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Rent (Agriculture) (Scotland)

Volume 35: debated on Wednesday 19 January 1983

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3.47 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide security of tenure for tenants of agricultural tied cottages in Scotland.
A farm worker and his family in Scotland have no legal right to a roof over their heads. If the farm worker ceases to work on the farm, through ill health or retirement or as a result of a dispute with the farmer, the farmer has a right to secure vacant possession of the cottage. It is true that he must go to court to obtain an eviction, but in practice it is automatic. The farmer's motives are irrelevant. The farmer's intentions for the cottage are also irrelevant—whether he needs it for another farm worker, wants to sell it, let it as a second home or allow it to stand empty. It is an elementary act of social justice that that fundamental insecurity should be ended.

The purpose of the Bill is to give tenants of agricultural tied cottages broadly the same security of tenure as other tenants under the Rent Acts. It often makes sense for a farm worker to live in a cottage on a farm. In remote parts of Scotland there is little alternative for the shepherd or other workers but to live on a farm.

When a farm worker ceases to work on a farm, he may no longer wish to continue living in his tied cottage. He may wish to move into alternative accommodation in a nearby village provided by the council. The Bill will impose on local housing authorities the obligation to provide alternative accommodation where there is a genuine need for a cottage for an incoming worker.

The farmer would no longer be able to secure vacant possession automatically. The only arguments relevant to securing possession would be those related to the housing needs of the ex-worker and his family.

The Rent (Agriculture) Act 1976 provides security of tenure for farm workers and their families in England and Wales. As with all reforms of this nature, that measure was opposed by the Conservative party and by the National Farmers Union. The present position has worked well. It has been accepted by the National Farmers Union, and the Government have acknowledged that there is no need to alter it.

During the proceedings on the legislation, there were many scare stories about the implications for the practical working of our farms and the efficiency of British agriculture.

Where the agricultural dwelling house advisory committee recommends that a tied cottage is needed for an incoming worker, an obligation is put on the local authority to provide alternative accommodation. The legislation has worked very well. It abolished the insecurity and at the same time enabled a sensible arrangement to be reached between farm workers and farmers.

It may be argued that the legislation is not necessary because evictions from tied cottages are now relatively rare in Scotland. Evictions are the tip of the iceberg. The fundamental issue is that the farm worker and his family, or his widow, have no security to the roof over their heads. The question is not whether farmers are good or bad landlords. Most farmers are pretty good landlords. The issue is that the right of a farm worker and his family, or his widow, to the roof over their heads should not depend upon the benevolence of a good employer. That is why the Labour party, when it attains office, is committed to abolishing the insecurity of the agricultural tied cottage in Scotland. I hope this House will give leave to bring in this measure as an elementary act of social justice.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Gavin Strang, Miss Joan Maynard, Mr. John Home Robertson, Mr. Dennis Canavan, Mr. George Foulkes, Mr. William McKelvey, Mr. Martin O'Neill and Mr. Norman Buchan.

Rent (Agriculture) (Scotland)

Mr. Gavin Strang accordingly presented a Bill to provide security for tenants of agricultural tied cottages in Scotland: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 18 March and to be printed. [Bill 57.]