HC Deb 02 June 1924 vol 174 cc911-1035

Orders for Second Reading read.


I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

The Bill which I now ask the House to give a Second Reading deals with a blot on the social state of rural England— probably the most beautiful country in the world—which I think we all admit ought to be removed. You have conditions of dire poverty which must be removed. Perhaps I shall do best by taking hon. Members straight to the heart of the question, and dealing with the realities of the condition of the worker on the land. The other day I was taking a walk in the country with a parson, and I took the opportunity of suggesting to him that as we visited the various farm labourers he should lead the conversation so as to instruct me in the conditions in that part of the world—in which by the way I do not live. It is quite a common thing when you enter a farm labourer's house to find—certainly with people of the length of myself—considerable difficulty in entering. The rooms generally are not those in which you can easily stand up. That, I say, is not an uncommon feature in any part of our own old rural England. The height very often justifies the old joke that one has heard about the labourer who said that he was going to invite a friend to a meal, but as the ceiling was so low they would have to have flat fish.

I want, however, to bring the minds of hon. Members to the real condition which now characterises in a marked degree our agricultural population. There was a particular case of quite an average farm labourer—not at all an abnormal case—a man with four children—two at home. The general conversation turned upon the food the children got before they went to school in the morning. We were told they got bread and some cheese. I asked what they took to school for lunch. I was told they took bread and a bit of cheese. Then we asked what they had for their high tea before they went to bed. We were told that again they got bread and again a little cheese. They did not get any butter at all. This was their invariable food day after day. These facts are highly relevant to the Bill which we have before us because they are a general feature of the situation. These people make no complaint. There is not much waste of words with them. What they have to say they say with extraordinary directness, and because of their daily hard experience of life the farm labourer and his wife will tell you in a perfectly natural way that the children have got no more than what I have just said.

4.0 P.M.

Again, in the matter of clothes. It is quite common that the purchase of a new suit or a new frock is quite unknown in the history of the younger members of the family, and such clothes as may be considered adequate for the children are commonly made by the mother out of material which she gets from a jumble sale. On this prosaic and unromantic foundation our rural life has developed and is developing. When you come to the hygienic aspect of the business there is a very serious side to it. There is not a decrease but an increase of tuberculosis in the villages. When you put these things together—I do not want to exaggerate at all—I do not think I could give out any sob stuff even if I tried—I merely want to describe the realities of the situation—they cannot be described in any other way, or in any weaker words, than by saying it is intolerable. There might be much stronger words used. Therefore you have got to produce some such Measure as this to deal with the situation, and some such Bill as this is an imperative need. and is in no sense of the term a window-dressing Measure. It is a Measure which would be brought in if this country were ruled by an autocratic Government perfectly indifferent to votes, and one that considered only the necessities of the case. The curious thing is that all the time the value of that which the farm labourer produces is very high. It would be quite a good standard for any of us to set ourselves when we wonder, as we often do, whether our work is worth what we think it is. At all events, that is how the matter appears to me. The labourer's work is worth much more than he gets for it. It is not exaggerating to say that this feature of our life constitutes an open sore in the body politic. I propose by this Bill to apply to agriculture the principle of a national minimum standard of life which is now 15 years old in the legislative life of this country. The Trade, Boards Act came into operation in 1909. Eleven years ago this question of rural wages was raised, and I am told that I was one of the first to raise the proposal of the minimum wage. That is certainly untrue, because the proposal was raised, and very much debated, about the year 1810. But in recent times it was raised, markedly in 1913, by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and others. Then, in 1917, the principle was applied to agriculture, and for the first time the labourers in the years that followed 1917 had enough to eat. Let us now briefly recall what happened. The Act was repealed, the Wages Board falling in the process, and it was, I think, nothing less than a blatant political expedient, constituting what you might call a bribe to the farmers to accept the abolition of guaranteed prices for wheat and oats.

After that we tried conciliation committees, but there was rapid relapse and chaos, and now everybody thinks that some further action must be taken, not because their votes in Committee or the House will be known in their divisions, but because they see the merits of the case. Hon. Members in every part of the House have admitted that something has to be done, as I have noticed in every agricultural debate that we have had, even when the subject was so far removed as animal diseases. The national conscience is genuinely stirred on the subject. The conciliation committees have become a fraud and are not dealing with the settlement of the wage question. Last year the uneasiness felt by the then Government was reflected in the letter which Sir Robert Sanders, in the autumn, sent to the conciliation committees pointing out what had been done for the farmers by the Agricultural Rates Act, and that he had promised in the House that the effect would be seen in wages. If the conciliation committees had been effective, it would have been apparent. It is not now the time to apportion, praise or blame; it is for us to consider only what ought to be done. To go to a little further into the conditions, the main fact is the helplessness of the labourers, by collective bargaining, to get their rights. I cannot do better than quote one who is a veteran in this business, the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. G. Edwards), who put it in as few words as anyone could do. He said: Forty years' experience Las convinced me that the labourers cannot get a living wage by trade union methods alone. The difficulties of organisation are so great that we cannot get our organisation strong enough to enforce it. There you have one of the main conditions. You have also a very serious feature in depopulation. Hon. Members opposite have frequently pointed to the fall in rural population that has taken place in recent times. What is one of the great causes of this fall? We have only to read the Report of the Tribunal issued last week. It points out that one of the great causes of migration from the country is low wages. That, at all events, is something to remember when you forecast conditions which may cause depopulation. It is because the wage has been too low. The labourers, and especially the best of them, go away, and you have now a very serious shortage of good-class skilled labourers in many parts. The "Lincoln Mercury" in a recent number had no less than 89 advertisements for stockmen and other farm hands, showing a very abnormal shortage. Meanwhile, you have the experience of the trade boards. They have shown that under-paying—call it sweating if you like—is not a profitable thing.

Another great feature, to which I remember the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs calling attention, is the extraordinary variation that you get between wages in one county and another, and even between one district and another district. You get; some farmers, where the rate generally is very low, paying fairly good wages, and the highest honour is due to those farmers who have done their best to pay good wages, who have exercised both wisdom and humanity in doing so, and who very often have incurred a certain amount of unpopularity with their neighbours because they have done so. There have been farmers who have tried all along to do their duty and to keep on men in bad times, and all of us would like to do them honour. But the standard wage, in spite of that, is settled by the inefficient men, and that is wrong. I might give the House one or two figures as to underpaying. The proportion of men in areas where the normal rate is under 30s.—the figures do not exactly distinguish the number of men who get that rate, but where the labourers' rate is given as less than 30s.—is about 68 per cent, of the total adult male workers. The proportion of those who get only 25s. is 23 per cent.

Colonel ASHLEY

Does the right hon. Gentleman refer to cash or cash and benefit? Is it the cash wage?


Yes, it is the cash wage. In winter, where the rate is 6d. per hour and therefore the pay nominally is 24s., it has really been 23s. 7d. That wage prevails in the great part of the Eastern Counties and some other parts. This means something very serious from the housewife's point of view. It means in ever so many cases that the money available for a meal in an ordinary family is only 1½d. per head. A very well known authority on the value of food needed for a child, Miss Rathbone, puts the weekly cost at 6s. 1½d., but it is common enough that no more than 3s. is available for the food of each member of the family. I wonder how these people regard the matter if they hear that there are some of us who go to Wembley and pay 7s. 6d. for tea? It is, of course, a mystery how these people live. Hon. Members may say that you cannot provide wages for the period of life which is the hardest when the children are all not earning money, and that you must provide for the average, but if you do not provide for those critical and expensive periods of life it means either that there is underfeeding or else that there is borrowing. It is, no doubt, quite a common practice for labourers to live on tick for that period and for the tradesmen to trust to the probability of getting paid in future years. There are undoubtedly housewives who themselves go hungry for the sake of the children, and there are men who deny themselves a great many things that they want.

The irony of it all is, that you have these people producing meat and producing butter, and they have none for themselves or their children. The other day I met a labourer in the South-west, whose children were grown up, and who made a common practice of giving 4s. per week to his brother-in-law, who had seven children and could not possibly get food for them without a dole from his neighbour of that kind. The standard, undoubtedly, is below that of pre-War. A wage of 28s. is an increase of about 55 per cent, on the pre-War figure, but the cost of living is up considerably more than that. No one will say that the pre-War figure was too high. Indeed, I cannot do better than quote an hon. and learned Member, the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Sir L. Scott), who was Chairman of the Unionist Social Reform Committee in 1913, and who, in the Report, wrote: In many counties the great majority of labourers are ill-educated and ill-fed. It therefore becomes necessary to establish some means of raising wages to a subsistence level in order that the labourer and his family may be adequately nourished. The most practical method of raising wages would be the establishment of agricultural wages boards. Hon. Members say that on the benches behind me there is not sufficient understanding of the country and that the country is understood a great deal better on the benches opposite. I must say that I lived in the country for many years and thought that I understood the state of things. I saw the beaters out shooting and thought they looked all right. They showed extraordinary energy in getting through a cover even on a wet day, and when you let them take a rabbit home they seemed very cheerful. But you may know the country very well and not realise anything about the conditions in which the people or their children live. I have had rather an advantage in studying how the people live. I have, with a friend, occupied a cottage which normally would be a farm labourer's cottage. I must say that for a party of two or three men it makes a good camping ground, but I should be very sorry to have my family in such tight quarters, and I should undoubtedly say that it would be very unhealthy for them. However well you may know the country or much as you may have lived in it, you have to use your imagination to realise how rural life looks to these people. It is because we have had to exercise our imagination about the matter recently that there is a consensus of opinion on all sides that something must be done, and no one will be better pleased than myself if we can get an agreed Bill. I have been at some pains to get one or two budgets of farm labourers' families whom I know, and one of them would interest the House. There are five children, from two to 11, and the exact figures of the weekly expenses have been got out. They are people who live in quite a good house, and they pay 3s. 9d. per week for it.


Can the right hon. Gentleman say in what county that is?


In Norfolk, where, of course, this rent is higher than that commonly paid. I notice there is one luxury put down. It is 6d. for six copies of the "Daily Herald."

Lieut.-Colonel Sir F. HALL

Did you advise that they should be put in the budget?


No. I do not know whether it is looked upon as a luxury or a necessity. The budget continues. One-and-a-half lbs. of margarine, no butter, although it is needed, 2s. 9d. for meat (only pieces), and 7s. for flour. That appears to be a very large item, but I think the return to home baking and British flour is a very good move that might be set going. This is a case where, as the woman bakes, 7s. represents the consumption of bread. Sugar only 3½ lbs. Milk, 1 pint each per week and that skim milk at 1d. per pint. I am told that my children are supplied with a pint a day. These children have to put up with a pint of skim milk a week! Then rent, insurance, clothes, candles, oil, soap, and coal take up 9s., leaving 15s. 10d. for food, or three farthings per meal. I can give other budgets. They are all on the same lines, but many show that the people must run into debt in order to get along. Why should people of this kind be driven to borrowing, or to charity, or to the vile alternative of underfeeding? There was a very interesting report on the subject by the late Mr. Wilson Fox, where it showed that the proportion of bread to the general items in 1902 was 20 per cent. Now it appears that owing to having to pinch and screw it is 50 per cent. I am told that in many normal households 19s. is the maximum that can be found for food, and that gives an average of under ld. per meal per person. There is not much room for luxuries in those houses—no chance of an orange for the children, which doctors say is of great importance. Can we feel that such a state of things can be tolerated?

It seems to me that the sacrifices which the man himself is called upon to make are such as I would not care to make. He has either to deny his children food or deny himself tobacco. I know many cases where a man has not had a pipe per week, and he badly wants it. I can only say that the man who denies himself his pipe is a hero of the first water. There is another fact which tells, and that is the prevalence of sub-normal wages. Hon. Members will recollect that I mentioned a case recently of wages down to a pound per week. I found from inquiries of the Inspector to the Ministry that these cases are much more common than I thought they were, and the stir caused led to some branches of the Farmers' Union turning their indignation from me to certain local farmers who were paying, not one man, but several men at £1 per week. I am bound to say that they have brought many of these cases up to the normal level, and there has been a rise of wages on account of that discussion. That is the most cogent case for the Bill. You want a Bill to protect the good farmer against the blackleg farmer who brings discredit on the name. There is one other feature which has lately caused a trouble that did not exist three years ago. Wet days have become very general, and quite a number of labourers have gone home with less than £1 per week. Our inspector reported one case where, since January, a man supposed to be in regular pay has got down to 14s. 6d., and in no week has he gone above 24s.


Does all this apply to Norfolk?


No, it applies to a number of counties, more than I thought when I first read the report. I hope that many of these scandalous cases have been removed. To sum up this matter of the conditions of labour, there is a very interesting quotation from Richard Jefferies of which I think the House would like to be reminded. Jefferies said that if in front of the farm labourer could be piled up all the work he had done in his life, what a huge pyramid it would make, and then if it were possible to place before him all the rewards of his life's work, they could be held in a clenched hand, like a nut, so that nobody could see them. When you have a man who if he loses his job loses his house, you have not that state of freedom which at all events my Liberal friends would like to see. If we can secure no more than decent food and clothes for these people we shall have performed only our first obligation to them. It was no exaggeration when Cardinal Manning, after living among farm workers in the South of England, said: The land question means hunger, thirst, nakedness, notice to quit, labour spent in vain, the toil of years seized upon, the breaking up of homes, the misery of parents, children and wives; the despair and wildness that springs up in the hearts of the poor when legal force, like a sharp arrow, goes over the most sensitive and vital lights of mankind. He summarises the situation in a way which nobody will say is intentionally untrue. What are we going to do to put it right? You must regulate. Low wages are uneconomic. Labour is not a paying proposition unless it is paid well. Several farmers have been writing to the papers lately saying their experience is that if you pay well you do better. Farmers from Surrey and from Horsham have written interesting letters in the Press in that sense. It is generally admitted, since the report of the Archbishop's committee, that wages ought to be a first charge on industry. Can you have this in agriculture? Most countries in Europe do in some way regulate their agricultural wages. You have to protect the farmer; he has too great a responsibility in these days. You have to protect the owner, too. I have been myself an owner in a small way. In good times the owner of the farm got too much rent, which was partly due to the prevalence of extremely low wages. It is not easy for the owner to know what is being done on his land. I have attempted to deal with this question by telling my tenant that I want decent wages to be paid, and if it is impossible to do it at the present rent he should come to me and discuss the rent with me. That is not an easy thing. I would rather have a system which guaranteed us against these low wages. It was a blot on the cheerful pages of the ownership of land in the Seventies, when the fine rents obtained especially in the Eastern Counties were really due to the shocking wags paid in those days. If you admit that the wages are too low and that collective bargaining would be the right thing you can try to use the conciliation system. We have had 63 conciliation committees. There are 13 only with agreements now in force. At the best only 11 were legalised. There are now none legalised. It is not for want of persuasion by the Ministry. Agreements were short. There were appeals made to the conciliations committee to be active, but you must remember that conciliation committees cannot work unless you have a very strong union. If you have a good organisation you can have collective bargaining, but it is difficult to get. I do not know whether the farmers prefer to have really strong organisations and effective collective bargaining. I had a hand myself 20 years ago in helping to organise branches of the Workers' Union. I did not find that the farmers liked it at all. They were more angry with me about that then than they are now.

There is another system—the trade boards system. I do not know whether the House would prefer that. There are 44 trade boards controlling 330,000 employers and covering 2,500,000 workmen. The Report of the Cave Committee says that the trade board has stopped sweating, protected good employers, increased production and decreased distrust on both sides. My experience of the agricultural wages board was that it very much improved the relations of both sides while it lasted, in the parts I knew. It is, after all, the normal way of dealing with this question. If the House prefers to deal with it by trade boards, well and good. It does not represent one-sided control. It represents only bare justice, and we have been told there is no reason why any trade should be exempted from the application of its provisions. Then there was the Prothero system, the system of the Corn Production Act, from which we gained considerable experience. Looking at that. experience, and at the conciliation system, and the trade board system. I maintain that what we are proposing to the House, as seen in the Bill, represents an improvement resulting from experience. It is a more localised system than the Corn Production Act system. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Yes, a good deal more, I am told that it is an optical delusion, but that is not so. The local committees have power to fix wages. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Not only have they power to fix wages, but also the hours and other conditions included in the Bill.

There will be equal representatives of both sides and a chairman. When you come to consider the proposal more closely I would like to ask will you compel your local authority to come to a decision, which might be a very awkward thing for the chairman, or will you allow it to appeal to London, as will be done if you do not get agreement between the representatives of the two sides. The normal thing under the Bill would be local fixation, but you must allow for cases in which no agreement is come to and for cases where the agreement is not in accordance with the general idea of the Bill. You need it for default, and you will have great difficulty in many counties in finding the man who will have the confidence of both sides and who is willing to stand the racket of being shot at severely for his support of one side or other. The Farmers' Union and the Central Landowners' Association want registered agreements, but you must see first that there is some agreement reached, and I do not see how you can guarantee that without some central authority. The standard is the same as under the Corn Production Act.

Another question is that of a fixed figure. and there will be great disappointment in some parts of the country if there is no fixed figure in the That would be very difficult to apply with changing prices, and the workers are divided on the subject of a fixed figure. You must enforce the Bill and these agreements by penalties, but if you tell me that a farm labourer is to prosecute his employer, come out into the open, and take proceedings himself, then the thing is laughable, and you must give him some backing and help justice to be obtained. The former Agricultural Wages Board received some 10,000 complaints, but they only prosecuted in 340 cases, and yet £40,000 worth of arrears of wages were collected. The Minister comes in because it is not constitutional to have a wage fixing authority entirely devoid of Parliamentary authority. There are to be no hordes of inspectors under the Bill. There were 22 under the Corn Production Act, and with the experience then gained there should be fewer now. No doubt, hon. Members will raise points and objections on these matters which we will deal with later.

The agricultural tribunal is not to be ignored in connection with the Bill. The tribunal reports that these conditions are worse in some other countries, but that does not weaken the case for wage regulation in this country. They say that regulation will be needed for a long time to come because of difficulties of organisation. They say that the conditions required by the trade board system exist in agriculture and that bad farming is encouraged by uneconomic wages. If we can lift the farm labourer out of the slough in which he has been for generations that alone would justify the existence of a Labour Government. This is not the result of class feeling or of passion, but of mere reason, public economy, humanity and national health, and I hope that the Bill will get general support and will prove to be a durable charter, won by the labourers after long sacrifice. It is in the national interest to have the workers on the land contented and their children brought up in health and strength.


I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words this House, while willing to establish county wages boards, with an independent chairman and statutory powers to fix wages to be paid to agricultural workers in the area for which they are responsible, refuses to give a Second Reading of a Bill which fails to give any but advisory powers to county wages boards, and places the responsibility of fixing wages for the whole of England and Wales on a Central Wages Board and the Minister of Agriculture, neither of whom has the local knowledge to enable them to come to a just decision. I approach the consideration of this Bill as an agriculturist solely anxious to do the, best for the industry including both farmers and farm workers. In the first place, I would ask the House to consider one or two of the salient features of this industry. There are permanently employed in it something over 600,000, and in addition to that there are from 100,000 to 150,000 casual persons employed in agriculture. All these people work on about 400,000 holdings varying from one acre upwards. Every kind of work is included from the boy who begins the work of scaring birds and the woman and her family who go hop picking. The industry is, therefore, not one but many industries combined. We have got corn growing and arable cultivation which I myself regard as the backbone of the whole industry. We have got cattle breeding and cattle feeding which are both distinct, and whose interests are often diverse. We have dairy and sheep farming and pig and poultry farming, fruit farming, flower farming and market gardening. All these interests are often diverse, but there is one broad and far-reaching distinction which stands out between urban and agricultural industries, and it is that the bulk of the work and the operations in agriculture are done in the open air depending upon climate, seasons and upon the weather, whereas in the factories in the urban industries the work is done under cover by men whose labour is specialised, and where the men can work from morn till eve on the same job, where supervision is easy and the cost of the article produced is arrived at with certainty, and where men can trade on the cost of the article they produce plus a profit. No such thing is possible in agriculture, and to apply the factory system to agriculture is impossible.

I wonder why at this time it is sought to apply this most complicated system of trade boards or wages boards to one of the largest industries in the country. In answer to a question which I put to the representative of the Board of Trade, I was given a list of all the industries in the country to which wages boards have been applied, and they are all manufacturing or distributive industries. In each of these industries the men are doing specialised work and they are easily supervised. In every other big industry, so far as I know, the persons employed have always preferred direct bargaining with their employers. If my recollection serves me rightly, in the last railway strike the one boast made by Mr. Bromley, who engineered that strike, was that the strike was justified because, at any rate, he had got a decision that the machinery set up by the Railway Act, 1921, was not a wages board. At any rate, the Scottish farm workers took that view, and they believe that direct bargaining between the men and employers is by far the best system. May I ask why is it that the railway industry will not have a wages board? Why is it that the Scottish farmers are left out of this particular Bill if a trade board is so essential to them? The only reason is that the Scottish farmers and farm servants are agreed that they can make better terms in their own industry than if they came under the hampering conditions of a trade board. In both Scotland and England we have had some experience of the wages board. In 1917 Lord Ernle, in this House, introduced the Corn Production Act, which was to carry out the findings of the Milner Commission, and to bring about higher production of corn in this country by guaranteeing prices to the producers of corn, and by setting up an Agricultural Commission to stimulate that production. Before the Measure was introduced, the Minister of Agriculture pointed out that it was unfair to give guaranteed prices to the farmers without securing a better wage for the workmen. It was recognised as the right hon. Gentleman himself stated in the House, that when wages boards were applied to this industry it was avowedly a bargain made between the farmers and the workmen, and never until to-day has it ever been suggested—when profits are narrow in the extreme and of which we have heard not a single word from the Minister —by any Committee or Royal Commission or any tribunal, so far as I know, that there is any possibility of raising the workmen's wage to anything at all proportionate to that paid by the townsmen, unless we have some outside assistance in the shape of a subsidy or something of that kind. What was the result of the experience we had of the working of the wages board? We had a perfect avalanche of Orders. We had, first, an Ordinary Wage Rate Order, then we had an Overtime Rate Order, then a Special Class Wage Rate Order, a Half-Holiday Order, a Boys' Wage Rate Order, a Women and Girls' Wage Rate Order, and an Order defining permissible allowances —which are very numerous in this industry—and there was also a Rent Allowance Order.


How many were there in all?


Eight different Orders were launched on this industry in our country districts, where the men employed are not very skilful at understanding or making our, what these documents are. All that clogged the industry, and we had this experience, which burnt deeply into the hearts and minds of the men engaged in the industry, that almost all of these Orders were issued by the Central Board in London, who had no knowledge of local affairs and who rode rough-shod over any suggestions made by the local boards, and, when these Orders came to be put into operation, they were found to be not suitable In Hampshire, where they have some of the finest shepherds and sheep flocks in the country, sheep flocks were sold during that time mainly because of the difficulty and, indeed, impossibility, of the shepherds working under the Orders mat were issued. I have myself known private people who kept a pig for the purpose of using up their house and garden refuse, and who had to give up keeping their pig or their two pigs because, gardeners' wages being below stockmen's wages in that particular district, the gardener, as such, could not be employed to attend to the pigs. During those years, owing to the differentiations that were made in regard to wages, you could not, although the work of agriculture fluctuates so much, set a labourer to assist in milking, so that the whole lot could get out into the harvest field; you could not set. a labourer to attend to a horse and cart, because then he became a stockman; you could not ask a labourer, on his way home, to go into a field and look at half-a-dozen cattle and see that they were all right, because in doing so he was doing a stockman's work.

I say nothing about the increases of wages. We should all like to see the wages of farm workers raised, and no one has been trying harder than I have to bring that about; but it is the complication, the clogging, and the destruction of the elasticity of the industry, that have made farmers object to all this. Why, may I ask, is this Bill brought forward at this particular time? Is it that the farmers do not pay the best wages that they can? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] Is it that the farmers are inefficient in their work? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] As to the first point, may I point out to the House that in no country does the rate of wages paid in agriculture vary more than it does in this country? Does not that show that, where the farmers themselves can pay, they do pay? An hon. Member says that it is due to competition, and possibly that has something to do with it, but you have this fact, that the wages do vary enormously, from the low wage in Norfolk which the Minister mentioned to the higher wages as you go North. May I read from the last report of the agricultural tribunal, which has been issued only a week ago? At page 192 it says: The facts do not show that there is ground for depreciation of British agriculture as a whole. It pays wages that are high as compared with those in other European countries; the yield of the area which is under the chief crops compares favourably with that of the areas under the same crops abroad; while the actual decline in the agricultural population, as tested by male persons employed, has not over the whole length of our period of reference been so startling as is often supposed, or so rapid as that of other European countries. Farmers are not responsible for the natural conditions or the national policies which have affected the form of cultivation that was most profitable; subject to the conditions, the cultivation of the land in Britain cannot be described as inefficient. That is the independent report of Sir William Ashley, Professor Adams and Professor MacGregor, who were appointed to consider English agriculture as compared with that of other countries. It supports the proposition I have put forward that certainly the management of English agriculture is not inefficient, and I think it supports my other proposition that farmers have been willing to pay where they could pay, and have paid better wages than in the rest of Europe.

What is the present position of the industry to which this Bill is going to be applied I cannot understand why the Minister who is in charge of this industry never said one single word about it. Corn-growing is in an unprofitable condition, and has been for some two or three years. The land that was under arable cultivation is now, and has been for the last three years at least, going back to grass, and the men employed upon it are being dismissed and turned off. All the land that was put under the plough under the great pressure that was brought to bear during the War has gone back to grass, and this year the heavier and stronger land, which is the hardest to work, is going back to grass by thousands of acres, because it is unprofitable to cultivate it with the present expenses that are on it. Bankruptcies are increasing; farmers are having to alter their systems of cultivation. No one knows better than the employers that wages are too low, but what do they say, whether on the poor corn-growing land of Norfolk and the Eastern Counties, or on the richer lands in Lincolnshire, where I was only last week? Take the County of Suffolk, which I know very well. They say there that, with prices as they are and with wages as they are, they cannot pay more. Bankruptcies are increasing, though not to the extent, perhaps, that my words would lead one to believe, but what is worse is that a large proportion of the farmers are in the hands of their bankers, who are finding the money to let them go on, rather than pull them up.

That is the position in the industry to-day. What, now, is the position that the farmer takes up? He takes up the position that is voiced by his farmers' union, and, so far as I can see, they speak with an almost unanimous voice. They say, "From our experience of the working of Wages Board in the past, with men dictating to our people from London, and sending orders into our country districts which obviously they do not understand, they have so clogged our industry, and caused losses in it, that, if a Wages Board is forced on us again, many of us will not be able to survive. We shall have to alter our system. we shall have to alter our practice, we shall have to discharge a number of the people that we employ now." I ask any Member of this House if I am not speaking truly when I say that, whatever farming district you go into, you will find there men, who have been farming for many years, keeping on their old farm workers long after they are past their best, because of what they have been in the best, and letting them go on and earn such money as they can. If a stringent Wages Board system is imposed, those people will be the first to suffer. That the position of the farm workers ought to be better I agree, but apparently certain hon. Members have only just found out that those who live in the country villages are receiving wages that are far too small in proportion to those in the towns. What is the reason of that? It is because there are seven towns- men's votes in this House to one countryman's. That is where we have been hampered. It is because the townsmen have shut their eyes to this position. That is why our agricultural workers to-day have been reduced to these small wages.

5.0 P.M.

The wage is, undoubtedly, too small, and so is the price of all agricultural products. This industry suffers from the fact that the selling price of everything produced on the farm is either less than the cost of production, or the margin is so small that the wages fund is such that better wages cannot be paid. If wages are to be substantially raised, we must turn our attention to the question how this wages fund can be increased, and how the margin between the selling price and the cost of production can be increased. If this Bill would raise wages, I should be only too glad. I sat on the Royal Commission on Agriculture in 1919, and heard evidence for weeks from every part of the country as to the rates of wages paid. We had to consider how they could be improved. This Government, for the first time, are suggesting that they are going to enlarge the wages fund by the wages board. I wish I could think that they would. Unfortunately, the members who sit behind them have preached to the farm workers throughout the country that it was to the wages board, during the operation of the Corn Production Act, that every alteration of wages but one that was made was due. It was nothing of the kind. In every part of the country during the War wages rose higher than agricultural labourers' wages.


Not till we forced them.


I am within the hon. Member's knowledge and that of everybody who sits on the benches opposite that during the War the rate of every man's wages in this country rose by leaps and bounds and in every skilled industry, and most of the unskilled industries, even down to domestic servants, the rise was higher than it was in the agricultural industry. The farmers during that time, owing to the high prices caused by the War, were able to pay those wages and paid them willingly. [Interruption.] The reason they did not go higher, if that is the point of the question, is that all prices were controlled.


Is it not a fact that a Committee of the House dealing with War profits reported that in the years 1914 to 1919 the wealth of the farmers of the country increased by £290,000,000?


I only wish I could believe that was true. Whatever the increase was, it has now been lost. I admit the farm worker now believes that wages boards will assist him. I only hope it may be true, but I think it is wrong. Speaking for my own part and not necessarily for those on this side of the House with whom I am acting, I also accept this, that in any industry it should be open to the workpeople to have an organised method of negotiating with their employers as to the fixing of wages. You may call it, if you like, an advance or a mark of industrial citizenship. At any rate, it is characteristic of our present social legislation. We who were in the House of 1921 believed that an organised system of negotiation could be obtained by the conciliation committees which were then set up. I believe if there had been a bona-fide effort made to work those conciliation committees they would have succeeded. Many of them are working satisfactorily to-day, though I do not suggest that they are working on the whole satisfactorily. I am not going to stop to consider whether their failure was due to the action of some hon. Members opposite who wished to bring about a wages board or not.

I agree that from my point of view conciliation committees are not satisfactory, and the result is that I and those who work with me on this side are willing that the experiment should be tried and that there should be secured to the workpeople an organised method of negotiating with their employers, that there should be a method of fixing wages, and those wages should be made enforceable, and that must put an end to all risk of undercutting by a few undesirable farmers. But this experiment must be tried, in our view, so as to be likely to succeed and not cause damage to the people you yourselves are trying to benefit. My information is that already there is quite a large apprehension amongst all the older people who are engaged in this industry as to what their future is to be. Most of these older men who work on the farms know perfecly well that what I have been saying is true, that their employers are paying the highest wages they can. Many of them know that if other charges are put upon them their workpeople will be displaced and these older men know they will be the first to go. The only chance of success, the only possibility of getting the farmers to work the scheme, the only chance of having a scheme which will arrive at a workable conclusion is that we should have county wages boards alone and no central wages board—no supervision or direction from London. Let the local people, with their advisers if you like, settle this matter themselves.

I should like to mention what in my opinion we should aim at securing. It should be a scheme that the men and employers would be likely to work. It should be a scheme which would least disturb the present relations between the men and the farmers, and one which would give confidence to both. It is essential, if this is to be a success, that they should obtain confidence. This means that local knowledge and local conditions should he factors in fixing the wages. The scheme should not attempt too much at first. Its powers should gradually improve and enlarge as it meets with confidence and it should provide that both the men and the employers should have a full opportunity of putting their case before the body that is set up, and that its decisions should be capable of being easily enforced. This means local wages boards with full powers. The Government scheme is the very antithesis of that. The Government local committees are purely illusory. They have no power of any sort. The Government scheme is to give complete power to the central wages board in London and to the Minister who appoints the Wages Board and can keep complete control over it. Clause 2 sets up the agricultural wages committees, and subject to confirmation by the agricultural wages board—that governs the whole of their powers—they may fix minimum rates. By Sub-section (5) they can only cancel or vary the minimum wage subject to confirmation by the board. By Clause 3, after the committee has fixed the minimum rate, they are to send a notification to the Central Board, which the board may either confirm or refer back to the committee. Then, under Clause 6, if the local committee do not fix such a rate as the Central Board tells them—


Is this being read? I do not see that all there.


It is all there under Clauses 5 and 6. The board may fix, cancel or vary the rate and exercise all the powers of the committee, and the order may not be dealt with by the committee for six months at least. By Clause 5 again the Board may at any time request the committee to fix, cancel or vary any minimum rate. I have distinctly shown that the powers of the local committees are absolutely illusory, and that the central board have the whole of the powers. I go further, and charge the Minister with having designed the Bill for that purpose. Let us look at the Minister's powers. Under Clause 7 the Minister may direct the Board to reconsider any minimum rate fixed by the board, so the board has not absolute power. It is not clear what happens if the Board refuses to operate it, but it is in fact clear because owing to the way the Board is nominated it is practicaly under the control of the Minister. The Minister takes power to appoint a secretary of every committee and of every board. We do not know exactly how either the committee or the board are to be appointed. There are to be equal numbers of farmers' and workers' representatives, but they are to be nominated by the Minister, or by such a scheme as he directs. In addition, he can appoint one-third of the board by his own appointment. This is a device to control the wages in every parish in England from Whitehall by the direction of the Minister or the nominees of the central board. Such a scheme can never work. My scheme is a central wages council, composed equally of men's and employers' representatives,with an independent chairman and with power to enforce their decisions. The decisions should be given rapidly. Lest it should be said that that is not likely to work, I am prepared on behalf of those with whom I am acting to say that any powers that may be suggested with a view to securing the local character of these country boards and to make the district board an efficient and effective body, can be added. I see one slight difficulty, and that is that the chairman who takes upon himself the duty of being arbiter in fixing the wages between employers and employed will have a very invidious job. In order to avoid that difficulty, I should not object to two other appointed members, so that the chairman could have two others to share with him this responsibility. By these means we could make the boards as effective and efficient as we can.


Appointed by whom?


Appointed either by the Minister of Agriculture or under the scheme that he devises, and as representative—if they can be. I agree that we should secure, above everything, that the men who are appointed to the boards should not be limited either to the farmers or to the farm men, but should be persons who have local knowledge, who live in the locality and who are able to put forward the case of either side.

I should like to see these boards not given too much work at first. If they were given the power of fixing a minimum wage for the labourers, of fixing the overtime rate and of fixing any other matters referred to them by the employers and the men, they would be doing all that is necessary in the first instance. If you set them to work, in the first instance, to fix all these differential rates for stockmen, horsemen, shepherds, and so on, you will disturb the industry without getting any corresponding benefit. If you could once secure that in our country districts no able-bodied man shall work for less than a decent standard wage, all the other matters affecting the men would settle themselves. By these means you would encourage confidence and you would get the employers to work the scheme, although at present they are bitterly opposed to it. I believe you would get the confidence of the men also, and that we should get nearer to the ideal of Lord Ernle, who, as Mr. Prothero, said, in introducing the wages boards: I am not an advocate for their being called into being on any other grounds than that I believe they will help to bring employers and employes together as they have never been hitherto. I believe that as time goes on that will be the effect of having these wages boards. See what they mean. They mean two equal bodies of employers and employed meeting to talk over wages. One of these two sections, no doubt, represents the interests of the trades concerned, and the other will represent the interest of what is the cost of living. They will discuss measures and gradually come to a point of agreement. In that process, there is no doubt they will get to know one another very much better than before. Wages boards will be a boon in this country if they are properly worked, without political or social bias. They will impart to the hard economic laws of this country something of morality and something of confidence, and that is what we expect them to do. That is what we must seek to do. I have shown the Minister a way of arriving at what his own object is, namely, a proper wage in these country districts. I have shown him the way of success. The only way of success is to establish confidence amongst employers and employed, and I beg him to accept my Amendment.


I beg to second the Amendment.

I listened with interest to the word picture drawn by the Minister of Agriculture as to the position of the agricultural labourer. Whilst I agree with all that he said, there is a good deal that he did not say that should be known. The first speech that I made in this House, in April, 1918, was to call attention to the very low wages paid to the agricultural labourer. My last speech in this House in the last Parliament was to describe how the agricultural labourer tried to live with his wife and family on 14s. a week. I pointed out at the close of that speech that at that time, which was practically the same as it is to-day, the labourer of 25s. a week is worse off than the agricultural labourer was in 1913 on 14s. a week. That is universally admitted both by farmers and men.

To get a correct picture of what is happening in the agricultural world, you must not only take the position of the lowest paid labourers. In my part of the country, Gloucestershire, where, I am sorry to say, wages are as low as in any part of the country, 25s. a week is the wage for the ordinary day man. We have two classes of labourers and two sets of wages. When we speak of the 25s. a week man, we mean the ordinary day man who is in charge of sheep, cattle or horses and does odd jobs upon the farm. That man, with us, gets a standard wage of 25s. a week. Sometimes he gets his cottage thrown in, but very often the cottage is not thrown in. No hon. Member in this House, knowing as I know the most inner circles of these people, will say for a moment that that is a living wage. It is not a living wage. These men are not living, they are lingering. So far, I agree absolutely with the Minister.

Take the next class—the man who is in charge of stock. The wages of the stockmen vary enormously. If a man has charge of a pedigree herd or a pedigree flock, it is not at all unusual for him to get his £150 a year. Many of these men to whom I have spoken, and whom I have asked whether they would take £3 a week for their wages all the year round, have laughed in my face and said that they would not. These cases are rather exceptional, because pedigree herds and flocks are not to be found in every county. The class of man who has to look after sheep, cattle, horses and pigs, because pig rearing has now become a big industry, get 5s. a week extra and a house always thrown in, together with little privileges, such as a piece of land ploughed and manured free, and so much for every lamb that is alive on the let of May. If I had my way, the wage of these better-paid men would be the wage at which we would commence paying the agricultural labourer. The wage of the agricultural labourer to-day is absolutely insufficient for a man to live in decency and comfort.

The Minister did not point out a single way in which the position of the agricultural labourer can be improved. Neither did he attempt to show that the profits of the farmer would allow him to pay any better wages. I heard some hon. Members say that with co-operation we might do better, and other hon. Members said that the farmer was so inefficient that he could not pay better wages, because he was not master of his job. I want to point out the particular virtues of the lowest paid agricultural wage earner. It is true, as was stated by the Minister, that he very seldom grumbles. That is more particularly true of the older men, the men who were brought up to that state of things from their boyhood, but the young men, and especially the young men who have been to the War, have learned a thing or two. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am glad that hon. Members agree. I am trying to put the case fairly. I do not care the snap of a finger for the vote of the labourer, the farmer or the gentleman, so long as I state the facts. I know what I am talking about when I speak of the agricultural labour, because I am secretary of a benefit society in which there are 22,000 men and women, the great bulk of whom are agricultural labourers and their wives. Therefore, from my point of view, it is very important that these men should be well paid, well fed and well clothed, because that means that they keep off the club, and the sick pay goes down. I am in touch with the agricultural labourer week by week, day by day, and hour by hour. We pay him certain sums when he is married, on the birth of his children, on the death of his children, on the death of his wife, and when he dies certain sums are paid to those who survive him. In many cases we advance money to enable them to buy a small holding or to buy a market garden—I have had as many as three applications in a week—or to buy a house. As a rule, the agricultural labourer does not buy his own house [HON. MEMBERS: "He cannot afford it."] It is not so much that reason. I could show hon. Members in my district a good many agricultural labourers who have bought their houses and their small holdings, but they are not many in proportion to the total numbers, and the reason is a good one. A man may be a horseman, a cattleman, and so on. Usually these men only make a bargain for one year, although the practice is not so common now as many years ago, and they shift every Michaelmas. Our Michaelmas is 11th October. In the case of these men who shift from place to place it is very little use to attempt to buy a house.

The agricultural labourer out of his scanty wages is the most thrifty fellow I know. Hon. Members may be surprised to know that in our benefit society, which I started in 1890, one-fifth of the members of which are agricultural labourers, we have saved £240,000, which stands to the credit of these men. They very often pay their club money out of blood money. I have said to many of these men, "Upon my soul, I do not think you ought to pay into this club. You have a large family, and the missis lately has had twins. You cannot go on with it." They say, "Well, it is like this. If the missis did have twins, they may die, and the club money will be very bandy for the purpose of burying them." Or in other cases they may say, "The missis may be going to have twins, and the money will be handy for paying the doctor." They would go without a shirt on their back rather than drop the club. Therefore they are thrifty. I do not think anybody, except those who know the agricultural labourers well, can understand how kind the agricultural labourers are one to another, or how kind the wives of the agricultural labourers are one to another. The self-sacrifice of the wife of the agricultural labourer towards the wife of another labourer when there is sickness in the family is splendid. No one does so much for his neighbours as the poorest class of agricultural labourer. As a rule he is a very sober fellow, and for two reasons: first, he cannot afford to drink, and, secondly, the stuff is so bad that he cannot drink it. He did his share nobly in the War. He did not go on strike when other people did.


He has got a great reward for being passive in the War in the miserable wage which is being paid now.


I will come to that in a minute. He is not an envious fellow. It is very hard lines on an agricultural labourer to see young fellows going from the village into other industries at better wages. A man has been in the village school with the agricultural labourer. and gone to the War with him, and when they came back both worked on the farm for 25s. a week, and the first man then joins the police force and as a raw recruit gets £3 10s. a week, and yet I have never heard any grumbling about that from the man who is left behind. Another farm labourer becomes a mason's labourer at 50s. a week, double the wage of the man who is left behind, but the latter never grumbles. The younger members of the community are not going to be satisfied with that state of things. The Minister of Agriculture never said a single word as to the remedy. He did not refer to a single case in which a farmer had made any profit. To raise false hopes without any means of realising them is a disgrace to any man, Minister or otherwise. To raise the hopes of these men that you are going to find them some fund out of nothing is ridiculous.

Everybody in this House is anxious to find a remedy, but take the case of the farmer. We are told that the farmer is paying an insufficient wage and therefore gets inefficient men. Farmers, like other men, have blacklegs in their ranks, just as labourers have. There are some men who never do a day's work. Some men would rather go to the public-house and spend half the day there than go to work. But it would be grossly unfair to blame the whole class for that, and it is grossly unfair to say, because there are some farmers who are mean enough to take advantage of a poor fellow who wants his job to cut his wages, that these men are samples of farmers. They are not by any means. I remember the Minister referring to the case of a Wiltshire farmer who was paying a man something like £l a week. I am not a member of the Farmers' Union, but the Wiltshire Farmers' Union at once took up that case, and that poor fellow is getting a better wage now, while that scamp of a farmer is being boycotted by fellow farmers and by his neighbours, and quite rightly.

The next point is, Can the farmer pay better wages? From what is he going to pay them? His profits? Hon. Members opposite talk about the nationalisation of the land. You have already got in my county one of the worst examples which you could have of the nationalisation of the land. There are over 30,000 acres of land in Gloucestershire which are the property of the nation. There are 16,000 in the Forest of Dean. I was a member of the education committee for 23 years, and was vice-chairman for some years, and whenever we wanted a site for a school or a playground we had to be content with the worst end of a road or a lane, and we had to pay as much for that as for some of the best meadowland in England. That is what the Crown did. In Gloucester the county council have 14,000 acres of small holdings, and last year the administration expenses, which have nothing to do with the sates or taxes or improvements, came to something like 9s, per acre all over England and Wales. If you ask any farmer of smallholder whether he woud rather hold under the Crown or a private landowner he would say in every case, the private landowner.


Is Gloucestershire still Tory?


It is in my part of the county. I increase my majority every time. I must blow my own trumpet sometimes. Everybody will agree that you can only pay wages out of profits. If you pay wages on a losing business you will become bankrupt. Good wages cannot be paid out of an industry which makes no profits or small profits. We are told that the two things which are needed are that farmers should become more efficient and should go in for co-operation. If I could satisfy myself that farmers were paying a wage which, in comparison with the profits, was too low, I would go for the farmers every time to make them pay a better wage. My belief is the labourer should be paid the highest wage which it is possible to pay out of the profits of the industry of farming. With regard to co-operation, I presume that, if anybody knows anything about it, it is the big co operative societies, especially the large co-operative wholesale societies. They buy in bulk, and they have always got customers for everything which they produce, through their innumerable stores and shops. I have read the official handbook of the Co-operative Congress, held in Edinburgh in 1923, which is the last report published. This is practically an account of every co-operative society that is farming in England, Scotland and Ireland, from Belfast down to the Midland section, the Northern section, the Scottish section and the South-Western section. There are 174 of them. Altogether, these 174 societies are farming many thousands of acres. I have had the figures carefully taken out. The number of co-operative societies which were farming ten acres or upwards was 174. Out of these 28 made a profit of £3,235. The others made a loss amounting to £348,284.


Will the hon. Gentleman tell us what wages were paid on these farms on which the loss occurred, as compared with the wages on other farms?


Certainly. That is a very fair question to ask. [HON. MEMBERS: "And the rent?"] As a rule the co-operative societies buy their places out and out, and all they charge is rent at 2¾ per cent. Anyone who doubts what I say may come and see me in the corridor when I have finished my speech, and I will show this book with the figures. Take the first one—Belfast, Northern Ireland. They only farm 188 acres. On that they made a loss of £831. There are some 30 odd names in the whole Midland section. Not a single one of those societies made a farthing of profit, but they incurred many thousands of pounds loss. Long Eaton, Derby, farms 570 acres owned by the society and 183 acres rented by the society, and they made a loss of £7,996.


Is that actual loss on capital or depreciation of stock?


Does it matter two straws which? It is a loss on its working. It gives here the surplus or deficiency as the result of the year covered by return. It may be either or both, but in any case it is a loss. Ashton-under-Lyne made a loss last year of £12,000.


They are all supporting the Bill.


That does not matter from my point of view. In Hull district, in Yorkshire, there was a loss of £6,000. Now, as to the wages which are being paid, I took the precaution to write to the hon. Member for the Hillsborough Division of Sheffield (Mr. Alexander), telling him that within six miles of where I live there was a very large co-operative farm which worked 3,005 acres last year, and sustained a loss on those 3,005 acres of £44,865. It seemed almost impossible that such a loss should occur. So I wrote to the hon. Gentleman on Thursday giving him those figures, and a neighbouring one in Wiltshire, at Compton Bassett, where there is a farm of 2,795 acres which made a loss of £12,510. It does not appear in this book, but it was stated in a speech which was made in my part of the country in February last. I sent these figures to the hon. Member for Hillsborough knowing that he was a co-operative Member, and asking him whether they could be correct, and requesting him if they were wrong to supply me with correct figures, and the hon. Member has bad the courtesy to send a message this afternoon to say that he has sent my figures to headquarters, and he cannot find them incorrect.

If you are going to have all those losses made by co-operative societies who, I presume, pay better wages than anybody else—at least I hope so, but I am told in my part of the country that they simply pay the current wages of the district, which are 25s. for the ordinary day man, and from 30s. to 37s. for shepherds, with house included—co-operation cannot evidently be the salvation of farming, because here are co-operators losing money wholesale. I want to put to the Minister this question: If these co-operative societies, with any amount of capital, with customers at practically all their shops in all the large towns, so that there are no intermediate profits, cannot find a wage fund out of the profits of their farms, how can they expect farmers to do it? It is because I see these things that I think it is every unkind to dangle something in front of the labourers, and not to show the source from which the money is to come. If hon. Members will get up and show me farms where they have made profits sufficient to give a decent wage, I shall be glad. What is a decent wage? The Minister did not even tell us; he did not say what wage he thought ought to be paid, and the Bill does not say anything about pounds, shillings and pence.


The Bill definitely states what it regards as the requirement for a reasonable existence. What is the national wages board for but to determine that?


If a national wages board is to determine the wage, what in the world is the good of having district boards with different wages in several places? The argument is ridiculous. If you have a national wages board you let the cat out of the bag.


It is the duty of the local authority to settle what it thinks to be a reasonable wage within the terms of the Bill, and the national wages board obviously will be set up for the purpose of determining what it should be in the districts where no settlement has been reached.


You set up a national wages board. If you have a national wages board you let the cat out of the bag, because the object of the national wages board would be to have a national wage all over the kingdom, whether that wage can be paid or not. The only wise thing in the Bill is that it mentions no figure. If a figure had been in the Bill it would have been a figure for the whole kingdom, and so high that it could not be paid or so low that the Minister's followers would pour scorn on it. I think that the omission shows cowardice as well as wisdom. The Minister said that help had been given to agriculture through the Rates Act. I agree. We are very grateful for the Rates Act. I wonder whether the Minister knows that owing to the high cost incurred on roads in rural districts and on main roads, a great deal of the benefit of the Rates Act is already swept away I took a deputation three weeks ago to the Minister of Transport. The deputation pointed out to him that the position was now such that in many parts of the Cotswold Hills the, farmers could not pay the rates. That is quite true. Rate collectors have been to me and have said that the farmers have "sold the things off the place" because they have not the money for the rates. In my own places at Cirencester, a small town, we have an urban district council and a rural district council. In the rural district council area the rates for highways alone this year have gone up 2s. 0½d. in the pound. The county rate has gone up 7½d. and the local rate 1s. 5d., and other things are largely increasing in the same proportion. When we are told that because we have been helped with our rates we can pay the increased wages, I reply, that the advantages on the rates are already largely swept away. Of course, we are uncommonly glad to have the rates help, because without it the farmers would have had to pay so much more. But after comparing what the rates were last year in bulk and what they are this year in bulk, to a large extent that aid has already gone.

That being so, I ask everyone, irrespective of party, to come to the relief of our agricultural workers. I ask Liberals to recall what one of their leaders said. I refer to the statement of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) that, "Never, never again should agriculture be allowed to go into the slough in which it was years ago." On this side we have tried our best, but we were defeated with our remedy at the last Election. Now we appeal to hon. Members on the other side. Do not let any polities stand in the way. There the men are. They are the salt of the earth, as far as I know. At any rate, I know of no class whom I respect so much. They are the Cinderella of industry, and it is quite time that Prince Charming came along and helped them. I appeal to everyone to help the farmers, so that a man wishing to form a home of his own may not be ashamed to ask a young woman to join him. Nowadays the young men are ashamed to do it. We want an agreed Measure. One of the things that makes agriculture unprosperous is that farmers never know from week to week or from month to month what their position is to be. We shall be only too pleased to support any well-devised scheme that will provide a better living for all who are concerned with agriculture.


No one who conies to this Debate with knowledge of the conditions of the English countryside, can doubt that we are considering a very important problem, an urgent problem, and an extremely difficult problem too. I shall try to keep to the spirit of broad sympathy, humanity and understanding which has characterised all the speeches so far. I say at once if the agricultural workers were gathered together in our urban centres and could give articulate voice to the facts about their lives, no one would tolerate the position for a moment. But they are scattered, and the great majority of them now, unfortunately, belong to no organisation. They are amazingly patient. So it is only now and then and at long intervals their position comes before the House and the country, as it is coming before this House this afternoon. To realise what the problem is you have only to state this: that there is a great industry in which it would take an ordinary man as many years to do efficient work as it would take him days to be an efficient tram driver or street cleaner, but that the vast majority of the workers are receiving less than half the wages of the tram driver or the street cleaner. No one sees the difficulty more clearly than do the employers on the whole. I would like to say at once what I think I have said here before, namely, that the vast majority of them have been trying, often against their best interests, to keep as many men in employment as they can by keeping their land under arable cultivation, when it would have paid them better to pay off the men and put the land down to grass. Subject to keeping up their own standard of living, the farmers have tried to give as good a standard of wages as they could afford.

In judging the farmer's position it is a mistake to look simply at the number of bankruptcies that have occurred or at the demand for vacant farms. I do not think that either of these, looked at by itself, indicates any great depression in the industry. But one ought not to consider either without realising the effect of the War and what followed the War. Large profits, of course, were made in the War, but they have been and are being gradually eaten into or are disappearing, and without them the bankruptcies undoubtedly would have been many times as numerous as they have been. Also after the War a great deal of land was sold by those who could not any longer afford to own it, and many men lost their farms. These men and their sons have been trying to get back into the only industry which they understand, even if the prospects in that industry are, as in many places they still are, an almost certain loss. I believe that the best that one can say of agriculture in many districts is that with care a man can lose money more slowly than in many other things. But there is no doubt at all that, after allowing for that fact, after looking at the matter from the farmer's point of view and making every allowance for the decrease of valuations of stock on a falling market, there has been a positive loss on farming in very many cases, in all our main arable areas for the last two or three years, and that although things are now looking a little better—assuming that we get fine weather—there is no assurance of the losses being turned into profits. The question is, do the difficulties in the industry, which are undoubted, justify the long continuance of underfeeding and underclothing tens of thousands of workers' families, with all the evils that that must inevitably bring in its train? Perhaps the House will remember a report of the medical officer of the county of Devon—not at all a man to be carried away by sentiment—in which he said: Now you find in many of the county schools the children, except the children of farmers, are pale faced and anomie looking, with eyes lacking lustre, undersized, underfed and sad-faced. 6.0 P.M.

Let the House remember that in Devon the conciliation committee system still functions, and probably functions better than in almost any other county, that the rates are 4s. or 5s. higher than those prevailing in many other counties, and that farmers there have been on the whole conspoicuously loyal to the rate, that the extra 4s. or 5s. was paid with difficulty, which makes all the difference to the position of the family, and that it is the children everywhere who come first and are treated best, then the man, and, last of all, that absolute hero among women, to whom we ought to erect a statue in our hearts—the wife of the agricultural labourer, who comes off the worst in this terrible prevalence of real privation in tens of thousands of families. If in Devon, with its 4s. or 5s. extra, the position is as the medical officer describes it, let the House realise what the position is bound to be in all those counties where the rate is lower, and let us resolve that something must be done, and done soon. It is, in my opinion, a disgrace, not to the employers, but to us, that we have allowed things to get into the condition in which they are. Although I was greatly interested in the speeches of the Mover and the Seconder of the Amendment, I could hardly realise from their speeches that they were moving an Amendment the result of which would be to kill the Bill. With all respect, I do not think this is a problem which can be dealt with in that way, leaving out the vague suggestion at the end of the Seconder's speech that we might get together and see if we could not do something in some other way to help on things a little bit.

What is to be done? I put aside all idea of rural subsidies. As has already been said, the mere fact that any party which we can think of as holding office in this country is sure to contain an urban majority, makes that impossible even if it were desirable, and after recent experiences in the difficulty of unprotecting an industry once you protect it, it is not desirable that any great industry in this country should be permanently dependant on the rest of the community. I rather unwillingly put aside, as any real solution of the difficulty, anything which the Government may do to help it in the way of assisting co-operation, encouraging education and research, rural industries, and things of that kind. Except with regard to education and research, in which I think really generous provision is being made, the encouragement does not come to very much. Of course the Chancellor of the Exchequer sees to that. Secondly, things of that kind work very slowly—in the matter of co-operation appallingly slowly. I have a great many years' experience of it and I ought to know. As I see it, the problem is an urgent one and we cannot wait for things of that kind to take their very slow course in improving matters, even if, as I hope they will, they effect an ultimate improvement. Let me deal with one small side point with regard to education.

The farmers at the last Election were, generally, in favour of a subsidy of £1 per acre. You can make much more than £1 an acre by using the right sort of grain. Cases were shown by the agricultural organiser in my county, where the difference between the use of one of the recently introduced varieties of oats and the ordinary common black oat used by our farmers amounted to £8 an acre, so that simply by having the better judgment and the better education to use new types of grain a, man obtained eight times as much as the proposed subsidy. Apart from the slowness with which these things work, I do not think the Government are very keen on helping forward projects like sugar beet, land drainage and schemes of liming, which other Members of the House as well as I have tried to put before them, and, in many ways, I regard them as being more afraid of full experiments by the State than many other Governments I have known. Putting the subsidy aside, and putting aside any idea that the industry can be placed in a different position by any quick action of the Government, I come to this, that I—and I think most people—would rather wages were put right by the industry itself than by outside legislative interference and Regulations. It is not only that the farmer dislikes regulation, and he hates it as he hates the devil, but it is the fact that the conditions and characteristics of the industry are such that, whether as between landowner and farmer or as between employer and workmen, things go much more smoothly if they depend upon general good understanding than if they depend upon Regulations and Orders—provided the worker has a reasonable and proper standard of life.

First, there is this to be said from the farmers' point of view, and I say it with some experience of the old wages board of which I was a member, that the wages board system has a certain tendency to level wages down as well as to level them up. Many good farmers will say to themselves, "Well if I have to pay so and so, a couple of shillings more, I will take a couple of shillings off somebody else so as not to be out of pocket." Then you cannot get away from what the farmers are feeling about it, and they are very much disturbed by the prospect of this Bill. They think things will be very much worse than I believe, in the actual result, things will be. There will be a great many threats of dismissal of men, and that will be extremely disturbing, and I am afraid, however the Bill finally emerges from the House, there will be some actual dismissals of men, which will be a great pity. There is also this consideration from the farmers' point of view. Farmers have a rooted belief that a regulated wage means worse work. When you ask them about it they will tell you that Bill, who is a good man, is inclined to say, "If I am only going to get as much as Jim, why should I work any harder?" while Jim says, "If I am to get so much anyhow why work hard?" I think that feeling is very much exaggerated, but it exists. One had hopes that the farmers would have found that the higher standard of living brought about by the better wages during the War would have resulted in better work, because before the War in tens of thousands of cases the standard of wages was not sufficient to produce the most efficient work. It has been a great disappointment to me to find that the farmers report that during the War the standard of work was worse rather than better.

If there are, as I think there are, good reasons for not subjecting the industry to outside regulation and legal enactment we come to the question: What prospect is there of the best treatment that can be given by the industry being given to the workers without a Bill of this kind? In this connection the, farmers I am sure, through their organisation at any rate, have done all in their power. They dislike the Bill intensely. The postcard campaign to which we have all been subject is quite sufficient to show that, and if they could have shown the country that the industry was doing all it possibly could to bring wages to the point at which wages should be, it would have been a very great factor in making this Bill unnecessary and they would not have omitted so obvious a step. If there- fore things are not always as good from the workers' point of view as they could be, it is not because the farmers in their organisations do not want them to be so, but because they cannot make them any better by any effort of their own—which, I think, means that the Government and the State will have to take a hand and see what can be done. I should like to give to the House some personal experiences, because I have had time to examine this matter carefully during the last few months in detail in the counties which I know. It seems to me that the question of whether you can get the industry by its own action to make things as right as they are capable of being made is really fundamental. I do not in any way favour wages boards because they are wages boards, but only if you cannot by any other means get that which you ought to be able to get.

Let me take the position in Devon and Somerset. In Devon, as I have said, the conciliation committee system is still working, and the committee is working as well as any other conciliation committee in the country. It is in a minority in that respect, but still committees are working in some places, and in Devon it is working well. Devon is a model county in that as in many other ways, and the farmers in the arable districts who have been hard hit are keeping up to the 30s. rate, not without a struggle in many cases. Even there, where you get as near perfection as you can with regard to voluntary methods of conciliation, one finds that in quite a number of the out of the way parishes men are not adhering to the rates recommended by the conciliation committee. One finds 28s., 27s., 26s., and in some districts—though not in my neighbourhood—as low as 22s. per week. Those are terribly low rates. I am very glad to hear that the man who had been paying £1 a week had been found in Wiltshire, and that disciplinary action was being taken against him. That has not happened with us, and the man who pays a lower rate than is recommended and approved by the great mass of farming public opinion in the county, has no difficulty in selling his stock in the market and is not ostracised or "cut," as he would be if he shot a fox. He can do it, and there is no system of discipline exercised by the industry to get him up to the rate even where it is generally observed as it is in Devon.

I think this means that in the rather few counties where it works the present conciliation machinery, even though generally backed by the farmers with the best will in the world, cannot hold the rate which is recommended, and from that point of view even in those counties something ought to be clone to bring the few who are below the level, and there are only a few, up to the rate to which most of the farmers have agreed. Take a widely different country — Somerset. There the conciliation committee has not worked, at any rate, for the last two years, and all you have had to depend upon is a rate recommended by the Farmers' Union which has been, I think, 27s. I do not know if that rate ever falls lower, but I do know that it is not an adequate wage, or anything like an adequate wage, for a man with a wife and family to live upon in a state of efficiency, particularly if no allowances are given, and the practice of discontinuing allowances has spread a good deal. No allowances are given, but 3s. is charged back on account of cottage and garden.

Many of the Somerset hill farmers have to my knowledge been doing very well, quite as well as they did before the War, on the average, in many districts and certainly better than my friends the Devon arable farmers. If the Devon arable man can keep up the 30s., and does, the Somerset hill man can afford to pay more than 30s., but does not. Except in the centres of population, such as near Minehead, where there is a certain demand for labour and where the rate is generally higher, in the out of the way, hill districts of Somerset, although the farmers are doing quite well and could certainly afford to pay 30s., and sometimes more, they are actually falling back to the general recommended rate of 27s. That, surely, means that where a general low rate has been recommended, the employers are not able, by their own organisation, to secure anything higher and better in those parts of the county in which it might reasonably be paid, and which the industry really could afford to pay if it were capable of making the effort to come up to a rather higher standard. That, again, in my opinion, points to the conclusion that the State is bound to take a hand in the game and to intervene in some form or another.

There is just another point that weighs very heavily with me in deciding how we ought to vote on this matter. Last season was, by general consent, better than the one before, and the prospects for this season, if only the floods will take up, as I said, are generally good, but so far as I can learn—and I have been making as careful inquiries as I could—there has not been, since the new year, for instance, any general improvement in the rate paid, but, on the contrary, there has been a gradual lowering in some cases, and never have I heard of any meeting of farmers who have said to themselves and to their men: "Look here, things are not turning out quite as badly as we thought they would a year ago, and the industry is looking up a bit. Lei; us put up your wages 2s., or something of that kind, because this season, after all, was better than the last one." On the contrary, it seems to me that there is a sort of Gresham's law of wages, and just as I believe, according to Gresham's law, bad money drives out good, so low wages tend to lower other wages to their level, and where one man begins to break away from a rate generally recommended, paying, say, 27s. instead of 30s., even if the prospects are improving just a little bit, as I think they have been lately, in the absence of any power of collective bargaining, other people follow the example, and there is a tendency for the wage to go on dropping, dropping, dropping, very little, very slowly, but still dropping, and I cannot believe that in many cases those drops are really justified by the state in which the industry is.

Looking at matters broadly, I think one can say that proper rates of wages can be secured in three ways: First, by collective bargaining; secondly, by the moral authority of the leaders of the industry; and, thirdly, by legislative interference. It is common ground in this Debate that collective bargaining has 'practically broken down. It ought to be common ground also that though the leaders of the industry, through the National Farmers Union, have often intervened—and wherever they have intervened it has been, in my experience, always for good—they have not sufficient authority, owing to the scattered nature of the industry, to secure universal observance of the best rate that any employer can afford. It seems to me, therefore, to point—it may be reluctantly—to State action in one form or another as the only solution of the difficulty, and from that point of view, because that is the issue involved, I shall vote for the Second Reading of this Bill. That may mean that many people may suffer interference and inconvenience because of the action of a minority of their fellows whom they cannot control, but I, for one, see no other way for it, and I think I speak for my colleagues on these benches when I say that we cannot get away from the principle which we hold, and have held for many years, that, after an industry has rendered unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's, by which I mean paid its rates and taxes, the first charge on it must be a, reasonable living wage for those engaged in it, and if that cannot be secured in any other way—and I submit that it cannot—it must be secured by law.

I would like to conclude with a few words on the question whether the Bill is the best form of securing what we all want to secure, and that is a better wage. I think there is a good deal of room in that matter for legitimate difference of opinion, and I will mention a few points without going too much into detail with regard to points which are better for the Committee stage, but it seems to me that, if and as long as you secure your main object, which is the universal setting up in each county of a wage in accordance with the general definition of the Bill, you ought to be willing to secure it in a way as little harassing to the industry as possible. If the farmer hates anything more than another—and he hates a great many things—it is what he calls "farming from London," by which he means the control of local bodies by any central body. Daring the War he had to some considerable extent, I think, to do what he calls "farming from London." You could not, in the War, allow things to wait very long, and you could not afford to do without some sort of uniformity between one county and its next door neighbour. You could not allow, for instance, the industry to be brought to a standstill because, having established, it may be, 30s. in one county and in the next but one to it, the other county chose to prefer 32s. or 28s. There had to Fe universally, through the whole of our State operations, a general centralised control, and there is this to be said for that central wages board, that, even though we did revise rates and, in the opinion of the employers, ride rather roughshod over local recommendations, we never altered any local recommendation which was unanimously arrived at.

I had the pleasure of reading a statement by a right hon. Friend who sits near me, and I think, at any rate, he let it be understood that we had taken decisions out of the hands of local bodies, but when it came forward as being an agreed decision, it was never altered once by the central board. There is this also to be said, that, unlike other industries, under our régime, somehow or other, whether it was our fault or our good management, there was not a single day lost by any wage dispute from one end of the War to the other, from one end of the time when we first existed to the time when we were abolished. Still, in my opinion, the necessity of even the amount of tight control and supervision which we exercised during the War through the central wages board has now, to some extent, passed away, and it seems to me also that, to my surprise when I read the Bill, this Bill does, as was said from the benches opposite, in some ways give even more power to the central authority than was given when the wages board was set up. It is pure camouflage to talk of fixing the rate by the local committee. To use the phrase does not make it so at all, and as long as the central board have power, without reason given, to call up that rate and to alter it in any way they think, and as long as the final authority is the central board and not the local committee at all, you are really not giving very great powers to your local bodies, as I think you ought to do.

At any rate, we have, in some conferences and meetings that we have beer, having as a party—those of us who are interested in agriculture—rather gone in the direction of indicating that we shall be glad to strengthen the local bodies, only giving the central body certain definite and limited powers. Under the Bill, unless both sides agree, the chairman has no casting vote even. Everything may, therefore, go to London as long as both sides dig their heels in at some point in regard to which neither side is willing to give way to the other If the farmers' representatives on the local body are instructed not to go beyond, say, 26s., and the trade unions concerned instruct the workers' representatives not to go below 30s., unless they empower the chairman, at any rate, to try to bring them together, there they will stick, and everything automatically will pass to the central authority. I think we ought to make it far easier for the local bodies to be likely to come to a decision, because that decision is more likely to be suitable to the conditions in the district and county than it is made at present under the Bill. I think, for instance, that the chairman should have a casting vote. I think he should be assisted, if he desires, by two or more appointed members, so as to help him to bring one side or the other to the point where he can use his casting vote in order to make a rate.

I think it is too great a responsibility to ask one man in a county, however full of public spirit he may be, to take the whole burden on his own shoulders of saying, "Well, here were these people miles asunder at the beginning of the afternoon, but after several hours I brought them to a position in which I have now made a rate which becomes the law of the land." He may go away feeling that he may have done a great injustice to one side or the other. It is too big a task. I think that, if he fail to get either one side or the other to a reasonable point at which he and his colleagues think that a rate should he fixed, they should, after, it may be, some delay, have the power to make an award on their own, as arbitrators, even if they cannot bring one or the other side to agree with them. That is rather my own idea, and I do not know whether we have got as far as that, as a party, in our conversations, but I want to see to it that no chance is omitted of getting a rate recommended by the local body. I know that my suggestion means one or two appointed members, and I know that the employers dislike the appointed member element on these committees. I know the men do, too, and that is one of the things that, if employers and men both say, "Let us have no people to come between us in any way, and to really help to bring us to an agreement," make it seem very difficult to settle down to a system which would really, in the long run, be most suitable to the industry.

The matter should be done in the main by these local bodies, and it seems extraordinarily hard to avoid a system which certainly will disturb the industry as much as it possibly can be disturbed, namely, referring everything up to the central body. It is because both sides dislike any element except their own sides to arrive at a conclusion, that it is so difficult to get things on to a, more satisfactory basis. If the employers dislike it, one would have thought the men would like it, but it does not seem to be so. The employers say that if you have appointed members, and one side is saying what is the rate which they must have in order to live, and the other side is saying what is the maximum rate that they can afford to pay, those appointed members will always be more influenced by the workers' point of view, namely, what the rate has got to be in order that they may live, than by the employers' point of view, namely, the maximum that they can pay. If the worker has a similar distrust from the other point of view, it shows how difficult it is to come to any sort of agreement, and how desirable, therefore, it is that there should be some people of general good will to help to bring them to something like agreement.

My point is this: If the employers dislike the central control and wish to weaken it, there is only one way, and that is by strengthening the power of the local bodies, and by giving them more power, so that there is a greater likelihood that the rates will be made there than at present there is in the Bill. I think, therefore, you should try to strengthen the power of the local bodies, and, I think, in consequence of that, you might very well limit the power of the central bodies to three points—first, to see that the recommendations of the local bodies are in accordance with the Act; secondly, in the event of any refusal or failure to function by the local body; and, thirdly, if the local body appeals to them and asks them, by a majority, to act in their place. Other points would take me into subjects that may well be considered in Committee, and we have heard many long speeches this afternoon, mine, I am afraid, not the least among them.

I will only say, in conclusion, that in dealing with this problem we must, I think, and I hope we shall, keep the broad human aspects of it before us as much as we can, and realise that, although these men are not articulate, there is going on under-feeding, under-clothing and overcrowding in their houses. Whereas the countryside ought to be the fountain-head of the most healthy and vigorous population that we have, it, really, is not that now, and we must, in some way, try to make it so. Do not let us think that this Bill will do it by itself. It will not. Do not let us think it is a simple problem, because it is not. It will take us tens of years, if not generations. It may involve State help in ways which none of us has yet at all thought out. But by this Bill, if it be handled in Committee with a general good will, and an understanding of the industry, I believe we shall take a step in making our country life finer and freer, and fuller and fairer for future generations.


Emphasis has been laid, in speeches that have been made in the course of this Debate, on the fact that we in this Bill are considering a human problem, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman who spoke last, end the right hon. Gentleman who is in charge of the Bill, that we on this side are not less anxious than they to make whatever contribution we can towards the solution of the problem that has caused the right hon. Gentleman to introduce this Bill. It is, indeed, a very old problem, and it is one that has claimed the attention, as we have been reminded, of successive Governments. Hitherto all Governments have attempted to deal with it on a basis considerably wider than that to which the right hon. Gentleman is limited in his last attempt, which we are now considering. He is proposing to deal only with agricultural wages. It is not, I think, without a little astonishment that some of us observe that limitation of effort on the part of His Majesty's Government, and will, perhaps, detect in it one more contrast between the professions suitable at an Election, and the actual accomplishment in which promises are sought to be met. [An HON. MEMBER: "Put it on the gramophone!"] I think it would be very valuable, even at the expense of broadcasting, if it had any hope at all of inducing reform in hon. Members opposite. I do not think it is out of place—after all, it is a national problem —to recall to the minds of hon. Members that the official document on which right hon. and hon. Members opposite fought the Election was one in which it was stated that: Agriculture, as the largest and most essential of the nation's industries, calls for special measures to restore its prosperity, and to give the land workers a living wage. A very short time after the Election, the Prime Minister, speaking in this House, on the 12th February, felt there was no great bathos in telling the House that it was the duty of farmers to solve their own problems by applying their own energy. I only mention the contrast in passing, but it is perhaps permissible to point out that the contrast does exist, and that hon. and right hon. Members are now attempting a task much less ambitious than that which they thought suitable when they were appealing for the sufferages of the electors.

It is on the basis, then, of dealing with wages, and wages only, that this Bill is brought to our consideration, and the first observation I wish to make is one that has, indeed, been made by my hon. Friend who moved the Amendment, that wages are not a cause of agricultural depression. A. great deal of argument this afternoon has been devoted to the suggestion that agriculture is depressed because low wages are paid. I hold no brief for low wages. Low wages are not even generally cheap wages, but low wages are the result of depressed agriculture, and are not its cause. The proof of that is really conveyed in the answer my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester (Sir T. Davies) in his admirable speech gave to the suggestion that the whole explanation of the difficulty lay in the incompetence of farmers. The suggestion, I think, underlay a great deal of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading. After drawing a picture of the low wages, with its deplorable social results, he left—perhaps unintentionally—upon the minds of hon. Members the suggestion that this was due either to the unwillingness of farmers to pay better wages, or to their inability, owing to incompetence, to do so.

I do not know whether I might draw the attention of hon. Members who have not read it to the leaflet of the National Farmers' Union. [An HON. MEMBER: "We have all had it!"] All may have had it, but I do not know that all have read it, and I do not know why I should not mention a figure, if it happens to be true, even although it is contained in the National Farmers' Union leaflet. If it be not true, let hon. Members challenge it. If it be true, perhaps they will allow me to use it. My hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester quoted the general figures relating to co-operative societies. I only wish to remind the House of one figure relating to the Wholesale Co-operative Society, Limited. That society owns and occupies an area of close upon 17,000 acres, or, to be precise, 16,700 acres. On that acreage they lost, in 1923, no less than £71,000. The argument of hon. Members opposite is that they lost that because they pay such good wages. Conceive what an argument that is to put to the mass of farmers to-day: "You are already losing money, but you are paying inadequate wages. If you pay better wages, you will inevitably lose more money, but you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you are paying wages as good as the Wholesale Co-operative Society." That is a very remarkable argument. The truth is that the Cooperative Wholesale Society are only able to carry on the business of farming at a rate of loss of between £4 and £5 an acre, because they have behind them another business much more profitable, out of which they finance their very unprofitable farming operations. Therefore, it is perfectly true, as my hon. Friend says, the mere fact of the development of co-operation is no remedy for the difficulty of wages.

I want the House to look at the matter on a little wider ground. It is very easy to sympathise with the lowness of agricultural wages on platforms and in this House. It is very easy to condemn the payment of low wages but I should like them, before they set to work to condemn the mote that is in the farmer's eye, to look a little closer and see whether, perhaps, there may not be a beam in their own eye. To those who live in the country, and whose visits to the country are not confined to shooting with beaters, one of the contrasts that strikes, perhaps, as acutely as any other, is the contrast between the wages that are paid to the agricultural labourer and the wages paid to a railway porter at a wayside station. The porter, according to my experience, is not so hard worked as the agricultural labourer. He does not work such long hours. He is, I think I might say, not so skilled a man, and yet he draws in wages nearly double, or perhaps more than double, what the agricultural labourer draws. Why? It is not only because he has got a powerful union behind him. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] That is not the main reason. It is because he is dealing in a monopoly service that the public has got to have, and, therefore, the public is compelled to have it at the price his union is able to put upon his labour. Or, compare the wages in the building trade—I do not. labour this argument; I only want to make the point. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about before the War?" I am talking about 1924. In the building trade you have men engaged in what. is a monopoly trade, and, therefore, when the building unions ask for an extra 2d. an hour for their men, if and when they get it the result is seen in the immediate rise in the cost of the house, because it is a monopoly thing the public must have. The result is that the Minister of Health will come down to the House to-morrow and suggest a subsidy running into between £20,000,000 and £25,000,000. It is a very astonishing contrast. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, who want houses in which men can live at reasonable rents, are not ashamed to come down to this House and ask the agricultural taxpayer to put his hands in his pocket in order to find taxes—to find subsidies for them—and if anybody ventures to suggest an agricultural subsidy for an industry of not less national importance, and one that, does not possess a monopoly, then the other side talk about the sacredness of Free Trade! Hon. Gentlemen have ruled out what they themselves know to be the only real remedy in some form or other.

Let us be clear as to what is really happening. You have at the present moment a great shrinkage in arable land. You have an alarming shrinkage as a result in the number of labourers employed upon the land. If you refuse to take any effective steps to assist agriculture, to assist the farmers to apply their brains and capital to arable farming, and to assist the labourers on the other side to get a living wage, what you are in fact doing is not only to stand by and watch the shrinkage, and allow unemployment to continue, but you are really trying to get cheap food for the nation produced by sweated capital and sweated labour. That is the plain truth. I wish hon. Members opposite would devote their eloquence to convincing the industrial element in the country of it. The recognition of that fundamental action is what I have tried to illustrate. I now pass on, as I said just now, to deal with a matter which is really one problem. The Corn Production Act dealt with it. The Agriculture Act followed suit. The late Government's election programme on the agricultural side followed suit too. We have been in this matter not only perfectly consistent, but logical. What I want to emphasise is that if, therefore, you embark on one part of this policy, and one part only, on the establishment of a statutory wage and wage regulations in the agricultural industry, as the right hon. Gentleman who spoke last reminded us, as diverse and affected by conditions uncontrollable and unforeseeable, if you embark upon wage regulations only, apart from any guarantee, you are treading a very dangerous path; which, with the best intentions of us all, may easily, if we are not careful, be the parent of deplorable results.

Let me explain what I mean. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), in a Debate in this House in the last Parliament, pressed for the appointment of an Economic Com mission. This Commission, as the House knows, has just finished their last and final Report. Before I quote what I want to say about this, it is worth reminding the House that in their Second Interim Report they did quite definitely state what. I have just endeavoured to state also. They say: In order to maintain the arable area we Lave come definitely, though reluctantly, to the conclusion that either a guarantee or a subsidy would he necessary. In their last Report—and if hon. Members have had time to inform themselves about it, I think they will agree with me that this is a true summary without quoting it all—they do emphasise, speaking of the maintenance of arable farming to-day, that it is not naturally an economic channel for farmers to follow, and that unless the State is prepared to come in in some way and give definite help to the industry, it is not very certain how far any State action in the matter of wages alone can he effective. The same view was held by the hon. Gentleman opposite, the Member for Southern Norfolk (Mr. G. Edwards), who always speaks with great authority on these matters. When he intervened in the Debate some few months ago, he stated quite definitely that he did not think that it was possible for the agricultural industry to be carried on economically and pay the agricultural labourer a living wage without some assistance from the Imperial Exchequer. If all that be true, it is relevant to my argument to ask why it was that the Minister did not put a figure of 30s. in his Bill. I am told that even the omission has caused some heart searchings. I think my hon. Friend who spoke behind me was perhaps about right when he said that for a Socialist Minister to state in this way that he thought. 30s. was enough for the weekly wage of a workman woul1 be a very undesirable admission.

I am not sure that there was not also another reason, which was that the Minister knew from his own knowledge that, apart from any guarantee by the State, there might be districts in England where 30 shillings even would not be an economic wage for the industry to bear, apart from State help. I realise, perhaps as clearly as anybody, how great are the objections to a policy of subsidies for agriculture. I need not repeat them. One only I wish to emphasise, and that is that nothing is worse for agriculture than these sharp reversals of policy. Therefore, unless we reach a time when something like general agreement can be secured on a national policy—even of that character—I would always maintain that the policy was a dangerous one in default of a general measure of agreement by which something reasonable could be guaranteed.

The conclusion at which I arrive—and I think that all impartial people will reach it too—is that without a guarantee the possible economic improvement of agricultural wages is likely to be limited, and that if you act as if generous desires were stronger than economic facts the people whom you most wish to help will he the very first to suffer by your policy. Even an archangel from heaven could not get more out of an industry than it has to give. If such an attempt were made the number of men who would be thrown out of employment would be greater than the number of men who would welcome an increase of wages. Therefore, the problem to which we have to address our minds is, how can you best provide for the wage to be fixed so that, if we are to have Statutory Regulation at all, the wage to be fixed will not do more harm to employment than it will do good to wages! It is much easier to prevent evils than to cure them afterwards. I suggest that there is only one way by which you are most likely to avoid these dangers, and that is that the problem should be tackled by those who have local experience and knowledge to guide them; that you should encourage by the machinery that you establish adjustment and conciliation on the part of those most immediately concerned. I welcome what fell from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Acland) just now, as to the importance of proceeding in this matter on the basis of district organisation. That, indeed, was the motive of the conciliation committees, and I deplore, and I think the whole House really deplores, that owing to influences, I am not now careful to examine that system was not able to continue to function, as it did function to begin with, with full effect. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] Well, comparatively so; if I am wrong, I have no wish to be wrong and will try at once to make myself right; at all events, it functioned in a very general fashion for the greater part.

7.0 P.M.

An Amendment has been put on the paper by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Sir H. Cautley) which defines the attitude of those with whom he and I act in this matter. I was rather disappointed that the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill was not able to express with greater precision what the attitude of the Government was towards the principles upon which that Amendment rests. I was the more disturbed because on this vital question of district autonomy, which we express in our Amendment, the Bill gives only a shadowy paper recognition. The Minister says that the normal thing would be local fixation. How can he tell? The local committees may indeed on paper fix a rate, but if the rate be not only disagreed to by one side, but was agreed to by both sides in the country, and it does not meet with the approval of the Central Board under the Bill as it stands, the local decision can be overridden and torn up. In other words, after the Local Board, with a full desire to reach a just compromise between conflicting claims, and wish full knowledge of the facts, have sat and heard all the arguments and reached a decision, after they have done all, their work may be treated as so much waste paper by gentlemen in London who possess no local knowledge, but who presumably are endowed with that superiority of wisdom that flourishes not only in London but in Whitehall. That is, frankly, intolerable. In deference to that notion, that the people in the country are all intellectual pigmies in comparison to the Metropolitan Olympians, the Minister has really run counter to the great bulk of agricultural opinion not only the farmers but others, though he knows as well as I do that however anxious the farmers may be about statutory Regulations at any time, this sort of central provision makes the thing ten thousandfold more obnoxious. The whole question is largely one of psychology, not only of farmers but of labourers. I am not talking about union organisers, but about intelligent labourers, who are not as simple and as intellectually bankrupt as hon. Members opposite suggest. Labourers who represented labourers on the old district wages committees, when their decisions were reviewed and overridden by the central board in London, were just as resentful of central interference as the farmers, and they resented the decision of the appointed members in London just as bitterly as did any of the farmers on the old wages committees. I would also remind him that he is running directly counter to opinion, not without importance because not without experience, of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough (Sir R. Winfrey), who has just left his place, and who said that the central wages board had over and over again turned down the advice of the county representatives and acted in opposition to their wishes. "This," he said "was never intended when we formed the procedure under the Corn Production Act, and we must not fall into that error again. It may be necessary," he concluded, "to have a final appeal from the county committees, but even of that I am doubtful." That is very weighty evidence. Let me remind the Minister of the judgment of the impartial men, the economists, who have just reported and whose view is of weight. They say quite clearly: We consider that the industry is too large for control by a Central Wages Board, assisted by county advisory committees, and further that this form of administration is unnecessarily expensive. They go on after that to recommend district wages boards, on a basis, it is true, different from that suggested in the Amendment. I am quoting from the First Interim Report, issued in March, 1923. Therefore, I am entitled to say that the great bulk of agricultural opinion is absolutely against the Minister's plan of concentrating the power in centralised machinery in London. Yet, presumably, the Minister wants his Bill to work. We all want it to work. We state our willingness, in our Amendment, to take whatever steps are necessary to improve the county machinery, and to make sure that it functions satisfactorily. The right hon. Gentleman who spoke last suggested that further provision was necessary for cases in which it did not function. I would take care that it did function, and I would ensure that it functioned in the districts. At present, as we have been reminded, a chairman has no right to vote. I would give him a statutory right to vote, and more than that, a right to adjudicate; not only to throw his casting vote for 25s. or 30s., but to adjudicate in between; and I should be perfectly prepared to consider the desirability of strengthening his hands by impartial assessors, with whom he could share the burden of decision in the event of the two sides on the local board failing to come to an agreement.

It has been suggested it might be necessary to have some further central machinery behind that. I am not convinced of that necessity, because I believe it can be shown that by constituting the local machinery in the kind of way I have suggested, which is a new departure, you will remove all practical chances of deadlock from its way. If you believe these things are better settled by district people, who know the conditions and difficulties, then, human nature being what it is, do not, for Heaven's sake, while you are doing that, extend an invitation to them to remit their difficulties back for somebody else to settle for them. Even a referee at a football match, who often has to take decisions at, I am told, some personal risk—even such a man as that, courageous as he must be, if he knew that he could remit the burden of decision to somebody else, would not be human if he did not do so. Do not reduce and shackle their power of independence by encouraging them to appeal to somebody else, instead of settling the matter themselves.

After all, the main quality of our people is, thank Heaven, a gift for compromise. If you get people round a table talking together, and tell them they have got to settle a thing, they will settle it, and in a way much more satisfactory to them than if any hon. Gentleman on that side or on this tried to settle it for them. The truth is, I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Buxton) is not quite free from the danger of looking at this industry, as some of his friends look at all industries, through coloured spectacles, in which they see the farmer and the man he employs as natural enemies. That is a very useful picture for some political platforms, but bears no relation whatever to fact. I do urge the Minister to reconsider his Bill in these respects in order that he may give it the best chance of functioning. There are other points in the Bill that can be properly examined if, and when, the Bill reaches a later stage. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that it is not impossible, on the lines suggested by our Amendment, to reach a settlement. It is not impossible to devise a Bill that would not indeed secure warm acceptance by the extremists on either side, but which would have a chance of recruiting to itself the great bulk of moderate opinion in the country, who would try to work it in such a way as to secure the results we all want, without the ill-results that we all fear.

The right hon. Gentleman, if I may say so, has a great opportunity because he has the destinies of the agricultural industry largely in his hands by the action he takes on this Bill. We want to get for the labourer the best wage that industry can provide for him, and we want to secure for him the most regular employment. We think this Bill, as it stands, prejudices both those objects, and will create unnecessary friction all over the country. If the right hon. Gentleman will meet us, we will do our best to meet and to help him; but if he feels bound to stick to the provisions of this Bill, which in our judgment are bound to work badly and defeat the purposes that we, not less than he, wish to pursue, we shall be false both to the knowledge we think we possess, and to the interests of those we represent, if we do not use every effort, and all the powers that we can, to effect such alterations in this Bill as will make it more likely to effect the object with which it is introduced.


The only fault I have with the right hurt Gentleman opposite (Mr. Wood) is that he like the National Farmers' Union, will snatch a piece out of my speech and leave its context. Why did not the right hon. Gentleman quote all my speech? That would not have answered his purpose.


I should be sorry if the hon. Member thought I had misrepresented him.


Well, you did.


If so, I apologise at once I would like to tell him, that in order to make sure I was not misquoting his speech, I took the trouble to read the whole of it again, and I thought it a very good one.


Why did he not quote that speech when the Minister of Agriculture brought in his policy of giving relief to agriculture? That would not have answered his purpose. The Mover of the Amendment gave us no reason whatever why this House should not proceed to a Second Reading of this Bill, and we shall not have a better speech in support of the Second Reading than the Seconder of the Amendment gave. I do not want to harrow the House, because every speaker has expressed his regret at the terribly low wage which the agricultural labourer is receiving. When I listened last Thursday for five hours to speeches in connection with the Vote of Censure on the Government for doing nothing to help the poor, I certainly did not expect such an Amendment as this on an occasion when the Government is coming forward to do something to help a long-suffering class. Ye shall know them by their fruits. It will be known to-morrow morning, when the lists come out, how Members voted in the Lobby when an attempt being made by the Government to do something for the worst paid and worst housed class in the country. Unless you wear the shoe that pinches, you have no idea of the terrible suffering that is endured. I give hon. Members opposite full credit for sincerity in the views they hold, but obviously they cannot see the way we regard the matter. I will tell you something that took place not 50 years ago. By permission of the House I will give a budget of 31st May, 1924. It is the budget of a labourer's wife, the mother of three children. It is a budget for a family of five. Here are the principal items: 3 lbs. sugar 1s. 2¼d., ½ lb. margarine 6d., ¼ lb. tea 7½d., 1 lb. lard 8d., 1 lb. butter 1s. 6d., 1 lb. cheese 11½d., 1 bar soap 6d., 1 box starch 10d., 2 cwt. coal 5s., ½ lb. bacon 6½d., 12 2-lb. loaves of bread 4s., 3 lbs. beef 3s. 6d., and 8 pints of milk 1s. 8d. The total of the budget works out at £1 2s. 5½d., leaving out of the wage of 24s. 7d. only 2s. 1½d. There is nothing for rent, nothing for boots and clothes, except this 2s. 1½d. I wish I could take hon. Gentlemen down to rural villages to see these things. They would not talk about paid agitators. I would like to show them at what cost it is done. I would take them into a labourer's cottage on a Saturday night and show them by the fireside little children's clothes which the mother had washed and hung before the fire in order that they may be clean and tidy on Sunday morning. And I would point to the mother mending socks, and I would say, "Look at that pallid face and those sunken eyes and see at what cost the labourer produces food for this country and for the people." That is no exaggeration.

I accept hon. Members' declaration that they deeply regret it. I believe they do honestly regret it—as honestly as we do. But I would point out that the course they are taking by trying to defeat this Bill by their Amendment will keep down these downtrodden people at the starvation point where they now are. It is no use telling us they have the good will of the farmers. I would not trust that. I do not say that out of any disrespect. I do not know that if I were a farmer I would not do the same thing. The farmer, like everyone else, has to work under our present system. You can say you are hoping to alter it, but so long as you have your industrial system carried on for profit, whether farming or anything else, those engaged in it will always be trying to get as big a profit as possible. That is natural. It would be contrary to human nature if they did not try to get their labour as cheaply as possible.

This cry for the wage board is not a new one. In 1906, after the Labourers' Union had been defunct for 10 years, when we restarted it, one of our first things was to appeal to the Government of the day to bring these matters to the wages board. We came to the conclusion that to organise the labourers would be very difficult. The system under which they live is so bad that we felt we should never be able to organise them into a powerful union that could demand wages without help from other quarters. We are told now that if we will drop the central board there will be no opposition. In 1917, when the Government of that day brought in their Corn Production Bill, the farmers offered the same opposition as they are offering now. On every platform they opposed the Corn Production Bill. They said they did not want a wage board. Therefore, past experience shows us how they would support a wage board of any kind now. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman who last spoke if he can name any solitary agricultural labourer who has any influence with the rest of the men who is opposed to the central wages board. I do not mean paid agitators. I want leaders of thought amongst the agricultural labourers. I do not mean the ramshackle Landworkers' Union. I mean men who are known leaders of thought among the labourers. Can the right hon. Gentleman give me the names of such men and the districts in which they live?


The hon. Gentleman appeals to me to produce the names of labourers opposed to the central wages board. I think if I did he would not admit that they are leaders of thought.


I have not heard the names yet. I hope the Minister of Agriculture will not give way on this matter of a central board. From all points of view, wage boards without a central board would be of very little use at all. Hon. Members talk about giving local autonomy to district committees. Where does the local autonomy come in? Where does the freedom of action come in? I will tell the right hon. Gentleman that there are very few districts in which you can find a dozen men who dare face their employers on these committees. Does not the right hon. Gentleman know that 95 per cent. of the agricultural labourers live under their employers and may be dismissed at a week's notice? Is it not a case of no work no house? Where is the freedom, then? I can well understand we are anxious that there should be a central board to which the men can appeal in the case of a deadlock. I have had some experience on these committees. I know how they function and work. I say that unless there is a central board there will be a deadlock every time. There will be no move at all.

Let me ask hon. Gentlemen to read the Clause in the Bill. It lays it down that the central board, if it be formed, shall not function at all until the committee have refused to accept the wage. There must be an interval of two months to enable them to do that, and then another two months after that to refer a matter back to the committee. Where is their authority then? They are nonentities. Unless the Bill be improved in Committee, five months will pass away before any improvement can be made in the lot of the labourer.

The labourer is worthy of his hire, and it has been laid down that labour should be the first charge on the land. I may be asked, can farming pay? It can be made to pay. Who was responsible for the 1920 Act being repealed? Why, the Farmers' Union themselves, and the Government, of which the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Wood) was a Member. They sent us through the Lobby 30 times in order to pass a. Bill, and then six months afterwards they repealed that very Act. Therefore, those who formed that Government are responsible for the very terrible state of agriculture at the present day. Had you not repealed that Act, you would not have had the present state of things.

If farmers would only bring their farming up to date and make the best use of the machinery and all the scientific research and the best manures, then farming would' e in a much better condition. It could be made to produce more, and if there was a greater production then the cost of food would be less. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman opposite need go far from London to see the state of things which I have represented. If he will take a trip with me to Norfolk, he will very soon find out that it is the inefficiency of the methods adopted by the farmers that is the cause of a great deal of the depression in the agricultural industry. The farms are not half cultivated, and they produce more docks and thistles than corn. If the farmers brought their methods up to date and equipped themselves for it, then farming could be made to pay a living wage, and they could pay the labourer a wage that would permit him to live in decency and comfort.

I appeal to the Minister of Agriculture not to give way in any shape or form in reference to this Bill, and I would rather lose this Measure than not have the central board. I make a pathetic appeal to the Mover and Seconder of the rejection of this Bill and to hon. Members opposite in the interests of the little suffering children, 75 per cent. of whom are defective in health, to withdraw this Amendment. Let this Bill be passed unanimously apart from any party spirit, and let us once and for ever, when something is brought forward to lift up those who are down on the low rung of the ladder, banish party spirit and try and do something unanimously that will help agriculture as a whole, and allow the agricultural labourer to lead a better and a higher life. For these reasons, I appeal to hon. Members opposite to withdraw their Amendment. Let us pass this Bill unanimously, and let it go forth to the world that the House of Commons at least is prepared to do something for the agricultural labourer that will improve his lot, and lift him up to a higher, fuller and better life, and then you will get loud applause from the toiling masses of this country.


I am sure the House has listened with great interest to the moving appeal made by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, and who is such an experienced master of his subject. There seems to be no question in any part of the House as to the position of the agricultural labourer. The trade which he follows is admittedly a sweated trade, just as much as those trades were sweated in regard to which this House passed the Trade Boards Act. Anyone who read the Debates at the time of the passing of the Trade Boards Act will find exactly the same arguments were used against that Act as are used to-day. It was stated that the trades affected by that Act could not pay increased wages, that it was better for a person to get a small wage than no wage at all, and that small wages were better than starvation. All the arguments which have been used to-day were used in connection with the Measure to which I have referred, and, although the Trade Boards Act was passed, we did not find that those particular trades disappeared after 1908.

Viscount WOLMER

Some of them have suffered.


I agree that the justification for State interference in the regulation of wages must undoubtedly be strong, because it is an extreme measure for the State to step in between employer and workmen, and say "You shall pay a minimum wage of so much." At the same time, it is admitted that a large number of the population in this industry are not getting enough to eat day by day. This was pointed out by my right Eon, Friend the Member for Tiverton. If this state of things were ventilated in the urban areas, it would not be tolerated for one instant.

This state of things is due to the unhealthy conditions of bargaining which are going on. If the agricultural labourers were organised like the farmers, then we might appeal to collective bargaining and leave it there, but as Mr. Churchill said at the time of the passing of the Trade Boards Act., the good employer is undercut by the bad employer, and the bad employer by the worst. The reason is that the bad employer undercuts the better employer, and the worst undercuts the bad, until we hear of a man with a family being paid 20s. a week, The right hon. Gentleman has discovered these cases and has informed us that when a farmer is discovered paying these wages he is boycotted. After all, the people who live in those districts know what a man is paying in the shape of wages. You always hear what your neighbour is paying, and it is well known in the district. It is no credit to the farmers to boycott a man after he has been found out, when it might have been found out before.

We all admit now that there is a necessity for the statutory fixation of wages. The right hon. Gentleman who has introduced this Bill has followed precedent. He has taken as his model the Corn Production Act and the Corn Production Act followed very closely the Trade Boards Act; in fact, it was modelled on that Act. We had a central wages board and local committees, but those committees had only power to recommend wages to the central board, and that is what my right hon. Friend has copied in the present Bill. It has been said that in return for the establishment of this wages board, there should be some quid pro quo securing certain advantages for the farmers. It is alleged that this was the arrangement at the time of the passing of the Corn Production Act, but that was not so. Mr. Prothero himself said that he did not intend these two things to hang together. In the same Debate the right hon. Gentleman who is now Prime Minister said: The wages board and the 25s. minimum have nothing to do with bounties. Labour is not paid out of bounties, but out of profits, and if they cannot be paid out of profits, then labour cannot be paid at all. I think that is perfectly obvious. The right hon. Member for Tiverton said: There is no connection in history or experience or logic between guaranteed prices and the regulation by law of wage rates and conditions. So that the argument that in order that the wages board may be accepted the farmers should be guaranteed some advantage was never accepted.

The Agriculture Act set up the wages board, and when it was repealed the conciliation committee was introduced. It provided a chairman, but the representatives on either side had only one collective vote, so that unless you got unanimity they could come to no decision at all. Clearly under these conditions it was hopeless that conciliation committees would work, and failure was inevitable. The farmers have objections to the wages board, and they suggest an amended conciliation committee. They use the old arguments against the Wages Board. Their first argument is, better low wages than nothing. Mr. Tennant, who introduced the Trade Boards Bill, said: The question is asked, is it not better that you should give some work than no work, and that some should be sweated rather than starve. To that I reply a hundred times, 'no.' He pointed out on that occasion that the alternative is not starvation and sweating, but that starvation is an accompaniment of sweating. Their next argument is that the result will be widespread unemployment with reference to this suggestion. I trust that my right hon. Friend in charge of the Bill will take such steps as are in his power to ensure that agriculture is included in the trades insured against unemployment, because that reform has been far too long delayed. Within the last three years we have had nearly 100,000 people thrown out of agriculture who are now wandering about the streets of our towns without unemployment insurance.

It is next said that the wages fixed by the wages board cannot be paid by the industry. If there were time I should like to go into the question of the relation between rent and wages in some detail, because it seems certain that if a farmer cannot afford to pay an adequate wage he should not be called upon to pay an adequate rent. The rent represents, to a certain extent, the dividend on the business, and in industry generally, if a business is not making a profit, the investment pays no dividend. It seems to me that there is an analogy in agriculture, and that it is fair to say that the payment of wages, if it cannot be done to a sufficient extent out of the pocket of the farm, should, to a certain extent, be met by a reduction of the rent. But the time has not yet come, perhaps, for that measure of land reform which will result in land courts and the fixation of rent, though one hopes that it will come in due time.

The radical objection of the farmer is, undoubtedly, to the interference of the State, and I have great sympathy with him in that, because, surely, nothing can be worse for any industry than that there shall continually be inspectors from headquarters going round and getting hold of the man in charge when he is busy on other things, asking him to produce books, interviewing his employés, and asking them what wages they are getting. That is certain to foment illfeeling between the employer and his employés, and, if it does not actually do that, the farmer himself will think it does, which is nearly as bad.

In the present Bill the Minister, as has been pointed out, has taken practically all the power up to London. My hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. G. Edwards) tried to explain that the wages committees in the counties have power, but in fact, if one reads the Bill carefully, they have no power. The whole of the power lies with the central wages board, and, whatever may be said with regard to the desires of the labourers, I have in the last two weeks held meetings for labouring men, and have met them in hundreds, and everyone of them objects to this central control from London. They all want to have the thing settled in the district, where the conditions are known, and the people who are doing it are known; and I would urge the Minister in this matter to keep an open mind, and not to determine his action entirely upon the acceptance or rejection of the central wages board. It is a condition of the Bill's success that both sides should work; it is a condition of its success that the machinery should be simple and readily accessible, and that interference should be reduced to a minimum.

I may point out that we have a precedent—which is a thing that this House loves—in the Corn Production Act itself. Hon. Members may recollect that, in the Corn Production Act, Scotland was excluded from Schedule I, and had a separate Schedule II to itself; and the right hon. Gentleman will, undoubtedly, remember that in Scotland there was no central wages board, but district committees which fixed wages, and that above them were area committees, to which reference could be made in cases of deadlock or difficulty, but which had no power to interfere with the fixing of the rates of wages. That system has worked in Scotland, and has, apparently, worked well, because we have had no complaints from Scotland. Why should we not follow that example in England, and have our county committees, which would fix wages, with group committees to which reference could be made in cases of deadlock or difficulty?

I urge hon. Members opposite not to press this Amendment. It seems to me to be extremely desirable on this occasion, if it is at all possible, that we should give this Bill a unanimous Second Reading. After all, in the Com- mittee stage we can make such improvements as seem necessary, and I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman will accept a good deal In order to get the Bill through, while, in the end, if what we desire is not accepted, there is always the Report stage and Third Reading. To turn this Bill down on Second Reading by passing an Amendment of this kind would be fatal, both in the interests of the men themselves and of this House, and to do so, where we can join together to pass a Measure which cannot but be of very great benefit to a large number of our suffering fellow-subjects, would be to make the very greatest mistake.


On rising for the first time to address the House, I am sure I shall receive the indulgence that Members usually receive on the occasion of a maiden speech, if only for the reason that this is a subject of enormous interest to us all and also by reason of the fact that I intend to be very brief. The hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. G. Edwards) is not now in the House. I wish he were here, because he warned us at the beginning of his speech that we should have to look out how we voted to-night, as our names would be in the paper to-morrow. He also asked a right hon. Gentleman, who spoke from this side of the House, if he could name any farm labourers who were against this particular form of wages board. I should like to answer the hon. Member in this way. At the last Election, whenever I was asked at any meeting, I said quite clearly that I was against such a system of wages hoards as that which is now before the House, and the result was that I got in by, I think, a record majority for the constituency; so that there must be, anyhow in my constituency, an enormous number of farm workers who are definitely against the sort of wages board that has been put forward this afternoon. I should like to remind the House that the major portion of the expenditure in farming is fixed and unavoidable, from the point of view of the farmer. He has his rent, and I should like to remind the hon. Member who has just sat down that it would be more than usual for the rent charged to be only the bare interest on the farm buildings aid fences, and so on. Then he has his interest, which he cannot alter, his tithe, and his rates, whereby the farmer, in a large measure, pays what I think should, in justice, be charged to the general community. He has his trade bills for seeds, fertilisers, and so on, and also depreciation, which I do not think any sane business man can afford to ignore.

All these charges are absolutely unavoidable, and form the larger part of his expenditure. By very skilful management it is possible, perhaps, to economise in some of these items, hut only a negligible reduction could be effected, even by skilful management. The only item left is that of labour, and, as has been said this afternoon, no party in this House can claim a monopoly of the desire to see the conditions of the workers in the agricultural industry improved. We are all on common ground in that, but we differ as to the methods by which it can be attained. The hon. Member for South Norfolk, in almost his closing remarks, said that, if farming methods were brought up to date, it would be possible to pay better wages, but that is not the suggestion that is before us this afternoon. The suggestion that is now before us is that the cure for agriculture, which is the object we have in view, can best be brought about by the creation of some aloof authority in which autocratic power is vested, and which is to decide, not what the industry can afford to pay—because, in my opinion, a committee up here in Whitehall will be incapable of doing that—but to decide what it is the duty or the enforced privilege of that industry to pay. The proposition, therefore, would be that, whereas no assistance is given to the agricultural industry—not even the, perhaps, logical, though, perhaps, sometimes uninspired insistence upon the free play of economic forces—what is going to happen, as likely as not, is that the dice will actually be loaded against the home producer. It may easily he contended that the human item of expenditure in the agricultural industry should, in some way, be protected. I am not against that at all, but I do plead here, for the sake of the workers in that industry, and for the sake of the industry as a whole, that, where interference is necessary, it should operate through the medium of a well-versed and sympathetic committee.

I contend that no isolated, self-contained committee in Whitehall can possibly have the requisite knowledge to decide whether or not a farmer is paying what he can afford to pay. Farmers are perfectly prepared to place all their cards on the table. They do not wish to conceal anything, but they wish to put their cards on the table in front of a committee which is capable of judging the case on its merits. You can send accounts up to Whitehall, but you have to do more than that in order to tell whether a sufficient proportion of the expenditure is being given to labour. You have to decide whether those accounts are the accounts of a man who is farming well, or of a man who is farming badly, in order that they may have any bearing on the case at all. It is quite impossible for any committee in Whitehall to decide that. I plead again, therefore, that, if interference is considered desirable, it should come from a local committee who can find out the whole facts of the case, and that their decision should be final. Perhaps I exaggerate the risk, but anyhow, even though it may be a small risk, if that body in Whitehall should give a false decision, there cannot be the slightest doubt that it would reflect on the industry in the part of the country concerned, and upon the workers in that district. It is a risk which I do not think any Government ought to take. Let the power be given to the people who know the rights and wrongs of the case, and let them decide. I do not suppose that there is any industry in this country in which at the moment there is such good feeling and confidence between the workers and employers as there is in the agricultural industry. In my own part of the country it is most noticeable, and I think it applies throughout the country generally. I am very much afraid that the introduction of some autocratic power here will diminish that confidence in discussion between employers and employed, and that is another reason why I think we should give full powers to these local committees, and not run the risk of doing damage to the agricultural industry and the workers in it which I fear we may run if autocratic powers were vested, not only in a committee, but in a Minister who is necessarily partisan. I do not mean to say anything of that kind with regard to the present Minister, but with any Minister I think it is a great danger.

8.0 P.M.


I should like to congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Cambridge (Captain Briscoe) on his maiden speech, and on the sympathy which he has expressed, and which he undoubtedly feels, for agriculture as a whole and for the workers in agriculture in particular. I rise, however, to support the Bill as one who was very strenuously opposed to the repeal of Part I of the Agriculture Act, and who has always, since that time, used as much effort as he possibly could to re-establish a wages board. It has been said here this afternoon that the conciliation committees have worked well. They have worked just as well as I expected when they were suggested in this House, and they have worked no better than I expected, simply because there was no incentive, no real reason why they should work. It was just as easy for the farmer to stop at home and regulate the wages on his own farm, as it was to meet his fellows and discuss the question in the conciliation committee, which had nothing to recommend it but united good will. The fall in wages and the difficulties incidental thereto were fatal so far as the agricultural labourer was concerned. They were absolutely helpless. It is necessary that something should be substituted in their place if we are going to protect the agricultural labourer. I am reminded of the difference between the organisation of the agricultural labourer and that of the farmer. This seems to me to be reflected in the amount of correspondence hon. Members receive from the respective unions. If anyone had any doubt of the organisation of the National Farmers' Union, that would be dissipated in view of the amount of literature they have been able to send us lately. We know they are thoroughly well organised and well able to pay for their organisation, in contra-distinction to the agricultural labourers, who are unable to pay for their organisation.

The farmers ask where is the money to come from. In the first place, the Bill does not ask for any money at all, and, if it proceeded to the extreme length of embodying a minimum wage in its provisions, I think a good case could have been made out for it even under those circumstances. The question where the money is to come from was touched upon by the last speaker and by the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Simpson), when he said all the charges the farmer has to bear are fixed, except that of labour. That seems to be a great scandal if we examine it only for a minute. His rent is fixed. He has to find the money for that. His rates are fixed. When we come to the animals that work on his farm, they must be well fed and cared for. The only one that is left out is the man who works on the farm. Surely this is a great injustice, that provision must be made for every other payment the farmer has to make except that of his labourers. Everything else must be fixed, but his case is fluid. I do not think we can assent to that. So the only alternative, it seems to me, is that a wages board should be established. In the first instance, I felt strongly inclined to put as much power as possible in the district committees. I thought it would be a good thing for many reasons. First of all, if you do not invest them with something in the nature of authority they will become indifferent. If they know that every decision they arrive at can be reversed by a central body they will not work. If every decision can be successfully appealed against, no decision will really be taken with any degree of business examination or a desire to come to a real understanding. To that extent I should like the local committees strengthened. But I realise that you must have a central board. I could not possibly conceive that a wages board could be in any degree effective under present circumstances if it were not provided that an appeal could be made to some central authority. The suggestion which was thrown out by the hon. Member for Southern Norfolk (Mr. G. Edwards) is a really true one, and touches the whole kernel of the case. You could not find men in the rural districts who would be prepared to stand up against opposition from the employer and argue to the full the necessity for an increase of wages higher than that the employer was prepared to award, especially when you realise that he is living on the farm, and possibly any difference of opinion on the board might be translated on to the farm and disagreement might ensue. He is in a position to keep his end up, but not, I am sure, to the extent that, the employer is. The employer goes to such a board with much greater powers that can operate out- side the board than the agricultural labourer. I do not want to put it any higher than that, but I suggest that is the case. Then with regard to an independent chairman, the difficulty would be to find a man who would be independent, and who could upon occasion give a casting vote, and, therefore, I am forced to the conclusion that the only real way in which a wages board can be established which will be effective is to have a central board.

I know quite well—no one perhaps knows better—and I sympathise with the feeling of the farmer who has been accustomed to regulate his own affairs and fix his wages at a market ordinary on a market day if he has to go, in the first instance, to a local wages board, and I have further sympathy for him when he knows that an appeal can be made to a central board. Farming from Whitehall, I know, is a terrible bugbear to farmers. It is a pity that it should be so. The board which will operate in London presumably will he so chosen that it will work with the least possible friction. It seems to me that in Clause 7 the Minister has retained a certain amount of power which will enable him, under certain conditions, to afford a guiding hand even to the central wages board, and if that is judiciously exercised it might remove some suspicion from the minds of 'the farmers. I further wonder whether if that board met at some other place than Whitehall it would remove some objections. I wonder how it would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Mr. E. Wood) if the board met at York. To come a little nearer home, I wonder what would be the effect of the board meeting at Lincoln instead of London. I wonder if it would remove some of the objections the farmers have to centralised authority. It might, but some such authority is absolutely necessary. The case of the labourer has been presented in a manner which must provoke sympathy in the heart of everyone who has heard it, and the case of the farmer has been very well put and defended, and I do not think I can add anything to the Debate which would strengthen the case of one or the other. My object is to obtain a wages board. That we want, and I believe it would be the means, so far from provoking discord and trouble in the agri- cultural community, of bringing them nearer together and sitting round the same table and realising the troubles that each and everyone of them has, it will open a new era in the relations between farmer and the labourer which must be beneficial to agriculture in the future. Further than that I cannot got at present, but I hope no factious opposition will be offered to the passage of the Bill, and that in Committee we shall proceed in such a manner as to ensure its passing into law in the best possible form in the interests of those concerned.


I have listened with very great attentiveness to the Debate, and one of the satisfactions, if satisfaction it may be, is that I have heard many points which I had proposed to mention brought forward by others. That is a satisfaction, first because it has been well done, and, secondly, it gives me an opportunity of cutting out a good deal which otherwise I should not have had time to say. I cannot say I had any satisfaction in listening to the Minister's speech, because from beginning to end I did not hear one word which showed any possibility of the industry paying the higher wage which we all agree should be paid if the industry can pay it. He said he was not enamoured of sob stuff. I am sorry he was not. I do not know that I particularly like the expression, but if he had expressed deep sympathy with the men we should all agree with him, because I am certain on these benches as much as anywhere else there is profound sympathy with certain of the men who are receiving wages which are certainly not adequate. But that is not the fault of the farmer. He cast some aspersion on the right of the Farmers' Union to speak for organised farming. The National Farmers' Union have more than 800 local branches and more than 100,000 members, so at any rate they can speak with mine authority. Speaking for them, I say definitely that we are against this Bill as drafted. We are against the centralisation which is contained in the Bill. A settlement, to be a satisfactory settlement, must be in the district and between those who are primarily concerned in the settlement. Every effort must be made to keep the centre of gravity in the district. I know centralisation will be disastrous, and the appointment of any central board in my opinion will be a direct invitation, if past experiences are to be taken any notice of, for the removal of the settlement from the district to the centralised board in London. The Bill is practically the 1917 Act, but it is under different conditions. At the time the 1917 Act was passed, there were the conditions of subsidy.


Not subsidy—guarantee.


Call it what you like. There was a guarantee to the farmer. That is not contained in this. Farmers never did and do not to-day ask for a subsidy for themselves. It was to enable certain classes of land to be kept under cultivation and to continue the employment of labour. I sincerely wish hon. Members opposite would try to remember that wages come through the farmer but do not come from him. They come from the industry, and that is a most important fact to remember in discussing this question. There is the very grave danger that if a wage is fixed higher than the industry can bear—I will not quote again the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Acland) as to what the farmers have done with regard to paying wages, though I have a note to do so—the farmers will be driven to employ fewer men at a higher wage. That will mean unemployment for many men, That, I am sure, is not the object or the desired object of the Bill, but I am afraid that will be the result.

A question has been asked whether the industry can pay. We have heard of an individual exception, but this House, I hope, will never legislate for exceptions. We must try to see whether we can arrive at some satisfactory scheme which will be for the industry as a whole. Of one fact I am absolutely confident, and that is that on certain large stretches of our corn land better wages cannot be paid. We must remember also that it is arable land that employs most labour. On intensive market gardening land about 25 to 30 men can be employed per 100 acres, in hop growing about 10 per 100 acres, mixed arable farming 3 to 5 per 100 acres, and on grass lands as low as 1 to 2 per 100 acres. Therefore, from the workers' point of view, we should see to it that as much land as possible is kept in arable cultivation and not allowed to go to grass. The Minister of Agriculture said a short time ago, in answer to a question, that he did not believe land was being put to grass at the present time. He quoted as his authority for that inquiries which he had made amongst seed merchants, who said that the purchase of seeds was not abnormally high. I have here an extract from a statement by Mr. Herbert Smith, Secretary of the National Association of Corn and Agricultural Merchants, and he corroborated what the Minister said in the first portion of his statement: The demands for seeds for permanent pasture has been normal, or even slightly less than normal. But he goes on to say: The demand for seeds for three or four ears lay has been abnormal. It is not entirely a question of the amount of seed bought for the seeding down of the land; it is the amount of land which is being ploughed. In the agricultural returns, temporary pasture is scheduled as arable, and, consequently, although the land has not been seeded it still remains with the seeds which were sown some time ago, and has not been ploughed. The land under plough to-day is less than in 1914. It is a question which the Government, for the nation, must decide, as to whether they require certain classes of poor arable land to be kept in cultivation. It is not a party question, and I hope we shall not allow them to make it a party question. It is an economic question. The real question is the difference between the urban and the rural interests.

Wage boards cannot alter economic laws. The wage board does not provide the money with which to pay the wages, and, consequently, it cannot be looked upon as a remedy. The real remedy is to see that by some means the industry is put into such a position that it can pay these wages. It is unfair to saddle the industry with an uneconomic condition and then expect the industry to carry on and to bear an obligation which really belongs to the State. The Prime Minister some time ago said that this should be a spur to the industry. It is rather a novel idea that to deprive an industry of its capital is going to spur the industry on. If the Minister of Health were here I should be tempted to ask him how much he will have to increase the wages in the building trades to halve the cost of producing houses. It is a novel point, and I think he will find a great difficulty in answering it.

This Bill is the 1917 Act, with certain differences. It is, therefore, desirable to see how that Act worked out in practice. The centralisation which took place was a very expensive luxury. Hon. Members may have noticed that I have asked questions lately on this point, and I have received certain replies from the Minister of Agriculture. On the 13th May I was told that 156 Orders had been issued by the Agricultural Wages Board, not eight, as has been stated to-day. I would ask hon. Members to notice how the staff has grown. In 1918 it totalled 54; in 1919, 91; in 1920, 110; and in 1921, 115. That shows how the bureaucracy grew. The salaries of these officials amounted to £211,035. The cost of advertising the Orders alone was £00,597. These figures are given in the OFFICIAL REPORT, Cols. 1181–82. There were four Standing Committees and eighteen temporary Committees. Only two of the Reports of the Committees were published and the publishing cost £247. The fees and travelling expenses of the members of the central board amounted, first, to £21,520, second, £17,203, making a total of £38,723. The total expenditure amounted to £311,000 in three and one-third years. That does not say anything about the expenses of the staff. The best Clause in this Bill is the one that says: This Act shall not apply to Scotland or the North of Ireland. The shortest and best Amendment would be, "Neither to England nor Wales." I do hope, and I say this in all sincerity, that this question will not devolve into a wrangle between two unions. It is a national question, and we all have the same object. I am a believer in trade unions. I am a trade unionist, and I sincerely hope that the two unions, who are in the same industry, will not begin to make this a union question, and so deprive the nation of accepting its obligation to settle it as a national question.

The workers say that they want a 30s. minimum. That is not in the Bill. So do I want that, and so does everybody else, but I want it to be made possible for that or a higher wage to be paid. The hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. G. Edwards) gave us an illustration of the boot which pinched. He said that the wearer of the boot knew. May I remind him of another old saying: You cannot get a stocking off a bare leg. You cannot get wages out of an industry which does not produce them. We are told by some Members that the industry can pay, and we are told how. In the first place, they say that it can pay by the reduction of rent. That question has been dealt with admirably by hon Members on this side and it is not necessary to say much about it except that there is no rent at all for land to-day, only a very small percentage on the capital cost of the equipment of the land in very many cases. The profits which farmers made during the War which, we are told ought to be expended on paying wages, are gone, because very largely those existed in valuations. If I had time I could tell how they have gone. The method of cooperation has been dealt with fully by the hon. Member for Cirencester (Sir T. Davies). Although farmers are against the Bill I believe that, as hon. Members will see by the Amendment on the Order Paper in my name, they are not against collective bargaining, voluntary collective bargaining, voluntary collective as between those who are directly interested and voluntary as against a bureaucracy under central control by those who have no financial interest in the business.

The only compulsion which you can accept is a strengthening—and I advocate it—of district wage boards so that they can function in their district, and also that there should be registration of the agreements when they have been arrived at. The hon. Member for Taunton twitted the Farmers' Union because they had not themselves found out when a wage lower than that agreed upon in their district was being paid, but the hon. Member answered his own question by saying that "You can always tell what your neighbour is paying, but sometimes you are told a little bit less." We want a different Bill from this, a Bill with no centralisation in it, and which could very easily have been brought in with a far smaller number of Clauses. An amendment of Section 4 of the Corn Production Repeal Act would have done it at very little cost, and such an amendment would give the results required.


I must ask for the indulgence of the House, this being the first time I have had the privilege of addressing it. I need hardly say that it gives me great pleasure to support this Bill. At the same time, being somewhat conversant with the conditions of agriculture, I should like to put. before the House one or two facts from the farmers' point of view, so far as they affect the conditions of agriculture in the county of Essex. I do so in the sincere hope that when this Bill passes its Second Reading, and is referred to a Committee, which I have every reason to believe will be the case, the Government will devise a more equitable rating system for the agricultural community and a. revision of transport charges for agricultural requirements, artificial manures, seeds, etc., which, to my mind, need urgent and immediate attention, so that the payment of a more adequate wage to the agricultural labourer may for many farmers be an economic proposition within their power to grant. Admittedly a grave weakness on the part of the farming community has been a disinclination to organise or co-operate among themselves. Consequently, far too large a proportion of what has been paid by the consumer finds its way into the pockets of the middleman or the large distributing combines. If concentrated efforts were made, as is done in other countries, I am sure that great benefit would accrue to the farmer.

I think that the hon. Member for Cirencester (Sir T. Davies) said that this Bill offered no remedy. It does appear to me that there are ways and means open to us to improve the present state of things and restore agriculture to the position which it ought to occupy as one of the essential industries of the nation. Its welfare should he the concern of every Government, and first, to that end, I place the need of organisation and cooperation among the farmers themselves. Self-help, to my mind, is the first law of progress, and I am afraid that we have been altogether toe individualistic in this country hitherto, and have not taken to heart the lessons which we might have learned from Denmark and, even, from Germany in the matter of organisation of the farmers themselves, to put agriculture on a thoroughly sound basis. Think of the importation from Denmark alone, to the extent of over £60,000,000 each year, of bacon, eggs, dairy produce, and the like. If the greater part of that were obtained from the home producer it would make all the difference between prosperity and depression.

Why is it that Denmark finds a ready market here for her produce? Our farmers are not sufficiently organised to secure the home market for their own produce. So long as that is the case so long shall we be struggling against adversity, often accentuated by bad seasons which cannot of course be guarded against no matter how good farmer may be. It is no use demanding or depending upon subsidies at the expense of any other class of the community. The agriculturist can still get his living out of the land, but I do feel that at the moment he should receive fair treatment at the hands of the State. For instance, the provision of money from the Development Fund for the establishment of sugar beet factories, such as those at Kelham in Notts and Cantley in Norfolk, ought to be extended. Undoubtedly a very large area of land in this country is suitable for the growing of sugar beet, and if factories were multiplied throughout Great Britain before long we should be in a fair way to supply our own needs in the way of sugar. Before the War Germany sent to us the vast bulk of our sugar supply, as we knew to our cost when War broke out. The wisdom of such a policy is obvious, and the Government should not hesitate to provide money under proper safeguard to do what is required. The farmers themselves, I feel sure, would not fail to strike out in any new direction and make every effort to ensure the success of such an experiment.

I need hardly refer to the establishment of bacon factories, to which the Government are lending assistance and which have been extremely successful ventures. This is another step in the right direction. The same thing might be done with cheese and butter and the supply of eggs and poultry. We have by no means reached the limit of our production as yet. Not long ago this was brought out in a most striking way by a series of comparisons instituted by Mr. Middleton, of the Board of Agriculture It. appeared from the return of products of 100 acres of British farm land that 45 to 50 persons were maintained, whilst in Germany 70 to 75 persons were main tained. The German farmer grew twice as much corn and five times as many potatoes per acre, and produced the same quantity of meat and 1½ times as much milk as the British farmer. That gave one furiously to think. It is not because the soil of Germany is better, and not because the climate as a whole is more favourable for crops. But it is pointed out that by far the larger number of occupiers in Germany are owners of their own farms. An expert Governmental Committee was recently set up, and it is interesting to note that it reported that in its opinion the small-holdings movement was of the greatest value in maintaining an agricultural population, and that the time had come for a new and vigorous effort to extend the establishment of small holdings. May I refer briefly to the question of housing?

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Entwistle)

The hon. Member is making a maiden speech, and I have allowed him a lot of latitude The Bill under discussion is an Agricultural Wages Bill, and the hon. Member must try to keep to the subject of the Bill.


I would like to refer to the question and need of agricultural education.


I am afraid that that will not be in order. The hon. Member must deal with the question of agricultural wages, and any argument which he uses as an illustration must be pertinent to the Bill.


I wanted to deal with the question of research and scientific education, but as the time is late, I will leave that for some other occasion. As things are, the depression of the industry generally is reflected in the sorry plight of the agricultural worker. In supporting this Bill I would point out that many hundreds of agricultural workers are compelled to exist on a pittance of under 30s. a week. Many of them are housed in dilapidated cottages, and are endeavouring to bring up large families when the cost of every article of living is so high as to be practically beyond their reach. Let it be remembered that the agricultural worker is a skilled man. It is high time that he was lifted out of the rut, and given an opportunity to live in some measure of comfort and to enjoy some of the amenities of life. I heartily support this Bill, and I wish it every success.


I would like in the first place to congratulate the last speaker on his very interesting maiden speech, and I feel sure that I shall be voicing the opinion of all Members of the House in saying that on some future occasion we shall be interested to hear what he has to say on the subjects with which he was not able to deal to-night. I would tell him that in this House one of the best ways of getting to know when you are in order is to get out of order. Most of the speeches to-day have been from hon. Members who are connected in some way with agriculture. I am not an agricultural expert, but I represent a constituency of which a large part is agricultural. I want to put before the House the opinion of the agricultural workers in regard to this Bill. An hon. Member said this afternoon that during his election campaign he told a meeting that he was against an Agricultural Wages Bill, and that consequent upon that he was returned to this House. In the two election that I fought I met the farmers and I told them quite frankly that, whether they voted for me or not, I would certainly support an Agricultural Wages Bill if I got the opportunity. One of the reasons why I am supporting this Bill is that I believe it is neither more nor less than a piece of elementary justice to the agricultural workers. The Debate to-day has been conducted in a very sympathetic atmosphere. Many hon. Members opposite have said in effect, "We agree with you that wages in agriculture are far too low. We regret it as much you do, and we would give higher wages if only the industry would permit us to do so" Frankly, I do not believe it. I believe that the losses in agriculture have been grossly exaggerated

. Some of us are very observant on market days. I could illustrate the attitude of the farmers if I were to describe what happened at a Farmers' Union dinner that I attended. Before I was asked to speak, the chairman had lamented the woes of the industry, had described the poverty from which they were all suffering, but before he sat down, having noticed that I was smiling, he said, "I hope that our friend will not think that this is the kind of fare we have at every meal every day of the week." What I would like to see in agriculture is a thorough investigation of all the facts connected with the industry. I would like to know what is the actual position, whether the industry can or cannot pay a reasonable living wage. Will those who speak for the Farmers' Union get up and say that their members in the various districts have always treated their labourers as they ought to have been treated? Will they say that they have always been as generous to them as they might have been? The generosity of some farmers would make anyone smile. I remember that at the last election discussion ranged round the proposal to give the farmers £1 an acre for their arable land, the labourers to receive a minimum wage of 30s. a week. One Farmers' Union meeting in a district close to mine passed a resolution unanimously that if the Conservatives were successful at the poll, and £1 an acre was granted to the farmer, they would immediately raise the wages of the worker from 30s. to 30s. 6d. a week, or an advance of ld. a day. I have to thank the Farmers' Union in that locality for giving me an excellent piece of propaganda, which I used to good effect. The same Farmers' Union—I am now referring to the East Riding of Yorkshire—have not always done what they might have clone. When they failed to get their way at the conciliation committees, they tried other ways, and I am going to indicate to the House one of the ways which they tried. I have here a letter which was sent out from Driffield on the 22nd February, 1924, by the secretary of the "East Yorkshire Farmers' Union." I believe it should be the East Yorkshire branch of the National Farmers' Union, but I am not responsible for the letter, which is as follows: Dear Sir, The Chairman of the Labour Committee has instructed me to write you with reference to the commencement of the slimmer hours of 55½ which it is the custom to adopt throughout the whole of East Yorkshire. According to custom and agreement these hours are due to commence on Monday, 3rd March, and I am writing to ask that you will make every effort to fall in with this arrangement and press upon your neighbour to do so, and to give ample notice to your men that these hours will operate on that date. In taking this step I further remind you (1) that in a very large number of cases yearly lads are already under signed agreements to work these hours from 3rd March; (2) that if, in view of possible legislation in the direction 'of a wages board or other regulation of wages and hours, the custom operating in the district would, unquestionably, be taken into account. I cannot, therefore, too strongly impress the importance of all farmers commencing to work the longer summer hours on that date. Please treat this circular as strictly private and confidential and do not post it up in your premises. Is that an example of generosity and of "playing the game" towards the farm workers? I say frankly, and I defy contradiction, that while hon. Members opposite may have sympathy with the farm labourer, the only way in which they can show it is by supporting a Bill of this character. It may be said that there is not sufficient money in the industry. I am bound to say, as a result of my experience as a leader of men before I came to this House, that I am always suspicious, and there is always suspicion generally, where there is no adequate machinery for regulating wages in any industry. If it be the case that there is not much money in the agricultural industry, then wages boards are necessary in order to see that the farm worker gets his share of whatever is in the industry. [HON MEMBERS: "Hear, hear"] Then why object to this Bill? If hon. Members speaking for the farmers' interest say they cannot pay a higher wage why do they oppose this Measure. It is only stating an obvious truism to say that one cannot pay more than 20s. out of £1, but why not seek to improve the existing machinery? As a matter of fact, many of the statements made to-day against this Bill getting its Second Reading are mere excuses. Let us examine some of them: We are told that one of the reasons why the farmer does not want wages boards is because he would not understand the different orders which the central committee would send out. What are these orders? The first is an ordinary wage rate order. Are we to be told that a farmer cannot tell the difference between 25s. and 27s. 6d.? Then there is an overtime rate order. Do hon. Members suggest that the farmer is so ignorant that he does not understand what he has to pay for overtime? There is a special class wage rate order, a half-holiday order, a boys' wage. rate order, a women and girls' wage rate order, an order defining permissible allowances for payment in kind, and a rent allowance order. Are these adequate reasons for opposing the Bill? Nothing of the kind.


Has the hon. Member ever seen the special class wage order?


The hon. Member will excuse me if I say that I have perhaps more knowledge than the average Member of this House of intricate matters of this kind in connection with big industries.


I have no doubt the hon. Member is right in referring to collieries, but has he ever seen this order in regard to agriculture?


To be perfectly frank, I have not. Has the hon. Member explained it to the House?


I have not had the chance.


I submit that the difficulty in regard to these orders is not an adequate objection to this Bill. The principal objection put forward against the Bill is that this House has no right to set up wages boards for the agricultural industry unless it is accompanied by very definite guarantees. Do hon. members want preferential treatment? Do they wish to lay it down that while all other industries which are regulated as to wages are to have no guarantee, the agricultural industry in a similar position is to have a guarantee Would hon. Members opposite say that because the mine owners have adopted a minimum wage, Parliament must give them a guaranteed price for coal?


They pass it on to the consumer.


Whether they pass it on to the consumer or not, I put it that agricultural wages boards are necessary and that they should be unaccompanied by any definite guarantee. I support the Bill whole-heartedly. I believe it to be absolutely necessary in order to increase the wages of the farm workers, and if hon. Members opposite have practical sympathy with the workers, let them show it by supporting the Bill. As I have said, it is only an elementary measure of justice for the farm workers and I trust the House will give it a Second Reading.


In supporting this Amendment, I admit that I wish the Notice of Motion which I placed on the Paper were before the House instead of the Amendment. The hon. Member who has just sat down told us that he represents an agricultural constituency. I have the same privilege, and, in addition, I farm 500 or 600 acres. The question of the wages boards was very prominently before the electors during the recent election, and I gave an unquestioned and undoubted pledge that I would oppose the wages board proposal by every means consistent with the Rules and Order of the House of Commons. I was returned by a majority of 4,500 votes, and therefore I am not at all afraid to speak to-night upon this question. The hon. Member said something derogatory about the Farmers' Union in East Yorkshire. I think that body is able to take care of itself, but I regret that the hon. Member read a letter which he admits was marked "confidential." [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because it is not usual when any document is marked "confidential" to attempt to make use of it in a public assembly like the House of Commons.


May I say that the letter which I read had already been made the subject of a question in this House.


I entirely accept the hon. Member's explanation. I was about to say that the hon. Member quite frankly and fairly stated that on all sides of the House there had been expressed a desire to improve the lot and the wages of the agricultural labourer. We all desire to do all we can to improve his condition, and it is because I believe that this Bill will have the contrary effect that I am speaking against it and intend to vote against it. The hon. Member, I am sorry to say, in common with one or two other hon. Members, made attacks upon the farmers. I wish they had treated the farming interests with the same consideration that we on this side of the House are attempting to give the agricultural labourer. An hon. Member opposite said he would not trust the farmers, and the hon. Member who has just spoken has attempted to make out that the farmer is not generous with his labourers. I say this deliberately, with some knowledge of what I am saying, that every farmer to-day is only too-anxious to pay his labourers a good wage, and will pay them so far as the industry can afford. It is a common platform statement that farmers are making large profits and a great deal of money. I have sat for a good many years as a Commissioner of Income Tax. I have been sitting in that capacity only last year, and, while I am not, of course, allowed to reveal any secrets, it is common knowledge that to-day the farmers are not making the profits which such statements would lead one to suppose they were making.

I object to this Bill, because it is putting the district committees into a position which I should think no man, with any consideration for himself, would attempt to accept. The district committees are to ascertain what is to be the wage to be paid in the particular district which they are considering. Then it goes up to the central wages board, and the whole of the decision arrived at by the district committee is liable to be upset. Again, under the hands of some autocratic Minister, you might find that even the decision of the central wages board was itself upset. You are putting the district committees in an entirely impossible position. By all means, if you wish it, say that the conciliation committees should function in a different way from what they are doing now. [Interruption] Why not? Do hon. Members object to conciliation? I should have thought that conciliation was a blessed word to use, and that everyone would have desired, so far as possible, to have conciliation committees, and if you say the present chairman has no authority and that all the decisions are to become binding, there will not be the slightest objection. No one will raise any question then, but you are going to upset the industry at one of the most critical times in its history, and it is very difficult, indeed, to carry on farming at all.

The relations of the men and the farmers to-day, taken all over the country, are good and friendly. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It is no good hon. Members saying "No," because we know they are. It is quite possible that in some instances you may have agitators going down and trying to stir up bad feeling. It is said in some quarters that the only object of this Bill is to smash up the industry, so that you can nationalise the land and get it at cat's meat prices. If that be what you are out for, all right, go ahead, but I am one of those, who think that agriculture is the first industry of the country, that it wants to be helped, and that it should be assisted in every way possible, and it is for those reasons that I desire to raise my voice in opposition to this Bill, and that I shall most certainly go into the Lobby to do what I can to defeat it.

9.0 P.M.


Like the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), I, too, have the privilege of representing in this House a large rural constituency, and, so far as I am concerned, I have, on the three occasions on which I have been a candidate in that division, pledged myself to the support of a Measure such as we are considering to-night. This, I think, can be described as the first really big Measure which the Government have introduced, and on such an occasion we cannot dwell too long on the misfortune which has overtaken the farm labourer during the last few years. He has been, after all, a victim, not only of the economic circumstances in the industry itself, but of as great a breach of faith as was ever committed upon any body of men, when the wages boards were scrapped with the rest of the Agriculture Act. [An HON. MEMBER: "Lloyd George!"] That scrapping was done by an overwhelming Conservative majority in this House, and without that Conservative majority in the Coalition, those wages boards would certainly have not been scrapped. some recompense, it is true, was given to the farmer—very inadequate, I am willing to admit, in many cases—but the farm labourer had to feel the whole blow, and ever since this disappearance of the wages boards he has been living in a constant nightmare of anxiety as to what his future was going to be. It is now generally admitted—it has been admitted in this House this afternoon—that in pre-War days the standard of living for the farm. labourer was far too low. Then, when the War broke out, and the farm labourers were fighting abroad, or were working at home producing the food that the nation required, the public conscience seemed to be awakened—and I have often wondered why it needs a great national upheaval to bring people to a just frame of mind—to the need for giving them a guaranteed minimum wage, and the principle was incorporated in the Charter of Hope and Liberty, as it was then described, first of all, in the Corn Production Act, and, subsequently, in the Agriculture Act. It cannot be said that even then the farm labourer to any great extent participated in the undoubted prosperity of the industry at that time, but he has been made to participate with a vengeance in the period of adversity which has followed.

There are many people who, while they profess to agree with the principle of the wages boards, say that it is only fair that when the guaranteed prices came to an end, the wages boards should come to an end also. The answer to that contention is that the question of giving a guaranteed wage to the farm labourer had absolutely nothing whatever to do with the guaranteeing of a definite price to the farmer, but was merely a very belated recognition of the fact that the conditions in the past had been very much too bad. Moreover, if it be a fact that a guaranteed price and a minimum wage are inseparable, why was it that all the farmers were compelled to pay a minimum wage, for it must be remembered that only about one half of the farming community were producing cereals, whereas the whole of the farming community had to pay a guaranteed wage? I think that very effectually disposes of the argument that a guaranteed price and a minimum wage go hand in hand. I assert that if the wages boards had not been scrapped, the serious difficulties which occurred in Norfolk last year, regarding which the present Minister of Agriculture showed such deep concern, and the other difficulties that have occured, would never have arisen. What is the position of the farm labourer to-day? I have come into contact, like most other hon. Members in this House, with a large number of them, and what I confess I find remarkable is their wonderful sympathy for and understanding of the difficulties of their employers, but they all feel—and, I think, feel rightly —that they have been made to suffer far more than is necessary by the absolute failure of the conciliation committees to do the work that they were intended to perform.

In many parts of England to-day, and in my own constituency in particular, after paying 2s. 6d. or 3s. a week rent for their cottage, the farm labourers have only about 23s. or 24s. a week upon which to live. Really, to understand this question, I think we should ask ourselves what we would do in similar circumstances, and I do not think we should be very pleased with the answer that we should be compelled to give to ourselves. I can never get myself to believe that any industry can ever be prosperous, no matter what may be the economic difficulties of the moment—and I am not attempting to minimise them—that attempts to impose upon its workers a wage which is not sufficient to provide for them a decent standard of life. Something must be done, when one considers that these farm workers have less than 3s. a day, after paying rent, with which to keep a wife and, possibly, three children. It is not enough to provide the bare necessities of life, to say nothing of nourishing food. The farm labourers today scarcely get any meat. Bread and margarine for breakfast is a typical menu. Every school in rural England, to which during the last few winters the sons and daughters of our farm labourers have had to walk a mile or more, underfed and underclothed, stands out as a living monument to the tragedy which is devastating the countryside.

Let us consider what these men have to do for their meagre wages. They have to understand horses, to do ditching, hedging, ploughing, help with the harvesting of corn and roots, use all sorts of implements, and do a variety of other jobs that fatigue the body and demand nourishing food. No one who has spoken in opposition to this Bill has ventured to suggest what other means can be found to deal adequately with the problem of agricultural wages than a Bill such as this. Collective bargaining is ruled out of the question altogether. Such is the appalling poverty of some of our farm labourers at the present time, that they cannot afford the meagre contribution necessary to retain membership of their union, and the whole history of the life of the farm labourer points to the necessity of some State action to ensure that he shall have a decent standard of life. Going as far back as 1349 the farm labourer had his wages fixed by Act of Parliament. From 1795 to 1834 he received only half of what he earned as his wages, and the other half came legally from the poor box. Those were the days when the land was being taken away from the people by enclosures and otherwise, when those responsible for legislation and administration in this country had too much power. Had those who laboured upon the land in those days not had their natural inheritance stolen from them, the problem of the farm labourer to-day would have been very different from what it is.

It is generally admitted that, under the influence of the wages boards, farmers were compelled in many cases to change their methods of production. Those who did so had no difficulty in maintaining the improved standard of wages those boards imposed upon them. Hon. Members opposite seem to resent any suggestion of inefficiency amongst the farming community, but it is undoubtedly a fact that the disappearance of those wages boards caused many farmers to relapse into bad methods, and to place reliance on cheap and inefficient labour, rather than well-paid and efficient labour. I think the re-introduction of the wages boards will have some effect in improving the efficiency and the adoption of more scientific methods upon the farm. It is our duty, not to express pious hopes and say we sympathise with the farm worker. It is our duty, if we believe that the first charge upon an industry is the provision of an adequate wage for men engaged in that industry, to give support to a Bill such as we are discussing, to ensure that object being obtained There are some features of the Bill which, to my mind, do not go far enough. Believing that there must be a line drawn beneath which no man should be allowed to fall, I would have liked the Minister to have included a wage of at least 30s. in his Bill. Moreover, the Bill should contain some provision to protect workers against undue dismissal, because such is the hostility of so many farmers to this proposal, that it is quite likely in many cases, rather than carry out the proposals of the wages boards, they will reduce the number of men employed on their farms, and thus make the situation in he countryside even more tragic.

What is required is the proper cultivation of the soil, and, Sir Daniel Hall, whose authority no one in this House will question, has stated that if the standard of farming in this country came up to the level, not of the best, but of the average, there would be no agricultural problem in this country worth discussing. I regard land as something which differs from everything else in the world. It is here just as it was put here. We cannot add to it except in so far as we may be able to reclaim a portion of the Wash. We cannot take away from it, and for this reason there is every justification for meting out to the land a treatment different from that which we mete out to everything else, however much that treatment may seem to run counter to preconceived ideas of freedom and liberty. Freedom is of two kinds. Liberty is of two kinds—liberty to do what we like, and liberty to do what is right, and I maintain that any man who is lucky enough to be in possession of land, if he does not of his own free-will cultivate that land to the best of his ability, and employ as much labour as he possibily can, ought to have it compulsorily taken away from him, so that access might be gained to it by those who are willing to put the land to the best advantage, and employ the requisite number of men upon it.

By these means something will be done to regenerate the conditions of life of the agricultural labourer. The farm labourer is never exorbitant in his demands, and because I feel this is only a belated measure of justice, I hope it will receive the support of a large majority. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be courageous, and not allow this Bill to be so mutilated in Committee that its effect will be done away with. It is true the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture occupies a position which, from an electoral point of view, is very precarious. Evidence of that is to be found in the disappearance of his two immediate predecessors from the House of Commons. I hope he will stick to his guns, and if there are any vested interests which stand in the way of the attainment of his ideals, I hope he will let the House know what they are, because I think there is a majority here determined to see that those vested interests are swept away. Whatever may be said of him when he gives up his office, I hope we shall not be able to make the charge, which I think is the worst that can be made against any man, that he was as incompetent and unimaginative in tackling these problems as were the hon. Gentlemen opposite whom he has succeeded.


I desire to intervene in this Debate for the purpose of correcting an impression, which, I believe, the hon. Member for Cirencester (Sir T. Davies) gave when he quoted to the House the losses of the co-operative societies as a result of their farming operations. I notice that the hon. Gentleman, after making that statement, immediately left the House, and has not returned to his place yet. [An HON. MEMBER "He has!"] I am very sorry if I have made a wrong accusation, but I have been here very consistently, and have not noticed him.


Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to say that the hon. Member for Cirencester was sitting beside me for at least an hour after making his speech?


Then I will withdraw the statement immediately. I admit cooperative societies have made losses on their farming operations, but I also want to make it equally clear that the cooperative societies do not wish to recoup themselves for their losses out of the wages of their farm labourers. We have never adopted that practice, and I do not think any industry should. It is very easy to take the loss on certain undertakings or businesses for a particular period and draw general conclusions, but if you briefly review the history of this particular case, I think it will very soon be found that the conclusions drawn are wrong. As a matter of fact, the co-operative movement owned very few farms before the War, and what farms they did own made Profits. Out of 65 farms in 1913, over 40 yielded the current rate of profit. The bulk of the farms the co-operative movement now own were purchased at the highest peak of prices—in 1917, and particularly during 1918 and 1919. In 1917, the total acreage owned by the co-operative movement, both distributive and wholesale, only amounted to 25,000 acres. In 1922 that acreage had increased to over 70,000, nearly treble the quantity. What was the result of entering the agricultural industry during a period of that description? 1918 onwards as hon. Members opposite know, represented a period when stock, plant, the price of land and agricultural produce had reached a very high figure. The losses which the cooperative movement has incurred during the last two or three years have not been caused by wages. Difficulties have been caused by the purchase of farms at high prices and the depreciation of stock, goods, plant and things of that description.

Viscount WOLMER

Would the hon. Gentleman address himself to the figures quoted by the National Farmers' Union in their leaflet in which it is shown that out of the loss of £345,000 last year made by the co-operative societies only £90,000 was accountable to interest on capital?


I intend to deal with those figures. It is very easy to take one particular charge on co-operative properties and to assume that that represents the only loss to be explained. Let me explain to hon. Members some of my experience of the co-operative movement in this matter in the past two or three years. I can quite see that it can be easily argued that these experiences rather than strengthening the claim that we put forward for increased co-operation amongst the farming community can be interpreted the other way. I wish to demonstrate that it is the opposite. I can speak from actual experience as chairman of a co-operative society. We went into the farming industry at this particular period. I can give the House some experience of the factors that have helped to make such huge losses.

First of all, in the general experience, quite half of the loss to which reference has been made may be accounted for by capital improvements. Let me give one instance which touches one phase of agriculture. When we purchased our farm of 670 acres what did we find? Hon. Members will know that at that period we could not purchase the best farms, we did not have the pick of the farms, and these farms do not in any way indicate the general experience, or perhaps the general condition of agriculture. When we acquired this farm one of the first things we discovered was that the cottages on it were a disgrace for any person to live in. I have seen some slums in my time, but I must confess that out in the country, where it has always been understood that you get the best of impulses of the human mind, amidst beautiful surroundings where all these thoughts and impulses can be stimulated, there existed people under conditions that were not creditable—in old, tumbled-down cottages. We replaced six of these cottages by six new ones, and that at a time when building figures were very high. Improvements of this and other descriptions accounts very largely for the losses of co-operative societies.


But that is charged to capital account!


I quite agree, that is the point I am trying to put—that the co-operative movement has to meet this loss out of its capital expenditure. What I desire, however, to make quite clear is that it has not been the wages costs. Another point that I should like to put is this: We have had a great depreciation of stock. We have had to write down cows that we purchased for £60 or £80 each to £15, £20 or £25. That represents a large loss. The farmers who had their land and their stock in the 1914 period had also the advantage later from 1914 to 1918–19 of disposing of that stock at higher prices. We purchased stock at these higher figures, and we have always in our movement adopted the practice of meeting our losses as they occur, with the result that we had to adopt something in the nature of a capital levy to balance this heavy loss.

If we had to write down a cow or a horse costing £60 or £80, we did not take it out of the cow by reducing its feeding stuff and by starving the cow, nor should you take the losses of any business out of the standard of life of the worker—in this case out of the farm labourer. That is the whole point. We have stated, that in, industry and in business you must look upon labour as not less valuable than you look upon your other live stock concerned in the business, and that labour should have the predominant claim in industry.

Another point is this: that you cannot get a farm and the stock fully into working order in 12 months. Hon. Members know that. The co-operative movement got its farms in the middle of the War, when prices were higher than at the beginning, and it took two or three years to get the farms properly stocked, but I assure hon. Members opposite that we are pulling through. We do not at all take an unduly pessimistic view of the agricultural industry of this country. We are prepared to meet any minimum wage that may be fixed and approved by the central organisation. As a matter of fact, among the difficulties of every industry is a minimum wage. You must get a minimum wage, a minimum standard and conditions in the agricultural industry. What actually prevails? What prevails is that the best organised farms, the farmer who organises his business properly, pays above the lowest rate. When you oppose a Bill of this description you are simply trying to stereotype in the agricultural industry, or in any other industry, the worst type of farmer, or the worst type of business man, who only exists in the industry by sweating the labour and by trying to save on his wage fund. We oppose that, and we intend to oppose it. The hon. Member for the Stone Division (Mr. Lamb), whose experience in farming we rightly appreciate, and who speaks with authority, said that the position of agriculture to-day is because of the conflict between the urban and the rural population. I disagree from that.

If you get down to the mind of the average man and woman, whether they live in town or country, you will find that they recognise that a solution of the problem of agriculture in this country is a dominant political issue to-day, and is becoming more dominant as the years pass. Hon. Members will not face the solution of this problem. They talk about a profits fund, about a fund from which wages come! All the time they steadily refuse to meet the necessary developments of modern industrial life. I think the farmers of this country will have to confront this position: that neither the town population nor the agricultural labourer will stand idly by and take the wages from any industry, indefinitely, that those who own it may care to offer. You must organise industry on some basis or other. The experience I have given about our undertakings does not demonstrate to the full the advantages of co-operation in this matter. Our farms are isolated and in different parts of the country. It is co-operation in farming that we advocate, and not isolated co-operative farming— the co-operation of all the farmers in a given district for buying, marketing, handling, and distributing as economically as possible.

Anyone who has had experience in the distribution of milk, bread, coal, and of the wastage in the carriage of fruit and vegetables, will know that there is a margin of economy that can be secured with advantage both to the town consumer and to the agricultural producer. That means interfering with private enterprise and the elimination of the middleman. It costs to-day on the London streets between 8d. and 9d. a gallon to distribute milk, which is as much as a farmer sometimes gets for production. That is outrageous. It cannot be defended by any Member, whether he lives in town or country. It is caused by the overlapping of distribution. You have a dozen milkmen or bakers or coalmen going down the same street. If that needless cost were saved, it would more than make up the difference between the cost of imported wheat or imported dairy produce, and the price that is paid here. Economy on distribution alone, eliminating the economy that can be secured by collective marketing, the collective buying of seeds and other raw materials, would more than recoup the farming community, not only for the wage under this Bill, but for a considerably increased wage, and, in addition, it would permit of lowered prices to consumers in the towns. I am convinced that is the line which the agricultural industry will have to take. If you ask the town people to agree to preference and protection, and to pay more for securing better wages for the agricultural industry, the urban population will not accept that policy; but they will accept, and hon. Members on these benches will accept, a reorganisation of industry from production on the land to the distribution to the consumer, which will give a proper standard of living to which the rural worker is entitled and which will repopulate our country districts and, at the same time, secure legitimate prices to the consumer.


Those of us who have waited the whole evening in the hope of addressing the House have heard a very interesting discussion, and although some may have been "wearied by many words" we were all very much impressed by the need for something being done for the agricultural labourer. I should like to feel that the House could approach this Bill in a spirit of agreement. It would be very much better for the farming industry as a whole if it were possible for the conflict of opinion between the extremes in this House to come together. But I see at once there is little hope of bringing that about, so far as this Debate is concerned. I for one stand in support of the Second Reading of this Bill, because I feel that with the breakdown of conciliation committees it is necessary for agriculture to have some substitute, although I am not enamoured of all the provisions of the Bill. In particular, I should like to see greater decentralisation and less officialdom. I hope that when this Bill has passed its Second Reading and goes before a Committee of this House, it will be possible to hammer out a Measure that will have a practical and useful effect.

There is this to be said for an agricultural wages board. I think it is necessary to distinguish between the function of such a board with reference to fixing a living wage rate, which we all know is required in many areas in this country, and the need of some form of organisation for wage control so as to ensure to the agricultural labourer the fullest possible wage that the industry will bear at any moment. The second of those aims will surely be easier to arrive at by leaving the fixing of wage rates to local bodies, owing to the very great dissimilarity in farming conditions in different districts. But so far as a minimum rate is necessary for conditions of decent living to the agricultural worker is concerned, we should bring about a certain amount of co-ordination between the different parts of the country, and although it will be possible to restrict the operations of the central wages board to a minimum, it may be necessary to maintain in the Bill a central wage board for that purpose.

I should like to deal with one or two objections which I have received from various constituents who have asked me to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill. The first and principal one appears to be the idea that no wage control could be allowed without State assistance. Other speakers this evening have applied themselves to that idea, and have put forward arguments in favour of it. Some speakers on this side have pointed out with perfect reason that there is no necessary connection between wage control and State assistance. After all, something like 3,000,000 workers in this country are subject to trade board organisations, and, so far as I know, none of the industries in which those workers are engaged have any State assistance to support them; and a further question which was raised by an hon. Member on the other side a few minutes ago, that the agricultural producer could not pass on his cost to the consumer, holds good equally with our great staple industries which are open to foreign competition.

Then a second objection which is taken by many people, both in this House and throughout the country is that the present wages paid in agriculture are the maximum which the industry can afford; that wages boards would unduly force up the wage and there would be consequent increase of unemployment. My own view is that we should have district wage committees on which workers and employers shall be equally represented, and those bodies can discuss these questions and come to a decision. It appears to me that at the present moment the employer is the only party who decides this question of the wage rate, and he should in common fairness have to prove his case before such a body. When district wages boards are in existence, it will surely be possible to harmonise the conflicting interest of the employers wishing to keep down the cost of production and the workers who wish to maintain a decent standard of life. In conclusion, I feel that the Amendment before the House can only have the effect of destroying this Bill, and I do submit that all those hon. Members on all sides of the House who wish to see some form of wage-fixing organisation set up which will work, should vote for the Second Reading of this Bill and not for the Amendment.


The hon. Member who has just sat down, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Acland), having argued against this Bill in the greater part of his speech, now announces that he is going to support it. The House ought to bear in mind that the Amendment we have put down is one which it is hoped will produce some concession from the Minister of Agriculture in regard to the very point which the right hon. Member for Tiverton and the last speaker have argued. They, like we on this side of the House, do not believe in a central wages board. We think it better that this Bill should be scrapped than that there should be a central wages board, and having the courage of our convictions if the central wages board is still to be the main feature of this Bill we shall go into the Lobby against it. The hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. G. Edwards) in his interesting speech said among other things that a statement had been made from this side of the House that agricultural labourers were in some instances opposed to a central wages board, and he asked my right hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Mr. E. Wood) to give him any instances of any person in authority who was opposed to such a board. I could tell the hon. Member several names of officials on the National Union of Agricultural Labourers who are opposed to a central wages board. I will give those names to the Minister of Agriculture if he thinks it desirable.


I want to have them publicly.


No, I have heard of such things as pressure being brought to bear on officials of trade unions who do not agree with their leaders. I repeat I shall be prepared to give the names to the Minister of Agriculture. In the course of this Debate the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Emlyn-Jones) made some pungent remarks on the subject of agriculture and gave a comprehensive summary of their duties on a farm which showed him to be a past-master on the subject. He suggested that if anybody held land which was not cultivated up to a certain standard the land should be taken from him to be compulsorily cultivated. Hon. Members on the Government Benches cheer that statement. I wonder whether the hon. Member for Dorset is willing to apply the same principles to shipping. I understand that there are a large number of ships which are laid up in different ports in this country. I believe the hon. Member for North Dorset is interested in shipping. Would he appreciate the action of this House if it said that a ship-owner whose ships were laid up should be compelled to put them to sea whether they made a profit or not? I should be much interested to know if he would agree to that proposition. Of course he would have to pay wages dictated by a Committee set up by this House.

The greater part of the argument we have heard this evening has been based on a total misconception of the subject matter of this Amendment. We are not arguing against some form of wage regulation. We agree it is necessary to have some form of wage regulation, but we argue that that regulation should be carried out by people conversant with the conditions in the district in which they are regulating the wage. Let us come down to absolutely practical matters. I would ask hon. Members to put themselves in the position of a member of a central wages board such as the Minister proposes to set up. Consider what they would have put before them when they were considering the wage question. There would be the statement of the National Farmers' Union. There would also be the statement of the National Union of Agricultural Workers, and in relation to whatever county they were considering the wages, they would have the same arguments dished up first by the representative of the Farmers' Union and then by the representative of the National Union of Agricultural Workers, and they would be dished up by men who are not necessarily conversant with the local conditions in the particular areas affected. They would have a mass of statistics supplied by the Ministry of Agriculture. They would also have statistics supplied by the Farmers' Union and the Labourers' Union, and they would come to a decision without having an opportunity of seeing the men actually concerned, the men who have to pay the wages and those who have to receive them.

May I ask hon. Members in the second place to put themselves in the position of the chairman of a local wages board as proposed in the Amendment and explained by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ripon. There they would have local men, who have the confidence of the people they are dealing with. The chairman himself would know the local conditions. He knows the actual men he is dealing with, he knows the farmers and he knows the representatives of labour. He knows of his own knowledge about the cost of production and the cost of living. He sees, face to face, the men who are affected by the subject-matter he is inquiring into. He can judge by their demeanour and by cross-examination whether the figures they produce are well-founded or not. Is it not much more likely that you would get a fair, just and human decision under these circumstances than you would under the circumstances of having a board sitting in London, hearing over and over again the arguments put forward by the two sides, without the advantage of knowing the local conditions?

I think my right hon. Friend the Member for Ripon has made a fair offer to the Minister of Agriculture. He has offered to do everything in his power to make the Bill a success if the Minister will consider the real objection that we have put forward to it in its present farm. These objections are felt equally by hon. Members below the Gangway opposite, but, in accordance with custom, they do not propose to back their convictions in the Divsion Lobby. If the right hon. Gentleman the Minister had had the pleasure of hearing "The Immortal Hour." I think he will not resent my comparing him to King Eochaidh, of whom Dalua says: He shall have madness even as he wills, And think it wisdom. that is, if he refuses the offer of my right hon. Friend.


An hon. Member opposite said that they wanted human feeling and human decisions on these conciliation boards, and he professed to be alarmed at the fact that the central board was going to have some power to deal with these matters. He further argued that the central board might give a decision totally opposed to those in the locality. It is because, we know something of these local decisions, and because we are afraid that there would not be much humanity in some of them that we are not prepared to trust to the local decisions. I have been amazed listening to speaker after speaker declaring that a good feeling exists between farmers and farm workers. At any rate, I have not seen much evidence of it, for nearly every farm worker I have come in touch with wants to see this Bill passed, and wants to have his wages increased. I have been connected with an industry where we have an organisation in which the men and masters have been on some sort of equality with regard to bargaining power, and we have managed on that account to get decent wages, but because these men have no organisation, and therefore have no bargaining power, they have not been able to obtain decent wages, and that is the main purpose of this Bill. We want to be human, and why should you be afraid of this central board?

One hon. Member asked why Scotland had been left out. Simply for the reason that in Scotland they have got good wages because they have a good organisation. The converse is true where they have no organisations, for there you find they get low wages, and that will continue until they have somebody to look after their interests. We are not to be deceived by hon. Members saying that they are sympathetic in regard to this matter. On every industrial question hon. Members opposite have professed their sympathy, and when we were in opposition we were told that we had not a monopoly of sympathy for the working classes. Now when something decent is put before the House which would put that sympathy into practical operation, hon. Members opposite are opposed to it. They are showing their sympathy to-night by bringing in an Amendment which, if adopted, would probably nullify the effects of this Bill. We want to see that sympathy put into operation.

I have seen some of that sympathy in industry. I was quite recently talking to a young man who bad asked for a job, and the first thing the master asked him was, "Are you going to be a nuisance from a trade union point of view if I set you on?" The very first thing a farmer wants to know when he is employing a labourer is, "Are you a member of the union?" Hon. Members are sympathetic so long as they have control of a man body and soul. It. has been argued that if this Bill is put into operation the farmers will go back again to sheep farming, which would not employ many men. There was an occasion in the history of this country when those employed on the land were pretty well off, and the owners of the land tried by all manner of means to lower wages, and at first they did not succeed. Later on they tried another operation, and they adopted sheep farming, and in order to make that profitable the Enclosures Act was passed. Land was enclosed and commons were taken. The land was taken from the common people and adapted to sheep farming, and this threw men out of work and wages came down. If it paid the landowners to-day they would have no compunction about doing the same thing again.


Will the hon. Member address his remarks to me.


I beg your pardon, Mr. Speaker, I am addressing my remarks through you. Somebody asked what is the remedy for it all, but I think my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham South (Mr. Barnes) gave the remedy, and he has shown what can be done by co-operation, and by purchasing what you require in a collective manner.


I can assure the hon. Member I always do it.


As an individual?


No, in a collective manner.


The remedy lies there, and if the farmers will not adopt that course they ought not to oppose us if we bring in some legislation to compel them to do so, if they will not do it by their own efforts. Individualism has failed, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Mr. E. Wood) gave us a good example of it when he mentioned the case of the railway porters getting higher wages, and he attributed this to the fact that railway rates were higher. As a matter of fact, they are only 50 per cent. above pre-War rates, whereas the produce of the farmers is 57 per cent. higher. May I point out that the railways are paying more than double pre-War wages, and why cannot the farmer pay better wages? The railways were forced by Act of Parliament to amalgamate in order to prevent overlapping and waste, and is the House of 'Commons going to be compelled to force the farmers to do the same? I am quite willing to do it and so is the Labour party, and what was done in the case of the railway companies will have to be done in the case of the farmers if things are not improved.

If the railways can pay more than double the pre-War wages the farmers would be able to pay better wages if they did not cling to individualistic and prehistoric methods. There lies the remedy, and we are bringing this Measure forward because we are concerned more than anything else with the fact that the first thing any industry should do is to pay a decent living wage to the people working in it. If we do that, and the industry cannot pay the wages, and you still continue to carry on that industry in the same manner, then we shall have to adopt measures to make you do by legislation what you refuse to do by your own co-operation.


Much of what I desire to say has already been recorded in the OFFICIAL REPORT, and so I shall content myself by making one or two points. I must say that, in listening to the opening speech of the Minister, I was extremely disappointed. One had come here in the expectation that he might have something to say to the House which would throw some light upon the: future working of this Bill. Up to a certain point I can say that, personally. I was quite in accord with all that he said, as, I am certain were my Friends on this side of the House. We quite agree as to the position of the workers in agriculture. We realise the difficulties under which they are labouring to-day, and we would gladly see some means taken which would really better their position. But, in laying before the House the proposals of this Bill, the Minister of Agriculture left us absolutely in the cold as to what the results might or could he. In such circumstances I feel that I most support the Amendment of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Sir H. Cautley), as, in my view, the terms of the Bill as drafted are nothing else than a snare and a delusion

The title "Agricultural Wages Bill" is an attractive one, and one which I am quite ready to admit has influenced a good many of the agricultural workers, because they did not properly understand it. They expected the Bill to be full of that rare and refreshing fruit of which we have so often heard, but, as a matter of fact, it lacks the substance and only produces a shadow. It aims at legislation to improve wages, but does not state the means by which the improvement is to be derived. The agricultural worker has asked for bread, and rightly so, because to-day he cannot, get it in reasonable quantity; but, if this Bill is passed in its present form, he will not get bread, but will get a stone. The only people who are really going to profit by this Bill will be the horde of officials, who will not only get bread, but bread and butter, from the bureaucratic Department which is to be set up to work the Bill. I am only too ready to realise how miserable is the pay to which the farm worker has to submit, and on which he struggles to maintain a home and decently rear a family. I only wish I could see my way to bring his wages more on to a level with those of the skilled artisan in other industries, because, from the point of view of skill, he certainly deserves it.

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What is the position? He is now paid, for intelligent and continuous work, less than the man who is out of employment, say, in the Poplar district. One so often hears it claimed that this is due to the rapacious farmers who could well afford to pay better wages were he inclined to do so, but this I consider to be a most unfair criticism, and, as regards 90 per cent. of the farmers at least, it is untrue. They would gladly pay more did circumstances permit, but they do not, and I find no provision in this Bill that will enable them to do so. My experience applies only to Essex, in which county I represent a large agricultural constituency, and, if the House will allow me, I should like to quote one example—I could give many —which was given to be by one of my constituents with regard to the working of his farm. He is quite ready to prove the facts by the production of his books. He farms over 800 acres, mostly of arable land, and has made a heavy loss for three years in succession, which obviously means a drain upon capital. The farm is run oh most up-to-date methods. Four men to 100 acres are employed, and the farm is, in my opinion, in every respect a model one. As a result, the crops during the three years have been far beyond the average, and yet, under those favourable conditions, there is still a loss. In such a case, where is the money to come from to pay increased wages?


Did the hon. Member say that there were four men employed on 100 acres?


Yes, four men to 100 acres.


On arable land?


It is mostly arable land.


Do you call that farming? We can do it better that that in Poplar.


The case which I have given illustrates what is generally happening to farmers in the Eastern counties. I am quite prepared to prove it from my own experience. As au experiment, I have paid the men engaged on my own farm 34s. per week. It was an incentive to work, and they have responded splendidly, and my crops have been exceptionally good; but what is the result? A continuous loss. A wage of 34s. per week is a bare living wage, and one that would not be tolerated in any of the sheltered trades, yet I am forced to give it up, because the capital that I set apart for my farm of 400 acres is disappearing. I ask the House how, in the circumstances I have described, you are to find the means of making the cultivation of arable land pay without protection or a bonus? I confess it appears almost impossible to do so. I realise that both have been ruled out, but a wages board to enforce a minimum wage can only result in a serious reduction of cereal cultivation, and a corresponding reduction of labour.

What is to become of the men thus thrown out of work? The Bill does not say. I venture to submit that the proposed cure is worse than the disease. To regard the subject from another standpoint, the Bill will set up a bureaucracy which will employ goodness knows how many hundreds of officials—spies—who, presumably, will know little or nothing of agriculture. They in turn will establish a feud between employers and workers, will cost the country a fabulous sum and will add to the patronage appointments of the Government. I should like to ask the Minister of Agriculture what this Department is going to cost, and would it not be better to spend the sum, which will thus be devoted to officials in connection with this Department, in promoting agriculture instead of destroying it? Then I suggest the Bill is designed to encourage litigation. All the officials are to be paid by the Minister. What a happy hunting ground for the agitator anxious to justify his position! A more arbitrary fixing of wages without regard to the ability of the industry to pay it cannot be imagined than the provision in Clause 2 (4) of what the Whitehall wages board may deem adequate. I am entirely in sympathy with a local agricultural wages board which is to be worked entirely by local officials who understand the position and know the conditions of the particular part of the country with which they are associated, but I cannot support a Bill which is going to place full control in the hands of a central wages board.


I feel at this stage of the Debate almost everything has been said that could be said for and against, but I should, though I apologise if I repeat anything that has been said, like to express my support of the Bill. I do so, feeling that in Committee there are many things which, I hope, will be altered, particularly because I have great belief in the principle of trade boards. When they were set up in 1909 for industry, it was a question whether they were going to be a success or not, but they answered the purpose for which they were set up, namely, to prevent the sweating of industry and to see that a fair wage is given to the worker. Trade boards now cover about. 2,500,000 people, and they are working quite successfully. Agriculture is rather faced with the same problem as industry was in 1909. The employers say they cannot afford better wages, and the workers say they cannot live on the wages they are paid. The problem is to find a solution. I quite appreciate that the farmers at present are paying the best wages they can. They say it is an impossibility to pay more. The labourers are very anxious to remain on the land. They and their ancestors have been there for many years, and they have no desire to go into the towns, because they prefer the conditions of the country. My first speech in this House in 1922 was on this question of agriculture. I then made a plea to the House to relieve the farmer of his rates and see that he had some assistance towards the maintenance of roads, and I asked for a Committee to look into the question why the farmer was receiving so much less for his pro- duce than the consumer was paying. These matters have come before the House. The relief to the farmer in rates last year, which I supported, amounted to about £2,750,000, and for the relief of road charges £1,300,000. The Committee I asked for has sat and has made very many suggestions, which it is anticipated will be carried out. I said at the time that if all this was done for the farmer something should be done for the men by setting up an agricultural wages hoard. That has not been done up to the present. I endorse what the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Emlyn-Jones) said about the difficult conditions of the labourer and his wife and children. In fact, the Whole House realises the difficulty the labourer has to live on his present. wages. One feels it is time a wages hoard should be set up. In the Report of the tribunal which was set up to investigate agriculture I came across the following sentence: The conditions of labour in agriculture are those which in other industries have led to the establishment of trade boards. The agricultural labourer is entitled to the advantages of this legislation. It further says: The need for regulation of agricultural wages in this country by a wages hoard is not lessened by the fact that our agricultural wages are comparatively good. It further says: The purpose of a wages board is not to fix uneconomic rates, but to ensure that bad farming is not encouraged by rates lower than can economically be paid. Industries representing millions of workers have gone through the existing trade depression under the administration of trade boards. I think the application of the wage board is of even greater value in periods of depression than in periods of prosperity. One feels it would allay suspicion and perhaps remove the ill-feeling that lies between employer and employed. It is the only way to get justice, to have some kind of wage-fixing apparatus, and I think this should be entrusted to the industry itself, which can deal with it intelligently and effectively. The effect of the wages board will not necessarily be to increase the wages of the worker. Its object is to regulate them, and one feels that it will secure equality also between one farmer and another. The objections are that it will secure equality also between one farmer and another. The objections are that it will fix an impossible wage. I have just said its object is not to fix wages, but to equalise them. Another objection is that the industry cannot pay more. At present there is great variety between the wages farmers pay. If one farmer pays adequately one feels that all can. When we hear of farms being given up we usually find many applicants willing and anxious to take them, and it is not often that farms are left vacant. Much has been said on the question of conciliation boards. Very few of them have functioned in the past. One feels there has been no security for the worker. Their decisions have not had the force of law behind them and a deadlock has followed.

I do not think anyone has touched upon the question of women under the Bill. During the War there was great need of food production. The women rose to this magnificently and women's institutes were started. It is the most magnificent thing that came out of the War. I think it will be new to many people that there are 59,000 women who are regular workers in agriculture. There are 566,000 regular men workers. That means that 10 per cent. of the people working in the industry are women. Amongst the casuals there are 104,000 men and 43,000 women, which means that 45 per cent. of the casual workers in the industry are women. Out of 100 trades that are subject to insurance I notice that only 15 employ over 50,000 women, so that agriculture is one of the industries that does employ a very large proportion of women. The definition of agriculture in the Bill includes nine branches, five or six of which provide suitable work for women, such as dairy work, orchard work, osier planting, market gardening and nursery gardening. As there are 670,000 men and 102,000 women employed in agriculture, and one realises that one-sixth of the total employed are women, one feels that there should be more representation of women on the committees. I appeal to the Minister to give a more definite assurance that women will be put on the committees. The principle has been established in putting women on the county council agricultural committees, and it is especially desirable that they should be put on the sub-committees. I notice that the Schedule states that on the agricultural wages board there shall be at least one woman. I make the appeal for women that they should have more representation, especially as there are at least five branches of agriculture in which women are interested. I was interested in reading the term which defines "worker" in the Bill. It says that the term "workers" includes women, girls and boys. If that be so, then the district committees will only be concerned with women, girls and boys. No doubt that is an error. The term will, of course, include men.

The central board appears to me to have too much power. There ought to be a central board to be appealed to in case of default, but one feels that the local wages must he decided by the district committees, with the chairman exercising a vote, otherwise there will be a deadlock. It is important that the good feelings of the industry should be promoted by both sections meeting on good terms. Last Friday the House debated a Bill dealing with industrial councils, and practically the whole House agreed with the principle on that occasion. The industrial councils have done much good, and have done no harm, and one feels the same in regard to the wages boards. We want to get the most efficient workers, and we also want the farmer to be efficient. In this respect I would quote a further sentence from the Report to which I have alluded: The drift of the more intelligent labourers away from agriculture can only be checked by improving their material well-being, both as regards wages and housing, and to satisfy their desire for a reasonable degree of personal independence.


I wish to compliment the hon. Member for Louth (Mrs. Wintringham) on the spirit of good will in which she has approached this question. I am sure that if we all approach it in a similar spirit there would be very little difficulty in arriving at a solution. Like a great many other questions of this kind that come before this House, there are two ways of approaching the question. You can either approach it froth the pure party politics point of view, or from the business point of view. If you approach it from the party politics point of view it is comparatively easy to bring in a Bill and to tell those who do not see eye to eye with you that if they do not support it they are not considering the interests of those who are suffering from great grievances, and that this Bill is the only possible way of curing those grievances. If you approach the question from the business point of view, and you try to find a method by which the workers in the agricultural industry shall be assured of a fair share of the profits to which they are entitled for the work they put into the industry, without upsetting the good will of that industry, it is a much more difficult question.

With the exception of one or two hon. Members, every hon. Member who has spoken on this question has dealt with it as if the question before the House was this Bill or no Bill. That is not the issue. We are not dealing with the first Amendment on the Paper, but with the second Amendment, and the clear issue before the House is not whether there shall be a Bill or no Bill, but the methods and the machinery that we shall set up for arriving at exactly the same object which both sides of the House desire. That seems to be a much simpler issue, and one which ought not to raise the heat which has been engendered in some of the speeches which we have heard this evening. If the tone of the speech delivered by the hon. Member for Louth were general, I am sure we should be able to come to a decision.

The Minister of Agriculture, like several other hon. Members, told us a very moving story of the existing conditions of the agricultural labourer, and gave us to understand that those conditions were due entirely not to the inability but to the unwillingness of farmers to pay a decent wage and he led us to believe that the only party in the House which could remedy those conditions was the party to which he belonged, and that the only remedy which could be applied was to pass this Bill. Are you sure, in the first place, that the whole reason for the present position of the agricultural labourer and the low wage which he receives is the unwillingness of the farmer to give him a higher wage? I do not believe that the farmer is any worse than any other person in this country. He is not the scoundrel which he is depicted, and I would suggest, when we consider whether he is to pay a fair wage or not, that we should consult the Inland Revenue, which has very good means of knowing the conditions of farmers in this country at the presents time, or in some cases the banks, by whom a very different tale would be told from that which has been told by several hon. Members who have taken part in this Debate. We have had some reference to the conditions of co-operative societies, but, as one hon. Member has told us, the expenses which co-operative societies are called upon to meet are exactly the same as those which farmers have to meet. Complaint was made that in many cases they had to buy their farms at a high price. So had farmers.


Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that the majority of the farms changed hands in 1918?


I do not say the majority of them, but I say a great many of them. There is no difference in the conditions upon which the farmer has to compete in the agricultural industry and those which apply to the co-operative societies. These are in a much more, privileged position, because they have got large funds and other resources at their disposal to meet any losses which may be incurred, and the farmer is not in the favourable position which the cooperative societies enjoy. The real issue before the House is as to the methods and machinery which we want to set up. I have no objection to wages boards. The Amendment shows that hon. Members on this side are willing to set up wages boards to deal with the agricultural industry, but it is very unfair to workers in the agricultural industry to raise the hope that the very fact of setting up wages boards will of necessity increase their wages. I do not think that it will do anything of the kind. What it will do, and what it is necessary that it should do, is that it should standardise the wages. No one denies that there are bad farmers, bad employers in the farming industry, as in any other industry. What a wages board can do is to bring the bad employer into line with the good employer. That is all that we ought to or can expect, and we ought not to raise in the minds of the workers false hopes, which cannot possibly be realised.

The question we have to decide is, are the methods suggested by the Bill for setting up this machinery the best that we can adopt so as to achieve the results that we all desire? I had always hoped that the conciliation committees would be successful, and I am not prepared to blame either party, the representatives of the employers or the representatives of the workers, for their having failed. I agree that they have not functioned as they ought to have done and that it is probably necessary to set up some alternative system to do the work that they failed to do. What I cannot agree with is the setting up of a central wages board to fix wages for the whole of England and Wales. Anybody who understands anything about the farming industry in this country realises that the conditions in different parts of the country vary so much that it is quite impossible for any central body to fix wages with any due regard to those different conditions. What are the objections which have been raised to district wages boards? Two hon. Members opposite told us that their objection to the district wages boards was that the workers would not get proper representation on those board. I think that they are under-estimating the ability of those whom they claim to represent. I know that hon. Members opposite always claim that they in particular in this House represent the workers. I, for my part, have a very much higher opinion of the workers of this country than they have. I believe that the workers are quite capable of appointing their own representatives to district wages boards.

It is also said that if these district wages boards are set up they will not function. We are here to make them function, by setting them up, by giving them certain powers and certain duties, which will ensure that they will function. Hon. Members opposite know as well as I do that if you make it the general rule that these questions—as is proposed in the Bill—shall go to a central wages board, instead of being decided by a district wages board, in every instance the final decision will rest absolutely with the central board, and no decision will be arrived at by the district board. I think it was either the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Acland) or the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture who said one of the faults of the district committees would be the same as the fault of the conciliation committees —that they would never agree. Did the central wages board set up in London ever agree? I will be corrected if I am wrong in saying that all, or nearly all, of the awards were given by the appointed members and not by the representative members.


One side or the other always voted with us; sometimes one side and sometimes the other.


I am right in saying they never did agree. Why should we not so strengthen the district wages boards as to make them function in a better manner than the central wages board did or, at any rate, as well as that body did? What on earth is the reason for referring all these questions to a central wages board instead of allowing them to be decided by the district boards? I, for my part, and I think I speak for hon. Members on this side, cannot support a Bill which in our opinion is fundamentally wrong in the way it sets out to deal with the question. We should like a definite pledge from the representative of the Government who will conclude the Debate, that the Government will make fundamental changes in the view now before the House. I beg of hon. Members to approach this question in such a manner as not to widen the breach between employers and employed, but to seek to induce employers and employed to realise that their interests depend on the interests of the industry as a whole. It is quite true that the farmer wishes to get as much profit out of the industry as he can, and the labourer wishes to get as high a wage as he can, and to that extent they are apparently opposed, but what is certain is that neither will the farmer get his profit, nor the labourer his increased wage, unless the industry as a whole is prosperous. We should concentrate on trying to make employers and employed work harmoniously for the interests of the industry and, above all, I implore hon. Members of this House not to make agriculture a shuttlecock of party politics.


I do not think we have any cause for complaint in regard to the general tone of this Debate. There seemed to run through all the speeches an agreement that some form of machinery is needed to deal with wages in the agricultural industry. There seemed also to be agreement that even when wage decisions have been reached, through whatever machinery may be ultimately established, the rates should be compulsory and capable of being legally enforced. As the last speaker said, the question very largely resolves itself into what is the best method to achieve that particular end. Members on this side are persuaded that the best method, so far as general principles are concerned, is contained in this Bill, while my Friends on the other side are of opinion that some serious and extensive modification of this proposal is necessary. Many arguments have been put forward in support of the view held by hon. Members opposite. Only one of them, however, drew attention to the fact that this Bill, in its general features, with just one or two slight modifications, is an exact replica of a Bill that was passed in this House in 1917. In fact, the hon. and learned Member for East Grinstead (Sir H. Cautley), who moved the Amendment dissociating himself from this Bill, was a supporter of the very same principle in 1917. I think this House has a right to ask in what material way the wages board machinery failed during the years of its existence. The wages board was in existence for over four years. [An HON. MEMBER: "Subsidy!"] The hon. Member knows that the subsidy had nothing whatever to do with the operations of the wages board. The guarantee never operated. It never had the slightest reference to prices or wages during the whole time the board was in existence. It is idle to pretend that it had, and I think my hon. Friend, upon reflection, will see that the guaranteed prices in the Corn Production Act of 1917 never were operative, and even if they had been, it is not a material point for the question that is immediately before us, namely, as to how far that machinery was effective and efficient for its purpose.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Daventry (Captain FitzRoy) said that the central board never agreed, and I was rather surprised that my right hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Acland) to some extent gave confirmation to that view. But the very opposite is the case. There were five minimum rates of wages fixed by the agricultural wages board. The first was a wage or 30s., and that was fixed by mutual consent between the representatives of the farmers and the workers. The next was a wage of 36s., and that, again, was fixed by mutual consent between the representatives of the farmers and the workers. The next was a wage of 42s., and that also was fixed by agreement between the two sides on the wages board. The next was 46s., and it is quite true that it was a majority vote that decided it, but, strange to say, although the farmers at that time said that they could not pay that wage, yet I have since read an article in the Press, the weekly notes of a farmer who speaks with some authority, who stated, when he was objecting to paying 30s. a week in the spring of last year, that it was different when the 46s. was fixed. He said:

"We paid it then willingly, because we could afford to do it." [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] But the farmers on the wages board said they could not afford to pay it. That is my point. The first three rates were fixed by mutual consent. The next was fixed in face of the opposition of the farmers, who stated that the industry could not stand that wage, and then afterwards a farmer in the public Press admits that they paid it readily and willingly, because the profits enabled them to do it. There have been one or two statements made to-day which I think suggest a complete misunderstanding of the working of the wages board. The hon. and learned Member for East Grinstead stated that it would mean the discharge of old men. Can he point to a single case of the discharge of an old man under the wages board working? I put that question to him as a fair question following his argument.


Prices were continually rising much above wages.


That is not an answer to the question.


The land was increasing in cultivation, instead of going out of cultivation. Not only was there no need to discharge men, but there was a difficulty in getting others.


The relative value between an old and a young man was just the same then as it is now. The point is this. The wages board provided machinery to deal with the case of the old man, and I say, conceding all that may be claimed for the exceptional conditions that existed during the time of the wages board, it is somewhat remarkable that the hon. Member cannot produce in the whole of this country a single case where an old man was discharged during the operation of the wages board. The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Lamb) also had some criticisms to pass upon the wages board during the time of its existence. He quoted the number of orders that were issued, the growth of the staff, and so on, He might have reflected upon the exceptional conditions that existed during the time of the existence of the wages board, and the need for continual adjustment, as the cost of living was changing almost weekly to an extent that warranted an alteration in the rates of wages. The price of agricultural produce was rising in similar fashion, and no sooner had the board reached one decision in regard to wages than it was compelled to review it, because of the change of circumstances, which were quite abnormal and associated with the War period, and which could not possibly obtain in the conditions under which this board, if established, is likely to work.

Then with regard to the growth of the staff, it is quite true the staff did grow. Why? We had to engage more inspectors to see that the farmers paid the proper wages to their men. The wages board alone recovered from farmers in this country over £40,000 in arrears of wages. As much as £100 was obtained by one of the unions in arrears in respect of wages for one man. The farmers were continually refusing to pay the proper wages, and in order that justice might be done under these conditions and circumstances, it became necessary to maintain the staff. Therefore, I do not think it is any real argument against this Bill to quote something that arose out of such exceptional circumstances, and to assume that the same thing is going to happen so far as the immediate future is concerned. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Mr. E. Wood) quoted the Tribunal on this wages board, but the Tribunal does not support his Amendment. In so far as they have reported on this question, they are in favour of district boards — I believe six. I would ask this House to which proposal the recommendation of the Tribunal approximates more. Does the recommendation of the tribunal of the six wages boards approximate most to the local county committees or to the central wages board? As a matter of fact, it is just a modification in a very slight degree of the principle which is contained in this Bill.


The hon. Gentleman will perhaps remember that the economists went out of their way to condemn the central board without expressing any opinion on county boards.


In view of what has been said, I think I am entitled to point out that the tribunal suggests six district boards. The recommendation is very largely the same as the essential principle upon which this Bill is based. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon also spoke of gentlemen in London over-riding the local wishes. The whole point of some of the speeches, in so far as they were criticising this central board in relation to the wages boards seemed to be based on the assumption that this board will consist of officials, that Orders will emanate from Whitehall which will contain the view of certain civil servants dealing with this question so far as the interests of the wages boards are concerned. The wages board consisted of an equal number of representatives of the farmers and the workmen, with seven appointed members. I think I am correct in saying that four out of those appointed were landlords; therefore the board itself could not be considered to be loaded in favour of the workmen. The whole of the 16 representatives of the farmers were practical men engaged in farming. Out of the 16 representatives of the labourers, 12 of them at some time during their life have actually worked on the land, and some of them, at the time of the wages board, were engaged in working upon the land. To speak of a body of that description as though it were a set of officials with no connection whatever with the people's will is merely a travesty.

There seems to be an objection to this central board. I would like to ask my hon. Friends below the Gangway who expressed an opinion on this matter to go more fully into this question before they give a final judgment in regard to it. If you want to help the agricultural workers of this country, if you want to give the agricultural labourer a real machine which can be used in his interest in regard to wages, I ask you to hesitate before you place full power in the local committees, before you establish the matter upon a county basis. There is then no freedom of action for the labourer. He is not in a position to express his mind as he ought to be able to do to get a proper decision. He has not been able to gain experience in conciliation and arbitration. He has not got a trained mind. He is not equipped for the fine arguments that are necessary in order to bring about decisions in this matter. I would suggest to the House that if they want to pass a Bill to give to the agricultural worker some machinery to deal with his wages to hesitate before they destroy the principle of some central control.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Ripon also went on to argue that the principle of this Bill was wrong because it was one-sided. He said that the question had two sides. This is one of them. The tribunal again in their Report referred to guarantees and subsidies. I gather from my hon. Friend's observation that what he really meant was this: that with the establishment of the wages board there ought to be coupled some machinery dealing with a guarantee or subsidy. That I understood to be his position. I would like to ask my right hon. Friend why he voted to repeal the Agriculture Act which contained that principle? [Interruption.] The Agriculture Act, 1920, was based upon those two principles; the Act of 1917 was not. It was never understood in 1917 that guaranteed prices were a necessary condition of the existence of wages boards, but in 1920 the two were co-related; and before that Act had been on the Statute Book six months, maintaining the two principles which my right hon. Friend argued here to-night ought to be in this Bill, he, with the Government which he supported at that time, wiped that Act from the Statute Book. Now he turns round and says we ought to put it back again. It is too late in the day for my right hon. Friend to argue on those lines so far as this question is concerned. I voted for that Bill and against its repeal. My right hon. Friend voted for the Bill and also for its repeal. To suggest going back is not fair, having regard to the great importance of this matter.

May I draw the attention of the House to a further point in regard to this question of central control. There is no wages machinery in this country that is based on any other principle. My hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mrs. Wintringham) said she was a great believer in and supporter of trade boards. There is not a trade board in this country which is based on any other principle than that of a central authority controlling decisions. Take even the Whitley Councils, which are again a national authority co-ordinating, regulating, and establishing conditions of industry. There is no machinery, either compulsory or voluntary, dealing with the question of wages which does not rest on the same principle that is contained in this Bill. If that is necessary in other industries which have years of organisation and experience behind them, and men have had a chance to have their minds trained and developed in wages questions, such as in industries like mining and engineering, how much more necessary is it in regard to agriculture, where there is no such experience? Mention has been made of the conciliation committees. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Wood), speaking, I thought, with some little heat, referred to incompetent trade union officials.


Not incompetent.


Well, some other word. I withdraw that word. When the repeal of the Corn Production Act was being dealt with in this House I strongly opposed the conciliation committees. I said they would be useless and would not serve the purpose for which they were intended. At that time I was president of the Labourers' Union, and I strongly urged that association to use the committees for all they were worth. I begged them not to refuse to appoint representatives on them, but to use them to the fullest extent. It was stated that they were successful in the early period, but they had not been in existence many months before I led a deputation to the Farmers' Union asking them if they would agree to the establishment of some central machinery through which appeals could be made from the local conciliation committees. They would not do it. You cannot work unless you have some measure of central control. This Bill is framed, not to override so thoroughly and completely the local committees in the way some hon. Members think, but to give them the fullest scope. The wages board in the latter stages would never seek to overthrow a unanimous decision from the district wages committee, and so also this wages board would find it a great difficulty in overriding the unanimous decision of the district committee. I would like to ask my hon. Friend who moved the Amendment which states: That this House, while willing to establish county wages boards with an independent chairman and statutory powers to fix wages to be paid to agricultural workers in the area for which they are responsible"— if he really means that he wants to give the chairman of the board statutory power to come to a decision, and that that decision shall be a statutory one backed by law? Is one man to be given that power in the industry on a board which is properly representative of both sides? I should like to ask this House whether they are prepared to adopt the principle contained in this Amendment,

and to give statutory power to local committees which may come to a decision on the word of the chairman? I think that is an unheard-of proceeding so far as this House is concerned. If statutory powers are to be exercised, I venture to suggest that they had better be exercised by a properly constituted central authority, consisting of qualified men and women. It is far better to let a properly constituted body like that be the body which shall have the final decision, and have the opportunity of issuing any awards that shall be statutory in character. I regret I cannot accept the Amendment, not because of any desire not to co-operate with my right hon. Friend in coming to a decision, but because I am firmly convinced that the principle of central control, as contained in the Bill, is vital to the agricultural worker.

Several hon. Members having risen—

Mr. BUXTON rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."

Question put, "That the Question be now put."

The House divided: Ayes, 252; Noes, 212.

Division No. 88.] AYES. [11.0 p.m.
Ackroyd, T. R. Cluse, W. S. Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)
Acland, Rt. Hon. Francis Dyke Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R. Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)
Adamson, W. M. {Staff., Cannock) Collins, Patrick (Walsall) Groves, T.
Alden, Percy Compton, Joseph Grundy, T. W.
Allen, R. Wilberforce (Leicester, S.) Comyns-Carr, A. S. Guest, Capl Hn.F.E.(Gloucstr., Stroud)
Alstead, R. Costello-, L. W. J. Guest, J. (York, Hemsworth)
Ammon, Charles George Cove, W. G. Guest, Dr. L. Haden (Southwark, N.)
Attlee, Major Clement R. Crittall, V. G. Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)
Ayles, W. H. Darbishire, C. W. Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland)
Baker, Walter Davies, David (Montgomery) Hardie, George D.
Banton, G. Davies, Ellis (Denbigh, Denbigh) Harris, John (Hackney, North)
Barnes, A. Davies, Evan (Ebbw Vale) Harris, Percy A.
Batey, Joseph Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon
Benn, Captain Wedgwood (Leith) Dickson, T. Harvey, T. E. (Dewsbury)
Berkeley, Captain Reginald Dodds, S. R. Hastings, Sir Patrick
Birkett, W. N. Dukes, C. Haycock, A. W.
Black, J. W. Duncan, C. Hayday, Arthur
Bondfield, Margaret Dunn, J. Freeman Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley)
Bonwick, A. Dunnico, H. Henderson, A. (Cardiff, South)
Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W. Edwards, G. (Norfolk, Southern) Henderson, T. (Glasgow)
Bramsdon, Sir Thomas Edwards, John H. (Accrington) Henderson, W. W.(Middlesex, Enfield)
Briant, Frank Egan, W. H. Hillary, A. E.
Broad, F. A. Emlyn-Jones, J. E. (Dorset, N.) Hindle, F.
Bromfield, William Falconer, J. Hirst, G. H.
Brown, A. E. (Warwick, Rugby) Fletcher, Lieut.-Commander R. T. H. Hobhouse, A. L.
Brunner, Sir J. Foot, Isaac Hodge, Lieut.-Col. J. P. (Preston)
Buchanan, G. Franklin, L. B. Hoffman, P. C.
Buckle, J. Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton) Hore-Belisha, Major Leslie
Burnie, Major J. (Bootle) George, Rt. Hon. David Lloyd Howard, Hon. G. (Bedford, Luton)
Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel Gibbins, Joseph Hudson, J. H.
Cape, Thomas Gillett, George M. Isaacs, G. A.
Chapple, Dr. William A. Gorman, William Jackson, R. F. (Ipswich)
Charleton, H. C. Gosling, Harry Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)
Church, Major A. G. Gould, Frederick (Somerset, Frome) Jewson, Dorothea
Clarke, A. Graham, W. (Edinburgh, Central) John, William (Rhondda, West)
Climie, R. Greenall, T. Johnston, Thomas (Stirling)
Johnstone, Harcourt (Willesden, East) Nichol, Robert Stephen, Campbell
Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth) Nixon, H. Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)
Jones, Rt. Hon. Leif (Camborne) O'Grady, Captain James Stewart, Maj. R. S. (Stockton-on-Tees)
Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Oliver, George Harold Stranger, Innes Harold
Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd) Oliver, P. M. (Manchester, Blackley) Sturrock, J. Leng
Jowett, Rt. Hon. F. W. (Bradford, E.) Owen, Major G. Sullivan, J.
Jowitt, W. A. (The Hartlepools) Paling, W. Sunlight, J.
Keens, T. Palmer, E. T. Sutton, J. E.
Kenyon, Barnet Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan) Terrington, Lady
Kirkwood, D. Perry, S. F. Thomas, Sir Robert John (Anglesey)
Laverack, F, J. Pethick-Lawrence, F. W. Thompson, Piers G. (Torquay)
Law, A. Phillipps, Vivian Thomson, Trevelyan (Middlesbro. W.)
Lawrence, Susan (East Ham, North) Potts, John S. Thurtle, E.
Lawson, John James Pringle, W. M. R. Tinker, John Joseph
Leach, W. Raffan, P. W. Toole, J.
Lee, F. Raffety, F. W. Tout, W. J.
Lessing, E. Ramage, Captain Cecil Beresford Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.
Linfield, F. C. Raynes, W. R. Turner, Ben
Loverseed, J, F. Rea, W. Russell Varley, Frank B.
Lowth, T. Rendall, A. Viant, S. P.
Lunn, William Richards, R. Vivian, H.
McCrae, Sir George Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring) Walsh, Rt. Hon. Stephen
MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J.R.(Aberavon) Roberts, Rt. Hon. F.O. (W. Bromwich) Ward, G. (Leicester, Bosworth)
Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness) Robertson, J. (Lanark, Bothwell) Warne, G. H.
McEntee, V. L. Robinson, S. W. (Essex, Cheimsford) Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)
Macfadyen, E. Romerll, H. G. Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)
Mackinder, W. Royce, William Stapleton Webb, Rt. Hon. Sidney
Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan) Rudkin, Lieut.-Colonel C. M. C. Wedgwood, Col. Rt. Hon. Josiah C.
Maden, H. Scrymgeour, E. Weir, L. M.
March, S. Scurr, John Westwood, J.
Marks, Sir George Croydon Seely, H. M. (Norfolk, Eastern) Wheatley, Rt. Hon. J.
Marley, James Sexton, James White, H. G. (Birkenhead, E.)
Martin, W. H. (Dumbarton) Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston) Whiteley, W.
Masterman, Rt. Hon. C. F. G. Sherwood, George Henry Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)
Maxton, James Short, Alfred (Wednesbury) Williams, Lt.-Col. T.S.B. (Kenningtn.)
Meyler, Lieut.-Colonel H. M. Simon, E. D.(Manchester,Withington) Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)
Middleton, G. Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John Willison, H.
Millar, J. D. Simpson, J. Hope Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)
Mills, J. E. Smillie, Robert Windsor, Walter
Mitchell R. M.(Perth & Kinross, Perth) Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe) Winfrey, Sir Richard
Mond, H. Smith, T. (Pontefract) Wintringham, Margaret
Morris, R. H. Smith, W. R. (Norwich) Wood, Major M. M. (Aberdeen, C.)
Morrison, Herbert (Hackney, South) Snell, Harry Woodwark, Lieut.-Colonel G. G.
Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, North) Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip Wright, W.
Morse, W. E. Spence, R. Young, Andrew (Glasgow, Partick)
Moulton, Major Fletcher Spencer, H. H. (Bradford, S.)
Murray, Robert Spero, Dr. G. E. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Murrell, Frank Stamford, T. W. Mr. Frederick Hall and Mr.
Naylor, T. E. Starmer, Sir Charles Kennedy.
Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)
Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T. Butler, Sir Geoffrey Eden, Captain Anthony
Ainsworth, Captain Charles Caine, Gordon Hall Edmondson, Major A. J.
Alexander, Brig.-Gen. Sir W. (Glas.C.) Campion, Lieut.-Colonel W. R. Ednam, Viscount
Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S. Cassels, J. D. Elliot, Walter E.
Apsley, Lord Cautley, Sir Henry S. Elveden, Viscount
Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W. Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City) Eyres-Monsell, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M.
Astor, Maj. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover) Cayzer, Maj. Sir Herbt.R.(Prtsmth.S.) Falle, Major Sir Bertram Godfray
Baird, Major Rt. Hon. Sir John L. Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston) Ferguson, H.
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton FitzRoy, Captain Rt. Hon. Edward A.
Balfour, George (Hampstead) Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N (Ladywood) Forestier-Walker, L.
Banks, Reginald Mitchell Chilcott, Sir Warden Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.
Banner, Sir John S. Harmood- Clarry, Reginald George Galbraith, J. F. W.
Barnston, Major Sir Harry Clayton, G. C. Gates, Percy
Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W. Cobb, Sir Cyril Gaunt, Rear-Admiral Sir Guy R.
Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake) Cockerill, Brigadier General G. K. Gibbs, Col. Rt. Hon. George Abraham
Berry, Sir George Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips Gilmour, Colonel Rt. Hon. Sir John
Betterton, Henry B. Cope, Major William Gould, James C. (Cardiff, Central)
Birchall, Major J. Dearman Courthope, Lieut.-Col. George L. Greene, W. P. Crawford
Blades, Sir George Rowland Cowan, Sir Wm. Henry (Islington, N.) Grenfell, Edward C. (City of London)
Blundell, F. N. Craig, Captain C. C (Antrim, South) Gretton, Colonel John
Bowyer, Captain G. E. W. Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry Guinness, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. W. E.
Brass, Captain W. Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H. Gwynne, Rupert S.
Brassey, Sir Leonard Cunliffe, Joseph Herbert Hacking, Captain Douglas H.
Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive Curzon, Captain Viscount Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)
Briscoe, Captain Richard George Dalkeith, Earl of Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry
Brittain, Sir Harry Davidson, Major-General Sir J. H. Harland, A.
Buckingham, Sir H. Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset,Yeovil) Harmsworth, Hon. E. C. (Kent)
Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James Davies, Sir Thomas (Cirencester) Hartington, Marquess of
Bullock, Captain M. Dawson, Sir Philip Harvey, C.M.B.(Aberd'n & Kincardine)
Burman, J. B. Deans, Richard Storry Henn, Sir Sydney H.
Burney, Lieut.-Com. Charles D. Dixey, A. C. Hennessy, Major J. R. G.
Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford) Mitchell, W. F. (Saffron Walden) Simms, Dr. John M. (Co. Down)
Herbert, Capt. Sidney (Scarborough) Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham) Sinclair, Col.T.(Queen's Univ.,Belfast).
Hill-Wood, Major Sir Samuel Moles, Thomas Smith-Carington, Neville W.
Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G. Morrison-Bell, Major Sir A. C.(Honiton) Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)
Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (St. Marylebone) Nall, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Joseph Somerville, Daniel (Barrow-in-Furness)
Hohler, Sir Gerald Fitzroy Nesbitt, Robert C. Spender-Clay, Lieut.-Colonel H. H.
Hood, Sir Joseph Nicholson, O. (Westminster) Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley) Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield) Stuart, Lord C Crichton-
Horlick, Lieut.-Colonel J. N. Nield, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser
Howard, Hn. D.(Cumberland,Northn.) Oman, Sir Charles William C Sutcliffe, T.
Howard-Bury, Lieut. Col. C. K. O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Hugh Sutherland, Rt. Hon. Sir William
Hume-Williams, Sir W. Ellis Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William Sykes, Major-Gen.Sir Frederick H.
Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer Pattinson, S. (Horncastle) Terrell, Captain R. (Oxford, Henley)
Huntingfield, Lord Penny, Frederick George Thompson, Luke (Sunderland)
Iliffe, Sir Edward M. Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings) Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)
Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H. Perkins, Colonel E. K. Thomson,Sir W.Mitchell- (Croydon,S.)
Jackson, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. F. S. Perring, William George Thornton, Maxwell R.
James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert Phillipson, Mabel Titchfield, Major the Marquess of
Jephcott, A. R. Pielou, D. P. Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement
Kindersley, Major G. M. Pildltch, Sir Philip Turton, Edmund Russborough
King, Captain Henry Douglas Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Assheton Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.
Lamb, J. Q. Rankin, James S. Waddington, R.
Lane-Fox, George R. Rawlinson, Rt. Hon. John Fredk. Peel Ward, Lt.-Col. A.L.(Kingston-on-Hull)
Leigh, Sir John (Clapham) Rawson, Alfred Cooper Warrender, Sir Victor
Lloyd, Cyril E. (Dudley) Rees, Capt. J. T. (Devon, Barnstaple) Wells, S. R.
Lloyd-Greame, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Reid, D. D. (County Down) Weston, John Wakefield
Locker Lampson, G. (Wood Green) Remer, J. R. Wilson, Col. M. J. (Richmond)
Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (Handsw'th) Rentoul, G. S. Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Lord, Walter Greaves- Rhys, Hon. C. A. U. Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Lorimer, H. D. Richardson, Lt.-Col. Sir P. (Chertsey) Wise, Sir Fredric
Lumley, L. R. Ropner, Major L. Wolmer, Viscount
McLean, Major A. Roundell, Colonel R. F. Wood, Major Ht. Hon. Edward F. L.
Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm Russell-Wells, Sir S. (London Univ.) Wood, Sir H. K. (Woolwich, West)
McNeill, Rt. Hon. Ronald John Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham) Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.
Maitland, Sir Arthur D. steel- Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney) Wragg, Herbert
Makins, Brigadier-General E. Sandeman, A. Stewart Yate, Colonel Sir Charles Edward
Mansel, Sir Courtenay Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D. Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.
Marriott, Sir J. A. R. Savery, S. S.
Mason, Lieut.-Col. Glyn K. Scott, Sir Leslie (Liverp'l, Exchange) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Meller, R. J. Sheffield, Sir Berkeley Major Wheler and Sir Douglas Newton.
Milne, J. S. Wardlaw Shepperson, E. W.

Question put accordingly, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

The House divided: Ayes, 245; Noes, 214.

Division No. 89.] AYES. [11.12 p.m.
Ackroyd, T. R. Climie, R. Greenall, T.
Acland, Rt. Hon. Francis Dyke Cluse, W. S. Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)
Adatnson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock) Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R. Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)
Alden, Percy Collins, Patrick (Walsall) Groves, T.
Allen, R. Wilberforce (Leicester, S.) Compton, Joseph Grundy, T. W.
Alstead, R. Comyns-Carr, A. S. Guest, J. (York, Hemsworth)
Ammon. Charles George Costello, L. W. J. Guest, Dr. L. Haden (Southwark, N.)
Attlee, Major Clement R. Cove, W. G. Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)
Ayles, W. H. Crittall, V. G. Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland)
Baker, Walter Darbishire, C. W. Hardie, George D.
Banton, G. Davies, Ellis (Denbigh, Denbigh) Harris, John (Hackney, North)
Barnes, A. Davies, Evan (Ebbw Vale) Harris, Percy A.
Batey, Joseph Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon
Benn, Captain Wedgwood (Leith) Dickson, T. Harvey, T. E. (Dewsbury)
Berkeley, Captain Reginald Dodds, S. R. Hastings, Sir Patrick
Birkett, W. N. Dukes, C. Haycock, A. W.
Black, J. W. Duncan, C. Hayday, Arthur
Bondfield, Margaret Dunn, J. Freeman Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley)
Bonwick, A. Dunnico, H. Henderson, A. (Cardiff, South)
Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W. Edwards, G. (Norfolk, Southern) Henderson, T. (Glasgow)
Bramsdon, Sir Thomas Edwards, John H. (Accrington) Henderson, W. W.(Middlesex, Enfield)
Briant, Frank Egan, W. H. Hillary, A. E.
Broad, F. A. Emlyn-Jones, J. E. (Dorset, N.) Hindle, F.
Bromfield, William Falconer, J. Hirst, G. H.
Brown, A. E. (Warwick, Rugby) Fletcher, Lieut.-Commander R. T. H. Hobhouse, A. L.
Brunner, Sir J. Foot, Isaac Hodge, Lieut.-Col. J. P. (Preston)
Buchanan, G. Franklin, L. B. Hoffman, P. C.
Buckle, J. Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton) Hore-Belisha, Major Leslie
Burnie, Major J. (Bootle) George, Rt. Hon. David Lloyd Howard, Hon. G. (Bedford, Luton)
Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel Gibbins, Joseph Hudson, J. H.
Cape, Thomas Gillett, George M. Isaacs, G. A.
Chapple, Dr. William A. Gorman, William Jackson, R. F. (Ipswich)
Charleton, H. C. Gosling, Harry Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)
Church, Major A. G. Gould, Frederick (Somerset, Frome) Jephcott, A. R.
Clarke, A. Graham, W. (Edinburgh, Central) Jewson, Dorothea
John, William (Rhondda, West) Naylor, T. E. Stephen, Campbell
Johnston, Thomas (Stirling) Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter) Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)
Johnstone, Harcourt (Willesden, East) Nichol, Robert Stewart, Maj. R. S.(Stockton-on-Tees)
Jones, Rt. Hon. Leif (Camborne) Nixon, H. Stranger, Innes Harold
Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) O'Grady, Captain James Sturrock, J. Leng
Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd) Oliver, George Harold Sullivan, J.
Jowett, Rt. Hon. F. W. (Bradford, E.) Oliver, P. M. (Manchester, Blackley) Sunlight, J.
Jowitt, W. A. (The Hartlepools) Paling, W. Sutherland, Rt. Hon, Sir William
Keens, T. Palmer, E. T. Sutton, J. E.
Kenyon, Barnet Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan) Thompson, Piers G. (Torquay)
Kirkwood. D. Perry, S. F. Thomson, Trevelyan (Middlesbro. W.)
Laverack, F. J. Pethick-Lawrence, F. W. Thurtle, E.
Law, A. Phillipps, Vivian Tinker, John Joseph
Lawrence, Susan (East Ham, North) Potts, John S. Toole, J.
Lawson, John James Pringle, W. M. R. Tout, W. J.
Leach, W. Raffan, P. W. Travelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.
Lee, F. Raffety, F. W. Turner, Ben
Lessing, E. Ramage, Captain Cecil Beresford Varley, Frank B.
Linfleld, F. C. Raynes, W. R. Viant, S. P.
Loverseed, J. F. Rea, W. Russell Vivian, H.
Lowth, T. Rendall, A. Walsh, Rt. Hon. Stephen
Lunn, William Richards, R. Ward, G. (Leicester, Bosworth)
McCrae, Sir George Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring) Warne, G. H.
MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J.R.(Aberavon) Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O.(W.Bromwich) Watson, W. M. (Dunfermilne)
Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness) Robertson, J. (Lanark, Bothwell) Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)
McEntee, V. L. Robinson, S. W. (Essex, Cheimsford) Webb, Rt. Hon. Sidney
Macfadyen, E. Romeril, H. G. Wedgwood, Col. Rt. Hon. Josiah C.
Mackinder, W. Royce, William Stapleton Weir, L. M.
Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan) Rudkin, Lieut.-Colonel C. M. C. Westwood, J.
Maden, H. Scrymgeour, E. Wheatley, Rt. Hon. J.
March, S. Scurr, John White, H. G. (Birkenhead, E.)
Marley, James Seely, H. M. (Norfolk, Eastern) Whiteley, W.
Martin, W. H. (Dumbarton) Sexton, James Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)
Masterman, Rt. Hon. C. F. G. Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston) Williams, Lt.-Col. T.S.B. (Kennington)
Maxton, James Sherwood, George Henry Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)
Meyler, Lieut.-Colonel H. M. Short, Alfred (Wednesbury) Willison, H.
Middleton, G. Simon, E. D.(Manchester, Withington) Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)
Millar, J. D. Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John Windsor, Walter
Mills, J. E. Simpson, J. Hope Winfrey, Sir Richard
Mitchell, R.M.(Perth & Kinross, Perth) Smillie, Robert Wintringham, Margaret
Mond, H. Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe) Wood, Major M. M. (Aberdeen, C.)
Morris, R. H Smith, T. (Pontefract) Woodwark, Lieut.-Colonel G. G.
Morrison, Herbert (Hackney, South) Smith, W. R. (Norwich) Wright, W.
Morrison, R.C. (Tottenham, North) Snell, Harry Young, Andrew (Glasgow, Partick)
Morse, W. E. Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip
Moulton, Major Fletcher Spence, R. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:—
Murray, Robert Stamford, T. W. Mr. Frederick Hall and Mr.
Murrell, Frank Starmer, Sir Charles Kennedy.
Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T. Campion, Lieut.-Colonel W. R. Eyres-Monsell, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M.
Ainsworth, Captain Charles Cassels, J. D. Falle, Major Sir Bertram Godfray
Alexander, Brig.-Gen. Sir W. (Glas.C.) Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City) Ferguson, H.
Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S. Cayzer, Maj. Sir Herbt.R.(Prtsmth.S.) FitzRoy, Capt. Rt. Hon. Edward A.
Apsley, Lord Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston) Forestkler-Walker, L.
Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W. Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton Fremantle, Lieut.Colonel Francis E.
Astor, Maj. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover) Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood) Galbraith. J. F. W.
Baird, Major Rt. Hon. Sir John L. Chilcott, Sir Warden Gates, Percy
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Clarry, Reginald George Gaunt, Rear-Admiral Sir Guy R.
Balfour, George (Hampstead) Clayton, G. C. Gibbs, Col. Rt. Hon. George Abraham
Banks, Reginald Mitchell Cobb, Sir Cyril Gilmour, Colonel Rt. Hon. Sir John
Banner, Sir John S. Harmood- Cockerill, Brigadier-General G. K. Gould, James C. (Cardiff, Central)
Barnston, Major Sir Harry Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips Greene, W. P. Crawford
Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W. Cope, Major William Grenfell, Edward C. (City of London)
Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake) Courthope, Lieut.-Col. George L. Gretton, Colonel John
Berry, Sir George Cowan, Sir Wm. Henry (Islington,N.) Guest, Capt.Hn.F.E.(Gloucstr.,Stroud)
Betterton, Henry B. Craig, Captain C. C. (Antrim, South) Guinness, Lieut. Col. Rt. Hon. W. E.
Birchall, Major J. Dearman Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry Gwynne, Rupert S.
Blades, Sir George Rowland Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H. Hacking, Captain Douglas H.
Blundell, F. N. Cunliffe, Joseph Herbert Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)
Bowyer, Captain G. E. W. Curzon, Captain Viscount Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry
Brass, Captain W. Dalkeith, Earl of Harland, A.
Brassey, Sir Leonard Davidson, Major-General Sir J. H. Harmsworth, Hon. E. C. (Kent)
Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive Davies, David (Montgomery) Hartington, Marquess of
Briscoe, Captain Richard George Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset,Yeovll) Harvey,C.M.B.{Aberd'n & Kincardine)
Brittain, Sir Harry Dawson, Sir Philip Henn, Sir Sydney H.
Buckingham, Sir H. Deans, Richard Storry Hennessy, Major J. R. G.
Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James Dixey, A. C. Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)
Bullock, Captain M. Eden, Captain Anthony Herbert, Capt. Sidney (Scarborough)
Burman, J. B. Edmondson, Major A. J. Hill-Wood, Major Sir Samuel
Burney, Lieut.-Com. Charles D. Ednam, Viscount Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.
Butler, Sir Geoffrey Elliot, Walter E. Hogg, Rt. Hon.Sir D. (St. Marylebone)
Caine, Gordon Hall Elveden, Viscount Hohler, Sir Gerald Fitzroy
Hood, Sir Joseph Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge) Somerville, Daniel (Barrow-in-Furness)
Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley) Nicholson, O. (Westminster) Spender-Clay, Lieut.-Colonel H. H.
Horlick, Lieut.-Colonel J. N. Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield) Spero, Dr. G. E.
Howard, Hn. D.(Cumberland, Northn.) Nield, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Howard-Bury, Lieut.-Col. C. K. Oman, Sir Charles William C. Stuart, Lord C. Crichton-
Hume-Williams, Sir W. Ellis O'Neill, Maj. Rt. Hon. H. (Antrim) Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser
Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William Sutcliffe, T.
Huntingfield, Lord Owen, Major G. Sykes, Major-Gen. Sir Frederick H.
Iliffe, Sir Edward M. Pattinson, S. (Horncastle) Terrell, Captain R. (Oxford, Henley)
Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H. Penny, Frederick George Terrington, Lady
Jackson, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. F. S. Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings) Thomas, Sir Robert John (Anglesey)
James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert Perkins, Colonel E. K. Thompson, Luke (Sunderland)
Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth) Perring, William George Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)
Kindersley, Major G. M. Phillipson, Mabel Thomson, Sir W.Mitchell- (Croydon,S.)
King, Captain Henry Douglas Pielou, D. P. Titchfield, Major the Marquess of
Lamb, J. Q. Pilditch, Sir Philip Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement
Lane-Fox, George R. Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Assheton Turton, Edmund Russborough
Leigh, Sir John (Clapham) Rankin, James S. Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.
Lloyd-Greame, Rt. Hon. Sir P. Rawlinson, Rt. Hon. John Fredk. Peel Waddington, R.
Locker-Lampson, G. (Wood Green) Rawson, Alfred Cooper Ward, Lt.-Col. A.L.(Kingston-on-Hull)
Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (Handsw'th) Reid, D. D. (County Down) Warrender, Sir Victor
Lord, Walter Greaves- Remer, J. R. Wells, S. R.
Lorimer, H. D. Rentoul, G. S. Weston, John Wakefield
Lumley, L. R. Rhys, Hon. C. A. U. Wheler, Lieut.-Col. Granville C. H.
McLean, Major A. Richardson, Lt.-Col. Sir P. (Chertsey) Wilson, Col. M. J. (Richmond)
Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm Ropner, Major L. Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
McNeill, Rt. Hon. Ronald John Roundell, Colonel R. F. Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Maitland, Sir Arthur D. Steel- Russell-Wells, Sir S. (London Univ.) Wise, Sir Fredric
Makins, Brigadier-General E. Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham) Wolmer, Viscount
Marks, Sir George Croydon Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney) Wood, Major Rt. Hon. Edward F. L.
Marriott, Sir J. A. R. Sandeman, A. Stewart Wood, Sir H. K. (Woolwich, West)
Mason, Lieut.-Col. Glyn K. Savery, S. S. Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.
Meller, R. J. Scott, Sir Leslie (Liverp'l, Exchange) Wragg, Herbert
Milne, J. S. Wardlaw Sheffield, Sir Berkeley Yate, Colonel Sir Charles Edward
Mitchell, W. F. (Saffron Walden) Shepperson, E. W. Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.
Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham) Simms, Dr. John M. (Co. Down)
Moles, Thomas Sinclair, Col.T.(Queen's Univ.,Belfast) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Morrison-Bell, Major Sir A. C.(Honiton) Smith-Carington, Neville W. Sir Henry Cautley and Sir Thomas
Nall, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Joseph Somerville, A. A. (Windsor) Davies.
Nesbitt, Robert C.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.