or a year, or whatever it may be, for setting the barn alight is still a statutory tenant of that house.

Baroness BIRK

Yes, my Lords, but after that he may move or his wife may leave him, or something may happen to get him out. I was hoping that we would arrive at the end of that before somebody pointed that out. The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, made a point which is a very difficult one and which I think we all feel strongly about—the question of cruelty to animals. This is a case where I think the farmer would go to the ADHAC and stress very strongly the need for efficient agriculture; and I should have thought, quite frankly—and this, I think, is the advantage of having that amount of flexibility in the Bill given by the phrases, "best endeavours" and, "efficient agriculture"—that some arrangement would be made and that certainly the farmer would be able to get somebody into that house although the occupant would still have to be offered security of tenure somewhere else.

My Lords, we have not yet seen this working, and I really cannot believe that a way round it would not in fact be found, in these exceptional circumstances, without breaking the basic tenet of the Bill. I really must point out, since there has been a fair amount of discussion on this occasion about it, that a provision of this type would have an additional disadvantage, because presumably the verdict of an industrial tribunal would be necessary to establish whether a worker had been fairly dismissed for misconduct—and we are talking about being fairly dismissed, not being unfairly dismissed. But the tribunal exists for a worker to argue that he has been unfairly dismissed. If workers knew that by seeking their rights before a tribunal on the matter of their previous employment they risked losing their homes as well if the verdict went against them, then I think it is likely that very few would apply, and the tribunal would then be a dead letter so far as they were concerned. This would be wholly unacceptable, and I think is another example of the difficulties we get into—and I am not really minimising the other exceptional difficulties that could arise—if we start again intermingling security of tenure with employment.


My Lords, I am sorry, but the noble Baroness has got me in a muddle now. She mentioned ADHAC. Do I understand her to say that on occasions like this ADHAC can rule that the man is a nuisance and that you should therefore have possession of the cottage? I must be in a muddle here, because I cannot see that they can do that. They can only rule, surely, that the cottage is needed to farm efficiently.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, I was really answering the point that I think the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, made, that the farmer would not be able to get accommodation for somebody else; that he would be in a great difficulty, he would not be able to get somebody to replace this man so far as the work was concerned. But if it were in the interests of efficient agriculture for the fanner to have somebody living on the spot, this would be an argument which he would be able to put very strongly to the ADHAC and which the ADHAC would obviously take very strongly into account.

On Question, Motion agreed to.