§ 8.20 p.m.
§ House again in Committee.
§ On Question, Whether Schedule 5, as amended, shall be the Fifth Schedule to the Bill?
§ Baroness YOUNG
I should like to raise one general point. We had a rather amusing debate just before we left for dinner on the meaning of one part of Schedule 5, but I think that illustrated the point that when you legislate to provide statutory tenancies and the law has to intervene in freely negotiated agreements it becomes extraordinarily complicated. I know that the Government have issued a leaflet, which I have read, setting out the kind of questions which people will want to ask about this legislation; but, as my noble friend Lord Ferrers has indicated, the Rent Act parts of this Bill are something quite new to the agricultural world, and certainly quite new to the workers in the houses. I therefore hope very much that the Government will issue a leaflet explaining them in simple terms. At the moment, the leaflet they have issued, in answer to Question 27, which is:So the Bill makes no provision for rents?says:On the contrary, there are many detailed provisions about rents, but they are especially concerned with the situation which would arise if and when you became a statutory tenant".As this is a situation which could quite easily arise, I think it calls for a proper explanation.
§ Baroness BIRK
I agree with the noble Baroness. I think she has raised this point on several other Bills, and I have been in total agreement with her about it. I think that to communicate what you are going to do and what you are doing is of the utmost importance. I can therefore assure the noble Baroness that we will be sending out guidelines—if you like, a sort of layman's guide to the Rent Agriculture Act. Where any matter has been covered in other explanatory leaflets it will not necessarily be repeated, but I think these guidelines will cover all the points with which the noble Baroness is concerned. Directly I know that what we are covering and how we are dealing with it has been worked out, I will write to her about it.
§ Schedule 5, as amended, agreed to.549
§ Clause 17 agreed to.
§ Clause 18 [Adjustment for differences in lengths of rental periods]:
Earl FERRERS moved Amendment No. 54A:
Page 17, line 34, at end insert ("and a day as consisting of twenty-four hours").
§ The noble Earl said: This modest little Amendment seeks to help to clarify some issues in case they need clarifying. The Bill as it stands points out in a remarkable way that a year consists of 12 months and a week consists of one fifty-second of a year. I thought it might be helpful, therefore, to make it absolutely clear that a day consists of 24 hours. I could not quite see why it was so necessary to put these obvious clarifications in. I beg to move.
§ Baroness BIRK
I thought there might be some objection to this Amendment, because we have summer time and then go back to winter time overnight, and it could be argued that one day lasted 25 hours and another day lasted 23 hours. I think this would be a difficult thing to do; but that is rather by the way. I ought to remind the noble Earl of the Sixth Schedule to the Rent Restriction Regulations 1957, which was signed by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, who was then Minister of Housing and Local Government. What was then said was:The amount of rates for any rental period is ascertained by dividing the rates for the whole rating period in which the rent for that rental period is payable by the number which is obtained by dividing the number of days in the rating period by the number of days in the rental period".
§ Baroness BIRK
I have not got to the figures yet. That is a sort of preamble, with which the noble Earl will not be concerned; it is only the figures.For example, if the rating period is a year, and rent is payable weekly, the yearly amount of the rates will be divided by 52 1/7th, or 52 2/7ths if the rating period includes the extra day of a leap year".It was in order to avoid this, I think, ultra-complexity that we put these words in the Bill. If this had been done at that time, in 1957, then the complexity which 550 resulted from what I have read could have been avoided. So although I agree with the noble Earl that it does look as though it should have a last line to it—and it is quite an amusing one that he is suggesting—there is some sense behind spelling things out and trying to make what was set down in 1957 rather less complex.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that explanation, and I am glad to know that, even though this Bill is extremely complex, it is apparently less complex than others have been. I put this Amendment down really only to try to find out exactly why the Government had inserted the Amendment to say what a week consists of and what a month consists of. It seemed to me a fairly suitable way to put this down, considering the fact that possibly some noble Lords might have thought, during the last few weeks, that the days consisted of rather more than 24 hours. However, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her explanation, and I happily withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 18 agreed to.
§ Clause 19 agreed to.
§ Clause 20 [Regulations]:
§ On Question, Whether Clause 20 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Lord SANDYS
At this point I should have liked to be able to say, "Drafting—I beg to move", but it is a little more than that, because, unfortunately, there is a point of substance here although it is also a question of drafting. The object in suggesting the omission of this clause is to ask the Government why this particular pair of definitions is isolated from other definitions, and could it not, with some profit, clarity and perhaps even tidiness, be added to Clause 37, where will be found a number of other definitions of this nature.
§ Baroness BIRK
I can see why the noble Lord has raised this matter and, in a way, I can sec the logic of it, but the reason why these definitions are at present in Clause 20 is simply that the two expressions to which he refers are used only in Part II of the Bill. Therefore, it is better to have the definitions in Part II, because they do not 551 apply anywhere else in the Bill. Similarly Clause 28 contains an interpretation of certain expressions used in Part III. Clause 37 contains only definitions of expressions which are applicable through-out the Bill rather than in just one Part. We thought this was really a sensible distinction, because then the definitions in Clause 37 apply throughout the Bill, but otherwise we have put in the definitions where applicable. I think that when the noble Lord looks at it and considers it he will accept that it is really a more sensible thing to do.
§ Lord SANDYS
I am glad to accept the explanation given by the noble Baroness. It is a little unusual to have such a scatter of definitions throughout a Bill. How-ever, the Government have met the point to some extent by providing us with a glossary of all the definitions, of which there are a considerable number, in Schedule I.
§ Clause 20 agreed to.
§ Clauses 21 to 24 agreed to.
§ Clause 25 [Certain sublettings not to exclude any part of the sublessor's premises from protection]:
§ On Question, Whether Clause 25 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ Baroness YOUNG
I wanted to ask a question about this because I appreciate the legislation is taken from the 1968 Rent Act. We are, I think, entering into new territory here because these houses and the subtenants in them are to become statutory tenants for the first time. I understood during the passage of the 1974 Rent Act that the great distinction being drawn for the first time was between shared and separate accommodation; that is to say, accommodation in which the tenant had exclusive occupation and accommodation which was shared with the landlord and in which the landlord was resident. It is true that there are very subtle differences in the 1968 Act about unfurnished accommodation, but I should have thought in this particular case that if, for example, for one reason or another one of the subtenants has security of tenure in a house when for some reason or another he is 552 no longer employed by the farmer, this could create very great difficulties.
My understanding of the present position on furnished accommodation is that the reason why there is no security of tenure when the landlord is resident is that it could create an intolerable situation in which two groups of people had to share a house and they did not get on and the resident landlord could not regain possession of part of his own house. I would hope, therefore, that the Government feel that it is right to look at this part again, because it is a new situation where it is tied accommodation and where presumably those people who have been sub-tenants are in some way connected with the farm and are therefore tied to the landlord, not simply because they are sub-tenants but because they are working for him. To give permanent security of tenure in these circumstances seems to me to be contrary to what has been done in the 1974 Act. I should have thought it could have the most unfortunate consequences for everybody. I should like to know whether the Government have considered this point and, if not, whether they would consider it.
§ Baroness BIRK
The noble Baroness in her explanation has really followed up what I think she was concerned with on the second day of the Committee stage. She said then (column 1627):As I see it, the intention of the Bill is to draw more tightly than either the 1968 or 1974 Rent Acts the protection given to agricultural workers".She then refers to Clause 3 paving the way for Clauses 24 and 25. I admit that although this is quite a short clause, it is incredibly complicated. I think I must first emphasise that the clause is dealing with a very particular type of situation. This is where the mere fact that the tenant shares part of his premises with a subtenant, or has sublet part of the premises with rental payments for board or attendance, might otherwise be held to deprive the tenant of protection under the Bill. The clause is not intended to affect the provisions of the Bill which enable a landlord to claim possession of the premises where there has been a subletting without the landlord's consent.
Perhaps I may briefly outline the history behind this difficult clause. It is modelled on Section 103 of the 1968 Rent Act, 553 which was a consolidating measure, as amended by the 1974 Rent Act. The origin of the provision is Section 9 of the Landlord and Tenant (Rent Control) Act, 1949. That section was designed particularly to overturn an earlier court decision where a tenant of a bungalow who lawfully sublet a furnished bed-sitting room with the use of the kitchen herself lost the protection of the Rent Acts. In that case possession was ordered in respect of the entire premises. In a later Court of Appeal case, it was stated that the primary object of the provision was to protect the tenant, together with his subtenant, against the tenant's land-lord where there had been sublettings which, considered by themselves, would not have been protected.
'This principle of protection is quite fair in the Rent Act context and it does not extend anything. It is within that context. It seems reasonable to extend it to this Bill. By inserting this clause we have removed any doubt which might otherwise exist. In view of the case law experience over the previous Acts, we feel it better to spell it out in this clause. But it does not extend this beyond the boundaries of the other Rent Acts.
§ Baroness YOUNG
The noble Baroness has clarified the position but I am not quite sure that that makes it better. I think there is a distinction here. Perhaps I did not make myself clear. We are not simply dealing with the landlord and tenant situation on which presumably the case she quoted was based. We are dealing with a situation not only of landlord and tenant but of employer and employee, in which the tenant and employee shares part of the accommodation with the landlord and employer. It could be the kitchen or the sitting room. They have some exclusive use of rooms but they share accommodation. I should have thought that to leave this as it is could be the recipe for most terrible domestic disharmony, and I am not sure that anybody would benefit from it.
I have not a new clause drafted. I am merely saying to the Government that I should have thought that in the interests of a great many people they ought to think about this. I believe it to be a new situation. We are only now talking about a subtenant actually sharing accommodation. When you try to visualise what could happen when the farm worker 554 gives up his job, works in a local factory and has security of tenure in a house sharing the kitchen or living room and has that security until, as I understand it, the farmer could go to the special advisory committee and get a special dispensation that he had to have an argicultural worker in those rooms again, it could be an intolerable burden on a number of people. I believe that this is something that the Government should think about and I would ask them to do so.
§ Baroness BIRK
I still think that this point is covered. Although it contains a number of provisions which are concerned with subletting, Clause 10 provides protection for subtenants in certain circum-stances where the head tenancy comes to an end, but only where the subletting was lawful. If a protected occupier sublets any part without the consent of the land-lord, he will be liable to an action for possession under Clause 7 and Case VIII in Schedule 3. Where we have got at odds about it is that where the worker is in the farmer's house there is no protection anyway. This is not covered by Clause 25.
Clause 25 is designed to deal with certain situations of sublettings where the arrangements made, involving either sharing of essential living accommodation—a kitchen, or attendance, or board—would by themselves prejudicially affect the tenant's security. This is not as if it is in the farmer's own house. Section 103 of the Rent Act 1968 (on which this clause is directly modelled) gives statutory protection to tenants in such circumstances; and the Bill follows suit. It Joes not apply to somebody in the farmer's own house. There is no protection there.
§ Baroness ELLIOT of HARWOOD
When my noble friend mentioned that conditions of this kind had never existed before, I was reminded that those of us who have reached the great ate that I have reached will remember the appalling problems caused by evacuation at the beginning of the war. Families were evacuated from the cities into the country-side and had to share kitchens and houses. The noble Lord, Lord Peart, will probably remember it very well. It caused appalling difficulties. The advantages were that people were sent away from the bombing and were not in the towns during the blitz. What happened in the end was that evacuation did not work; the mothers generally came home and the 555 children stayed on. There is no doubt about it. It leads to the most appalling complications when you find two families sharing particularly a kitchen, which is the office in the house and is used by everybody. Any Bill which went through today and could possibly put into legislation the kind of conditions which applied in the years 1940, 1941 and 1942—admittedly a long time ago—which were identical to today, except we are not running away from bombs, are handing themselves a lump of trouble. It could be to the advantage of everyone concerned if someone looked at this critically to see whether or not this condition could be avoided.
§ Lord SANDYS
I agree with both my noble friends. Perhaps some of the problem may be of the Government's own making. It occurs to me that it is part of the draftsmanship which is at fault. The noble Baroness gave us the provenance of this clause and took us back to a certain section of the 1949 Act. One of the difficulties some people will find—and no doubt other noble Lords will share—is that in the first sentence there is a treble negative. A double negative is bad enough, but a treble negative—two "nots" and a "no"—makes it extremely difficult of comprehension.
§ Baroness YOUNG
I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for clarifying this point about the farmer letting his own house. It brings the matter in line with the 1974 Act. I am not at all convinced that the point I made about two people sharing a house is not still valid. It seems to me where on a farm there were two farm workers who shared a house and accommodation where they had a community of interest, it could have worked satisfactorily. I could foresee difficulties if both become statutory tenants and one or both were leading very different lives. I can foresee great difficulties on this aspect; apart from this practical point, the point which the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, has made is a relevant one as well. The Government ought to look at it.
§ Baroness BIRK
The noble Baroness says, "Have a look at it". I will write to her about it. I assure her it is no different from what she accepts as part of the 1968 Act. Where there are sub-lettings which are not lawful there is no protection but otherwise it works in exactly the same way. 556 Her major concern—and I agree it is not terribly clear—was that she felt it might have taken in the worker living in the farmer's own house. Now we are clear about that and I would have thought it was all right. Maybe I have not explained it very well. I am satisfied it covers the point she dealt with. I will write to the noble Baroness because that is clearer and she can read it instead of continuing this debate across the Benches.
§ Clause 25 agreed to.
§ Clauses 26 to 28 agreed to.
§ Clause 29 [Applications to housing authority concerned]:
§ 8.45 p.m.
Lord BURNHAM moved Amendment No. 55:
Page 22, line 28, after ("made") insert ("at any time").
The noble Lord said: I should like to start by saying that my Amendment is not affected by and does not affect any of the subsequent Amendments to be pro-posed to this clause by my noble friends. I am also rather apologetic, since your Lordships have been considering this Bill for some time, that it is possible that in strictly legal terms my Amendment is not necessary at all. But its inclusion would help to make the clause a great deal clearer. Clause 29 begins:
An application may be made by the occupier of land used for agriculture to the housing authority concerned … on the ground that … vacant possession is or will be needed of a dwelling house …
I need not go on any further. Provided that the other provisions of Clause 29 are satisfied, there can be no doubt whatsoever that possession of the dwelling house will be required in due course because sooner or later the employee who lives there will retire. It is only a question of the meaning of the words in English. My submission is that sooner or later possession will be required It therefore may follow that the application might in any case be made by the occupier at any time.
§ If so, I am happy to say that there are important advantages both to the farmer and the farm employee. If the farmer can make an application when he has no intention of dismissing his employee, or the employee has no intention of leaving him, he can discover from the agricultural dwelling-houses advisory committee and the housing authority concerned whether 557 that dwelling-house is or is not necessary in the interests of efficient agriculture. When the time comes in the future that the employee retires or if, unhappily, the employee decides to leave him, he will have saved all the time that would otherwise be taken in applying to the housing authority, for the housing authority to refer to the ADHAC, for the ADHAC to consider the matter and report back to the housing authority, and for the housing authority to make their decision known. All these points could be settled years in advance. That is the advantage so far as the farmer is concerned.
§ So far as the farm worker is concerned the advantage is that the whole of the provision of Clause 37 comes into effect. As there is no urgency—it is generally agreed that there is no urgency because he is still working happily for his present employer—the housing authority will not have to provide a house. They will have to face the fact that at some time in the future they will have to provide a house. They will therefore put that employee on their housing list. Many local authorities will take agricultural workers on their housing lists at any time, but there are some who will not on the grounds that they are already housed and do not need to bother about them yet. If the application is made under this Bill when it becomes an Act, they will have to face up to the fact that there is a problem and accept the employee's name on the list. It would be a great relief to the employee to know that in the unhappy event that the employer cannot allow him to remain in the house when he retires, he is already very much in the mind of the housing authority concerned.
§ As I have said, it may not be necessary to include the words, "at any time" because they may be covered by the words, "possession will be required"; but I submit that including them makes it very much clearer that the problem can be considered years in advance of it actually arriving. I beg to move.
§ Lord PEART
Nobody would dispute that farmers should be encouraged to apply to authorities in advance in cases where a need for repossession can be foreseen, for example. in cases where a farm worker is due to retire. But this is already catered for in the Bill because Clause 29(i)(a) specifically says,… vacant possession is or will be needed"—558 and it goes on to say—… to house a person who is or is to be employed …".Hence we have already provided for advance applications and there is no need to make this Amendment.
I should like to say that it is undoubtedly highly desirable that local authorities should be given as much earning as possible of impending claims on their resources. We shall emphasise that in publicity material which we expect to produce and in the guidelines that we issue to ADHACs and local authorities. One of the major advantages that the system set up by the Bill has over the present system, so far as farmers and local authorities are concerned, is that it will enable both of them to plan ahead in these sorts of cases. I know that the noble Lord said that his Amendment was not necessary in strict legal terms but for the reasons which I have given I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his Amendment.
§ Lord BURNHAM
I should like to thank the noble Lord very much for his reply. It seems that an application can be made at any time and this will be of great help to the working of the Bill. In the circumstances I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 8.52 p.m.
Lord SANDYS moved Amendment No. 56:
Page 22, line 36, after ("applicant") insert ("or who is retiring after not less than in 3 years' service with the applicant").
§ The noble Lord said: Following on the last Amendment very closely and anticipating the next Amendment which is very closely linked to it, we are dealing at the beginning of Part IV with the rehousing situation, with special emphasis being laid on the pensioner or the would-be pensioner in the immediate future. My noble friend Lord Burnham was quite right to move his Amendment because it aimed at clarification. In setting down Amendment No. 56 which is just a little further down, we lay emphasis on the situation which is likely to occur where an application to a housing authority on grounds that vacant possession is or will be needed of a dwelling house which is subject to a protected occupancy can be slotted into the situation that I have in mind.559
§ Let us imagine there is a farm with three farm cottages, two currently occupied by farm workers and one empty, anticipating that before very long one of those farm-workers will be retiring and is held empty on that account. One farmworker decides to leave the employ of the farmer and become a lorry driver. He at the same time wishes to remain in residence in the area in his present house. In these circumstances, the farmer attempts to engage a replacement, does not wish to occupy his pensioner's house and wishes to seek possession of the one in which the farmworker turned lorry driver is at present in occupation. The ADHAC will inevitably say, "But look here, here is a farm with three farm cottages and one empty. In order to employ a replacement farm worker the lorry driver must go into the empty cottage, and that is our advice. "Without some modification to the Bill one can foresee a situation occurring; I suggest to the Government that the insertion of the words, "or who is retiring after not less than three years' service with the applicant" would be very suitable in Clause 29. I beg to move.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Lord PEART
I hope noble Lords will not mind if I say that this is a curious Amendment. The movers seem to intend that where a farmer wishes to house a retiring worker who has been in his service for three years or more he should be able to apply to the local authority to provide accommodation for the current occupier of the cottage he has in mind. It is not clear whether the Amendment is meant to apply where the retiring worker is already housed by the farmer; presumably not, since it would be difficult to defend a thesis that an outgoing worker should be housed at public expense and the farmer should then obtain possession of the accommodation vacated by the retiring worker. But equally the application of the Amendment to cases where the retiring worker is housed by somebody other than the farmer is hardly a tenable proposition. It could in no circumstances be justifiable for a local authority to provide accommodation simply in order that that person's house could be taken over by a third party already housed elsewhere.
In any event the keystone of any application under Clause 29 must be whether there is an agricultural need for 560 a farmer to regain possession. The circumstances envisaged by the Amendment, however, would be as remote from agricultural need as it is possible to get. Indeed, the retention of the agricultural need test, which has not been in dispute hitherto, would mean even if an Amendment on these lines were inserted into the Bill, all applications of the kind envisaged would he bound to be rejected by the local authority who would of course take account of ADHAC advice. The effect of this Amendment would thus be nil and it is undesirable on grounds of principle which count for more when we advise against pursuing it further. I hope noble Lords will not press this Amendment.
§ Lord MONK BRETTON
I should like to say a word about this Amendment because I mentioned it at the time of the Second Reading and it seems to me to be of considerable importance. The per-son farmers have always tried to look after and treat in the best way they could is the long-serving worker who has been with them for a long time and who has stayed by the land. It is not necessarily so that he wants to go and live just any-where that circumstances may push him when he retires. He may well have asked, "Please, when I retire, may I live in the village to which I am accustomed in the kind of house to which I am accustomed?" and probably, until now at any rate, there has been some understanding that every effort would be made to achieve that. If we can get this Amendment into the Bill, it would mean that arrangements of that kind could he honoured by the employer. If we do not, then he will lose the choice that the employer may well have tried to give him; namely, that he could either continue to live in one of the houses on the farm if that is what he would prefer or, alternatively, if he preferred to live in a council house then doubtless every effort would have been made to get him a council house. It seems to me to be a question of whether the interests of the long-serving employee should come before those of the man who, to quote the example given by the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, took a job as a lorry driver. I think that priority should go to the man who stayed on the land. This is why I believe that this Amendment is of very considerable moral significance.
§ Viscount MOUNTGARRET
Through-out the afternoon the general feeling has been that local authorities will provide accommodation and that tenants will be able to choose whether they live in agricultural or council houses. Some of us seem to have overlooked the fact that there is a tremendous shortage of housing. The help which local authorities can automatically provide is extremely small. When one considers the number of unoccupied agricultural dwellings—I say this not from the view that it is undesirable, although it is undesirable to have unoccupied dwellings—this is because there are larger agricultural holdings nowadays and, therefore, fewer farmworkers on the land. If landlords could use those buildings to rehouse people who are no longer employed by them in order to assist the local authorities, I think that many of these problems would be alleviated.
At an earlier stage I ventured to read out some comments of the rural district councils association and the noble Lord, Lord Peart, said that he wished to deal with them at a later stage of the Bill. Does he wish to deal with the question now or on Clause 30? It is the same question as that which has just been raised by the noble Lord; namely, the inability of local authorities to provide houses.
§ The Earl of ONSLOW
May I ask the noble Lord, Lord Peart, whether he is saying that agricultural need does not include the rehousing of one's pensioned workers? I understood the noble Lord to say this, and I should like him to clarify the point.
§ Lord SANDYS
We have had an interesting debate, although I was surprised that the noble Lord the Leader of the House described this as a peculiar Amendment. I believe it is a welcome Amendment so far as a very large number of agricultural workers are concerned and I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Monk Bretton and to other noble Lords who have supported it. It is quite evident that there is a need for housing for the retired worker. In the years prior to retirement there may be considerable anxiety over the future in the family 562 of the worker who is about to retire, and this is a situation which could he catered for if the Government accepted this very small Amendment. However, the manner in which the Government have responded so far does not encourage me. Nevertheless, I believe that there is a real point here. While I suggest that it will be for the benefit of your Lordships' Committee if I withdraw it now, I shall return to the matter at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 9.4 p.m.
Earl FERRERS moved Amendment No. 57:
Page 22, line 37, leave out paragraph (b).
§ The noble Earl said: I am gild to see that the noble Lord, Lord Peart, is involved with this part of the Bill. We were delighted to have the earlier involvement of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, but there was not very much "give" in the replies of the noble Baroness. Now that the noble Lord, Lord Peart, is to be involved with this part of the Bill we hope to see perhaps a little more "give".
§ The clause says, in effect, that in application by a farmer can be made to a local authority if three conditions are fulfilled. First, he has to show that he wishes to house a farmworker in his house. Secondly, he has to show that he is unable to find suitable alternative accommodation. Thirdly, he has to show that the local authority ought, in the interests of efficient agriculture, to provide a house.
§ The Amendment which I have put down has, as the purpose behind it, to draw attention to the fact that the local authority appear to have the last word about whether or not an applicant can provide alternative accommodation for an out-going worker. If the applicant thinks that he is unable to provide accommodation by any reasonable means, he can ask the local authority for a house. Of course, the local authority may take the view that the applicant has alternative accommodation available, although it may be accommodation which is being kept for some other reason, such as an incoming worker. Therefore, the local authority can refuse to provide a house. The farmer can then refer the case to the ADHAC which may appreciate the farmer's commitments regarding what appears to be a spare house, 563 and they may advise that a house for the outgoing worker is urgently needed.
§ The question that I should like to put to the Committee is whether the local authority will act on the advice of the ADHAC or whether they will go behind it, as there is nothing to compel the authority to act on the advice. As the Bill is drafted, the local authority can argue with the farmer over what houses he has got. Possibly some of the houses are not even used for agriculture; it may be that some of them are empty. I believe it is possible that this part of the Bill could, like a whirlpool, suck into it many houses which are not strictly affected by the Bill.
§ The implication is that if the farmer has any other houses which are empty, for the purposes of this part of the Bill they can be made available. A farmer may have empty houses—for instance, houses which are awaiting modernisation. I believe that it would be quite wrong for modernisation to be held up, interrupted or postponed because the local authority may say, "There is a house which is empty at the moment. Therefore you shall put your outgoing farmworker into that house".
§ It may be that the farmer has houses which he keeps for seasonal workers. This happens in certain places. In my view, it would be wrong for such a house to be used for housing an outgoing farm-worker. It may be that there is a house which is connected to the farm office which is normally occupied by the clerical staff. Would the local authority take the view that that house should be used? Or one can take the other slightly extreme but perfectly possible example, where a new dairy set-up is being built and the farmer might think that he would build a stockman's house with it, and it may be that the stockman's house is built and finished first. As I understand it, the local authority could say, "There is an empty house; the outgoing farmworker should go into that".
§ I believe it would be quite illogical and unfair, and indeed quite wrong, for the local authority to escape the obligation put upon them by the Bill simply because of the possible availability of this type of house. I believe that subsection (1)(b) is reasonable in so far as it permits the applicant to go to the local authority if he 564 cannot find suitable alternative accommodation, but I do not think it is reasonable for the local authority to have the final say as to whether certain accommodation is available, and, if they think it is, to refuse to meet the obligation which the Bill puts upon them. For this reason I venture to suggest that the Bill as it stands at the moment is too loosely drafted and I should be grateful to hear the noble Lord's opinion. I hope he will not be obliged to advise us to resist the Amendment because I genuinely should like to know his opinion. I beg to move.
§ Lord MIDDLETON
I do not think there is any dispute that if a farmer has a perfectly good house standing empty for no good reason the local authority would be perfectly justified in refusing to rehouse, but I can think of a number of possible reasons for other empty houses in the same ownership. My noble friend Lord Sandys quoted a very good example in the last Amendment, and my noble friend Lord Ferrers quoted some good examples just now. Noble Lords will be able to think of many others for themselves, but I should like to ask whether the Government, by the use of the word "reasonable" in Clause 29(1)(b), mean that if the employer can show that an apparently available empty house is required to fulfil another housing need the local authority cannot refuse to rehouse on the grounds that the farmer already has alternative accommodation. If so, it seems to me that there is scope for a great deal of argument as to whether other houses owned by the employer could by reasonable means be provided.
Also, I think there is the possibility of a great variation in interpretation as between various housing authorities. This clause is drawn in very general terms. That was admitted by the Secretary of State for the Environment in Committee in another place, when he said that he would look at the paragraph to see whether it could be tightened up. I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Ferrers that it is too widely drawn.
§ Lord PEART
I hope that this Amendment does not herald disagreement on an issue which until now has not been in dispute. The Consultation Document made the point that it seemed difficult to justify access to local authority housing in cases where a farmer who had provided a cottage to be vacated, either owned or 565 had access to another vacant cottage. During the subsequent consultations and during the discussion on the Bill itself, both in another place and elsewhere, there has been general agreement that before a farmer applies to a housing authority he should first look to his own housing or to housing which he effectively controls, such as cottages on his farm but in the name of, say, his wife. I give that as an example. He can then see whether he has anything suitable to offer. I am sure that as a basic starting principle that is right. It would be wrong to place housing authorities under a strong duty to find accommodation in cases where the farmer could perfectly well offer a house of his own.
Having said that, I hope I can reassure noble Lords that the present wording will not place undue restrictions on farmers. When the Bill was first published the subsection which we are now discussing was worded differently. At that time it said that the criterion to be satisfied was that—and I quote—Vacant possession cannot be obtained by any reasonable meansunless the housing authority provided the accommodation. As a result of the debate in Committee in another place we were persuaded that that wording went too wide and could be read as meaning that a farmer should look beyond his own resources for housing over which he had a measure of control. But the subsection as it now stands should remove that particular anxiety. I should like to believe that noble Lords will agree that the amended version, which refers only to the applicant—that is, the farmer—being unable to provide accommodation "by any reasonable means", shows our good faith in not wanting to impose unfair burdens on the farmer.
I know anxiety on this matter has been expressed previously by noble Lords and by the noble Baroness, and I am anxious that we should achieve something which will work sensibly. I would only say that there is no satisfactory way of distinguishing in a Statute the various cases which are bound to arise. We are breaking new ground here. In some it will be entirely reasonable for a farmer to say, "Here is a spare cottage which I have but which I cannot use to rehouse this former employee". To try to write criteria into the law, I believe, would be an elaborate 566 and fruitless task. However, it is our intention to deal with them in the guidelines of ADHAC and in the circular to local authorities, so that a clearer picture can be given of the sort of case where a farmer should or should not be expected to provide accommodation out of his own stock. As we have said on a previous occasion, both the circular and he guidelines are to be the subject of consultations with bodies representing farmers and landowners as well as farm workers and local authorities. I hope that with this explanation noble Lords will find less reason to be anxious, as I know they are, about the subsection as it stands and that therefore they will be willing to withdraw the Amendment.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for what he has said. However, I am still disturbed that he did not answer the specific points I raised which are the ones we are concerned about. In effect the noble Lord said, "Don't worry; it will appear in a circular of advice to ADHACs"; but I do not think, quite frankly, that that is very convincing. What we are putting into the Bill is, fundamentally, potential legal material upon which people will argue and upon which, if necessary, they will go to the courts.
The real point I was concerned with—and perhaps I did not put it quire clearly enough—is this. A farmer or landowner may go to a local authority and say, "Will you house this man? I have not got any alternative accommodation", and he may say sotto voce, "Well, there is that house, but it will have to be modernized; and there is that house, but it is going to be used for a seasonal worker". Or he may say, still sotto voce, "There is that house into which I will put clerical staff". But he will go to the local authority and will say to them, "Will you house this person, because I have no suitable accommodation?". The ADHAC may take the advice of the farmer and say, "Well, he is quite right in keeping this house for these specific purposes". The point is, does the local authority then have the right, notwithstanding the applicant's claim, notwithstanding the ADHAC's advice, to turn round and say, "You may say you have not got any alternative accommodation, but we say you have, and therefore we will not rehouse". That is the point. I should be grateful 567 if the noble Lord would be kind enough to try to answer, because if that is so, then I think it puts too much power in the hands of the local authority, because it enables them to escape the obligation which the Bill puts on to them.
§ Lord PEART
I recognise the arguments and I understand the worries put to me by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. Indeed, I remember that during Second Reading, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharpies, was concerned lest cottages expressly earmarked for workers in retirement might be cited by a local authority as a reason for refusing to rehouse an outgoing worker who is not retiring. Worries have also been voiced lest the subsection might result in farmers having to house exworkers in accommodation which happens to he empty, perhaps, because it is used for housing seasonal workers, for example, or because a different worker has not been replaced, or even because it has long since been dilapidated. Anxiety has also been expressed lest farmers might be obliged to look to accommodation totally unconnected with the farm.
I have tried to explain the subsection carefully, and I have looked into it. It enables proper account to be taken of the various circumstances where a farmer may well have other accommodation which would not be suitable for rehousing an outgoing worker. It is deliberately cast so that in any individual cases local authorities may use their discretion—and this must be so—as to whether a farmer can reasonably be expected to provide housing himself. So the mere existence of a spare cottage does not, of necessity, render the application invalid. An example may help, drawn from the instances just cited. If a farmer wishes, as part of his overall management strategy, to retain a cottage for an employee who is going to retire in the foreseeable future, and does not want to see it occupied instead by a former employee who has taken a job outside agriculture, that, on the face of it, seems a valid point which a local authority ought to take account of in considering his application. I do not want to repeat the argument about the circular to the local authorities. I have tried to reply. I hope the noble Lord will withdraw this Amendment. I will naturally look at it again, but as it is, I do not think there are any fears.
I am grateful to the noble Lord because I realise he is trying to be helpful, but he still has not answered the point I was trying to put. I do not want to be horrible to the noble Lord, but perhaps I can try to put it again more clearly. A farmer may not be able to rehouse a farm worker. He may apply to the local authority because he cannot rehouse him. The ADHAC may say he cannot rehouse him. But am I right in believing that the local authority can say, "We think you can rehouse him. Despite the fact that the ADHAC say your application is reasonable, despite the fact that you say your application is reason-able, we think it is unreasonable." Can the local authority say that, and, if so, will they not, therefore, be forgoing the obligations which this Part of the Bill puts on to them? If the noble Lord can answer the point now I should be grateful, but, if not, perhaps he would consider it.
§ Lord PEART
I will, of course, consider it. The ADHAC, of course, will consider the agricultural need, and I should have thought the local authority would take any sensible advice. This is what we are going to argue later. I should have thought that is clear.
§ The Earl of ONSLOW
The noble Lord brought up the point made by my noble friend Lady Sharpies about retired workers, so perhaps he could answer my question, which he has inadvertently failed to do. Is the need for retirement housing regarded as an agricultural need or not?
§ Lord PEART
I think this would be what the ADHAC would consider in a particular case. I have given examples of individual cases. Indeed, on this I should hope that in circularising the people concerned we shall be able to produce guidelines which will be satisfactory. But in the end it will be the ADHAC which will make the recommendation to the local authority, and it would be on agricultural need basically.
If the noble Lord would be kind enough to read again the arguments which we have put forward, I should be grateful. Under the wording as it is in the paragraph at the moment I can see the possibility of endless argument going on between the local authority and the applicant as to whether a certain house is suitable alternative accommodation. If the noble Lord will do that, I 569 shall be happy to beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Lord PEART
I will certainly look into it. I know the noble Earl is being constructive. He has raised a point which I thought was covered by my argument, but if he feels as he does, of course I will look at it again.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 9.25 p.m.
Baroness YOUNG moved Amendment No. 58:
Page 22, line 39, leave out ("and").
§ The noble Baroness said: I beg to move Amendment No. 58, and to speak at the same time to Amendment No. 60. I have put down these two Amendments at the particular request of the Association of District Councils, who are very concerned about the implications of this whole Bill. We have already debated this matter, and I do not wish again to go over all the arguments. This is designed as a very small point to meet some of the problems which they will face when the responsibility for rehousing is to fall on all of them. Clearly the responsibility will be much greater in some areas than in others, and I believe particularly in the South East where there are larger numbers of farm workers than in other parts of the country, and the responsibility is likely to be all the greater.
§ Then, too, they come up against problems where there is not any really suitable land on which to build houses, because if you wanted to build a house that is reasonable for a particular worker the land might all be green belt, or other-wise zoned, and it cannot be built on. So for them there are going to be very real problems indeed. They have asked for this small Amendment, which would place an obligation, before the local authority is appealed to, at any rate to make inquiries in local estate agents and the local newspaper or other places where it might be thought there might be houses made available. I beg to move.
§ Baroness BIRK
These Amendments are interesting because during the debate we have just had on Amendment No. 57, when my noble friend reaffirmed the basic principle which we consistently maintain, 570 that farmers should look to their own housing and that which they control before the obligation on the local authority arises, there was a certain a mount of disquiet felt and expressed by noble Lords opposite. The interesting thing about these Amendments is that they not only reinforce the principle which the Government have been arguing but they seem to extend it. The end result of the Amendment which the noble Baroness has moved would be that farmers should not only examine their own housing stock but should also, within reason, see what else is available and suitable in the neighbourhood.
I suppose people have different views, and there seems to be quite a difference of opinion over this on the Opposition Front Bench because these Amendments appear to me mutually exclusive. We believe that adequate guidance can he prepared to assist local authorities in exercising their discretion as to what a farmer can and cannot be expected to provide from his own housing, but the further task of devising guidance and the decisions eventually to be taken by local authorities would he much more complicated if accommodation owned by people other than the farmer also had to be taken into account. This, even if it is not really intended, is what this Amendment means.
It seems also that the Amendment risks placing a much more onerous burden on the farmer, because it could be read as suggesting that he must take active steps to seek out alternative accommodation over which he exercises no influence or control. While it is a matter of fact that you can establish whether or no: he owns spare cottages, it is quite a different matter for a farmer to show that he has made reasonable efforts and no such alternative accommodation—that is, the sort of accommodation envisaged in the Amendment—is available. I think it is putting a very wide burden on t le farmer and one which I do not feel that the Committee would want to support. It having had an airing, I hope that the noble Baroness withdraws this Amendment.
§ Baroness YOUNG
I do not intend to press the Amendment and I make no apology for tabling it because by the Bill the Government have succeeded in putting two groups of people into an intolerable 571 position. First, they have upset the farmers, who comprise one of our efficient industries, an industry that is actually making a positive contribution in our critical economic circumstances. Secondly, to satisfy so far as I can see almost nobody, they are upsetting the district councils by placing on them an obligation which in many cases they will be unable to meet. This is in principle the wrong way to legislate, as I have previously said; it will make the housing situation worse. I have sympathy with the point of view expressed by my noble friend Lord Ferrers, because it seems that this provision will have the effect of penalising the good farmer who has tried to make adequate provision and think ahead, and he will suffer by it. I tabled the Amendment partly to draw attention to the contradictions in the Bill and partly because I consider that the principle underlying it, whatever merit it may have, should not be carried through by placing on people obligations which, ultimately, in many instances they will be unable to meet. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 9.32 p.m.
Earl FERRERS moved Amendment No. 59:
Page 22, line 40, leave out ("efficient").
§ The noble Earl said: This Amendment is designed to delete the word "efficient" and I hope the Minister realises that it is not a frivolous proposal. Indeed, the more I think about it the more important the Amendment becomes, or at least our consideration of the issue it raises. Clause 29 allows a farmer to apply to the local authority for rehousing an individual provided three criteria are complied with, one of which is that the local authority should, in the interests of efficient agriculture, provide suitable alternative accommodation. What does "efficient" mean? I have a bee in my bonnet about this, because we often use "with-it" words which sound well but the meaning of which we do not really know. I tabled a similar Amendment to the Bill to nationalise the aircraft and shipbuilding industries, in which the British Aerospace Corporation must carry out "the efficient production of aeroplanes". I asked the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, what the efficient production of aeroplanes was and he replied, in effect, "We all know what 572 'efficient' means". But frankly I do not, and I should like noble Lords to give this matter some consideration.
§ Is it right for a local authority to determine whether a farmer is efficient before it accepts an obligation to rehouse? What does "efficient" mean? Is the criterion the output from the farm; if a farmer provides a good output does that mean that he is efficient? Is it that the farm should be profitable? Does it depend on the number of man-days the farmer uses on his holding? Is it the output per employee? Is it the return per acre? Is it the profit per acre—or what? What exactly is efficiency?
§ This is important because the local authority is obliged under the Bill as drafted to rehouse a person only if the farmer concerned is engaged in "efficient agriculture", and one immediately thinks of the small farmer with a small acreage and perhaps one house and one employee. That employee may have been given notice or may have handed in his notice but wishes to stay on in his cottage. The farmer may say to the local authority that he wants the house. That farmer may be working all the hours God gives. Is it right that the local authority could say, "You are not efficient; you are only small and you are making only £1,000 a year? That is not efficient; therefore we are not going to rehouse the person".
§ I think this word "efficient" is highly relevant to this clause. I do not know whether the word "efficient" ought to be there, because if it means anything at all it means that the local authority is going to choose whether that farmer is efficient. But who is going to do the choosing?. Is it going to be the chairman of the housing committee or the housing officer or an employee of the local authority? Who is the person who is going to say, "We are not going to take on the obligation of rehousing because that farmer is not an efficient farmer". I should be grateful if the noble Lord would let us know the exact meaning of this word "efficient" and what he feels the addition of that word adds to this Bill. I beg to move.
§ Lord BURNHAM
In rising to support my noble friend I should like to return to the point I tried to make on Second Reading. There is one certainty and that is that the farmer concerned considers the house to be necessary in the interests of agriculture. If he did not think it 573 necessary, he would get rid of it the moment this Bill comes into law. As my noble friend said, it is difficult to define efficiency. Clearly the man principally concerned thinks he needs the house. As in any case there is a fair degree of confiscation without compensation in this Bill, I should like to suggest that the judgment of the man who is operating the enterprise should be paramount, and I support the omission of the word "efficient".
§ Lord PEART
There is some danger that we may get into semantics on this, but may I try to explain why it is in. I think noble Lords would agree that the concept of efficiency in agriculture is fairly well known. Without claiming that this one word is vital to the smooth operation of the Bill, I see advantage in keeping it where it is, and I shall explain. We already have it under the present agricultural tied cottage system in the Rent Act 1965 as amended by the 1970 Agriculture Act. One of the grounds on which a farmer can apply for an order of possession against a tied cottage occupant to be suspended less than six months after the end of the employment is that the efficient management of any agricultural land or the efficient carrying on of any agricultural operations would be seriously prejudiced. I do not want to make too much of this point, although I must remind the noble Lord that the concept of efficiency was introduced into the 1970 Amendment in this House by noble Lords on the opposite Benches. I should prefer to retain a word which has been used in a similar context and which has caused no problem. It is possible to take any word in the English language and have a debate about its meaning. As this has been the practice and noble Lords approved of it I should prefer to keep it in the Bill.
§ Lord BALERNO
I think there is some confusion here. Under this clause the judge of efficiency is the local authority. In the case cited by the noble Lord, Lord Peart, the judge of efficiency was the farmer or some farming organisation. There I think is a major difference. I should hate to have my farming efficiency judged by my local authority. I would turn round to my local authority and say, "Am I competent to be a judge of the efficiency of a coal mine of which you have many in the local authority?" I think this is a vital difference and would 574 most strongly support my noble friend in his Amendment.
§ Lord SANDYS
I too should like to join the voices from this side of the Committee in saying to the noble Lord the Leader of the House that he may consider that this is semantic but that there is something much more real in it. This was perhaps appreciated by his colleagues. May I draw the attention of the noble Lord the Leader of the House to what his Parliamentary Secretary, Mr. Gavin Strang, said on 29th June in Standing Committee K? It was quite clear that Mr. Strang realised probably rather better than the noble Lord, Lord Peart, what the Opposition was attempting to bring to the Government's attention. He said:Thirdly—and this is obviously the critical area to which the honourable Member for Westmorland particularly addressed his remark—I see a clear case for giving the ADHACs some indication of the criteria that they should apply when determining not only what constitutes efficient agriculture in the terms of Amendment No. 84, but also what circumstances may give rise to agricultural need for re-housing facilities and what would lend agricultural urgency to that need."—[Official Report, Commons, Standing Committee K; 29/6/76, col.818.]Clearly, the Parliamentary Secretary had in mind advice only for ADHACs but, in recognising that there was some need to set out in the guidelines what "efficient agriculture" means, he also recognised the broad issue. It is all very well for the noble Lord the Leader of the House to say that to try to write criteria into the law would be a fruitless task, as he said in earlier remarks upon the Amendment, but we would only agree with him to a limited extent. If he insists that the word "efficient" should remain in the Bill it will be an acknowledgment of the fact that words have no meaning.
§ Lord PEART
I am rather surprised at that argument. Noble Lords will know from their reading of the Bill—and we have argued this previously; it was argued on Second Reading—that ADFIA. Cs will advise on the interests of efficient agriculture, local authorities will take full account of that advice but that in the end the courts could be the final arbiters if there was a dispute. One has only to look at Clause 29 to see that it is specific-ally mentioned there. I shot Id have thought that this was satisfactory. The meaning of the word is known. As I said earlier, I think there is a danger that 575 noble Lords are indulging in semantics. I mean that sincerely. I believe that the word is known full well to the industry and if there are any difficulties it will not be a question of the local authority being despotic or bureaucratic in its approach. After all, we are anxious to obtain their co-operation in the best sense. Most of the rural authorities are made up of reasonable men who know farming. I am not saying that they are experts, but the point of having ADHACs is that these are the organisations to give advice to the local authority. I do not see why noble Lords should complain about the word "efficient".
I do not believe that the noble Lord has got his finger on quite the right point. He says it is for the ADHACs to advise on questions of efficiency, but in the Bill it says that the only obligation to rehouse is when that agriculture is efficient. The noble Lord says that we are indulging in semantics, but I do not think that we are. He says that the meaning of "efficient" is known, but I do not think it is. One can find many instances where farmers, or indeed businessmen, may buy a piece of equipment costing £10,000 or £20,000. They may say, "I have bought this and I am saving three men. I am being very efficient." But the fact that they are grossly overcapitalised may mean in other terms that they are being inefficient.
I have never yet met a person who says, "I am inefficient". Everyone thinks that they are efficient. There is no Party exercise in this whatsoever. If we are putting in the word "efficient" it must contribute something to the meaning of the clause. My only fear is that if it contributes anything it is being restrictive, because it is bound to mean that the local authorities are not obliged to house anyone who, in their opinion, is not being efficient.
I am not going to press the Amendment, but I should be grateful if the noble Lord would look at this matter again. We are as anxious as he is to see that all agriculture is efficient; of course we are. But it is equally important that the local authorities should not be the arbiters of whether or not a particular farm is being efficient. I should be grateful if the noble Lord will be kind enough to look at this 576 matter again to see whether it could be a genuine improvement to the Bill.
§ Lord BALERNO
Before the noble Earl sits down, I should like to raise a point. I do not want to create difficulties with the noble Lord, Lord Peart. I may be wrong, but I have a feeling that, despite the great flurry which occurred over there after I spoke previously, the noble Lord, Lord Peart, has not answered my question. I feel rather strongly that a local authority in an industrial area—and I farmed in an industrial area—cannot get an agricultural problem straight. It is not in any position in which to understand it, and one's experience working with urban authorities is that in anything agricultural they have not got a clue, just as I have not got a clue about coal mining. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Peart, has a clue about both and is expert in both, but that hardly applies to a local authority in a predominantly industrial area. I should hate to feel that my efficiency, or the efficiency of any farmer, was being measured by a local authority in an industrial or urban area.
§ Lord PEART
I should like to respond to the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, whom I know has agriculture at heart and has played a very distinguished part in it. But I used to be on a rural district authority and even though it was in an industrial area—a coalmining area—of the North-East I do not think that those men were irrational or insensitive to the needs of industries like agriculture; in fact, the contrary was the case. There were farms side by side with pits in parts of County Durham. I think that the ADHAC system which we are to create will advise the local authority; but in the end it would be the local authority which would have to take the responsibility for housing, naturally. But on the question of advice from an agricultural point of view it will be the ADHACs which will be involved, and we shall be debating these later. Of course I am prepared to look at this; the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, has asked me, as he did previously. I will certainly treat this seriously if the Opposition feel sensitive about it. I will look at it again, but I should be grateful if the noble Earl would withdraw the Amendment.
I am grateful to the noble Lord. Of course I will withdraw 577 the Amendment, but I am not sure that I go wholly with the noble Lord when he says that urban local authorities are not necessarily insensitive to the needs of agriculture because one finds that the Department of the Environment is fairly insensitive to the requirements of agriculture, as is witnessed by this Bill. Therefore I think that the apprehensions of my noble friend are at least justified. At this juncture I will certainly withdraw the Amendment, but I might return to it at a later stage.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord PEART moved Amendment No. 61:
Page 23, line 14, at end insert—
( ) in the Isles of Scilly, the Council of those Isles".
§ The noble Lord said: This Amendment, together with those related to it, provide for the Bill to apply automatically to the Isles of Scilly subject to any changes which the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food may together make in a joint order. This would bring the Bill into line with the Rent Act 1968, which extends to the Scillies subject to an order-making power similar to that now proposed for the Bill.
§ As at present drafted, the Bill would not apply in the Isles until an order was made. As a matter of policy, the Bill should protect all qualifying agricultural workers in England and Wales simultaneously. The sole means of affording this protection to agricultural workers in the Isles without these Amendments would be to make an order extending the Bill to the Scillies at the same time as the Bill is brought into effect for the rest of England and Wales. This would be, I believe, an unnecessarily cumbersome procedure which, I hope noble Lords will agree, is best avoided. I therefore hope that this Amendment will be accepted. I beg to move.
§ Baroness YOUNG
We on this side of the Committee are not going to object to this extension. I see clearly the point of it. However, as we are debating this particular subsection of the clause, I should like to ask the noble Lord how many London boroughs he thinks, seriously, are likely to have to rehouse agricultural workers, and whether he has included London boroughs simply for the sake of uniformity or whether he seriously 578 imagines that inner London boroughs, which are of course housing authorities, might be called upon to house agricultural workers.
§ Lord PEART
There are some farms, I understand, in the Greater London Area. I can give the figure for the Scillies, but I cannot give the noble Baroness the other information. I shall try to get it; it may be available. In the Isles, there are only 20 argricultural tied cottages.
§ Clause 29, as amended, agreed to.
§ [Clause 30 Duty of housing authority concerned]:
§ 9.53 p.m.
§ Lord MIDDLETON moved Amendment No. 62:
Page 23, line 36, leave out subsection (5) and insert—
("(5) Advice from the committee under subsection (3) above that the authority ought in the interests of efficient agriculture to provide suitable alternative accommodation shall be conclusive evidence of the matters contained in section 29(1)(c) above.").
§ The noble Lord said: Under the present wording of subsection (5) the authority have to take full account of the advice tendered to them by the advisory committee. This wording leaves scope, I feel, for the authority to disagree with the committee's assessment of agricultural need and urgency if they feel they have good reason to do so. This Amendment seeks to provide, first, that the committee's recommendations on the agricultural aspects of the matter should be conclusive on those aspects and not open to question by the authority; and, secondly, that in any legal proceedings relating to the duty of the local authority the court would have to consider only whether the local authority had performed their duty: it would not have to consider agricultural need, because that would already have been decided.
A similar Amendment was discussed at the Committee stage in another place, but it was withdrawn when the Government undertook to consider the matter further before the Report stage. In the event, however, the Government did not return to this point at the Report stage. I should like to ask the Government whether they have, in the Under-Secretary of State's words in another place, considered
… it carefully so that reconsideration can be given at the appropriate time",
and whether they think that the appropriate time might perhaps not be now. I beg to move.
The Earl of CAITHNESS
I think it was the noble Baroness who, on a previous Amendment, said in effect that there is no point in having a dog and barking yourself. I think that in relation to the Amendment that we were discussing just now, the fears of my noble friend Lord Balerno will be alleviated if the ADHAC advice was conclusive evidence. In supporting my noble friend on this matter I would ask the Committee to bear with me if I refer in part to Amendment No. 64. I ask this because my argument for these Amendments is so closely aligned and interdependent. It is essential that we get this part of the Bill right, and I hope that it will save time later that and I shall not be repetitive.
It is a well-established fact that local housing authorities do not now give any priority to families moving from tied cottages unless there is a legally enforceable eviction order. In my experience, authorities even go so far as to advise applicants to improve their position by getting an eviction order made against them. If these circumstances are any precedent—and I hold that they are as they are adopted nation-wide—it is reasonable to assume that local authorities will give a low priority to the requirement that they should use their best endeavours, and thus an almost impossible situation will arise. This situation will be further complicated if the local authorities overrule the advice of the ADHAC. Local authorities must have some obligation to house such families as have been accepted by the ADHAC. Failing such a duty, the farmer will not be able to plan or run his farm efficiently even where the ADHAC has confirmed agricultural need. If ADHACs are to serve any useful purpose, their decision must be binding on the authorities as, in effect, is the decision of a judge in granting an eviction order now.
There are far too many Committees whose standing has been debased by lack of powers and whose decisions given in an advisory capacity have not been accepted. Such instances only serve to increase the bureaucratic bog and agriculture can do without any further 580 progress down that slope. At the moment the farmer is the sole arbiter as to when possession of a cottage is required. His decision, backed by an eviction order, is binding on a local authority. Surely it is equitable that the ADHAC decision, which must be made on the grounds of efficient farming, is also binding on the authority. As we have heard, many people are concerned that some local authorities, particularly urban ones, are unsympathetic to agriculture's needs. This Amendment does not alter the existing basis of the duty on local authorities. I consider it is therefore a reasonable Amendment, within the spirit of the Bill and thoroughly beneficial.
§ The Earl of ONSLOW
There is one point that comes to my mind in relation to this Amendment and to the next and to several others. It is the possibility of a maverick council. We have had an example of that at Clay Cross and an example of this in certain Labour-controlled councils who have rebelled and are rebelling against the idea of cuts in rate support grant ceilings, and we have had the example of Camden Council whose housing expenditure is totally out of control through gross inefficiency. I concede that Camden is not covered with rolling green acres. If we get a maverick council, what are we to do about it? I should have thought that if the ADHAC advice becomes mandatory this will stop any maverick council from being able to override or ignore ADHAC advice.
§ Lord SANDYS
There is a further point on introducing this Amendment which is both helpful to the Government and will be helpful to those who serve on the ADHACs which are to be set up by the Bill. That is at the heart of the constitution of the ADHAC in its advisory rôle. If it is stated nowhere in the Bill that the advice given shall be conclusive, it will obviously detract both from the rô le of the ADHAC and the quality and acceptability of the advice being given. I am sure this is self-evident but nevertheless should be stated here as indeed it was stated in another place in Standing Committee. The ADHACs will attract to themselves the benefit by being accepted as a body with conclusive advice in this sphere, and gain membership thereby.
§ 10 p.m.
§ Lord PEART
I expected noble Lords 581 to press me hard on this matter; I know they feel strongly about it. This also was shown during debates on Second Reading. It would be misleading to suggest that local authorities will normally wish to question the advice which an ADHAC provides. I know that the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, and others feel there may be maverick councils, unsympathetic ones. I do not think so, because the district councils have given assurances that they will make this scheme work and I am certain that they will act as responsible men and women, democratically elected. I know about the fears mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, in relation to farming communities near or in close proximity to industrial areas where the local authorities will be dominated by people not in agriculture or by other people outside agriculture. Local authorities can be expected to behave as reasonable men if they are going to try to fulfil what we wish them to do when this Bill becomes law. They can be expected to welcome independent advice on the agricultural aspects, which we have stressed over and over again. In most cases they will accept that advice almost without question.
We expect, subject to the views of the interested parties, to emphasise in a circular to local authorities that in practice authorities can expect ADHAC advice to be authoritative on agricultural aspects of an application, and that they should not as a general rule want to call it in question so far as these aspects are concerned. If authorities feel that they have any reason for doing so, they should as a first step consult the Agricultural Wages Committee chairman who appointed the ADHAC, with a view to the matter being further considered. This is the procedure we shall adopt. However, having said that, I may say that we go some way to sympathise with the spirit of the Amendment. I know from the way the Amendment has been moved and I know from noble Lords who are involved in agriculture that there are worries that we do not go far enough here.
But the wording of the Amendment goes too far. It seeks to alter the careful balance that we have established in the Bill between local housing authorities and agricultural dwelling-house advisory committees. The local housing authority must retain—as noble Lords opposite will 582 agree—the final responsibility for deciding on the allocation of council housing in the light of advice they have received. This is the whole purpose of the Bill. This is the nub of it. Here we are dealing with democratically elected bodies w ho have long experience of this rô le and are the only bodies in a position to take these decisions where the relative priorities of different claims must be weighed against the housing resources available. We have every reason to believe ADHACs will do an excellent job and will be highly valued by local authorities because of it. It is a very different matter from endorsing this Amendment, which implies that their advice will never be open to question or challenge from the body they are supposed to be advising. Nor would it be an especially good start to relations between local authorities and the agricultural community under the Bill if an anomalous statutory relationship of this kind were created.
This Amendment, if it was passed, would serve only to weaken the co-operation which we should like to see as a feature of the Bill's operation. I am sure that noble Lords will not wish to do that and will not wish to frustrate the administration if this Bill becomes an Act of Parliament, as it will. I am certain that they will not wish to see it founder and there is a danger that if the Amendment is accepted it will weaken the co-operation. I have stressed that. Again, I hope that noble Lords, while they have their strong views on this matter, will not press the Amendment.
The noble Lord's answer shows the absolute mess that we are getting into over this matter. He shakes his head, but here we have this paraphernalia of ADHACs being set up, people being drawn in to serve on the ADHACs and to go out to investigate the farmers and their various problems. They then make their report to the local authority and give their advice and the local authority can throw it in the waste paper basket and take no notice of it. So what is the use of having the ADHAC, the impartial body to go in to see whether the application is reasonable, whether the housing is required for agriculture, when after having made their recommendation the local authority can take absolutely no notice of it whatsoever?
§ Viscount MASSEREENE and FERRARD
I must say that I find it amusing that the noble Lord, Lord Peart, said that in his opinion everyone who is democratically elected must necessarily be responsible. I hardly need draw noble Lords' attention to a number of local authorities who have not acted in a responsible manner at all. We have only to think of the North-East of England. The argument that because a person is democratically elected he will therefore naturally behave responsibly, does not add up; certainly not regarding this Bill.
§ Lord PEART
May I say that noble Lords must accept that people who are elected in this country—in England and Wales; the Bill does not apply to Scotland—will act reasonably and sensibly. On the other hand, if they do not, there is always a writ of mandamus.
That is not an argument. What farmer will take a local authority to court? It would not be worth his while. He would not have the money, and it would be a hopeless waste of time. That is the dilemma which the Government are getting themselves into. They have plucked one area out of the whole housing system and are trying to alter it. The very nature of the Bill is constructed to put the obligation on the local authority, but when you come to the detail of whether the local authority will accept the obligation, then of course the Government run away from it and they say, "We have set up these Committees, spent £5 million, and done all this", but at the end the local authority can take no notice. They can read the report, throw it away and do nothing at all. There is no binding requirement on the local authority to take the advice of these people. Therefore, what is the point of setting up the bodies?
§ Lord BROWN
The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, referred to the possible action of a local authority in saying of the advice they have been given, "Well, fling it into the waste paper basket." It is clear that in principle you could make the 584 same remark about every conceivable advisory committee. If you expect this particular form of local government to behave like that you can say that of everybody. I notice that the Conservative Party is always keen to see when the Government puts any power in the hands of the Secretary of State that he has advisory committees and he must consult with everybody. Why do they not say of every consultation, "What is the use of the consultation because it is in the hands of the Secretary of State or the local authority to fling it into the waste paper basket?" That is a completely barren argument.
With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Brown, it is not a barren argument because he knows perfectly well that there have been plenty of occasions when Governments have set up bodies to investigate various problems, that those bodies have made their reports and Governments have not accepted them.
§ Lord BROWN
The rô le of the advisory committee is to offer advice which may or may not be accepted. That is always the case with any type of advisory committee.
I regret that I was not present when the argument began, but I listened with interest to what the noble Lord said a moment or two ago. A local authority is responsible to the electors. A local authority is also responsible to the public and there is such a thing as public opinion. If a local authority does something which is wrong, one may be sure that those who feel that they have been badly affected will see to it that that local authority does not continue in power. There is also the media which is prepared to bring forward any opinion, particularly if it happens to be adverse to a local authority. What is the noble Lord worrying about?
§ Lord MIDDLETON
The great worry is that there may be local authorities which think that, although they should rehouse agricultural workers, the duty which is placed upon them by this Bill should not be complied with because of public opinion and that therefore they should rehouse other people.
§ Lord PEART
I hope that noble Lords have read Clause 30(5) which states that the authority, 585… shall take full account of any advice tendered to them by the committee in accordance with section 31 of this Act, and in any legal proceedings relating to the duty imposed on the authority by this section, evidence shall be admissible of the advice so given".Therefore the authorities must take full account of that advice. I should have thought that that would have satisfied noble Lords opposite.
§ The Earl of ONSLOW
I have read very carefully subsection (5). It is one of the subsections that I find quite easy to understand. However, the noble Lord has not answered the question about maverick councils. It seems to me that the vast majority of local councils will behave in the way which the noble Lord has described, but we have had maverick councils. As my noble friend Lord Ferrers has said, if they choose to ignore this point the cost of taking out a writ of mandamus is enormous. Also the cost of taking a local authority to court is very high, although they have the rate-payers' money behind them to take the case right up to the House of Lords if they want to do so. But that is a very expensive amusement. My other point is the one which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Middleton. If a borough has a bad housing problem and the pressures upon a local authority are so great that they then, through public opinion, rehouse another sector—public opinion forces them to ignore their duty to rehouse the agricultural worker who has left his job—it seems to me that there will he great difficulties. This problem is not quite so easy to brush off as the noble Lord makes it out to be.
§ Lord MIDDLETON
I wish I was as optimistic as the noble Lord, Lord Peart, when he says that most local authorities will not question the advice of the agricultural advisory committees. I take the opposite view. It must be made clear that this Amendment does not seek to interfere with the rehousing responsibilities of local authorities. The purpose of the Amendment is not to provide that the Committee's recommendations shall be conclusive evidence that the authorities should rehouse, merely that these recommendations should be conclusive on the question of agricultural need. As my noble friend Lord Ferrers has said, that is exactly why the ADHACs have been set up. I am quite certain that the role 586 of the agricultural advisory committee should be emphasised without in any way taking away the responsibility from the local authority. However, I am not going to press this Amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Peart, said that the wording might possibly create an anomalous statutory situation. I should like to take the wording back and look at it again with a view possibly to producing something a little better at another stage. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 10.15 p.m.
The Earl of ONSLOW moved Amendment No. 63:
Page 24, line 1, after ("shall") insert ("within two months of the date of application made under section 29 above,").
§ The noble Earl said: In this clause, which deals with the duties of the local authority to rehouse, a time element has already been introduced—and rightly so. The authority concerned has, within seven days, to inform the occupier of the dwelling-house—why we cannot say "house" I do not know; apparently we now have to call them "dwelling-house;"—that an application has been made under the previous clause. What this Amendment seeks to do is to make the authority come to a decision within eight weeks. Your Lordships' House is having to make decisions on five highly distasteful and controversial Bills within sever weeks; all I am asking is that the local authority should have to make a decision on one house within eight weeks, and I do not think that is asking too much. If we do not impose a time limit on local authorities then a maverick local authority—and I go back to that because I am: lure they can exist, and on the previous Amendment I gave possible examples—can say that it is making its best endeavour; and in fact make no decision at all, thus in a way invalidating the whole half-loaf or half-fish that the agriculture industry has been given in return for the abolition o ' the tied system.
§ I am not saying that all local authorities will do this. All I am trying to say is that there is this terrible danger of the maverick local authority. Also I think it is not unreasonable to suggest that eight weeks is not too long a time in which to make a decision in regard to one house. I beg to move.587
The Earl of CAITHNESS
In very many pieces of legislation Parliament has seen the need for the provision of time limits and this need has been particularly appreciated in agricultural legislation. Agriculture is an efficient, multi-million pound business in which quick decisions are vital. Regrettably there is concern in dealing with local authorities and finding more and more delays. I have encountered these delays, both with local authorities and with the Department. A time limit suggested in a Government circular has no legal backing and therefore no parties are bound by such limits as are stated. Therefore there is a very real need to write a time limit into the Bill rather than to rely on a Government circular. Naturally with the growing pressure of work on local authorities those decisions which can be postponed because of there being no legal time limits will suffer most. Unreasonable delays must not be allowed to happen in this vital area of agriculture and therefore I consider it essential that a legal time limit is inserted by which time the local authority must notify its decision.
§ Baroness BIRK
Of course I see and accept the spirit of the Amendment moved by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, and supported by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. It is perfectly true that in a vast number of cases one hopes that the local authorities will be able to decide without undue delay, and indeed within that time, whether or not an application is substantiated. But it really would not be sensible to specify a rigid time limit in the Bill, since there may be occasional cases where, for a very good reason, the authority cannot meet the deadline. Two months is just within one council meeting, or just outside it, or between two. There may be cases where the circumstances are complicated, or where there is some dispute and the farmer or farm worker has applied to an ADHAC for advice on agricultural aspects of the situation; and that advice may be delayed because one of them who wishes to discuss it with ADHAC is ill.
It is for this reason that it would be unduly rigid to write a limitation into the Statute. because once that is done it is mandatory and becomes quite inflexible. It is common ground that farmers will want to know as soon as possible whether or not local authorities accept that they 588 are under a duty to rehouse. The guidelines and the circular to be issued to ADHACs and local authorities will be written in such a way as to stress the need for speed in assessing applications. We have taken preliminary soundings from the local authority associations, and they consider that a realistic time limit for local authorities to aim at is around two months from the receipt of ADHAC advice, although in many cases speedier decisions could be arrived at.
One of the troubles in making a date like that is that instead of its being the maximum time, it could become the minimum, and there will be cases, we hope, where the decision is taken well within the two months. Therefore we think the best way forward would be for the Amendment to be withdrawn. But what has been said by both noble Earls will be studied very carefully and I am sure will be extremely useful in drafting the guidelines and the circular.
I find it extremely depressing. I might almost ask this question of the noble Baroness Lady Birk, and the noble Lord, Lord Peart. Are there any Amendments we have put down on this side of the Committee which they show any likelihood of accepting at all? Here we have had this Bill, plus the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Bill, plus all the others, and stamped over very single Amendment we have put down is the word "Resist". It makes it almost, I was going to say, a farce. We will go on trying and trying. There was one Amendment on the Aircraft Bill which the Government conceded, when we put down an Amendment leaving out the words "in relation to" and inserting "in respect of": that was accepted. We express our deep gratitude and appreciation for the magnanimity of the Government in so doing.
Here we have this Bill, and not one Amendment we have put down has been accepted. I really think that the Government, with the greatest of respect, might try to meet us some way, because many of these are not Party matters. They go to try to make the Bill work better when it is in operation, and if perpetually we are to be told, "No, no; your Amendments are absolutely hopeless", this is very depressing and somewhat unconstructive.
§ Baroness BIRK
I really do not think that is quite fair, because a number of Amendments have been put through today 589 by the Government and have been discussed. These Amendments were the result of discussion and representation made by the Opposition in another place, and I think it is unfair of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, to say that nothing that the Opposition or his Party have said has been taken on.
I did not say that. I said that none of the Amendments that we put down in this Committee has been accepted.
§ Baroness BIRK
I know, but some important Amendments which have been accepted were put forward as a result of what was said by the Opposition in another place. I should have thought that the noble Earl would consider that to be so. But, like some other Amendments, this Amendment, about which the noble Earl feels badly, is not a Party issue at all, but a question of trying to find what is sensible. There seems no point in putting into a Statute something which will be difficult for people to conform to, but because it is written down in law they are forced to do so. This is not a Party political point.
§ 10.24 p.m.
§ Baroness YOUNG
May I answer that? I should have thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, would feel that there were various points like this one on which it would be sensible for the Government to try to reach agreement with us. I am second to none in my defence of local authorities and what they can do. The noble Baroness will be vastly better briefed than I am on the number of occasions in law in which local authorities are obliged to make a decision within a given period of time. Certainly this applies under the planning Acts, and I think I am almost certainly right in saying on social service legislation, when matters dealing with children have to be decided within 28 days.
You cannot let things run on indefinitely. What does the local authority do? It cannot wait because the chairman is ill or the chief officer is on holiday. It has got to make a decision because it is written into the Statute. I understood the noble Baroness to say that this had been discussed with the associations and they had said that two months was a reasonable time. I should have thought two months was a very reasonable time. A cycle of committees could deal with this particular 590 question, and if it was inconvenient they could call a special committee. Here you have a non-political point on which a good case has been made out, which I should have thought the Government could accept in the interests of making better feelings between the two sides of the Committee. It really is depressing to think that nothing we say cuts any ice at all with the Government.
§ The Earl of ONSLOW
Let me try, possibly, and in spite of one's irritation, to lower the temperature marginally. The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, has said that two months is about reasonable; there may be difficulties. Two months is going to be in the guidelines. If she could ay to me, "I do not like two months; the normal will be three months, and I will accept three months in the Bill", then I think it would show great signs of actually listening to what we have to say as opposed to drawing down the portcullis. The other thing she said, which I think needs querying, is that if we put into the Bill that two months is to be the maximum date to apply it will become the minimum date. I find that very difficult to understand. If it is a maximum of two months by law, and she says that becomes the minimum, she is then saying it will normally be more than two months. Still, as yet, I am afraid, the point about maverick councils has not been answered. I know, as I have said at least three times, that the vast majority of councils will behave honourably, sensibly and rightly, but this sort of thing just stops the maverick councils. I am very tempted not to withdraw this Amendment.
§ Baroness BIRK
I have listened very carefully and I should like to try to meet this point. I do not really like the noble Earl's idea of three months, especially when he talks about maverick councils, because this can be almost an encouragement to extend the time. I agree that the sooner these things can be done, and especially in cases like this, the better. There is a problem, as I see it, that housing management and organisation, and trying to see if you can do something about it, makes difficulties, but in order not to delay the Committee I am prepared to look at this to see whether we can find some solution on Report; because there is not anything between us on trying to get people rehoused. That is the point. I will take this back and see what I can do before we come back on Report.
§ The Earl of ONSLOW
With that lovely change of mood by the noble Baroness, I am very happy to beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (Lord Alport)
I have to advise your Lordships that if Amendment No. 64 is agreed I will not be able to call Amendment No. 65.
§ 10.29 p.m.
Earl FERRERS moved Amendment No. 64:
Page 24, line 10, leave out from ("above") to ("suitable") in line 11 and insert ("it shall be their duty to secure the provision of").
§ The noble Earl said: I am delighted that the lovely change came about and the noble Baroness decided to take the last Amendment back to see whether she could accommodate us in some way. We are very grateful to her for that. I hope that she will be able to display an equal sense of appreciation to these Amendments which we are coming to, because this is really the most important part of the Bill. It refers to the obligation on the local authority to be responsible for rehousing. I would say at the beginning that although I speak now to Amendment No. 64 I also include with it Amendment No. 67.
§ The obligation on the local authorities to be responsible for rehousing is absolutely fundamental to the Bill. If a tenant of an agricultural cottage is to be permitted to continue to occupy a cottage which is required for another agricultural worker in order to enable the farm to he run as a farm, we immediately come up against a conflict of interest: the interests of the security of tenure of the man who has ceased to be an employee of the farm and the interests of agriculture, or the farmer, or the nation, whichever way you look at it, which requires the house in order to enable the farm to be properly run in the interests of efficient agriculture. That is the conflict of interest from which we cannot escape.
§ The Government have sought to meet this conflict of interest by the use of the two words best endeavours". They have imposed upon the local authority the duty, where a house is required for use by another employee in the interests of agriculture, to use their best endeavours to rehouse. The first thing to establish is592
that it really is the Government's intention to put this obligation fairly and squarely on the local authority. I think that it is. Indeed, for support of that view I turn to the words of authority and pristine clarity of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, when she said on Second Reading on 5th October at column 1166:
If I may turn to the question of the requirements to be met by the new duty—and I emphasise that it is a duty placed upon local authorities—this is the first time that in an Act of Parliament, as I hope it will be, a statutory duty has been put upon local authorities to rehouse any group.
Those words are unequivocal and absolutely clear. It is the Government's suggestion in this Bill to put the duty upon the local authority. That being so, we think that the inclusion of the words "best endeavours" simply is not strong enough. Some way has to be found to strengthen the Bill in this respect if the Bill is to have any meaning at all.
§ At the moment if a local authority says on being given the job of rehousing a person, "We have used our best endeavours, but I am so sorry we cannot ! rehouse", then the whole concept on which this Bill is based comes crashing to the ground. Once they say, "We cannot rehouse", then all the paraphernalia contained in this Bill becomes meaningless. I recognise that the Government are in a dilemma over this. If they make the words stronger and put a cast iron, irrefutable and incontestable legal duty in a Parliamentary Statute for the local authority to rehouse, then it would put local authorities in an impossible and indeed intolerable situation. As the noble Lord, Lord Peart, said earlier, they are locally elected people, they have to use their wit and wisdom, and they have long enough housing lists already.
§ One could say, why should they have to give to farm workers who want to stay on in their houses priority on housing over and above the demands of everybody else—of other people moving into the area, of' people whose families may be growing up and who are outgrowing their existing houses, of those who are homeless, of those who are living in slum conditions? It is easy to say, why should the local authorities put these farm workers over and above those people? Even if the local authorities were to be given this obligation that the farm workers should have this priority of housing, they still may not be able to 593 meet it because the houses physically may not be there. If the Government are cutting down funds available to local authorities for building, the chances of the houses being there simply get smaller and smaller. How can they be expected to accept an outright statutory duty to rehouse, irrespective of any conditions?
§ This is a real dilemma, but it is precisely what happens when one gets hold of an idea and pursues it relentlessly without regard to any other consideration, as the Government have done in the Bill; they have put their heads down and gone straight ahead irrespective of all other considerations. Lord Peart said on Second Reading, and he repeated the other day, that the Bill was brought in because the National Union of Agricultural Workers wanted it and had done so for 50 years. He was entirely open about the reasons for the Bill and he was right. That is the reason for it and it is understandable; but there are other considerations and I warn noble Lords opposite that the repercussions of the measure go infinitely further than satisfying just the demand of a small proportion of the population, however important that proportion and however reasonable their demand may be.
§ I said that it put a virtual torpedo in the centre of the rural housing problem, and it does. In this part of the Bill we are looking straight at the torpedo, indeed straight at its nosecone, eyeball to eyeball, if one can imagine that. The two words, "best endeavours" are the very core of the Bill and I am certain they are not strong enough. We want to make them stronger and in so doing we have tried to recognise the hopeless dilemma in which the Government have put themselves by finding it difficult to make that obligation on local authorities stronger.
§ Our attempt at this solution is meant to be in three parts and I will refer briefly at this juncture to some of our later Amendments to explain how they fit into the pattern of our solution. We can discuss the details of those Amendments when we come to them, but if I do not refer to them now the Committee might think that they stand on their own and are not connected. The Amendments we are discussing, Nos.64 and 67, which go together, specifically point out that by removing the words, "best endeavours" 594 we are placing on local authorities a duty to rehouse. However, they do not specifically give a time limit when that obligation has to be met. The Amendments which stand in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Swaythling, Nos.65 and 66, put an obligation on local authorities to rehouse within three months. However much I might sympathise with that proposal, it would build virtually a concrete wall at the end of the road by which, regardless of all other considerations—financial, economic or physical—the local authority must rehouse.
§ Our proposals have a little more give in them, as I hope Lord Peart will appreciate. They make it crystal clear that local authorities have a duty, but there is no time limit by which they must have fulfilled that duty. Having established by Amendments Nos.64 and 67 that local authorities have a duty to rehouse, we come on to Amendment No. 69, which says that where the ADHACs advise that the house is required as a matter of urgency, then the local authority should have to rehouse within three months. This would not apply where the ADHACs say that there is an agricultural need for the house; it would apply only where the house was required as a matter of urgency. Then there would be an obligation on the local authority to rehouse within three months.
§ But even then the local authority could say, "That's fine. We accept the obligation but we don't have a how. There just isn't one available. We can't physically move the family because we have nowhere to move them". Then our Amendment No. 70 says that the farmer can put up a caravan on his farm to make available the housing which is the responsibility of the local authority but which they do not have. He can then claim back from the local authority the cost he incurs by providing housing which they ought to provide but which for one reason or another they cannot provide. I felt bound to refer to these Amendments to show your Lordships how we have tried to overcome the real problem of "best endeavours" which, if left as it is, will render the Bill impotent. These have become words of great suspicion in the agricultural community, because farmers see that the right to use their cottages for people who work on their farms is going to be taken away, 595 with the obligation theoretically being put on the local authority, but with the result that the local authority will not have adequate pressure put upon them to do the rehousing.
§ I hope that in moving at least the first of these Amendments—the one which clearly states that the local authorities will have a duty to rehouse—that the noble Lord, Lord Peart, will agree that these are constructive Amendments. They are not Party Amendments; they are designed to help the Government get themselves out of a real problem. I hope he will not follow his Cabinet colleagues and suggest, in that delicate and medieval language, that we are disembowelling the Bill. We are actually doing the reverse; we are trying to put guts into the Bill, and if the noble Lord has any knowledge of the rather more bizarre practices of our forebears which, incidentally used to be perpetrated on physicians, not by physicians, he will realise that if there is anything less attractive than pulling guts out it is pushing them back in. It is difficult to do so physically, and it is rather difficult to do legislatively.
§ I do not claim that we have the right or the only answer to this problem; but it is a genuine try. I am convinced that if the Bill sticks where it is with only the words, "best endeavours", then you have cut down the core because it will not operate. I hope therefore that the noble Lord will agree that this is a genuine attempt to improve the Bill and that he will accept Amendment No. 64 which I beg to move.
§ Lord SWAYTHLING
This Amendment has almost the same effect as the next Amendment No. 65 which stands in the name of my noble friends Lady Robson and Lord Kimberley and myself. After the excellent speech of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, I feel that I should say straight away that we are willing to support him in this Amendment. In the Bill as it stands there is no duty on the local authority to find alternative accommodation for the occupants of service houses when the farmer needs possession to continue working his farm.
There is no compulsion whatever for the local authority to provide such accommodation within a fixed time: they are required only to use their "best endeavours". This is a great weakness in the Bill. The obligation on the local 596 authorities to use their "best endeavours" means little if anything, and no time limit is set. The matter is left open and vague, and as I said on Second Reading many local authorities will regard the rehousing of ex-farmworkers and their dependents as being no more pressing and urgent than the housing of others on their list. Unless amended, this weakness gives local authorities which are already faced with housing difficulties in their area the perfect excuse for doing nothing. I wish most strongly to support the Amendment of the noble Earl.
With regard to Amendment No. 69, which concerns the time limit, I do not propose to move our Amendment although, to my mind, owing to the urgency of the need to rehouse these people it would have been much better to make it three months from the application. As the noble Earl has said, his Amendment is more flexible, and we will accord it our support. As regards Amendment No. 70 and the use of a caravan in these circumstances, this has been freely discussed in agricultural circles. A noble Lord suggested on Second Reading that caravans should be provided for employees who were leaving their employment. To my mind, it is unlikely that employees who were leaving would agree to move into a caravan; new employees, however, might be willing to be so housed. Without paragraph (b), which would allow a caravan to be placed without planning permission, there might be a long delay and the whole object of bringing a caravan into use would be lost. I hope that these Amendments will be accepted and we will support them with great willingness.
§ Lord MIDDLETON
I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Peart, will agree that the words "best endeavours" should be coupled with the last five lines of subsection (7) which read,and in assessing under this subsection the priority to be given to meet the applicant's case, the authority shall take into account the urgency of the case, the competing claims on the accommodation which they can provide and the resources at their disposal".This has received more criticism from the agricultural community than any other part of the Bill. Farmers argue that the subsection does not lay a high enough degree of obligation upon the local authority to rehouse. On the other hand, the Association of District Councils says—and this is much quoted—that the obligation already contained in subsection (7), 597would impose a very high degree of obligation on housing authorities".I believe that this is a matter for the lawyers and I am impressed by the legal arguments which were used in considering the words "best endeavours" in another place. I am not a lawyer, but I hope I am correct in saying that the argument runs like this: the most useful thing that we can do is, first, to turn to the relevant cases to see how the Judiciary have interpreted "best endeavours". In the case of Sheffield District Railway Co. v. Great Central Railway Co. in 1911, the words were held to mean "leave no stone unturned", which is a high degree of duty. Not so, however, if "best endeavours" is coupled with the matters that the local authority has to consider and take into account and which I quoted from subsection (7). In the much more recent case of Terrell v. Mabie Todd in 1952, it was decided by the High Court that "best endeavours" means no more than an obligation to do what is reasonable in the circumstances. This does not appear to measure up to the degree of duty which it seems that the Government intend; and it certainly falls a long way short of the kind of duty that the Association of District Councils is envisaging and that "best endeavours" implies.
Surely there must be a danger, if one puts words into a Bill that are the subject of two conflicting judgments, of introducing uncertainty as to their meaning and opening up a wide field for future litigation. What my noble friend's Amendment does, however, is to use virtually the same form of words that is used in Section 39 of the Land Compensation Act 1973:… it shall be the duty of the relevant authority to secure that he will be provided with such other accommodation.It has been argued by the Government that such words would impose an impossible obligation upon local authorities, the absolute duty to which the noble Lord, Lord Peart, referred on Second Reading, when he said:To make this duty absolute would unacceptably erode the responsibilities of local housing authorities."—[Official Report, 5/10/76; col.1092.]We should now turn to the decision of the Court of Appeal which was asked to adjudicate in the case of the Bristol Corporation in 1974. In that case the interpretation of the Section 39 wording 598 was that the local authority fulfil their duty when they do their best as soon as practicable to get him other accommodation. So the duty to secure alternative accommodation as worded is not interpreted as a duty that might be impossible to discharge.
On balance therefore it is argued that this is a better wording than one which has a more uncertain legal pedigree. If one interprets Section 39 of the Land Compensation Act wording as it has been interpreted in the Court of Appeal, then the wording to be omitted in Amendment No. 67 becomes unnecessary. I support my noble friend.
§ Lord COLLISON
I noticed that it was suggested that the Government accepted the Bill simply because the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers asked them to do so. That is a quite unfair suggestion. I hope that everyone will admit that the NUAAW is a highly responsible union. No pistol has ever been held at the head of anyone, or at the head of any Government. On the contrary, the NUAAW has argued the case for the abolition—using that word carefully of the tied cottage. The argument has been put on the basis of the social import and on humanitarian ground, and I am sure that it has been accepted by the Government in that light.
Objection was voiced to the use of the word "disembowelment" in the other place. That word was not used in this House, but I personally used the word "ravished", which may or may not he appropriate. But most certainly by eliminating dairymen and stockmen the Bill has been cut in two and rendered completely inadequate.
On the issue before us, I think I said at Second Reading that if it were possible in equity to place an absolute duty on a local authority we would welcome it, quite obviously. But we ha re to give consideration to the possibility of the local authority being able to accept an absolute duty. It has been argued on the other side that unless the absolute duty clause is there the whole thing will collapse and the Bill will not work. I have said before—almost ad nauseam—that the fact is that the Bill will work; I am convinced that it will. We have the evidence of what has gone before, that local authorities very largely meet the need when there is the case of an eviction, even when there 599 has been this unfortunate collusion in order to create a precedent for them. They have done what was necessary; they have provided the alternative accommodation.
To my mind that shows quite conclusively that they will do this under the new regulations when they become operative. Indeed, I am sure it will ease the situation; it will make the procedure much quicker than it has been before. There can be a six-month delay, and there can be extensions of that. I have said all this before, and I do not want to delay your Lordships. If it were possible to get a stronger obligation on the local authority, I would welcome it; but I want to repeat, looking at the words "use their best endeavours", that I believe they will. If an alternative form of words could be used which are acceptable, which are possible and which are workable without creating a nonsense, then I would go along with that. But that is not a matter for me to decide; that is a matter for the experts and, I suppose, the local authorities and the Government. However, I reiterate that to say that the whole thing will not work simply because one cannot place an absolute duty, for obvious reasons, on local authorities is not correct, and the argument should not be pursued in this Committee or anywhere else.
I finish this short speech as I started. The NUAAW has had this problem for many years; and, indeed, it existed before then. There is no question of bullying, of coercion or of threats to the Government or anyone else. The case has been argued sincerely, and quite properly, on humanitarian grounds. I think all decent men and women will support that case and will find some way to deal with this problem of the tied cottage.
I am not only a farmer, but I have had a long experience in local government. In a sense, I hate this Amendment because it destroys the discretion of a district council; it interferes with their plans, as my noble friend Lord Ferrers has said. Yet I feel I must support it because I really cannot think of any other way to deal with this matter. I think one of the troubles is that in certain parts of the country—in East Anglia, strictly—I am told there is no problem; the local authority is not 600 going to have a great burden on them. But in other parts of the country it is not true. In the South-East it is not true. That is why there is so much concern being shown, not only by the NFU but also by the chartered surveyors and, not least, by the District Councils Association.
My noble friend below me read out part of the District Councils Association's report. I read out another part of it on a previous occasion, and I think it is fairly explicit. It said:It is feared that housing authorities will be left in the intolerable position that, having accepted the validity of an application for re-housing in respect of a tenant of tied agricultural accommodation, it will be unable to provide alternative accommodation because of central Government restrictions on expenditure".That is what they have said, and really it is not much use the noble Lord, Lord Collison, saying that they have exaggerated it and it will not be so bad. These people are not Party politicians, and that is what they say. I read this before, and the noble Lord, Lord Peart, said he would deal with this question. I am wondering whether he is going to promise any money to meet the district councils' request. If he does, I agree it would make some sense. Otherwise, I should not regard it as a very honest Bill on the part of the Government.
§ The Earl of ONSLOW
I gave notice to the noble Lord, Lord Peart, of the questions I am now going to ask him; so, knowing what a helpful man he is, I am sure he has the answers for me. Can the noble Lord tell us how many local authorities will have difficulty implementing "best endeavours", and their rough geographical location? Also, when he answers can he indicate whether there will be differences in the case of urban councils with big industrial populations, like Birmingham and London, with a small amount of agriculture on their outskirts? I have in fact heard of a farm which is beginning to have a problem on exactly this point which is within the GLC area. For instance, what will be the difference between, as my noble friend Lord Gage has said, the authority in East Anglia, and the other type of local authority, perhaps one of the sort under whose aegis I live, largely residential with a certain amount of industry and a certain amount of agriculture? What will be the differences in their attitudes. Above all, what will be the percentage of appli- 601 cants of whom ADHAC says it is in the interest of efficient agriculture to rehouse? How many are not going to be able to be rehoused? If all will be able to be rehoused, that is, I suppose, not too bad. If, however, there is to be quite a large number not rehoused, the consequences are terrifying. It will mean that agricultural production must inevitably fall. That will mean increases in prices to the housewife, and increases in the import bill—and we are in a state of really acute and chronic economic crisis such as has not been seen probably since the great days of Roman inflation under Diocletian. It would seem to me that we do not want to do anything which will make the situation any worse. I am sure that if we do not get this right the effect on food production will be disastrous.
There is one other thing. This is really a possible compromise between what my noble friend Lord Ferrers has suggested and what noble Lords opposite want to do. Would it be possible to leave in the words "best endeavours" and then to say that it will become obligatory on order of the Secretary of State when he feels it is possible to make it obligatory? I understand the difficulties over the clash of interests of the two sets of people. That is the idea which is floating, but I presume will receive no support from either side.
§ Lord WOLVERTON
I am not a farmer but I have had a good deal of experience in this House on housing debates and have also served on a local authority county council for nine years. I feel that these words are not strong enough. Living in East Anglia, as I do, I know of cases which had to go to court over possession orders. The local authorities do not take much notice unless there is a possession order, as my noble friend Lord Caithness has told us today. Once there is an order of the court, they may have to jump the queue. It is not nice to have to jump the queue; but can assure your Lordships that in many areas in East Anglia the housing lists are very long and will get longer because, owing to the economic crisis of this country, they have to cut down considerably on their housing programmes.
I feel that agriculture is so important to this country, especially with the economic crisis—and the price of food is bound to go up with the weakening of the pound 602 against the dollar—that we ought to have something stronger than the words "their best endeavours". I do not think that will work. I support my noble friends on the Front Benches and the Liberal Benches in what they are trying to do.
§ Viscount MASSEREENE and FERRARD
I think we must remember that agriculture is the most efficient industry in this country, increasing its productivity 12 per cent. every year. I should like to go further and see a time limit set for the local authorities to provide housing for agricultural workers who have retired or who no longer can be employed on the farm.
In the present economic Position of this country we cannot afford to let our most efficient industry go down. I have been a farmer all my life, arable and stock, and I feel this matter is most important. I wonder whether noble Lords opposite understand how important it is. If you do away with tied cottages you must put something effective in their place. The Bill as at present drafted is not effective enough to put something in their place. For instance, how many houses a year will the local authority need to have? How much housing will they have to find? We know the number of tied cottages in agriculture is 70,000. Surely the local authorities will not be called upon to provide more than 5,000. I do not know the figure, but that is not impossible over the whole country. It seems a very small number. I understand from 350,000 to 400,000 new council dwellings are built every year. That does not seem insufferable.
I heartily support the Amendment. I should like a time limit of six months put on an authority. What happens to a farmer if his shepherd retires or leaves just before lambing? If he is a small farmer he is in a serious predicament. I hope the Government will give this earnest consideration and put all the pressure they can on local authorities to re-house agricultural workers who have retired or, for some other reason, cannot work on the farm.
The Earl of CAITHNESS
I have already spoken in part to this Amendment. I ask the Government, whet is the difference in interpretation between the words "best endeavours" and the words "shall take such steps as may he reasonable", or the words "shall make provision 603 in so far as it is in the circumstances both practicable and reasonable"? The last two duties were laid on local authorities in the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. I would further ask the Government whether they are satisfied with the result of that Act in this connection, and whether the local authorities have carried out their duties sufficiently well to convince the Government that "best endeavours" will suffice here.
§ Lord CONGLETON
I hope that my words may be of some help to the Committee. I have sat with something approaching despair through three sessions of your Lordships' Committee on this matter. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, that this Bill is a messy one. My dilemma is compounded because on my left-hand side I have a sheaf of papers from the National Farmers' Union, of which I have been a member for the 19 years that I have been a farmer, and on my right-hand side I have a sheaf of papers from the Association of District Councils, of which I have the honour to be a Vice-President, which reflects upon 10 years' membership of a local authority, although I am no longer a member. I sat for those 10 years on the housing management committee in a rural area.
I do not wish to imply that either I or any other members on that committee were invested with special gifts of wisdom, understanding, or anything of that nature. But month after month we had before us applications for council houses. The composition of the housing management committee was such that there were groups of members who favoured housing the elderly or infirm and others who favoured applications from young recently married people, waiting for a house. There were those who favoured applications from those where the sanitation in their existing dwellings was unsatisfactory, and so on. The members of that Com-mittee—and I am sure we were not so different from other committees up and down the country—were extremely partial and we got to know each other pretty well. On the whole we took a view about this or that sort of application.
Having said that, I should also say that when it came to a resolution as to which applicant should be considered successful, the corporate expression of opinion from that committee was totally impartial. 604 It was also expert. It was impartial in expressing as a unity many differences of opinion about the applications, and it was expert because those who comprised the committee knew the area with which they were dealing extremely well, had known it for many years, knew those whose applications could be treated with a certain amount of suspicion, and so on.
What the Amendment of the noble Earl is asking Parliament to do is to discriminate in favour of the dispossessed agricultural worker. I well understand the reasons for that. As I have said, I agree with the noble Earl that the Bill is a mess and what has happened is that the Government, in proceeding with it, by its provisions has upset the balance of housing in the rural areas. Other noble Lords have said this and I absolutely agree with it. The Amendment, in singling out the dispossessed agricultural worker as meriting a particular preferential treatment, means that obviously there will be an upset in the balance of the rural housing situation which is already difficult enough.
This morning I was speaking to the district council which administers the area in which I live. They told me that they had a stock of 8,000 houses and 2,400 on the waiting list. Of those 2,400, my informant felt that 1,600 or 1,700 in an ideal situation should be housed tomorrow, as they were of high priority. I was also told that in the last twelve months that authority had re-housed 107 cases arising out of possession orders. The interesting thing here was that out of those 107 possession order cases there were 25 pertaining to agricultural tied cottages; there were 30 (and this is a special area) concerned with rehousing dispossessed Service families—there is a big military establishment in that area and these people are housed in tied accommodation—and the balance of the dispossession orders, 52 of them, were normal civil actions taken by landlords against tenants.
What that means is that there are other pebbles on the local authority housing beach, not simply agricultural workers. As I say, I am a farmer and have been farming for 18 years and I understand the problems, but with the best will in the world I cannot bring myself to support a motion which would mean discrimination in favour of one section of the community so far as 605 housing is concerned—that is to say, the agricultural workers—and discrimination against other deserving cases. That I am afraid is what this Amendment must mean. I hope I have explained in principle that I am not in sympathy with the Bill, but here it is, there is a dilemma, and I hope that your Lordships will resolve it with your usual wisdom.
May I ask the noble Lord one thing? I, like him, am a member of a local authority and I also said I disliked the provisions of this Amendment so far as it gave directions to local authorities, but I do ask what is his solution as a farmer? Has he got one?
§ Lord CONGLETON
I have not put one forward. I said in my closing remarks that I hoped your Lordships would be able to find a solution—if not at this stage perhaps at the next stage of the Bill.
§ 11.15 p.m.
§ Lord SANDYS
I listened with close attention to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Congleton, and I may be able to comfort him. I am no lawyer but I feel that the matter before us is of great importance. Perhaps I may therefore be permitted to quote from the case of Bristol Corporation which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Middleton. This is a significant case so far as this Amendment is concerned, because we are looking at something which is very close to the wording of Section 39 of the Land Compensation Act 1973. My noble friend Lord Middleton referred to the judgment in the Bristol Corporation case. I should like to quote from Lord Justice Scarman's judgment because I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Congleton, may draw some encouragement from it. Lord Justice Scarman said:I cannot see that Parliament intended to place upon local authorities a duty that in some circum-stances might be impossible to discharge".In this case the words of Section 39 from the 1973 Act which are relevant are:… it shall be the duty of the relevant authority to secure that he will be provided with such other accommodation".I think your Lordships will agree that those are very similar words to the words of the Amendment.
Lord Justice Scarman went on to make a very significant point so far as the question of mandamus is concerned. Perhaps I may be permitted to put it on 606 the Record, as I think it would be worth while. Lord Justice Scarman said:I am satisfied that mandamus ought not to issue. In my judgment, if, in a situation such as this"—that was the Bristol Corporation case—there is evidence that a local authority is doing all it honestly and honourably can to meet the statutory obligation, and that its failure, if there be a failure, to meet that obligation arises really out of circumstances over which it has no control, then I think that it would be improper for the court to make an order of mandamus compelling it to do that which either it cannot do or which it can only do at the expense of other persons not before the court who may have equal rights with the applicants and some of whom would certainly have equal moral claims. For those reasons I would think that in its discretion the court ought not to make an order of mandamus".That, to me, clinches and justifies the words of the Amendment. I believe that the phrase "best endeavours" is unsatisfactory. The circumstances in which this phrase has been concerned with cases over the past 100 years have not been entirely similar; largely they have been commercial cases. The first was Moore v. Robinson over a beer house in 1878. It does not seem to me that the words which the Government seek to import into the Bill would be entirely satisfactory.
§ Lord PEART
This has been an interesting but very important. debate. Obviously noble Lords on all sides of the Committee hold different attitudes towards the Amendments. We are considering five separate Amendments—two from the Liberals and three from the Conservatives—on the same topic; namely, the nature of the duty placed by the Bill on local authorities and the way in which this duty is to be discharged. As I said earlier, this is the main part of the Bill and I can understand why noble Lords are spending more time debating it than some of the other Amendments. I agree that they have argued constructively and, I would say to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, quite differently from the spirit of action which led us to take out the dairy industry and forestry, which really has affected the Bill considerably. However, I think this is an important Part and it may well be that noble Lords will not press their Amendments tonight.
I accept that there are difficult decisions here, and the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, quite rightly raised the question of the Bristol case. That was the case of Regina v. Bristol Corporation in the Court of Appeal, which dealt with rehousing duty in 607 Section 39 of the Land Compensation Act 1973. There, the relevant words used were:It shall be the duty of the relevant authority to secure that he will be provided with such other accommodation".The noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, said:I think that the local authority fulfil their duty when they do their best as soon as practicable to get him other accommodation".I want to deploy arguments on this. I ought first to deal with two of these Amendments: No. 64 standing in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, and No. 65 proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Swaythling, the noble Baroness, Lady Robson, and the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley. These Amendments, though differently worded, touch on a point in the Bill which has generated considerable discussion: the force underlying the rehousing obligation to be placed on local housing authorities. As the movers see it, they share the common aim of substituting a straight obligation for the phrase "use their best endeavours". Neither of the Amendments would in all probability have the effect that the movers might suppose. As Case Law has underlined, a local authority cannot do better than its best and cannot do more than its utmost. Given that fact I cannot see that the deletion of the phrase "use their best endeavours" would significantly alter the nature of the proposed duty, but to insert the straight obligation which reads as if it were stronger is not, I think, a course to be recommended. I see every advantage in a Statute's saying what it means and meaning what it says rather than being amended so as to appear to say something different.
I will now turn to the third of the Amendments, No. 66, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Swaythling, together with the noble Baroness, Lady Robson, and the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley. This strikes me as a rather illiberal Amendment, both in the normally understood sense of that word and in relation to what I understand to have been up to now Liberal policy in another place on this Bill. As noble Lords who are Liberals will appreciate, their spokesman in another place supported the Bill with great vigour, and he was a farmer of considerable influence and distinction. It suggests that in every case where a farmer's application meets 608 the criteria set out in Clause 29, including an assessment from an ADHAC that agricultural need exists, the local authority should be under an obligation to rehouse within three months. I must point out that this Amendment fails to take any account whatsoever of the fact that there are bound to be varying degrees of urgency in the cases that come before local authorities. It can hardly be defensible to claim that all such cases should merit that kind of priority over other claims on local authorities, irrespective of whether needs are urgent or somewhat remoter in time.
I think it would be misleading to suggest that, because the Liberal Amendment on time limits is so unwelcome, we are in any way favourably disposed towards the Conservative Amendment. The application of time limits to urgent cases only, which is suggested in Amendment No. 69, in my view would be unacceptable in principle. There would be two risks for farmers themselves if we were to write time limits into the Statute. The maximum which the law lays down tends to become the norm, and that risk can well work against speedy processing of the most urgent cases. Time limits could make for added delay in cases where there was no urgency and where the application fell to be dealt with outside the specified period. These points apart, the compelling case against time limits is, first, they have no practical value when local authorities, as in the Bill, are enjoined to do their utmost anyway, and secondly, if another claimant has to be displaced so the local authority can meet a dateline set by Statute, that would be precisely the distortion of local housing decisions we aim to avoid.
Finally, let me turn to Amendment No. 67 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and the noble Lord, Lord Sandys. I think its main effect would be to prevent local authorities from looking at the claims of other people in the council housing queue while they dealt first of all with applications from farmers on behalf of their workers and ex-workers. I make no bones about the thinking behind the Amendment, hut it is not really acceptable to the Government, nor, I venture to suggest, to local government. After all, authorities are supposed to look after the needs of the whole of their area, not just one section of it.
609 I was grateful for what the noble Lord, Lord Congleton, said in a very constructive speech, as he has been not only a member of the National Farmers' Union but also one who has served for a long period on a local authority. His speech answered some of the points raised in an earlier debate. We must expect local authorities to act responsibly, and also individuals, and they do. There may be the odd case where something goes wrong, but generally speaking, looking at local government—and as Professor Jenks once said, "We are fundamentally a country of local government"—local authorities do act sensibly, and we must recognise this. They cannot he discriminated against in a Statute. I think this is appreciated by most noble Lords.
The Amendment would undermine the principle that local authorities should look after the needs of the whole of their area by giving automatic priority to agricultural workers and ex-workers. This was a point specially stressed by the noble Lord, Lord Congleton. I do not want to overstate the number of cases where in practice a clash between, say, an application based on agricultural need and one, say, where an overcrowded family required rehousing, could arise for the last available house in a local authority area for months to come. But as a matter of natural justice towards all those seeking a council house, the decision on allocation of council housing ought to remain with those who have been elected for that purpose and who already have accumulated expertise in this field. I recognise the importance noble Lords opposite attach to the Amendments, but taken together, they will not help local authorities whose co-operation will so greatly facilitate the operation of this Bill, and I do not think they would achieve the results for the farming community that their movers may expect.
Noble Lords asked me to look into one or two matters apart from some of the points I have already dealt with. May I say to the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, that I looked into the question of statistics, and find it is not possible really to find the numbers of local authorities in the categories he is thinking about, the sort of authorities near urban areas. He mentioned also the differences between local authorities, and asked me about the Greater London Council. I dealt 610 with this point on another Amendment when talking about the Scilly Isles. They do have farms. I cannot say that they will act differently from other authorities. I hope they will act as reasonable men, democratically elected to fulfil a public duty. I think they will continue to do so.
Arguments are deployed about the economic crisis and the difficulties we are in. There will inevitably he constraints perhaps on expenditure; one cannot say precisely. In the case of a service cottage problem, it will be the ADHACs which will give the necessary agricultural advice, and I think these committees will be especially important. There will be a farmers' representative, as there will be an agricultural workers' representative, acting under an impartial chairman. In the circumstances, while I am still to be convinced that some of these Amendments will really work properly, as always I am prepared to look at maters again before Report stage. We said that on a previous Amendment. We are prepared to consider it. But I hope noble Lords will not press these Amendments. After all, there are great differences.
§ 11.31 p.m.
§ Lord PEART
The Association have had a statement made to them by the Minister concerned, and I have quoted it in the Committee. They are responsible people. They have their burdens; of course, I accept this. Of course, on the question of rehousing, without proper finance, there will be serious problems. But they have been consulted carefully.
§ Lord SWAYTHLING
I had already said that we were not moving No. 66. I should also like to ask the noble Lord if he is able to answer the question about the use of caravans without planning permission, because whether or not this Amendment goes into the Bill I think it is essential to have some method by which the new employee can be rapidly housed.
§ Lord PEART
I am grateful to the noble Lord. I was going to deal with the suggestion that farmers, or indeed anyone else for that matter, should be granted automatic planning permission. This has been mooted. I do rot think this is something the Government could 611 accept. In individual cases it is conceivable that there could be an argument for a caravan to be used to house an incoming worker. But if a farmer believes this to be the case, there is no reason why he should not follow the same procedures as any other citizen and seek planning permission from the local authority. There is nothing to prevent him from going ahead and seeking planning permission for a caravan in advance on a contingency basis. But there can be no justification for dispensing with the requirement that permission should be sought from the local planning authority.
The Earl of CAITHNESS
I note that the noble Lord did not reply to any of the questions that I posed. Is this because the Minister with responsibility for the disabled has stated freely and in public that some local authorities have taken their obligations seriously and some have not? This is exactly why we on this side of the Committee are worried.
§ Lord PEART
I am sorry if I did not reply to every point. I did make a note, but I cannot find it. The noble Earl will understand. I will look at these questions and will write to him.
§ The Earl of ONSLOW
I am sorry to come back at the noble Lord. I thank him for making the effort to discover those statistics. I thought he was going to have great difficulty in finding them. He did not answer one question which seems to me totally fundamental to this Bill; that is, how many people throughout England and Wales does he expect not to be rehoused whom ADHACs have said are occupying houses which are necessary for the efficient use of agriculture? I should have thought his advisers must have had to look at this. Just as a passing note, Lord Congleton destroyed the Bill with his last speech.
§ Lord PEART
I am afraid I have not got that figure. I think it would be difficult to get. But again I will take note of that.
I have a lot of sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Peart. I think he is in a cul-de-sac. He has the most impossible task because here he has tried to say that the decision for rehousing should remain with those who are elected 612 to carry out that duty. That is a commendable thought, but I suggest that it goes completely against what the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, said. I am bound to remind the noble Lord that she said:This is the first time that in an Act of Parliament, as I hope it will he, a statutory duty has been put upon local authorities to rehouse any group.That is a totally different thing, and in saying that the noble Baroness made it clear that this is an obligation on the local authority. The noble Lord has to try then to defend the words "best endeavours", which puts no obligation on the local authority other than to use their best endeavours.
The noble Lord, Lord Peart, said that a Statute should say what it means. I think that the words we have put forward are infinitely clearer because it puts a duty, such as the noble Baroness said that the Bill does, on to the local authority. I do not profess for one minute to say that this Amendment is perfect—I do not think that the other Amendments we shall come to later, to which I briefly referred, are necessarily perfect—but it is an attempt to reconcile this terrible problem which the Government have by this Bill brought upon themselves, because they have brought two totally irreconcilable objectives into head-on conflict. The first is the need to put an obligation on to the local authorities to make the wretched thing work, and the second is the natural objection to putting any obligation on to a local authority. If you have those two requirements they are bound to be in conflict. This is precisely what happens when you pluck one thing out and pursue it headlong, regardless of all other considerations.
The noble Lord, Lord Congleton, referred quite reasonably to a pile of papers he had on one side from the National Farmers' Union, and another pile of papers on the other side from the District Councils Association. I assume that they were in conflict, and I am not surprised because this is the dilemma which this stupid Bill has brought us to. The two things are in conflict. I find it difficult when the Government produce a highly controversial Bill—and let us make no bones about it, it is—and we on this side express our genuine fears, that we are told by the Government, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Collison, "It is perfectly all right. Don't worry. We are sure it will work all right." It is 613 like being hosed with foam: you cannot get at it.
I do not believe that this Bill will be all right. These two words "best endeavours" have been a real fear in the whole of the agricultural industry because they can see this as being an inadequate assurance that the local authority will rehouse. I do not believe that it is good enough, in passing an Act of Parliament, to sit back and say, "It is quite all right. I am sure the local authorities will be all right. They are very good and responsible people". Of course they are, but they have other obligations to take into account; but if the effectiveness of agriculture is to go ahead they must have a duty on them to house these people, more than just an obligation to use their best endeavours. That is the reason why I am bound to ask my noble friends to come into the Lobby and support me on this. If the noble Lord, Lord Peart, is prepared between now and the next stage of the Bill, to think of different words which we could use, I would be quite happy to see these words taken out at the Report stage and replaced with something else. As I see it, the noble Lord is in a real difficulty to find other words. If he says he is prepared to look at the matter between now and Report I shall be happy to help him. Otherwise I am bound to ask my noble friends to divide on the Amendment.
§ Baroness BIRK
Before the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, does that, I should like to clear up a point. He indicated, having quoted what I said on Second Reading, that there was a complete difference in approach between us, but I do not think that is so. Indeed, having discussed the use of this phrase, I do not think he is as far from our view as he imagines he is, or says he is. We have sought to impose a duty which will ensure that the genuine needs of farmers are met, but without removing the local authority's responsibility for final decisions on housing allocation. We are, therefore, trying to take the two aspects into account together and, in doing this, the phrase "use their best endeavours" means exactly what it 614 says: that local authorities muse do their utmost, within the constraints which are familiar enough to both officers and members of local authorities who are concerned with local housing management. Balancing this and using duty in this sense runs through the Bill.
Listening to noble Lords speaking, on the farming side and the local authority side, as it were, it seems clear—and there has been quite a difference of opinion among noble Lords opposite—that no better phrase could be used. The words "duty" and "obligation" have been thrown into the air, but in the end we come back to "best endeavour;" being the best way to get round this problem. I assure the Committee that t is not through lack of trying. This matter was gone into in the other place and my noble friend and I have spent much time among ourselves discussing it, a id, without going over all the arguments which my noble friend so ably adduced, "best endeavours" seems the best phrase to use and the duty that is imposed is contained in those words. There is nothing contradictory about it.
I am sure that the noble Baroness has used her best endeavours to improve on the phrase "best endeavours", but we are really getting into the realms of semantics. She says that the duty being imposed on local authorities emerges in the words "best endeavours"—
—but I should like it to be very much clearer. I am bound, therefore, to advise my noble friends to divide on the Amendment.
§ 11.43 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 64) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 64; Non-Contents, 28.615
|Amherst of Hackney, L.||Greenway, L.||St. Aldwyn, E. [Teller.]|
|Balerno, L.||Harvey of Tasburgh, L.||St. Just, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Henley, L.||Salisbury, M.|
|Belstead, L.||Hives, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Blakenham, V.||Long, V.||Sandys, L.|
|Boyd of Merton, V.||Lyell, L.||Savile, L.|
|Broadbridge, L.||Margadale, L.||Seear, B.|
|Burnham, L.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.||Selkirk, E.|
|Caithness, E.||Middleton, L.||Sharples, B.|
|Carrington, L.||Monk Bretton, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Cathcart, E.||Monson, L.||Strathcarron, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Morris, L.||Suffield, L.|
|Craigmyle, L.||Mottistone, L.||Swaythling, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Mountgarret, V.||Terrington, L.|
|Devonshire, D.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.||Tranmire, L.|
|Digby, L.||Newall, L.||Westbury, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||O'Hagan, L.||Wise, L.|
|Elles, B.||Onslow, E.||Wolverton, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Pender, L.||Yarborough, E.|
|Elton, L.||Redesdale, L.||Young, B.|
|Ferrers, E.||Robson of Kiddington, B.|
|Gage, V.||Rochdale, V.|
|Birk, B.||Harris of Greenwich, L.||Peart, L. (L. Privy Seal.)|
|Brimelow, L.||Janner, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Brown, L.||Kaldor, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Champion, L.||Kirkhill, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Collison, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. [Teller.]||Stone, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Strabolgi, L. [Teller.]|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||McCluskey, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Morris of Kenwood, L.||White, B.|
|Gardiner, L.||Oram, L.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Gregson, L.||Parry, L.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ 11.51 p.m.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (Lord Henley)
As Amendment No. 64 has been agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 65.
Earl FERRERS moved Amendment No. 67:
Page 24, line 12, leave out from ("accommodation") to end of line 16.
§ The noble Earl said: This Amendment is consequential upon Amendment No. 64. I beg to move.
§ Lord STRABOLGI
This may be a convenient moment to halt the Committee stage. I beg to move that the House do now resume.
§ House resumed.