Clause 2. — (Suspension of Execution of Order for Possession.)

Part of Orders of the Day — Protection from Eviction Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th December 1964.

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Photo of Mr John Hill Mr John Hill , South Norfolk 12:00 am, 8th December 1964

I see that, but the big distinction is that agricultural cottages are not meant to be economic, and the farmer is hoping that a cottage may be some inducement to a man to work for him.

How could the word "seriously" be interpreted? If it is left in the Amendment county court judges will assume that Parliament intended something by that word. I think there would be difficulty in interpretation. The only other well-known context in which this word comes is, I think, in workmen's compensation where the phrase, "serious and wilful misconduct" is used. That, I believe, has given the courts much trouble in interpretation. The courts decide rightly that in such cases the word "seriously" would have to be interpreted in the light of the facts of each case. That cannot be so here because most of the important facts have not happened as in compensation cases but lie in the future.

It is impossible to know in advance whether the loss of the use of a cottage and the consequent shortage of a man will result in serious prejudice or injury to efficient management. In cases where there is only one employee and one cottage, it is virtually certain that the prejudice will be serious. In many cases the degree of prejudice must depend on unpredictable factors lying in the future—for example, the relative shortage of labour, because farms do not carry spare labour nowadays. Labour is always short. Therefore, the absence of one man may cause serious prejudice if there are arrears of work. Again, whether the prejudice is serious may depend on weather conditions alone. It may be governed by the subsequent sickness of other workers. The farmer may, because he has not possession of the cottage, miss the ideal replacement.

All that can be shown in most cases are the factors which may prejudice efficient management, although to what degree only time and chance will show. Therefore it would be more satisfactory if the county court judge were specifically directed to take into account any prejudice to efficient management and so consider all the agricultural circumstances along with all the other circumstances.

A Labour Government should take their stand on that. After all, the Government as a whole, not merely the Minister of Agriculture, have emphasised their support for the 1947 Act, Section 1 of which speaks about the necessity for maintaining a stable and efficient agriculture. Section 1 also mentions providing proper remuneration and living conditions for agricultural workers. There is the balance. I should have thought that all Ministers would want to take account, and have judges take account, of any prejudice to efficient management in industry, and particularly in our greatest industry. Otherwise the impression will be given, as has happened before, that a Labour Government, despite general statements of support for agriculture, usually fall down in practice and on matters of detail through haste, lack of understanding or lack of consultation.

I am sure that the Minister of Agriculture would not want to give that impression. I do not think that the Minister of Housing and Local Government would. Therefore, I hope that at a later stage the right hon. Gentleman will, after reconsidering the matter, accept my Amendment to his Amendment, because it would in no way prejudice the fullest and fairest consideration of the occupier's case. It would avoid implied restriction on the judge's discretion, which should be as free as possible. It would assist the Minister in his declared intention to ensure that the needs of agriculture are always taken into account.