HL Deb 27 October 1976 vol 376 cc431-516

2.50 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 EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair.]

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

Lord BURNHAM moved Amendment No. 24: Page 39, line 25, leave out ("as regards proximity to place of work").

The noble Lord said: The intention of this Amendment is to seek clarification of the way in which the Bill is intended to operate in certain circumstances. I am certain that some Amendment is needed, but my own is not necessarily the right one, or for that matter the only one necessary. Although the Amendment is tabled to Case I of Schedule 3, the same words "as regards proximity to place of work" occur in Case II on Page 40, at line 42. If I am right about the need for an amendment to Case I, Case II may also require to be dealt with. As I understand it, the intention of the Bill is that when a key employee in agriculture leaves his employment the occupier of the holding—that is to say, the farmer—should be able to recover possession of the dwelling-house, either by himself offering alternative accommodation or, provided that he can satisfy the provisions of Clause 29(1), with the help of the local housing authority.

However, if the former employee refuses the alternative accommodation offered, it would be necessary, as I understand it, for application to be made to a court, and that application would be made under Case I if the farmer were making the offer and under Case II if the offer were made by the housing authority. The court is required to take into account, among other things, proximity to place of work, and I should like to read the words which occur in Paragraph 3: The accommodation must be reasonably suitable to the needs of the tenant and his family as regards proximity to place of work. It then goes on to say "and either" various considerations with which I am not dealing. But the words "must be reasonably suitable" seem to me to take away virtually all discretion from the court except in so far as they can stretch the word "reasonably" into unreasonable lengths.

The phrase includes no articles and no possessive pronoun so it is not clear to me whether "proximity to place of work" means proximity to the former place of work or proximity to a place of work—that is to say, a place where jobs are or should be available—or proximity to the new place of work selected by the employee who has just left his job. Unless it means proximity to the former place of work it is highly unlikely that the farmer himself will be able to offer alternative accommodation and the matter will fall to be dealt with under Case II, where the accommodation would be provided by a housing authority.

I should now like to draw your Lordships' attention to Clause 29(3)(d) on page 23 of the Bill, at lines 15 to 17. There the expression "housing authority concerned" is defined as—and I quote— the local authority having functions under Part V of the Housing Act 1957 in relation to that area. As I read it, "that area" can only mean the area in which the applicant—that is to say the farmer—has his holding. What therefore happens if the employee accepts a post in the area of a different housing authority, possibly some distance away, but nevertheless refuses to leave his former house in spite of the offer of alternative accommodation in that area?

There are a number of possible reasons why he might take this line and maintain to the court that the accommodation offered was not "in reasonable proximity" to his new place of work. There must be an area of distance where the court might take a view one way or another, but beyond a certain distance it seems quite possible that the court might uphold the objection. If this were to happen and the Bill remained as at present drafted, an impasse would be reached and the farmer might never be able to recover possession of the dwelling house, in spite of the fact that he had satisfied all the provisions of Clause 29(1).

In passing, I should like to mention a consideration which only occurred to me on the way here. It is, what would happen if the employee decided to take a job in Scotland? This is not altogether a fanciful idea. There is a very prosperous and efficient agriculture industry in Scotland and the worker might even decide that it was worth living in lodgings in order to go and work there, building oil rigs in return for the very high wages offered. In that case no housing authority in Scotland would have any responsibility for exercising any endeavour to rehouse him because the Bill does not cover Scotland. Yet he could reasonably maintain to a court that nobody had offered him alternative accommodation in reasonable proximity to his new place of work. There does not seem to be any machinery in the Bill for transferring with any degree of urgency the responsibility for housing the worker to the housing authority of the area to which he has decided to move, and I think there should be.

In this connection it is perhaps worth remembering that the worker could well have moved into the area of another agricultural wages committee. I believe there are 31 such areas in England and Wales. It would logically be an agricultural dwelling house advisory committee from his former area which would advise whether possession of the house was necessary in the interests of agriculture, but there would be little point in their reporting to the local housing authority. They would have to report to the housing authority to which he had moved. I assume this would be a matter that could be dealt with in directions to be issued by the Minister, but I submit very strongly that the housing authority which is to be responsible for housing a worker must be designated in the Bill.

I believe there is here a genuine problem. My Amendment is designed to make it easier for the farmer to solve his own problems and I think the Bill would be improved if this Amendment were accepted. However, in the light of the views already expressed by the Government it might be thought better to amend, for example, the definition of "the housing authority concerned" to include any housing authority into whose area the worker might decide to go.

In the Government's reply I should be most grateful if it could be made clear whether "the housing authority concerned" as at present defined means only the authority in the worker's former area; secondly, which of the three possible meanings apply to the phrase "proximity to place of work"; thirdly, how the procedures envisaged will operate in the case where an employee moves from the area of one housing authority to that of another; and, finally, any observations that the Government may have on what is expected to happen it' the worker elects to move to Scotland. I beg to move.

3.10 p.m.

Baroness BIRK

I wonder whether I could come in at this stage because I think the noble Lord has wandered rather from his Amendment or there has been some misunderstanding. We are amending the provision regarding the area, which is Part I of Schedule 3 and it is Case I. This is where alternative accommodation is not provided or arranged by the housing authority. So we are not, as far as his Amendment is concerned, discussing housing provided by a local authority; we are discussing housing provided by the farmer himself. So to lake his example of Scotland, it would be very difficult for somebody to live in an area in the South of England and travel to Scotland every day to work. I do not think Concorde has yet gone to that extent. This Part really deals with the question of alternative accommodation not provided by a housing authority, and the Amendment as the noble Lord has drafted it will have a much wider effect than I think he intends. If it were carried, the result would be that the alternative accommodation would have to be suitable to all the needs of the family.

Some farmers, like some landlords under the Rent Act 1968, may own property that is widely scattered and could offer alternative accommodation a considerable distance away. The farmer might have a farm in Scotland and he could offer a cottage there. This obviously would be unworkable. It would be impractical and unfair, in such circumstances, to expect the tenant to move to that new house. I am sure the noble Lord would agree with that. That is why the 1968 Act and this Bill include this requirement.

I also noted the point that the farm worker might leave his job on the farm and take a job in a town some distance from the farm, and he might refuse to move on the grounds that the alternative cottage was not suitable "as regards proximity to place of work". Incidentally, this means proximity to his new place of work. I am advised that these fears are unfounded; that the court would regard the proximity to place of work test as being satisfied if the alternative accommodation was at least as suitable as the ex-worker's present house. Of course, if his present house was absolutely next door, then the discretion would be taken wider.

The Amendment—and I think the noble Lord is probably not aware of this—could have the opposite effect to the one he intends. If he takes out these words "as regards proximity to place of work", the courts might well hold that the Schedule, as amended, covered all needs. If you take these words out, you go down to "suitable … to the needs of the tenant and his family", including proximity to place of work. So by taking out the words the noble Lord would not have achieved what he wants, but would also have enlarged the provision. I find it quite understandable in a Bill of this sort for one to get into the area of local authority alternative accommodation, to which this Case does not refer at all. I hope the noble Lord will withdraw his Amendment.


I think we are in a real difficulty here because we are dealing with a Bill based on another Act: that is, the Rent Act 1968. I refer to Part IV of the Rent Act 1968. Here we have a repeat of this statement. The problem is this. The Government have presented us with this Bill, and Schedule 3 is based on the Rent Act 1968. I think there has been a very great hazard here, because once this is altered in certain particulars immediately confusion arises. Your Lordships will have seen already that although the cases are analogous and in some cases almost precisely similar, they are not absolutely alike.

I would draw your Lordships' attention to a particular problem which was brought out in evidence by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, before the Renton Committee, Cmnd. Paper 6053. On page 83 are these words: Lord Gardiner, in his evidence to us, complained of the inconvenience of not being able to see at a glance from the Schedule what was to be left out, and suggested that the material to be omitted should be printed in distinguishing type. We agree with the suggestion and we recommend that it should be followed in the future. As we understand it at the moment, the Government have in mind to bring in a consolidation Act before very long, in which this Act would be consolidated with earlier Rent Acts, and here we have a major problem of draftsmanship. I am not surprised that my noble friend has had difficulty in drafting the Amendment, and, if I may say so, I think he has achieved a great deal in so doing up to date. But I think the Government have presented themselves and your Lordships' House with an almost insoluble problem.


I have listened carefully to both sides of the argument, and, frankly, I just cannot understand how an Amendment of this sort could possibly be accepted. It is perfectly clear that "proximity to the place of work" means proximity to the place where the person is going to work, and the court has to take into consideration whether the accommodation is suitable for that purpose. If this Amendment were carried, it would have just the opposite effect to what the noble Lord wishes. Is it not perfectly clear that alternative accommodation, if it is considered suitable at all, must take into consideration the proximity to the place where the person works? I, for the life of me, cannot see how there can possibly be any argument against it. I hope that in the circumstances the noble Lord will withdraw his Amendment. If I may say so with due respect to everybody, it is a real waste of time to argue a point like this which is so perfectly obvious.


May I intervene, so long as I am not going to be shut out again by the Front Bench? Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Gordon-Walker, I was unwilling to be shut out: and we are going to clarify the rules and conventions in this House fairly soon. May I follow the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Janner. I speak as an agriculturist, not, unlike the Leader of the Labour Party and various other members of it, owning farms, but just as an organiser of farm workers. With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Janner, it is not clear whether the words that are in the Bill mean appropriate to the work that he was doing or to the work he is going to do. The noble Lord, Lord Janner, may shuffle his arms, because that is how he and his family earn a great living. So long as the words are not clear, there is an enormous future for lawyers.


Would the noble Lord allow me to intervene? If I put that kind of argument before the court, or any other member of my family or any other member of the legal profession put it forward, they would have very short shrift.


As I understand I am to be described tonight as one who might have been a great lawyer, if I am to believe my morning Daily Telegraph, with great respect may I ask what is the relevance of the words in the Bill? Being an agricultural workers' organiser, I am against stretching too far this argument about cottages that go with jobs. But, as the Prime Minister must know, and various other leading farmers in the leadership of the Labour Party must know, there are certain jobs with which houses have to go. I am all in favour of putting the onus upon the local authorities to find a house for the fellow who falls out with his boss or whose boss falls out with the fellow. But, then, rather like the noble Lord who moved the Amendment was saying, the words in the Bill do not seem to make it clear. What is it we then take into account—proximity to the job that he is leaving or being fired from, or proximity to the job that he is now going to?

When I am not in London, I happen to live in Sussex—not far from Hailsham, either. But when a problem arises and a fellow goes somewhere else, whose proximity to whom are we talking about? The noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, is a farmer; the Prime Minister is a farmer. The Labour Party is riddled with farmers now, and they all have chaps who can tend the stock at the moment when the stock needs tending. I simply agree with the noble Lord opposite that the words are not really very clear. What happens when one falls out with the other, and you need the house because otherwise the stock does not get tended? It is not clear. Now Lady Alma Birk is a much greater dock authority than I am. She has told me that about five times. I would not think she knows a stock handling gear even if she saw it. She may now be a great agricultural expert, and maybe she knows about stock handling better than I do. It begins to sound to me as though she knows everything better than I do. But I am bound to say that unless we get a better answer than this, all we are doing is storing up for Janner, Barnett, Greville, and partners, et cetera, situations that Judge Salmon is going to have to answer in due course.


Thank you very much for the advertisement. I think after 57 years of it I am bound to tell the noble Lord that when a person has left a job he is no longer at that work, and, obviously, the clause itself refers to the work which he is engaged in at the time when the application is made. I hope he will not mind this intervention. I am not proposing to charge him a fee, either.


If he did it would be fraud, because that was not really very good advice. It is not a question of when the fellow leaves the job; it is when his employer decides he does not want the fellow in the job. I think that the words have to be drawn—we are enjoying ourselves at the moment, but let me come to the point—a good deal more tightly than this. I would be surprised if the noble Lord, Lord Collison, did not agree with me that they had to be drawn a good deal more tightly than this. When fellows in certain occupations which can be easily specified either decide of their own volition or the employers, then something has to be provided for them.

Where I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Janner, is in leaving the matter as widely open as it is. Where I think I agree with the noble Lord opposite is in wanting to draw it more tightly. Where I think I would be surprised if I did not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Collison, is in limiting the areas to which this applies, and we make it clear that it applies only when alternative accommodation is provided, which puts the thing firmly in the court of the local authority. I do not think that anybody could pretend that the words in the Bill as they are now drawn provide for any of those three things. May I say to the noble, industrial agricultural expert Lady Alma Birk that it might be just as well if she went back and consulted her advisers again.

3.17 p.m.


I am not going to take issue with my noble and respected old friend Lord George-Brown as to who best represents the agricultural workers. Neither am I going to make a Second Reading speech. But on the point at issue, whatever may be the legal arguments about the use of these words, it must be patently clear to anybody who can read English that what is meant when one uses the words "proximity to his employment" is the employment to which he goes. I am in entire accord with my noble friend Lord Janner when he says that, if we are going to provide the agricultural worker with suitable alternative accommodation, which is the criterion we have always asked for, then we must take proximity to the man's new employment into account.


Would my noble friend forgive me for intervening one moment before he sits down? Supposing the fellow has not gone to any new employment, which, in the case of an agricultural worker, is not impossible to suppose because perhaps nowhere else offers him work, what do these words then mean?


If he has not been offered alternative employment or he has not got it, then the question of proximity does not arise, and a suitable house provided by a local authority, or any other suitable house, would be satisfactory. If he had got employment elsewhere, or in the locality which is near to his old job, then again a suitable house provided by the local authority, or any other suitable house, would be quite suitable and quite satisfactory.


We seem to be spending rather a long time on this point. I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, that perhaps he might withdraw the Amendment at this stage. If he wishes, he can pursue the point and table an Amendment on Report to insert the words "to a new place of work", which would seem the most sensible course to take.


I disagree with the noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret, because in my view there is considerable substance in this point. I thought the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, was rather unfair to the noble Lord, Lord Burnham. It does not matter whether the provision applies to the local authority or to the efforts of the farmer himself to find alternative accommodation; if he is saddled with a provision like this which means that while a man is willing to remain in the house which the farmer needs because of its proximity to the stock on the farm, it is rather hard on the farmer. The noble Lord, Lord Collison, suggested that the words must surely mean "his new place of work", but the alternative is the man's staying in the house in which he is living. It is certainly very hard if the man in the house can plead that the farmer cannot find him a house near the place of work which lie has selected somewhere else. In my view this provision applies not only to the local authority accommodation but to the private accommodation he is trying to obtain.


Apart from the principle involved, this is bad drafting. Why confuse the issue by adding unnecessary words? Ministers keep replying to Amendments by saying that the words which we propose to insert are unnecessary. I should have thought that the words "the accommodation must be reasonably suitable to the needs of the tenant and his family" are all that are required. To add extra words only causes ambiguity, makes for confusion and does not get us any nearer to a satisfactory conclusion.

Baroness YOUNG

Perhaps the Minister will look at this matter again. Unlike some of my noble friends, I have a certain amount of sympathy with the point of view which the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, expressed, because these words are taken directly from a Schedule to the Rent Act 1968. However, my reason for asking the Government to examine the matter is that this particular part of Schedule 3, the Case 1 case, is the case where the farmer finds alternative accommodation for the farm worker. My guess is that the whole Schedule is put in rather like the similar Schedule, Schedule 3(4), to the Rent Act 1968 as a sort of triumph of hope over experience, because I imagine that there will hardly ever be any cases where a farmer will himself be able to find suitable similar rented accommodation. Therefore the whole responsibility will fall on the local authority, which is the principle underlying the Bill.

However, it is surely in the interest of the Government, in the interest of the farmer, just as it is in the interest of the farm worker, that it should be made as easy as possible for the farmer to find alternative suitable accommodation, and it is "suitable" that we are talking about; nobody is talking about something that is unsuitable. It would help the situation to tighten the words up so that they are not left as they are at present. Although the words appear in the Rent Act 1968 the provision is ambiguous. I do not think anybody will argue that that Act has been an unqualified success, and in order to help what will be a very difficult situation in agriculture I should have thought it was worth the Government's while to examine this point.


In an agricultural area it would be possible for any agricultural worker to find a job at a nearby farm, so near to the other farm that the accommodation he is in would be perfectly suitable for him, although it might be a perfectly unsuitable arrangement for the farmer he is leaving. If somebody wants to leave and can find work approximately near, which might be the next door farm, in all probability he would not want to leave his cottage, which would make it very awkward for the farmer who would he trying to find somebody to replace him. This ambiguity exists and it seems that we could have a great deal of trouble in an agricultural area where so much accommodation belonging to different farms is quite close together.

Baroness BIRK

The discussion has wandered rather wide on this Amendment, but I must say that I fail to see the ambiguity here. I agree that one can find many examples of ambiguity in legislation, but this provision seems to me to be perfectly straightforward. The noble Lord, Lord Sandys, raised the question of consolidation. I absolutely agree that there is need for consolidation and I hope that we can discuss further how and when that can be facilitated, but not on this Amendment. As he is aware, it is not intended to consolidate this Bill so far as the Rent Act consolidation is concerned.

Modesty prevents me from agreeing with all that my noble friend Lord George-Brown said about me. He did not appear to have the Amendment or the Bill in front of him, because if he had read the whole of the provision in the measure, he would have seen that what he was trying to do—as I tried to explain to the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, who must be rather amazed by what has resulted from his Amendment—would not be achieved by the Amendment.

I think the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, is met by the reference to "the interests of efficient agriculture, "to which we shall come later, where the ADHACs come in to decide whether it is necessary for the farmer to keep the cottage for an incoming worker; so the noble Baroness was really raising a different point. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, asked me to look at the matter again. I suggest that if she and other noble Lords examine the matter and take the relevant words out of the provision, they will find that what I said in my original reply to Lord Burnham is true; that by deleting those words the whole thing becomes extremely extended and, rather than making it clearer, makes it more imprecise. I would therefore ask Lord Burnham to withdraw the Amendment, and I think he will agree that we have debated the subject at some length.


I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, for her reply. She seemed to be in some disagreement with her noble friends, who were quite clear that what the measure referred to was proximity to the new place of work. I understood the noble Baroness, when she first replied, to say that the court would take the view that it was reasonably suitable if it was not much worse situated than where he was living at the present time.

Baroness BIRK

I said it was not much further from his new place of work; I was always clear that it was his new place of work because, as my noble friend rightly pointed out, the man had already left that employment, so one could not talk about proximity to a place of work which he had either left or from which he had been dismissed.


I do not think there is much difference of opinion between us on this matter. If the man had moved 100 miles it would seem that he could still maintain to the court that whatever he had been offered was not within reasonable proximity to his place of work. I have no pride of authorship in my Amendment, not being a lawyer; but if what the Minister says is the case—that the court would take the view that a dwelling, at roughly the same distance from where he had gone would be suitable—I am sure the case is met. I feel, however, that sooner or later, maybe in years to come, somebody will ask, "What is written in the Act?" and will not ask what was said in this Committee on a certain occasion. I should have felt happier, therefore, if the meaning had been clarified. I am really looking for clarification rather than questioning what the Bill actually does. In the circumstances, however, I beg, leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.29 p.m.

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 25: Page 40, line 9, leave out ("clerk to") and insert ("proper officer of").

The noble Baroness said: I will, with the permission of the Committee, speak at the same time to Amendment No. 90. These are really quite minor drafting Amendments. The two references to "clerk to the authority" in the Bill derive from similar references in the Rent Act 1968, as originally enacted. Paragraph 4(1) of Schedule 29 to the Local Government Act 1972, however, provided that references of this kind in existing legislation, including the Rent Act, should be construed as references to the proper officer of the authority. As the proper officer may not be the clerk—he may be called the chief executive or the lord high executioner, or some other title—these Amendments therefore correct the references in the Bill in order to accord with the Local Government Act, 1972. I beg to move.

Baroness YOUNG

I am glad to commend what is really a drafting Amendment. It is very nice to feel that the Government are keeping up to date on something.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

3.31 p.m.

Lord STANLEY of ALDERLEY moved Amendment No. 26: Page 40, line 15, leave out from beginning to end of line 45.

The noble Lord said: With the permission of the Committee, I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 30. Under the Bill as it now stands, if the housing authority or the farmer offers suitable alternative accommodation, it is open to the tenant to refuse to vacate his existing house. If the tenant took this action, the farmer could then apply to the court for possession, but the court, as in cases under the Rent Act, 1968, will make an order for possession only if it considers this to be reasonable. In fact, the court can exercise its discretion. The purpose of this Amendment (should the Committee agree to it) is to move Case 2 in Part I of Schedule 3 into Part II of Schedule 3.

The effect will be to remove from the court their power of discretion applying to Case 2. In fact, Case 2 will then be in the same category as Cases 11, 12 and 13 and similar to eight cases in the Rent Acts of 1968 and 1974. The Committee will note that Case 2 applies only to the tenant who has been offered alternative accommodation by the housing authority and not by the farmer or private landlord. The reason for this apparent discrimination is important, and I very much hope that I can persuade the Government of its validity, which is as follows. If the Government believe and state—as has been repeated many times in your Lordships' House and in another place—that they accept a very real rehousing obligation under Clause 30, and in particular if their phrase, "best endeavours", means anything at all, then surely they should put action into their words and make it mandatory on the courts to order possession when the local authority offers suitable accommodation. I hope that the Government will accept this.

I suggest that this is a particularly helpful suggestion, because it is identical to an Amendment tabled on 15th July by the Minister's honourable friends Mr. Armstrong and Mr. Strang in another place but for some reason unknown was not moved. I feel sure that I do not have to remind the noble Baroness that her honourable friend Mr. Armstrong, in Standing Committee K, on 8th June, spoke sympathetically in favour of this Amendment, but as I hope that the noble Baroness will also be in favour I will not delay the Committee by repeating what her honourable friend said.

I must reinforce my case by letting the noble Baroness into a secret. The farming community believes the words "best endeavours" to be legalistic political claptrap. I should not like to tell her what I think, because I do not think it would be a Parliamentary phrase. I hope that the Government will be able to prove me and the farming community wrong in what we think the words "best endeavours" mean. They have an opportunity to make a first very small step forward in proving us wrong by accepting this Amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness BIRK

I much appreciate the motivation behind the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley. I quite agree that this is difficult because it is one on which there is a very delicate balance, and the noble Lord is trying to achieve by it something that basically it would be difficult to agree with. This is to change "discretionary" to "mandatory" so that the court would be compelled to make an order for possession even if it was not satisfied that it was reasonable to do so. It is probable that there would not be many cases, but there could be some exceptional cases. It was these that finally tipped the balance in another place, and the noble Lord is quite right in saying that an Amendment was tabled for Report stage here which, in fact, was not moved.

Because Amendments were tabled it is quite cleat, as I have admitted, that there is this extremely difficult balance. I am glad the noble Lord spared my delicate ears in telling me what he and the farmers thought about "best endeavours", but there could be exceptional cases where it might be unreasonable to make an order; for instance, in the case of a farm worker's widow who perhaps had only recently been bereaved, or of a farm worker who was seriously ill and possibly in hospital. I agree that these are probably rare cases, but all one is saying is that one is leaving the court to use discretion in what would be an odd case. One has to have confidence, as I think we all do, in the courts of this country.

Having made this point and to put this in perspective, I should emphasise that in practice in the majority of cases retaining or removing the court's discretion is likely to make little difference. For example, under the Rent Act, in the first part of 1975 the court granted orders for possession in 98 per cent. of cases based on mandatory grounds and in nearly 97 per cent. of cases based on discretionary grounds. There is a pattern established and it seems reasonable to expect this pattern to be followed. As I said, I appreciate what the noble Lord is trying to achieve in this Amendment. Having been through it myself and not relying only on the decision taken in another place, I agree that on balance the danger for the exceptional cases makes out a case for leaving this in the discretionary area rather than putting it in the mandatory area.

Baroness YOUNG

May I ask the noble Baroness whether she does not feel that this is something which she ought to look at again. Not only has my noble friend quoted what happened in another place where a similar Amendment was put down, but, as I understand it, she is saying that in approximately 97 per cent. of discretionary cases the court rules, and we are talking about a very few hard cases. She quoted the case of a widow. Certainly, this is a hard case, but it has to be seen against the background of the timetable on which these things would take place. After all, this is not going to happen in a week; it is, inevitably, going to take place over some months. It is going to be a genuine offer by a local authority for suitable alternative accommodation with all that that implies—and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Janner, would keep his colleagues up to date if he was not completely satisfied with what that meant.

From the Government's point of view, I should have thought that there was everything to be said for trying to meet what I think is a reasonable request to meet very real fears. After all, legislation works much better when people genuinely believe that everybody is trying to make it work as well as possible. Here, we have a case that is entirely within the terms of the Bill and entirely what the Government want, which is what is meant by saying that the local authority will undertake to rehouse. When the local authority has made a serious offer, the court can intervene and say that it is not good enough. I should have thought that this was a point on which the Government could have met the case and that it would have helped to create just the kind of trust that will be necessary to make the Bill work properly.


I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, ought to look at this again, on purely practical grounds. I accept absolutely her point that there may be hard cases—a very few—where the discretion of the court may be helpful, but I suggest that the times in which we live make it more likely that adding this extra chance to delay having to leave a house will be likely to encourage people to use the courts, because there is just a chance that they can persuade a court that there are acceptable reasons that have not been taken into account, whereas, without this, they would accept the decision of the housing authority.

We are living at a time when Citizens Advice Bureaux, all sorts of unofficial lawyers, newspaper columns, radio and television investigations will all tell people about the reasonable chance of the courts exercising discretion. When it comes to the court, the court of course takes the proper decision and I have every confidence that they will continue to do this. But we ought to recognise that we are living in an age when people will be aware of these words and will use them to their ultimate. I believe that there will be more cases where people will use what I call the "ultimate" and therefore delay coming to a conclusion which is in everybody's interest than there will be hard cases that have not been taken into account by the local authority. It is a purely practical assessment that I am making and I believe that this is an instance where, if the reasonable discretion is taken away from the courts, a discretion that has already been used by the housing authority as is laid down here, it may be that we could arrive at what we all want more speedily and more satisfactorily than by giving the trouble maker—and many tenants are trouble makers—an opportunity to use every word there to delay the administration of justice. It could well be that, recognising the age in which we live when all this "sidekick" advice is available, it would be a good thing to support the housing authority by making this mandatory when it goes to court.


I am loath to intervene again because we have taken a terrible amount of time over matters that seem to me to be fairly obvious. I entirely agree with what my noble friend has said in regard to the fears that people have. Why are they afraid of the courts? Is our court system not one of the best in the world? If there are exceptional cases, is it not reasonable that the court should make a decision on these matters? It is admitted that there may be exceptional cases. I am quite certain that there will be very few, but in those cases where there is doubt, surely we have sufficient faith in our courts to allow them to make a decision. I cannot for the life of me understand why there is all this worry about these matters. Look at some of the magistrates among your Lordships on both sides of the House. Have we no faith in them? Here we have a court, something that is admired by the whole world. I think, frankly that this is pushing it too far and I hope that the noble Lord will see his way to withdrawing the Amendment.


One small point that I should like to make—and I speak knowing more about Scotland than about England—is that, though I do not in any way disagree with the reputation of our courts, they are unbelievably slow. It is a fact of life, at any rate in my part of the world, that key agricultural workers are generally on a six month period of notice to leave. So one has six months and if, at the end of that time, the worker suddenly says that he will not leave, it will probably be another six months or a year before one gets possession of the cottage. This is exceedingly awkward if the worker in question is in a key position and is looking after stock.


The noble Lord, Lord Janner, said with his usual charm that he could not see why we were getting in such a fuss about this because it all seemed to him to be perfectly simple. That is a view which he is entirely entitled to take and I should merely like to try to explain to him why we are fussed. I think that I could perhaps put it in the form of a practical example because I feel that that will be slightly easier to understand. I ask the noble Baroness whether I am right in believing that the situation at the moment is that, where a person has been offered suitable alternative accommodation, he may say: "I do not think that this is suitable alternative accommodation. I do not like it because the room is not big enough or there is not enough room for my children. Therefore, this accommodation is not suitable enough for the operation of this part of the Bill to come into practice. "It is at that juncture that the landlord goes to court and the situation of which the court has to seize itself—and, as I understand it, the only point that they are obliged to comment upon—is whether or not the alternative accommodation is in fact suitable accommodation. If it is, the court would, under the Amendment of my noble friend, be in a position to say, "You have been offered alternative accommodation. We believe that this is suitable alternative accommodation and therefore the Bill should work and you should go into it."

As I understand it, under the Bill as it stands, having said that, the court may go on to say that, though it thinks that the accommodation is a suitable alternative, notwithstanding that and for other reasons, the Bill should not operate and the tenant can stay where he is. This is giving two bites at the cherry, which is totally different. I believe that the Amendment of my noble friend is designed to say that the whole purpose of the court is to decide whether the alternative accommodation is or is not suitable, and that, having decided that, the Bill should be allowed to operate.

Baroness BIRK

I am grateful for the moderation with which noble Lords have put their points and I can see the various strands there. I appreciate the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, but I do not entirely go along with him about people knowing their rights. I believe that it is quite right and proper that people should be aware of their rights, since for so long so many people have not been. That is one of the troubles. One suggestion that I do not believe I have ever heard made is that farm workers will do anything rather than avoid court proceedings. One of the reasons for the necessity for the Bill is—and this is why the figures for possession orders do not really give a true picture—that so many people want to keep away from the courts and have nothing to do with the law.

I thought that my noble friend Lord Janner was absolutely right. So far as the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, is concerned, I feel that he is making a division where there is none: all we are saying is that it remains exactly the same. We are saying that the court has discretion to say: "This may be suitable accommodation in all the respects that the local authority has said, but there may be exceptional cases. "They would have to be exceptional. This is not establishing different criteria for the general suitability. I believe that the examples that the noble Earl gave would not fall within this because if such things as the size of the rooms were put forward, the courts—going on the evidence of the past and of what the courts have done in both mandatory and discretionary cases—would certainly consider that the accommodation was suitable. It is only for these very odd cases.

As I said at the beginning—and I meant it—it is a difficult balance to take, but having thought about the matter before, and having listened very carefully to all that noble Lords opposite have said, I still feel that the position should remain as it is in the Bill; that is, that the courts should be given this area of discretion, which as we have seen will be brought into use probably very seldom. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw the Amendment.


We are grateful to the noble Baroness for the information she has given and I am sure that we shall all—particularly my noble friend—study it carefully to see whether it is a matter to which we should come back at the Report stage. But can the noble Baroness explain one point about which I am not at all clear? When the landlord and the occupier of the house go to the court when suitable alternative accommodation has been offered, surely the decision of the court should be whether or not that accommodation is sufficiently suitable an alternative for this part of the Bill to operate. What other circumstances will the court take into account before it says, "Yes, the suitable alternative accommodation has been offered, but there are various reasons why notwithstanding that you should stay where you are. "I should be grateful if the noble Baroness could explain that.

Baroness BIRK

As I explained originally, I understand that it would be where there are exceptional circumstances attached to the particular case, not to the accommodation; the accommodation itself would be suitable. I accept the point which the noble Baroness made about the widow, where there is a lapse of time. But the court may say, "In this rather extraordinary case we do not feel that an order should be granted at this time If I am wrong I shall certainly write to the noble Earl, but I do not think I am wrong in saying that it would apply to the actual physical accommodation.


In other words, they might say that the farm worker's wife has had a heart attack a week ago and therefore it would be unreasonable to put them in this alternative accommodation. It is that type of example, is it?

Baroness BIRK



I am sorry to come back to this matter again, but one has had an experience of this type in relation to the ordinary Rent Acts. If between the housing authority offering what is correct accommodation the tenant's father dies and his mother, left alone, has to come and live with them, it could well be that the extra numbers in the family would, in the eyes of the court, make it unreasonable to ask them to move to the new place which could not accommodate the tenant's mother whom for very good humanitarian reasons has to come and live with the others. If such circumstances applied, they would form a very good point for the court to take into account. But I assure the noble Baroness that if that type of criteria were allowed by the court, the number of mothers who for humanitarian reasons had to come and live with others in order to hang on to the accommodation they wanted to hang on to, will be legion. It is that kind of an opening which this type of discretion would give. It is not a case of questioning the courts. I have sat as a magistrate for 30 years, and I support all that the noble Lord, Lord Janner, said about the courts' objectivity and their desire to do the right thing. But these are the kind of problems which people who have to administer legislation do not necessarily want because the circumstances could change. They could change in such a way that a phoney situation could be manufactured to enable people to get what they want. I suggest that there would be more of those kind of cases than of the hardships cases which the noble Baroness quite properly took into account in her first reply.

Baroness BIRK

I take the point which the noble Lord has made, but, I too, am a magistrate and I think he has less confidence in the courts than I have. One is used to phoney cases sometimes being brought. I agree with him about that. But the court would have to find that it was unreasonable not to make the order; so the case would have to be proved without doubt to the court. I do not know whether the case of the mother-in-law is such a good example, because I do not know whether the position would work out in such a case, even if there was a new house. But the court would look into the circumstances and it would, quite rightly, be suspicious of circumstances which it thought had been brought about merely to evade what it considered to be the normal course of justice and the question of finding suitable accommodation. The kind of case I have in mind was exactly that given as an example by the noble Earl; he got it bang on. That is the kind of exception we are talking about.


I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for being so kind to me over the Amendment, but I hope that she will not think that I am looking a gift horse in the mouth when I tell her that I think she is quite wrong. First, we are not making this a precedent. I have been told that there are three other cases in this Bill and eight other cases in the Rent Acts of 1968 and 1974 where there is a case for the court not having discretion. Secondly—and I shall be very quick—it must be remembered that when one goes to a court for possession, first, it has taken a long time to get there, as has already been mentioned. When one gets there, the court never says that a occupier must get out tomorrow. It nearly always gives 14 days, or 28 days; indeed it has given five weeks, or perhaps months, as my noble friend says. So there is not a question of this baby being born; there have probably been half a dozen babies born by the time we have got there. Therefore, I do not see the hardship case.

Lastly, and most important, is this point which I want to leave with the noble Baroness. If this case is not put into the mandatory cases of the court having no discretion with the other cases mentioned, we shall not believe that anything is meant by "best endeavours". I want the noble Baroness to think about this, because this is a matter which is worrying us. I hope she will realise that I am trying to be constructive. I am really worried about "best endeavours". and if this point is not accepted, then I will be worried later tonight for both myself and the noble Baroness. At this stage I will leave the matter, and so I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.56 p.m.

The Earl of CAITHNESS moved Amendment No. 27A:

Page 41, line 5, at end insert— ("or The tenant has been fairly dismissed for misconduct in his work on the farm.").

The noble Earl said: A farmer has a responsibility to farm according to the rules of good husbandry and a tenant farmer has a contractual duty to do so. It follows that if a farm employee is not prepared, or is unable, to carry out the duties reasonably required of him, the farmer must dismiss him or endanger the efficiency of the farming enterprise. This lack of co-operation is currently termed "misconduct", and this legislation must make it possible under the circumstances for the courts to give possession of the tied cottage. The employee's interest is already protected by the Employment Protection Act, and so only cases of fair dismissal—and I stress "fair"—will be considered. To give security of tenure to a former employee who has been justly dismissed puts an unreasonable responsibility for public housing on the farmer; not only that, but the presence of the dismissed employee on the farm may well prejudice the continued efficient farming of the holding and cause friction with the remaining farm labour.

I acknowledge that the Amendment runs contrary to the aim of the legislation, but it is a very specialised case that we are considering. I therefore do not believe the Amendment to be a wrecking one because as the Bill stands the balance is wrong, and furthermore any application will be subject to the court's ratification. I beg to move.


I should like to support the Amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Caithness. We are looking at Case III of Schedule 3 now, and two points are cited in the Bill under Case III: the situation where Rent lawfully due from the tenant has not been paid, OR Any other lawful obligation of tie tenant, whether or not it is an obligation created by this Act, has been broken or not performed. To those two is added, by the Amendment, the situation described by my noble friend.

I think there is a case here for considering a particular situation, and I was glad that my noble friend Lord Ferrers quoted an example. Here perhaps I might be permitted to quote another. It involves a situation in which an employee has been fairly dismissed as a result of a felony, a theft. Is it reasonable that the tenant—that is, the farmworker who has been dismissed—should be permitted to remain in the tied cottage, he having been convicted of a felony and having applied for possession of the dwelling? This gives rise to a situation in which it would be difficult, indeed impossible, for the farmer to carry on his relationships as before. It would give rise to a difficult social situation within the rest of the workforce on the farm, if there is a larger workforce than one.

I believe there is a case for the Government re-examining this situation. As my noble friend described it, misconduct covers quite a large number of situations. It covers bad management, misbehaviour, wrong or unlawful behaviour or malfeasance. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Janner, would like to give us his opinion of malfeasance; but, in any case, what amounts to misconduct is, I think, recognised in law. I believe this Amendment is closely drafted and different from the one which was considered before Standing Committee K, and I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to consider it satisfactorily.

Baroness BIRK

Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, is quite right when he says there is a case for this. I am not blind about these things; I can see exactly what he means and what he is getting at. At the same time the noble Earl who moved this Amendment put his finger on the main point, which is the point on which I am afraid I have to resist this Amendment. He agreed that it impinged on the principle of the Bill, and this is what it is about. The tenant who has been fairly dismissed for misconduct at his work has been dismissed for his work on the farm. One of the basic aims of the Bill—and this was set out in the Consultative Document—is to disengage farmworkers' conditions of employment from the conditions in which they are housed, and this Amendment, I am afraid, breaches that principle, which, as I think the noble Earl realised, underlies the whole of the Bill. If the farmworker is a bad tenant, then by all means he has to pay the penalty of dispossession if the court finds that he is in breach of his tenancy agreement; but if he has failed in his duties as an employee, then under the terms of the Bill it would be quite wrong that he should be liable to lose his home as well as his job. Therefore, although I understand exactly what the noble Lords are getting at in their Amendment, I am afraid the Government have to resist it. I therefore hope that the noble Earl will withdraw it.


Could the noble Baroness not give us a hope that she will have a look at the words? I have got her point; and one does not expect the Government to go against the main principle of a Bill when they have carried it so far. But could she not find words which would apply if the misconduct was not to do with the work—that is, if there was a theft, or something, which was nothing to do with the work—but was such that it should give another reason for obtaining possession? That is, not to do with their work—I understand the principle there—but because they have been proved to have done something which, from a social point of view, makes it impossible for them to carry on. That would not impinge upon the principle of the Bill, but it would be facing up to the very point which the noble Baroness said she recognised and with which, obviously, from recognising it, she would like to deal. All I am asking at this stage is whether, with that in mind, with the possibility of separating dismissal because of their work from dismissal for some other social reason, she would just say that she will look at it in order to find words which will not cut across the principle but will meet the point which she says she recognises.


I, too, appreciate the difficulty which arises in a case of this nature, but I am sure that the noble Lord who has just spoken will understand that if it is a serious offence the penalty imposed in court upon the person who committed that offence would be a penalty which would not include the deprivation of his home. I should like the noble Lord to think about that. In other words, the full penalty is allotted by a court to meet the case which has come before it. Of course, if it were a very serious case there would be no need to preserve the home, because the person concerned would, in effect, be in another home from which he could not very easily get out. I hope I am not speaking too frivolously, but there is a possibility of that kind. For myself, I think the Government are right. If an offence has been committed, the person concerned is liable to punishment. He gets the full punishment that the court allots, and I think that should not be added to by other penalties.


When the noble Baroness talked to us about the principles of the Bill, she quoted the Consultative Document. The Consultative Document also says that the legislation: should remove the social objections to the tied cottage, and its form and effect should be to ensure that there is no adverse effect upon the efficiency of the agricultural industry". Time and again we come up against this matter of the balance between the interests of the worker and the interests of the farmer. All these Amendments are trying to get this balance right, and I quite see that the noble Earl's Amendment fits. That balance could be impaired if this man stays in residence. I think it is a difficult one, and I support it.


I intervene again simply because this is a most important principle that we are discussing. The Bill quite rightly makes a distinction. On the one hand, there is misbehaviour which affects the property in which a man is living—it is clear that this is a reason why the court should decide against him—and on the other hand, there is clearly ruled out considerations such as felony because, as my noble friend has just said, the law will deal with that and will punish a man in its own way, and he should not be punished twice.


A man or woman.


The Bill makes a distinction between that and ill-discipline, bad behaviour or lack of good workmanship on the farm. I think it is most important that we should all be clear that these aspects must be kept entirely distinct. As an old trade union man, I can see difficulties arising with regard to misconduct which an employer might consider justifies dismissal but which the worker and indeed the union do not. Once again, I do not want to give the impression that I take a bad view of employers in agriculture. I know them too well, and across the board they behave very well indeed. I am not grumbling about that; but there are employers who, maybe through prejudice, take a view of a worker which is unbalanced and which has to be corrected.

I am thinking of the number of cases that I know of personally where an employer has sought to dismiss a worker simply because he has joined a trade union. It does not happen so frequently these days, but it has happened in the past and occasionally it still happens today. The excuse is made that the man has fallen down on his job, whereas the real motive is that the employer does not like the trade union. I know the noble Earl who moved the Amendment told us that reference could be made under the Employment Protection Act, but this is a ponderous piece of machinery which has to be gone through; and, if they are not going to do it, who is going to do it? Is it the court which is going to decide the question whether alternative accommodation should be provided? Is there to be taken into account, in this question of misconduct, whether the farmer's case is right or whether the man's case is right? It is far too ponderous. As I have said, the important thing is that we all make this clear distinction. Behaviour regarding the tenancy is one thing and behaviour with regard to the work on the farm, and such things as theft and felony, is quite another. They must be kept distinct.

There is another point which has not been made but which I will make now. In the majority of these cases—99 out of 100, I would say—the man in the tied cottage is not there alone. He has a wife and children who would suffer the consequences of eviction. Although one can understand, as my noble friends understood, the idea behind this Amendment, I would say that it is quite wrong that an innocent woman and her children should be made to suffer because of the husband's deficiencies, if they are deficiencies. I think that on these grounds the Amendment should be resisted or withdrawn.


With respect, one must be very careful not to use the wrong word, and I am sure that the noble Lord did so inadvertently. He said that the family would be subject to eviction. It would not. It is merely a court order for possession. That is a different thing. Eviction is a long way after, if ever.


That is true; but it could lead to eviction as it has done in the past.


What would be the position with a farmworker who had set fire to the hay in the barn but who at the same time looked after the house he was in extremely well? Would the farmer still have to have that man in his house?—because he might go and set fire to the next lot of hay. Should there not be degrees of misconduct? That is what I do not understand. It seems that some great injustice might be done to the farmer.


I am sorry to have to rise to my feet again, but I think the point was addressed to me. Despite the enormity of such an offence the principle must remain. If you establish a principle you cannot have degrees of that principle. Bad though it may be, it is proper to keep in everyone's mind this clear distinction between the behaviour on the farm at work, felonies, and behaviour relating to the house.


I am extremely bewildered by the attitude of the noble Lord and the attitude of the Front Bench in this respect. Instead of discussing hypothetical cases may we discuss a case which was actually quoted on Second Reading, when the noble Lord, Lord Moyne (who is not in his place at the moment), explained that he had dismissed a worker for cruelty to the animals over which he had charge. It seems to me that there is something wrong with the interpretation as a principle of the Bill if in such a case the farmer is to be compelled to respect the security of tenure.


May I, as a farmer, support my noble friend Lord Collison as a representative of the farmworkers? I was not able to be here at the Second Reading debate but this seems to me essentially a matter of principle which must have been, and I know was, dealt with at that time. As my noble friend Lady Birk rightly pointed out, the object of this Bill—which in general I support, although there are certain minor aspects that I should prefer to see modified—is to allow the farmer to retain the privilege of any employer to get rid of the worker who does not do his work properly; but it restricts the power to that and does not allow him to extend his power (other than in very exceptional cases) to take away from the worker the place in which he lives. Surely the cases quoted, whether cruelty to animals, setting fire to haystacks or gross inefficiency at work are matters where the employer has the right to sack the man and where the courts, if the offence is criminal, have the duty to punish the criminal; but there the matter stops. There should be no power to superimpose on those two sanctions that which does not exist in any other industry; the sanction of depriving the man and his family of their home.

The Earl of ONSLOW

The point surely is, first, that if a policeman commits a crime he is then kicked out of his police house and his wife and children suffer; and, second, it has been established beyond peradventure that agricultural tied cottages are a very minor percentage of the actual amount of tied accommodation which exists. With the greatest respect, the noble Lord for whom I have great admiration, has not been strictly and completely accurate.


The noble Earl is quite right. I was not absolutely accurate and I apologise. There are certain very restricted occupations where if a man is sacked for one reason or another or convicted of a criminal offence he loses his house. That is true of the police force, of the master of a college, or a parson—and there are various others. I do not want to enlarge this into a Second Reading debate, particularly as I was not here, but I am sure that all those matters were dealt with then. Essentially, although there are these exceptions, an employee of an electronics firm, of a motor car manufacturing firm, of the vast majority of our industry and commerce in this country does not suffer this disability. Whether one should have embraced in this the policeman, the parson and the head of a college is quite another matter. But I think it right that the agricultural worker should, in so far as is consistent with the efficient running of a farm, be protected from this type of double penalty for failing to do his job properly. I hope that this Amendment will be withdrawn.

Baroness YOUNG

May I put one more point about this? As I understand it, my noble friend is suggesting another case that should be added to those cases in Part I of the Schedule, in which the court has a discretion. It is not the type of case in which the court must order possession. We have heard, over the case which my noble friend Lord Stanley tried to move from Part I to Part that, in fact, the court would act justly, that it would take account of all these factors, that it was composed of responsible people and would look at the case fully. It seems to me that one cannot argue in one set of circumstances that the court would be completely unreasonable and in another that it would be completely reasonable; it will have consistency. I cannot see, therefore, why this could not be included in that series of cases. It would follow not altogether inconveniently from the No. 4 case in which the court has to satisfy itself about the nuisance to adjoining neighbours, which it does in a number of cases. I should have thought that this was not an unreasonable thing to be included in the Bill, particularly in the sort of case that the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, instanced.


There is one point which we seem to be losing sight of. The noble Lord opposite said that it was terribly bad luck on a farm worker who, through misconduct on the farm, lost his job and his house as well; he said it would be bad luck on the wife and children. I agree, it would be bad luck. But have we given thought to the wife and children of the new employee, who probably has been engaged by the farmer to take the job but who cannot be employed because there is no accommodation for him to go to? Is that not just as bad luck on the next wife and family?

4.20 p.m.


I should like to place one point on the record. I was almost convinced by the way the noble Baroness dealt with this matter of principle; but I was jerked back to reality very quickly by the noble Lord, Lord Collison. If the only reason he can produce—and we know the voice he represents is one which is powerful and influences the Government—is that somebody may be dismissed because he joins a trade union, something which nowadays could not happen with the tribunal which deals with unfair dismissal, then I am very worried. I do not think that one can dismiss the case put forward by my noble friend if it is that a hayrick has been burnt down.

I have an interest in some hotels. Recently we had a case where a porter set fire to part of a hotel. The matter did not go to court. He was considered not to be of sufficient responsibility to take to court. But we had to dismiss the man; it was right that we should in view of the danger. I have knowledge of a case where the occupant of a tied cottage of a farm molested the daughter of a farmer; that carried the risk of rape. There was no question of that matter going to court; it was not desirable in the interests of the family name that it should go to court. That man could not continue in that employment, nor did the people with whom he had to work want him. There are many instances of I his sort—the burning of the hayrick or the risk of rape—where the man is dismissed, and it is unreasonable to think that he should be allowed to continue as though nothing had happened. If the noble Baroness could consider this and find words to meet that type of case, which does not include the principle of being dismissed because of the way the man is doing the job, I am sure that the Bill will become a better one.


The practicalities of this matter must be considered. In a small rural community, after a "bust-up" of the kind we are talking about, it is highly probable that the man himself might well want to move and start afresh, let alone the reaction of other people in the village and the farmer. I greatly fear anything being in the Bill which would impede that process. It might be greatly regretted, particularly if the man wanted to move, and the local authority was not co-operating in regard to a need which would more thin likely be a practical and real need and where a move would be best for everyone.

The Earl of ONSLOW

I should like to ask something which is for my own elucidation. The noble Lord, Lord Collison, said there could be conditions which an employer would regard as misconduct and an employee or trade unionist would not. I hope I will not be accused of being hypothetical or irrelevant, but could the noble Lord illustrate this point more forcefully so that we can understand what he means by it?


I am always concerned not to create a wrong impression. The last impression in the world that I want to create is that I or my old union think that all employers are bullies and rogues. There have been a number of cases. One could go through the records and see where work people have been dismissed on the pretext that they have not done their jobs properly, when we have felt, known or guessed—I do not know the appropriate word; it is difficult to prove—that the real motivation was that the employer did not like the idea of the union coming in. This is what I mean when I say that the union or man might consider he had done his work properly, and therefore he had been wrongly dismissed.

With regard to the noble Lord who queried my comments just now, I was making the point that the recourse for the man in those circumstances was to the Employment Act. This was a ponderous piece of machinery. That was my argument. Therefore it was a delaying factor which ought not to be introduced. I also made the point that I thought it was not the function of the court to have to go into the question of alternative accommodation. I shall be guilty, if I am not careful, of wasting time, so I simply return to my adherence to the principle that what we are dealing with is the question of the house; and behaviour which damages the house, and so on, is legitimate to take into account, but only that. Behaviour on the farm—the way the man does his work or even felony or theft—is another matter which should be taken into account. I agree that the employer is entitled to dismiss the man who sets fire to a hayrick. The employer would behave as I would in the circumstances. If I found a man maltreating animals, I would dismiss him. I would treat him with contempt. I have at times been provoked to the point of almost offering physical force when I have seen these things happen. Of course one dislikes them. They are wrong and they are inhuman. If one has to accept the principle then there can be no question of degree. The two issues are separate.

The Earl of ONSLOW

The noble Lord is saying that the only place where there is likely to be a disagreement over misconduct is whether the man joins a union or not. That is what I understood him to say: that was the only example he gave.


That is only one example. I am sorry, but I am forced to get up again. There could be a number of examples where the employer argues that the man has not done his job properly and the work man says: "I have", and he would be supported in that view by other people—perhaps independent people, perhaps trade unions.


The noble Lord argues with such sweet reasonableness that I am tempted to push the argument further. He has agreed that if he were a farmer who caught his stockman ill-treating the stock, he would dismiss him. Would he not feel in those circumstances that he, the farmer, was the victim of injustice in being compelled to continue to give accommodation to such a man? I ask in a wider sense: have we reached the limits of human ingenuity, that in order to maintain the general principle it is impossible to insert qualifications which eliminate the possibility of what I fancy the noble Lord and I would both agree to be an injustice?


Surely this is a non sequitur. If an employer dismisses the man for setting fire to a haystack or maltreating an animal, he has dismissed him from the job. The question of cottage accommodation and alternative accommodation lies with the courts and the local authority. One would hope that alternative accommodation would be found very quickly. If it is not, there could be a problem; I have never balked that issue. One has to keep the two concepts separate, otherwise one gets into a hopeless mess mentally and practically.


The last remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Collison, are the fundamental remarks. What he has said is that we must keep the aspect of the employment of people separate from the housing issue. These are totally different matters and the two should not be confused.

With respect to the noble Lord, and I accept his view, that is exactly where we disagree. This is something that we call argue about for ever and will never come to an agreement over; but it has been our view that over agriculture, in the same way as over any other tied cottage or industry, you cannot divorce the two, because if you divorce the two, the concept of the tied cottage would never have existed in the first place. The reason why the tied cottage has existed—and it does not matter whether it is in the Church, or the breweries or anything at all—is because of the necessity. Obviously that is something on which we cannot agree. But the noble Lord has always pointed out that this was his strong feeling, with which I wholeheartedly agree, and although at the outset this was not an Amendment we felt we would wish to press, I am bound to say that I have been hugely impressed by the arguments which have been put forward.

The noble Lord, Lord Robbins, referred to the dilemma a person has where a farm worker has been dismissed for cruelty to stock and yet under this Bill is still obliged to stay on. My noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls referred to a different industry, admittedly, where a person set fire to a house; but one could transpose that condition to agriculture where a person sets fire to some part of the property and yet still has the right to retain the occupation of a house which should be required for the successful operation of that business. But where the point of the noble Lord, Lord Collison, may fall down—and I say this with the greatest of respect—is that in all these cases where a landlord should have the right of repossession it is only where there is fair dismissal. It is not where there is unfair dismissal. Any employee has the right to request that his case for dismissal be considered under arbitration. That is what the Employment Protection Act is about. The situation is that a farmer has dismissed a farm worker for what he considers to be right and fair causes and the farm worker has taken his case along to the tribunal and said, "Look, I have been unfairly dismissed", and the tribunal looks at everything and says, "No, you haven't been unfairly dismissed; in fact the dismissal is quite right and fair because you have done this, that and the other thing wrong. "It is only then that, in the wider interests of agriculture, it would be reasonable for the farmer to repossess himself of that house in order to make way for somebody who will not have been guilty of the same offence for which this person has been dismissed. I feel that the argument for this Amendment has been very much greater than I had expected it to be and if my noble friend Lord Caithness sitting behind me wishes to press this Amendment, then I would certainly advise my noble friends to support him.


I have been sitting listening to this debate, as what I can only describe as a "Townie" although I have lived on a farm, and to the rather hair-raising picture of some of the people employed on farms. When they are not burning down barns, they seem to be raping the landlord's daughter or ill-treating the stock presumably. But surely the noble Earl who has just spoken knows that the type of tied house I know is a different one, that related to certain people like the police force or the licensed shop.

There is another point which I think we are in danger of losing sight of, and that is the case of a man—and this case I have actually met—who has been handicapped suddenly by an accident and therefore is asked to leave his employment because he obviously cannot carry it on. But the reason for being in that tied cottage was because he could obtain the job only if he accepted the tied cottage. We must include that in our deliberations. What is the situation of the widow?—and I know of a case where possession was obtained in eight weeks and she had to Dave this tied cottage. When we are talking about the bad employee, we all recognise that there are bad employees and bad employers; but in a Bill of this kind we must recognise that there is another consideration which seems to be being lost sight of.

The Earl of ONSLOW

There seem to be two points on this matter raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips. First of all, the Amendment says that the tenant has been fairly dismissed for misconduct in his work on the farm. So that must exclude the tragedy of him becoming paralysed or dying, and his widow. Secondly, this Bill has been introduced only because there has been strong feeling, and I think that the noble Lord, Lord Collison, would agree with this about the behaviour of a very small minority of bad farm employers. I suspect that this Amendment is aimed at dealing with the very small minority of bad employees. Surely, we must be able to have it both ways or no way at all. One can legislate for a small minority of bad employers and therefore it is fair to legislate for a small minority of bad employees, but you cannot have legislation just for the small minority of bad employers and exclude their being given protection against the small minority of bad employees.


I should like an explanation from the noble Baroness of the terms of this Amendment. I thought that we were talking about misconduct on the farm and dismissal for that. I was horrified to hear the noble Lord, Lord Walston, and the noble Lord, Lord Collison, apparently include arson as a normal type of misconduct on the farm. They quite lightheartedly talked about burning down hayricks, but I should have thought that that did not come within the terms of this Amendment at all and was covered by Case IV when it says: … the tenant, or any person residing or lodging with him or subtenant of his, has been guilty of conduct which is a nuisance or annoyance to adjoining occupiers … I hope that the noble Baroness does not regard arson as a normal, polite form of misconduct?

Baroness BIRK

The noble Lord is absolutely correct. A number of the examples that have been thrown around in this rather protracted debate are covered in cases IV and V. The setting fire to the house comes under Case V rather than Case IV but he is perfectly right that that is covered in this way. When the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, said that if the Bill was to deal with a minority of bad farmers then it should deal with a minority of bad employees, he has once again tilted the whole purpose of it which was put very clearly by my noble friend Lord Walston who again emphasised, as I tried to do at the beginning, that the sanction depriving a man of his home as well as of his employment is quite wrong. When the noble Baroness, Lady Young, drew an analogy between the previous Amendment and this one, it was not a correct analogy because there we were accepting the question of the basis of security of tenure and here we are not. Despite all that has been said—and I agree with my noble friend Lady Phillips about the various horror stories we have had and also the amount of truth there may be in some of the cases—I come back to the fact that if you are going to divorce the two as we are in this Bill (it is quite right that we keep it to this Bill and not stray into the areas of other tied cottages, because we are dealing with rent agriculture in this Bill) then you have to keep that division between employment and tenancy.

I am afraid that this Amendment which was moved by the noble Earl—and I come back to what he said he realised—impinges upon the principle of this Bill. In fact, in speaking and raising the different points that they have raised, noble Lords have taken it for granted that everybody in even these—as the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, put it—minority of cases, will stay put. It appears that some of them will be in prison, anyhow, as a result of some of the things which have been mentioned. Either they will move away or they will want to get out; not everybody will stay put. We are concerned with breaches of tenancy as a ground for the loss of a dwelling-house, not with anything which arises in employment. Therefore I hope that the noble Earl will withdraw the Amendment.


Before the noble Baroness sits down, can I have an answer to my point? Does the noble Baroness regard arson as a normal misconduct at work? It is very important that we should have an answer so that we may decide whether or not to support the Amendment.

Baroness BIRK

If it is a question of the burning of a dwelling-house, this is covered by Case V. A number of the other examples which have been given are covered by Case IV, as the noble Lord pointed out, which then destroys the basis of the tenancy. If it is a question of dismissal from employment, it does not come within the principle which I have been expounding.


Is the noble Baroness arguing that setting fire to the house in which one lives as a tenant constitutes a ground for eviction, whereas setting fire to the properties with which one's work is concerned is not so covered? I really cannot believe that the noble Baroness, who is very reasonable in all kinds of respects, can possibly argue that principles are so wooden as all that. The noble Lord, Lord Walston, mentioned some extremely trifling exceptions, such as heads of colleges with whom I have not much sympathy. However, there are all kinds of other exceptions.

I would argue with the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, that there are all kinds of educational jobs where a teacher is obliged night and day to look after the children under his control. If such a teacher mishandled or ill-treated the children and were dismissed for that reason, would either of the noble Baronesses think that it was consonant with the principles of justice that the educational authority concerned, private or public, should be compelled to continue security of tenure? It seems to me that that is quite unreasonable.

Baroness BIRK

If I may deal with the point which the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, has raised, although I am sure that he did not mean to do so, he gave the impression that on the one hand action could be taken while on the other hand no action of any kind could be taken. If somebody commits the kind of acts which the noble Lord has suggested, then that person comes within the criminal law; he will not be left alone. We are discussing whether a person should lose his home if he has not broken the terms of his tenancy and has not warranted dispossession of his home.

As I pointed out, this is covered in the Bill itself, as it is covered in all the Rent Acts, by a number of exceptions where dispossession can take place. However, to tie up the question of dismissal from employment with the question of the loss of the home is adding a breach. With great respect, I cannot be drawn into a discussion of other forms of tied employment because at the moment we are discussing the Rent (Agriculture) Bill and tied cottages. What might be discussed in different areas I do not think would be right for me even to guess at the moment.


With respect to that point, may I draw the attention of the noble Baroness to the fact that this argument arose apropos thy; example given by the noble Lord, Lord Moyne, of the dismissal of a stockman whom he discovered was treating his stock cruelly. Is that necessarily something which comes under the criminal law? I should have thought that it was very marginal. I should also have thought that the noble Lord's action was entirely justifiable and that it would be an embarrassment to the conduct of his affairs if he were compelled to keep hanging about the place the person whom he discovered was committing this cruelty.

Baroness BIRK

In the normal course of events, if this Bill were not in existence, and the stockman were dismissed and the farmer or landlord wanted to get possession of the cottage, at the end of the day the man would probably be evicted and become a burden on the local authority. Under the Bill, if the farmer needs that accommodation for an incoming stockman I should think that he would have a very strong case which would be strongly supported by the agricultural dwelling-house advisory committee. It would certainly give him priority with the local authority. At the end of the day, therefore, there would be very little difference.


Then why not accept the Amendment?


We have had a long debate, but there is one question that I want to ask. If the Amendment is passed, surely it is a question of misconduct on the farm, not the question of criminality. My noble friend spoke about arson. It may be that the employee was so careless that he set fire to the haystack or destroyed a valuable tractor or other piece of farm machinery. Those are cases which would be described as misconduct, and the Amendment should therefore be supported. I do not agree with the argument about cruelty to animals because we have excluded the dairymen and livestock keepers from the Bill. Therefore the argument concerning cruelty to animals would not apply at the moment to the question of tied cottages.


We have had a long debate. I am more convinced than ever that we ought to press the Amendment. Therefore I ask the Committee to decide.

4.48 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 27A) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 154; Not-Contents, 73.

Airedale, L. Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Onslow, E.
Alport, L. Gage, V. Platt, L.
Amherst, E. George-Brown, L. Radnor, E.
Amory, V. Gladwyn, L. Rankeillour, L.
Amulree, L. Glasgow, E. Rathcreedan, L.
Arran, E. Glenkinglas, L. Redesdale, L.
Auckland, L. Goschen, V. Reigate, L.
Avebury, L. Gray, L. Robbins, L.
Balerno, L. Grey, E. Roberthall, L.
Balfour of Inchrye, L. Gridley, L. Robson of Kiddington, B.
Banks, L. Hankey, L. Rochdale, V.
Barnby, L. Hanworth, V. Romney, E.
Barrington, V. Harcourt, V. Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Harmar-Nicholls, L. Sackville, L.
Berkeley, B. Henley, L. St. Aldwyn, E.
Blake, L. Hives, L. St. Davids, V.
Bledisloe, V. Hylton-Foster, B. St. Just, L.
Boyd of Merton, V. Ilchester, E. Salisbury, M.
Bradford, E. Inchyra, L. Sandford, L.
Burnham, L. Jessel, L. Sandys, L.
Byers, L. Lauderdale, E. Savile, L.
Caccia, L. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L. Seear, B.
Caithness, E. Long, V. Sempill, Ly.
Campbell of Croy, L. Lovat, L. Sharples, B.
Carr of Hadley, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L. Simon, V.
Carrington, L. Luke, L. Spens, L.
Cathcart, E. Lyell, L. Stamp, L.
Clancarty, E. Mackie of Benshie, L. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Clark, L. Macleod of Borve, B. Strang, L.
Clitheroe, L. McNair, L. Strathclyde, L.
Clwyd, L. Mancroft, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Cobham, V. Margadale, L. Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.
Coleraine, L. Marley, L. Suffield, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Masham of Ilton, B. Swansea, L.
Cottesloe, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V. Swaythling, L.
Crawshaw, L. Maybray-King, L. Terrington, L.
Cromartie, E. Merrivale, L. Teviot, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Middleton, L. Teynham, L.
Daventry, V. Molson, L. Tranmire, L.
Davidson, V. Monck, V. Trefgarne, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Monk Bretton, L. Tweedsmuir, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Monson, L. Vickers, B.
Ebbisham, L. Morris of Borth-y-Gest, L. Vivian, L.
Eccles, V. Mottistone, L. Wade, L.
Ellenborough, L. Mountgarret, V. Wakefield of Kendal, L.
Elles, B. Mowbray and Stourton, L. [Teller.] Ward of North Tyneside, B.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Wardington, L.
Elton, L. Netherthorpe, L. Westbury, L.
Emmet of Amberley, B. Newall, L. Wigoder, L.
Erskine of Rerrick, L. Norfolk, D. Wolverton, L.
Ferrers, E. Northchurch, B. Young, B.
Forbes, L. O'Hagan, L.
Ampthill, L. Collison, L. Harris of Greenwich, L.
Arwyn, L. Cooper of Stockton Heath, L. Henderson, L.
Aylestone, L. Davies of Leek, L. Houghton of Sowerby, L.
Birk, B. Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Janner, L.
Blyton, L. Douglas of Barloch, L. Kaldor, L.
Bolton, L. Douglass of Cleveland, L. Kinloss, Ly.
Brimelow, L. Evans of Hungershall, L. Kirkhill, L.
Brockway, L. Gordon-Walker, L. Leatherland, L.
Buckinghamshire, E. Goronwy-Roberts, L. Lee of Newton, L.
Burntwood, L. Greenway, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Champion, L. Greenwood of Rossendale, L. Lloyd of Hampstead, L.
Chorley, L. Hale, L. Lovell-Davis, L.
Lyons of Brighton, L. Raglan, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
McCluskey, L. Rhodes, L. Wall, L.
Maelor, L. Sainsbury, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Mais, L. Shepherd, L. Walston, L.
Morris of Grasmere, L. Shinwell, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Northfield, L. Slater, L. White, B.
Oram, L. Snow, L. Wigg, L.
Paget of Northampton, L. Stedman, B. [Teller.] Wilson of Radcliffe, L.
Pannell, L. Stone, L. Winterbottom, L.
Parry, L. Stow Hill, L. Wise, L.
Peart, L. (L. Privy Seal.) Strabolgi, L. [Teller.] Wootton of Abinger, B.
Peddie, L. Summerskill, B. Wynne-Jones, L.
Phillips, B.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.

5 p.m.

Lord SANDYS moved Amendment No. 28:

Page 41, line 11, at end insert— ("2. The tenant, or any person residing or lodging with him or subtenant of his, by any act or omission, has caused substantial damage to, or has placed in jeopardy, agricultural operations on land adjoining the dwelling-house.").

The noble Lord said: We move now into Case IV, and as the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, has already referred to Cases IV and V with regard to arson, this will be familiar ground; but I should like to refer particularly to the breadth of Case IV, and with your Lordships' permission I will repeat the text. It says: The tenant, or any person residing or lodging with him or sub-tenant of his, has been guilty of conduct which is a nuisance or annoyance to adjoining occupiers, or has been convicted of using the dwelling-house, or allowing the dwelling-house to be used, for immoral or illegal purposes.

The Amendment which is attached to Case IV is as set out on the Marshalled List and the point about the Amendment is that very often the situation will arise in which the act as described in the Amendment, that is substantial damage, takes place not within the dwelling-house itself but on adjoining ground. Circumstances have already been described in which a rick has been burnt or something of that nature, and perhaps I may quote from a situation which has come to my knowledge, which is of a somewhat similar description.

Let us suppose the circumstances of a tractor driver who is employed on a farm, who has a disagreement with the farmer and is correctly dismissed from his employment. The ex-employee wishes to set up a small business and he decides that a business which would bring small profits and quick returns would be a scrap metal business. So lie purchases a vehicle and stacks his goods alongside the dwelling-house. One of his activities—and a highly anti-social one—will be the burning of motor tyres and the removal of such burnable pat is of the scrap as he deems necessary. Here is a case where considerable nuisance occurs, not in the dwelling-house but on land or premises adjoining the dwelling-house; and it may well give rise to substantial damage.

Your Lordships may think that circumstances like this can be adequately catered for by prosecution under the Public Health Act 1936, or under the misuse of premises legislation, or conceivably under the Town and Country Planning Act 1971. That may be so. It may be possible to prosecute under the Public Health Act 1936, hut in cases known to me the local authority did not see fit to do so.

It seems right and proper that Case IV should be extended to agricultural operations on land adjoining the dwelling-house. This could be horticulture. It would be agricultural business conducted in premises alongside; that is, a large turkey farm or something of that nature, which is prejudiced by an activity of the type that I have described. As we have spent a great deal of time on the last Amendment, I do not wish to labour the point. I beg to move.

Baroness BIRK

As the nobl! Lord, Lord Sandys, said, we spent a great deal of time on the previous Amendment. Basically the principle is the same, that the grounds for possession in the Rent Act should relate to the conduct of a tenant as a tenant and not to his general social or unsocial behaviour, however obnoxious that may be. While one can accept that an ex-farm worker still living on the farm may have more opportunities for damaging his landlord's property than an ordinary Rent Act tenant, this again is a difference of degree, and the principle, we believe, should still remain.

In addition to the examples cited by the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, there is already in Case IV the conduct he mentioned. There are remedies which go beyond the ones which he mentioned under the Health Act, because there are remedies under both civil and criminal law. I do not want to prolong this discussion, and I shall not read every word I have in front of me. But there are a great many problems about this matter. It could be that this is the conduct of someone living near who in fact is not an ex-farm worker and has nothing to do with the farmer. It could be someone who, for instance, has a weekend cottage bounding on the farm who behaves like this; so it is very difficult to bring this in. It would be quite wrong to bring these points once again into the Bill. To sum up briefly, I rest the case on this and would ask the noble Lord to withdraw the Amendment purely on the basis of the main principle: that it is a question of the security under the Rent Acts. At this stage I hope we are not going to spend too long on this matter. I will not go into the various technical faults which there are in the Amendment.


The noble Baroness mentioned that there are technical faults in the Amendment. Naturally, I am anxious to know whether these are drafting faults. Nevertheless, there are two matters which I must draw to the attention of your Lordships. The noble Baroness acknowledged that the way in which Case IV is drawn relates to the 1968 Act, in so far as it allows for circumstances broadly of an urban nature. This is one of our basic quarrels with the drafting of the Bill, because Case IV is a straight apport from Schedule 3 of that Act. I think that the circumstances which I have described are ones which are not necessarily catered for by criminal damage proceedings but more related to the law of nuisance, which, as the noble Baroness will be well aware, is a particular branch of the law of considerable difficulty. So far as this Amendment is concerned, I am prepared to withdraw it on the basis that we may wish to bring forward a different one on Report.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.5 p.m.

Lord SANDYS moved Amendment No. 29: Page 42, leave out lines 10 and 11.

The noble Lord said: We move on from Case IV to Case IX. Towards the end of Part I of Case IX two lines are referred to. They say: and the landlord did not become landlord by purchasing the dwelling-house, or any interest in it, after 12th April 1976". The Amendment which I move, to delete those two lines, is one which is related inevitably to what we believe to be an unreasonable qualification written into the Bill. Circumstances often occur on a farm when there is a revision of its boundaries. Perhaps another piece of land is purchased, and with it a tied cottage. If a date is fixed, such as the 12th April 1976, immediately that particular property and its tied cottage which become added to the farm become subject to this particular disqualification.

Unfortunately, the other point to which draftsmen so rarely pay attention is that of building a date into an Act of Parliament. Inevitably it makes that Act of Parliament the more easily disapplied to particular cases. It is a situation which we should guard against. I have quoted one example, and I could quote more, where an interest was taken by the landlord. It could well be that it would become part of the disqualification in Case IX. I do not think at this stage I wish to dwell too long on the Amendment, as I feel sure it will be clear to your Lordships.


Historically, farming has been a family business. Because sons and daughters have followed their parents into the family business they have all had incentive to improve the farm, to reinvest in fixed equipment, and this makes Britain's agriculture the most efficient in the world. In any family business it may be necessary to provide extra accommodation as the next generation comes along, accommodation into which they can move or into which the father can retire. In fact, farmers never retire fully, but continue in their so-called retirement to afford valuable help on the farm, giving continuity to the business.

Whilst it might be reasonable for the Rent Acts to contain such a provision, farming is totally different from other activities because of the continuity involved in the farming enterprise. It is quite wrong that the sensible provisions contained in Case IX should not apply to accommodation acquired after 12th April 1976. It is quite clear that after the passing of this Bill the farmer will only ever consider acquiring a new cottage where he can foresee the need for that accommodation in the future. To preclude this person from using it for the purpose for which it was acquired must be absurd and of no benefit to the industry. The only farmers to be affected by the legislation as it stands will be owner occupiers who purchased after 12th April. In present circumstances they will be limited in number and their applications under Case IX will not be very numerous. It is most unreasonable for the Government to legislate against those they have supported by other recent legislation, particularly when it is subject to a court's decision on the question of hardship.

The Earl of ONSLOW

As I understand it, with the 12th April date written into it you could get the following situation. A farmer has retired; his son lives in the main house and the farmer goes and lives in a small house, but the farmer still owns the property. The farmer dies on 13th April 1976 and his widow still goes on living there. Is it not possible that when the son in his turn retires he could not get possession of that cottage? Does it mean that the whole of this Case IX becomes obsolete with the passing of generations? If it becomes obsolete, because of death and passing on over the years, because of this date, then I would support this Amendment wholeheartedly.

Baroness BIRK

In the first place perhaps I could deal with the general principle of this. This is made quite clear in Case IX, where it makes it a ground for possession that the landlord reasonably requires the house to live in himself or to house certain very close relatives. There must also be no greater hardship in granting the order than in refusing to do so. All it does, as it stands at the moment, is to exclude cases where the landlord bought the house with an occupier already in it after 12th April 1976. Again, this exclusion is modelled on the parallel case in the Rent Act. The principle underlying it is quite simple. If a landlord bought an occupied house before the Bill was published intending to use it for himself or one of his relatives, Case IX would still be open to him. If, however, he bought an occupied house after the Bill was published, when he would be in a position to know of the protection to be afforded I to agricultural workers and their successors, then he should not be allowed to use Case IX against the occupier in question. I would have thought this principle is fair and deserves to be upheld, and there is no reason to depart from it in the context of the Bill.

The Amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, has moved, and to which the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, spoke, would have the result that the landlord would be able to buy an occupied house, with or without the farm, after the Bill had been published, knowing that the occupier might be protected once the Bill was enacted, and could then claim possession in order to house himself or a member of his own or his wife's close family. This would be a breach of the principle which I have just outlined.

If I understood the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, correctly, the case he cited does not really come into it, because the Bill deals with buying a house and, as I understood it, the noble Earl was talking about a widow continuing to in the house. The widow could continue to live in the house. I was listening very carefully to what the noble Earl said. When he spoke about keeping t in the family, that house would already be in his possession. What we are talking about is buying it after 12th April 1976. If it is there, there is no exclusion.


I quite see the principle of excluding a separate cottage bought after the date of the Act purely to use it for the purpose of housing your mother-in-law or whoever it may be, but what we are really talking about is buying the whole farm. If you buy a farm with five cottages on it, and through passage of time the farmer wants to retire, it is a little hard then that there is a protected occupant in one of the cottages and he has got to go and buy something else. I think there is a great difference between buying the whole farm and buying one protected cottage or house in order to be able to turn out the people under this case. I wonder whether the noble Baroness would consider looking at this difference between the case of the whole farm being bought and somebody buying one cottage as a device.

Baroness BIRK

If somebody buys the whole farm, then he is buying it in the knowledge that there are in certain of the cottages occupants who are protected. This is exactly the same as somebody buying a house in which some of the fiats may be occupied and some not. He buys it in that knowledge; he knows what he is buying. I do not really see that there is any difference with regard to the principle.


Surely it is grossly unjust then to people residing in protected cottages on farms which have been inherited as against farms which have been bought. Surely there is no difference between the two. For all time you are making two different classes of protected occupants.

Baroness YOUNG

This has been taken precisely from the Rent Act 1968. Am I right in thinking that if someone buys a cottage in which there is no tenant after 12th April then this case does not apply? What the noble Baroness is saying, and what I understand the Bill is saying, is that someone cannot purchase a cottage, or presumably a farm with cottages, after 12th April and then expect to get a Case IX order. But if he purchases a farm with cottages that are empty, which I think is the kind of case to which Lord Mackie was referring, this particular case does not apply.

Baroness BIRK

As I understand it, that is exactly so, but I do not see how that ties up with what the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, said. If it was empty it was empty. He is talking of a case where there are people in the cottage. There is a difference if you have got people in it already, but there is no difference between that situation and an urban situation where you buy something knowing somebody is there. In any case you probably pay less for it because of the fact that you have sitting tenants there.


Perhaps I may explain my point. Some people will inherit farms with people in the cottages. They can apply Case IX for the benefit of an aunt or grandfather, or whoever it may be. Other people will buy farms but they will be totally unable to apply that Case. This does not appear to me to be particularly fair.

Baroness BIRK

They can only have brought it after the date when the Bill applies, after 12th April 1976 when the Bill was published, knowing that there was going to be a change in the tied cottage situation. They are then buying with their eyes open, knowing that there is a change in the law. When you get a change in the law about anything you take an entirely different view. You cannot really have it static. What the noble Lord is suggesting would be quite contrary to the principle of the Bill. Inserting a specific date, I would have thought, was much clearer and fairer, because everyone then knows exactly where they are.

5.20 p.m.


Is not the wording as it stands at the moment legislating against potential future owner-occupiers? Those are the only people who are really going to be affected. Those are the people who contribute to this country's high efficiency in farming. If they cannot, in the very small number of cases, perhaps with agreement with the present occupier, move a son into it to increase efficiency, then one probably is going to damage farming in perhaps a small number of cases because there will be only a small number of cases involved.


I agree with my noble friend that it seems to be quite wrong that you should create two different types of farm ownership, because this is what it will mean. As Case IX(2) says: The court, having regard to all the circumstances of the case, including the question whether other accommodation is available for the landlord or tenant, is satisfied that no greater hardship would be caused by granting the order than by refusing to grant it. I should like to claim that the person who is in fact the owner of the farm, who may require one of the cottages for his elderly mother or father, or for his young son or daughter, although he bought it after 12th April, should have the same right as somebody who happens to have owned it before. Also, the tenant is safeguarded because the court will decide to whom the greater hardship will be caused.


I think that some very real points have been raised, particularly by my noble friends and also by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, because this causes a situation to occur where an owner who died possessed of a farm with perhaps one or more farm cottages will now, according to the Bill as it stands, be unable to sell that property in a satisfactory manner; that is to say, in the manner in which farms are normally sold, with vacant possession of the tied cottages. This creates a real problem for the future owner of the property, which I think the noble Baroness, Lady Robson, pointed out, because this is a circumstance which could easily occur in purchases after 12th April. We are creating two classes of tied cottage in these circum-stances. I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to look at this matter again, because we shall certainly wish to bring forward another Amendment at a later Stage With that, I think it would be a good plan at this stage to withdraw this Amendment.

The Earl of ONSLOW

Before the noble Lord withdraws his Amendment, could I take up one point that the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, made? She said that the man will have bought the property and he will have paid a lower price for it as a result of this Bill.

Baroness BIRK

No, I did not say that at all.

The Earl of ONSLOW

Yes, she did. With the greatest respect, that is exactly what the noble Baroness meant. She said that, knowing that this Bill is to be on the Statute Book somebody will then pay a lower price for the property. I think if we check in Hansard tomorrow that is what will emerge. If that is the case, this Bill is even more disgraceful, because what it is doing is taking away people's capital, taking away people's money without any compensation whatsoever, and it is a total disgrace.

Baroness BIRK

I did not Say that at all. I said that if one buys a property, whether it is a farming property or an urban property, where there are already sitting tenants in part of it, it is the normal commercial payment for it that it will be lower than if you have empty and complete occupation. That is all I was saying, and the position is the same whether it is a farm or not. If the noble Earl is arguing that, in order to get what he sees as equity, people should be turned out of their tied cottages and made homeless so that somebody could buy the farm and have an empty farm and empty cottages, then he has made out a magnificent case for the Bill.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.25 p.m.

Lord SANDYS moved Amendment No. 30:

Page 42, line 25, at end insert—

("Case Alternative accommodation provided or arranged by housing authority

1. The housing authority concerned have made an offer in writing to the tenant of alternative accommodation which appears to them to be suitable, specifying the date when the accommodation will be available and the date (not being less than 14 days from the date of offer) by which the offer must be accepted.


The housing authority concerned have given notice in writing to the tenant that they have received from a person specified in the notice an offer in writing to rehouse the tenant in alternative accommodation which appears to the housing authority concerned to be suitable, and the notice specifies both the date when the accommodation will be available and the date (not being less than 14 days from the date when the notice was given to the tenant) by which the offer must be accepted.

2. The landlord shows that the tenant accepted the offer (by the housing authority or other person) within the time duly specified in the offer.


The landlord shows that the tenant did not so accept the offer, and the tenant does not satisfy the court that he acted reasonably in failing to accept the offer.

3.—(1) The accommodation offered in must the opinion of the court fulfil the conditions in this paragraph.

(2) The accommodation must be reasonably suitable to the needs of the tenant and his family as regards proximity to place of work.

(3) The accommodation roust be reasonably suitable to the means of the tenant, and to the needs of the tenant and his family as regards extent.")

The noble Lord said: This Amendment has already been spoken to. I think that the situation has already been explained in some detail, but I should like to refer in particular to the situation where— The accommodation must be reasonably suitable to the needs of the tenant and his family as regards proximity to place of work. We have already had a considerable debate on proximity to the place of work on the first Amendment we dealt with this afternoon, and in Standing Committee K in its Fifth Sitting there was a considerable argument which starts at column 202 of the Official Report and which I do not think we need repeat this evening. Nevertheless, if the Government have really given thought to this problem, we hope that they will have revised the brief which no doubt the noble Baroness is about to read to us and which was used by the Under-Secretary of State Mr. Armstrong on 28th June. I shall look forward with interest to see what reply the noble Baroness gives.

Baroness BIRK

I was not going to read out anything or say any more at all. I understood that when the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, withdrew Amendment No. 26, which is really only half of it, he was taking out this part in order to put it in somewhere else. He withdrew that Amendment and we had a reasonable debate on the whole thing. I took it for granted that the whole thing was withdrawn. I certainly was not going to start arguing it out again. I think I have said all I need to say on it.


To reduce the length of our discussions—and I hope the noble Baroness will acknowledge this—I should be perfectly willing to withdraw it. When the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, spoke to the previous Amendment he naturally spoke to this one also but he did not move it at that time. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 3, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 9 agreed to.

Clause 10 [Effect of determination of superior tenancy, etc.]:

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 31: Page 10, line 33, leave out ("occupies it under") and insert ("has").

The noble Baroness said: This is part of a long group of Amendments that I spoke to with Amendments Nos.13, 14, 15, 16, 18, 19 and 20. I beg to move.


The Question is, that this Amendment be agreed to? As many as are of that opinion will say "Content". To the contrary, "Not-Content". The Contents have it.


I do not know whether this is in order, and the noble Viscount the Lord Chairman may have remarkably more refined ears than I have, but I never heard anyone say Content".


I will put the Question again. The Question is that Amendment No. 31 be agreed to? As many as are of that opinion will say "Content". To the contrary, "Not-Content". The Contents have it.

Clause 10, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 11 agreed to.

Schedule 4 [Terms of the statutory tenancy]:

5.30 p.m.

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 32: Page 44, line 24, leave out ("could reasonably provide, though not available") and insert ("had provided for the occupier, but was not providing").

The noble Baroness said: This Amendment has the same object as one tabled by the Opposition on Report in another place but which was then not discussed. I imagine, therefore, that it will be welcomed by noble Lords opposite. It is intended to make it clear that a land-lord under a statutory tenancy is to be under no obligation to provide services to a tenant which he never provided before the commencement of the statutory tenancy. The present wording of paragraph 5 of Schedule 4 could be read as meaning that in certain circumstances a landlord might fall under such an obligation. But this is not the intention of the paragraph, and the Amendment is meant to remove the possibility of an interpretation of this kind.

Baroness YOUNG

I thank the noble Baroness, and the Amendment indeed meets an Opposition point was raised in another place and which makes much clearer what this paragraph of the Schedule means. As this has been so helpful in this case, I hope that we may on Report see if we can tidy up some of the other points that have been made. In the meantime, I am grateful for this one.

The Earl of ONSLOW moved Amendment No. 33:

Page 45, line 5, at end insert— ("( ) It shall be a condition of the statutory tenancy that the tenant shall keep the premises in a clean condition and in tenantable and decorative repair.")

The noble Earl said: Appreciating that we are anxious to finish the Committee stage of the Bill tonight, I hardly need speak to this Amendment; it is so clear. Under the Bill the landlord has certain obligations, and correctly so, because it is obviously in his interest to keep property in repair and good order. It seems to me equally reasonable and in the tenant's interest that he should keep the internal decorations and the place generally clean and tidy. If he does not, then on his death or when he moves away not only will the landlord be landed with inordinately large expenses but the new tenant will have delay and difficulty while the place is being redecorated from top to toe. Perhaps it is exaggerating to say that it will need to be redecorated from top to toe, but it seems that any reasonable man would want to keep the property in which he is living in decent decorative condition, clean, tidy, painted and so on. The Amendment is not asking for silk hung wallpaper or anything of that sort; it simply asks that the place should be kept reasonably clean and tidy, reasonably well painted. This seems so reasonable and obvious that I should be wasting the Committee's time if I went on further about it. I beg to move.

Baroness BIRK

I am grateful to the noble Earl for saying that we are anxious to move on. I wonder whether he realises that as the result of a point raised in Committee by the Opposition in another place, there was on Report inserted in Schedule 4(4) the words: … the tenant's obligation to use the premises in a tenant-like manner. I should have thought that that covered the noble Earl's point. I appreciate that it is difficult to find one's way round some of these provisions, and having given him that explanation I will not go further into the matter unless he requires me to do so.

The Earl of ONSLOW

I had appreciated the insertion of the phrase "tenant-like manner" and I had hoped that the noble Baroness would explain its ancestry. Although the Amendment is rather longer, it is crystal clear whereas "tenant-like manner" is not very pleasant English.


There does not appear to be any dispute between us on this matter. Under paragraph 2 there is a tenant's liability to repair, but that seems to be an inconvenient place to put it, and I should have thought that it would improve the drafting of the Schedule if something better were inserted about tenants' obligations, perhaps under paragraph 6, with a proper heading. We already have the heading "Landlord's obligation to repair" and I should have thought that a paragraph after that saying "Tenant's obligation to repair" would make it much clearer, rather than having to trace it all back to the paragraph headed "Covenant for quiet enjoyment, etc."

Baroness BIRK

I do not always follow the ways of lawyers. My reading of the Schedule leads me to think that, being in that position, it gave it a wider application compared with having it in rather more restrictive areas of the provision; but that is only my reading of it. Paragraph 7 would, I understand, have been the wrong place to put it from a legal point of view; please do not ask me why. I do not have the slightest idea why, but that it is what the lawyers say. I think it has a wider application where it is now, but evidently in paragraph 7 it cannot go.

The Earl of ONSLOW

noble Baroness says that this cannot go into the paragraph headed "Tenant's obligations", even though it is a tenant's obligation. I appreciate that she is in a muddle because she admitted she was—

Baroness BIRK

I did not.

The Earl of ONSLOW

I quite understand that, because many of us are. However, her argument against the Amendment seems rather odd.

Baroness BIRK

I did not say I was in a muddle; I thought the noble Earl was, but I certainly did not use that expression. I said that I thought he might not have noticed the words that had been added. If he wants a fuller explanation as to why I cannot accept his Amendment, I can tell him that as drafted—this goes for his other Amendment, No. 34, although I appreciate that we are dealing with No. 33—it seeks to impose additional requirements on a statutory tenant. It would require him to keep the whole of the premises, the exterior and the interior, in a clean condition and in decorative repair, which would go further than what is asked for from tenants generally. It is not certain how the courts would interpret the provision, because it would in some respects directly clash with the provisions of Section 32 of the Housing Act 1961, which is applied by paragraph 6 of this Schedule and which makes the landlord responsible for external and structural repairs.

Further to the point I made about the addition we have made to paragraph 4, I would say that that paragraph includes implied terms such as … the landlord's covenant for quiet enjoyment and the tenant's obligation to use the premises … and paragraph 7 sets out other terms relating to the tenant's obligations. Looking at it again, I think that this is simply a breaking up of various obligations under different headings. I suppose that any of us could decide to shuffle them round one way or the other, but I suggest that as long as the provisions are there, that is the important thing. As for case law on this, Lord Denning, in a leading case—and I do not know whether the phrase "tenant-like manner" came from him—said: … the tenant must do little jobs about the place which a reasonable tenant would do … and examples he quoted were cleaning the chimney and unblocking the sink.

To that extent, the tenant is under paragraph 4 of the Schedule already obliged to keep the premises clean, but the obligation to do so is not the same as a repairing obligation. This, therefore, is where I part company with the noble Earl's Amendment, because if the tenant were made liable for keeping the premises in "tenantable and decorative repair", in accordance with the Amendment, that might impose an onerous burden on him, particularly if the house was already in a dilapidated state when he took it over. As a matter of law, he could not keep it in repair unless he first put it into repair, so he might be saddled with extremely large initial expenses where he would have to redecorate the place inside and out. It is for the reason that it goes very much further than any other obligations in law, although probably the noble Earl did not intend that the Amendment would put this sort of burden on the tenant.


I thought there was going to be no difference between us. When the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, said that, after all, these Amendments are perfectly all right because they are already covered in the words "tenant-like repair", I thought she was saying precisely that what my noble friend was trying to achieve in these Amendments was already covered. But later the noble Baroness said that these Amendments went very much further than I thought my noble friend meant. There are two points here: first, if there is nothing between us in intent, which is that the tenant should keep his house in reasonable repair and reasonably decorated, I suggest that it should be put in the Bill. Secondly, if my noble friend's Amendments go far too wide by all means let us redraft the Amendments. I would hope that the noble Baroness would look at this again because I do not believe that there is any-thing of substance between us, except for the fact that I do not believe that the words, "tenant-like repair" are sufficiently specific to indicate that a tenant should look after his house.

I certainly do not think that my noble friend's Amendment is intended to mean that a tenant has to do up the whole house from scratch or has to keep the outside in repair. If the noble Baroness advises that that would be the effect of the Amendment perhaps at Report stage she would be kind enough to consider another Amendment which would exclude these provisions. I do not think it is sufficient to leave the words, "tenant-like repair" as the sole criterion by which tenants would be obliged to look after their houses.

I would also ask the noble Baroness at Report stage whether she could find out why paragraph 7 is not the right place to put it. I know she brushed it off in a charming way by saying lawyers considered it was not the right place, but she had no idea why. With great respect, if my noble friend puts down an Amendment to this part of the Bill I think it is reasonable to expect the Government to be able to say why in fact it is unreasonable. The mere fact that lawyers say that it is not the right place is not a full enough answer as to why it is the wrong place.

Baroness BIRK

Certainly that point is taken. As the Opposition in another place had raised it, I genuinely thought that it had not been realised or had been overlooked that paragraph 4(2) had been inserted in the Bill. I am now in a situation where I ask how much more we can go on putting in. I think we have covered it as far as possible. If the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, says that he is quite sure his noble friend Lord Onslow did not mean that the tenant would have to do all this work, the way the Amendment is worded, … the tenant shall keep the premises in a clean condition and in tenantable and decorative repair goes so far beyond paragraph 4(2) that one must take these things in the way they will be interpreted. It may not be interpreted in this overwhelming way by some people, but once something is written into a Statute the words are interpreted in the way they are written. I think it would be wrong and most unfair for me to promise to come back and alter it on Report because I do not think we can go further than we have done in paragraph 4(2). I will certainly write to both noble Earls and explain, and perhaps enlarge on the "tenant-like manner", and try to give an explanation as to why it is in that place and cannot be in paragraph 7. It would be quite wrong for me to hold out any hope of enlarging on this.


I find the argument of the noble Baroness slightly difficult. In her opening remarks she said that she did not know whether we were mare that this had been put in the Bill. The inference was that, as it had been put in the Bill, in paragraph 4(2), these Amendments were unnecessary. She then went on to say that she could not possibly put them into the Bill due to the fact that they went very much wider than Paragraph 4(2). It seems to me that the two do not exactly equate. The Amendment is in my name as well as that of my noble friend Lord Onslow; therefore I take as much blame for the fact that perhaps it is inadequately drafted. I would only hope that the noble Baroness would be kind enough to look at this again. She said there is a limit to how far we can go in improving the Bill, but with, respect I would suggest that as yet the Government have not given one jot; therefore it would be helpful if the noble Baroness could concede the points which we are quite reasonably making. There is no Party political difference about this and the point could be put in the Bill just to make it clearer.

Baroness BIRK

I do not think the noble Earl is very fair in saying the Government have not given one jot. The reason that paragraph 4(2) is in the Bill is that the Opposition asked for it in another place. I was saying that perhaps this had not been noticed and these Amendments were roughly covering the point, but going far wider than we could accept and possibly wider than the drafters of the Amendment realised. It would put an onerous burden on a tenant and go further than any other Rent Act in its demands on the tenant. For that reason I am saying that I could not accept it.


When the noble Baroness is looking at this ghastly phrase, "tenant-like repair", would she not consider whether there may not be various sorts of tenants. These are statutory tenants. Their type may be quite different from ordinary tenants or monthly tenants or some other sort of tenant. If possible, could she abolish the phrase altogether and put down something that means something?


I hope my noble friend will not be too disturbed about the criticism of the expression, "tenant-like". It is not such an unusual kind of word. We speak about things being done in a workmanlike manner; we talk about people having a businesslike attitude to life; of people having a sportsmanlike attitude to life. Surely, if we can understand what those words mean, we ought to be able to understand the meaning of "tenant-like".


Being as generous-hearted as I can, I would say that this is a most absurd interjection. We are trying to put into the Bill something so that everyone knows exactly where they stand. The noble Lord says that everyone knows what is meant by "sportsmanlike" and vague phrases like that. I do not think it is good enough to equate the word, "tenant-like", which the noble Baroness says is specific, with a thoroughly vague phrase like "sportsmanlike". If those two are equatable, or equitable, then I think we ought to find something more specific than "tenant-like".


If I were a tenant, I should know what tenant-like duties I had to perform; if I were a land-lord and expected my tenant to perform tenant-like duties, I think I should understand what I wanted him to do.


Perhaps the noble Lord would address his mind at some juncture to considering why the landlord and tenant Acts are so highly complicated if it is perfectly simple to know what they mean.

The Earl of ONSLOW

I suggest that British Acts of Parliament are not the place to start inventing new English words. As regards the Amendments, I do not think that we are quite so far apart as some of the arguments have seemed to say. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, that one is not intending that the tenant should put on a new roof or paint the outside of the building, nor, as I say, did I intend with my Amendments that the tenant of a badly decorated cottage or house should immediately go out and spend a fortune on silk wallpaper to hang on the walls. What one hopes is that the tenant will keep the house in the state in which he finds it and, for the sake of this particular argument, let us assume that he has found it in a reasonable state. He should keep it in that state—no better and no worse.

If "tenant-like" means only unblocking the sink and sweeping the chimney, any tenant who does not unblock the sink will find his kitchen flooded and himself unable to do the washing up and any tenant who does not sweep the chimney will find his drawing room filled with smoke so that he will not be able to have a fire. That is not being untenantlike, it is just being a complete buffoon. So I hope that this goes slightly further than unblocking the sink and sweeping the chimney and that it really means what my noble friends on this side of the House would like it to mean. If it is confined to those two matters, I am very much afraid that I shall have to come back to this point quite strongly on Report. I admit that the wording of the Amendment is open to misinterpretation and I am grateful to the noble Baroness for pointing that out to me. With those remarks, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.53 p.m.

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 35: Page 46, line 11, leave out from ("tenancy") to end of line 13 and insert ("including one as respect which an agreement under section 12 of this Act either fixes the rent or provides that no rent is payable")

The noble Baroness said: With this Amendment I shall speak also to Amendment No. 38. At present under the Bill a landlord under a statutory tenancy may by written notice claim either a fair rent or provisional rent depending on whether a rent has yet been registered for the dwelling-house in question. He may also by written notice claim rates which he or his head landlord bears. Clause 12, however, enables him to demand less than his full entitlement if he so wishes by agreement with the tenant. The upper limit to what he may demand in this way is set at provisional rent or registered rent plus the amount of rates borne by the landlord or head landlord and prevailing at the times the agreement is made; or else provisional rent or registered rent plus a variable amount equal to rates in cases where the agreement specifically envisages the rent rising as rates increase.

This is not only unduly complex, as I am sure noble Lords will agree, but could also result in a strange anomaly. It would he possible for an agreed rent which included an element for rates to be higher than the level of provisional or registered rent net of rates. If therefore a landlord ended his agreement with a view to recovering in future his rent entitlement and his rates entitlement separately, he might find himself unable to take the first step of recovering the full rent entitlement because to do so he would have to serve a notice of increase. This would not be possible if he actually wanted to demand less than what he had hitherto been recovering.

These two Amendments should make for greater clarity in establishing a tenant's liability towards a landlord who chooses not to claim his full entitlement to rent. The Amendments would simplify the existing provisions by separating rent from rates entirely, which is really the basic point. The landlord and tenant would be able under Clause 12 to agree on a rent up to the provisional or registered level. Rates born by the landlord or his head landlord would be recoverable under Schedule 4 from the tenant at any time on service of written notice. This is already the case under the Bill when no Clause 12 agreement is in force, as I have mentioned. The separation should avoid the complexity inherent in the existing draft. I beg to move.

Baroness YOUNG

The Committee will be grateful to the noble Baroness for these Amendments and for her explanation. I am bound to say that reading Schedule 4 is really a very complicated business. I should not like to say that I have absolutely crystal clear in my mind what it means, so it is very helpful to have it on the record. What I believe it is important to understand is that where an agreement is reached under Clause 12, whereby the rent paid is less than the fair rent would provide, it is possible for the landlord to recover the full amount of rates under Schedule 4. With that under-standing, I am glad to accept these two Amendments.

Schedule 4, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 12 [Agreed rents]:

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 36: Page 11, line 41, leave out ("and any rent payable under subsection (12) below")

The noble Baroness said: With the leave of the House, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos.37 and 42. I should say straight away that these Amendments are non-political, straightforward and meant to clarify. They re-order the provisions of Clause 12 dealing with rent payable after an agreement has come to an end but has not been replaced either by a fresh agreement or by the landlord serving notice to claim his full entitlement of provisional or registered rent. But they do not in any way alter the sense of the provision.

In such circumstances, by virtue of Clause 12(12), the rent payable continues to be the amount payable or last payable under the agreement. The new subsection stipulates that this amount must not exceed the registered rent level from the date that registration takes effect, and that any excess above this level is irrecoverable. It spells out what was already provided in more condensed fashion in the two passages being removed from sub-sections 4 and 5. I beg to move.

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 37: Page 12, line 1, leave out ("or under subsection (12) below")

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 38: Page 12, line 5, leave out from beginning to end of line 25.

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 39: Page 12, line 37, leave out from ("no") to ("and") in line 39 and insert ("notice of increase under section 13 or section 15 of this Act takes effect")

The noble Baroness said: This is a drafting Amendment which deals with the period when a Clause 12 agreement comes to an end and the provisional or registered rent is not payable because no notice under Clause 13 or Clause 15 has been served. It is simpler to follow and also makes it clear that any Clause 13 or 15 notice of increase is to lapse on conclusion of a subsequent agreement as to rent under Clause 12. I beg to move.

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 40: Page 12, line 41, leave out from ("payable") to first ("payable") in line 42 and insert ("or last")

6 p.m.

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 41: Page 12, line 44, leave out ("for that last rental period of") and insert ("or last payable, under")

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 41 I also wish to refer to Amendment No. 40. The purpose of these drafting Amendments is to achieve consistency of wording with Clause 13(4) and with Clause 15(4). Clause 13(4) and Clause 15(4) lay down that a landlord in serving notice of increase to recover pro-visional or registered rent must state the rent payable, or last payable, under any Clause 12 agreement in force up till that point. Clause 12(12) lays down that if an agreement comes to an end and is not replaced either by a fresh agreement or by the landlord demanding provisional or registered rent, the tenant is to go on paying the same rent as under the agreement. Since Clauses 12(12), 13(4) and 15(4) all deal with the rent paid (or, in the case of a variable rent, with the last rent paid) under a Clause 12 agreement, there is every reason for their wording to be the same. It is far more consistent and far clearer. I beg to move.

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 42:

Page 12, line 45, at end insert— ( ) Where a rent is registered for the dwelling-house at any time after the termination of the agreement, as from the date from which the registration takes effect the rent payable under subsection (12) above shall not exceed the weekly or other periodical equivalent of the amount of the rent so registered; and if the rent so payable exceeds the limit imposed by the foregoing provision of this subsection, the amount of the excess shall be irrecoverable from the tenant.

On Question, Whether Clause 12, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?

Baroness YOUNG

As I understand it Clause 12 deals with a situation where there is a rent agreed between the landlord and the tenant. The clause says that this agreement, which will be a freely negotiated agreement, can be for only less than the fair rent would be if it were registered by a rent officer. I hope that I have got this position quite right. The point I want to put to the noble Baroness—and I hope that she and her colleagues will consider it to be a very serious one—is, if it is to be a freely negotiated agreement between the landlord and the tenant, why has it to be fixed with the registered rent as an upper limit?

One of the most serious aspects of the housing situation in the country today, I believe, is the number of houses—particu-larly private rented houses—which fall into disrepair for one reason or another. The fact of the matter is that the rents frequently do not cover the cost of repairs. We have just had a very long debate about repairs generally, and I think that we are all agreed that whatever interpretation we may make of repairs, we are talking about only internal repairs and not external repairs.

Of course it would be perfectly possible to argue that the farmer would keep his houses in good repair because he may hope to let them again to a farmworker, and therefore there is every incentive to keep them in good repair. But if for one reason or another he does not keep them in good repair, we could reach a situation where there would be almost no incentive to repair and so we should find another group of houses gradually falling into disrepair. I am not wishing in any way to open up the whole question of the Rent Acts which is outside the terms of the Bill. But what I cannot quite understand is why a freely negotiated agreement should have an upper limit put on it, provided it is a freely negotiated agreement. Furthermore, if for example the owner of the property makes some major improvement, such as installing central heating or carrying out some other major improvement which the tenant wants, and the tenant is perfectly prepared to agree a higher rent because of the major improvement, why is that not acceptable? I should like to know what the noble Baroness thinks about this point.

Baroness BIRK

One of the problems in the Bill, as compared with the other Rent Acts, is that there is no history of a contractual rent and we enter straight onto the position of the tenant being a statutory tenant. So one has to start from somewhere and build on that; otherwise there are no boundaries at all. I think that I sent the noble Baroness the clause notes on Clause 12 which go into this matter and explain it, though perhaps not terribly simply, and I do not think that at this stage there is very much I can add without writing to the noble Baroness. I am a little puzzled here; it may be that there is something which I did not understand in her question. Surely the whole principle of the Rent Acts is that for statutory tenants they fix an upper limit to rent. The provisional rent is just an upper limit while a registered rent is being fixed, and therefore any agreements must be below these ceilings.

Here we are following the Rent Acts, and the only part where there are alterations is where there is no history because there has not been a contractual agreement in advance, so one has to start with a statutory tenancy. If the noble Baroness looks tomorrow at this point in Hansard and looks again at the notes on Clause 12, I believe that she will find that this position is fairly clear, at least as clear as it can be in this kind of legislation. But I should certainly undertake to write to her if I feel that I can clarify the matter any further.

Baroness YOUNG

I very much hope that the noble Baroness will do that. Of course I have read the note on the clause and I have already said how grateful I am for that note. The note on the clause says that the agreed rent cannot be more than the rent that would be fixed by a rent officer and become a registered rent. This is not a debating point. It is a very serious matter of public policy. I should have thought that the Government, as well as ourselves, and the farmers, the farmworkers and indeed everybody else want to see property improved. We want to see good property kept in good repair and bad property improved.

This is not a debatable point, and therefore the question to which we must address ourselves is how will we achieve this situation? I am not talking about a case where a tenant and a landlord have agreed a fair rent, because that is the agreement that is made. All I am trying to find—and this has been my object in a great many of the debates which I hive raised in your Lordships' House on this matter—are areas in which there might be some agreement where we could break out of the logjam that we are creating in housing. We have in the Bill a de novo situation which has not previously exist It is perfectly true, as the noble Baroness says, that these matters have not been on a contractual basis. They have been on licences, there have been tied cottages; they are in a very different situation.

All I am suggesting—and obviously this point would require a new clause, which I have not drafted—is that she might write to me on how she and her colleagues feel that the very real problem of raising the standards of a number of agricultural dwellings in this country is to he helped through the Bill. Does she not think that there is a case at least for lo Dicing at situations in which a tenant and a landlord could agree an increased rent for an improved property Is this not worth serious consideration?

Baroness BIRK

As I understand it at the moment, if the landlord carries out major improvements—this is probably what the noble Baroness means—and he wishes to recover a higher rent because the property is then that much better, he can apply for a new rent to be registered. If in those circumstances the tenant is also in agreement, it would seem to me that that would be an extremely simple matter. But I will write to the noble Baroness at greater length about this matter, if that would save time.


I should like to refer to one point. My noble friend. Lady Young referred to clause stand part in order to get some clarification, and this is a perfectly normal and a proper thing to do. The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, said in answer that she was not quite certain what my noble friend was getting at. she said that apart from anything else my noble friend has received the notes on the clause and that these made the position fairly clear. But with the greatest respect to the noble Baroness, I must point out that while notes on clauses are very helpful, and while it is much appreciated that we on this side can have them, I do not think that what the noble Baroness said was an adequate answer.

After all, we are trying to elicit problems and to find what is the answer in areas of difficulty. Solicitors, lawyers and people who will have to put this part of the Bill into operation when it becomes an Act will not have the advantage of notes on clauses. While I greatly appreciate the fact that we have had the notes, I think that what the noble Baroness said is not sufficient an answer to a point raised on clause stand part.

Baroness BIRK

I am sorry; I think the noble Earl really misunderstood me. I am very aware that the noble Baroness has an astonishing expertise in these matters. What I was meaning to say was that if, in addition to what was in the notes on clauses, there was some other point she had found or was raising, then I was anxious to know about it. I was really at that point bowing to her expertise and I was not brushing her aside on it. I was saying, "We start from that; and now is there something in addition on which you want further elucidation?" That was the object of the reply.

Clause 12, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 13 [Provisional rents]:

6.11 p.m.

The Earl of ONSLOW moved Amendment No. 43: Page 14, line 1, leave out ("1/") and insert ("2")

The noble Earl said: Unlike the previous Amendment I moved, there can be absolutely no doubt whatsoever about what this particular Amendment means. It means: change from 1.5 to 2—and to my mind there is no room for any doubt about that. I move it because of the following factor. The average rateable value for agricultural cottages is approximately £80 a year. That is over the country as a whole, and I quite concede that there will be fairly wide variations around that average, as there are wide variations of standard of cottage. That makes the provisional rent that will have to be paid something like £2.30 a week. The present gross earnings of the average person in industry are, I think, £71 a week. If somebody is leaving agriculture and has got himself a statutory tenancy under this Bill, he will probably be moving out of agriculture into some other job, and he will find himself with around this average earning of £70 a week. That means that the rent for his house will be 3 per cent. of his earnings. All my Amendment does is to move that percentage from 3 to 4 per cent. I quite concede that what I have said is not going to happen in every case; I quite concede that it is only an average and a probability. That percentage is less than his National Health contribution.

The next point is that the rent officers have tended to fix the rents considerably higher than this, and it would seem to me that it would be reasonable that a sharp jump should be avoided and that the man should know nearer the time what his rent is likely to be rather than be given an impression by the 1.5 multiplier on rateable value. There is one further point. Council house rents in the agricultural sector are between £4.50 and £5 a week. Admittedly, on my figure of £2.30 a week—I am hoping to raise it to something like, I think it is, £3.50 a week, but on my figure of £2.30 a week—there is to be added the actual rates to be paid, obviously, because council house rents include rates. We also know that council house rents are heavily subsidised. There has been argument about the degree of subsidy, but I am not going to enter into that now. For the reasons I have outlined—in other words, the average percentage of average wage, the difference between the rent that will be fixed by the rent officer and the provisional rent, together with the difference in rent between average council house rents and what would be obtainable under the clause as it stands—I beg to move this Amendment.


May I ask for an explanation? Page 14, line 1, prescribes the multiple as 1.5, the matter which is in dispute at the moment, but goes on to say: or such other number (whole or with a fraction) as the Secretary of State may by order prescribe". I was wondering whether the noble Baroness could reveal to the Committee the sort of considerations which might lead the Secretary of State to depart from the 1.5.

Baroness BIRK

May I first deal with the Amendment moved by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow? He has pointed out that Clause 13 allows the farmer to charge a provisional rent—that is, the rent based on rateable value—and by his Amendment he wants to set the prescribed multiple at 2 instead of 1.5. This would mean that in around 70 per cent. of cases the pro-visional rent would be lower than the eventual registered rent; in other words, 30 per cent. of statutory tenants could find themselves paying higher provisional rents than their eventual registered rents. In our view, this would be an unacceptably high proportion, and would be most inequitable. Setting the prescribed multiple at 1.5, as the Bill proposes, means that in about 95 per cent. of cases the provisional rent would be likely to turn out lower than the registered rent. It is for this reason that we have opted for the 1.5 figure, which is likely to result in only a very few tenants finding that the provisional rent they have to pay is higher than the eventual registered rent.

We can seek to provide only rough justice during the provisional rent regime, where in most cases the provisional rent will be payable only for a limited period. The value chosen for the prescribed multiple must in the end be a matter of judgment, but since we want to keep to a minimum the number of statutory tenants who might be charged a pro-visional rent greater than the eventual registered rent, taking it all in all 1.5 seems a reasonable figure to choose. In moving his Amendment the noble Earl seemed to be advocating tying rent to a man's earnings, rather than to the house he inhabits, which seems to me rather an extraordinary doctrine. I do not know if that is what he meant, but that is what he was saying. But the rent is not based on the tenant's earnings; the rent is based on the house.

The Earl of ONSLOW

I did not advocate "tying it to". What I was pointing out was that the rent was "a percentage of", which is a very different thing.

Baroness BIRK

Before the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, gets up, perhaps I can try to answer the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, as to the basis on which the Secretary of State would make a change. It would be on a rating revaluation.


I was interested in what the noble Baroness said when she pointed out that if my noble friend's Amendment was accepted then in fact 70 per cent. of tenants who later became statutory tenants would pay more for the provisional rent than they would when the rent was registered and it became the registered rent. This seems to me surprising, and I wonder whether the noble Baroness could let the Committee know on what information she bases those figures; because it seems to me that a rateable value of £80, which is the average rateable value, in fact means that a person who stays on and becomes a statutory tenant would have to pay as a provisional rent only £120, which, as my noble friend said, was a little over £2 a week. As £80 as a rateable value is an average, that means that quite a number of houses presumably will be below the average; therefore the provisional rent in a number of cases will be less than £120 a year.

On October 25th the Government gave a Written Answer in another glace to a Question asking what is the current average level of rents for houses in the public centre. In col. 32 Mr. Douglas Mann gave a comprehensive Answer, which really said that local authority rents in the South East were 4.84; in East Anglia, £3.95; in the South West, £4.30; in the West Midlands, £3.96; in Wales £4 and so it goes on; and the average in England and Wales was £4.16 a week. This is considerably higher than the £120.00 which should be the average provisional rent applicable under the Bill as it now stands. I must say that clearly it would be wrong for the provisional rent to exceed the registered rent, once the rent officer has registered it. If my noble friend's Amendment were accepted, I should think that that would not be the case. If the noble Baroness thinks that is the case, I shall be grateful if she could say how she arrives at that fact.

Baroness BIRK

I am not surprised at the difficulty of the noble Earl because this is extremely complicated; but I think the noble Earl misunderstood what I said. I said that 30 per cent. of the statutory tenants could find themselves paying a higher provisional rent than the eventual registered rent, and that in our view that would be an unacceptably high proportion. But I prefaced that by saying that the Amendment which would set the prescribed multiple at 2, would mean that in around 70 per cent. of the cases the provisional rent would be lower than the eventual registered rent. In other words, 30 per cent. of the statutory tenants could find themselves paying higher provisional rent than the registered rent. This was the situation under the Amendment.

If the Committee will bear with me for a moment, as this is very complicated, I will briefly show the thinking behind it. The Tavistock survey showed that the vast majority of farm workers living in tied accommodation paid no rent at all. While employment continues, the Bill will do nothing to change this arrangement between the farmer and the employees, but once the employment ceases the farmer may naturally wish to charge a rent for the dwelling house. In many houses, he will still only wish to charge a nominal rent. This is allowed for in Clause 12 which provides for the landlord and tenant to agree a rent subject to certain limits. In other cases the farmer may wish to recover the maximum rent permissible. For these cases, Clauses 14 and 15 allow him to seek registration of a fair rent. The registration process could take some time, and we agree that the farmer should not be tied to a nil rent or a low rent until the process has been completed. I do not think there is any difference between us. Nobody has raised the question of there not being a need for a provisional rent.

In setting its level—and this is the point at issue—we have been concerned to achieve two aims. First, so far as possible the farmer should not be appreciably out of pocket during the interim period between the date when the statutory tenancy arises and the date from which he is able to charge a fair rent. This is bearing in mind that hitherto he has been receiving little or no rent. Secondly, the provisional rent is deliberately designed not to exceed the fair rent which would be payable if a rent were registered for the dwelling house. Fair rents are, after all, the maximum entitlement permitted throughout the generality of the Rent Act legislation, and to encourage a possibly higher limit in these special circumstances would hardly—and I am sure noble Lords will agree—be justifiable.

It was in bearing in mind these two aims that we undertook an analysis of the statistics of rent registered in 1975. These are the latest figures available. The statistics used relate to first registrations of rents by rent officers for unfurnished houses with rateable values in the range of £50 to £100 in the non-metropolitan districts of England and Wales. These statistics were selected since it is under-stood that the majority of tied cottages are let unfurnished and have rateable values in the £0 to £100 range, and since it is unlikely that there would be many agricultural tied cottages in the metropolitan districts or in Greater London.

Our analysis yielded the result that I outlined at the beginning. At the end of the day, it is, I agree, a matter of judgment on which figure one settles. Our judgment reflects the criteria which I have just out-lined, plus the fact that we are concerned inevitably with a rough and ready figure. We accept that. Our view was that the figure of 2 suggested by the noble Earl would bear too harshly on too many tenants. I hope now that I have gone into detail your Lordships will share my view on this.


The noble Baroness has possibly missed out something which I thought she was going to come to when she said that in 1975 her Department carried out a survey of registered rents in the rateable values between £50 and £100. I do not think she told us the result of that survey. What was the average provisional rent?

Baroness BIRK

I think the average provisional rent comes out at about £80. We have been working on an average of £80. That is the rateable value because there would not have been a provisional rent. We are starting from scratch and moving from provisional rents to statutory tenancies, from a protected occupancy to a statutory tenancy, of which there is no history because of this progression. We have gone from nothing, or an arrangement between the farmer and the employee, into this situation. There is nothing to go on except the first registration of rent.


I see that this is a technical and difficult point. Perhaps the noble Baroness will be good enough to give this matter consideration and write to me and to my noble friend. I thought that the point she was going to make was that there had been a survey conducted of provisional rents in similar cottages to agricultural tied cottages—provisional rents which are fixed by rent officers in agricultural areas. If that is so, this will be of great help. We are at one with her in not wishing to put the provisional rent higher than the registered rent. It seems to me that this would be unlikely to be the case if my noble friend's Amendment were accepted. If the noble Baroness would be kind enough in due course to see whether there are any statistics or facts to say what is the average registered rent this would help us before the next stage.

Viscount GAGE

Would the noble Baroness be able at the same time to explain why it should be so much harsher for a privately-owned house to have a certain rent which is below the rent of a council house? Why should it be harsher in one case than in another?

Baroness BIRK

It varies. In some areas it is lower and in others higher. We are concerned with trying to get it right in the transitional period. I agree that it is a little hit or miss, but we are trying to find a prescribed multiple that will cause the least hardship to most of the people. When we are starting from a situation, the most reliable figure is the Tavistock Survey which showed that the vast majority of farm workers living in tied accommodation were paying no rent at all.

We start from a non-knowing situation and go forward to try to find the right figure before one gets to the registered rent. I will write to the noble Earls and let them have any further information. I fear, unless I am wrong, that there are not many other statistics that I can let them have for the reasons that I have given.


The noble Baroness said that if my noble friend's Amendment were accepted that would put 30 per cent. of the people above the registered rent. There is obviously some reason for her using that figure.


Could the noble Baroness say whether the Government will look favourably upon an Amendment at Report stage which will apply the multiple of 1.5 to the gross value rather than the rateable value? This will produce a slightly higher interim rent and it seems a reasonable compromise between the status quo and the level of rent which will be produced by the noble Earl's Amendment.

Baroness BIRK

May I consider that? I will write to the noble Lord on that matter.

The Earl of ONSLOW

For once I do not think that we are in a great deal of disagreement with the noble Baroness in spite of the clarity of my Amendment. It is important to find out how we arrived at this 30 per cent. figure. The noble Baroness said before that this is a totally de novo situation. One wonders how much the 30 per cent. is a "guestimate", or whether it is something slightly more accurate than that. Leaving that aside, there is one other point which has not brought out. There has been a slight tendency to "under-rateable value"—if that is the right term—cottages for use by agricultural workers. This may put a different complexion on it. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 13 agreed to.

Clause 14 agreed to.

Clause 15 [Registered rents.]:

6.32 p.m.

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 44: Page 15, line 29, leave out ("then, subject to section 16 of this Act")

The noble Baroness said: This Amendment is a technicality. It deletes superfluous wording. A notice of increase served by a landlord demanding his entitlement to recover a registered rent is already qualified, in terms, by Clause 16(3) which introduces a phased limit where such is appropriate. A forward reference to Clause 16 is unnecessary, and the Amendment removes it.

Clause 15, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 16 [Phasing of rent increases]:

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 45: Page 16, line 21, leave out ("beginning during") and insert ("falling within")

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 45 I will speak to Amendments Nos.48, 49, 50, 51, 53 and 54. The purpose of these Amendments is to remove any doubts as to a landlord's entitlement to rent under the phasing provisions. It is not at present clear what rent a landlord could recover if an increased rent fell due in the middle of a rental period. These Amendments have the effect that a new level of rent permitted under the phasing provisions can he recovered from the time the new limit applies irrespective of the fact that this may he in the middle of a rental period. I beg to move.

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 46: Page 16, line 22, leave out ("13(6)")

The noble Baroness said: This Amendment deletes a mistaken reference to a subsection which has no relevance to the phasing provisions. Mention of Clause 13(6) is an error and therefore we have removed it. I beg to move.

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 47: Page 16, line 28, after ("5") insert ("to this Act")

The noble Baroness said: This is a drafting Amendment. As a matter of drafting style, Schedule 5 ought to be clearly anchored to the Bill whenever a reference to it occurs. This is what the Amendment provides. I beg to move.

On Question, Whether Clause 16, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?

6.36 p.m.


This clause refers to the phasing of rent increases, and the situation is that when a person who has been an employee on a farm gives up his employment and remains in the house thereafter, as the noble Baroness explained in a previous Amendment, the employer may under this Bill impose a provisional rent until such time as the rent officer determines what the level of a registered rent should be. This may be a matter of a couple of months, or it may be longer. Usually, I should have thought that it would be in terms of two months. During that period, the tenant pays a provisional rent. Then the rent officer fixes what he believes to be a right and fair rent which then becomes the registered rent. That applies, as I understand it, forthwith.

In two or three years' time the landlord is entitled to ask for a new registered rent. He may say that the conditions have altered and the rent fixed by the rent officer is inadequate. When the rent officer fixes the subsequent rent, then I believe Clause 16 operates. The increase in rent is not allowed to be taken forthwith but has to be spread over a period of three years. If I may quote an example, a provisional rent may be fixed at £3 a week. The farmer will ask the rent officer to register a rent. The rent officer will say that the correct rent is £6 a week. I am using hypothetical figures. That £6 a week rent is payable forthwith. It may be that in three years' time the farmer will go to the rent officer and say: "Inflation has gone completely out of control, will you come along and fix a new rent?" The rent officer may say that the new rent should be £15 a week. The difference of £9 a week is not obtainable immediately but over a period of years. The first year will see an increase of £3, the second an increase of £3 and the third year an increase of £3. It is only at the end of the third year that the tenant pays the rent which the rent officer considered was the acceptable rent three years previously.

By the time the tenant pays that full rent it may well be that the time is due for the rent officer to make yet another reassessment. The result is that you are perpetually out of cog. The rent officer declares a rent suitable for 1976 but by the time it is paid in full it is 1979, by which time the rent should be readjusted. I know that the reason for this is that it follows the lines of the 1968 Rent Act and I am sure that that will he cited as a good precedent. It may be a precedent but it is not a good precedent, because if there is any purpose in having a fair rent registered it must mean, by all reasonable considerations, that that is the rent appropriate for that house at the time the house was assessed. Therefore it would seem reasonable that that rent should be payable forthwith and not in three years' time. I should be grateful, therefore, if the noble Baroness would be kind enough to explain why this clause as it is drafted is necessary.

6.42 p.m.

Baroness BIRK

In the first place, if I understood the noble Earl correctly I think he is mistaken, because the full rent comes at the end of the second year and the beginning of the third year. That is when payment of the full rent is liable. I do not think he said that. I thought he said first, second and third years. It is, however, at the end of the second year and beginning of the third year. As he rightly says, this clause and related Schedule 5 contain provisions concerning the phasing of rent increases payable by statutory tenants under the Bill, and they are, as I know he is aware, very similar to those in Section 7 of and Schedule 2 to the Housing Rents and Subsidies Act 1975. They have been modified slightly in two ways in order to fit in with the way in which statutory tenancies under the Bill arise. The clause and Schedule provide in essence that increases in rent up to a newly registered rent level are to be phased in up to three annual stages, depending on the size of the overall increase. Where the landlord provides services and is unable to control their cost himself then he is able to recover those costs immediately.

The provisions themselves cannot by any stretch of the imagination be said to be straightforward, but the idea behind them is simpler to grasp. The first of the two modifications to the clause and Schedule is that under this Bill phasing will take place only at the second and subsequent registrations of a rent under a tenancy created by the Bill. This is because in the vast majority of cases workers will have been, as we have just discussed on a previous Amendment, paying no rent or low rents during employment; hence it is right that the landlord should be able to recover the first registered rent in full. Under the Rent Acts, on the other hand, the statutory tenant will have been paying a contractual rent prior to registration, and phasing rightly applies where that is replaced by a higher rent.

The second modification we have made arises from the fact that tenants protected under the 1968 Act may find that their rent increases are subject to phasing not under the Housing Rents and Subsidies Act 1975 but under the Housing Finance Act 1972. That happens only on a minority of occasions where a newly registered rent has to take account of improvements which attract grant aid from the local authority. Application of a régime akin to that of the 1975 Act already entails writing into the Bill provisions of some complexity. The additional insertion of undoubted intricacies so as to cater for what is likely to be a far from significant minority of cases, hardly seems justified in the context of this Bill. So we reach the conclusion that a less complex régime is more likely to be workable and comprehensible both to farmers and farm workers alike. Therefore, Clause 16 and Schedule 5 have been modelled exclusively on the phasing provisions introduced by the 1975 Act.

So much, then, for the differences between the Rent Act phasing and that suggested under the Bill. What is of course similar is the underlying principle that landlords and tenants should basically be treated alike so far as rent is concerned and therefore it would be manifestly unfair if under the Rent Acts tenants were liable to pay increases in phased instalments whereas under this Bill they were liable to pay a full fair rent immediately an increase was registered.

I can only repeat that these provisions, I agree, are complicated and it will certainly be necessary for explanatory material on the Bill, which my Department will prepare, to explain their effect. I am sure the noble Earl will agree that that is essential. I think it is possible to feel more confident about the fact that since the Housing Rents and Subsidies Act came into force over 18 months ago the Rent Officer's Service has already gained considerable experience of the phasing provisions in the context of the Rent Act. Therefore I believe that the difficulties on the ground will not be as fearsome as the intricacies of the text of the law might lead all of us to fear. I am sorry that this has had to be a rather complicated explanation but it is an extremely complicated matter, as the noble Earl obviously recognised.


May I make one comment about this matter? When the rent has been assessed by the rent officer, the persons who occupy the houses to which we are referring are in precisely the same position as any other tenant of a house where the rent has been fixed, and it is unreasonable, is it not, that once that situation has arisen there should be a difference between the future phasing or the future assessments and those at present existing with regard to other houses which do not come within the purview of this Act. It is as simple as that. In my view, and I think in the view of all reasonable people, there seems to be no reason why a distinction should be drawn between these houses and the houses which are at present under the Rent Acts.


I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her detailed reply and I thought the reply in essence would be what she gave and indeed what the noble Lord, Lord Janner, said. That is where we come into such a difficulty, however, because if we want to alter anything we are told, "Ah no, there is a precedent for this". The object of putting down this Amendment to leave out Clause 16 was to register my mild, mellowed protest of the fact that the whole thing, whether in this Act or in the 1968 Rent Act, is an absurdity. If you get a rent officer to register a rent in 1976 for what the house is worth in 1976 to a tenant, then it seems to me to be quite absurd to say you need only pay that in 1979 when of course the rent will probably and quite rightly be different. If the Statutes which are on the book now are such as to be unreasonable then I suppose the noble Baroness and her Government can only follow such unreasonableness by making this Act unreasonable too. But where you are starting afresh, monkeying around with the whole of the agricultural cottage system, it seems reasonable to me that if there was some provision in a previous Act which was not sensible and not reasonable it should be corrected in this Bill. I did not expect for one moment that the noble Baroness would admit that the previous Act was wrong or was stupid or should be amended; I only wanted to draw attention to the fact that I think it was wrong and stupid and should be amended, and I am only sorry that she will not agree to it.

Clause 16, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 5 [Phasing of Rent Increases]:

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (Lord Nugent of Guildford)

As the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, has already spoken to Amendments Nos.48, 49, 50 and 51, I will move them formally.

Amendments moved— Page 47, leave out lines 40 to 42. Page 48, line 1, leave out ("rental period which begins during") and insert ("period which falls within") Page 48, line 3, leave out ("rental period which begins during") and insert ("period which falls within") Page 48, leave out lines 5 and 6.—(Lord Nugent of Guildford.)

6.51 p.m.

Earl FERRERS moved Amendment No. 52A: Page 49, line 21, leave out paragraph 3.

The noble Earl said: We come now to a similar part of the Bill but it is contained in the Schedule that refers to Clause 16 which we have just discussed. I put down Amendment No. 52A in the hope that the noble Baroness would he able to explain exactly what it means. In Schedule 5 we have a set of formulae by which the rents should be increased, and paragraph 3(2) reads: The permitted increase for a rental period which begins during the first year of the period of delay is an increase to the greater of the following amounts, namely—

  1. (a) PRL + SE + ⅓ [(RR-(PRL + SE))];
  2. (b) PRL + SE + SS".
Paragraph 3(3) reads: The permitted increase for a rental period which begins during the second year of the period of delay is an increase to the greater of the following amounts, namely—
  1. (a) PRL + SE + ⅔ [(RR-(PRL + SE))];
  2. (b) PRL + SE + SS".
I think that is the biggest amount of mumbo-jumbo that I have ever heard in all my life. The funny thing is that there sits the noble Lord, Lord Peart, the Lord Privy Seal, who is such a distinguished ex-Minister of Agriculture.

Yesterday when the noble Lord referred to the Bill I was delighted to hear him say that he was lucky to be conducting an agricultural Bill, a subject which used to be his responsibility. I do not believe that this kind of formulae could possibly have emanated from the Ministry of Agriculture. Quite clearly it emanated from the Department of the Environment. As I pointed out at Second Reading, the extraordinary part of it is that in the Bill there is all this paraphernalia about increasing rents when at the moment 84 per cent. of those who occupy tied cottages do not pay any rent at all.

The essence of a Bill such as this is that it should be understood by both farmers and farmworkers as they are the people who will be involved; but I cannot understand it. Your Lordships may say that is not surprising but I doubt whether many other people could understand it, and I find that it is extraordinary that we should have something like this put into a Bill.

This Bill revolves around such matters as "the agreed rent", "the variable rent", "the fair rent" or "the registered rent", "the provisional rent", "the previous rent limit", "the rental period", "the rent officer", "the rent assessment committees". In answer to an Amendment the other day the noble Lord, Lord Peart, said that £5 million is all that it will cost to set up this paraphernalia. But not one house will be built and no housing will be provided by this Bill for any farmworker. All the Bill does is to jam up the whole system and make it totally incomprehensible unless you are a "super-duper" expert. I have no doubt that the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, is a "super-duper" expert, in which case I shall be delighted to know from her exactly what it means and why on earth it is necessary to have such a provision in the Bill. I beg to move.

6.55 p.m.

Baroness BIRK

I know that the noble Earl is teasing and that he understands it perfectly well. It is crystal clear but he wants to have his bit of fun and he is quite entitled to it. The noble Earl has criticised it for its complexity but I do not think that it is more complex than the phasing provisions in the 1972 Housing Finance Act. This formulae is exactly the same as that contained in Schedule 2 to the Housing Rents and Subsidies Act. If the noble Earl would like me to explain what all the figures mean, I will do so. It is a fairly awesome task, but never mind.

Paragraph 3 sets out the basis on which permitted increases in rent in the first and second year of the period of delay are to be calculated. When one has something like this, it is rather like having scientific formulae. Therefore there is a need for guidance to rent officers so that they can explain it to landlords and tenants. I do not think that you need to have the dog and bark yourself. So long as somebody finds that it is quicker and easier to use the formulae and then can advise land-lords and tenants, that is its point.

Paragraph 3(1) defines the permitted increase (subject to paragraph 3(4)) as an increase calculated in accordance with paragraph 3(2) (first year of period of delay) or paragraph 3(3) (second year of period of delay). That seems to be quite simple. It also defines the terms used in the calculation: PRL for previous rent limit (defined in paragraph 1(1) of the Schedule); SE for service element (defined in paragraph 2); RR for registered rent and SS for specified sum (defined in paragraph 1(1) as 40p a week in the first year of the period of delay, plus a further 40p a week in the second year).

Paragraph 3(2) sets out the formulae to be employed in calculating the permitted increase for a rental period beginning in the first year of the period of delay—that is, the year beginning on the date of registration of a rent. This permitted increase is an increase of the rent to the greater of the two sums calculated as follows: first, by adding the previous rent limit and the service element (if any), and adding to the resulting total one-third of the difference between it and the registered rent. Then you have the answer to that. Secondly, by adding the previous rent limit, the service element (if any), and 40p a week (the specified sum). To make the clear even clearer, may I give an example. Let us suppose that a rent is registered at £6.50 a week, of which 50p is noted as attributable to the service costs. Previous rent was £5.25 a week, of which 30p was attributable to services. This means that the services element is thus 20p. Therefore under the first calculation, £5.25 (PRL) plus 20p (SE) amounts to £5.45. The difference between this and £6.50 (RR) is £1.05. One-third of this is 35p. Hence PRL+SE+⅓ (RR-(PRL+SE)), or £5.25 + 20 + 35, yields £5.80. I have further examples of this kind and could go on reading them, but as we have reached seven o'clock and as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, and my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich are here to carry on the next business perhaps we should leave it at that. As I am quite sure that the noble Earl is by now absolutely clear about the mathematical formulae and appreciates that it would make it much more complicated if it were all read out, I shall desist.


I am delighted that I put down my Amendment because I would not have missed that explanation from the noble Baroness for all the tea in China. I am indebted to her and I merely say this to the noble Baroness and to the noble Lord, Lord Peart: that when we are trying to make life more easy, for goodness sake! let us not make it more complicated. The noble Lord would have done far better to have saved his £5 million by not putting all this into the Act. However, I willingly withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7 p.m.

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 53: Page 49, line 26, leave out ("rental period which begins during") and insert ("period which falls within").

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 54: Page 49, line 31, leave out ("rental period which begins during") and insert ("period which falls within").

The noble Baroness said: I beg to move Amendment No. 54.


Are we not going to stop now and take the Consideration of Commons Amendments to the Bail Bill?


I rather thought that we could have finished at the end of the question, Whether Clause 17 shall stand part of the Bill?, but if the noble Baroness wishes to raise a further point, I suggest that we halt the Committee stage now in order to take other business and, subject to the completion of that other business, it is proposed that the Committee should reassemble at 7.45 p.m.

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

House resumed.