HL Deb 29 October 1976 vol 376 cc760-801

11.21 a.m.

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

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

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair.]

Clause 30 [Duty of housing authority concerned]:

Lord MIDDLETON moved Amendment No. 68:

Page 24, line 16, at end insert— ("( ) If the Secretary of State for the Environment is satisfied either upon complaint by any person interested or otherwise, that any authority has failed to discharge the duty imposed upon it by subsection (7) above, he may make an order declaring the authority to be in default in respect of that duty and giving such directions for the purpose of enforcing the execution thereof as appear to the Secretary of State to be expedient.")

The noble Lord said: I fully believe and I think that my noble friends believe that, whatever the competing claims for housing, however long the waiting lists and whatever the state, both quantitative and qualitative, of their housing stock, most local authorities will do their very best to carry out the duty laid on them in the Bill. Just how they will interpret their duty and what priority will be given to the agricultural industry will vary from district to district, but we believe that, by and large, they will do their best.

This Amendment is to provide for the case of the odd exception. We have seen recently that there can be the exceptional local authority that refuses to carry out its duty. The last time we sat in Committee on this Bill there were a good many references to "maverick" authorities. I was not quite sure what that meant, though I thought I knew what a maverick authority was, so I looked it up. I found that Samuel Maverick was a Texan rancher of 1840 who regularly neglected to brand his cows, so that a maverick was a calf without his owner's brand. It then came to mean a masterless person or one who was casual. So I think we know what a maverick authority is: there is a slightly unfortunate blend between an agricultural and a local authority connotation, in just the same way as a blending between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of the Environment has, with enormous effort, great pains and the best will in the world, produced what is a very unsatisfactory Bill.

Following local government reorganisation, there are some housing authorities that are wholly urban in character and representation and some that are almost wholly rural, and there is much variation in between. One just might have an authority which was predominantly urban in character but which had peripheral agricultural land and which chose to disregard the Bill to the detriment of food production. The pressure that can be exercised upon a housing authority by a farmer or, for that matter, a farm-worker for suitable alternative accommodation is, in practical terms, very limited under the Bill as it stands. The Amendment provides for the Secretary of State for the Environment to have the power to make an order if he is satisfied that a local authority has failed to discharge its duty under subsection (7). I beg to move.


I very much appreciate the motivation of the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, in his Amendment. However, it is really not the job of the Secretary of State for the Environment to direct local authorities in particular cases on how they should allocate their housing resources. This is something that goes very much wider than the present Bill and has been discussed in the context of other Bills. It is generally accepted that local authorities should have autonomy in this sphere and there seems no reason to make an exception in this Bill. I feel that I should repeat—although I know that the noble Lord is aware of this—that the only people who can take a sensible and sensitive decision about priorities in housing allocation are the local housing authorities because they have all the facts on the competing claims in front of them. This has always been the Government's policy and up to now it has appeared to be that of the Opposition also.

The noble Lord referred to the "maverick" council. The problem here—and I shall come to the way in which this can be dealt with under the Bill—is that if this were in the Bill it would lend a very bad flavour to the relationship between the local authorities and my Department in what we hope will be the way in which they try to deal with housing allocations. The good authorities—those that are trying to do their very best, particularly at a time of scarce resources—will feel resentful. The noble Lord himself said that he was only referring to the very exceptional authority and I believe that, if he thinks about he will realise that it would be counter-productive for the authorities to know that this provision was built into the Bill, for one cannot say in a Bill, "Of course, this doesn't apply to you though it applies to so-and-so."

The Secretary of State would not be in a position to have the detailed knowledge of the particular circumstances which he would need. For that reason, the main answer to the point—and there is, clearly, validity in the point which the noble Lord is making—is that other remedies are provided in the Bill. Clause 30(8) was inserted in response to requests from the National Farmers' Union and the Opposition in another place and it lays down that an action for damages can he brought against the local authority in either the county court or the High Court. This is not a very difficult proceeding in the county court. A local authority that is in breach of its statutory duty under subsection (7) could have such an action brought against it and it is also possible for a farmer to seek an order ofmandamus.

When it is taken into account that the duty is written into the Bill and that the ADHACs will be there to give expert advice as to how to fulfil their obligation, I believe that the authorities will be under very great and generally known pressure in the circumstances. I should have thought that this would adequately cover the point and I therefore hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his Amendment.


Despite the views expressed by the noble Baroness, I believe that we are in a difficulty here which I may perhaps be allowed to express. The Amendment proposes that the Secretary of State should he given default powers. We believe that this is necessary because, although the noble Baroness has referred to subsection (8) and has suggested that by an action for damages against an authority which is in breach of its statutory duty something could be achieved, I believe that there is a real difficulty over mandamus.

We have touched upon this matter in Amendment No. 64, but I should like to spend a few moments describing the problem to your Lordships. I can do no better than quote the Solicitor-General on the meaning ofmandamus. He said at column 783 of the Official Report of Standing Committee K of the House of Commons, on 24th June, 1976: Mandamus is simply an order from the court to a public authority which is alleged not to have complied with its duty ordering it to comply … It is discretionary, so it does not follow that the court must grant the relief. Further than that there is a time limit, we understand, set over a situation of mandamus: after a period of six months, the writ does not lie. The noble Lord, Lord Peart, said at column 582 of the Official Report, on 27th October: The farmer always has the right to take out a writ of mandamus." That may be so, but it is not a practical situation. It is a situation which my noble friend Lord Ferrers entirely dealt with in his reply. I believe that it is highly unlikely that any farmer would seek to take out a writ of mandamus. So we are left with a situation of the possibility of an action being brought for damages in either the county court or the High Court, as the noble Baroness described. We are once again faced with a problem of timing. The situation can frequently arise when actions of this nature take many months, and in our view therefore the situation would be much improved if the Government would consider the Amendment.


The noble Baroness referred to other remedies. I Even if the wording of Section 39 of the Land Compensation Act 1973—that it shall be the duty of the local authority to secure that alternative accommodation be provided—is incorporated, it is indicated from the Bristol Corporation case in the Court of Appeal (and this has been referred to just now by my noble friend Lord Sandys) that a writ of mandamus is very unlikely to be issued. So we are left with subsection (8) to which the noble Baroness has referred, whereby an applicant can sue an authority for damages for breach of statutory duty. But why should a farmer, let alone a farmworker or his union, be faced with the colossal expense of bringing an action for damages where a local authority refuses to perform its duty. And who is going to milk the cows during the time it will take to get a hearing? What good are damages, even if they are granted to the farmer, if he cannot get possession of his house?

I know that the Government do not like default clauses; they say that housing authorities should take their own decisions on whom they rehouse and that housing authorities should decide when to take these decisions. I am greatly in favour of local authorities taking their own decisions, especially in education. But this default clause is not intended to interfere with local authorities who are properly considering the claims of agriculture before making decisions. It is intended to ensure that local authorities who are not doing so shall comply with the Act. I am not really satisfied with the reply of the noble Baroness, and I believe that there should be some default powers to protect the national interest in food production against a local authority that will not discharge its duties. I am not going to press the Amendment, but I feel strongly about it and I shall probably return to it on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

11.34 a.m.

Earl FERRERS moved Amendment No. 69:

Page 24, line 16, at end insert— ("( ) Where the committee advises under subsection (3) above that the authority ought to provide suitable alternative accommodation as a matter of urgency, the authority shall provide such accommodation within three months from the date of that advice.")

The noble Earl said: Your Lordships will remember that we tried to find some way around the problem of best endeavours, and on Wednesday I explained that the way we thought that this could best be achieved was, first, to put into the Bill the fact that the local authority had a duty to rehouse. Having put that in, it gave no time limit whatsoever; it merely accepted that under certain circumstances the local authority has a duty. It may be that the local authority could not rehouse a person for possibly two years and it could be in the position of saying, "We accept that we have a duty, but we have not physically got the houses".

That was the first Amendment to which your Lordships agreed the other day. We come here to the second Amendment which says quite simply that where the agricultural dwelling-house advisory committees have investigated the application, whether it is from the farmer or the local authority, and have come to the conclusion that there is a matter of urgency, then we feel that the local authority should rehouse that person within three months. It is perfectly possible that the ADHACs will investigate many situations to determine whether there is a requirement for the local authority to rehouse in the "interests of efficient agriculture", as the wording of the Bill says, and they may well say, "Yes, there is a reason to rehouse this person." In those circumstances the local authorities would not be under an obligation to rehouse within three months. It is only in the extreme case where the ADHAC says, "Yes, in the interests of efficient agriculture the local authority should rehouse, but this is a matter of urgency." This Amendment suggests that where that is the case the local authorities should rehouse within three months.

I would just make the point that the three months is only three months from the date of the receipt of the ADHAC's advice. The ADHAC may have been called in; it may take a month or even two months to give its opinion. It may well be that the committee would take only a month. Then the ADHAC may not in fact be asked to give an opinion when the applicant first applies to the local authority. So, even if the ADHAC were to be asked to give an opinion on the day that the applicant applied to the local authority, the chances are that the local authority would not be obliged to rehouse, therefore, for four months—the three months mentioned in the Amendment, plus the one month which it has taken for the ADHAC to consider the matter. It may be that there would rot be an obligation to rehouse until five months after the date at which the local authority first had the request to rehouse a person. I hope that I have explained the Amendment tolerably clearly and I stress again that it is only where the ADHAC says that it is a matter of urgency that a person should be rehoused. I beg to move.


It is clearly the Government's intention that the tied cottage system should be altered in a manner consistent with their wider policies and objectives for the national economy as a whole, and they seek to ensure that there is no adverse effect upon the efficiency of the agricultural industry. I do not think that there is any dispute about this at all. Virtually the whole of the criticism aimed at the Bin is that if the key workers' houses become filled with people working either or, distant farms or outside the industry altogether, then efficient production, particularly livestock production and milk production, must suffer, and this is against the national interest.

Therefore is is essential that local authorities should exert themselves to rehouse promptly in urgent cases, and as my noble friend has just explained this is exactly what the Amendment seeks to provide. From inquiries that I have made in the North of England a three months limit is by no means considered to be imposing an impossible taste where urgent agricultural need is established, but I am admittedly speaking about districts which are predominantly rural in character. A point which has been made to me is that the new districts—since local government reorganisation—have a very much larger stock of houses than the old rural district councils; conesquently, there is more likelihood of a vacancy coming up in time to deal with a case of urgent agricultural need. Of course the other side of this coin is that as districts are larger after reorganisation there may be sonic difficulty in providing accommodation which is suitable geographically. When the new districts are largely urban in character, they normally cover a smaller area but their housing stock is larger. Admittedly, in these areas the demand for housing is greater; but, though the Government do not like to admit it, even in its present form this Bill implies that displaced agricultural workers, where there is agricultural need. must jump the housing queue.

In either case, therefore, I believe three months is a reasonable time to give a local authority in which to act where there is urgency. So I support my noble friend Lord Ferrers in the firm conviction that this Amendment would go a long way towards redressing the balance aimed at ensuring efficient production. It is a very difficult balance to achieve, and it is one which the Government were certainly at great pains, before drafting this Bill, to get right. They have not yet got it quite right; but if they accept this Amendment they will surely put to rest a great many of the fears of the agricultural industry that production may be damaged, which damage may not be in the best interests of the farm workers.


I think it is essential that there should be a time limit imposed, and your Lordships may remember that we had down an Amendment—I think it was No. 66—which imposed a time limit. However, in view of this Amendment which was to be moved by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, we decided to withdraw that and we support him wholly in this Amendment.

The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Lord Peart)

I understand the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Swaythling. Dealing with the arguments which have been put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and the noble Lord, Lord Middleton—and it was recognised, I think, by the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, that we are anxious to achieve a system which works—I think they put their case reasonably (I have no complaint) and courteously. I think, though, that there may be some misunderstanding here, so I should like to cover some of the points which were raised previously and which have been raised again this morning. I understand that, on the question of applying the time limits to the local authorities' fulfilment of their statutory duty, we are really only discussing Amendment No. 69. Nevertheless, the argument that I shall use applies to the other Amendment which has been mentioned. Time limits of course cropped up during the debate on Amendments Nos.64 and 67 on Wednesday evening. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, then explained why this Amendment was part of the Opposition's proposals, and I set out our objections to them, as he will recall. I therefore do not want to take up too much time repeating what I then said, but I think it would be helpful to the Committee if I outlined briefly our viewpoint.

Our first objection to time limits is that they serve no useful purpose, whether the duty on local authorities is cast as it was up till Wednesday or as it now stands in the Bill. The existence of a time limit will not of its own account mean that a house can he provided if none happens to be available. It is as simple as that. It is no good tying the housing authority to a time limit if no houses are available. I would have thought that that was obvious. Now I recognise that noble Lords are seeking to get round this objection by tying this Amendment to the provision of compensation, as suggested in the next Amendment with which we shall be dealing. But, as I shall explain shortly, compensation in such circumstances is not a principle we can welcome.

Our second objection is that the imposition of time limits could mean in some circumstances according to farm-workers and ex-workers a priority which they might not otherwise merit. If that happened, in our view we should have intruded into decisions on housing allocation which properly belong to the housing authority. Finally, let me restate briefly two reasons why I believe farmers themselves should be cautious about time limits. A time limit written into the law could, especially if it were seen as an imposition, too easily become regarded as a target to be met in all cases, even those where speedier treatment could be given to the application. I recognise that the Opposition have tried to be helpful by suggesting time limits only for urgent cases. While this is certainly a step forward from attempting to apply such limits in all cases, it brings with it the risk that less urgent cases could well be delayed. I think that our distaste for time limits is well-founded, and that noble Lords opposite may now understand why we take exception to this Amendment. I therefore hope that they will withdraw it.

The Earl of ONSLOW

There are two points which arise out of what the noble Lord, Lord Peart, has said. The first is the point to which I referred earlier. He says that on occasions a house may not be available. Can he please try to find out how often this is likely to happen? Because this, in my view, is the absolute lynchpin of this Bill. If it is frequently to be the case that a house is not available, then in my view this Bill is very dangerous.


I hope the noble Lord will not mind my interrupting him. How, though, will this Amendment help the position he has set out?

The Earl of ONSLOW

I hope that it will, but it is a question of where the houses are not going to be available. This seems to me to be the total lynchpin of it. If houses are always going to be available, then the Bill, for all the fact that it seems unnecessary, will possibly work quite well. That is the first point. The next point is that the noble Lord said that the implication was that we were giving priority to agricultural workers on the housing lists by making this sort of amendment. Does not the whole Bill attempt to give priority to agricultural workers? Because, again, if it does not, we are back in the state where it is very much more dangerous than I originally thought it was.


I think this is going further than was originally stated when we had previous discussions on the whole question of priority and the role of ADHAC. Obviously, ADHAC will recommend to local authorities, and if they make a recommendation naturally the local authority will take this into consideration; but in the end they are the responsible housing authority.


It seems that it is the availability of housing which is worrying the noble Earl. I wonder whether, again, the noble Lord will consider suitable temporary accommodation being used by a local authority. As we discussed when my noble friend Lord Burnham moved his Amendment, under the Bill they cannot do this. I suggest that it might some times be practical for a local authority to use temporary accommodation. I wonder whether, if he cannot give me an answer now, he would go away and think about it. I cannot think of any other help to give him.


I cannot think of any other reply to give the noble Lord, but I will follow up that point.


In the case of temporary accommodation, when a local authority is engaged in work on, say, roads, or some development or other for which they are responsible, they allow people to live in caravans; they allow temporary accommodation. I she old have thought that it was a possibility that this might be something which could be used.


The noble Baroness will know that the question of caravans came up earlier. I think the noble Lord, Lord Swaythling, raised it on one occasion. I said that of course they could be used, but in the end siting, et cetera, must be the responsibility of the planning authority.


I appreciate the problem which the noble Lord, Lord Peart, has explained. If there is a time limit, I quite see that this could possibly be an embarrassment on local authorities where there are physically no houses. I recognised this in the beginning and before I moved our Amendments the otter day. If you put a legal imposition on local authorities saying: "You must do this by a certain date willy-nilly …" and the houses are not there, it is difficult for them to carry out. This is the fearful dilemma over this Bill because it removes the whole onus of the responsibility for rehousing on to the local authorities. If the principle of the tied cottage system is to be altered and yet at the same time one is to enable agriculture to house the people who have to work for agriculture, then the only body that can accept that responsibility is the local authority. There is no other alternative.

This was the trouble we saw in the use of the words, "best endeavours", because this does not really mean anything other than that the local authorities will try; but, having tried and being unable to achieve it, we are back to square one. I do not profess this to be the perfect solution; I do not know whether it is. The only way we could see round it was by first, putting the duty on the local authorities and saying that where there is a real case of urgency—one which the ADHAC said was a case of urgency—then the local authority must have a time limit. If the local authority say that there are no houses, then that occasion is dealt with in our next Amendment which would say, "Let the farmers provide the housing, the caravans or the accommodation which the local authority has the responsibility to provide but which it cannot provide."

That is the reason why these three Amendments hang closely together. I appreciate that there can be difficulty over this. I can quite appreciate the noble Lord, Lord Peart, saying that this will give a priority to the farm workers which they do not merit. But this is the trouble with the Bill. If you do not give this form of priority, then you "gum up" housing for agriculture. Much as I appreciate Lord Peart's views over this, I feel bound to ask the Committee to agree with this Amendment in order to try to get some kind of sense—I hesitate to use the word; I do not mean to do so in a derogatory way—into the Bill. It will give another place time to consider it again and to consider if there is a better way round this. It is a problem which has exercised the Government and the Opposition. There is nothing Party at all about this. It is a means of trying to find a way to make this a little better. I hope the Committee will agree to this.


I always listen carefully to the reasoned and (shall I say?) in many cases acceptable manner in which the noble Earl presents his case. As my noble friend has already said, everybody appreciates the difficulties; but I would point out that to press an Amendment of this kind is sheer nonsense. The noble Earl pointed out that the requirement cannot possibly be met if an occasion should arise where the local authority itself has not given alternative accommodation, because that, in itself, would mean that they have not the accommodation available. It is perfectly obvious. I appeal to him to realise that it would be impossible for the other place, or for any reasonable people, to accept an Amendment of this sort.

It is not quite as simple as he puts it. There is a considerable amount of additional protection being given in this Bill in respect of tied cottages which are not to be found in any other measures. The whole of the Rent Acts do not provide anything like the kind of protection, as far as it goes. I realise that it is not entire protection but there are a large number of opportunities which are given to the landlord or farmer to have his rights, as they were, protected so far as possible. I am sure the noble Lord would not, by his own argument, ask us to pass something which is just sheer nonsense. If the extreme case arose where it was impossible for the council to provide the accommodation, then a time limit is nonsense.


Would not the difficulty conceivably be solved if the obligation on the local authority were to provide alternative accommodation, either temporary or permanent? I suggest that the matter in dispute might be eased if there were an obligation on the local authority to provide temporary accommodation even if permanent accommodation were not available. I can understand the objections which the noble Lord the Leader of the House will develop when we come to the next set of Amendments where there is a question of compensation to farmers for providing temporary accommodation; but supposing the obligation is on the local authority to provide temporary accommodation even if it cannot provide permanent accommodation then the damage to agriculture will be minimised.


I will answer quite quickly. I know the attitude of the Opposition, but I have been pressed by the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, and others on this. May I say that where temporary accommodation is provided by the local authority or anybody else the problem is that it does not constitute housing security—which is one of the problems with the existing system. Under that system farm workers may have to accept temporary housing without any idea of what the future may hold for them. This is the worry. This is why we feel that in the circumstances—and there are arguments about caravans which we will deal with in the next Amendment—we cannot accept this. This is a difference of opinion and it is not political.


I am conscious of this problem and I appreciate the way in which the noble Earl has put the point over. I merely think it necessary to say that the workers set great store by the word, "suitable". Temporary accommodation would have to be suitable. To put a person into a tumbledown house even temporarily or into longterm occupation of a caravan I do not think would be satisfactory. I realise there is a problem. Always bearing in mind the fact that the local authority cannot be charged with an absolute duty which they cannot fulfil, I hope that some solution can be found.


I sat for many years on local authority housing committees and we often had to deal with priority cases. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Janner, has had the same experience. Sometimes we had to deal with cases connected with sickness and had to get someone into a house where it was important for them to live on the ground floor because, for example, they could not get up and down stairs or they had a doctor's certificate which said that they had to be rehoused because they were living in highly unsuitable accommodation. The housing committee always looked at that and did their best. So far as I was concerned, in our area we always managed to rehouse the person. Unfortunately, under this Bill this type of housing problem is being created. Agriculture is developing all the time and we should give priority to agricultural workers whatever the conditions may be.

A new priority is being put into the housing list. I agree that it is not easy to solve the problem and if the area is one which is not only rural, but one where there is a big demand for houses from a semi-urban area, it makes it more difficult. But this is the trouble with the Bill. I should like to be able to say: "Let the agricultural worker take his chance with all the other people on the housing lists". But the fact is that if we want agricultural production to continue and to increase they need priority. Therefore local authorities have to be told—as they are very often told cases of medical conditions—that they must give priority to these agricultural people and hope that by doing so they do not upset other people. The fact that agricultural workers have to be given this priority is the fault of the Bill.


We are in a difficulty over this Amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Janner, says that this is nonsense. It is a perfectly acceptable view to take: acceptable to him but not to me. It is at least understandable. He says that it is stupid to suggest this when there may not be any houses available. Perhaps the noble Lord did not hear my opening remarks when I said that this Amendment would be tied up with the next one which would provide the possibility of caravan accommodation if the local authority could not provide other accommodation. The real point is that we are in a jam regarding the right of the tenant to stay on, which this Bill gives, and the duty of agriculture to provide houses for its work force. This is where there is a straight head-on collision. I accept that and I know that the noble Lord, Lord Collison, accepts it.

How are we going to get round this problem? We have produced what we believe to be a possible way around it. The noble Lord, Lord Robbins, said: "Would it not be suitable if the local authority provided temporary accommodation?" I do not think There is anything in the Bill to stop the local authority from doing that; in other words, from saying: "We have accommodation here; it is temporary and you can move into it." I do not think the passing of this Amendment would stop the local authority from providing temporary accommodation.


I agree. I felt that if some indication were given n this clause that the accommodation might be temporary until better accommodation were made available, misapprehensions and misconceptions might be avoided. It might be easier for the Government to accept the Amendment with which I am in general sympathy.


That is something that we can look at before the next stage. It brings into relief the problem which the noble Lord, Lord Collison, put forward, which is that agricultural workers lay great importance on the words, "suitable alternative accommodation". They could argue that temporary accommodation is not suitable accommodation. I accept that this is a problem; but I come back to the point that this Amendment would operate only when the ADHAC say that there is a case of extreme urgency. If the local authority are to have the responsibility for re-housing which this Bill puts on them, then if there is a case of extreme urgency it is wrong that the local authority should, for whatever reason, burke the responsibility. I do not use that word in a stupid way, and I apologise.

I want to be constructive. Our intention is that we should ask the Committee to cast an opinion on this. But if the noble Lord, Lord Peart, was prepared to say: "This is a real problem, we will try to get round it before the Report stage" I should be prepared to withdraw the Amendment. But we want more of an assurance than: "We will look at it again", because I know that he will look at it again in what one might call a Parliamentary sense. We want something more than that, otherwise we shall have to come back to this matter again at Report stage. This would be undesirable. There is nothing Party political in this; it

is an attempt by both sides to try to solve a problem which this Bill creates. If the noble Lord is prepared to say: "We will genuinely try to get round it", I will not press the Amendment; otherwise, I will do so.


Would my noble friend couple the following with that request: would the noble Lord look into the possibility of temporary accommodation by the local authority?


The noble Earl is being very persuasive, but I have stated the Government's case. Obviously from a Parliamentary point of view I will look at this again—naturally, one always does. That is one's duty as a Minister. I am afraid that I cannot go farther than I have gone today.


I appreciate the noble Lord's clarity and for being genuine enough to say that if he did look at this Amendment it would be no more than a Parliamentary expression. I do not devalue that expression. In that case, I am bound to ask your Lordships to give your opinion on the Amendment.

12.7 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 69) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 82; Not-Contents, 45.

Ampthill, L. Ferrers, E. Newall, L.
Auckland, L. Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Northchurch, B.
Balerno, L. Gainford, L. Onslow, E.
Barnby, L. Glasgow, E. Redesdale, L.
Barrington, V. Gowrie, E. Reigate, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Gridley, L. Robbins, L.
Belstead, L. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Roberthall, L.
Bessborough, E. Hampton, L. Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.
Bledisloe, V. Hanworth, V. St. Davids, V.
Boothby, L. Harding of Petherton, L. St. Just, L.
Byers, L. Hawke, L. Sandford, L.
Caithness, E. Hornsby-Smith, B. Sandys, L. [Teller.]
Campbell of Croy, L. Hylton-Foster, B. Sempill, Ly.
Cathcart, E. Kinloss, Ly. Sharpies, B.
Coleraine, L. Lauderdale, E. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Congleton, L. Lloyd, L. Strathcarron, L.
Cottesloe, L. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L
Craigavon, V. Lyell, L. [Teller.] Suffield, L.
Cromartie, E. Macleod of Borve, B. Swaythling, L.
de Clifford, L. Mancroft, L. Teviot, L.
Denham, L. Marley, L. Trefgarne, L.
Derwent, L. Meston, L. Vivian, L.
Eccles, V. Middleton, L. Ward of North Tyneside, B.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Molson, L. Westbury, L.
Elton, L. Monck, V. Wigoder, L.
Emmet of Amberley, B. Monk Bretton, L. Wise, L.
Erskine of Rerrick, L. Munster, E. Wolverton, L.
Faithfull, B.
Ardwick, L. Elwyn-Jones, L. (L. Chancellor.) Murray of Gravesend, L.
Birk, B. Gordon-Walker, L. Oram, L.
Bowden, L. Hale, L. Pannell, L.
Brimelow, L. Hall, V. Peart, L. (L. Privy Seal.)
Brockway, L. Henderson, L. Shepherd, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Jacques, L. [Teller.] Spens, L.
Burton of Coventry, B. Janner, L. Stedman, B.
Castle, L. Kennet, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B
Champion, L. Kirkhill, L. Strabolgi, L.
Chorley, L. Leatherland, L. Vaizey, L.
Collison, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Cooper of Stockton Heath, L. Lyons of Brighton, L. Wells-Pestell, L. [Teller.]
Davies of Leek, L. McCluskey, L. Wigg, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Maybray-King, L. Winterbottom, L.
Douelass of Cleveland, L. Morris of Borth-v-Gest, L. Wynne-Jones, L.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.

Clause 30, as amended, agreed to.

12.15 p.m.

Lord MIDDLETON moved Amendment No. 70: After Clause 30 insert the following new clause:

Rights of applicants on failure of local authority to provide alternative accommodation

Where on an application made to an agricultural dwelling house advisory committee the committee advises that suitable alternative accommodation is required for the occupant of a dwelling house, and the local authority fails to provide such alternative accommodation within one month the applicant shall be entitled to—

  1. (a) compensation from the local authority to cover the reasonable cost to the applicant of providing temporary accommodation; and
  2. (b) a right to station a caravan on land in his occupation without planning permission, and without a site licence under the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960, until such time as the local authority provides suitable alternative accommodation.

The noble Lord said: Time and time again we come to discuss the central dilemma created by the way in which the Government have attempted to legislate on the policy of tied cottages, and the debate we have just had on the last Amendment is a very good example. If you seek to achieve social justice by giving a statutory tenancy to a farm worker who leaves his job, you may be putting at risk the very farm business which gave him his employment and which will provide employment to his successor. That is accepted by the Government. Therefore they have said that we must put a duty on to the local authority to find suitable alternative accommodation for the man who leaves his job.

As the noble Lord, Lord Peart, has pointed out, that duty the local authority may be unable or unwilling to perform in sufficient time to avoid putting the farmer into very serious difficulty if he is to maintain food production. It is perfectly clear to my noble friends and myself that in a situation where there is an overall shortage of houses, at a time when there is a cutback in Government expenditure that might otherwise alleviate that shortage and when there are an increasing number of homeless displaced persons for whom local authorities must take responsibility, this dilemma cannot be easily resolved.

This Amendment is an attempt to provide a temporary solution, albeit a not very satisfactory one, where food production is in danger if a house cannot be found for an incoming worker. It would provide that where an advisory committee, having established an agricultural need, advises that suitable accommodation be provided and where a local authority within one month after receipt of that advice fails to provide such accommodation, then the farmer has the right to provide temporary accommodation in order to get himself out of what may be an acute difficulty. Furthermore, in order to avoid additional delay, he would be relieved of the duty of obtaining planning permission for his caravan or a site licence under the 1960 Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act. He would also be entitled to compensation from the local authority to cover the reasonable cost of providing a caravan until such time as the cottage is freed by the rehousing of the occupant who is stuck there. When that happens, of course, the applicant's right to stay in a caravan without planning permission will disappear. I beg to move.


I should like to support this Amendment because, in the first place, it hangs very closely with Amendment No. 69 which we have previously discussed and, secondly, because it is a genuine attempt on the part of the industry to make the situation workable. The situation in which the farmer will find himself merits very close attention. My noble friend Lord Middleton has suggested that this could he met through the use of a caravan or similar temporary accommodation. I was particularly glad when my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley made special reference to the problem of temporary accommodation, as did the noble Lord, Lord Robbins. I think your Lordships genuinely recognise the predicament in which the farmer will find himself. These two proposals—first, the consideration of compensation and, secondly, the waiving of the provisions of the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act—appear to be very reasonable in these circumstances.

The Government may say that this is featherbedding the farmer and the farmers will say that it is featherbedding the farm worker; so perhaps we could say it is featherbedding everybody. Nevertheless, the situation here is one of the Government's own making and we believe that some enabling procedure should be written into the Bill. I believe this to be a genuine attempt to reach a sensible solution.


It is a great pity that in these great agricultural matters the only people who appear to speak are those who have a knowledge of agriculture and also an agricultural interest. I maintain that we poor simple eaters have a much bigger stake in this Bill than the farmers because, with the latest scientific improvements and so on, farmers can change from crop to crop and it is perfectly feasible for a farmer with a labour-intensive crop to change to something which is less labour intensive. But where does that leave us poor eaters? We are then short of the things the farmer ought to be growing. So the Government, by producing this extraordinary Bill to please the Agricultural Workers' Union, look like sabotaging the food supply to us poor eaters.

I should have liked to see a clause put in that went somewhat further than this one, because if a farmer is to have a dismissed worker sitting in his cottage for a very long time, he obviously wants immediate accommodation for the new man on his own premises. A caravan is not very satisfactory, and I should have thought there ought to he a clause to the effect that a farmer could get immediate planning permission to put up a new cottage and a loan of the money there for from the local authority. He would then be able to buy one of those prefabricated buildings which can be delivered within about a month and put up on his own land. He would thus have a new cottage and would save the local authority having to provide accommodation for the other man.

I feel that, in the course of time, the whole Bill may create a very great change in the farming situation. I can quite see that the dairy farms manned by a family will continue, but I cannot conceive how dairy farms employing several cowmen can possibly go on. They will turn over to other crops, and in the end we poor consumers will not get our milk, cheese, et cetera, and will suffer accordingly. I think that the Government have been extremely silly on this Bill.


On Wednesday evening, the noble Lord, Lord Peart, in reply to my query about planning permission and caravans, said that a farmer could apply beforehand for planning permission, in advance of the other man leaving. But surely, we all know how long it takes to get planning permission, and if for some reason a man left at very short notice a request in advance for planning permission would be quite impossible. I feel very strongly that a provision for temporarily siting a caravan on land should be in the Bill, without the need for planning permission. I had intended to put down an Amendment to that effect. If I had done so, I would have imposed a time limit of 12 months or so, and if a local council provided alternative accommodation within that time the authority for the caravan would come to an end. I consider that 12 months would he a reasonable time for doing such a thing without planning permission. I very much hope that this Amendment will he accepted.


Is not one trouble of the proposed Amendment that all experience shows that temporary accommodation becomes permanent, and that there will be very great danger if this Bill provides for temporary accommodation? We still have some of those immediately postwar temporary houses in occupation. This frequently happens.


I do not like temporary accommodation or caravans, and I like agricultural workers to be housed in the best possible houses. That is my principle, and it is one on which I have acted all my life. I hope that all the houses that I have ever had anything to do with are houses in which your Lordships would be happy to spend your holidays, to work, or to do anything else. The real problem is the difficulty into which we are put by the principle of the Bill. As I said, I do not want any accommodation for agricultural workers to be unsuitable, or not of the highest possible standard. They are entitled to good accommodation, I want them to have it and I will do everything I can to see that they get it. The difficulty is that until such excellent accommodation is available there may have to be a temporary arrangement.

I do not think there is any harm in temporary caravans—and we are talking about modern caravans, and not about the old-fashioned horse-drawn vehicles. We are talking about extremely smart, well-equipped and well-designed modern, moveable houses. That is what they really are. I agree that one does not want them to be permanent, but we are not talking about a make-shift home like they used to be in the past.

I agree that there should be a time limit on having a caravan. Here 1 echo what the noble Lord, Lord Swathling, said. There is no limit in this Amendment, and I think there should be one, but I am afraid that it would have to be on the local authority producing a house. A landlord will produce a house if he has one, because it is greatly in his interest to do so. If he has a spare house, it will go straight to the new man. But if he does not have one, and his only house is being occupied by the man who is leaving and who does not want to give up the house, the landlord will be in a dilemma. That is why it should be quite justifiable to have temporary accommodation, but, as I said, it should be only temporary and should not by any change, as the noble Lord, Lord Gordon-Walker said, be considered permanent. I hate that kind of accommodation and I would not dream of asking somebody to live in it, were it not for the fact that it probably the only alternative.


I was anxious to point out that the objection which has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Gordon-Walker, that temporary accommodation tends to be permanent, which is certainly a matter of general experience in many fields, is not relevant to this case, because paragraph (a) provides a disincentive to a council to allow this state of affairs to continue. If this clause is passed, a local council will be penalised until it provides other accommodation.

The Earl of ONSLOW

This goes back to what the noble Lord, Lord Collison, was saying about suitable accommodation. In a lot of people's minds, caravans conjure up pictures of small caravans swaying about behind cars on a motorway, or in large ranks at some of our seaside resorts. But, in fact, as I have seen, some caravans provide an extremely good class of accommodation. It is display more accurate to call them mobile homes. That is one point. It is possible to obtain good suitable temporary accommodation.

The point that the noble Lord, Lord Collison, made on the last Amendment, that we can push somebody out and that the local authority will just have to provide him with a slum house which is waiting to be redeveloped, is not what we are trying to do by this Amendment. What we are trying to do is to enable the good form of mobile home to be hired into which to put the farmworker. The point which the noble Lord, Lord Gordon-Walker made, about temporary accommodation becoming permanent is dealt with in paragraph (b) which says that: … and without a site licence … until such time as the local authority provides suitable alternative accommodation". When a local authority provides suitable alternative accommodation planning permission will have to be obtained that caravan is to stay there for any length of time. Also, a licence will have to be obtained under the Caravan Sites Act.

12.31 p.m.


I think that noble Lords who have been following carefully this debate will recognise that many of these points have been covered previously. Therefore I am not going to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, in his views about poor eaters. We are all anxious to have a healthy and efficient agriculture. Indeed, I believe that our agriculture is very efficient and that it plays an important part in our economy. I leave it, therefore, at that; the question is not in dispute. The argument is how to make the Bill work when it becomes an Act, and I want to deal with this new clause. The motives of noble Lords opposite are to try to make the Bill work and they have put forward certain proposals with which I wish to deal, although many of the points have been argued before. However, I appreciate the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, introduced the new clause. The noble Lord raised matters which I hope to cover very quickly.

Without going over the same ground, I think that two points need to be stressed. First, the role of an ADHAC is to advise the local authority on the agricultural aspects of an application, not to replace the local authority by effectively taking their decisions on housing allocation for them. Secondly, arguments against rigid time limits which we have discussed for re-housing have been advanced already. In this new clause the time limit proposed is particularly unreasonable, given that a local authority may well, after receiving ADHAC advice as to agricultural need, accept that they are under an obligation, but that the need is not necessarily urgent. It would be unfair to other claimants on the local authority if all agricultural cases automatically had the priority which would result from this Amendment. I believe that noble Lords have expressed this view on a previous occasion.

The new clause, however, contains further undesirable features. First—this has not been stressed too much by noble Lords opposite—there can be no question of compensation to farmers who provide temporary accommodation. A farmer who is aggrieved at the alleged failure of a local authority to provide accommodation either directly or indirectly has a remedy to hand in the Bill. We have argued about this. Thanks to an Amendment inserted in another place he can, under Clause 30(8), bring an action for damages. We have repeated that this morning. In any case, the notion that compensation should become payable as a counterpoise to redressing an injustice which farm-workers have had to bear is not a principle that the Government can endorse.

Now I come to caravans. The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, and the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, are quite right in saying that there are some very good caravans which people regard as homes; but here, as I explained to the noble Lord, Lord Swaythling, who in a previous discussion raised the question of caravans, the suggestion that farmers or anybody else should be granted automatic planning permission for a caravan is not one which the Government can 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. Indeed, there is nothing to prevent him from going ahead and seeking planning permission in advance for a caravan on a contingency basis. I think that he would have a good case to put before the planning authority, but there can be no justification—


Does the noble Lord mean that every farmer in the country who anticipates that he might lose a worker can now go and ask for planning permission on a contingency basis to put a caravan on his land in case he loses a worker? What happens if that farmer should be in a green or white belt area? Again there is, surely, a complication.


I am not saying that all farmers who are affected by this Bill should now seek planning permission. All I am saying is that there could be a case for doing so in certain circumstances. I do not know how many farmers would want to have put near to their farmhouses the type of accommodation which has been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, and the noble Earl, Lord Onslow. All I am saying is that the procedure must be through the planning authority and that noble Lords opposite should not seek to put farmers into a different category from other citizens who may seek planning permission. That is why we cannot accept this new clause.

12.37 p.m.


The noble Lord, Lord Peart, ended by saying that we should not try to put farmers into a different category from other citizens, but this is precisely what the Bill does. It puts agricultural tied cottages into a totally different category from that of other tied cottages, and that is precisely the reason why this Amendment has been tabled. The noble Lord, Lord Peart, said that farmers must follow the normal planning procedure. That is understandable. However, it takes time. The object of the Amendment is to get over the problem where the local authority has no house available. The farmer should be able to provide such a house and the Amendment ensures that he should be reimbursed for so doing.

The noble Lord, Lord Peart, said that compensation is unacceptable and that the farmer should not be compensated. If, however, the Bill is to result in cottages which are used on farms being unavailable because of the Bill, and if the whole point of the Bill is to put the onus on to local authorities which cannot then meet their obligations, farmers would be allowed, if this Amendment were accepted, to meet the obligation. However, local authorities would reimburse farmers for doing that which they are responsible for doing but that which they are unable to do. That was the reasoning behind the Amendment and I should have thought that it was a reasonable argument.

I am bound to say that I do not like the idea of caravans. If a farmer wishes to find a new farmworker and advertises for one and an applicant comes along, the noble Lord, Lord Peart, will be the first to recognise that high up on the list of questions that the applicant will ask will be, "What is the house like?" If the farmer says, "As a matter of fact, there is a good house but it is occupied by somebody who worked for me but who is now working at the local car factory. However, I can offer you a caravan instead", his chances of getting that farmworker are very small. Therefore I do not view this idea as a particularly good solution to the problem.

I think it is a desperate reflection on the Government and, indeed, on the housing of the country that, after an era of increasing standards of horsing and increasing demands for improved standards of housing, and after are aera of so much improvement of farm cottages, we should see farmworkers now put into caravans. It is frankly a desperate reflection, and they will be put not into improved houses but into caravans. That would be the result of the Bill.

I was trying to make a point to the noble Lord, Lord Peart, and I should like him to be able to accept it because I feel it is a penetrating point. The result of the Bill is to bring into conflict the requirements of agriculture to house its workers and the requirements of this Bill for workers to remain in their houses after leaving their employment. One of the results may well be the proliferation of caravans. The noble Lord shakes his head, but we are trying to get over the difficulty into which the Bill has put us. That is a desperate reflection on the housing situation in agriculture and it is put down solely to this Bill, as indeed was the Bill we saw through last night, the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill which virtually sounded a death-knell to the landlord and tenant system.

I hesitate to see a lot of caravans around the countryside. I hesitate to see caravans put on farms for farm workers, but it is only in order to try to get over this problem which is presented by the Bill that we have put down this Amendment. I do not know what my noble friend feels about this matter, but I should like to see something done, if not at this stage then perhaps at a later stage.

The noble Lord, Lord Peart, says that one month is totally unreasonable. But that is one month after the local authority has had the advice of the ADHAC—not in cases of extreme urgency, but in all cases where they say, "Yes, this is required for agriculture". It d Des not say that the local authority has to) house within one month; all it says is that the ADHAC has recognised that there is a requirement for the house and if tie local authority cannot house—and they may not be able to house for six months, 12 months or 24 months—at least the farmer can provide that housing which the local authority cannot provide and be reimbursed for so doing one month after the ADHAC has given its advice.

If one is to get over the problem of providing accommodation on the farm—and the noble Lord, Lord Peart, must address himself to this matter—where the accommodation already provided cannot be used because of this Bill, then the caravan seems to me to be the only answer.


In moving this Amendment, I acknowledged that this was not a very satisfactory solution to the problems that will arise from the Bill. In the first place, I would never have imagined that I should ever attempt in your Lordships' House to advocate a provision which might increase the number of caravans that already disfigure so much of our countryside. Secondly, as vice-chairman of a county planning committee, I view with some misgivings the concept of a farmer giving himself planning permission without the kind of control as to siting and so on that would normally be exerted by a planning authority. Thirdly, as a farmer and employer, like my noble friend Lord Ferrers, I should be very surprised if I could easily find a skilled replacement worker or herdsmen if all I could offer him was a caravan. If it were possible to reverse the situation so that the statutory tenant who was stuck in the house went into the caravan and the replacement went into the cottage, then many of the difficulties arising from these circumstances would disappear. But that would be so entirely contrary to the principle of the Bill that that is not what is proposed.

Finally, I note what the noble Lord, Lord Peart, said about compensation and what he said about the one-month period. Nevertheless, the necessity—and I will not labour this point as it has been sufficiently aired throughout the debate on the Bill both here and in another place—to avoid disruption of food production surely must be an overriding one. I am quite certain that where an agricultural need is established, quite impartially, by one of these advisory committees, all the disadvantages of which I am very well aware will he outweighed by the advantage in the short term to agricultural production.

I am convinced that a provision of this kind will be essential for the proper working of the industry. We must be realistic about this. It is not likely that the time limit Amendment will be regarded in another place with unmodified rapture, and the industry may very well therefore find itself back in the impossible situation forced upon it by the Bill in the form to which we are objecting. I am quite certain that the only way of resolving the difficulty will be some kind of provision for temporary accommodation.

I will not press this Amendment so that we can, perhaps in consultation with the noble Lord, Lord Peart, produce a better Amendment on Report that will cater for the need for temporary accommodation in an urgent case which I am perfectly certain will be quite acceptable. If we do not find such a solution, the balance will be so far on the wrong side that food production will be in danger. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 31 [Agricultural dwelling-house advisory committees]:

On Question, Whether Clause 31 shall stand part of the Bill.


Before we leave Clause 31, on Second Reading I drew attention to subsection (7) which lays down that all the members of a committee had to be present at a meeting. The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, kindly said that she would write to me on the subject. I was fearful that when a member of the committee was ill or for some other reason did not attend, the whole thing would be held up. When she wrote to me the noble Baroness explained that they intend to have a panel of members and that if somebody was ill they could always be sure that a committee would be in existence. Therefore, I did not move for the deletion of subsection (7).

Clause 31 agreed to.

Clause 32 [Notification of disposal of dwelling-house]:

12.48 a.m.

Lord SWAYTHLING, having given Notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 71:

Page 26, line 29, at end insert— ("and (c) the landlord has been granted vacant possession of the dwelling-house by virtue of the rehousing provisions of Part IV of this Act.")

The noble Lord said: Since putting down this Amendment, I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, has an Amendment to leave out Clause 32, and therefore I do not propose to move.

On Question, Whether Clause 32 shall stand part of the Bill?


Clause 32 is a new clause under which anyone who owns any houses which have been occupied by farm workers is obliged to notify the local authorities of their disposing of a material interest. I believe that this clause is far too onerous, because what we are doing here is saying that anyone who disposes of a farm worker's house—if he sells it or whatever the reason is—has to let the local authority know and the local authority has to keep records of what houses are being disposed of. The local authority will have to write to the person concerned and say: "Thank you for your letter. I note that you are going to sell your house". Then within four weeks the local authority has to write to the person and tell them what action they propose to take on the owner selling his house. I believe that that goes far beyond the scope of giving agricultural workers a statutory right to stay on in their houses.

This is the proliferation of what one might describe as "nosey parkers into the normal commercial buying and selling of houses. I think it will put yet another duty upon the local authority to have to keep all the records and to ferret around and find out what is happening to all the houses. Will they have to hold committee meetings on whether or not to buy Farmer Blogg's house? I think this is a monstrous intrusion into the privacy of individuals and indeed into the commercial operation of the housing market. Therefore I should like the noble Baroness to explain why the Government want to have this included.

Baroness BIRK

I have considered this clause extremely carefully and so has my noble friend Lord Peart. I have also listened carefully to the arguments put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and following that I am prepared to withdraw Clause 32 from the Bill at this time: but of course noble Lords will understand that this is subject to the reconsideration that the Amendments will be given in another place.


I am immensely grateful to the noble Baroness. This has really come as a great pleasure, because I have always thought that this was a very onerous clause. I am immensely grateful to the noble Baroness for having obviously considered the Amendments which were tabled to make the clause slightly less onerous, and that has possibly directed her attention and made her come to the conclusion that she would be prepared to withdraw this clause. Had my noble friend Lord Tranmire been here I would have said that this might have been an occasion when the Band of the Green Howards might have come to blow a fanfare of trumpets! We are most grateful to the noble Baroness and I think this will certainly make it a better Bill.

Clause 32 disagreed to.

Schedule 6 agreed to.

Clause 33 [Information about housing accommodation]:

12.52 p.m.

The Earl of ONSLOW moved Amendment No. 74: Page 28, line 3, leave out from ("accommodation") to end of line 4 and insert ("used for housing agricultural workers or retired agricultural workers or their dependants.")

The noble Earl said: I think one must say "thank you" to the noble Baroness for withdrawing Clause 32, and perhaps we ought to have had even more than just the Band of the Green Howards. If we are to have a survey of rural housing, that is possibly a good thing. If we were to have it now, obviously it would cost too much money, but that is another story. If we were to have a survey of agricultural workers' housing, that would probably be a good thing but again the same cost arguments arise. This Amendment sets out to try to prevent a half-way house situation arising. Bricklayers, carpenters, pest officers, gardeners, plumbers, fitters, secretaries are all occasionally employed on farms and live in tied cottages but also work for other institutions. In Amendment No. 27A the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, said that the Bill was to do with agricultural workers and, "Let us keep it that way". I think those were the words she used. Bricklayers, carpenters and others are not agricultural workers, but they sometimes work on farm estates. Therefore, if they are included, which they will be unless this Amendment is accepted—or perhaps a better worded Amendment which could be presented by the Government—the Minister will get a distorted picture and I feel sure he would not want to do that. I beg to move.


I am sorry that I did not hear all the speech made by the noble Earl because I was called to an urgent consultation. I hope he will understand. As I understand it, noble Lords opposite are seeking by this Amendment to exclude from the coverage of the survey those cottages which at some time in the previous five years were, on, or held in connection with, or used for agricultural or forestry land, but which at the time of the survey are either empty, for whatever reason, or let outside agriculture. Although it may not have been intended, cottages housing successors of agricultural workers would also be excluded from the census by this Amendment since it refers only to workers, retired workers or their dependants. I can see no good reason for so restricting the scope of the survey.

The whole purpose of the survey is to provide local authorities with a general picture of the agricultural housing situation in the area, so that they will be in a better position to forecast the potential calls on their resources and so more readily plan the allocations of those resources to meet the demands which farmers will be making on them under the Bill. To do this I am sure that they need to know not only about houses currently occupied by farmworkers and pensioners but also about those occupied by successors, and indeed about any other cottages which the farmer may have available to house new workers.

The local authority quite rightly will need the full facts if the information is to be of real benefit. Half the story could be positively misleading. For example, it will certainly be relevant to know if any of the farmer's cottages are subject to Case XII of the 1968 Rent Act; that is the farmer is able to regain possession of the cottage from someone not working in agriculture if he needs it for an agricultural employee. This is only one example: there could be others.

The noble Earl who moved the Amendment may believe that there is something to be gained by restricting the number of cottages about which information may be gathered; but this is not so. If noble Lords will look again at Clause 29, Amendments to which we have already debated they will recall that a farmer must have considered whether he can rehouse from resources available to him before approaching the housing authority. Clause 33 does not bear on this question of the range of housing accommodation which farmers are expected to have considered before approaching housing authorities; the two are not connected.

The sole effect of the Amendment would be to restrict the survey to some two-thirds of the cottage stock, thus leaving nearly a third of the cottages owned by farmers outside the survey, to say nothing of those which are the subject of housing arrangements. This, in my view, would seriously weaken the effectiveness of the survey which, I would remind noble Lords, was designed specifically to help local authorities, and, through them, the agricultural community. I hope with that explanation the noble Earl will now withdraw the Amendment.


I wish to declare my farming interest. I have a number of tied cottages; I can do most jobs on the farm; I have a heavy duty licence and I can guarantee that I am one of the best hand roguers of wild oats in the business! I am grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for commenting on the point I made on Second Reading. However, nothing which has been said since by the Government alleviates my worries. That is why I rise to support my noble friend Lord Onslow on this Amendment.

As I understand it, the ADHAC will have a list of all houses on my property. Should I wish to get a man out of one of my cottages when he leaves my employment, the ADHAC may decide that he can remain in that cottage, of which he then becomes a statutory tenant and that cottage will be taken out of agriculture. If later one of my retired workers needs rehousing, can I retrieve that cottage for that purpose? If not, there is no social justice because my retired farm worker will be the loser, even more than the farmer, and I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Collison, will appreciate that point. Surely we must be allowed to keep spare accommodation to meet our farm emergencies.

The Earl of ONSLOW

I see the dilemma we have got into. Both myself and the noble Lord, Lord Peart, are saying that the other side's argument will produce an incomplete picture. It would seem that I prefer that this survey should be confined to agricultural workers, but bearing in mind what the noble Lord has said I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

1.1 p.m.

The Earl of CAITHNESS moved Amendment No. 75: Page 28, leave out line 37.

The noble Earl said: This is consequential on an Amendment moved earlier in this Committee stage. I beg to move.

The Earl of CAITHNESS moved Amendment No. 76: Page 29, line 3, leave out from ("Food") to end of line 4.

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

Clause 33, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 34 [Kinds of information obtainable]:

The Earl of CAITHNESS moved Amendment No. 77: Page 29, line 6, leave out ("or forestry")

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

The Earl of CAITHNESS moved Amendment No. 78: Page 29, line 11, leave out ("two") and insert ("four")

The noble Earl said: I beg to move.


May I say that I am prepared to accept this Amendment, to save debate.


I should like to thank the noble Lord. I feel that we are making great progress today.

The Earl of CAITHNESS moved Amendment No. 79: Page 29, line 11, leave out ("service") and insert ("receipt")

The noble Earl said: I hope that we have made sufficient progress that I can move this Amendment and that the noble Lord will accept it as well. I beg to move.


I am afraid I should like the noble Earl to hear my case on this one. He has been very persuasive this morning. I know that the noble Lord may believe that by referring to "receipt" rather than to "service" he is providing farmers with more time in which to comply with a notice to provide information. In fact I am advised that there is no such advantage to be gained by the use of the word "receipt" here, in that both words relate to the time that the notice reaches the land owner himself and not to the time the notice is despatched. The advantage gained from using the word, "service" derives from the fact that it is the proper legal term for the process which culminates in receipt.

I would also venture to suggest, if I have understood it right, that the Amendment is unnecessary because later on in the clause in subsection (6)(a) provision is made for an owner or occupier to claim that he had reasonable excuse in failing to comply with the provisions of a notice within the time limit, because, for example, he was abroad on business or away on holiday at the time of service. I hope, in view of this explanation, that the noble Lord will agree to withdraw his Amendment.


I am very grateful to the noble Lord for that reply. It clears up the worry I had in my mind, and I shall of course withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 34, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 35 agreed to.

Schedule 7 agreed to.

Clause 36 agreed to.

Clause 37 [Interpretation]:

1.5 p.m.

Lord SANDYS moved Amendment No. 80: Page 32, line 2, at end insert ("but shall not include a licence granting exclusive occupation of hostel accommodation or lodgings.")

The noble Lord said: We here reach the interpretation clause dealing with certain definitions. Amendments Nos.80 and 81 are both closely associated, but let me first take Amendment No. 80. We believe that, in this regard, the Government's present arrangement of Clause 37, which sets out what licence means as the third item, is not sufficiently lengthy to give full satisfaction. Of course we realise that under Clause 2 a relevant licence is fully explained where exclusive occupation of a dwelling-house is dealt with. Nevertheless, we believe that by adding the words on the Marshalled List it would clarify the situation so that there are not indefinite sub-lettings included in the definition. I beg to move.

Baroness BIRK

May I say right away in order to save time that there is no difference of opinion here so far as the aims of this Amendment are concerned. The problem is one of definition. What we do not want to do is to protect agricultural workers who arc living in genuine hostel accommodation or in lodgings, but equally we want to protect, for example, two farm workers who may share a large farm cottage each having exclusive occupation of their bedroom and sharing other living accommodation. At the moment this is achieved by Clause 24 in the Bill which follows the precedent set by Section 102 of the Rent Act 1968.

Many workers in hostels will be excluded from protection under the Bill because they will not have exclusive occupation of any part of a dwelling-house. Their accommodation will probably be of the dormitory type, and other living accommodation will be shared as well. More importantly, however, our understanding is that hostel accommodation on farms is mainly provided for seasonal and casual workers. These workers of course will not be generally covered by the Bill because they will not be able to fulfil the qualifying worker test of having worked for two years in agriculture. These factors between them ought to dispose of the hostel problem, and on the face of it any residual case who is not a seasonal worker and who has a room of his own is the sort of person who ought to have the protection of the Bill.

Having said all that, because I thought that I must get that clear, I certainly do not want to appear dogmatic on this point to which we have given considerable thought. What I suggest is that, if there are any details available of the sorts of cases which still, after this explanation, could cause concern, it would be extremely helpful for me to have them. What I want to mention is that there are two difficulties about this, just to illustrate that it is a complex problem. First, the Amendment as it stands could introduce doubt if a landlord were to claim that a genuine sharing case such as I have described was indeed a hostel. Secondly, everybody thinks they know what a hostel is. Frankly, I thought I did; of course everybody knows what a hostel is; but when you try to define if for the purposes of a Bill and not just for general conversation it is difficult to avoid bringing into a definition places that could be genuine dwelling-houses.

I should be happy to look at this again. If noble Lords opposite who have doubts, or if organisations like the National Farmers' Union who, I think, are also concerned about this, can give us any further information or would like to consult with us, then I am prepared to do so. I think that would probably be much more useful than arguing, because I really cannot take it any further at this stage because of this stumbling block of the problem of a definition. If we could get down to that, and if the noble Lord or his noble friends could produce some examples of where they think there could be somebody slipping between these various definitions, I should be very grateful.


This morning the noble Baroness has been both accommodating and conciliatory, and I do not wish to proceed any further with this Amendment. We shall certainly do our best to provide her with information in this field, if such information exists. But I cannot guarantee to be able to further the case unless such information is forth-coming. In the circumstances, at this stage I think it would be better for the Committee if I withdrew the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

1.10 p.m.

Lord SANDYS moved Amendment No. 81:

Page 32, line 4, at end insert— (""registered" means registered in the register under Part IV of the Rent Act 1968; rent based on rateable value" has the meaning given by section 13(8) of this Act;").

The noble Lord said: We return to the interpretation clause and we feel that this Amendment fills a gap in the interpretations. I do not think I need go into this at length. If we examine the glossary of definitions in Schedule I we find that these two items are not included in it. It is true that part of one of them is included in the definitions in the 1968 Act, but perhaps it would be beneficial for those using the measure if these were clearly defined.

Baroness BIRK

The Amendment is consequential to the Motion to leave out Clause 20. When we discussed that I gave my reasons against making this change and, frankly, there is nothing I can add to what I said. I do not think the noble Lord would want me to repeat what I said then.


I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 82:

Page 32, line 12, at end insert— ("( ) It is hereby declared that any power of giving directions conferred by this Act includes power to vary or revoke directions so given.")

The noble Baroness said: This is a drafting and clarifying Amendment. It may well be that any power of giving directions in the Bill would, without this additional wording, be held to include a power to vary or revoke any such directions. This Amendment simply removes any doubt on the matter.

Clause 37, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 1 [Index of general definitions]:

Earl FERRERS moved Amendment No. 82A: Page 34, leave out lines 8 and 9.

The noble Earl said: This Amendment is consequential on Amendment No. 3 which was agreed to.

The Earl of CAITHNESS moved Amendment No. 83: Page 34, leave out line 13.

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

Schedule 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 38 [Isles of Scilly]:

Lord PEART moved Amendment No. 84. Page 32, line 19, after ("shall") insert ("in their application to the Scilly Isles, have effect").

The noble Lord said: This Amendment is consequential to Amendment No. 61 and deals with the Scilly Isles.

Lord PEART moved Amendment No. 85: Page 32, line 21, leave out from ("order") to end of line 26.

Clause 38, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 39 to 43 agreed to.

Schedule 8 [Consequential and minor amendments]:

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 87: Page 57, line 34, leave out ("occupies it under") and insert ("has").

The noble Baroness said: I formally move this Amendment, to which I have already spoken.

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 88: Page 58, line 9, after ("107") insert ("(1)").

The noble Baroness said: This is a minor Amendment to make clear precisely what information about the Bill local authorities are empowered to publish.

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 89A:

Page 58, line 10, leave out from ("information)") to end of line 16 and insert ("for paragraph (aa) substitute the following paragraphs— (aa) to publish information, for the assistance of owners and occupiers of dwelling-houses and others, as to their rights and duties under the Rent (Agriculture) Act 1976 and as to the procedure for enforcing those rights or securing the performance of those duties, and (ab) to make any such information as mentioned in paragraph (a) or (aa) above available in any other way".")

The noble Baroness said: This Amendment is consequential on Amendment No. 88. I beg to move.

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 90: Page 59, line 44, leave out ("clerk to") and insert ("proper officer of").

Lord PEART moved Amendment No. 91:

Page 60, line 7, at end insert— ("( ) in the Isles of Scilly, the Council of those Isles").

The noble Lord said: This Amendment is consequential. I beg to move.

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 92:

Page 61, line 17, at end insert— (". In section 122(8) of the Housing Act 1974 (duty to inform tenant of assignment of landlord's interest) after the words "Rent (Scotland) Act 1971" insert the words "statutory tenancy within the meaning of the Rent (Agriculture) Act 1976".")

The noble Baroness said: This Amendment simply brings the Bill into line with the Rent Acts by ensuring that a landlord who is assigning a dwelling must tell the tenant who the new landlord is.

Schedule 8, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 9 [Transitional]:

Baroness BIRK moved Amendments Nos. 93 and 94: Page 62, line 8, leave out from ("who") to second ("a") in line 9 and insert C' has, in relation to a dwelling-house"); Page 62, line 23, leave out ("in exclusive occupation of a dwelling-house") and insert C' who is occupying a dwelling-house as his residence")

The noble Baroness said: I formally move these Amendments, which have already been spoken to with a previous group of Amendments.

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 95: Page 63, line 37, leave out from beginning to end of line 6 on page 64.

The noble Baroness said: This is a minor Amendment which will provide that, in the unlikely event that there is a rent registered under Part VI of the Rent Act 1968 for a dwelling-house which becomes subject to a statutory tenancy on the operative date by virtue of Schedule 9, that registration is to be irrelevant for Bill purposes. Hence, until a rent is registered under the Bill, the rent limit will be the rent based on rateable value.

The Earl of CAITHNESS moved Amendment No. 96: Page 64, leave out paragraph 8.

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

Schedule 9, as amended, agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with the Amendments.