Recovery of Possession of a Dwelling-House Occupied by a Person Primarily Engaged in Agriculture

Agriculture Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th April 1970.

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Section 16 of the Rent Act 1965 (recovery of dwelling-house held for occupation by a person employed in agriculture) shall have effect as if for the words "under the terms of his employment as a person employed" there were substituted the words "employed or primarily engaged"—[Mr. J. E. B. Hill.]

Brought up and read the First time.

7.8 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Hill Mr John Hill , South Norfolk

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

We are now moving downwards, as it were, from matters of great moment to the comparatively simple question of the terms on which the recovery of possession of a dwelling-house occupied by a person primarily engaged in agriculture shall be governed by the Bill.

The new Clause was discussed in identical terms in Committee, when it was disagreed to only by the Chairman's casting vote. My hon. Friends and I are, therefore, grateful that the matter should have been selected at this stage for further discussion.

The object of the Clause is very limited. It is to enable some spare farm houses which are temporarily not needed for agricultural use to be leased as dwelling-houses until such time as they are needed again for agriculture. The 1965 Rent Act did this for the spare farm cottage; that is to say, the house previously occupied by someone employed as a farm worker. The manner of drafting this essential exception to the statutory restrictions on repossession did not cover the spare farmhouse, the house previously occupied by the employer or the farmer running a farm business. If the exception had been drafted on the basis of any dwelling-houses rated as agricultural dwelling-houses this distinction and difficulty would not have arisen.

The farm house is not just another dwellinghouse in the total of property but is an essential and expensive item of capital equipment without possession of which it is not normally possible to farm the land attached to it as a separate business on its own. There are many cases today where one farmer is actually farming two or more farms simultaneously so as to have a bigger business but without any intention or certainty of permanent amalgamation of those farms as is provided for on a permanent basis by the Government's grant-aided amalgamation schemes.

If a permanent merger of farms were contemplated, the surplus farm house could generally be sold freehold. This amendment is needed to cover those cases where the farm house must be kept in the same ownership as the land so that at any time, through choice or necessity, the farmer may be able to give up one farm—sell, lease, or transfer it to a relative—whereupon it becomes essential that the spare farm house should be available for the new farmer's occupation along with the land and farm buildings.

As the law stands at present, possession of such a farm house would be regained only if it had been let furnished for a fixed term, which is not very practicable, or had a rent of less than two-thirds of its rateable value, which usually is uneconomic. In Committee the Joint Parliamentary Secretary suggested a peppercorn rent; but that would be even less economic. Otherwise an unfurnished letting would create a regulated tenancy which would be subject to all the security of tenure provisions of the Rent Acts. The result is that a number of farm houses have to be left empty on legal advice. Here I declare an interest because I have been advised not to let a farm house which I do not need for some years. That is bad for the structure of the house, it deprives someone of a potential home for a limited period, and it is not good for a rural society.

Having studied the Parliamentary Secretary's replies in Committee, I think that he was making our proposal seem much more sweeping than is our intention. We are not wedded to the words of this Clause, and I am sure that his advisers could perfectly well devise a method which would remove this legal anomaly without its being the thin end of a thick wedge. The hon. Gentleman said that this provision would allow repossession from an ex-farmer or his widow. The Country Landowners' Association, which supports this proposal, has pointed out that without it it would be inadvisable for an owner to allow an outgoing tenant to remain on in the farm house, assuming that it was not needed, for the period of a year, or whatever was agreed to enable the outgoing tenant to find some other home of his own.

7.15 p.m.

In the same speech the Parliamentary Secretary expressed anxiety about the effect on grant-aided amalgamation schemes where it is part of a scheme that one farmer giving up his farm altogether should remain in his dwelling-house. It would be perfectly possible to make it a requirement of any such permanent amalgamation scheme that the farmer should have full security of tenure of the house.

The Parliamentary Secretary's attitude was best expressed when he said: the right of repossession is one that ought to be given sparingly with due regard for the needs of occupiers to feel secure in their homes. He also said: the Clause sweeps away the time limits within which the rights of repossession may be exercised. It is reasonable that the owner should have a period he can use in which to make up his mind whether he will need his house or not, but for houses which have not been tied cottages it is not reasonable that he should be able to exercise that right indefinitely—against the occupiers who would, of course, with the passage of time, tend to regard the house as probably a permanent home."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee B, 10th March, 1970; c. 1080.] I do not believe that that accords with the reality of the situation.

The hon. Gentleman has overlooked the numbers of would-be tenants who do not need or seek a permanent home in the country. There are quite a few people, such as representatives of firms, Service personnel posted for fairly short periods at defence establishments and wanting pleasant married quarters, and people whose careers generally require them frequently to change their homes. Many of those people like to live in the countryside, even if they work in a town.

There are people returning from abroad or retiring from a town who would like, with their furniture, to occupy a house in the country for a limited period while they find their ideal house to purchase. One would like to have a situation in which this essential item of capital equipment could be leased under an agreement for a term of years varying with the requirements of the parties.

It would be perfectly possible to limit the number of these cases. Any agreement should be quite explicit. It could recite the agricultural contingency to be provided for. It could identify the land normally going with the farm house. If the Minister so desired, although I would think it unnecessary, any such farm house, or agreement in respect of it, could be registered with the Ministry. Perhaps the neatest Amendment would be to draft a parallel to Case 12 in the Third Schedule to the 1968 Rent Act, which has now consolidated Section 16 of the Rent Act 1965.

I want the Parliamentary Secretary to realise that neither I nor my hon. Friends wish to press this new Clause in its present form. We would like him, with his advisers, to reconsider this problem remembering that the Minister of Housing and Local Government said on a previous occasion that this was a matter for an Agriculture Bill. We now have an Agriculture Bill, and I hope that he will consider how to make a way around this quite small but acute difficulty at a later stage.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

I remind the House that this is the first of 53 debates, three on new Clauses and 50 on Amendments, and we did not start until after 7 o'clock. Reasonably brief speeches will help.

Photo of Sir Charles Mott-Radclyffe Sir Charles Mott-Radclyffe , Windsor

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill), who so ably moved the new Clause, and I ask the Minister to look at the problem again. What is to be done with a surplus farm house which is only temporarily surplus? It is a practical problem, well known in the whole of agriculture, to which we are trying to find a solution.

There are a number of ways in which a farm house can become temporarily surplus. My hon. Friend has already cited one or two, and I can think of several others. A farmer may take the opportunity to buy for his son an adjacent farm that happens to have come on to the market perhaps because his son wants to farm it later or against the day when the son gets married. But the farm house is not wanted now, so what is he to do? The sensible thing, if he were allowed to do it, would be to let the farm house for four or five years to a person like those mentioned by my hon. Friend who wanted to take a farm house while looking for something more permanent. At the end of the lease the farmer could obtain possession if his son wanted it when he got married.

However, he cannot do that, so he has two other alternatives. If he sells the house he has parted with it for keeps, and if he makes the mistake of redecorating it first he becomes liable to the capital gains tax. So the only safe thing to do, to be absolutely certain that he can get possession when it is wanted for his son or any other member of the family, is to leave it empty, deteriorating as the months go by. But empty farm houses do no good to agriculture or anyone.

I hope that the Minister will apply his mind to the problem so that between us we may try to arrive at a sensible solution to this practical problem, which everyone knows must be solved sooner or later.

Photo of Sir John Foster Sir John Foster , Northwich

I have in mind your mention of the debates, Mr. Speaker, so I shall say only two sentences. I hope that the Minister will consider that in a modern economy to leave anything empty means a loss of productivity. Therefore, he must come forward with some solution.

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

I, too, shall be very brief, Mr. Speaker, bearing in mind your wise words to us, in endorsing what my hon. Friends have already said.

We have put forward many suggestions during the passage of the Bill, a number of which the Government have accepted as helpful. This Clause has more sound common sense to it than any other suggestion that we have made, yet we do not seem to have got through to the Government that while it is a very modest proposal it is very sensible. It can do no one any harm as far as I can see, and it can do a great deal of good in a limited number of cases.

My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) emphasised the limited nature of the new Clause. We do not pretend that it is important, but the fact that it is limited in nature does not mean that it does not deserve the attention of Parliament where a situation has arisen as a result of legislation introduced by the present Government, for reasons which they have felt to be good and just, in which the owners of a small number of houses do not know what to do with them. As my hon. Friend has said, the soundest and wisest course for most farmers in this situation is to leave the house empty. This must be wrong from every national point of view as well as from the individual's point of view.

We are not asking for a great deal. My hon. Friends have asked that the matter be looked at again so that these cases can be taken care of. I reinforce their argument. We should look at the matter completely dispassionately and consider the problem of any individual or any individual estate owner faced with the problem of owning a house that he would like to see utilised, yet knowing that if he lets go of possession under the law as it stands he might not be able to regain it when it was very necessary to do so in the interests of the land and the farm.

Ministers must concede that here is an overwhelming case. It concerns a very small number of individuals, but they deserve help from the Government. I ask that Ministers look at the matter again and reassure us that if they cannot do anything now they will introduce an Amendment in another place to deal with the problem.

Photo of Mr John Mackie Mr John Mackie , Enfield East

Since our Committee debates we have given considerable thought to the new Clause. We discussed it fairly fully in Committee, when I explained some of the difficulties.

Although the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) has suggested that the drafting does not matter, the Clause goes far wider than its supporters intended. I think that the hon. Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) said that it would apply to any house that had ever been occupied by anyone in agriculture. When we pass legislation it must apply as drafted, and it is not easy to define the type of house to be covered.

It is almost impossible to define the class of house hon. Members want to come under the Clause. As I said in Committee, it makes no exception for the ex-farmer or his widow, particularly under our amalgamation scheme. There would have to be words inserted into any Clause to clear them and to clear a house that had been out of agriculture for many years. So we would go on and on trying to find legislation. The hon. and learned Member for Northwich (Sir J. Foster) is a member of the legal profession, and he must see the difficulty we should be in in trying to formulate a Clause to meet what hon. Members want.

I do not see that I can go any further than I went in Committee in explaining the matter to the House.

Photo of Sir John Foster Sir John Foster , Northwich

Would the hon. Gentleman be in favour of doing what hon. Members on this side want if we can draft it?

Photo of Mr John Mackie Mr John Mackie , Enfield East

Like the hon. and learned Gentleman, I am in favour of not having houses empty. But I have been in this position myself, and the right course for people fortunate enough to have more houses than they need is to make up their minds what to do with them. I know the arguments about wanting them in a year or 20 years. That is one of our difficulties in framing any sort of Clause to cover the space of time involved. But owners can sell or they can let at a lower rent. Farmers can let a farmhouse to a farm worker and let his house under Case 12. There are several ways of getting out of the difficulty. We cannot accept this situation and bring in legislation to deal with these few cases.

7.30 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

I had no intention of taking part in the debate, but after having listened to the excellent and persuasive speeches from this side of the House I have felt moved to do so. We all respect the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, he is courteous and knowledgeable and we have singled him out among Ministers. But instead of speaking his own mind tonight he has somehow had wrapped around his neck a Parliamentary draftsman and a cautious official adviser.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will loose himself from such embarrassments and say that what has been said from this side of the House is worth looking at again. There is a great deal of wisdom in another place, and with a little bit of good will the Government might come up with a solution. All that the hon. Gentleman has to say is that there is a

point here and that he will do his best, even at this late hour, to secure a sensible provision in the Bill. If he will say that he will look at it he will engender good will which might expedite the progress of the Bill.

Photo of Mr John Mackie Mr John Mackie , Enfield East

To reply very briefly to the hon. Member, the only person with whom I agree on his side of the House is the hon. and learned Member for Northwich (Sir J. Foster), who said that we should not have these houses empty. I have given solutions to the problem. We have been advised that legislation would be wrong, and I cannot see how any legislation could be drafted which would not create as many problems as it seeks to avoid.

Photo of Mr John Hill Mr John Hill , South Norfolk

I had not wished to press this to a Division and I still do not want to, because I hope that the Government will have second thoughts.

Hon. Members:


Question put, That the Clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 123, Noes 171.

Division No. 92.]AYES[7.33 p.m.
Archer, Jeffrey (Louth)Hall-Davis, A. G. F.Miscampbell, Norman
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n)Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)Montgomery, Fergus
Awdry, DanielHarrison, Brian (Maldon)More, Jasper
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff)Harvey, Sir Arthur VereMorgan, Geraint (Denbigh)
Bell, RonaldHarvie Anderson, MissMott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles
Bessell, PeterHawkins, PaulMurton, Oscar
Biffen, JohnHeald, Rt. Hn. Sir LionelNabarro, Sir Gerald
Black, Sir CyrilHeseltine, MichaelNott, John
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.)Hiley, JosephOsborn, John (Hallam)
Body, RichardHill, J. E. B.Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)
Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir EdwardHolland, PhilipPeyton, John
Brewis, JohnHooson, EmlynPike, Miss Mervyn
Brinton, Sir TattonHornby, RichardPink, R. Bonner
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)Howell, David (Guildford)Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch
Bruce-Gardyne, J.Hunt, JohnPym, Francis
Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus, N & M)Hutchison, Michael ClarkRenton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Bullus, Sir EricJenkin, Patrick (Woodford)Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Chichester-Clark, R.Jennings, J. C. (Burton)Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
Clark, HenryJohnston, Russell (Inverness)Scott, Nicholas
Clegg, WalterJopling, MichaelScott-Hopkins, James
Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne)Kershaw, AnthonyShaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Davidson, James (Aberdeenshire, W.)Kimball, MarcusSilvester, Frederick
Dean, PaulKing, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)Speed, Keith
Dodds-Parker, DouglasKing, TomSteel, David (Roxburgh)
Doughty, CharlesKnight, Mrs. JillStodart, Anthony
Drayson, G. B.Langford-Holt, Sir JohnStoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.
Eden, Sir JohnLawler, WallaceSummers, Sir Spencer
Emery, PeterLegge-Bourke, Sir HarryTaylor, Edward M.(G'gow, Cathcart)
Evans, Gwynfor (C'marthen)Lubbock, EricTaylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Fortescue, TimMcAdden, Sir StephenTemple, John M.
Foster, Sir JohnMacArthur, IanTilney, John
Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)Mackenzie, Alasdair (Ross&Crom'ty)Waddington, David
Glover, Sir DouglasMaclean, Sir FitzroyWainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B.McMaster, StanleyWalters, Dennis
Goodhart, PhilipMcNair-Wilson, MichaelWard, Dame Irene
Grant, AnthonyMcNair-Wilson, Patrick (NewForest)Weatherill, Bernard
Grant-Ferris, Sir RobertMaxwell-Hyslop, R. J.Wiggin, Jerry
Gurden, HaroldMaydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.Williams, Donald (Dudley)
Hall, John (Wycombe)Mills, Peter (Torrington)Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Winstanley, Dr. M. P.Worsley, MarcusTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Wolrige-Gordon, PatrickWright, EsmondMr. Timothy Kitson and
Woodnutt, MarkWylie, N. R.Mr. Hector Monro.
Albu, AustenGray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth)Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)Gregory, ArnoldMoyle, Roland
Archer, Peter (R'wley Regis & Tipt'n)Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside)Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Armstrong, ErnestGriffiths, Will (Exchange)Murray, Albert
Ashton, Joe (Bassetlaw)Hamilton, William (Fife, W.)Newens, Stan
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.)Hamling, WilliamNorwood, Christopher
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham)Harper, JosephOgden, Eric
Bagier, Gordon A. T.Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)O'Malley, Brian
Beaney, AlanHaseldine, NormanOram, Bert
Bence, CyrilHazell, BertOrme, Stanley
Bidwell, SydneyHenig, StanleyOswald, Thomas
Blackburn, F.Herbison, Rt. Hn. MargaretPage, Derek (King's Lynn)
Blenkinsop, ArthurHooley, FrankPalmer, Arthur
Booth, AlbertHorner, JohnPark, Trevor
Boston, TerenceHowarth, Robert (Bolton, E.)Parker, John (Dagenham)
Boyden, JamesHoy, Rt. Hn. JamesParkyn, Brian (Bedford)
Bray, Dr. JeremyHuckfield, LesliePearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)
Brooks, EdwinHughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey)Pentland, Norman
Brown, Bob(N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.)Hughes, Roy (Newport)Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)
Buchan, NormanHunter, AdamPrice, William (Rugby)
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn)Hynd, JohnProbert, Arthur
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)Irvine, Rt. Hn. Sir ArthurRandall, Harry
Callaghan, Rt. Hn. JamesJeger, Mrs. Lena (H'b'n&St. P'cras, S.)Rhodes, Geoffrey
Cant, R. B.Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)Richard, Ivor
Coleman, DonaldJones, Dan (Burnley)Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Conlan, BernardJones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West)Roberts, Rt. Hn. Goronwy
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)Kelley, RichardRogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Crawshaw, RichardKenyon, CliffordRose, Paul
Darling, Rt. Hn. GeorgeKerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham)Ross, Rt. Hn. William
Davidson, Arthur (Accrington)Kerr, Russell (Feltham)Rowlands, E.
Davies, E. Hudson (Conway)Lawson, GeorgeRyan, John
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)Leadbitter, TedShore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)
Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford)Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton)Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N. E.)
Davies, Rt. Hn. Harold (Leek)Lee, John (Reading)Sillars, J.
Davies, Ifor (Gower)Lestor, Miss JoanSilverman, Julius
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)Slater, Joseph
Diamond, Rt. Hn. JohnLyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)Snow, Julian
Dobson, RayMabon, Dr. J. DicksonSpriggs, Leslie
Doig, PeterMcCann, JohnSteele, Thomas (Dunbartonshire, W.)
Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e)MacDermot, NiallThornton, Ernest
Eadie, AlexMacdonald, A. H.Tinn, James
Edwards, Robert (Bilston)McElhone, FrankVarley, Eric G.
Edwards, William (Merioneth)McGuire, MichaelWainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Ellis, JohnMackie, JohnWalker, Harold (Doncaster)
Ennals, DavidMcMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)Wallace, George
Evans, Ioan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley)McNamara, J. KevinWatkins, David (Consett)
Faulds, AndrewMacPherson, MalcolmWatkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor)
Fernyhough, E.Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)Wellbeloved, James
Finch, HaroldMahon, Simon (Bootle)Whitlock, William
Fitch, Alan (Wigan)Mapp, CharlesWilley, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Fitt, Gerard (Belfast, W.)Marks, KennethWilliams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)Marquand, DavidWillis, Rt. Hn. George
Forrester, JohnMellish, Rt. Hn. RobertWilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Fowler, GerryMendelson, JohnWoodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Fraser, John (Norwood)Millan, Bruce
Galpern, Sir MyerMiller, Dr. M. S.TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Gardner, TonyMitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test)Mr. James Hamilton and
Garrett, W. E.Molloy, WilliamMr. J. D. Concannon.
Golding, John