§ Lords Amendment:
§ In page 11, line 23, after the word "worker" insert the words "who has attained the age of twenty-one years and".3007
§ Mr. BUXTON
I beg to move, "That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment." This is a matter largely of administrative feasibility. There are a great many people who are efficient and capable at 20, or even 19, years of age, and it would not be at all fair to exclude these men from the benefit of the scheme. It is a fact that under the Corn Production Act., the Committee fixed rates associated with various ages, and these Committees will take advantage of their local knowledge in fixing the age. This, I think, is a matter that is rightly left to local discretion to a very considerable degree. The question of laying down a rigid standard, I think, has been debated in another place with some lack of full investigation and realisation of all the arguments. To lay down a standard would not be of assistance and would, in many cases, mislead. Therefore, we must certainly disagree with this Amendment.
§ 7.0 P.M.
I do not quite understand this, and I am not quite satisfied with the point the right hon. Gentleman has developed. As I understand the position, the Bill gives power to Committees to lay down minimum rates for workers. It says nothing, as far as I can see in the Bill, to suggest that they should not fix the rate for a boy of 14 as for an able-bodied man of 25. That is obviously not what the Bill means. There seems to be a very astonishing doctrine in legislation which suggests that we should rely entirely in these matters of legal definition on the construction which the Committee may, or may not, place on the Bill. What would happen under this Clause as it stands is that, if a farmer or a committee did not fix a separate rate for boys, as they are not bound to do under the Bill, and if a farmer wants to pay a boy of 14 or 15 less than he would pay an able-bodied man, he has to get a permit for every single boy all over the committee's area. That is obviously an absurd position, and I think that logically follows from the Bill as it stands. It may be that the other place fixed the age too high when they said 21, but I believe that under the Corn Production Act—the hon. Gentleman opposite who had experience on the wages board will know—there were some 3008 regulations by which 21 was taken as the age. If that is too high I would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether he could not take 18, and if by taking 18 he would not make the Bill more watertight and satisfactory from the drafting point of view. With regard to all those small Amendments I hope he will not think that the agreement which he and we arrived at has the effect of making the Bill a verbally inspired Bill at every point and that no comma or stop can be altered. That was never present in my mind.
Here, again, the wording is taken from the old Act and there was no fixed age then. Therefore, if no difficulty arose in administering the Act during those four years, I do not think it is likely that the difficulties that the right hon. Gentleman has indicated will arise on this occasion. What will happen in practice will be this. The different committees will fix the age at which what will be the man's wage will be offered, and then a graduated rate will be established downwards from that point. The objection to 21 being in the Bill is that in certain parts of the country, perhaps where arable farming is carried on mostly, it is quite well known that young lads of 19 and 20 do a full man's work. They do ploughing, and I think perhaps with the exception of corn carrying they do practically every operation on the farm. Therefore, it would be unfair to put in the Bill a limitation which, if the Committee wish, might allow the man's wage to have application to lads of 19 or 20 or whatever age they might decide. The House will rest assured there will be no higher age than 21. That is the age which has always been considered. It may be in other parts of the country, where stock farming is carried on, that young lads are not looked upon as being as capable workers as in other respects. I am rather surprised that my right hon. Friend should raise this point with a view to putting rigidity in the Bill. The attitude from that side has always been to trust the local committee. What we are asking the House to do in disagreeing with this Amendment is to leave these things to the discretion of the committee, and then they can make orders to meet the exigencies of the case. I do not think there is the slightest danger of anything taking place as he suggests of 3009 every individual case of a youth or young person being brought up for the purpose of a permit. Scales of wages can be just as well fixed under this as under the old scale. The matter should be left to the discretion of the local committee.
I only want to make it quite plain to the hon. Gentleman that he has not understood the point, with all respect to him, because he knows as well as I do that we are anxious to leave all possible discretion to the committees. What gives rise to the whole difficulty is when you put this definition of the able-bodied man side by side with Sub-section (4) of Clause 2. It says: "In fixing minimum rates a committee shall, so far as practicable, secure for able-bodied men such wages as in the opinion of the committee are adequate to promote efficiency and to enable a man in an ordinary case to maintain himself and his family in accordance with such standard of comfort as may be reasonable in relation to the nature of his occupation." An able-bodied man is defined as being any male worker. That means a boy of 14. That means that the wages of a boy of 14 are to be applicable to enable that boy to maintain himself and his family in efficiency. That is absurdly bad drafting. I only regret that the hon. Gentleman's knowledge of drafting is not equal to his great knowledge of agriculture.
§ Lords Amendment:
§ In page 11, line 23, leave out from "incapable" to "off" in line 25.
I beg to move, "That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment."
This has a bearing on the question of the granting of permits, and therefore, perhaps, is of greater importance than may appear. These conditions set out here form the basis on which the Committee may grant a permit of a lower rate of wages. Here again we have followed the line of experience which proved very satisfactory, and I would like to suggest to the House to leave this question open merely that the word "incapable" is going to place the labourer in many instances at a great disadvantage. There 3010 should be a limit at which permits can be applied for and granted. There you have the terms wide enough surely to satisfy any reasonable question. It must be an infirmity. It must be something that takes away from the labourer his capacity as a worker. "Incapable " may be argued that he is just a shade below in skill as a worker, yet he would be performing tasks that an ordinary labourer would be called upon to perform, and possibly performing them just as well. We ask the House to disagree with the Lords.
§ Mr. FOOT
The difficulty I have is in following the hon. Gentleman in the importance he attaches to this definition. I think the special permit was quite covered by Clause 2, Sub-section (3) of the Bill. Clause 2, Sub-section (3) does deal with the permit given to the worker who is below the normal, and the words are there retained—…. is so affected by any physical injury or mental deficiency or any infirmity due to age or to any other cause.These words, I understand, have been untouched in another place. There is an advantage in keeping the same words in the definition as in the earlier section, but I do not think it is worth while insisting upon it. I do not think it will affect Section 2 in the slightest. I do not think any workman can be in the slightest influenced by it. The hon. Member may know that very little importance was attached to this definition by his spokesman in another place. He himself said here: "I do not think any committee would regard such a boy as an, able-bodied man." Speaking further on this definition, he said: "I do not think it means any difference…the definition will be just as well as it is before."
§ Lords Amendment:
In page 12, line 9, at the end, insert the following new Sub-section:
(2) For the purpose of this Act the Scilly Isle shall be deemed to be a county, and the area comprising the Ulverston Rural District and the Grange, Ulverston and Dalton-in-Furness Urban Districts shall, if the Minister so directs, be deemed to be a detached part of the County of Lancaster.
§ Mr. BUXTON
I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."
It is necessary to keep it in order in regard to the working of the Schedule. As these areas must be classed as counties this Amendment is necessary.