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Tied Cottages

Volume 884: debated on Thursday 23 January 1975

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has had from farmers and farming organisations on the subject of tied cottages; and whether he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. Gavin Strang)

The National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers has urged upon my right hon. Friend the need for early action to implement the Government's pledge to abolish the tied cottage system in agriculture. He has also received representations from the National Farmers' Union, the Country Landowners' Association and from some farmers expressing concern about the Government's intentions here.

May I inform the Minister that the farmers in my constituency—[Hon. Members: "Question."]

Order. The hon. Member may not "inform" the Minister of anything at Question Time.

Is the Minister aware that I and farmers in my constituency are extremely concerned about the Government's intentions in this matter? This is a very complex issue which has ramifications going far beyond agriculture and involves tied accommodation in many other sectors. Before action of any kind is contemplated, will the Government consider setting up a full-scale independent inquiry of a fact-finding nature into this matter, perhaps along the lines of the O'Brien Committee, whose report the House approved last week despite the fact that the Minister was so shamefully deserted by many of his Cabinet colleagues?

No, I should be against an independent inquiry. We are concerned specifically with the issue of the agricultural tied cottage. I acknowledge that some farmers are concerned about some of the implications of this reform, and we shall be having discussions with the NFU. I would hope, however, that the hon. Gentleman would also listen to the views of the agricultural workers in his constituency on this issue.

Does my hon. Friend accept that the tied cottage system has been an intolerable burden on farm workers and their families? [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."]. This is an important part of the Labour Party's election promise and should be implemented as quickly as possible.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is tremendous strength of feeling on this issue within the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers. The Government intend to fulfil the pledge they gave in two manifestos last year.

Is the Minister aware that the continuation of the tied cottage system is most important, particularly for farmers in the dairy industry? Is he also aware that I represent a fair number of dairy farmers in my constituency and that I have never had one complaint from any agricultural worker about the tied cottage system? Will he tell the House what is the difference, if there be one in kind, between the tied cottage for the agricultural worker and the tied cottage for the headmaster, the tied cottage for the policeman or the tied cottage for the railway employee?

I cannot really accept that in practice a headmaster is in a similar position to a farm worker on this issue. But I acknowledge that when we come to implement this reform we must look at all aspects, including the question of dairy farming and farming in remote areas.