HL Deb 21 October 1976 vol 375 cc1591-652

9.1 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do again resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Birk.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The Lord HENLEY in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Interpretation]:

Earl FERRERS moved Amendment No. 4:

Page 2, line 1, leave out paragraph (b).

The noble Earl said: This is consequential on an Amendment we passed the other day. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Earl FERRERS moved Amendment No. 5:

Page 2, line 30, leave out paragraph (b).

The noble Earl said: This, too, is consequential. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Earl FERRERS moved Amendment No. 6:

Page 2, line 35, after ("date") insert ("which shall not be before the expiration of a period of twelve months beginning with the date on which it is passed.")

The noble Earl said: This simple Amendment suggests that we put in the Bill a provision saying that the date on which the order bringing the Bill into operation shall be delayed for 12 months beginning on the date on which the Bill is passed. This is designed to enable local authorities and other bodies involved in dealing with the Bill an opportunity to arrange themselves and make provision for the liabilities which they will have under the measure. It is not intentionally a delaying Amendment. It is simply to enable those who will find themselves with increased duties and responsibilities under the Bill time in which to get themselves prepared for them, and I hope that it will meet with the Government's approval. I beg to move.


I regret that once again I must differ from the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. If we delay the operation of the Bill when it is passed, we will actually be giving an opportunity to the very people to whom noble Lords opposite have referred as not the sort of persons who are the ordinary employees in this industry. If there is the sort of delay which noble Lords opposite are proposing, a person who wants to exploit the position will have an opportunity to take advice and turn out a tenant as quickly as possible. That is what it would amount to and I am sure that that is not the intention of the noble Earl.

Let me put it in very simple terms. If an employer goes to a lawyer and asks for his advice, and if that employer is the type of person who wants to turn out a tenant, the lawyer will tell him: "You had better apply to the court now and they will give a maximum of six months to the individual, and then he must go." I am sure that that is not the intention of noble Lords opposite. I am sure they do not want to give such people a chance to exploit the position in this interim period. I am talking about the very people who time and again have been referred to in debates on this subject, the unscrupulous, who I am sure noble Lords do not want to protect.

Such a delay would give them an opportunity to turn out tenants and I do not see why such an opportunity should be provided. If a man does not like his employee he will turf him out and that employee will have six months, and then he must go. That is the utmost the court can allow at the present time, and in my view the Amendment should not be accepted because, frankly, do not believe it would meet with the wishes of the Committee. Certainly it would not be acceptable to my noble friends or, I believe, to those who desire to see justice done. We want to ensure that an unscrupulous employer does not just turn out his employee.


I am sure that my noble friends and I would have been absolutely at one with the noble Lord, Lord Janner, were it not for Schedule 9, which deals with transitional arrangements. I believe that the relative paragraph is paragraph 4(1), where I believe this arrangement would be handled.

The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Lord Peart)

I had thought that other noble Lords would like to make a contribution at this stage and I wanted to hear the arguments. I do not believe that this is a simple Amendment, despite what the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, has said. I have heard the arguments about this and the principle that the implementation of the Bill should be delayed at least for a year after Royal Assent. However, as I indicated on Second Reading, there has already been a long delay in putting on the Statute Book a basic right for farm workers to security of tenure in their homes. Indeed, as noble Lords on both sides know, they have been campaigning for it since the beginning of the century. Of course, we were able in 1965 and 1970 to make a little progress and the present law effectively affords up to six months' security to a farm worker whose employment has ended.

But the problem has not gone away. The number of possession orders sought and obtained by farmers has remained at a high level. It is important that I should sketch out what is our approach. The noble Lord can try to knock down the arguments I am putting forward. The proportion of farm workers living in tied cottages has not decreased. If anything, it has increased. So, having reached this stage, the Government would need to be convinced that there were very strong reasons for writing into the Bill an automatic delay to implementation over and above the existing flexibility which comes from the appointed day procedure. Although, as I have said, I have listened very carefully, I have not yet heard arguments which would lead me to recommend to my colleagues that such a delay should be imposed. I should like to explain first of all an important reason of principle against writing in a long delay and then go on to deal with some of the specific arguments which have been advanced by people who wish to disagree with my point of view.

The essence of this legislation, as I have said, is security of tenure or, for the farm worker who has been rehoused by the local authority, security of housing. Early implementation is almost always a feature of legislation conferring security of tenure in the housing field. The Rent Act 1965 was brought into effect one month after enactment and for the Rent Act 1974 the interval was only two weeks.

The reason for such speed is that the longer the delay between enactment and implementation in a measure of this type, the greater is the opportunity for a landlord to try to regain possession on grounds which the legislation will remove. So far, I am glad to say, we have not detected any signs that farmers generally are seeking to use the provisions of the existing law to dispossess tied cottage occupants in advance of the legislation coming into force. That does not surprise me because I know that in general the farming community acts responsibly and that there are good relationships, and that, in most cases, farmers would not seek to deprive themselves of some of their best labour simply to avoid being subject to the Bill. Nevertheless, if a significant delay in implementation was opened up, as it would be if this Amendment were carried, a strong temptation would be put in the way of certain people who are not long-term farmers and who, for one reason or another, are thinking of leaving the industry themselves, to deprive their workers of a protection which they will enjoy if the Bill is brought into force on 1st January next, as we hope it will be.

I should also explain that, as is usual in legislation of this kind, the Bill will protect not only those who are given notice to quit after it comes into force, but also qualifying workers and their families who are in occupation but who may have already been given notice to quit and be subject to court proceedings. Once the legislation is on the Statute Book, we would think it right that the uncertainty of such people should be ended and that they should enjoy the new protection of the Bill as soon as possible.

Now let me turn to another argument which has suggested that local authorities will not be in a position to cope if the Bill is brought into force quickly because they are generally not prepared. I know that this argument will be raised and, indeed, it has been raised on previous occasions, though not as forcefully as I have heard it put. Some noble Lords argued for a lead time to allow local authorities to assess more accurately the impact which the Bill will have on the housing demand. I think that this seems to ignore two points. First, local authorities already have to cope with a substantial proportion of ex-tied cottage occupants who are the subject of possession orders. As I have said, there is no reason to assume that the overall demand for housing from farmworkers and ex-farmworkers will necessarily increase in any significant way. Secondly, the only effective way of measuring the effect of the Bill is to watch how it works in practice.

The impact on local authorities will depend not only on the number of applications, but on their decisions on them. In reaching these decisions they will take full account of any advice tendered by the expert committees whom the Bill proposes should assess the agricultural need and urgency of these applications. It really is not possible with the best will in the world to predict in advance how many applications will be made to local authorities, nor can anyone forecast with precision the overall burden of advice on agricultural need and urgency, let alone the ultimate decisions of the local authorities. A period of delay would just not help to establish the short-term effect which the Bill will have. Indeed, the more alarmist prophecies about its operation could well gain ground and spread unnecessary anxieties. Therefore, for all these reasons, both of principle and practice, I hope that the noble Lords will agree to withdraw their Amendments.

Viscount GAGE

I should like to ask the noble Lord a question in the interests of accuracy. He said that the number of possession orders has not diminished. Can he possibly split that up with regard to possession orders involving elderly people? As he knows very well, many housing authorities will not give an elderly agricultural labourer any priority unless a possession order has been made against him. I am sure that the noble Lord does not want to misrepresent the position, but there are a number of cases involving elderly people where the owner simply has to apply for a possession order, otherwise the applicant has no priority at all.


I accept that; that was really one of the main points of my argument. This has been one of the worries.


I think the noble Lord said earlier in his speech that there had been great agitation from the majority of farm workers over many generations to end the tied cottage in system in agriculture. But I was of the impression that there had been an opinion poll taken among agricultural workers in England and Wales and that only 5 to 6 per cent. required this. I know that the Bill does not affect Scotland, but the farm workers' union in Scotland has said they they do not want it at all. Therefore I cannot understand why the Minister should say that the majority of farm workers have been agitating for this legislation for many generations.

With regard to eviction, the chief evictor is the State, because so far as I am aware the total number of agricultural tied cottages represent only about one-tenth of all the tied cottages in the country. The State owns the majority of the tied cottages and the State is the chief evictor.


I do not want to curtail the noble Viscount's argument, but we have discussed this matter on many occasions and it has been discussed on Second Reading, and only the other day. But my noble friend Lady Birk will deal with this when she replies.


With respect to the noble Lord's argument, is it not extraordinary that farmers under pressure of what I regard as an excessively foolish and harmful Bill have not rushed to put anyone out? Does this not show, on the noble Lord's own evidence, that the Bill is wholly unnecessary? The noble Lord said that at present there was no evidence at all that farmers were rushing to take advantage of the present law—


Perhaps I may intervene to reply to that point. I did say that and I said it for the reason that, generally speaking, there are good labour relations between the farmer and the farm worker. But there are cases of dispossession and the tied cottage is still regarded as an issue. But I believe that the industry is acting reasonably well and in a responsible way.

9.19 p.m.


I am sorry to intervene again, but the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, has again argued that farm workers do not want to see the tied cottage problem dealt with. I mentioned the other day that there must be something rather strange about this poll, because my own knowledge confirms that farm workers who are in the National Union of Agricultural Workers have for many years before my time as general secretary—indeed consistently throughout the years—moved and supported resolutions in their branches, in their county committees, and throughout the country, in the desire that the tied cottage be dealt with. Therefore, there must be something funny about this. I do not know what this poll is. I know the noble Lord opposite gave me some information the other day, but I am still convinced the information must be wrong. Either the selection of people who were asked to take part in the poll was one-sided or biased; I do not know, but I am quite sure that this argument is quite wrong.

Before I sit down, may I say that I support my noble friend on the Front Bench when he says that the solution of this problem is long overdue. And, without making any attempt at all to blacken the farmers of this country, because I know that most of them behave quite sensibly and reasonably when they get problems about people occupying tied cottages who are retired, or sick, or leaving a job, nevertheless, this long delay would encourage the unscrupulous ones. In every sector of the population you get some bad people, you get some bad eggs, there is a bad potato in every pile, and it to will give them an opportunity to try to move in before the Bill becomes effective in order to evict farm workers who would be protected by this Bill.


I believe that the noble Lord the Leader of the House referred to the number of court decisions in favour of eviction. I think that the noble Lord ignored the fact that the vast majority of these cases are done at the instance or with the approval or at the request of the farm worker, in order to enable him to get a house. I believe the actual number of evictions per year is almost negligible. I believe under 20 a year are actually evicted.


Speaking as a farmer, I say that nobody wants to evict a good farm worker; that is axiomatic. In fact, in the area where I live we have been employing the same families for generations. The reason why I think this Bill is in a sense out of date—the noble Lord, Lord Collison, is quite right, of course; the question of tied cottages has been on the agenda of the Agricultural Workers' Union for years and years, since I was a child—is that the situation is totally different now, for the simple reason that with the machinery and the new techniques the saving of labour in farming today is colossal and many old farms have masses of cottages which they simply do not use, because they do not want all those agricultural workers. They do want good agricultural workers, and naturally one wants in every possible way to house them as well as one can.

If by mistake you get somebody who is useless and you cannot get him out, of course you are in a desperate position. But I think the reason why the situation is not nearly so acute as it was, say, 30 or 40 years ago, when Lord Collison himself was active in the Agricultural Workers' Union, is the new techniques in farming, the new savings in labour, the enormous amount of machinery and all the rest of it about which all noble Lords who are engaged in farming know.


I am sure the noble Baroness is right. Things have changed. And I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Collison, is right in saying there was something funny about the poll. What happened about the poll was that the people who were questioned were questioned after the passing of the Rent Act 1965, the Agriculture Act 1970 and the Employment Protection Act of last year, which have transformed the situation as the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, said yesterday. The Battle of Waterloo has virtually been won, and I am sure that that is why you had this low poll.

The Earl of ONSLOW

On one small point—perhaps is a Second Reading point—can either the noble Lord or the noble Baroness confirm that eviction can still, in fact, happen even with this Bill?


May I ask either the noble Lord or the noble Baroness whether they have considered the possibility of the operation of this Bill, when it is an Act, to take place at different times in different areas; and whether they have considered the possibility of leaving the more difficult areas until later, because I think some areas have a much better chance of making this work than others. While this matter is being discussed it will be of interest to know what their views may be.

Baroness BIRK

I will first deal with this question, which is constantly arising, about the poll of the workers. The noble Lord, Lord Sandys—and this is rather a delayed apology—raised it on Second Reading, but in order to try to keep my winding-up speech short I did not answer then. I also thought at the time that it had been dealt with by the Parliamentary Secretary in another place and, knowing how assiduously the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, does his homework, I was sure that he had read the answer there. He returned to it again yesterday and I think then used it in the context of the workers showing that they were against this Bill. Now the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, has raised it again. I think it ought to be cleared up, once and for all.

The first point is that the survey was carried out in July, 1975. That was long before the Bill was published, so they could not in any sense have been voting against or expressing an opinion about this Bill. The second point is that they were 300 workers out of a full-time workforce of 140,000. The most important point is that they were not—and I repeat "not"—asked the question: "Do you think that tied cottages or the tied cottage system should be abolished?" They were asked the question: "Do you think that there are any categories of workers who need to live in tied cottages to do their jobs?" The response to this was: 60 per cent. "Yes"; they did think that some people ought to live in cottages by their jobs. And 40 per cent. said "No". Out of that 40 per cent., 5.3 per cent. (that is, 16 people) qualified the answer by saying that they favoured the abolition of the agricultural tied cottage system—although they were not asked that question directly. This has been misrepresented to show that only 5 per cent. of farm workers favour abolition. The fact is that out of the 40 per cent., 5 per cent. felt strongly enough to make the point, off their own bat, that they favoured abolition.

It is worth mentioning that the Arthur Rank Centre themselves were not exactly pleased at the misuse of this survey by people who are against the Bill. In a letter to all the members of the Committee which considered this Bill in another place, the Warden of the Centre, the Reverend Peter Buckler, said: The Arthur Rank Centre completely support the main provisions of the Agriculture Bill. There is nothing in the Report which we published last autumn which does not support our present attitude towards the Bill. In order to make clear how misleading is the use to which this poll results have been put, I have thought up an analogy. Imagine the response to a sample survey if people were asked: "Do you think the House of Lords serves the interests of efficient democracy?" Let us say that 60 per cent. reply, "Yes" and 40 per cent. "No". Some of those who reply "No"—let us take 5 per cent.—add the rider that what they would like to see is the reform of the present House of Lords. I would suggest that it would be absurd and misleading if anybody then went around saying that only 5 per cent. of the people asked about the House of Lords favoured reform. It could be that if the question were put directly there would be huge dissent. We could say the same about farm workers and this Bill. I agree with my noble friend Lord Collison that it is time that this was spelled out and explained.

The noble Lord, Lord Swaythling, questioned the point about whether many were evicted at all. Fortunately the number of evictions is low, but I do not think that is the point. The point is, first, that there are any evictions at all under this system, and, secondly, that it is not the actual evictions that one has to get one's eye on, which is the part of the iceberg above the surface; it is the people who are also under the shadow of a possession order to which, under the present system, a farmer has to resort—we heard on Second Reading about the collusion that goes on about this—and, thirdly, the people who, because they are afraid and want to avoid the court proceedings which would take place as the result of an application for a possession order, get scared or move or try to get away before this occurs. These people are at risk so far as their security of tenure, their home and their living conditions are concerned.

My noble friend Lord Janner was right when he supported what my noble friend the Leader of the House said, that by delaying the starting date we should create just the position which we are trying to do away with at the moment. As regards the point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, the situation would be the same as it is under the Rent Act generally: that if there is a bad tenant and he refuses an offer of other suitable accommodation he can be evicted. It does not extend beyond the Rent Act, but in the same way as at the end of the road there are cases where there will be evictions, so there will be here; but the eviction would not be tied to the employment but to the tenancy.

The Earl of ONSLOW

Would the noble Baroness give way? If the ADHACs come in and advise that this particular house is necessary for agriculture, and the local authorities agree and the man still will not come out of the house, presumably this is tied to his employment and eviction will follow if, as we all admit, there is a very rare situation where these unpleasant proceedings have to continue.

Baroness BIRK

I disagree with the noble Earl. By then he has become a tenant and is then in the position of any other tenant so far as the Rent Act is concerned. It has then become nothing to do with his employment. If he is offered other suitable provision—and we come to this under Schedule 3: for instance under Case 3 where the rent is not paid, or Case 4 where there is conduct amounting to a nuisance—then he is subject to the same conditions and criteria as are other tenants under the Rent Act. This has nothing to do with his employment; that is the difference.


I am bound to say that we have had quite a fascinating debate on the Amendment, an Amendment which I am slightly surprised to find was to discuss whether or not the provisions of the Bill should come into force forthwith or in a year's time. Then we got into a poll on reform of the House of Lords, which is spreading the net fairly wide. I am glad to say that did not come from my noble friends behind me, so that is some measure of satisfaction. The noble Lord, Lord Collison, said that he was quite convinced that the National Union of Agricultural Workers has always been in favour of this. I do not dispute that for one moment. However, he said yesterday that he did not want to get up on every Amendment. So far as I am concerned, I hope the noble Lord will not have any hesitation in speaking whenever he wishes. The views of the noble Lord are respected and welcome. If our Amendments do not accord with the noble Lord's views, I hope that he will not hesitate in putting his opinions forward. We do not consider that to be the slightest imposition. The only point that I made about this the other day—and I repeat it now—is that I know that the abolition of the tied cottage is the official union view. That does not mean to say every member of the union agrees with that; approximately 50 per cent. of the people employed in agriculture are members of the union and it cannot be said that that necessarily represents a total view of all agricultural workers. I accept that it is the union's official view.

The noble Lord, Lord Janner, was concerned that if we were to accept this Amendment, unscrupulous landlords—and I agree with him that there are unscrupulous landlords—would take advantage of this and would immediately try to prise out unsatisfactory farm workers. That is a correct view to take. If people were to do this, it would be totally unacceptable. As the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, said, this possibility is covered on page 62 at paragraph 4 where it says clearly in Schedule 9: Where before the operative date a court has made an order for possession of a dwelling house … the court may, on the application of the person against whom the order was made, rescind or vary the order in such manner as the court thinks fit … In other words, if a possession order has been made for a house against a person when the Bill becomes law, and before it conies into operation under the statutory order, the person who has had the possession order made against him may go to the court and say: "Please will you think about it again."


With the greatest respect, it is not as simple as that. If the order is made and the man is already ejected, it is too late to have it rescinded. That is what I am driving at. The whole point is that an order must be made for not longer than six months. Assuming the order is made and the Act does not come in for twelve months, the man is already out. That is the real point. The Leasehold Reform Act enables a person who has not obeyed an order but has stayed beyond the time that he is allowed, to have the benefit of that because the Act is retrospective in that regard. Here you cannot do this. The man will be out and there is an end of it. The court cannot make an order rescinding something which cannot be rescinded.


I hesitate to conflict with the views of the noble Lord, Lord Janner, who is an expert in legal matters.


I am not an expert.


This Schedule says that where before the operative date—that is the date on which the Bill becomes law as a result of the order, of the Statutory Instrument—the court has made an order, in other words since this has become law, a person may go back to the court and say, "This Bill has now become law. It is not operative yet. May I please stay?" If the person has already gone out of the house he cannot go back and say, "May I come back in?" The noble Lord was worried about an unscrupulous landlord trying to prise a tenant out as soon as this Bill became law and before it came into operation. In other words, after Royal Assent and the operative date. It is then that, as I see it, this paragraph 4 would operate. However, be that as it may, the noble Lord may like to consider this on his own and I certainly bow to his superior views.

Baroness BIRK

As I understand it, paragraph 4 of Schedule 9, which I think we are discussing, protects only people who are still in residence on the operative date. If we wait for the 12 months many will be forced to move out. I do not know whether the noble Earl has read that into the point. It is during the delay that if people are forced to move out they will not still be in residence and therefore they will have no protection.


I have no doubt that the noble Baroness is well briefed on this, but I am bound to say that I cannot read that into it because what it says is: Where before the operative date"— if this were in 12 months' time the operative date would be 1978. Where before 1978— a court has made an order for possession of a dwelling-house which on the operative date is subject to a statutory tenancy and the order has not been executed, the court may, on the application of the person against whom the order was made, rescind or vary the order …". Perhaps the noble Baroness is right. I am sure she is. I shall not pursue this matter any further.

The noble Lord, Lord Peart, made it perfectly clear that the unions have been campaigning for this change since the beginning of the century and I know this fairly well. I am sorry if I appeared to interrupt the noble Lord when he was in the course of his speech but I was taking note of what he said and I smiled and turned to my noble friend and said, "That is a Department of the Environment brief". Somehow one seemed to sense it when it came from the noble Lord. But that was the only reason I smiled and not because I disagreed with what the noble Lord was saying specifically.

This Amendment was put down not to delay anything particularly; it was a genuine attempt to allow for the setting up of the ADHACs to take place and to give the local authorities who have to make provision for the responsibilities which will be placed upon them some time to make provision for that. That was the only reason I put down the Amendment. It was not for some scurrilous reason to upset the provision of the Bill. If the noble Lord feels that this would be an undesirable thing to do then I shall withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Earl FERRERS moved Amendment No. 7: Page 2, line 39, leave out subsection (6).

The noble Earl said: This Amendment is consequential on Amendment No. 3 which we passed the other day. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Schedule 2 [Protected Occupiers in their own Right]:

9.44 p.m.

Lord SWAYTHLING moved Amendment No. 8: Page 34, leave out line 47 and insert ("225 out of the last 260 weeks, 50 weeks of which have been for the current employer.").

The noble Lord said: This Amendment is moved because it is the widespread view of those engaged in the farming industry, which coincides I believe with the particular wishes of the National Farmers' Union the Milk Marketing Board and the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers. It is widely felt that the two years qualifying period in the Bill is much too short and this Amendment substitutes five years in agriculture of which one year must be for their current employer; namely, the employer whose house they are occupying.

The last provision is essential and it is for that reason that I infinitely prefer this Amendment to Amendment No. 9 which stands in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, where it is not necessary for the worker to have worked for the owner of his service house for any definite period. In other words, under Amendment No. 9 a worker could work for two years in agriculture and then leave his job, where he possibly had a second-class cottage, obtain a job with somebody else who had an excellent house, and within a month he could give notice and seek to remain where he was, which I regard as wholly unacceptable. In view of what I have said, I trust that the Government will accept this Amendment as it would be wrong to ignore the feeling so generally held in the agriculture industry. I beg to move.


I wonder whether it might be helpful if I spoke to my Amendment at the same time, because it is of a similar character. We want to get clear exactly what the situation is, because this is a very important Part of the Bill as it depicts who may or may not take advantage of its provisions. The Bill states that the only criterion which has to be met, in order to become a protected tenant under the Bill, is that one should have worked whole time in agriculture on any farm for two years. The Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Swaythling, states that a person would have to work in agriculture for five years, one year of which should be with the current employer. The Amendment which stands in my name, and in the name of my noble friend Lord Sandys, states that a person would have to work for four years in agriculture, and for two years with the same employer. They are quite different points, but the common denominator running through them is the fence over which one has to get in order to obtain statutory protection under the Bill.

I believe that the Bill as drafted, with just two years in agriculture, is too loose and is inadequate, because it makes no stipulation whatever as to the length of time a person has to serve on one farm in order to obtain possession of the house in which he lives. In other words, a person who had been working in agriculture for two years could go to a new farm and within a week say that he wished to work elsewhere. He could then incur the provisions of this Bill, and by so doing could latch on to the freehold of the house of someone for whom he had worked for only one week. There may well be an argument for saying that if a man has worked in agriculture he should have the right to a freehold. But it is a different matter to say that a farmer or a landlord is under an obligation to forgo his freehold, possibly for a great many years, when a person has worked on his farm for only one week. That does not seem to be right.

There are two points which ought to be made clear. First, there is the qualifying period which a man must work on a certain farm in order to latch on to the freehold. As the Bill is at present drafted, a person may obtain the freehold from someone for whom he has worked for a very short period of time, and it is rather like saying that if you have worked for Sainsbury's for two years, you then have the right to latch on to the freehold of part of Tesco's. The connection between the two is extraordinary.

One of the other points which it is very important to deal with in the Bill is the protection of agriculture from what I described at Second Reading as the devious—that is, the person who, for one reason or another, has found it difficult to obtain good or adequate housing but who finds that by working in agriculture for two years he can latch on to somebody's freehold and obtain the freehold of a house simply by working on that farm for even a week or a year. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Janner, is smiling.


With the greatest respect, I was only smiling at the fact that the noble Lord was talking about freeholds. This person does not obtain the freehold; he obtains a statutory tenancy which is an entirely different matter.


I quite agree. I forgot that I was speaking to a lawyer who is very specific about these matters, but the noble Lord, Lord Janner, knows exactly what I mean. The fact is that a person who finds that he can work in agriculture can take advantage of provisions which were designed for people who are not in the same category.


I did not intend to smile; it just occurred to me that this is how a layman talks about these matters. That is all.


Thank goodness that there are laymen who talk in laymen's English and not always in legal language which is sometimes so very difficult to understand, as those of us who have ploughed through the Bill have found. I put it seriously to the noble Lord that it is not right at a time of housing shortage for agriculture to be seen as possibly a quick route to a local authority house or to a protected tenancy. If the provisions contained in the Bill are kept, it is perfectly possible that they can be used as a quick route to a local authority house or to a protected tenancy.

I believe that our Amendment is probably better than that which has been set down by the Liberals. I say this with the greatest humility and not because I have designed the Amendment; I have not. However, one can put down the axe almost anywhere. There is an infinite variety of places where one could say that this is the right criterion, but in the end it is a matter of judgment. To say that a person should have to work for five years is a long period of time. On the other hand, if a farmer is to forgo the right to his house, not only just for that person but possibly for that person's widow or dependant on a later occasion, it is perfectly reasonable that that farm worker should have worked for him for a period of time. The Amendment standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Swaythling, says that a farmer should have had that person working for him for a year. I believe that that is a perfectly reasonable request, but our Amendment is slightly different; it mentions four years, a more accommodating length of time which I believe the noble Lord, Lord Peart, will accept. The alternative is that he should have worked on that farm or in agriculture for two years.

It is a question of deciding which is the best Amendment and I am of the opinion that a compromise between the Amendment which stands in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Swaythling, and our Amendment might be the best course to adopt. As the Bill stands at present it is too loose. It enables people who should not have an automatic right to a house which does not belong to them to have a house on a farm which they may not have worked on for any length of time. I do not believe that the Bill should give them that right. I hope the noble Lord will think that this is a point worthy of discussion and of consideration.


I know that the need for a period is accepted by the Government and in deciding the length of such a period they have come down between the National Union of Agricultural Workers' one year and the National Farmers' Union five years which is advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Swaythling. My own view is that the period of two years in the Bill is too short hearing in mind the dangers envisaged in the Consultation Document. Perhaps I may just quote from this excellent document. It says: All important, it will be essential for the legislation to distinguish between genuine, regular, full-time hired farm workers and anybody who might view a brief spell in that capacity as a short cut to assured housing". I believe it to be too short, bearing in mind the need to keep within reasonable bounds the number of persons for whom the local authority are bound to provide housing in a period of housing shortage and economic stringency.

I think that in practice the five years—although I suppose it comes down to four years and four months if we add up the number of days—is too long, as was advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Swaythling, and I think that what conies in practice to three and a half years; namely, the Amendment tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, seems to be reasonable. As to the alternative qualifying period of two years with the same employer, which is what the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, is advocating—


If the noble Lord will permit me, I suggested one year with the same employer.


I quite agree that the proposal made by the noble Lord, Lord Swaythling, is one year, but the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, suggested two, and that seems to me to meet another point that is referred to in the Consultative Document. Perhaps I may quote again: The Tavistock Institute sample disclosed that 42 per cent. of workers who had experienced the prospect of eviction had not then worked for more than a year with the employer concerned. So the Tavistock Institute's finding indicates that many people find in the first year that they do not fit in to a particular farm job, but if they can achieve a year with one employer they are much more likely to settle down, either with him or in the industry. A worker who puts in two years with one employer can therefore seriously be assumed to be engaged in agriculture. The man described in the Consultation Document as taking a short cut to assured houring is much more likely to be a misfit, I should have thought, wherever he may find employment, and more likely to flit from job to job, and hence I see the need for a longer qualifying period in the industry. I think that a period of four years is just about right. It is a matter of balance; the Government have said what they think and where in their judgment it should lie; the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, has said where his should lie and the noble Lord, Lord Swaythling, has suggested a little longer. I believe that proposed by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, is the right one.

The Earl of ONSLOW

There is a point which I think has not been raised so far. I believe that the agricultural colleges are finding it slightly more difficult than before to place the graduate worker or the skilled worker who comes from the agricultural colleges. This certainly applies in what might be called the luxury trades of the arboriculturists and the landscape gardeners, and it is beginning to apply to the skilled agricultural worker. There has also been another factor which on reflection is probably not as odd as it might seem at first, in that there has been a reaction among some people from monotonous, conveyor belt, mass production jobs, who think to themselves, "I would actually rather go and get a varied job in agriculture, even though the pay is less".

It seems to me that there are two sorts of people. One has the input of industrial workers into agriculture, or the children of industrial workers in agriculture, and the skilled pupil from the agricultural colleges, and those people, it seems to me, must be protected, because we who are privileged enough to be employers of agricultural labour need the best labour we can. Consequently, above all, we need to cherish them because, as I have said a million times in your Lordships' House, it is in our interests so to do.

If the misfit and the person who does not really like agriculture wants to get out of it is going to use this as a jumping-off place to crash the local authority housing list, that is wrong. Even with our Amendment, it would theoretically be possible for a young man to leave school at 16, go into agricultural work and be at the head of the local authority housing list by the age of 20, unmarried. Under the Government's Bill it is possible at 18 years of age. This seems to me not really right. Above all, we must try to weed out those who are not keen on agriculture, because what we want to do is to protect agriculture. If we protect agriculture, ipso facto we protect the agricultural workers. So I come back to my original point that they are our finest asset.

10.2 p.m.


I would support these Amendments. One has to remember that by and large, employees in agriculture are fairly static. Sometimes they work for a lifetime and even retire on the farm, so there is no great turnover in many cases. Undoubtedly there are some who go in and out of the industry because they do not like the people concerned; they do not get on with the boss, or, as in my case, they go into industry and try that out for a short time and then come back, or they find agriculture is too hard work, or there is one reason or another.

There is one thing which will crop up—it has done already in service houses and in many parts, and this will happen in the future. Where you have a farmer with someone who is no good (perhaps he is either a foreman or a worker) the farmer will give him a very good reference. The reason is quite obvious—because the worker takes the reference to his next job, the farmer employs him, and his original employer has got rid of him so rubs his hands. Once the had chap is in the house, he is there. One is talking about only a very small proportion, but the "baddies" do exist and should not be the responsibility of the new farmer to whom they have gone. Agriculture should be protected from this very small proportion of "baddies".


There is a point which has been given deep consideration by everyone concerned with the industry, including myself, because I have to look at things from the point of view of an employer, Land Settlement Association—wise. The whole issue revolves around the understanding we have, and I think the unions have—although they said a year—that the industry needs to be protected against those people who come into agriculture just in order to get a house, and who do not intend to stay in the industry. Therefore, some qualifying period had to be written in.

I am satisfied, as are my colleagues, that two years is a proper qualifying period. A man does not go into agriculture thinking that in two years' time he will have a right to the tenancy of this cottage or that council house. He does not think that far ahead. A man who has been in agriculture for two years is an agricultural worker, is somebody connected with the industry and means to be so connected. I feel therefore that the two-year period is long enough.

As for the period during which an employee has been with one employer, that is irrelevant. We looked at this matter from the point of view of the wellbeing of agriculture as well as the wellbeing of the agricultural worker and we must remember that agriculture is an industry that contains a large number of employers and employees. The agricultural worker should be able to move freely within the industry in order to provide the service which he may have developed or improved, going from one place to another, and if one accepts that, then one is thinking of the service which a man can give to the industry. Thinking in those terms, the question of the length of time he has been employed by any employer, including the last employer, is irrelevant and therefore I believe that the proposal in the Bill is a proper solution to the problem, which I accept is a real one.

I agree that we must not have the situation where somebody can just come into the industry in order, after a few weeks or months, to gain possession of a cottage or have a right to the tenancy of a cottage or council house and I suggest that two years is long enough to show that he is a bona fide agricultural worker.


I am interested in what the noble Lord is saying and especially in his remark that the length of time a person has worked on a farm is irrelevant. Would he expand on that? Clearly the unions are concerned for their individual members, in a similar way that agriculture contains many individual farmers. Does the noble Lord believe it is right for a farmer to lose the use of a house which has been provided for the purposes of that farm as well as for the purposes of agriculture simply because he has had somebody working for a few weeks or a month or so?


No, and I am not saying that. Any agricultural worker who has had a long time in the industry may still want to move to another farm. He may find the conditions on the next farm intolerable or he may not be able to get on with his employer. In that case he may have to do something about it. It is not simply a question of somebody coming in with the idea of getting a house. In the case of a long-term agricultural worker, whether he has been in agriculture for two or 20 years, he is a long-term agricultural worker and the possibility of being able to move from one farm to another is most important, and protection should go with that man.


Noble Lords may be interested in my experience, even under the present legislation. I have known a farm worker take a job, move into a house on a Saturday and give notice at the end of the following week, having got a job in a factory nine or 10 miles away. He is in one's house and nobody likes evicting. Certainly I would never like to evict anybody and I have never done so. Nevertheless, he is in one's house and even under the present Act if one wants to evict him then, with the log jam in the courts, he is there for eight or ten months anyway. For this reason I strongly favour the Amendment standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Ferrers because I think that two years is too short a time. One is bound to come across Smart Alecks—

Several noble Lords



I did not notice my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel in his place and I assure him that that remark was meant for the few unscrupulous farm workers who will take advantage of this short period as a short-cut to obtaining a rent protected house or council house.


I should like to say a few words from these Benches in favour of the Amendment. I feel that it is tragic that we should have to legislate for the exception, but that is what we are doing. The whole of this Bill is legislation for the unusual, hardly existing, bad farm employer, just as the present proposal is aimed at the hardly existing bad farm worker with whom the farmer might get landed. It is tragic that we should have to go through this procedure of legislating for either. I should like to defend our Amendment. I have nothing against the noble Earl's Amendment, with its period of four years as against five years. What worries me about that Amendment, however, is that it has the word "or" in it and that the other qualification is two years with the same employer. I believe that the Amendment means that one can either qualify by working for two years with one employer or by having been four years in the industry.

Under the provisions that are being set up we are in honour bound to protect the local authority, which could be landed with a person after two years. After two years, as long as the worker has stayed with the same employer for that time, he could have the right to a council house. If one compares the length of time that such a person might have to be on a local authority list against even the hardship of working for two years for one employer, it is clear that there is still a slight risk in this. I therefore prefer our Amendment.


I believe that I should intervene here. I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Robson, regarded this Bill as dealing with something which is exceptional and unusual and felt that we should not do it. The simple fact is that there have been abuses; otherwise, there would never have been all the agitation there has been over the years. This is the reality. Farm workers feel strongly about this matter. We have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Collison, who was a distinguished farm leader and president of his union and who, from practical experience, was able to tell us on Second Reading about some of the difficulties.

I will not say that all is bad and gloomy. I have paid tribute to the good relationships between farmers, landowners and farm workers. We are dealing only with small cases. After all, most of our legislation on other matters deals specifically with abuses, even though they may be small abuses, so I believe that we are right to press forward. However, I accept that there is an important argument about the length of period that has been mentioned. The Liberal Party take a different view from that of the Conservative Party. Indeed, the noble Lord was quite right about the Consultative Document: it said that this must be carefully considered, and he was right to stress it. I do not believe that there is any political issue here, whatever position we come to. I take the view that it is fair that there should be a qualifying period of service for workers who are to benefit from the security of housing which the Bill's provisions would afford, to ensure that people do not see a brief spell of work in agriculture as a short cut to that security. Noble Lords have accepted this in principle. We are only arguing here about the difference of period.

I was rather interested in the state of agriculture as described by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, and in some of the difficulties in placing trained personnel and skilled workers in the industry. He spoke of the pressure that we get and the pressure which may come from a movement from the industrial areas. That has always been so but, in the end, it is for the farmer himself to decide who his employee is to be. He will make the decision. He will judge the worker's skill and whether he is qualified, so I do not feel that we should worry too much there; but I agree with the noble Earl that it is an interesting problem and, naturally, should be taken seriously.

We have decided on two years, taking account of consultations which we have had with both sides of the industry. There has been considerable consultation on this matter, as the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and others know. I think that two years is a reasonable period in which to prove one's bona fides. Incidentally, two years is also the period suggested by the Association of District Councils, which is the body intimately concerned with the realities of rehousing agricultural workers. I should not say, generally speaking, that that association would decide on the matter for political reasons. From its experience—and, after all, it is very important in this matter—the association has come down on the side of two years, with which we agree.

The arguments which I have heard, and those which I have seen in the farming Press in recent months, have not shaken me in my conviction that two years in the industry is quite long enough to sift out the genuine farm worker from anyone who might be tempted to use the Bill as a quick step to assured housing; or to use the dramatic words of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, virtually to jump the queue or to crash into the queue, as he described it.

Both these Amendments would have the effect of leaving a farm worker under a cloud of insecurity about housing for longer than we consider right, since insisting as they do on the one hand on one year's service with a current employer, and, on the other, on two years with a current employer where a worker had less than four years' service in agriculture, I think the scope for abuse by a bad employer is considerable. We want to encourage ambitious young workers, and here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Collison, about the need for mobility. It is not a bad thing that these workers get ambitious and want to move, or wish to gain other experience in a particular field of agricultural practice. An ambitious young worker, let us say with less than four years' service, and less than two years with his current employer, who wishes to take a better job with greater prospects with another employer, must, under both these Amendments, forfeit his eligibility for housing security until he has been with his new employer for one or two years, or has clocked up his four years as the case may be.

There are many reasons why workers leave farms and seek to move on. Some of the reasons are domestic—and this has been mentioned and argued by noble Lords on Second Reading and the other day. The reasons may relate to changes in the farm business; and others, as noble Lords who are connected with the industry know, reflect ambitions, as I said earlier, to progress up the promotion ladder; or there is a desire to gain experience in different sectors. All this is a good thing. I believe that the Amendments, by making it harder to qualify under the Bill, would have an adverse effect on such movement, and, I suggest, would bite particularly hard on young workers, perhaps with young families—we have to recognise this—at an early and critical stage of their careers, at precisely the time when they might expect to be relatively mobile.

Furthermore, every farm worker who has yet to complete his qualifying period is constantly aware of the possibility of his employment being terminated before the period is up, and I believe that both Amendments would extend this unease. I know that noble Lords do not want to achieve that. They feel that their case is reasonable. I am thinking here of the Liberal Amendment, although the Tories criticised it. Although I believe that there is a difficulty here, I think the Amendment runs counter to our objective in the Bill—

The Earl of ONSLOW

Will the noble Lord give way? Surely the argument about the anxiety of the qualifying period applies whether the qualifying period is 20 minutes or 3,000 years?


That is a very strange hypothetical case or argument. We are dealing here with the realities of two years, which is what I have suggested and with what is in the Amendment, which I assume the noble Earl supports as a good Conservative—although I now understand that he is not a Party Member. Perhaps the noble Earl supports the Liberal Amendment. I still think that what is proposed runs counter to our objective.


Would the noble Lord give way? If you are a reasonable farm worker, you have nothing to fear after six months' work on a farm under the Employment Protection Act. Does that not allay a lot of the fears that the noble Lord is concerned with?


I do not think it helps security of tenure, which is what we are arguing about. The noble Earl mentioned six months, but I do not think that answers my main point. After all, we are anxious here to uncouple the farm workers' housing from their employment in certain circumstances. I regret, therefore, that we cannot accept these Amendments and, in view of the unfortunate effect they would have, I hope noble Lords opposite will agree to withdraw them. There is no political issue in this matter.


First, if the noble Lord, Lord Collison, is so keen on mobility, I wonder why he is so keen on this Bill at all? I think the Bill is a hindrance to mobility. Apart from that, I would say straight out with reference to this Amendment, that we are quite agreeable to four years as suggested by the Amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, but we are very insistent that it is essential to have one year on the farm of the man who is going to lose his cottage, the man who is the present employer. Therefore, I would ask whether we cannot alter our Amendment at the moment to four years and have it in those terms. I do not want to waste too much time, but on the Road Traffic Act some years ago I moved an Amendment that a motor driver should have seven days in which to produce his licence. The Government said that if I altered it to five days they would accept it. Straight away I said that I would alter it to five days and the Amendment was passed. Am I entitled to say that we will accept the four years, with one year with the present employer, and press the Amendment now? Because if I am not I feel I should like to press the Amendment as it stands and alter it to four years on Report stage. That would safeguard the question of one year in the present employment.


May I come to the point which the noble Lord, Lord Swaythling, has just mentioned, that he would be prepared to accept our Amendment of four years provided it was coupled with his stipulation of one year on the farm? Probably the tidiest way to do this would be for the noble Lord to withdraw his Amendment and for us to withdraw ours and come back with an Amendment which possibly will suit everyone—I hope it will be agreeable to the noble Lords opposite—at the Report stage? That would be easier than getting ourselves into a legal tangle with manuscript Amendments, which I dare say can be passed but—I was going to say there is no urgency about this. I appreciate, however, that there is great urgency for the Government to get their business through. If we could get this specific provision in the Bill I should have thought the best way to do it was at Report stage.

I should just like to comment on one thing which the noble Lord, Lord Peart, said. I accept that he put forward his views why the Bill should remain as it is. Of course, there is a balance to be drawn. I do not say that our Amendment is absolutely correct or that the noble Lord is correct either. There is a balance. Equally, there is a balance between the right of the farm worker to have security of tenure on the one hand, and the ability of the farmer, with the cottages which are at his disposal, to farm adequately, on the other hand. Then there is the encouragement or incentive for farmers to build cottages for workers. There is a balance to be drawn. The only thing the noble Lord, Lord Peart, did not say at all, and it is something I think, with respect, he should address his mind to, is why a farmer should find himself losing the right to the occupancy of a house on his farm by a person who, under this Bill, has no qualification of length of service on that particular farm to enable him to lay claim to the house. The noble Lord did not comment on that, and I think it is right, because there is a balance to be drawn here. I do not know whether he wishes to comment on the point. Perhaps he does not. Very well.


I would always wish to respond to the noble Earl. I agree that there is an argument about getting the balance right. I understand the worries on this. But to come back to the main argument, I do not want to get involved in a discussion about procedure and how to deal with this. That was a matter for the noble Lord and his friends in the Liberal Party. My point of view is this: we must stand by the two years.

The Earl of ONSLOW

May I ask one question, speaking solely for myself? As my noble friend Lord Ferrers has said, he has not really dealt with the question of the period on one farm. The whole of the argument between Lord Ferrers and Lord Swaythling has been a little like God and Abraham bargaining over Sodom and Gomorrah: Peradventure, Lord, we have three or four years or whatever it is. I shall now venture to produce another peradventure. Peradventure the noble Lord, Lord Peart, might be tempted to accept two years and a one-year qualifying period on one farm. I would hope that we could all agree with that. Everybody would be happy.


I should say that the phrase "everybody would be happy" is not correct. Certainly we should not be happy with two years.


There is talk about there not being a balance. I want to restore that balance. We are not talking simply in terms of the agriculture worker who has been in agriculture for two or four years or what-you-will. We are also talking about an agricultural worker who may have been in the industry for 20, 30 or 40 years and who may in his last employment run into difficulties within the year. I do not want to expand on that, but it is a point which must be taken into account when we are talking about balance.


I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Collison, for drawing that to our attention. He is right. There is a balance and that particular person certainly deserves consideration. If our Amendment were accepted he would come within its ambit because he would have done the four years. On both these Amendments there is no question of the fundamental aspects of the Bill being altered over this; we accept this. We are trying to see what is the right qualifying period. I think the Government have the period wrong. I hope that we shall be able to come to some arrangement. If the noble Lord, Lord Swaythling, were to withdraw his Amendment, I would withdraw mine and see if we could put down a more suitable Amendment on Report. I should have thought that would be the tidy thing to do.


There is the question of the definition of "tidy". My definition of it in this case is that we should press our Amendment, which I hope the Conservative Benches would support. If it is passed, they would then have the opportunity to alter the five years to four years on Report. I should like to see the Amendment in this form with the "one year on the same farm" in the Bill as soon as possible. Therefore I should like to press our Amendment.


I am suprised because I thought the Conservatives did not support what is proposed by the Liberal Party.


I am not prepared to support this Amendment. I take the remarks of Lord Collison about the length of service as being very important. I think that having the "or" in is now much more important than I at first realised.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

10.30 p.m.

Lord SANDYS moved Amendment No. 10:

Page 35, line 41, at end insert— ("Provided that dwelling house is not in qualifying ownership if it is the only dwelling house on an agricultural unit available for occupation under a contract of employment in agriculture.")

The noble Lord said: In this Amendment we are dealing with a different situation altogether. Here we are concerned with the holding on which there is a single agricultural cottage. First, I would draw your Lordships' attention to the large number and variety of agricultural holdings in this country and indicate that this Amendment does not specify any particular area of ground to which it refers. We are concerned with the holding on which there is a single dwelling-house, so we turn in our definition to Part I of Schedule 2 and under the Dwelling-house in qualifying ownership we reach the point where this Amendment applies. In paragraph 3 of the Schedule the terms of qualifying ownership are set out. I will not repeat these as it would be tedious. After the end of paragraph (b) we have the Amendment which reads, and I quote: Provided that dwelling house is not in qualifying ownership if it is the only dwelling house on an agricultural unit available for occupation under a contract of employment in agriculture. In other words, this Amendment disapplies the previous parts of paragraph 3. Here we have a situation in which an owner has an enterprise. Perhaps that enterprise is concerned with no buildings at all, but is a small area of land, or it is concerned with an enterprise contained in a single large building—and I have in mind either some special technical equipment, perhaps hydroponics or something of that sort cultivating a particular crop, or an enterprise which will demand the presence of one worker in a single dwelling-house on this particular holding. There is no room for manoeuvre; there is no second dwelling-house, so that the employer is unlikely to be able to draw upon another source of employed labour.

There is a special difficulty here, because the Bill as drafted makes no special provision for a small or relatively small enterprise. One must recognise that there are a large number of small holdings in this country. Some are statutory small holdings owned by local authorities, and we understand that they are excluded from the purview of this Bill. In this Amendment we seek to exclude those other small holdings not in the ownership of local authorities. These are in a particularly difficult position where the employer has remarkably little room for manoeuvre so far as the employee is concerned and is placed in a predicament where, if he makes a false choice, or if he falls out with the employee or the employee with him, there is a situation which would be the reverse of satisfactory. There is a situation which seeks redress, and therefore I beg to move the Amendment.

10.35 p.m.


The effect of this Amendment would he to deprive a considerable number of workers and ex-workers of protection. It would seem from the information available that something under 16,000 farms have only one cottage occupied by whole-time workers. Where there is more than one cottage on a farm, but only one occupied by a whole-time worker, it is not possible to judge whether or not any of the remainder are available for occupation by an agricultural worker. From the figures that are to hand, the safest lesson to be drawn is that the Amendment can have the effect of removing protection from 16,000 people. Though there may be some overlap with the 17,000 or so dairymen and stock men who were removed from the Bill yesterday, this means really a further substantial erosion of the number of those who are intended to benefit from the security of tenure afforded by the Bill. This is not acceptable to the Government.

The arguments which allege that farming enterprises with one tied cottage will be specially vulnerable once the Bill is in operation, seem based on unwarranted conclusions. They pre-suppose that the re-housing duty to be placed on local authorities will not work so far as such farms are concerned. No doubt there will be ample opportunity to debate this issue again but in the light of our debate yesterday, I hope that noble Lords will agree to wait until we reach the Amendments on Clauses 29 and 30 before discussing yet again how the local authorities will respond to their new obligations.

In the meantime, the Government cannot welcome an Amendment which assumes that the Bill will not work, and which seeks to exempt a considerable number of genuine workers and ex-workers from protection. I hope this will be accepted by the movers of the Amendment.

Baroness YOUNG

I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Sandys. He is knowledgeable about this matter and has quoted some specific cases. I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Peart, that there are 16,000 such cases in the country. I should like him to explain in some detail how he sees this part of the Act working out. The duty to re-house is placed firmly on the district council in question. Suppose it is unable to re-house? What is the farmer who has only one cottage to do, and what is the local authority to do if at that moment it cannot re-house? How does the noble Lord see this working?

Baroness BIRK

The noble Baroness is extending this again to the general housing point. If I may come back to the Amendment, the way the Amendment is phrased is as follows: … if it is the only dwelling house on an agricultural unit available for occupation under a contract of employment in agriculture". This could mean that a farmer could have several cottages on his land and for various reasons (he might sell or let them, or even keep them empty) decide that only one should be designated for agricultural use. I am sure that the noble Baroness must appreciate that this can lead to a grave abuse of the whole Bill. It knocks it once again.

You cannot leave this very wide definition in the Bill. As my noble friend the Leader of the House has said, under 16,000 farms have only one cottage occupied by whole-time workers. What it would do, if one is dealing with cottages where there are workers, is that it would withdraw security from a very great number of people. The noble Baroness comes back once again to the point: what happens in this particular case? What is happening at the moment? We are again getting the picture as though the moment the Bill becomes law, all the tied cottages will immediately be vacated and everybody will fall as a burden on the local authorities.

If people are evicted as a result of possession orders under the present system, I hope that nobody will argue—and I should be very much surprised if noble Lords opposite were so to argue—that these people should have no right to be rehoused. They still have to be rehoused and are being rehoused by local authorities or are finding other ways. Many people will he moving away with the job. We heard a great deal yesterday about the dairy herds. Yet we know very well that in most cases where the stockman moves, he moves to another place and there is a house for him because somebody else has moved on. That is not a problem that arises in any case. Any of these dents arc in fact going to knock away the whole purpose of the Bill which is based quite simply on security of tenure.

Somebody raised the point that on many farms there are a number of cottages standing empty. I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, who pointed out that, due to the increased technology in farming and also travel, there were many empty cottages Both these arguments cannot be put: that on the one hand there are cottages that are empty, and on the other hand there is only one cottage. The definition is extremely vague, because it does not necessarily mean that only one cottage on a farm will be used for agricultural use. Incidentally—although this is not a point on which I rest—the drafting is faulty, because the term "agricultural unit" is not a term that is used in the Act.

I am sure the noble Baroness is aware that if this Amendment is accepted it would again erode the whole purpose of the Bill. I am aware that perhaps that is part of the motivation of the Opposition in moving these Amendments, but quite enough of the Bill has been eroded already and like my noble friend I obviously will have to resist this Amendment.

Baroness YOUNG

I am sorry that the noble Baroness should feel that I am bringing in housing every time, but local authority housing is a central feature of the Bill and she must accept that it will inevitably come up at intervals. The case I was arguing was not the same as that of my noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood. I did not hear her argument yesterday, but I understand from the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, that the point at issue was when a farmer had a number of cottages, a number of which were empty. The whole point of this Amendment is that it applies to a farmer with only one cottage. I would draw the attention of the noble Baroness to the fact that although we keep talking about security of tenure for farm workers, no local authority tenant has security of tenure. They are the one group of people who are excluded under the Act.


The noble Lord the Leader of the House said that this Bill would affect 16,000 farm workers and 70,000 dairy workers were excluded yesterday.




I am grateful for the correction. I should have liked to suggest to him that the vast proportion of those 16,000 one-cottage farmers would be either dairy farmers or livestock farmers, because I do not think there are many farmers, neither dairy nor arable, who have only one cottage for a farm worker.


I seems to me that the Government are failing to deal with all aspects of hardship. The whole point of this Bill is to avoid hardship on the part of the agricultural worker. On this side of the House we have demonstrated that we have great sympathy with that point of view. It is quite clear, in spite of what the noble Baroness has suggested, that there may be a wicked fellow who gets rid of two of his houses so that he has only one house available, but what the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, is referring to is the farmer who really only owns one cottage. Consider his case. Let us say that he is a dairy farmer with 70 cows, calving in the winter, and he has one man who is a milker, and that milker leaves him. He can do nothing about it. And who is left to do the milking?—that man alone. Who is left to do the calving?—that man alone. That is the situation which I am sure this Amendment is all about. I want to support it, because I believe that it must be pointed out to the Government that it is in cases like this that the hardship on the farmer is just as great as the hardship on the employee. So I ask the Government to take into account the fact that this is a very special case and something which they should consider carefully in the light of the almost intolerable burden that may be put on the farmer who has to look after his stock alone for seven days a week.


The Opposition yesterday ravaged the Bill by excluding dairy farming and stock farming, and this is another attempt to ravage the Bill further by excluding all those single cottages on a farm. My noble friend the Leader of the House has made the necessary point and there is not much more to be said, except that the Opposition ignore the fact that if there is a single cottage on a farm and that is required for the proper working of the holding, it will carry a high priority both with the advisory committee and with the local authority who will be asked to make their best endeavours to find alternative accommodation.

No one has pretended that in the odd case—and I say "odd case" quite deliberately—a problem might not arise for a farmer, but, as I tried to explain yesterday, it is a balance of suitability. It is a balance between the interests of the farm worker—his security, in social and humane terms—and the possible occasion when a farmer is inconvenienced. To my mind, the balance is unquestionably on the side of the farm worker, on the side of the Government and on the side of the Bill. Therefore I repeat that if the Opposition carry this Amendment they will be further ravaging a Bill which has already been ravaged far too much.


I am grateful to my noble friends who have spoken in favour of this Amendment, and I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lady Young who has, quite rightly, extended the debate into the area of public sector housing, because that is what this is all about. It is all very well for the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, to say that the stockman can move on to another farm where there is a house for him, but so often there is not and that is our main problem. The problem will be difficult to resolve this evening, and I accept the noble Baroness's point in regard to the words "agricultural unit". I accept that the drafting is not satisfactory. We were in difficulties over this point, because we wanted to find a term which would cover a holding which did not necessarily include land. In those circumstances, it seems advisable for me to withdraw the Amendment this evening, but I should like to give the Government notice that we may return to it with another Amendment at Report stage. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Earl FERRERS moved Amendment No. 11: Page 37, line 28, leave out Part II of the Schedule.

The noble Earl said: This Amendment is consequential on Amendment No. 3, which we moved into the Bill yesterday. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 2, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 2 [Meaning of "relevant licence" and "relevant tenancy"]:

10.50 p.m.

Earl FERRERS moved Amendment No. 12: Page 3, line 34, leave out subsection (3).

The noble Earl said: I should be very grateful if the noble Lord, Lord Peart, or the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, or whoever is to reply to the Amendment could explain exactly what is meant by Clause 2(3). It says: For the avoidance of doubt"—

I am never quite certain why words like these are put into an Act of Parliament, although I suppose there is a reason because it insinuates that there obviously is a doubt— it is hereby declared that meals provided in the course of a person's employment in agriculture do not constitute board for the purposes of paragraph (b) of section 2(1) of the Rent Act 1968".

I am not clear exactly what is the effect of that subsection. Therefore I put down the Amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Peart, will be delighted to know is only a probing Amendment. The provision of meals has frequently been part and parcel of agricultural life. Very often young men are taken on as farm students to work on farms where they are provided with board and lodging as part of their remuneration. They have never enjoyed any security of tenure, which may be a good or a had thing; they have lived in the farmer's house and been paid so much per week and the farmer has given them hoard and lodging as well.

As I understand it, subsection (3) gives security of tenure to these young men and I should like to ask what is the position of three different cases. I told the noble Baroness that I should ask her this question and I hope that she will be able to provide an answer. First, what happens in the case of a young man or student who has gone to work on a farm where the farmer has said, "I will give you a room and also your food"? Does that young man now have security of tenure of the room in which he lives? If he should decide that he has had enough of farm work and that he wants to go and work at a local garage, does he have security of tenure of that room? Secondly, what happens in the case of the farmer who lives in a large farmhouse and who has decided to make the back part of it into a flat and to put into it either a young man or a student to whom he says, "I will give you your meals"? Therefore the young man or student goes for his meals into the farmer's house. Does the young man then have security of tenure of the flat, even if he gets bored with working on the farm and goes to work in a garage?

Thirdly, what is the position in the case of a young man who goes to work on a farm and is put into an empty cottage but who, because he is unmarried, is invited by the farmer to take his meals with the farmer's family? Does that person then have security of tenure of the cottage? So far as I can see, he does.

I ask this question because I understand that if a person who lives in a town happens to own several houses and lets out rooms or flats in those houses, the people living in them have security of tenure, as protected tenants, under the Rent Acts. But if, as sometimes happens, there is a row of houses, with three or four in a row, the landlord may use them rather like a guest house and say, "I will provide you with food", and the occupants of those houses accept meals from the landlord, and as I understand it that excludes those people from security of tenure. I am not quite sure what the requirements are to exclude the tenants from security of tenure—whether you have to give them full board or just a meal, whether you have to give them breakfast, or whether indeed you just have to give them a bowl of cornflakes.

I am equally not at all certain whether it is sufficient for the landlord to say, "I have given you a bowl of cornflakes"; in other words for the landlord to satisfy the obligation to provide the food, or whether the tenant has actually got to consume the food. The tenant may well say, "I don't want to consume your lousy cornflakes, because if I do I shall no longer have security of tenure".

In the Rent Act of 1968, to which this subsection refers, Section 2(1)(b) says: A tenancy is not a protected tenancy if under the tenancy the dwellinghouse is bona fide let at a rent which includes payments in respect of board, attendance or use of furniture. A tenancy is not a protected tenancy if in the normal circumstances of housing you give people board or you give them food. But I think this subsection in this Rent (Agriculture) Bill is very much tighter than that which applies in the Rent Act 1968, because as I read the Bill it gives security of tenure to those people who happen to be given food, and the question which I shall be glad if the noble Baroness is able to answer (and I did not give her very much notice of this) is what happens to the young man who lives in the farmer's house and is given food; what happens to the young man who lives in a flat—does he have security of tenure?—and what happens to the young man who is put in an empty cottage and also receives food? Does he have security of tenure of that cottage? I beg to move.

Baroness BIRK

I am grateful to the noble Earl for having given me notice, which he very kindly did, of the specific examples he was going to raise on this Amendment, but perhaps I may briefly deal with the main principle behind it. He quite rightly said that Section 2(1)(b) of the Rent Act 1968 provides that tenancies bona fide let at a rent which includes payment for board—for instance, where the landlord provides breakfast or other meals for the tenant—are excluded from protection. While this exclusion is easy to apply, for example, to the letting of a room in a guest house, the noble Earl is quite right when he says that it is far harder to apply in the field of agricultural employment, where the farmer may commonly provide meals for his workers as one of the benefits of their employment, whether or not they are housed by him. Therefore this subsection declares that "board" does not include meals which are provided in the course of employment.

As I pointed out, the exclusion is relatively easy to apply to Rent Act tenancies but of course it is harder to apply in the case of agricultural employment, and because it is unlikely, but not impossible, that the courts might hold that such meals constituted board we thought it was sensible to include subsection (3) so as to remove any doubt. It would certainly be contrary to the intention of the Bill if acceptance of meals while on the job—and this is different from getting full board—were to deprive an agricultural worker of protection. It is very often convenient, not only for the worker but also for the farmer, for meals to be provided in that way.

Perhaps I may now turn to the examples given by the noble Earl. In the case of the worker which the noble Earl cited as having full board and lodging in the farmer's house and with just a room, not a self-contained flat. as I understood it, there would be no protection under this Bill. For the worker with the self-contained flat in the farmer's house there would also be no protection under the Bill. But when we come to the worker with a separate cottage who would be receiving full board, if it was full board, and thus much more than the worker getting only his lunch or supper, then probably there would be no protection. But in this case I think I should prefer to write to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. I should be grateful also—I will read what he has said in Hansard—if he could be quite specific as to what he means by receiving full board, because there is a difference between having the odd meals and having full board. I believe I am right in saying that there would not be any protection, but I ought to be absolutely sure before I commit myself.


I do not wish to interrupt the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, but I was going to interrupt to ask her what she meant by full board. I defer to the noble Lord, Lord Janner, with the usual humility in that I was slightly loose in my phraseology when speaking, but I referred to the man's being given board when I meant being given meals. I am not sure whether "board" means lodging inclusive or exclusive of meals. But in all the three cases which I gave to the noble Baroness, I wanted to know whether the provision of meals of itself, irrespective of any furniture or anything that might be in the room or the house, brought them within the ambit of subsection (3). From what the noble Baroness says, subsection (3) does not in fact give the security of tenure to people either who have a room in the house or who have a self-contained flat. The noble Baroness expresses a certain amount of apprehension as to whether that would apply to persons in the cottage, but my point is that if they do not have a protected tenancy, either in the room or the self-contained flat, I do not quite see what subsection (3) means. I thought it meant, to avoid doubt, that they did have security of tenure.

Baroness BIRK

Subsection (3) is to avoid doubt that if they are getting the odd meals, which would not normally apply in any other tenancy unless it was a specific arrangement with bed and breakfast and was meant to come under the excluded protection area, having meals as a farmworker did not exclude that worker from protection. That is why it has been spelt out.

Baroness YOUNG

May I try to clarify a point? I was glad to hear the noble Baroness confirm that if a farm worker has a room in a farmhouse or a self-contained flat within a farmhouse he is not a protected tenant. I should have thought that this brought him in line with the tenancy agreements under the 1974 Rent Act in which a distinction was drawn between those who share with the resident landlord and those who do not. Therefore, I should have thought that in those two particular cases, whether or not they had meals did not in fact apply. When the noble Baroness is writing to my noble friend Lord Ferrers perhaps she would confirm that point. Far he it from me to explain the Rent Acts, but I should have thought that in the other case where accommodation is separate the 1968 Rent Act would apply if in fact this subsection (3) was not written into the Bill. We want to know whether what I am saying is correct. Perhaps the noble Baroness could send me a copy of the letter she sends to my noble friend. It might be worth while looking again at the drafting of this subsection, because it does not seem to me that it is very clear.

Baroness BIRK

I will do that with pleasure. The examples I cited were with board, with meals, because those were the examples given by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. It seemed preferable to do that rather than to go into the ramifications of the Rent Acts. However, I should prefer to write, because although the noble Earl was kind enough to give me notice of his intention to raise the matter he did so only shortly before the Committee met, and I want to be sure that I have it right.


I am grateful to the noble Baroness and I agree that I did not give her much notice. I thought it was quite a simple point and that it was only I who was stupid enough not to be able to understand it. I am delighted to know it is not that simple. Perhaps the noble Baroness would be kind enough to address herself to several matters when she writes to me. I think she said that if people had odd meals, that did not exclude them from protection of tenancy. I understand that to mean that if one has an occasional meal here and there, that does not exclude one. But if one has a regular meal, does that exclude one? And what constitutes a regular meal? Is it breakfast every day, the farm worker making his own provision for lunch and dinner, or is it necessary to have full board, all meals—breakfast, lunch and dinner? This may seem a small point but I do not think it is, and I hope the noble Baroness will consider all those points when she writes to me. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Protected occupiers in their own right]:

11.7 p.m.

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 13: Page 3, line 41, leave out from ("person") to ("a") in line 42 and insert ("has, in relation to a dwelling-house").

The noble Baroness said: I will, with the pet mission of the Committee, speak at the same time to the following Amendments: Nos. 14, 15, 16, 18, 19, 20, 31, 87, 93 and 94. The Committee will be glad to hear that this series of Amendments removes redundant wording describing the licence or tenancy held by a protected occupier under the Bill. I assure noble Lords that they are drafting Amendments designed to make the Bill more comprehensible and do not in any way alter the sense of the measure.

Baroness YOUNG

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for explaining that this series of Amendments is designed to elucidate the Bill; anything which does that will be very helpful to us all. As I see it, the intention of the Bill is to draw more tightly than either the 1968 Act or the 1974 Rent Acts the protection given to agricultural workers. It seems that at each stage that is the effect; and, as I understand Clause 3, it paves the way for Clauses 24 and 25, the net effect being to give increased security of a protected tenancy not only to the widow or widower as the case may be, but to members of the family and to people occupying the house. Would the noble Baroness clear up that point?

Baroness BIRK

The Amendments in this series do not really deal with the subject matter; they deal with redundant wording and are therefore drafting Amendments. They do not affect the question of succession, to which we shall come in a later Amendment, or alter anything but the wording. Nothing is altered, and even the exclusion—dropping the words "exclusive occupation"—in Amendments Nos. 13, 14, 15 and 16 does not alter the sense, because the protected occupier must have a relevant licence for occupancy. This has already been described in Clause 2(1) as being a licence or tenancy for exclusive occupation. I took that as an example because it happened to be one that struck me when I was going through this and it really is extra verbiage. It is not the sense of it, nor does it alter anything in the nature of the security of tenure; it really is a question of unnecessary words and of trying to clarify what is very difficult to understand.

Baroness YOUNG

I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for that explanation and I should have said earlier that I was grateful for the notes on clauses which have helped to elucidate the Bill. I apologise for not saying that earlier on. If I have understood the clause correctly, it defines a protected occupier and the protection in this clause is qualified by Clauses 24 and 25. So far as I can see, it extends to certain sub-lettings by the tenant, but we shall come on to debate that at a later stage. It seems to me surprising, in view of all the concern expressed by the district councils over this matter, that the degree of protection should be greater in the present Bill than it is under the other Rent Acts.

Baroness BIRK

I am sorry that I misunderstood what the noble Baroness said earlier. It is not tied to the other Rent Acts. What this does is to bring in people who, so far, are not protected under the other Rent Acts. I am sorry if that was not clear, but that is the purpose of it. It is not to make it any tighter. It is to make it tighter than it was before for the people who will be covered by this Bill, but not tighter than for those who have been covered up to now by the Rent Acts.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

11.12 p.m.

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 14: Page 4, line 8, leave out from ("person") to ("a") in line 9 and insert ("has, in relation to a dwelling-house").

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 15: Page 4, line 17, leave out from ("who") to first ("a") in line 18 and insert ("has, in relation to a dwelling-house").

On Question, Amendment a greed to.

Clause 3, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 4 [Protected occupiers by succession]:

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 16: Page 4, line 42, leave out from ("widow") to first ("a") in line 43 and insert ("has, in relation to the dwelling-house ").

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 18: Page 5, line 13, leave out from ("persons") to ("a") in line 14 and insert ("has, in relation to the dwelling-house ").

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 19: Page 5, line 18, leave out from ("who") to first ("a") in line 19 and insert ("has, in relation to a dwelling-house ").

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 4, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 5 [Statutory tenants and tenancies]:

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 20: Page 5, line 42, leave out from ("of") to first ("he") in line 43 and insert ("his licence or tenancy ").

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 5, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 6 [No statutory tenancy where landlord's interest belongs to Crown or to local authority, etc.]:

11.15 p.m.

Earl FERRERS moved Amendment No. 22: Page 7, line 1, leave out subsections (2) and (3).

The noble Earl said: Noble Lords on my right seem to have become faint hearted and are not moving any of their Amendments, but I intend to move this Amendment. Here I find myself, curiously enough, again in sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Janner, because he was saying yesterday how really essential it was that there should be no exceptions to the Bill, that if we were to have a Bill to give agricultural workers protected tenancies there should be no exceptions to it. That argument I can quite understand, and the noble Lord argued quite vigorously in regard to one of our Amendments which did not include some exceptions. I wondered what he thought about this part of the Bill. Here we have agricultural workers who are in tied cottages given protected tenancies unless they happen to be cottages owned by the council of a county or a district, the Greater London Council, the council of a London borough, the Commission for the New Towns, the Housing Corporation, a development corporation, a housing trust and so forth. I wonder what is the rationale behind a Bill which seeks to give protected tenancies to a whole host of people where they are in the hands of private landlords, but not where those houses are in the hands of public corporations.

It may he said, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Peart, said last night on an Amendment in relation to the Forestry Commission, that it can be understood that the Forestry Commission will, I am sure, go along with what are public Bills. I suppose that the same answer will be given to this Amendment, that we will be told that, after all, county councils are very responsible bodies, and that the noble Lord will be quite sure that they will go along with the general practice of Acts of Parliament. Quite frankly, I do not think that that is good enough.

If protected tenancies are to be given to people, they ought to be given whoever the landlords are. I was particularly interested in this set of exceptions because we have heard—the noble Lord, Lord Peart, referred to this again this evening—that one of the justifications of the Bill has been that there have been a great many court orders for possession in relation to tied cottages, and the noble Lord was very glad that not many of them ended up in evictions, but nevertheless court orders for possession were common. But we all know that there are far more of them than we would like there to be. We all know, as has been stated already this evening and on other occasions, that one of the reasons for court orders for possession is simply because the existing law demands it. To get a local authority to accept the housing obligation one has to have a court order for possession.

I asked the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, in a Question for Written Answer how many court orders for possession were against agricultural workers in tied cottages, and the answer, in 1975, was 1,268. When I asked the noble Baroness what were the numbers of court orders for possession granted against tenants of local authorities, housing associations, and New Town Development Corporations, the answer was not 1,268, but 29,105, which is a simply colossal number. Yet these are the very bodies who are to be excluded from the Bill; these bodies who have, in one way and another, requested court orders for possession totalling nearly 30 times the number of those in agriculture, are the bodies who are to have houses in which agricultural workers are to be placed and are to live.

The Government say that they are going to exclude these bodies from their responsibilities under the Bill. I cannot understand why they should have that exclusive right. If the argument of the noble Lords, Lord Janner and Lord Collison, that agricultural workers should have protected tenancies, is to be valid, I think that that protection should be given not only in the private sector but in the public sector as well. I beg to move.

11.20 p.m.


I rise to support my noble friend. I believe there is a growing feeling throughout the country that the greater the amount of legislation that is passed through Parliament, the more the private person is being discriminated against. There are these public bodies listed and such people as the Greater London Council, the housing corporations, the Commission for New Towns, et cetera. I think they should all be treated on the same basis to alleviate some of the fears which are brought into people's minds by increased legislation.


I, too, should like to support this Amendment. My noble friend Lord Ferrers, being far more polite than I am, said that he did not understand why the occupants of the houses of the various bodies listed here, the State, the Government and so on were not going to be protected under this Act like the agricultural workers on private estates or farms. My noble friend knows the answer but he is too polite to say so. The answer is Party dogma, "Big Brother". There is no other excuse for it at all.

My noble friend read out figures about court orders made in favour of these public bodies. There were 28,000-odd, I believe. The figure for agricultural cottages under private ownership is, in comparison, absolutely infinitesimal. You can almost count the numbers on one hand. It amazes me how a Government, without a majority of the electorate, can have the nerve to try to force this through. It is iniquitous. Presumably they will force it through; but I only wish the public could understand what they are doing. The Government as landowners or landlords are very much more severe than are private owners of houses. Therefore, I support this Amendment strongly; but I very much doubt that it will be accepted—for the reason I have given, that it is Party dogma.

Baroness BIRK

I am sorry to disappoint the noble Viscount. It would make it more interesting and exciting if this were the reason. But it is not the reason at all. There is no Party dogma about this. The reason why these bodies, which include the Crown, and the other bodies in Clause 6, have been exempted is because they are exempt from the Rent Act 1968, and it would be inconsistent if this part of the Rent Act code alone would apply. There is no question of special status so far as agricultural workers are concerned because, in practice, we intend they should be protected within the scope of the Bill. That will be the effect of the extra-statutory arrangements at present being devised, which will ensure that the exempted bodies have access to housing accommodation as do the farmers under the Bill. This is where it applies to agricultural workers. We are getting the full information on this.

We are aware that where this applies to agricultural workers, so many of the tied cottages—and we went into this on Second Reading—apply to other industries. For all the reasons we discussed on Second Reading and on our Amendments here, what we are discussing applies only to agriculture at the present time and not to other industries. What is going to happen in the future so far as the other industries are concerned is for further consideration. We have now asked the Association of District Councils and the Association of County Councils to collect figures on the number of agricultural tied cottages owned by the district and county councils. So far we have not got those figures but we know that they cannot be very significant. It is extremely unlikely that the other bodies mentioned in this section will own any agricultural tied cottages since they are not by their very nature engaged in farming. They are included merely to achieve consistency with the 1968 Rent Act from which these bodies are similarly exempt. This is just to keep in line with the Rent Act; but I must stress that, as this is a Rent (Agricultural) Bill, we are concerned merely with the agricultural workers.

The Earl of CORK and ORRERY

This Bill is attempting also to exclude forestry from these provisions.

Baroness BIRK

That Amendment was moved yesterday. Forestry is now out of the Bill for the time being.

The Earl of ONSLOW

The noble Baroness made one rather complicated point, which is why I wanted to intervene while it was still clear in my mind. I think I still have it. She said that extra-statutory arrangements were being made to bring these bodies which are excluded into line with the Bill. Is it not an infinite waste of time to exclude them from the Bill and to make extra-statutory arrangements? Why cannot she make a statutory arrangement which is included in the Bill?


I suppose I am called upon to reply.

Several noble Lords

No, you are not.


I was beginning to wonder whether I remembered the Act or not. My recollection is that the 1968 Act (which I have not got in front of me) has certain exceptions; therefore this is not an exception to an exception. There are exceptions in other Acts.

The other point I would like to make is that I just cannot understand the enthusiasm which prevails on the opposite Benches against the Bill, that they should be so anxious eventually to bring more people into the Act.


To be fair; we want to be consistent, just as the noble Lord was saying yesterday.


With the greatest respect, are you not asking to bring more places under protection rather than less? Where is the logic of it? You should be delighted that certain exceptions are being made. Do you mind looking at the bodies referred to. Are they all Labour bodies? One noble Lord says that this is Party dogma. But look at the exempted list: the Greater London Council, the Commission for New Towns, the Housing Corporation. Are they all Labour institutions? Of course not. It has nothing to do with Party dogma. There is no dogma; it is following exactly the precedent that has been set for the protection of people under the other Rent Acts. I hope my—I nearly said "noble friends"; I think they are—friends opposite will not press this, in view of the fact that this is contained in other Acts.

The Earl of ONSLOW

I think there is just one brief point which must be made to the noble Lord, Lord Janner. All we are asking for is that very long established Anglo-Saxon tradition of equality before the law. That is the first point. The second point is that just because he quotes the 1968 Act as a precedent—and several people have been known to criticise that Act, and that is all I will say on that—two blacks, with the greatest respect, do not make a white.

Baroness YOUNG

The noble Lord, Lord Janner, has tempted me to enter into this debate because we have argued on housing on so many occasions. I have taken the precaution of bringing with me the 1968 Rent Act, so I can tell him that the Acts are identical and the groups of exceptions are the same in the Rent (Agriculture) Bill as they are in the 1968 Act. Of course he spins a very good tale. We always enjoy listening; all that Welsh oratory comes out and we realise that he is quoting Lloyd George before we know where we are.

If we get back to the Bill at hand, the fact is the Government are completely inconsistent. The object of the Bill is to give security of tenure to farmworkers. This may be a very worthy aim. They will get their security of tenure while they are tenants of a farmer because the Government have so legislated under the 1968 Act to give security of tenure to tenants of private accommodation, and they legislated under the 1974 Act for security of tenure to tenants of private accommodation which is furnished. As soon as the tenants move out of the private accommodation into council accommodation, they no longer have security of tenure. There are two groups of people in the country: those in private accommodation who have security of tenure, and those in local authority accommodation who do not. The Bill says it excludes; and it excludes vast numbers of houses in this country. As a rough and ready guide, approximately 31 per cent. of the houses in this country are council houses, for which there is no security of tenure. It is at least arguable that far from giving more security, it actually gives less. I find that ironic. I hope that the noble Lord may feel that perhaps there is some inconsistency on his side, and at least we would be saying on the specific cases of the agricultural workers that they might as well have the security of tenure that they would have had as private tenants.


The local council is responsible to the inhabitants of that area and consequently they have to answer for any eviction. There is a difference. What the noble Baroness is saying is that we are following exactly what has been done in the past, and therefore we ought not to do it.


The noble Lord said that councils are answerable for any evictions. To whom are they answerable?

11.34 p.m.

Baroness BIRK

May we come back to the Amendment? We seem to have wandered away from it. The purpose of the Bill is to disassociate a whole area of employment from security of tenure. The noble Baroness points out the lack of security of tenure in council houses. There may be a lack of security of tenure, but it is not tied up with employment. That is different. It is tenancy. The noble Baroness is aware that it is a commitment of my Party that security of tenure should be given to council house tenants. Although a Bill like this, we consider, should have priority over that, nevertheless, this is a commitment. My noble friend Lord Janner is absolutely right when he says that this Bill is following all the other Rent Acts in these exemptions and this Bill is certainly not the place to start dealing with something which is an entirely different subject from the tie up—and I come back to it—of employment and tenancy which has existed up to now and which we are getting rid of in this Bill.

In addition, I stress that even in these areas which are exempt we are now in consultation over sending out circulars which will then cover the few cases where agricultural workers are involved or where there are farmers who have taken houses or have rented farms from one of these bodies. But this is to do with the agricultural worker; it is not to do with council house tenants per se or exempted bodies which have been exempted under other Acts.

The Earl of ONSLOW

Would the noble Baroness please answer my point? If she is instructing councils through circulars to make sure that the provisions of this Act—and that is what I understand her to say—apply to local authority agricultural workers, is it not infinitely simpler and infinitely cheaper not to go to the sweat and the "aggro" of sending round circulars but just to put it in the Bill? Then we go back to the situation of equality before the law.

Baroness BIRK

It has nothing to do with equality before the law. You could not put it in the Bill in that particular way. Perhaps it could be put in the Bill but it would be an extremely complicated way and would not be able to take care of any of the unusual cases or exceptions. What we are doing is consulting the local authority associations and the other bodies who are listed there before we send out the circular, in order to ensure that there is parity of treatment between the agricultural workers who are housed and employed by district county councils and so on and other workers in the private sector. Quite frankly, at this particular time and dealing with these particular bodies, this is by far the best way to do it.


Could the noble Baroness tell us what are the exceptions with regard to agricultural workers that will apply to these people that do not apply to private landlords?

Baroness BIRK

What we are trying to do is to bring them into line where there are agricultural workers. It has been pointed out by my noble friend Lord Janner—and I am sure that noble Lords are very well aware of it—that most of the bodies are not basically agricultural employing bodies. They are not. And that is what this Bill is concerned with. Where at the edges they come into this then this is where we are going to take action; not in the Bill, but through extra-statutory methods which means by guidelines and by circulars.


That has been a fascinating discussion. I am bound to say that I have always admired the legal profession enormously and my estimate of their standing has gone up a great deal this evening because last night we had the noble Lord, Lord Janner, arguing with immense fervour that we must have no exceptions at all to this Bill and yet this evening here he is arguing with equal fervour that we must have these exceptions because it is consistent with all the other Bills.


It is not an exception.


The noble Lord is being prevailed upon by his Chief Whip not to get up, so I will try not to provoke him any more. Then we had the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, saying it is part of the commitment of the Labour Party to give security of tenure to all local authority tenants and in the same Bill she is removing that security of tenure from precisely those people to whom she said it was her Party's wish to give it. However that may be, I find the argument that this is a good thing to put into the Bill because it was in another one before, a fairly fragile one. It ought to stand on its own. I believe that I have seen the same words in the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, which the noble Lord, Lord Collison, will remember; and he will have time to refresh his memory next week about these provisions. We put down an Amendment to remove exclusions from that Bill, and we suddenly discovered that about 30,000 others were covered by local authorities and so on.

The argument then was that it is all right to exclude these people, because they are very responsible people and they will keep to the law. Of course, these are totally responsible bodies, but I should have thought it was right, if you are legislating for such things as security of tenure, to legislate in a uniform manner and include all those people who will have security of tenure, whether they are under private landlords or local authorities. However, it is not a point over which I wish to put my head in any noose. I merely wished to raise it because it seemed so extraordinary to have this exclusion. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness and others who have taken part, because the debate has thrown up some pretty funny answers about inconsistencies. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 6 shall stand part of the Bill?

Baroness YOUNG

I should like to ask one question. I was very interested to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, say that it is part of her Party's policy to introduce security of tenure for all these groups of tenants who are listed here. But I should like to ask her how, if security of tenure is to be given to everybody who is a private tenant—which is presumably the intention—the Government expect to get mobility of labour which, as the noble Lord, Lord Peart, said, is one of the objects, in order to get efficient agriculture?

Baroness BIRK

First, I did not say to all the bodies listed here; I said to tenants of local authorities. Secondly, even people in council houses move. It may come as a surprise to the noble Baroness, but the whole country does not stay static, whether people are in private or public residences. They move to change jobs, as well as for other reasons. So I do not think we shall have the country in a state where it is completely run down and everybody is absolutely stationary, because of this Bill.

Baroness YOUNG

I will not take up the time of the Committee by arguing whether or not many people in council houses move. But I hope that the noble Baroness will not think that I am talking off the top of my head. I have had considerable experience of local government and council housing. The point about tied accommodation, and particularly council housing, is that it is difficult to move, because if you go to a new area you are always at the bottom of the list. I am only saying that the object of this exercise is to help get efficient agriculture, which I thought everybody wanted. So we ought to look at the question of mobility in the country, which is a very serious matter indeed, and I cannot see that this provision makes the position any better.

Clause 6 agreed to.

Clauses 7 and 8 agreed to.

Schedule 3 [Grounds for possession of dwelling-house subject to protected occupancy or statutory tenancy]:

11.44 p.m.

Lord BURNHAM moved Amendment No. 23:

Page 39, line 21, at end insert ("or (c) temporary accommodation including a mobile home which would not qualify under sub-paragraph (a) or (b) above, provided that a local authority has accepted an obligation to provide alternative accommodation in accordance with section 30.").

The noble Lord said: This is the first time that I have ventured to move an Amendment in your Lordships' Committee, and I do so with very considerable diffidence. But I am working on the basis that, whether or not we like it, we are going to get a Bill of this nature as an Act of Parliament, and if it does not work it will be very expensive for the farmer, for the farm worker and for the consumer, who has not been much thought about so far. My Amendment deals with Case I in Schedule 3, which is the case where a court has discretion to give possession of a house when alternative accommodation is offered by someone other than a housing authority.

In the context of the Bill the offer of alternative accommodation is most likely to come from the farmer himself, although it may well come, where the farmer is a tenant, from the superior landlord. In the case of large estates, whether privately owned or owned by institutions, it is probable that most of the farm workers who leave their employment will be rehoused under the provisions of Case I, to the great relief, no doubt, of the local housing authority. But it will be much more difficult for small farmers who do not own or rent surplus houses on or near their holding. The consequences to any farmer, large or small, of being unable to house a key worker in the right place will be at best expensive and at worst disastrous.

Noble Lords heard at Second Reading, and probably in Committee, that the time needed by a housing authority to provide alternative accommodation is likely to vary between six months and three years. The object of my Amendment is to make it easier for the farmer on his own initiative to reduce these delays without hardship to the departing employee and with considerably less worry to the housing authority concerned. Paragraphs 2(a) and (b) of Schedule 3 require that the tenant should be offered a separate dwelling on a protected tenancy under the Rent Act 1968, or the equivalent. If these conditions can be met, the court will make an order and everybody will be happy, but the case I have in mind is where it has been generally agreed that possession of a house is needed in the interests of agriculture, but the housing authority, with the best will in the world, is unable for the time being to provide a house. It could well be that either the superior landlord or a friendly neighbour would have a dwellinghouse which he normally let as holiday accommodation. A let on this basis, which is provided for under the Rent Act, would not give the security required by paragraphs 2(a) and (b). The owner would almost certainly be unwilling to grant a statutory tenancy because, if he did so, he would forfeit any opportunity of regaining possession for a very long time, perhaps 50 years. He is very likely in the present climate to wish to keep open the option to sell the house, not immediately but at some future time, with vacant possession. On the other hand, he might be perfectly willing to let it for a matter of months or even years if he knew that he was not losing it for ever.

That is the first purpose of my Amendment. Also, it is conceivable that accommodation could be offered which did not constitute a separate dwelling under the Act. I have in mind, for example, accommodation over a shop which was not needed by the shop tenant but which the landlord, for obvious reasons, would not normally allow to be sublet, because if his shop tenant left he would be faced with a sub-tenant to be removed and all the complications that would follow.

My whole concept has a certain amount in common with what I believe is called the North Wiltshire scheme, except that it is applied to a much greater extent by the individual rather than by the local authority. The North Wiltshire scheme, which if I understand it I much admire, is a voluntary act by the local authority. However much I have been able to think of it, I cannot see any means of compelling local authorities to adopt a scheme of this nature through the Bill. But though an intelligent and conscientious local authority can well produce a scheme of this nature, nobody will have more incentive to look for alternative accommodation than the farmer principally concerned.

I believe it to be a fact that no incoming worker will apply for a post unless he has assurance of immediate accommodation on a permanent basis. The farmer thus stands to lose a considerable sum of money if he is unable to obtain possession of the dwelling-house. One certainty which I think I mentioned on Second Reading is that, if possession of a dwelling-house for a key worker cannot be obtained reasonably quickly, somebody is going to live in temporary accommodation or agriculture will suffer very severely. It seems to me that it is generally more appropriate that the outgoing worker should suffer the inconvenience rather than the incoming worker.

Your Lordships will note that I have included in the wording of my Amendment the words "including a mobile home". I have done this because I think a good mobile home can be wholly satisfactory on a short-term basis. I should like to remind your Lordships that the court has discretion. In the whole of Case I, it is up to the court to decide whether accommodation is suitable, and therefore they would be not only within their rights but it would be their duty to turn down an unsuitable caravan. I should like to suggest that in the case of a couple without children, or a single man, a good mobile home would be a perfectly satisfactory solution; but if the Government, for reasons of their own, have set their faces against caravans, the inclusion of the caravan concept is not part of the spirit of my Amendment. The object of the Amendment is to make it possible for the farmer to obtain possession of his house by moving the worker into suitable temporary accommodation approved by a court, and the court could approve the temporary accommodation only if they already knew that the housing authority had agreed to house the worker in the long term. So, if it were necessary to drop the mobile home, it would not in any way destroy the spirit of my Amendment. I beg to move.


As I understand it, Schedule 3 gives us a chance to try to be constructive in making this Bill work. I am not at all happy that it will work anything like as well as the noble Lord, Lord Peart, and the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, try to tell me that it will. Indeed, if I look at their faces I think they have doubts, too.


We are worried about the time.


I hope very much that the Government will consider very carefully the principle of temporary accommodation as put forward in this Amendment by my noble friend Lord Burnham. May I suggest that this temporary accommodation should, in particular, be allowed to be used by the housing authority should they have no permanent accommodation to offer. I am not sure that the Amendment is correctly drafted, and I am sure my noble friend would be quite happy to have it altered. Indeed I know it is not correctly drafted from the particular aspect of the local authority, but I should be more than happy for the Government to take it away and consider it, provided they take on board the principle that at times it will be necessary, in the interests of farming, to have temporary accommodation.

Before the noble Baroness or the noble Lord replies, I must remind him or her that this Amendment is put forward as a constructive method to help keep the farm working. I cannot stress too strongly, although I fear that the Government have not yet managed to get the message, how important it is to have particularly stockmen on the farm, and if they leave, to have them replaced very quickly. I do not think the Government have got this message at all. It is not practical for the noble Lord to say, "Don't worry, it will do the farmer good to have to milk his own cows". It may do me good, but it will not do the cows any good, and it certainly will not do the milk cheque any good. It will put up food prices, and the housewife will complain. This is a point that the noble Baroness has not taken on board at all. This Amendment could help.

This Amendment offers a possible way out of the problem. I have not yet heard from the Government any other way out. Timeliness does matter, and I hope that the Government will consider it and will not reply that it does not fit in with the spirit of the Bill. If it helps to produce food more cheaply, and if it is in the spirit of helping a man work more efficiently, that is more important to this country than anything else at the moment.

Baroness BIRK

I think it would be better if I rose to give the Government's attitude on this. It is getting very late. I know a great deal has been said, and a great deal more could be said, but frankly, the core of the matter is quite simple. I have great sympathy with what noble Lords have said. I was looking doubtful earlier because for one awful moment I had forgotten the name of the noble Lord and I was trying to catch his name into my head.

On the face of it, this is a very attractive proposition where it is workable. I accept that. I also have great admiration for the work in the North Wiltshire scheme. But it does not answer the problem of security of tenure which we are here dealing with. This Amendment would mean, in spite of its good intentions, that once the local authority accepted they had an obligation to provide alternative accommodation for the occupier of a tied cottage, the farmer would be able to force him to move into temporary accommodation which might qualify as being reasonably suitable under the other criteria set out in Case I of Schedule 3 to which the noble Lord referred. But in this temporary accommodation, the occupier would have only limited security of tenure. This is really the whole core of it. This is why I must ask the Committee to resist the Amendment, not because of the motivation behind it, not because I do not see that noble Lords are trying to find a means of dealing with this difficult accommodation problem, but because it would mean that once the ex-worker had been forced to change his residence, he would be faced with precisely the sort of insecurity the Bill sets out to remove, and for this reason it renders the Amendment unacceptable. I hope noble Lords will accept that, and will not press the Amendment. I hope they will realise that it is for this reason. We heard a great deal on the last Amendment about consistency, but this would really be inconsistent with the whole spirit and basis of this Bill.


I should like to thank the noble Baroness who clearly understood the purpose of my Amendment, which was to make the Bill work. But with regret I have to say from what she has told us that the object of the Bill is in no way connected with the performance of agriculture. It is connected with providing security of tenure which is a desirable object. My Amendment took account of this, because the man was going to get security of tenure, but the noble Baroness is concerned with providing security of tenure at all costs. I am afraid I cannot see any purpose in pursuing the Amendment and, therefore, beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


It being the bewitching hour, this might be an appropriate moment to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.