§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.13 a.m.
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Elliot)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I think it would be for the convenience of the House if I moved this very briefly. The Bill, practically speaking, carries out the financial Resolution which has already been considered, first in Committee and then on Report. In Committee I made a fairly full statement. Some points were raised, and I indicated that I would do my best to deal with them at a later stage of the Bill, but there are clearly other points that hon. Members desire to raise, as is shown by the fact that there is a Motion for rejection on the Paper. I think, therefore, without any discourtesy to the House, if I may now move the Bill, I will do my best to catch your eye, Sir, and obtain leave to speak again at a later stage when I shall be able to reply to points that have been raised.
§ 11.14 a.m.
§ Mr. PALING
I beg to move to leave out "now" and at the end of the Question to add "upon this day three months."
As the right hon. Gentleman has indicated, quite a lot has been said on the Bill on previous occasions. I remember the first time that it was brought in, considerably more than a year ago, when it was euphemistically described as a subsidy or loan for a few months. The Minister said at that time that it was his hope that during the currency of the loan negotiations with the Dominions and Colonies and the people who exported meat to this country would be successfully made and that the business would come to an end. That has not happened. The negotiations have not been successful, and the Minister has had to come to the House time after time—four times, I think—in order to ask for more money. This time he seems to have less optimism than at any previous time, for he has asked for more money for a longer time than he has done previously. On Monday of this week the Minister brought for- 1390 ward a rather new argument, or at any rate, it was new to me. I had not heard him use it before. In the course of the debate he said that this was a proposal to maintain the wages of the poorest people in the land, and I will quote from the OFFICIAL REPORT what he said:This is a subsidy for the poorest of the poor. Let there be no mistake about this being a subsidy for the wealthy farmer—for the farmers with motor cars of whom we have been told. The question is whether basic agricultural wages can be maintained even at the low levels they are at to-day or whether they should go back to the scandalously low levels which were formerly paid."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th July, 193.5; col. 796, Vol. 304.]I have looked through this question and have obtained what evidence I could as to how far proposal of giving money to the industry has increased or has benefited wages at all, and I am bound to say that all the evidence that I have gained so far does not seem to indicate that the agricultural worker has got much out of it. With regard to this particular loan or subsidy, the hon. and gallant Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Captain Heilgers), speaking on the same day said, in reply to a statement made by my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) said:The hon. Member for Don Valley … spoke a great deal about employment. I would point out that beef does not provide much employment. A factor which has to be realised is that the beef industry is one of the smallest employers in agriculture."—(OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th July, 1935; col. 787, Vol. 304.]So that the special claim of the Minister that this is a subsidy for the poorest of the poor and is to maintain wages does not seem to have much relevance to this particular subsidy, because, on the evidence of the hon. and gallant Member for Bury St. Edmunds, this particular part of the industry provides less labour and therefore less wages than any other part. Let me come to another question as to wages and as to how far agricultural workers have benefited from this and other subsidies. I read in this month's "Land Worker", a publication issued by the Agricultural Union of Workers, a statement about the wheat subsidy which strengthens the point I am trying to make. It read as follows:The farmers will be satisfied to find that no change in the standard price of wheat has been suggested by the committee of inquiry. But they will be hard put to 1391 it to show from the report that they have shared out in any fair sort of way the £18,000,000 which the Wheat Act has already brought them.There has in recent months been some increase in wages; round about a shilling a week. We calculate that a shilling a week on the minimum wage for all the workers in the wheat-growing areas means a cost to the farmers of about £500,000 a year.Hence farmers have begun to pass on a tithe of the benefit they receive to the men who work for them. A tithe; no more. Generosity will never ruin them.So that when we come down to actual facts, as given us by the Union which eaters for these men, in one particular subsidy where £18,000,000 has already been paid, only £500,000 of that sum has found its way in wages into the pockets of the workers. I come to the question of general subsidies. This is only one among a number of general subsidies and helps of various character which have been given to the farmers and to the agricultural industry since the right hon. Gentleman took office. The "Economist" of 9th December, 1933, stated that the total money granted by the Treasury, together with differential relief from taxation now amounts to more than £45,000,000 annually. That was 1933. Since then there have been other subsidies to milk, and now this subsidy to beef, and I think that I should not be over-estimating if I put the amount at another £8,000,000. If this is added to the £45,000,000, which the "Economist" said has been given directly and indirectly in subsidies or in relief of one kind or another, the sum of £53,000,000 has been given to the agricultural industry during the last 10 years.
Surely, if it is a question of help for the industry in relation to wages and agricultural workers are supposed to have benefited out of the £53,000,000, including the present subsidy, the agricultural worker ought to have had some substantial benefit out of it all. In most cases it has done very little more than maintain the miserable inadequate wages which he has had for some years. I think that the average wage is round about 30s. or 31s. a week. In these days nobody would argue for a moment, whether it is the agricultural worker or any other kind of worker, that 30s. or 31s. is an adequate wage upon which to maintain 1392 a man and his family. If, in an industry like this where such a miserably low wage is paid, £53,000,000 of public money is poured into the industry to help it, surely it is not asking too much that at least a fair proportion of that money should find its way in wages into the pockets of the workers.
The Minister has argued time after time when we have brought up this question that we cannot give this money direct to the workers in wages, and he has said that it would percolate through, that it would go down through the industry, and would ultimately find its way into the pockets of the workers. It does not seem to have percolated very rapidly. Most of the money seems to have been absorbed before it could get through. I should not be far wrong in saying, if one takes into account all the increases of wages which agricultural workers have had during the last few years, that it probably would not amount to more than £3,000,000, £4,000,000 or at the most £5,000,000, altogether. If you subtract £5,000,000 from £53,000,000, it is not a very high percentage of all the money which has been poured into the industry that has percolated through and found itself in the pockets of the agricultural labourer.
§ Sir ERNEST SHEPPERSON
Is the hon. Member aware that to-day the receipts of agriculturists compared with 1914 are somewhat about the same, whereas the wages paid in agriculture to-day are double what they were in 1914? I submit therefore that some of the benefit given to agriculture has rightly found its way into the pockets of the agricultural workers.
§ Mr. PALING
That would be all right if the wages of the agricultural labourers were at that level when the subsidies began to be poured in, but they were not. If the wages of the agricultural labourers play such a big part in the economy of the farmer, then, if you look at this subsidy from another point of view, £53,000,000 is almost sufficient to pay all the wages which the labourers are getting to-day with the exception of a few years after the War, but, in spite of that, they have received remarkably little. Let me put the position from another point of view. When this money is being poured into the industry, it is very strange to us that more questions 1393 have not been asked about it and more conditions laid down in respect of the people who receive it. Hardly any conditions have been laid down with regard to any of this money. Some months ago when in this House we discussed the question of regulations we were told how, before this money was distributed to the unemployed, certain experiments and tests had been made, and questions asked and the whole thing laid down upon a scientific basis, not as to how much could be given to them, without any conditions, but how little they could manage on and how little they could claim out of the public purse. There has been no means test for farmers and landowners. The sum of £53,000,000 has been poured into the industry without any condition; poured into an industry which everybody admits has a class of people working in it for wages which are almost less than the wages of any other class. In spite of the fact that £53,000,000 have been given to the industry, less than £4,000,000 have found their way into the pockets of those whose needs are the greatest.
I suppose that, relatively speaking, the agricultural industry is as hard hit as most other industries. We hear how depressed industries are, and I suppose that term applies to farmers, but they are not so badly off as hon. Members opposite would try to make out. I have mixed with farmers at markets in country towns and the evidence of extreme poverty does not seem to be overwhelming. Whenever one asks for more wages in the agricultural industry the reply is: "We cannot afford them, because we are in such a poverty stricken condition. We have not enough with which to carry on." Every month through the National Union of Agricultural Workers a list is printed of the wills of farmers, and I find that these hard hit agriculturists whose industry has received £53,000,000 from public funds in the last few years leave considerable sums of money. In this month's list 23 farmers between them left estates of the value of £495,000 or an average of £21,500 each. The largest amount was £157,000 and the least £8,000. That does not seem to indicate overwhelming poverty. If farmers can die leaving estates of this value, and they have shared in the enormous amount of help that has been given out of the public 1394 purse, it is not asking too much that they should give more than they have done to their workers, who are a most deserving class and ought to receive more than they have received up to the present time.
The right hon. Gentleman calls this a loan to the industry. I suppose it is. He proposes that it should be paid back from another fund to be raised in another way in the future. This proposal seems to me to be iniquitous. It would be better for the working classes generally, and not only for the agricultural workers, if this was a straight subsidy out of public funds. When a subsidy comes out of the Treasury the wealthy people contribute a certain proportion towards it, through the revenues of the country, but they are not to pay for this loan. It will be raised not out of public revenues but ultimately out of a levy which is to be put upon imported beef, which is in the main consumed by the poorest section of the community. The poor people are to have a halfpenny or one penny a lb. put on the price of the beef they buy in order to provide for this loan to the agricultural industry. Not only is this loan to be paid back to the Treasury but if the right hon. Gentleman has his way a subsidy will be paid to the cattle side of the industry for ever. A subsidy or levy is to be raised from the poorest of the poor who have to consume imported meat because they cannot afford English meat. This is to be done for the benefit of people richer than themselves who can afford to buy home-produced meat, and also for the benefit of the agricultural industry, which has received benefits to the extent of £53,000,000 and has been so miserably mean that it has only given £3,000,000 or £4,000,000 back to the agricultural workers. It is an iniquitous proposition, but it is not through yet. It is to come into operation 13 months hence, and a lot may happen before then. Optimistic as the right hon. Gentleman is with regard to finding the money at that stage of the proceedings, he may discover that he is mistaken.
I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he holds the idea that a subsidised industry is a prosperous industry? The Chancellor of the Exchequer in speaking on the Budget told us that we had recovered 80 per cent. of our prosperity. I wonder whether he included the agricultural industry in that statement 1395 and whether he took into account the fact that that prosperity has been recovered owing to the enormous amount of public money that has been poured into the industry. I wonder if he calls that real prosperity. Is the right hon. Gentleman, and the hon. Members opposite who support him so gleefully when public money is being handed out, satisfied with the conditions in this industry? We are getting to know what the public think about these subsidies by what is happening with regard to the beet-sugar subsidy. That subsidy has been given with little comment for years, but the public are getting sick of it at last and some very awkward questions are being asked. A Committee of Inquiry has reported against that subsidy but it still goes on. The dissatisfaction is not confined to the public and the opponents of the scheme in this House. Supporters of the Government are getting very disturbed about the money that is being poured into the beet-sugar industry year after year and are asking whether it is not time to stop. If this thing goes on in regard to cattle, meat and other things, what position shall we reach?
I have been surprised that the right hon. Gentleman, with his ability and energy, has not turned his activities into a better direction to help the farming industry. It is one of the easiest methods to help a person or an industry to give money, but it is a lazy method, an unimaginative method, the method of the line of least resistance, and it means the building up of a vested interest. It means that people get so used to this sort of assistance that they will fight tooth and nail on every occasion, as they do in this House through their representatives, not only to retain what they have but, if possible, to increase it.
I come now to my last point. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that all this sort of thing indicates a healthy state for a capitalist society? What has become of the old yeoman spirit we used to hear about so much in the agricultural industry? What has become of their independence, their private enterprise, their individual initiative and the spirit of competition of which we have heard so much. Apparently capitalism cannot possibly carry on without having huge doles from the public. In some 1396 cases the right hon. Gentleman when he has been doling out this money to agriculture has tried to lay down certain conditions, that if they will help themselves he will try to give them help. But another feature has made itself evident. The right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) last week admitted that they were getting tired of having conditions imposed upon the industry; take your hands off, give us the money but let us alone. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture has indicated the same thing. He has pointed out the glorious prospect of having this dole, and in addition he says: "we will give you money to spend on the industry, we will not only give you money direct but we will improve the industry, the buildings, without it costing you a penny, all at the expense of the State." This is a new feature of capitalism as adumbrated by the National Government. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he thinks that he has made a success of this business. This constant coming to the House of Commons and asking for a dole for the industry—at which I admit he is very successful—does it not spell failure rather than success? If he is going to find a remedy for the position of agriculture will he not rather have to turn round and take up exactly an opposite policy? I hope the Bill will be rejected.
§ 11.38 a.m.
§ Mr. CLEMENT DAVIES
I am glad that the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Paling) concluded his speech by admitting that the endeavours of the Minister of Agriculture, which of course, are only partial, have been successful in restoring to this great industry of agriculture some measure of success. I welcome the Bill in so far as it extends the subsidy for a longer period than has hitherto been provided, up to June next or possibly October next year. Hitherto the periods have been much too short. It is impossible for a farmer to make his plans ahead unless he has some feeling of security for longer than the seven months which have so far been given, and I am glad now that a longer period has been provided which will allow the farmer to make his plans more surely for the future. At the same time I must express my disappointment that the Minister has not been able to make some provision for giving a more direct benefit 1397 to the store cattle producer. Under present conditions the benefit which is given to the beef producer cannot filter down to the storekeeper, owing largely to the increased imports which are coming from the Colonies, especially from Canada and Ireland. In his speech last Monday the Minister of Agriculture said:I hope that this arrangement and the fact that it interlocks with our long-term policy will enable the livestock industry to make its plans well ahead. If you are going to benefit the United Kingdom livestock industry you must have a subsidy the effect of which will be felt right through the industry, down to the breeder. The store man has had a very bad time.May I interpolate here that it has been the worst time in the history of the industryand especially in the outlying parts of the country he has not received benefit from some of the assistance which the House has given. It is therefore necessary that in any long-term policy the benefit should be felt by the store man as well."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th July, 1935; cal. 770, vol. 364.]I should like to emphasise those words. The store man is the one who produces the raw material for the beef producer. At the present moment there is a clashing of interests. There are three types of farmers dealing with live cattle, in addition to the man who is a dairy farmer. There is the store producer, who never can possibly finish. In the main he farms in the West and North of Scotland and in the South Western parts of England. He has not got the land or the facilities, the buildings or the cereals with which to finish young cattle. There is a second class of farmer who either because of the quality of his land or its extent can produce and finish young cattle, and there is a third class of farmer, the pure finisher, who produces the beef which now gets the subsidy. The suggestion has been put forward by farmers throughout the whole of Wales and the Western parts of Scotland that this subsidy should be so utilised as to give them a more direct benefit. They suggest that it should be limited in the case of imported cattle to only 50 per cent. so that the beef producer when he sells his beef will only get 2s. 6d. per cwt. on the beef he has produced from imported cattle. Another proposal they have made, which I hope the Minister would consider, is that the period should be extended from three months to six months, a period which will entitle the 1398 beef producer to get the subsidy in respect of imported cattle. Hitherto the voice of the store producer has been rather overwhelmed by the voice of the pure beef producer and so far no agreement has been arrived at.
I would warn the Minister that if he follows this policy it will mean that the breeder of young cattle will go out of business. He is going out of business now, as will be seen from the figures. The last figures I have are up to June 1934, and there has been a drop in the number of cattle one year old and under of 57,600, a decrease of young cattle produced in this country of 4.4 per cent. That is a very serious decrease. What is happening is this. Farmers instead of breeding for the beef producer are turning to dairy production. I know of one farmer, my next door neighbour, who was a big producer of young cattle. He could not finish them. His market is at Shrewsbury and his cattle were bought by farmers in the east of the county who have cereals and who can finish and thus get the benefit of the subsidy. What is happening in his case? He told me that although he has 84 cattle on his farm to-day 83 of them are for dairy purposes, and he keeps only one man. In days past he used to produce young cattle for the market and the beef producer. Unless the store producer gets more direct benefit he will go out of business, and that will be a disaster for the beef producer.
In the meantime what is the beef producer doing? He is purchasing cattle which have been imported from Ireland or Canada. Naturally he wants to buy in the cheapest market and to get the biggest benefit, ignoring the store producer. I am aware that during the last 12 months the price of two-year-olds has gone up a little. I think that it has gone up about £1 a head, but in the case of one-year-olds and under I do not think it has gone up as much as 5s. a head, and that is 5s. a head upon the lowest price that has been known since the Eighties, even lower than the price during what we farmers knew as the Hungry Nineties. Yet here are the figures of imported cattle. Irish stores imported up to June, 1934, were 199,858, but in 1935 the figures had gone up to 266,518, an increase of imports from Ireland of 66,660, as against a decrease of cattle produced in this country of 57,000.
1399 Then, with regard to Canadian store cattle, as the House knows none were imported in 1929. By 1934 the number had gone up to 51,000, and the import price paid for these amounted to well over £800,000. In 1935, I agree, there has been a reduction of Canadian cattle imports, but it is merely temporary, because the restrictions were withdrawn by the United States and that is a more immediate market for them. The imports from Northern Ireland for the four months ended 30th April last have also increased by 31,000, making a total increase from the whole of Ireland of 87,000 head of cattle. It is a really serious position and I hope that the Minister will consider what help he can give out of this subsidy so as to give more direct benefit to the breeder, who is supplying the raw material for the beef producer. During the Committee Stage I hope that the Minister will accept an Amendment which will either extend the period from three months to six, or limit the subsidy in respect of imported cattle to 50 per cent. of the present figure.
§ 11.48 a.m.
§ Mr. BARCLAY-HARVEY
To begin with I would like to say a few words in reply to some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Paling). He said that the Minister had not been too fortunate in his policy and that his negotiations had been unsuccessful. I disagree. Considering the amazing difficulties that the Minister has had to face we may say that he has been quite successful, that he has carried out negotiations with very considerable skill and has reached so far a quite useful point. What we have to realise is that we have now got agreement in the Dominions that there is necessity for some regulation of imports into this country. They are now, for the first time, beginning to appreciate the fact that unlimited imports into this country can only result in an ultimate crash in the market here, from which they would suffer just as much as we; and not only they, but the Argentine too. If the beef market in this country were to crash it would have repercussions all over the world, and the end of that it would be very difficult to foresee. Therefore, if we have only got to that point it has been something well worth struggling for, because it is a foun- 1400 dation on which we can hope to build a prosperous industry.
The hon. Member for Wentworth went on to complain that something like £53,000,000 of Government money had been poured into the industry. That is an indication of the parlous condition into which the industry has got during the last few years. The hon. Member asked, where is the old yeoman spirit of which we have heard so much? No one would be more glad than myself to see the yeoman conditions return. But since those good old days many changes have taken place in the world, and today we have competition from places which were then unheard of and of a sort which was unheard of. It is that which has injured the industry of this country, and would have killed it completely but for the fact that the Government have taken steps to secure at least a livelihood for these people.
I want to deal with one other point, and that is the question of wages, because it is extremely important. There is not a decent farmer in Great Britain who will not agree that the present rate of wages for farm labourers is far too low. Farm workers are amongst the most highly deserving type of people we have. In my part of the country, a cold part, they go out in the early morning, in the dark, in bitterly cold weather, to work in the fields at what is one of the hardest of jobs. Looking after animals is most highly skilled work. Anything that can be done to improve the lot of farm servants we should all strive to do. A difficulty with regard to the beef subsidy during the last few months has been that it has not put the farmer into a position to pay better wages but has only saved the existence of the farmer. Had it not been for the subsidy—I am talking of my own part of the country—I am certain we should have such a collapse in the agricultural world that it would not have been a question of raising wages but of the people now employed in the industry being put out of work altogether. Recently, we have seen a very welcome improvement in the price of beef. The hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) is not in his place, but we have heard from the Liberal benches criticism of the subsidy on the ground that it forced down the price of beef last winter. I wonder how Liberals explain the fact that the price is once 1401 again showing welcome signs of increase. My point is this: We are hoping at the end of this subsidy period to get a long-term policy, and the essence of that long-term policy is that a price will be fixed. If the price obtained in the market does not come up to the fixed price the difference will be made good from a fund obtained through a levy. I ask the Minister to ensure that the basic price is fixed at such a level that farmers will be able to pay, not the miserable wages now paid, but the sort of wages that they would like to pay. It is vitally important that we should have the people who are working on the land well paid, well fed, well clothed, well housed and contented. It will cause a real sore in the body politic if as a result of all the things we are doing the farm labourer feels that he is not getting his fair share of what is going. He can only get that if the fixed price enables the farmer to give him a decent wage.
The hon. Member for Wentworth referred to some of the wills of farmers who had died, and he quoted some big figures. I wish he would pursue his researches further and visit some of the banks in his constituency or the neighbouring agricultural constituencies and find out how many farmers, particularly the smaller men, have overdrafts. The great bulk of them are not rich. They are mostly very small men who are being kept not only by loans from banks but from auction marts, and often by arrangements with seedsmen and others. They do not leave fortunes of £10,000. Until they are in a sound financial position it will be very difficult for them to pay their workers properly, as they wish to do. I hope that the Minister, therefore, will see that the price is fixed at a reasonable figure to allow that to be done.
I entirely agree with the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) about the desirability of having a longer subsidy than we have had in the past. I fully realise that there were reasons which made it necessary to have a short-term arrangement in the past. The fact that the subsidy has now been fixed for 13 or 15 months at any rate, and certainly for such time as will enable a long-term policy to be produced, should be of the greatest possible value to the cattle producer in this country. 1402 As there is greater stability in the market and as the right hon. Gentleman has been able to have some limit put on the amount of imports from the Dominions during the next 18 months, the farmer will be in a much better position to foresee the course of prices in the coming year. That in itself will tend to improve the price of store cattle. I agree that the price of store cattle is one of the things which will have to be watched carefully. If this policy is to be successful, as we hope and believe it will be, it is essential that the producer of store cattle in this country should get his share of what is going. I have heard it said that some of the subsidy has taken wings and has flown over to Ireland and though I know the difficulties in the way and I realise that what it is possible to do in one part of the country cannot be done in another I hope some solution may be found. I realise that the problem is not quite so simple as a good many people think but, despite the difficulties, I hope we may get a reasonable solution.
The present subsidy has worked with great smoothness and has been of great value to the industry. The short term policy was the best that could be devised in the circumstances but for the long-term policy I am inclined to think that we shall want a system of payments which will benefit the people who are producing the best quality of meat, rather than this type of flat rate. A man may sell in the market a beast weighing 9 cwts. of absolutely prime quality. On that he gets a better price per cwt. than the man who is selling a 14 stone beast. It is conceivable that he might not get such a good price per beast as the man selling the less good but heavier animal because the subsidy is paid for weight. In my part of the world where quality is of vital importance it would be better to have some means whereby the value of the animal per cwt. was taken into consideration. There could be no more serious thing than a deterioration in quality, certainly in the part of the country which I know, because, there, we sell very largely on the quality of our beef. I do not think that anybody will deny that the beef which comes from Aberdeenshire is the finest quality of beef produced anywhere in the world.
On the wider question of our negotiations with the Dominions I would recall 1403 that at the Ottawa Conference we started an entirely new line of thought and a new orientation in the business relations between this country and the Dominions. It is not surprising when we are making great changes of that kind to find that some of the machinery which worked perfectly well under the old conditions is not sufficient for the present conditions. The fact that we had to postpone these negotiations until the Premiers of Australia and New Zealand could be here, shows that there has been some breakdown in the machinery. I do not think that is anything of which anybody need feel ashamed or which need cause any surprise. It is natural that it should have happened. At the same time, it shows that we must have fresh machinery for dealing with these matters in the future. The right hon. Gentleman, if not at this stage perhaps at some later stage, may be able to give us some idea of what shape that machinery will take.
It is going to be much easier in the future than it has been in the past for people in this country to go to the Dominions. One can now go to Canada in a matter of eight days where it formerly took as much as five or six weeks. If there are to be consultations between responsible Ministers I hope that they will not always take place in London but that our people will go to Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere. When I visited some of the Dominions two or three years ago I found a very strong feeling of welcome for any Member of this Parliament who took the trouble to go there and study conditions on the spot. Nothing could do more good to our Imperial relations than that some of our Cabinet Ministers should, from time to time, see for themselves the conditions in those far-off parts of the world. My right hon. Friend the Minister has made many journeys in various parts of the Empire and I am sure he would welcome an opportunity of visiting other parts of the Empire. I hope therefore that any machinery which is introduced will involve visits of people from this country to the Dominions as well as the other way round.
Lastly, in any machinery of this sort provisions ought to be made, not only for meetings between Members of governments and Government staffs but also for meetings between people engaged in 1404 the trades concerned. Nothing would smooth over difficulties more easily than that people who actually deal with these matters, such as the National Farmers Union, for instance, in England and Scotland, should meet with the agriculturists of New Zealand, Australia, Canada and other parts of the world. While the work which the Government can do is of immense value, the work which the industry can do for itself is also of great value. It is vitally important that once we have established the long-term policy we should not regard it as fixed in all details. This world is not static and there is nothing in it which is static. The details will have to be changed from time to time and it is important that we should have means whereby these changes can be foreseen as far as is humanly possible, and provision made for them. We should not have to wait until it is too late. We should have the means of forseeing developments and of being able to deal with them promptly when they arise. I hope that we may have an opportunity of hearing something more on that point. I take this opportunity of thanking the Government and the right hon. Gentleman and the other Ministers who are involved in this matter for the steps which they have taken. I hope that we shall not have to wait for the full period contemplated before we get the long-term policy but it comes as a great relief to know that there can be no hiatus between the end of the subsidy and the beginning of the long-term policy.
§ 12.3 p.m.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I feel that some of us who sit on these benches are occasionally under a certain disadvantage. Our education has been sadly neglected, and we are not always able to deal in detail with some of the intricate problems which are placed before us. On the last occasion on which I spoke on this subject I found, what is unusual in these agricultural debates, namely that a white heat was being engendered, and the right hon. Gentleman the Minister seemed to be roused to a pitch which recalled the days when he occupied the position of Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. I cannot promise to rouse him again to-day. I almost wish I could, but I find some difficulty in following the case which has been put forward here. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery 1405 (Mr. C. Davies) in effect, although he did not say it in so many words, asked for another increase of the subsidy. He referred to the people concerned with store cattle and so did the last speaker—to whom I listened with great pleasure because I have not for a long time heard him speak at such length, and he speaks with great knowledge of the subject. They both agreed that the store cattle people were up against it. The hon. Member wanted us to take from the other farmers and to give to the store cattle people, but he knows that the farmers who are getting this money would never tolerate the lessening of the amount.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
But if the store cattle chap gets more, the other chap must get less, if the amount remains the same. I may not know very much, but I cannot see even the Minister of Agriculture beating me on that point. The hon. Member says that the store cattle people are being badly treated and not getting a fair chance, and so, he says, "Give us more," but the other farmer will not stand for it. We are not yet at the end of the thing, however. It is not fair of the Government, it is not really reasonable that we should stop where we are stopping. The thing should go on. On the last occasion the Minister took me to task because, he said, anybody who dared to oppose this subsidy was standing for poor wages in the agricultural industry. When he attempted to reply on the last occasion he did not seek to vindicate what he was doing so much as to say, in the first place, that this was the only way to get wages increased, and, secondly, he sought to find a refuge for what the Government were doing in something that the Labour Government had done in the Coal Act. It was not that the Government's action in itself could be defended, but that the others had done something that was wrong.
Far be it from me to get involved in a discussion of the Coal Act and all its ramifications, but let us look at the position. When the present Government took office one of the first economy measures which they took was to abolish the inspectors set up under the Agricultural Wages Acts. They say that the agricul- 1406 tural labourer is a fine type of man and all that, but they like him so much that almost the first thing they do of an economy kind is to take away the wage inspectors, who to some extent are a buffer against his receiving lower wages. They like him, but they do not like him so well that they will keep these inspectors on. Just imagine an economy measure, from those who say that one of the important things to do is to keep up wages in order to save Britain, which results in the sacking of seven inspectors. It did not matter about the poor agricultural worker. His wage could go down, but the National Government, in order to save Britain, had to send away seven inspectors. They went for the time being, and although the majority of them have been returned to their posts, two of them have not yet been returned; and the most daring thing about it, I am told, is that the two most active men among those inspectors at defending the agricultural workers have so far not been returned to their posts.
This is from the defenders of the wages, from the people who are giving £3,000,000 till next June and, if it continues till October, roughly speaking almost £4,500,000, for the sake of the wages of the agricultural workers. In my more callow days I might have been taken in, but what are the facts? To-day we subsidise this industry with very few conditions other than saying that they ought to fulfil certain things regarding wages and so on, but in so far as the internal working of the farms by the farmers is concerned, there is no interference. And this, mark you, when people are being handed out millions of money. What the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Paling) said is true; the agriculturists have not merely a beef subsidy, but they have also a wheat subsidy and a sugar beet subsidy. It is not a matter merely of giving the labourer 31s. instead of 28s. a week: it is an accumulation of all the subsidies. The farm labourer could be given a higher wage without doing any work if he had the subsidy himself, without the farmer intervening at all.
When you make a demand like this in the House of Commons, you ought to show that the farmer is poor and needs it, that he is in poverty and needs help, but that has never been done. It has only been done in general terms like those 1407 used by the last speaker, who said the farmers were not well off, but that does not prove it. There has never been set down in this House, even by the Minister of Agriculture, the proof that they are hard up. It may or many not be true, but it has never been proved. On the other hand, the case of the poor has been examined, and it has been demonstrated that there are poverty-stricken people. You say that the agricultural wages are low, but because they are low it does not mean that the farmers are poor. Because you have low wages applying, it does not mean to say that the employers are hard up, because some of the worst paid people in industry are those in industries where the profits are greatest. All that we are told is, in general terms, that these people are hard up, and consequently that they need public money.
I say to the Minister of Agriculture that he, like me, is one of the Members for a great city. We come here from the place where I was born and bred, and he and I share the representation of a part of that city. I represent the Gorbals Division and the right hon. Gentleman represents the Kelvingrove Division. His division, or a portion of it, is street for street the same as mine—no difference—packed with poverty. No farmer in this country can equal the poverty of a part of Kelvingrove. What does the right hon. Gentleman do? I say to Members in this House that, even when they gain Cabinet rank, they have no right to do what he is doing in this way. He gives millions to beet sugar. He sits in that Cabinet and asks that a man and a woman should live on 24s., which his Cabinet regulations provide for the unemployed, after years of unemployment. In the City of Glasgow rents are high, the cost of living is not low, and beef is dear. These millions are handed out to people who have never proved their poverty in the same way as have these poor people, the constituents of the right hon. Gentleman, who ought to have a claim on him second to none. It is no answer to say we have done it before. We came here to ask millions for our people—the tests we have to undergo, the inquiries, the shocking interference with family life! Some think that it does not matter, because they are just poor people. What are they—just dock labourers, old shipbuilding workmen; and their families have their hearts and guts 1408 torn out of them. But the farmers—oh, no, do not say that they have a lot of money! The hon. Member for Wentworth suggested a means test for them; that 'we should be allowed to examine their banking accounts, their private family incomes, where their sons are, and so on. It is said that that would be a penalty on the industrious farmer. But, when it comes to the poorest, that inquiry is quite right. There is a feeling that these people are something different from the others, that money should be given to the farmers because they are a better class.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
It is claimed in effect. You deny the right of interference and examination into your family life and private accounts. When the subsidy started it was only for a limited time, only to give breathing space while the Government got a policy. We have continued it again and again. It is to be continued long enough to carry over the election period. The right hon. Gentleman says he will take this £3,000,000 of money to June, but the Government will also take permission to continue it to October which brings up the sum to about £4,250,000.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the Dominions are going to limit their supplies of beef coming into this country. It may be that I am a bit fogged. I represent Gorbals, which cannot get enough beef. I do not think the Minister of Agriculture will deny that a man and woman living on 24s. a week, in a place like Glasgow where 7s. 6d. goes in rent, cannot buy much meat, even foreign meat. I cannot see how the producers are to be ruined because beef becomes plentiful. Here you have beef made scarce, for the people cannot get it. The right hon. Gentleman says, "Keep it out." It is impossible now for most of the poorer class to get it. Beef is not too plentiful. Beef is scarce. Why should hon. Gentlemen and their friends have a right to make it scarce when it is too scarce already? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot) should turn his attention to the other side. Why does beef sometimes glut the market? It is not because it is too plentiful; it is too scarce, because in my place and in the mining areas the people cannot get beef. I read a book given to 1409 me by the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) written by a Yorkshire miner on the means test. He told how when he was a miner he got beef every day; he had to have it. Now he gets it on Sunday, one day per week instead of seven, The market is glutted, not because beef is plentiful, but because these men have not the purchasing power to buy it. Do the Government never think that instead of subsidising the farmer they ought to subsidise the purchaser? that the men who are unemployed ought to have their income raised so that they can buy beef That would be something wrong, I suppose. The idea is that you have to watch that you do not give these men too much; in fact, you cut their income down.
When the Minister comes along with his final solution, which I understand is to be a tax on Argentine beef, or a levy, the proceeds are to be paid as a further subsidy to the farmer. As the hon. Member for Wentworth says, "Who is to pay this levy?" Everybody knows that the difference in price between Argentine beef and home-bred beef represents a big margin, and, unless the Government put on a very high levy, Argentine beef will still be cheaper. Argentine beef is the beef of the poor. I live in Battersea, and the other day I went into a butcher's shop, since we still look after our own family affairs, to buy beef. There was no home beef there; it was all Argentine and foreign beef. When I mentioned it to the butcher, he said, "Look here Mr. this is a poor district". In effect, this levy will be paid by the poor.
The Government's next policy is to be even meaner than the last, The present one is that part of the rich pay through general taxation; the next is that in order that the poor farmer may exist, the poorest of the poor, who can buy only foreign imported meat, are to pay more so that the levy can go to the farmer. If that policy were directed to the rich there would be a revolt. If that policy were carried out by us in regard to their class there would be every feeling of indignation aroused. The Government adopt that policy in regard to our class, and increase the price of beef. I do not believe that there is a plentiful supply of beef or that there is too much coming in. I believe the fault is that the wages 1410 of the miner are too low, and the income of the unemployed inadequate, and that the Government, instead of subsidising the farmers and producers, ought to turn their attention to the others and find out that the basic wages and incomes of the people of the working-classes or of those unemployed are too low, and say that those who are carrying on or those who are unfortunately unemployed should be given decent remuneration, so that they may buy the goods that are produced.
§ 12.25 p.m.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) said that a certain amount of heat crept into the Debate when I was winding up on the last occasion, and that he would do his utmost to engender a little heat on this occasion. I am sure the House will realise that with the whole weight of his Parliamentary ability he has done his utmost to raise the temperature to a reasonable point. He has issued some challenges which I shall be glad to take up because the statements he has made are those which he males in Glasgow, in Lanarkshire, and up and down the poor areas of this country and it is better that they should be made here where they can be refuted than that they should go unchallenged in the districts which hear no one else, and therefore take all that the hon. Member says, with all his skill in presenting a case, as gospel truth.
There are one or two other points which I should like to mention before I return to the speech of the hon. Member for Gorbals. The point was made in the last Debate as to the possible evasion of the marking regulations concerning beef and that it weakened the market for home beef unduly. I understand that that applied especially to Scotland. The Secretary of State is making inquiries into that matter, but very full marking regulations have been put into force, and, if they are not being observed, it is a matter of administration, and we shall do our utmost to see that they are observed. The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. C. Davies) made an eloquent plea for the store cattle man. I agree that his position has been serious in the past, and I think it is very necessary that the position of the breeding industry in this country should be maintained, for otherwise we shall not be able to obtain store cattle at reasonable prices. The long 1411 term policy, as was said by the hon. Member for Aberdeen and Kincardine (Mr. Barclay-Harvey), in a most thoughtful and well-considered speech, will do more to set up the position of the store breeder than any ad hoc assistance. The difficulty of ad hoc assistance is that it may mean an over-organisation which might well defeat its own objects, and which is far from being an agreed matter among all sections of the agricultural industry. The east countrymen and west countrymen will need to come to some common agreement on this matter before we can approach the House, for nothing could be more likely to frustrate any objects which we have in view than to bring forward measures for the relief of agriculture which were protested against by important sections of agriculturists themselves.
There were two other speeches of importance to-day one delivered by the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Paling) in a most spirited fashion, and one delivered by the hon. Member for Gorbals. The hon. Member for Wentworth showed greater skill than the hon. Member for Gorbals—greater Parliamentary skill, that is to say, because he did not adduce arguments which could be readily refuted by reference to his speeches and actions in the past and his general line of policy in this House. The hon. Member for Gorbals was not trammelled by any of those considerations. He swept them all away with a sentence "If we did that, I say we were wrong, and we ought to have been judged for it." That is a very easy way of carrying on opposition—when you are in power to do all you can to keep up the level of wholesale prices, but when you are in Opposition to say: "Push them down, and, if we did anything to put them up, we were wrong." Let the hon. Member go to the coal areas and say that his policy is to repeal the Coal Mines Act; and let the price of coal go, in an unregulated market, as low as possible. He will have to fight hon. Members on the Labour benches, but that will not worry him, because he has fought them before, and no doubt he will continue to fight them. He will, however, find the fight a stiff battle in the mining areas. It is no use coming to this House and saying: "When we passed a measure to support the wholesale level of prices in a commodity in 1412 which we are interested, in which our constituents are interested, no doubt we were wrong." But will he repeal it? That is the acid test. The hon. Member makes no answer to that question. When on a previous occasion the policy of maintaining the level of wholesale prices was brought up a much respected Member of the House, speaking from the Government benches, said:The burden of this part of the Bill is not to sell at terms which may rightly be regarded as an extravagant profit, but to stop the sale of coal at a loss, to get a good average price in those parts of the market which can bear that price, and to relieve the price in other parts of the market"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th December, 1929; cols. 1266–67, Vol. 233.]He went on to say that there were 30,000,000 or 40,000,000 tons of coal going to public utility organisations in Great Britain and that they were getting coat at far too low prices. What were those industries? Electricity and gas, and one of them is the fuel of the poorest of the poor. What did the hon. Member for Gorbals do then? He walked into the Division Lobby and voted for the Second Reading of the Bill, which passed by a handful of votes which the hon. Member and a few of his friends could have turned.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I understand that the right hon. Gentleman opposed the Bill. Was it not doing for the coalowners what the right hon. Gentleman now wishes to do for the farmers?
§ Mr. ELLIOT
We opposed the Bill, and I am willing to face every line of our argument on it. One of the main lines of the Bill, which the hon. Member will remember and for which he voted, was a levy on the home consumer of coal in order to subsidise export coal. The hon. Member was going to tax the man and woman in Gorbals on their gas so that he could get cheaper coal for the Belgians, the Poles, the Czechoslovakians and everybody else. We not only voted against it on Second Reading, but we later knocked it out of the Bill. He stood for maintaining a level of wholesale prices of coal, and I ask the hon. Member here and now—does he intend to repeal that?
§ Mr. ELLIOT
That is the answer that all dictators give. When I ask the hon. 1413 Member a straight question, he does not give a straight answer. The hon. Member used a good deal of effort in saying: "Here is money being given away without any restrictions and without any inquiry into the position of the people who are to receive it." How many inquiries did he or his friends hold into the circumstances of the coalowners when they were making provision which admittedly was to improve the state of profit in the coal trade? Nothing, he says, should be given without an investigation to see whether the people are suffering from poverty and whether they actually need it. We all remember the great speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) when he said: "To whom is all this money going? The owners," and the whole Labour party chanted with him, "The owners." The hon. Member for Wentworth read out a long list of wills left by farmers. Did anybody look up the list of wills left by coalowners before the right hon. Gentleman the late Mr. William Graham brought in the Bill which admittedly was to improve the level of profits in the coal trade? Then there is the building industry, to which he and his friends have often given subsidies. Was an inquiry held into the position of all builders before the late Minister of Health brought forward a Bill to subsidise the building industry? No. I admire the hon. Member for the Gorbals Division. I admire his skill in raising passion and prejudice and in fomenting disorder. He is a revolutionary.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
When I listen to some of his speeches I wonder why any of us here ever get returned to Parliament. The case as he presents it sounds a most convincing case, but there is a counter side to it, and if he will examine the matter fairly he will realise that all the arguments he has been raising against giving assistance to the agricultural industry could be paralleled by arguments against giving assistance to the coal industry or the building industry. This is a question of food, which is of vital importance to all people It is of vital importance that the industry which provides food should be maintained. "But," says the hon. Member for the Wentworth Division, "This subsidy is not going to those who most need it. The agricultural 1414 labourers are not sharing in these advantages."Their wages, if they had been calculated on the cost of living, or calculated in comparison with what wages were before the war, would be infinitely lower than they are to-day. We have managed to hold agricultural wages in this country at a higher level than they have been since the boom years after the war.
What has happened in other countries During that time agricultural wages in the United States have been nearly halved, and in the Dominions they have enormously declined; not to mention the declines which have taken place in European, countries and the terribly low levels of the wages received by agricultural workers there, because theirs is a different economy and it is not fair to make a strict comparison. But it is fair and not unreasonable to compare our wages and the movement of wages with those in a country like the United States.
To have been able to hold or restore wages to what they were in 1925, 1926 and 1927, would be regarded in any other agricultural country as a result worthy of the utmost efforts which any Government and any Parliament could put forward. We have done it here, and the comparison to be made is with wages prewar, or with the proportionate rise in other wages, or with the receipts which the farmer gets from the sale of his products. After all, the farmer is only the agent who passes on the products of the land, and most of the money received from the sale of those products is redistributed in the expenditure incurred in producing them. We here have been able to take up that challenge and deal with it more triumphantly than the people in any other country in the world.
The last point which was made by the hon. Member for the Wentworth Division was that these subsidies constituted an intolerable burden on the nation, that the complaint against them was widespread, and that if they went on they would lead to the agricultural industry incurring widespread unpopularity, and—although he did not say this—that they would no doubt be swept away by him and his friends or they would make the sweeping away of them one of the planks in their programme in the agricultural constituencies. We shall wish them joy in the attempt. The measures which he and his friends put forward were 1415 admirably successful in maintaining the price levels of coal in which he is interested. The price of coal to-day is about 175 points above the pre-war retail price. It was 185 to 200 points above in 1925 and 175 to 180 above in 1931. They were able to hold the price of fuel at 175 points above pre-war. Food prices are at about 125 points above. Since 1925 food prices have gone down from 171 to 120. Since 1931 they have gone down from 131 to 120. The policy of the Government has been to get the maximum supply of food at the lowest possible prices consistent with a reasonable remuneration to the producers. Since 1925 the fall in food prices has been the equivalent of £230,000,000 a year, nearly all of which saving has been enjoyed by the working classes of this country. That is equivalent to the whole of the interest and Sinking Fund on the National Debt. That is equivalent to lifting off the shoulders of the people the whole weight of the National Debt to-day. Is it unreasonable to say that 10 or 15 per cent. of that enormous sum should be used for the assistance of the agricultural industry in order to maintain the wage level and to maintain the production of foodstuffs? Is that the contention? There is no answer. It is easy enough to make denunciations—
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I have never noticed the hon. Member for Gorbals hesitate to interrupt when he thought he could make a point. I say that in this country we have been able to secure a plentiful supply of food at very low prices. To do that has thrown a strain of almost intolerable degree upon agricultural production in this country, and to modify that intolerable strain assistance has been given to agriculturists, and, if agriculture in this country is to continue, it will have to be given to it. We on this side have faced that issue and hon. Members opposite will have to face it also. There is the policy—supplies of food at low prices; and there is the proof of the policy—'a fall in the index figures of food values, a fall calculated at between £200,000,000 and £300,000,000 a year since 1925. And in this and other Bills which we are bringing forward is the counterpart, the assistance which has to be given to agriculture to 1416 enable it to survive and to enable it to pay wages which admittedly are as low as we could reasonably permit them to be and which indeed should be much higher. When hon. Members opposite were on this side of the House, they too adopted a policy of maintaining the wholesale level of prices. They, too, maintained a policy of working through private enterprise in the coalfields, working through owners without suggesting any inquiry into the private circumstances of the people through whom and by whom the wages, which were their chief concern, were to be paid. They would never dare to repeal those Measures if they came into power. We are following the policy of maintaining the wholesale level of prices, and say that by this and other means we intend to continue along the path on which we have set out.
§ 12.44 p.m.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
I should not have risen but for the right hon. Gentleman's persistent references to the Coal Mines Act, 1930. He will persist in drawing a parallel between that Act and the action of the present Government in the case of agriculture, though he knows there is no parallel at all. All that the Coal Mines Act did was to place in the hands of the coal owners, or the coal industry, a piece of machinery by which they could market their commodity on sensible and efficient lines. There was no subsidy of £53,000,000.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
No, what I am suggesting is that there is no parallel at all between the mining industry and the agricultural industry as dealt with by the National Government. The right hon. Gentleman referred to figures this morning, when he calculated to have reached £53,000,000 per annum in direct subsidies to agriculture. That is the question at issue; the wisdom of the bits and pieces policy, which may be the only policy, and not the mining industry Act which was merely a piece of machinery to enable the mining industry to market its commodity efficiently. There was no subsidy. The right hon. Gentleman has a Milk Marketing Board which, if operated sensibly, would in all probability enable agriculture or the dairy farmers to make their business a paying proposition. Here is a subsidy, and when 1417 in any direction subsidies are being given, the right hon. Gentleman always harks back to 1930 and tries to make us believe that we gave the colliery owners £50,000,000 more or less; we did not give them a shilling. The right hon. Gentleman knows that if he examines the figures he will find that the price of coal has not increased perceptibly.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to keep agricultural, prices 175 points above pre-war, I will not ask this House for a red cent.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
The right hon. Gentleman simply gives one retail figure. He introduces an argument about the price of coal to gas and electricity undertakings; if he cared to examine the profits that were being made by the gas and electricity undertakings in this country, who are large consumers of coal, he would be the first to admit that it was high time that, in its own interests and in those of its workpeople, the coal industry had better bargaining power with those companies and undertakings, whose profits had been excessive, and that some marketing scheme was brought into existence to prevent consumers taking advantage of internal competition which had brought ruin to tens of thousands, of miners' families in this country. The right hon. Gentleman implies to the House that the miners and the mineworkers must have made tremendous profits out of that coal measure, but that is not the case. The miners were entitled to a decent wage. When the right hon. Gentleman refers to the colossal perpendicular drop in agricultural prices since the war, let him recall that the amount of miners' wages, which was £265,000,000, was down to £87,000,000 last year, and yet the coal industry has not been here for a subsidy.
There will be many more Debates before this subject is finished with, and I hope that when the right hon. Gentleman is dealing with subsidies he will not introduce again the simple marketing scheme which was applied to coal, because there is no parallel. Unless a better argument can be adduced to justify a subsidy, a levy or direct or indirect assistance to agriculture, that industry is not entitled to assistance. If, however, justifiable reasons can be advanced for a direct or an indirect levy or for any other financial assistance, let 1418 the House take a decision on that basis, and let the right hon. Gentleman not try to compare a simple marketing scheme without a subsidy with a scheme such as this, in which there is no marketing scheme in existence. The Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government suggest that there must be protection before marketing. We think that it ought to be marketing before protection. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will in future compare like with like and not with unlike.
§ 12.50 p.m.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I do not want to delay the House, because we have a somewhat heavy day's work before us. I did not put down a proposal for to-day, because I know that the Government like to get as much business as possible worked off on a Friday, when there is the smallest number of Members present in the easiest frame of mind for letting things go. I merely rose to say a word or two in reply to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, so far as it was directed to my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). I am surprised and somewhat hurt at the irritation displayed ay the right hon. Gentleman. This is, if I remember rightly, the first intervention of those of us who sit below the Gangway, on this matter of the subsidy. We have treated the right hon. Gentleman not merely with tolerance but with generosity, in the various experiments he has introduced to restore the prosperity of agriculture in this country. We recognised that he was performing a very difficult task and we did not subject him to undue criticism or opposition. I do not see why he should get all heated up over a very simple and legitimate observation on the part of my hon. Friend.
He draws a parallel between our attitude to-day and our attitude on the Coal Mines Bill, and he states with very great pleasure that my hon. Friend voted for the Second Reading of that Bill; but he does not cite any of the speeches of my hon. Friend or myself on the Second Reading, nor does he make any reference to subsequent stages of the Measure. We supported that Measure on the Second Reading with very many reservations, and with many Amendments on the Committee stage, in particular to try to give effect to the very two points that have 1419 been the basis of my hon. Friend's criticism to-day. They were Amendments to secure definitely in that Measure a guaranteed minimum wage for miners. There was no such provision in that legislation and there is no such provision here. The Government of that date, through their spokesmen, held the view, as is held by the right hon. Gentleman, that if they got that Measure the wages would automatically come right. That is the view to-day: Subsidise the farmer and the farm labourer's wages will come right. The view of the Labour Government was: Establish this measure of organisation and price fixation in coal, and the miner's wages will come right. It did not happen. These thing do not happen automatically. You give employers a favoured position, but it does not follow that the wages of the workers are kept up. The miners' wages on the average are not kept up by the Act, they are just one or two shillings above unemployment allowances.
§ Mr. MAXTON
They would be a shilling or two above the unemployment allowances, and that is where they are now, at rock-bottom on starvation wages. The organisation has not taken place as was anticipated. My hon. Friend criticised that Measure right through, on the grounds that, firstly, there was no provision for guaranteeing a living wage to the miners, and secondly, no arrangement for safeguarding the price to the consumer. We endeavoured by Amendment to put proposals into the Measure by which the interests of the consumers of coal would be safeguarded against exploitation. If the right hon. Gentleman, in coming forward with these subsidies, had included a provision to safeguard the wages of the agricultural workers not incidentally, but definitely, and deliberately, by establishing minimum rates for agricultural workers, and by a further provision to prevent exploitation of the consumer of British beef, we should have
§ found it impossible to criticise the proposal. But when the Minister comes forward and says: "hand out this money and hope for the best in both directions," it is not responsible work. Let me advise him to watch out for his kulaks. They are a bad crowd—the most difficult crowd in any country—and this is the crowd to whom he is throwing power and public money. Under the Coal Mines Act there was an attempt to organise the industry, but there is no such attempt here. Money is to be given without qualification or investigation or any attempt to safeguard the other people engaged in the industry.
§ The Minister asked my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals, would he repeal the Coal Mines Act? Surely the right hon. Gentleman does not need to be told, nor do his electors in Kelvingrove need to be told, that my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals and myself have stood, and stand now, for the public ownership of the coal mines of this country. We believed, because there was a Labour Government that did not nationalise the mines, that the Socialists had thrown over that idea. Most certainly we would repeal the Coal Mines Act of the late Labour Government, and, if we repealed the Coal Mines Act, there would be a minimum wage for the miners and a fixed price for coal based on reasonable cost of production; and we would do exactly the same if we were dealing with the agricultural industry. I hope the Minister will not attempt to use the debating trick of trying to show inconsistencies in my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals between when he was in Opposition and when he was on the Government side of the House, but that the right hon. Gentleman will at least give us the credit that up to date we have been reasonably indiscriminate in our criticism of Governments, whichever Government happened to be in power.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 148; Noes, 34.1421
|Division No. 278.]||AYES.||[12.58 p.m.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G.||Balniel, Lord||Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W.|
|Ainsworth, Lieut.-Colonel Charles||Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Brass, Captain Sir William|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'k'nh'd)||Bennett, Capt. Sir Ernest Nathaniel||Briscoe, Capt. Richard George|
|Apsley, Lord||Blindell, James||Broadbent, Colonel John|
|Aske, Sir Robert William||Boothby, Robert John Graham||Brocklebank, C. E. R.|
|Anderson, Sir Alan Garrett||Bossom, A. C.||Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.|
|Balfour, Capt. Harold (I. of Thanet)||Boulton, W. W.||Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie|
|Burnett, John George||Hope, Capt. Hon. A. O. J. (Aston)||Reid, James S. C. (Stirling)|
|Campbell, Sir Edward Taswell (Brmly)||Hornby, Frank||Reid, William Allan (Derby)|
|Campbell, Vice-Admiral G. (Burnley)||Horobin, Ian M.||Remer, John R.|
|Caporn, Arthur Cecil||Howitt, Dr. Alfred B.||Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U.|
|Chapman, Sir Samuel (Edinburgh, S.)||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Rickards, George William|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Hudson, Robert Spear (Southport)||Ropner, Colonel L.|
|Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.)||Ross, Ronald D.|
|Conant, R. J. E.||Jackson, J. C. (Heywood & Radcliffe)||Rothschild, James A. de|
|Cooke, Douglas||James, Wing.-Com. A. W. H.||Russell, Albert (Kirkcaldy)|
|Cooper, A. Duff||Jamieson, Rt. Hon. Douglas||Rutherford, Sir John Hugo (Liverp'l)|
|Crookshank, Col. C. de Windt (Bootle)||Kerr, Hamilton W.||Samuel, M. R. A. (W'ds'wth, Putney).|
|Cross, R. H.||Kirkpatrick, William M.||Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.|
|Crossley, A. C.||Latham, Sir Herbert Paul||Shaw, Captain William T. (Forlar)|
|Davidson, Rt. Hon. Sir John||Levy, Thomas||Shepperson, Sir Ernest W.|
|Davies, Edward C. (Montgomery)||Lindsay, Kenneth (Kilmarnock)||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||Lloyd, Geoffrey||Smith, Sir J. Walker- (Barrow-ln-F.)|
|Dickie, John P.||Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander||Somervell, Sir Donald|
|Doran, Edward||Mabane, William||Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.|
|Duckworth, George A. V.||MacAndrew, Lieut.-Col. Sir Charles||Spears, Brigadier-General Edward L.|
|Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.)||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Seaham)||Spencer, Captain Richard A.|
|Dunglass, Lord||Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)||Stourton, Hon. John J.|
|Eden, Rt. Hon. Anthony||McEwen, Captain J. H. F.||Strauss, Edward A.|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. Walter||McKie, John Hamilton||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Ellis, Sir R. Geoffrey||McLean, Major Sir Alan||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir Murray F.|
|Essenhigh, Reginald Clare||Macquisten, Frederick Alexander||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart|
|Fermoy, Lord||Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest||Summersby, Charles H.|
|Ganzoni, Sir John||Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M.||Tree, Ronald|
|Gault, Lieut.-Col. A. Hamilton||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.|
|Gluckstein, Louis Halle||Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John||Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)|
|Goff, Sir Park||Mellor, Sir J. S. P.||Wallace, Sir John (Dunfermline)|
|Goldie, Noel B.||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Gower, Sir Robert||Molson, A. Hugh Elsdale||Ward, Sarah Adelalde (Cannock)|
|Graves, Marjorie||Monsell, Rt. Hon. Sir B. Eyres||Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.|
|Grimston, R. V.||Moore, Lt.-Col. Thomas C. R. (Ayr)||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E.||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)||Wells, Sydney Richard|
|Guy, J. C. Morrison||Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univer'ties)||Whyte, Jardine Bell|
|Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.||Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)||Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Hales, Harold K.||Penny, Sir George||Wise, Alfred R.|
|Hartington, Marquess of||Percy, Lord Eustace||Womersley, Sir Walter|
|Hartland, George A.||Petherick, M.|
|Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)||Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Sir Cuthbert||Peto, Geoffrey K. (W'verh'pt'n, Bilston)||Major George Davies and Lieut.-|
|Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.||Ramsbotham, Herwald||Colonel Llewellin.|
|Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)||Reid, David D. (County Down)|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South)||Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Rea, Sir Walter|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Harris, Sir Percy||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen)|
|Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale)||Johnstone, Harcourt (S. Shields)||Smith, Tom (Normanton)|
|Buchanan, George||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Thorne, William James|
|Cove, William G.||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Daggar, George||Lawson, John James||West, F. R.|
|Dobbie, William||Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)||Williams, Dr. John H. (Lianelly)|
|Edwards, Sir Charles||McEntee, Valentine L.||Williams, Thomas (York, Don Valley)|
|Gardner, Benjamin Walter||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)||Wilmot, John|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur||Mason, David M. (Edinburgh, E.)||Young, Ernest J. (Middlesbrough, E.)|
|Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan)||Maxton, James.|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro', W.)||Paling, Wilfred||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Mr. John and Mr. Groves.|
Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next.—[Lieut.-Colonel Llewellin.]