HC Deb 17 April 1923 vol 162 cc1885-7

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to regulate the leisure time allowed to farm servants in Scotland; and for other purposes connected therewith. This Bill, like the Measure which has just been presented to the House, is for the purpose of helping industrial peace, and I hope that it will meet with the same success. The object of the Bill is to make statutory a Saturday half holiday for the Scottish agricultural workers. Ample and adequate provision will be ma de for the feeding of livestock and for the suspension of the half holiday during seed and harvest time. As the result of organisation and of goodwill on the part of the employing community, we have been able to get the Saturday half holiday for Scottish agricultural workers in several districts of Scotland, and it has been found to be of immense advantage. Unfortunately, that voluntary effort has not been as successful as many of us wish. It has been unsuccessful in making the privilege universal throughout Scotland. At the present time, owing to the serious situation in which we find agriculture, many re-arrangements are taking place, and there is a tendency, even on the part of those employers who have goodwill towards their employés, to take advantage of the situation and take away some of those privileges that have been gined since 1914. The farmer who is not well-disposed towards his employés seeks to take an unfair advantage of the present industrial situation. The Bill would make uniform the granting of the Saturday half-holiday or its equivalent under guarantee by Statute to agricul tural labourers, and there would be at least one half-day per week for recreative, social, and educational purposes. It would save the not too well-disposed employer from himself, and that is one of the purposes of good legislation, and it would protect the well-disposed farmer. I must say that in my own constituency I have a good many farmers who are well disposed towards their employés, and it would save them from the unfair competition of the not too well-disposed farmers. Agriculture to-day is in a deplorable state, wages are falling, and I suggest that the better industrial conditions we can give the better chance there will be of getting men to stop on the land and getting men to come back to the land. As the result of industrial effort, the farm workers have gained some privileges, and I am suggesting by this Bill that the House should guarantee some of those industrial conditions which they have been able to gain.

I am particularly interested in education—it may be because I got so little of it and because, consequently, I can estimate the value that it would have been to me if I had received it—and in a special way I am interested in agricultural education, being the convener of the Agricultural Education Committee for the county from which I come. I suggest that to make success in agricultural education doubly assured it is necessary that this Hill should not only receive approval on introduction, but should pass into law. All agricultural workers who are desirous of benefiting by the opportunities for education ought to have the advantage of getting that education, and they can only get it if there be uniformity so far as the half-day holiday is concerned. It would allow the education authorities to provide at the minimum expense the education necessary for adults in rural areas. It will be admitted that we require some education in the science of agriculture. We require to give every possible opportunity in our rural districts for the teaching and accepting of the teaching of the science of agriculture. We want to see these opportunities developed in such a way that they will benefit the agricultural labourer, and that can only be secured if we guarantee him a weekly half-holiday. I suggest that the farm labourer and his wife, owing to the monotony of their lives in connection with the industry and in the localities in which they live, ought to have an opportunity once a week of visiting a village or township so that they can enjoy that social life for which common humanity craves in the rural districts just as much as in the big industrial areas. The younger generation of agricultural workers ought to be given an opportunity for recreation. It is the duty of everyone in this House so far as possible to make agriculture and the rural districts more attractive. This Bill takes only a very small step forward in that direction, but every step which can be taken ought to be taken to retain men on the land, and to attract to the land still larger numbers of our population. This Bill would preserve by legislation privileges which have been gained by industrial organisation, and in the interests of social life in the rural areas, and, above all, in the interests of education, I hope that the House will give me permission to bring in this Bill to legalise the Saturday half-holiday for the agricultural labourers of Scotland.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Westwood, Mr. William Adamson, Mr. James Brown, Mr. Thomas Johnston, Mr. Robert Murray, Mr. Nichol, and Mr. William Watson.