§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)
Before I call on the Amendments to this Schedule, I ought to point out that they fall into two classes, both comprising separate schemes. The scheme in the name of the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) and others is out of order as it is contrary to a decision taken by the House. In regard to the other scheme in the name of the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Riley), it would, I think, be for the convenience of the House if we had a general discussion on the whole scheme on the first Amendment.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Mr. RILEY
I beg to move, in page 13, line 27, to leave out "14s. 0d." and to insert "15s. 0d."
The Amendments in my name to this Schedule propose to raise the amount of benefit to adult workers from 14s. to 15s., for women over 21 from 12s. 6d. to 13s. 6d., and so on down to girls under 17, whose benefit I propose should be raised from 3s. 6d. to 5s. 6d. In view of the fact that we have had a long discussion on the principle of assimilating the benefits of the agricultural insurance scheme with the benefits under the general Act, I do not propose to go into details. I want to direct attention to three points. Why, in a Bill to make provision for agricultural labourers, are the benefits provided less than are recognised as being necessary for all other workers under the general Act? Various reasons have been given by the Government for this differentiation. One is that the contributions are less and that the benefits should therefore be less. Another is that all investigations which in the past 10 or 12 years have been exploring the advisability of an insurance scheme for agricultural workers have been based upon a lower contribution with lower benefits on the ground that those in the industry, including the workmen, were not able to 979 pay the ordinary contributions and therefore the benefits ought to be correspondingly lower. I would call the attention of the Minister to the fact that that statement was not historically correct, because in the report of the Statutory Committee, upon which this Bill has been based to a large extent, it is stated on page 5:The subject was considered in 1926 by another committee, also under the chairmanship of Sir Henry Rew, appointed as an inter-departmental committee by the two Ministers concerned with agriculture. Two reports were presented, one signed by the chairman, two independent members and three workers' representatives, and the other signed by two independent members and three employers' representatives. As regards England and Wales, the majority report recommended the adoption of a special scheme providing the same rates of benefit as the general scheme, but with lower rates of contribution.Therefore, the Minister's statement that all the reports had assumed that both contributions and benefits must be lower are not correct. The second ground on which I recommend these Amendments is that in my view the Government are losing a very fine opportunity of putting an end to this disgraceful, if I may so call it, distinction which has existed for so many years between the treatment of the agricultural workers on the one hand and the industrial workers on the other. It would have been a great step forward if we had at long last taken the agricultural worker into the general comity of the workers.
I should like to know whether it is finance that stands in the way of granting these concessions. It is true that if these Amendments were accepted some additional money would have to be provided, but we have to hear in mind that, as was pointed out in the Financial Memarondum to the Bill, the total amount which the State is contributing to this great stride in our social life is only £600,000, and even in paying that sum the State will be making a saving, because the 7 per cent. of the agricultural population who are now unemployed have to obtain assistance from public sources and that expenditure will be saved when they are entitled to unemployment benefit. In view of that fact one would have thought the Government would have been more magnanimous. All that would be required 980 to give the same rates of benefit as obtain in the general Act would be about £300,000. That would have given to the dependent wife, to the adult man, and to all the other categories of beneficiaries the same rates of benefit as are now received under the existing Acts. I suggest to the Minister that, even at this late hour, something might be done to bring the benefits for agricultural workers up to the level of those for other workers.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
I beg to second the. Amendment.
I want specifically to draw the attention of the Minister to the disparity in the benefits between the two age groups in which young men and young women are included, a subject which I raised during the ommittee stage. We look upon these benefits not so much in relation to the wages those young people would earn if in employment but from the point of view of the maintenance of the young people when out of work. The disparity to which I would first direct attention is that a young man between 18 and 21 years of age will get 10s. 6d. a week benefit and a bay or youth between 17 and 18 years of age 6s. a week. Just at the period of the change-over from the one group to the other there will be a difference of 4s. 6d. a week in benefit. Itcan hardly be argued that a youth just under 18 years of age can be fed, clothed, and, possibly, given pocket money out of 6s. a week. There might have been a regrading between those ages. It cannot be argued that a youth of from 17 to 18, rapidly growing into manhood, can be maintained on 6s. a week. If things are left as they are in the Bill it will mean an intensification of the draft of youth from the countryside to the towns, thereby increasing the competition among the urban industrial population.
We are entitled to ask that a young man of from 18 to 21 years of age should receive 12s. 6d., and that at least 2s. additional benefit should be given to youths. Young woman who are approaching womanhood desire to have at least some of the advantages of life, even if unemployed, and it is unreasonable to expect that she should be content with 5s. per week if under 18 years of age. There will, in this case also, be the drift which we deplore from the country to 981 the town, not only intensifying competition in the industrial centres, but bringing greater evils in their train. A girl up to the age of 17 will be allowed a benefit of 6d. more than that to which she might have been entitled just as she was leaving school and was dependent upon her father. The child of an agricultural worker, entitled to 3s. for maintenance while at school, will get only an additional 6d.—I suppose to enable her to go to the pictures—if she happens to become unemployed in the same family when she is a young woman of nearly 17. This is not maintenance in the sense of maintaining the vitality of persons who are unemployed, and of retaining the physical and mental attitude towards industry which will make them want to come into industry again. I am seconding the proposal in the hope that there will be some variation in the regrading, so as to eliminate some of these distinctions and differences and to give compensation in the higher benefit scales.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ Sir ERNEST SHEPPERSON
We who represent agricultural constituencies feel disposed to support this series of Amendments in the names of hon. Members opposite, to give increased benefits to the agricultural workers. We desire to see the agricultural workers with as good a standard of living as is possessed by the workers in town industry. [HON. MEMBERS: "Come over here."] If we were merely concerned with gaining popularity in our constituencies, and that were our only objective, we might be in the Lobby with hon. Members opposite. That is not our purpose in this House, which is to do justice. If the benefits are to be increased, it will be essential to increase the contributions also, but the industry of agriculture is not in a position to pay increased contributions. Hon. Members opposite assume that the standard of living of the agricultural workers can only equal that of the town dwellers if their benefits are equal, and that is where I disagree with hon. Members. That is not a correct interpretation of the position. The agricultural worker is able to live and to maintain his standard of living on far less money per week than is the town dweller.
Within my experience is the case of a man who went from a country district into a town, where he received a 50 per 982 cent. increase of wages. After being in the town for some time, he came back to agriculture, saying that the lower wage there was more good to him than the higher wage of the town. Rents paid in agricultural areas are very much lower than in the towns, and the gardens attached to the cottages produce vegetables for which the town worker has to pay, but which the agricultural worker is able to grow. The man in the country is able, in many cases, to get a farm with a pig, and so on, and he has many supplementary sources of income. Though we desire that the agricultural worker shall have as good a standard of living when unemployed as the town worker, we feel that, with the lower benefits provided in the Bill, the agricultural worker will be able to exist on a standard of living equal to that of the town worker. That is why we on this side of the House shall support the Bill as it stands, because it will give the agricultural worker the standard of living which he ought to have.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Mr. TINKER
I thought we were some distance away from what used to be the old view in the countryside, that the agricultural worker should accept a lower standard of living than the rest of the community, but I find that the old country squire feeling that the farm labourer has a fine standard of living and has everything that he wants, is always the same. Nevertheless, the countryside is being denuded of its workers, who are trying to find their way into the industries in the towns. What is causing them to do that? [HON. MEMBERS: "The wireless!"] No, the cause is the poor conditions under which they have to live, while the rest of the country has made some advance upon the conditions of 50 or 100 years ago. It is because of this position of things that we move the Amendment. We wish to bring to the notice of the House our view that the farm labourer is entitled to the same standard of living as workers in the towns. I am desirous that agricultural workers should not be driven away from the land and I would expect that agriculturists in their own interest would support our Amendment.
When the agricultural worker becomes unemployed he will be thinking that he can get benefits, but when he finds that the rate of benefit of the industrial worker is much higher than his own, he 983 will become discontented. He will remember what the Tory Members said they would bring in for his benefit, and he will find that he is not getting what he thought he would receive. When you put into men's minds the idea that they will get something, discontent is created if that something is not as large as they expect. When the agricultural workers get their meagre benefit, they will begin to ask themselves how it is that they are not entitled to as much as the town worker. Hon. Members will reply: "You are not paying the same amount, and you therefore cannot receive the same." Our point of view is that the Government should give a little bit more from their purse, while not increasing the contributions, because, owing to their low wages, the men cannot afford to pay any more. The Government should respond to the appeal and provide a little more, so that larger benefits can be given to agricultural workers.
It may be said that the farm worker has a garden and so on, and pays a low rent, but it is difficult to see, even under such conditions, how the benefits provided in the Bill will give him anything like a decent standard of life. I realise, of course, that this Amendment will not be carried, but I have said, both in this House and outside, that I cannot agree to a scheme which puts one section of workers below another, and that is why I strongly object to the scheme as it stands, and felt that I must take this opportunity of putting forward my view, though I know that it will have no effect. As I have said on many occasions, we put forward points of view which later on are gladly accepted by hon. Members opposite, but the unfortunate thing is that we never get any of the credit. They always point out how much wiser they are than we, that they watch carefully the trend of the times, and, like all wise statesmen, they bow to the storm and they get the credit. Then they get another term of office after all the work that we have done. But we, as long-suffering politicians, continue to do our best, and are glad when at any time our efforts succeed.
§ 9.17 p.m.
§ Major BRAITHWAITE
I should not have risen but for the speech of the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), but, 984 recognising the responsibility that his party have for the present condition of agriculture, I cannot allow a statement like the one he has just made to go unchallenged. The Labour party, during their tenure of office, had sample opportunities of putting this matter on a sound basis, but they funked the issue.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
Surely the hon. and gallant Gentleman has not forgotten that the Conservative party, the Liberal party and the two pa-ties jointly, have been in office in this country for hundreds of years.
§ Major BRAITHWAITE
It is no use exonerating yourself at the expense of other people. Hon. Members opposite had the opportunity at that time. Now we have for the first time a Minister of Labour who has done a real practical service to agriculture in giving us the benefits for which we have been asking for a very long time. I am only sorry that, because of the attitude of the Labour and Liberal parties, agriculture is now in such a condition that we cannot have the same rates of wages and the same benefits that other industries have. This country has been allowed to become an open market for foreign-produced foods for generations—
§ Major BRAITHWAITE
I am sorry if I have transgressed. We are challenged on the question of the amount of benefits that can be paid to agricultural workers out of the funds of the Unemployment Insurance Scheme, bat we are bound to recognise that, if the industry is saddled with too much financial responsibility at a difficult time, it is going to suffer, and those engaged in the industry are going to suffer, far more than will be the case if the scheme is put on a sound practical financial basis from the start. I am sure that the Minister of Labour, if he sees that the fund is working successfully, will consider sympathetically whether any advance can be made in the rates of benefit, but I would ask my hon. Friends opposite to recognise that agriculture to-day is having a very hard fight, it spite of all that is being done for it, and that we cannot expect to make the industry a paying and profitable one, in which men and 985 women can find remunerative employment, if it is saddled with a financial responsibility that it is not able to bear.
§ Major BRAITHWAITE
Under the terms of this Amendment I understand that that would be out of order if it were proposed. We who come from the countryside appreciate the difficulties of the Minister in connection with this Measure, and realise the limitations to which he is subject at the moment. We thank him for what he has done, and hope that, when he has had the scheme in operation for some time, he will be able to review it and give us the benefit of experience in running a scheme of this sort, which may be to the benefit of agriculture generally.
§ 9.22 p.m.
§ Mr. G. GRIFFITHS
I should not have risen but for the speech of the hon. Member for Leominster (Sir E. Shepperson). I remember in the last Parliament a reference of his to the two Walters, and to the fact that it was necessary to convert one of them in order to carry out the policy of the other. This is a similar case, but the operation has to be carried out in the opposite direction. When we ask for an increase of benefit for the farm worker, the hon. Member says he is satisfied with the Bill as it stands and is going to support it, but he makes no statement whatever as to whether the benefits it provides are sufficient to maintain the farm worker, the farm worker's son or the farm worker's daughter. Apparently the Minister of Labour, in laying down this scale of benefits, thinks that a daughter can live more cheaply than a son, but that is all "bunkum." If I take my daughter or my wife on a tramcar in London, the conductor does not charge a lower fare for her than he does for me. If I have a fifteen-penny dinner in a restaurant, and she has the same, I am not told that my wife or daughter can be kept more cheaply than myself, and that therefore the charge will only be a "bob" for her. In the same way, if a wife or daughter goes into a shop to buy something, does it cost her less than it costs for the son? When you 986 come to maintain daughters, they cost as much as, if not more than, a son does. I would ask hon. Members opposite how they would like to maintain one of their lads of 18 on 6s. a week? Could they manage it?
§ Major BRAITHWAITE
If he is an agriculturist, he will be on the land at that age. There are plenty of jobs on the land for people of that age.
§ Mr. GRIFFITHS
This is not for someone on the land, but for someone off the land. The lad between 17 and 18 years of age will get 6s. a week. Could hon. Members maintain him on that, leaving out clothes and other things? I say No. That lad has to be thrown on to his parents, who may be in work. The lad who has not attained the age of 17 gets 4s. a week. The boy who has not attained the age of 16, if his father is working and he is out of work, does not get a penny piece, because between the ages of 14 and 16 the father can only draw for him when the father is out of work. The parents of boys and girls who may have been in employment and paid their 2d. a week up to the age of 15 or 15½, cannot get a penny piece for them even if they are out of work for six months. Hon. Members opposite were pleading very hard in the last Parliament for a beef subsidy. Their Walter was fighting for them. The hon. Member for Leominster called him "Our Walter," and said "I hope that he will convert the other Walter."
§ Mr. GRIFFITHS
In those days one Walter had come to the penitent form and wanted the other Walter to come, and he has got him there now. But I wanted to point out the attitude of hon. Members opposite when they are pressing a point for the farmer. We are pressing a point for the farm-worker. The Minister knows that this will not maintain them. He will have them neither strong above the shoulder nor strong below it.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. E. BROWN
The House will not expect me to speak much on this Amendment, because the issue is really the same as that which was debated for two hours 987 earlier. The issue is really need or insurance, and I can add nothing more. The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Griffiths) knows quite well that we drafted these scales as being the best balanced provision we could make in terms of the financial structure of the Bill. To alter our scheme for the scheme proposed would cost £87,600 a year, and, as I have only £17,000 in a normal year to spare financially, I cannot accept the Amendment. I hope that the hon. Member for Cannock (Mr. Adamson) will not think that his very earnest appeals on particular points have fallen on deaf ears. Every word which has been spoken on practical points I will read and if, as I hope, things go reasonably well, it is the practical points which he has been putting up in Committee and here which will have our attention in the future.
§ Mr. BROWN
Yes. I mean that it is just the kind of practical point which they will consider when the time comes and there is anything to spare. The hon. Member for Hemsworth raised one point which I thought was a little hard. I started to-day with an hour and a-half of deputation on the differentiation between males and females, and to end the day on the same note was a little hard. The issue as to the differentiation in the scales between men and women is not only a question of scales but of contributions too. The system of insurance has not grown out of theory and logic but out of practice, and in these insurance schemes hon. Members will find that there are grave differentiations between one and the other. The same is true regarding the health benefit schemes of the friendly societies. This Amendment would cost £87,600. I cannot afford it. The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) will, in his usual fair way, take his own point of view outside the House. We shall take ours. I am satisfied that we have done the best we could and that the countryside will appreciate it at its proper value.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
As this is the last opportunity we shall have of expressing ourselves on the question of benefit I 988 think I ought to repeat in as few words as possible a statement I made in Committee. The hon. and gallant Member for West Dorset (Major Colfox), who makes such intelligent contributions to our Debates annually, if ever, is scarcely entitled even to make a sub rosa interjection. I hope that the hon. and gallant Member for West Dorset is not listening, because it would mean casting pearls before some Members of Parliament; I want to keep within the rules of Order or I shall use language that I learned in the first six months I was in a coal mine. I want to say to the Minister that we have not been satisfied from the commencement that the Government have been as generous and decent to the agricultural labourer as they ought to have been. This Amendment would cost £87,000. A penny increase in the Government contribution would more than have covered that £87,000. It seems to me a very small contribution in view of what they are going to save.
Hon. Members have tried to introduce into the Debate the prosperity or otherwise of agriculture. It is not a question of the prosperity or otherwise of agriculture. It is a question of whether or not the worker on the land, as a unit, is of equal value to the State as is the urban worker. We think he is. We think, therefore, that the Government, without even destroying their own theory that there must be a differentiation between the wages and the income of the agricultural labourer and that of the urban worker, might easily have made it possible for the right hon. Gentleman to concede this series of Amendments, which would at least have been an atom of encouragement to the agricultural labourer in the most important years of his life to retain his position on the land.
What is this likely to do? Here is a young man of 21 or 22 who was born on the land and has acquired a knowledge from the cradle upwards of the technique of the land. He desires to remain on the land. He falls unemployed through no fruit of his own for perhaps two, three of four weeks during the year. You give him 14s. a week, out of which he must pay for his food and clothing and his insurance. He must pay for his sports and pastimes. If he goes to Church, he must contribute to the collection. If he drinks beer or smokes, it must all come out of 14s. a.
989 week. I put it to hon. Members fairly and squarely. Is that the sort of encouragement to give to the type of person that you want to retain on the land? Since 1925 we have lost 131,000 of our agricultural labourers. We fear that, as a result of the Government not stepping forward and helping the right hon. Gentleman to do the decent thing, they are going to be attracted by the posters and the pictures on the hoardings telling them of the brilliance of the cities, because 14s. is wholly insufficient to keep them where they would serve the nation better. We are not putting up a case in any attempt to get political kudos. There is no kudos to be got in the difference between 14s. and 15s. I hope there is no one who pays much attention to the political side of a scheme of this description. [Interruption.] The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for West Dorset is not an ordinary Member. He is hopelessly abnormal and we could not expect him to consider anything reasonably.
§ Major COLFOX
On a point of Order. Is the hon. Member, who is obviously extremely acidulated this evening, entitled to make remarks of that kind about me or anyone else?
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) is as much in order as the hon. and gallant Gentleman is to describe the hon. Member as "acidulated."
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I should be very disturbed in my mind, indeed, I might lose my beauty sleep, if I said anything really unkind to the hon. and gallant Gentleman. I did not think it was possible to say anything unkind to him. We are not asking for a princely income for the agricultural labourer. We are asking for what we regard as the absolute minimum to keep those young men on the land. We want, as much as anyone opposite, to see agriculture prosperous. We do not, therefore, want this so-called individual initiative that is boasted of so frequently from the Conservative benches to carry the young agricultural labourer from the land into the town or the city. We want
§ that individual initiative displayed on the land. We think the Minister would have done himself justice, would have helped agriculture and would have helped his scheme to receive the welcome that it ought to receive in all parts of the country if he could have accepted the Amendment even if it meant a definite And precise approach to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We are sorry that he has made no response. We have no alternative but to go into the Lobby against him.
§ 9.42 p.m.
§ Sir F. ACLAND
The Minister said, sincerely I am sure, that, although he had to turn down this series of Amendments, he would consider the points which had been made and, if there was a little margin, he would see what could be done at a later stage. From the point of view of the agricultural population there is a rather particular point at which the scale, which I acknowledge he has to put in the Bill, will pinch rather more, probably, than another. There is very little difficulty in young men of 14, 15 or 16 getting employment on the land, but in a very large number of cases they an. out of work again at 18, And a young fellow of 18 costs as much to feed and clothe as one of 21. When you come to the contribution, you make very little differentiation. At 18 he pays 4d. and at 21 he pays 4½d. That is, as near as makes no difference, 90 per cent. There is much more differentiation than that in the scale of benefit. At 18 you give him 10s. 6d., and it goes up to 14s. at 21. If and when anything can be done to improve the Bill, I hope my right hon. Friend will keep in mind the point—I am not talking about the possibility of increasing it all the way along the line; if that can be done, so much the better, but there will be a considerable hardship on the young men of 18 because that is the point at which they lose their jobs, and to be out of a job on only 10s. 6d. would be particularly hard. I hope that will be thought of.
Question put, "That '14s. 0d.' stand part of the Bill."
The House divided: Ayes, 210; Noes, 121.
|Balfour, G. (Hampstead)||Gower, Sir R. V.||O'Neill, Major Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh|
|Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet)||Graham Captain A. C. (Wirral)||Palmer, G. E. H.|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Gridley, Sir A. B.||Patrick, C. M|
|Beauchamp, Sir B. C.||Grimston, R. V.||Peake, O.|
|Beaumont, Hon. ft. E. B. (Portsm'h)||Gritten, W. G. Howard||Penny, Sir G.|
|Belt, Sir A. L.||Guest, Maj. Hon. O.(C'mb'rw'll, N. W.)||Perkins, W. R. D.|
|Birchall, Sir J. D.||Guinness, T. L. E. B.||peters, Dr. S. J.|
|Bird, Sir R. B.||Gunston, Capt. D. W.||Petherick, M.|
|Blindell, Sir J.||Guy, J. C. M.||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Hanbury, Sir C.||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.|
|Boulton, W. W.||Hannah, I. C.||Porritt, R. W.|
|Bower, Comdr. R. T.||Harbord, A.||Procter, Major H. A.|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Harvey, G.||Radford, E. A.|
|Braithwaite, Major A. N.||Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton)||Ramsbotham, H.|
|Briscoe, Capt. R. G.||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.||Ramsden, Sir E.|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Holmes, J. S.||Rankin, R.|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (Hexham)||Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J.||Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith)||Hopkinson, A.||Rayner, Major R. H.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)||Reed, A. C. (Exeter)|
|Bull, B. B.||Hulbert, N. J.||Reid, W. Allan (Derby)|
|Burton, Col. H. W.||Hume, Sir G. H.||Remer, J. R.|
|Campbell, Sir E. T.||Hunter, T.||Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir T. W. H.||Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool)|
|Cayzer, Sir C. W. (City of Chester)||Jackson, Sir H.||Ropner, Colonel L.|
|Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||James, Wing-Commander A. W.||Ross, Major Sir R. D. (L'nderry)|
|Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham)||Joel, D. J. B.||Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)|
|Channon, H.||Jones, Sir G. W. H. (S'k N'w'gt'n)||Salmon, Sir I.|
|Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)||Jones, H. Haydn (Merioneth)||Salt, E. W.|
|Clarry, Sir R. G.||Kerr, Colonel C. I. (Montrose)||Samuel, M. R. A. (Putney)|
|Colfox, Major W. P.||Kerr, H. W. (Oldham)||Savery, Servington|
|Colville, Lt.-Col. D. J.||Kerr, J. G. (Scottish Universities)||Scott, Lord William|
|Cooper, Rt. Hn. T. M. (E'nburgh, W.)||Kimball, L.||Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree)|
|Courtauld, Major J. S.||Lamb, Sir J. Q.||Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)|
|Craddock, Sir R. H.||Latham, Sir P.||Shepperson, Sir E. W.|
|Crookshank, Capt. K. F. C.||Law, R. K. (Hull, S.W.)||Shute, Colonel Sir J. J.|
|Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Leckie, J. A.||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)|
|Cross, R. H.||Leech, Dr. J. W.||Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)|
|Crossley, A. C.||Lees-Jones, J.||Somerset, T.|
|Crowder, J. F. E.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Somervell, Sir D. B. (Crewe)|
|Cruddas, Col. B.||Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L.||Spens, W. P|
|Davies, Major G. F. (Yeovil)||Lewis, O.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Lord (Fylde)|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||Liddall, W. S.||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Denville, Alfred||Little, Sir E. Graham-||Storey, S.|
|Dorman-Smith, Major R. H.||Llewellin, Lieut.-Col. J. J.||Stourton, Hon. J. J.|
|Dower, Capt. A. V. G.||Loftus, P. C.||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)|
|Duckworth, G. A. V. (Salop)||Lovat-Fraser, J. A.||Strickland, captain W. F.|
|Duggan, H. J.||Mabanc, W. (Huddersfield)||Stuart, Lord C Crichton- (N'thw'h)|
|Duncan, J. A. L.||Mac Andrew, Lt.-Col. Sir C. G.||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Dung lass, Lord||McCorquodale, M. S.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Dunne, P. R. R.||Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight)||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Eckersley, P. T.||Macmillan, H. (Stockton-on-Tees)||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Edmondson, Major Sir J.||Maitland, A.||Touche, G. C.|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Makins, Brig.-Gen. E.||Tufnell, Lieut.-Com. R. L.|
|Ellis, Sir G.||Manningham-Buller, Sir M.||Turton, R. H.|
|Elliston, G. S.||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Wakefield, W. W.|
|Elmley, Viscount||Markham, S. F.||Walker-Smith, Sir J.|
|Emmott, C. E. G. C.||Maxwell, S. A.||Waterhouse, Captain C.|
|Errington, E.||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.||Wells, S. R.|
|Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)||Meller, Sir R. J. (Mitcham)||Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.|
|Everard, W. L.||Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)||Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Fleming, E. L.||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Fox, Sir G. W. G.||Mitchell, H. (Brentford and Chiswick)||Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir A. T. (Hitchin)|
|Fremantle, Sir F. E.||Moreing, A. C.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|Furness, S. N.||Morris, J. P. (Salford, N.)||Wise, A. R.|
|Gledhill, G.||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H.||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Gluckstein, L. H.||Mulrhead, Lt.-Col. A. J.|
|Goldie, N. B.||Munro, P.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Goodman, Col. A. W.||Nicolson, Hon. H. G.||Lieut.-Colonel Sir A. Lambert|
|Ward and Commander Southby.|
|Acland, Rt. Hon. Sir F. Dyke||Bevan, A.||Day, H.|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Broad, F. A.||Dobbie, W.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Bromfield, W.||Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)|
|Adamson, W. M.||Brooke, W.||Ede, J. C.|
|Alexander. Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)||Brown, Rt. Hon. J. (S. Ayrshire)||Edwards, A. (Middiesbrough E.)|
|Ammon, C. G.||Buchanan, G.||Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Burke, W. A.||Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Cape, T.||Foot, D. M.|
|Banfield, J. W.||Chater, D.||Gardner, E. W.|
|Barnes, A. J.||Cluse, W. S.||George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)|
|Barr, J.||Cocks, F. S.||Gibbins, J.|
|Batey, J.||Cove, W. G.||Green, W. H. (Deptford)|
|Bellenger, F.||Daggar, G.||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Benson, G.||Dalton, H.||Grenfell, D. R.|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley (M-ddl'sbro, W.)||MacLaren, A.||Sexton, T. M.|
|Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||Maclean, N.||Shinwell, E.|
|Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||MacNeill, Weir, L.||Short, A.|
|Hardie, G. D.||Mainwaring, W. H.||Silverman, S. S.|
|Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)||Marklew, E.||Simpson, F. B.|
|Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Mathers, G.||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Henderson, T. (Tradeston)||Maxton, J.||Smith, Rt. Hon. H. B. Lees- (K'ly)|
|Holdsworth, H.||Messer, F.||Smith, T. (Normanton)|
|Holland, A.||Montague, F.||Stephen, C.|
|Hollins, A.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Ha'kn'y, S.)||Stewart, W. J. (H'gh'n-le-Sp'ng)|
|Hopkin, D.||Muff, G.||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Jagger, J.||Naylor, T. E.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Johnston, Rt. Hon. T.||Oliver, G. H.||Thorne, W.|
|Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Owen, Major G.||Thurtle, E.|
|Kelly, W. T.||Paling, W.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Parker, H. J. H.||Viant, S. p.|
|Kirby, B. V.||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.||Walkden, A. G.|
|Lansbury, Rt. Hon. G.||Potts, J.||Walker, J.|
|Lathan, G.||Pritt, D. N.||Watkins, F. C.|
|Lawson, J. J.||Qulbell, J. D.||Wilkinson, Ellen|
|Leach, W.||Richards, R. (Wrexham)||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)|
|Lee, F.||Riley, B.||Williams, T. (Don Valley)|
|Leslie, J. R.||Ritson, J.||Wilson, C. H. (Attercliffe)|
|Logan, D. G.||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Lunn, W.||Rowson, G.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|McEntee, V. La T.||Salter, Dr. A.|
|McGhee, H. G.||Seely, Sir H. M.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Mr. Whiteley and Mr. Croves.|
§ 9.54 p.m.
§ Mr. E. BROWN
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
The attitude of the Opposition on this Bill reminds me of a very famous speech of Macaulay, who, when he was a Member of this House, said that,An acre in Middlesex is better than a principality in Utopia.I do not pretend that this Bill is Utopian, but it is at least an acre in Middlesex. I rise knowing that it is not necessary for me to say a great deal on the Third Reading, such has been the friendly attitude of the whole House to the Measure. Whatever differences we have had—and there have been some differences—the whole House knows that, this is a Measure which is overdue, and even those who disagree that it is overdue will agree that it is due. I will in a few sentences sum up how the Bill stands and what it is. It is based on three assumptions. The first is that it will bring into unemployment insurance 750,000 land workers, men and women. The second, that the average rate of unemployment will be 7½ per cent., and, third, that there will be about 15 per cent, of long term hirings. If these assumptions turn out to be accurate, the effect will be that there will he 21,706,000 coming in and, since the alteration in the children's benefit has been made, it is expected that £1,689,000 a year will he paid in benefit and administration. As to the structure of the Bill there is one Insurance Fund and two accounts. The agricultural account is quite separate 994 from the industrial account, and if at any time there are borrowings between the two, interest will be paid by whichever side is the borrower.
This has been one of the most difficult problems of our time. It has engaged the attention of statesmen, landowners, farmers, land-workers, and all concerned with the countryside for the best part of the last generation, and while no one ever hopes that there will be anything like the last word in this kind of social legislation I think I can say that so far as this Bill is concerned three things have happened. First, we have made a good many improvements as to its applications in detail during its progress through the House, and on the points which have been brought to our attention we have done our best to deal with them so that the Bill has been made more workable. Second, there has been a slight increase in benefits to children amounting to £14,000; 6d. extra for each child after the first child; and, third, we have taken power, in Clause 13 so that should the Statutory Committee after they have heard the evidence decide that private gardeners should be brought into the scheme, the Minister will have power by order to include them within the agricultural scheme without the necessity of introducing a further Bill. Those are the main alterations. The role of a reformer is always very difficult. He has to solve the problem, and in solving the problem he sets a standard. In doing so he creates a whole tribe of Oliver Twists, always asking for a higher standard than that which he has laid down. That is 995 the hard lot of anyone who makes a forward movement. I do not complain, but I do claim that the scheme is badly needed in many parts of the country. It ends the position of inferiority which has been deeply felt among land-workers for the last generation, and whatever may be said in political debates, the Bill will be warmly welcomed up and down the country in hundreds and thousands of homes.
The hon. Member for the Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) makes a distinction between the urban and rural worker. I do not think that is the right distinction. The real problem is the difference between the primary worker and other workers. He knows as well as I do that it is as difficult to do all we would like to do for the miner in the pit and the fisherman on the sea as it is for the landworker. He being a. miner's son and I a fisherman's son know that the real problem is not that of town and country: the difference is between men who are working on the land in the primary industries of this country and in the other industries. In asking the House to give the Bill a Third Reading I do so knowing that it is important to many obscure folk who live in our villages. They follow the most ancient, the most worthy and the most vital of our industries—agriculture. Occasionally, but only occasionally, they have found a voice, like William Cobbett, a good Conservative, or Joseph Arch, an equally sturdy Radical, but for the most part they are unrecorded men who give us our daily food as the result of their patient industry. A man who knew them best and wrote the finest poem for 300 years said:A man who a thousand years ago, as now,Has brought his brother bread,Regardless how the bread was shared.These men in a, thousand villages are unrecorded, but I am sure I am voicing their views when I say that they will bless this Parliament for a wise reform.
§ 10.2 p.m.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman upon moving the Third Reading of what is his major Measure since he occupied his present position. I want to say how we appreciated his helpfulness during the Committee and Report stages, for he never 996 hesitated to warn us of forthcoming Amendments. To that extent his courtesy has been unique, and I can only hope that he will have as much success with the Chancellor of the Exchequer as he has had in the House. We are also anxious for the welfare and wellbeing of agriculture, and despite the shortcomings of the Measure we think it may have a very real influence in certain directions in the countryside. The Minister has said that agricultural labourers have been without a voice in the past. They have a voice in England in Mr. William Holmes, the National Secretary of the Agricultural Workers' Union, and in Scotland in Mr. Duncan, the trade union secretary, and these two representatives of the workers, as far as the Bill is concerned, will do their level best to see that it is made to run as smoothly as possible.
While we welcome the Measure as a gesture we still lament the obvious meanness of the Treasury as displayed in the benefits. I do not propose to cover again the points already made, but a, benefit of 14s. is wholly inadequate, 21s. for a man and wife is equally ii adequate, and 30s. for a man, wife and three children is also inadequate. We can only hope that these benefits will be improved and brought nearer to the desires and needs of the section of the community for which they are intended. I know that for 15 years the Agricultural Workers' Union have been advocating a scheme of this description to cover their section of the community, just as other sections of the community have been cared for to some extent, and they will take this Bill as the first step leading towards the independence of the agricultural labourer in this country. Just as the Union will be willing to accept the scheme in that sense, so will the labourers who have been subject to disabilities for so long grasp at this Measure with all its shortcomings, both in machinery and in benefits. There are one or two regrets I would like to express. I am afraid that the Minister will live to regret that Clause 10 is part of the Bill. Clause 13, which was added in Committee, does certainly give the Minister power to deal with a large section of the working community, but I regret that it was not made flexible enough, so that if the Statutory Committee did discover that it is desirable to include private gardeners in this insurance scheme the Minister would be able 997 to include them in either one or the other of the two Unemployment Insurance schemes.
As it is, the power taken by the Minister merely enables him by means of an order to bring private gardeners into the agricultural scheme. There must be in this City and in Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Glasgow and other big towns a large army of private gardeners whose wages are out of all proportion to the wages received by agricultural labourers. They can only be brought within this special scheme with specially small contributions and specially small benefits which will not be very helpful to them. Therefore, I should have been glad if the Minister had made this Clause wider so that he could have brought them under the principal Act.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I can only say that I think it is very regrettable. It would be, I think, a wise thing to obviate the necessity for a Second Reading, Committee stage, Report stage and Third Reading where 126,000 workers are concerned if there is a clear indication in all parts of the House of a desire that they should be brought into the scheme. The details of this Measure are by no means what we think they ought to be, and I repeat that we think that the Treasury have been mean to the agricultural labourer. Therefore, while we wish the Measure well we hope the time is not far distant when events will force big improvements in the scheme, and we hope that the agricultural labourers, once they have realised that they do enjoy a certain independence as a result of this Measure, will make full use of that independence and become politically, economically and socially free men, as some at least of us in this House would desire to see them. I congratulate the Minister on his first big Measure, and while lamenting its weaknesses I wish him well.
§ 10.10 p.m.
§ Mr. MAXWELL
I think it is unusual for a Member to make his maiden speech on the Third Reading of a Bill, and I only do so because this matter is one of vital importance to a large number of the constituents whom I represent in this 998 House. I hope that if I unwittingly, through ignorance, stray from the narrow confines of a Third Reading Debate I may be excused. I am told that it is not a difficult thing to do, and I can believe that, having listened to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Cardiff (Captain A. Evans), who, no doubt, has great experience, dealing with the difficulties of tramp shipping, and to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Grippe), who managed to keep in order on tramp shipping and at the same time make an eloquent contribution on the whole of the defects of the capitalist system. It is almost dull to get up and talk on such an uncontroversial subject as that with which we are dealing to-night. The hon. Member who has just sat down has poured oil on waters which might have been bubbling in the House at this moment. Therefore, I think it is unnecessary for me to dwell for more than a moment on some of the criticisms which have been brought against this Bill.
It seems to me that the one issue on which the Bill has been debated in all its stages has been that of the low scale of benefits. Nobody regrets that low scale more than I do, but I think we must remember that if we are going to have an insurance scheme—and this is an insurance scheme, in spite of some of the quibbles of hon. Members opposite—we must set a limit to the benefits that can be paid. Benefits, after all, do depend on contributions, and contributions must depend on wages. The remedy for the low scale of benefits is not to amend this Bill but to raise wages. If hon. Members will collaborate in the efforts of the Minister of Agriculture in that direction, I think they will be much more likely to achieve the object they have in view than by moving Amendments to this Bill. If we get increased wages we shall have not only better employment and less unemployment, but the finances of the scheme will be improved and there will be a very good chance of getting improved benefits.
I welcome this Bill as one of vast importance and one which is welcomed, I believe, by large numbers of the agricultural population. But I hope it will never be considered to be a substitute for employment. I could not help feeling this afternoon when I listened to the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), discoursing on the iniquity of having a 999 maximum benefit, that if he had his way and there was no maximum benefit there might be a danger of this scheme being regarded as a substitute for employment.
I have said that this Bill has the approval of most of those concerned in agriculture. One has to talk locally on these matters, and I have found in my part of the country at any rate that farmers have been as pleased to welcome the Bill as have agricultural labourers. The Bill, I believe, will attain what is its primary object, and that is to improve the conditions of the workers in agriculture. All Members of this House are concerned, I know, that agricultural labourers should be treated on the same principle as workers in all other industries. Everybody knows how much those workers dislike public assistance. I do not think it is possible to exaggerate the dislike among rural workers of having to do what they feel is ignominious, that is, to ask for public assistance.
An extremely important and interesting point was raised by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) and discussed at considerable length. It was whether public assistance authorities will supplement the benefits. That is a question which I think deserves an answer, for it will be the crux of whether or not these benefits will be a blessing. I was rather surprised, however, that hon. Members who were comparing the rates of public assistance with the rates of benefit under this Bill entirely neglected to mention the fact that public assistance is subject to a means test and therefore it is not by any means on all occasions that the full rates of public assistance are paid to the applicant. I consider it is only fair when comparing the two that that should be borne in mind.
I have said that the workers are generally anxious to contribute to insurance, and I believe that to be the case. They want a scheme which entitles them to benefit rather than that they should have to ask for it. The other thing which they dislike so intensely under the present system is test work, which I do not believe to be satisfactory to anybody. It can happen that a skilled workman finds himself working beside a man who is inferior in skill, and he sees that unskilled man probably being paid more than he is getting himself. Sometimes the men 1000 have to do work which is completely useless, and I know of a stone pit where the stones, when brought out of the pit, were not even used on the local roads. I cannot imagine anything more disheartening to skilled workers than having to work under such conditions.
The secondary object of this Bill, and an extremely important one it seems to me, is to stop the tendency for skilled agricultural labourers to drift into the towns, and inasmuch as the Bill will lessen that spirit of inferiority which in some cases may exist, it will achieve some degree of success. But this will be only a nibble at the problem, for there is no doubt that the drift from the country to the towns goes a great deal deeper than that. The crux of the matter is that agricultural wages do not at the moment compare with the wages in other industries, and as long as that situation exists the enterprising young men are bound to tend to go into the towns. This tendency is instanced by the fact that only last week the North Biding branch of the National Farmers' Union sent to the committee in London a plea that catchments boards should recruit their labour from the distressed areas and not from agriculture, because it was becoming so difficult to keep agricultural labourers in their districts. Therefore this question is a most important one, and one which has to be faced at the earliest opportunity.
Another reason why men drift to the towns nowadays is that communications have become very much better. Buses run from villages into the neighboring county town, and when village people are so much more closely connected with their urban neighbors, they are bound to compare the rates of wages in town and country. This question of the scarcity of labour, which only arises in certain districts, because agricultural labour does not flow easily from one place to another, may become serious, especially having regard to the possibility that the Government will, as we hope, take up the question of food production in relation to their defense problems. A fear has been expressed during the Debates on this Bill that it may lead to the casualisation of agricultural labour. Those hon. Members who know the countryside would, I am sure, agree that labour in agriculture has already to a large extent become 1001 casualised. At least it has become seasonal. There are, at present, skilled men who can only get work at certain months of the year.
I feel that those are the men whom we particularly desire to help by this Bill. They are not at all inferior men. They are probably equal, or nearly equal, in skill to some of those key-men of whom we have heard to-day and who may, perhaps, grumble at having to pay contributions for which they are not likely to receive anything. The whole system of insurance, however, is that the fortunate man should contribute something towards helping the unfortunate man, and I agree with many hon. Members opposite that there is no real cause for the man who is fortunate enough to have a good steady job, to grumble because he has to pay contributions. I am glad to see that the Government have fixed the necessary number of contributions as low as 20. There are numbers of men like those I have just described, who only get about 22 weeks work in the year. They get about eight weeks hoeing, four weeks harvesting, and perhaps 10 weeks work at the sugar beet crop. As the Bill stands, those men would become eligible for benefit next winter, and that is the time when they will be greatly in need of it.
Reference has also been made to the shirker or hanger-on of the agricultural industry, and it has been suggested that he may cripple the finance of the scheme by becoming a parasite upon it. I do not think that is likely to happen. It seems to me that when the long-awaited second appointed day arrives and Part II of the Unemployment Act comes into operation, he is more likely to become a hanger-on of the unemployment assistance authorities than to be an applicant for benefit under this Measure. The point as to the second appointed day struck me as being very important. It was mentioned, I think, by the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts). It will be very awkward when the second appointed day comes and you have fixed your rates of unemployment assistance, and I agree that we shall require a good deal of enlightenment from the Parliamentary Secretary or from somebody else as to how that difficulty is to be met.
There is, however, only one real danger, to my mind, in connection with the Bill, and that is the possibility of something 1002 happening which would spoil the spirit of it and also spoil its operation—that is if either the farmer or the labourer were to try to avoid contributions, one at the expense of the other. It might happen, and I can even envisage a situation where a wages board might take into consideration the fact either that the labourer had to pay 4½d. more, and use it as an argument for raising wages, or that the farmer had to pay 4½d. more, and use that as an argument for reducing wages. Either would be equally wrong and would ruin the entire spirit of the Bill. I am very pleased that the Minister has seen fit to include a Clause whereby gardeners may come under this Bill. There are, after all, some 126,000 of them, and they form an important part of the rural community, and I have always felt that this Bill was really intended to benefit the whole rural community rather than any one particular section of it.
After I was elected to this House at the General Election, a newspaper was rude enough to say that I represented huntin' and shootin', and it wondered what good I was going to do for either. I feel strongly tempted to try to do a bit of good for the gamekeeper at this moment, but I feel that I might be ruled out of order if I did. I support this Bill whole-heartedly, and I believe it has the unanimous support of the House in principle, except perhaps for hon. Members who sit below the Gangway opposite; and with all due respect from a young Member, I wonder whether it is perhaps that they are not quite moving with the times. It has been suggested, I think wrongly, that the old and friendly relationship between employer and employed in the countryside is passing. I should be very sorry indeed to think that by voting for this Bill I was in any way hastening that end.
§ 10.28 p.m.
§ Mr. QUIBELL
May I first of all congratulate the hon. Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Maxwell) on his excellent maiden speech, which was very useful and interesting, coming as he does from an agricultural area. It was a speech that interested us on this side very much, because I presume that there is at least a majority of our people in this House whose families at one time or other were associated either directly or indirectly 1003 with this major industry. I am pleased to think that there is unanimity on the other side of the House, although I admit that the treatment meted out to this Bill in Committee has disappointed me very much indeed.
On the Second Reading of the Bill I looked at the faces of hon. Members opposite, and I thought there were some hopes for the Bill emerging from the Committee stage a better Bill than when it went into Committee, but after the generous treatment that has been meted out to it by the Minister and those responsible for the Government, I am tremendously disappointed, even more than I was on the Second Reading, for I find that in place of the 3s. for the first child and 2s. 6d. for the next two children, they have magnanimously given 6d. to the second and 6d. to the third, and if there is a fourth, it gets nothing. All that I can say is that after all the efforts on this side and on that to improve the character of the Bill, the total result of it is measured by two sixpences if there happens to be a family of three. I do not know what the right hon. Gentleman thinks, but I know that when he occupied a seat on this side he would have been far from satisfied at being associated with a Measure which had emerged from the Committee stage, after such a number of hours spent upon it, in the state in which this Bill has emerged.
Hon. Members on the other side of the House have made considerable play in certain parts of the country of the fact that I and some of my friends thought it right to vote for the Second Reading of this Measure. For 20 years, even before the Agricultural Workers' Union believed in the principal of insurance for the agricultural labourer, I have been agitating for it in Lincolnshire. It was, therefore, not I who voted with the Government, but the Government who voted with me. I had hoped that with the improvement that might be made to this Bill in Committee we could have been unanimous in passing it and in bringing the agricultural workers in common partnership with the rest of the industrial workers. It will be difficult for us on this side to swallow the small concessions that have been granted during the Committee stage. Let us take the question of 10s. 6d. a week for men from 18 to 21. An hon. Member said 1004 that if he took his daughter to a restaurant he could get a lunch for 1s. 3d. A man on this benefit could only go once a day. He could not be kept at the commonest lodging house for 10s. 6d. a week.
This is the Measure of the practical sympathy that the Government have for these men. The Government have for half a century, and particularly during the last 30 or 40 years, derived the major part of their power from the countryside. This is the measure of their appreciation of those who supported them. The Minister adroitly avoided a pertinent question put to him from this side whether in the case of a big family, where the maximum was 30s. a week, the public assistance committee would be empowered to come to their aid. I can visualise conditions where the rent might be 7s. or 9s. a week and where there would be little left for food in the case of a big family. The right hon. Gentleman cleverly avoided being definite about that matter. I suppose that his excuse would be that this is not the occasion when he could give a definite answer or commit the Government. Some of us have had experience of these committees and I can give him the answer. The answer is that it is a thousand to one that if this class of man appeals to the public assistance committee, at least in Lindsey, no assistance would be given. I have heard it said on both sides of the House that some of the agricultural labourers in rural England would be as well off when the second appointed day came, in fact, better off, because they would not be paying contributions into an insurance scheme and would draw better benefits without this Bill.
I have here a letter, which I shall be glad to hand to the Minister, describing the case of a man with a wife and five children in the Lindsey area who gets 12s. in kind and 10s. in money per week from the public assistance authorities. He has to work four days a week on test work, being engaged in strengthening the bank of a river, and has to cycle between five and six miles to his work. Things may be different in some parts of England, but I would sooner have this Bill than leave people under conditions such as are being imposed on agricultural workers in my county, although at the same time I shall always use all my power and influence to see that a greater 1005 measure of justice is done to agricultural workers than is provided by this particular Bill. At one time there was a great deal of criticism over the proposal which came to be known as "9d. for 4d." and was associated with the phrase "Rare and refreshing fruit." Here it is not a case of 9d. for 4d., but of 4½d. from the employer, 4½d. from the workman and 4½d. from the State.
The original proposals in regard to this matter provided that there should be a certain contribution from the workman and a certain contribution from the employer and that the contribution from the State should be equal to them both. If the Government's proposals had been as generous as those we should have had no fault to find with this Bill. I feel that this Government is almost past hope, but I do venture to hope that when the opportunity presents itself the right hon. Gentleman will take advantage of the powers which this Bill confers upon him in order to increase the benefits to some of those who now come under its operations. If he will do that we on this side of the House shall welcome his action. As the Bill stands I am tremendously disappointed with it, but, all the same, I would much rather have it than see my people dependent on the good will of public assistance authorities such as are to be found in rural England who will impose upon agricultural workers conditions like those described in the letter which I have produced.
§ 10.39 p.m.
§ Mr. BARCLAY-HARVEY
As I was prevented by illness from being present at the Second Reading of this Bill, I should like to take this opportunity to stress the point of view of the people whom I represent. The Minister has referred to the improved status; which this Bill will give to farm workers, and that is one of the points in connection with the Bill with which I agree. He also said the Bill is badly needed in many parts of the country, and there arises the difficulty in which some of us find ourselves to-night. We do not for one moment want to prevent agricultural labourers from having an insurance scheme if it will be for their benefit but in the part of the country from which I come there is a growing anxiety about it, because the number of people engaged in agriculture there and who are out of work is very small, and the feeling is that the Bill 1006 will benefit other districts in Great Britain for which they will have to pay. This is no mere case of Scottish meanness, as some hon. Members may think. In the North of Scotland we are facing an extremely difficult period at the present time, owing to recent agricultural legislation. This matter is vital to us. We are looking at it not merely from a purely selfish or narrow point of view. That is one difficulty.
The other difficulty is that the Bill may undermine our long-term hiring system. There is a fear that the benefits suggested for the long-term hiring system will not be sufficient to prevent the disintegration of that system. Anybody who knows our system of long-term hiring would regret its being broken up. I feel that it would be wrong if I did not express my anxiety on those two points of the Bill. On other grounds I welcome it, and I hope that it will bring to the agricultural worker the great benefits which the Minister and hon. Member appear to think it will bring. I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell) after his extremely excellent electioneering speech. I am expressing what I believe to be the view of my part of the world, which is that there are in the Bill dangers which it will be the duty of representatives of that part of the world to watch very closely. I tell the Minister that we shall do our best by question, when the Bill is in operation, to see that while it is for the benefit of other parts of Britain, that benefit is not gained entirely at the expense of the North.
§ 10.42 p.m.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
On this side of the House we are gratified that the Bill has reached its last stage in the assembly of the elected representatives. We accept the assurance of the Minister that many of the, I trust convincing, pleas, and the cases that have been submitted to him, which we have put up during the Committee and Report stages will receive consideration. We are bound to recognise that a Measure of insurance, I trust only the beginning, has been applied to agriculture. I take it that it is not, even from the Minister's point of view the last word in what can be done for the agricultural and rural worker. However the poets may have sung of the sons of toil who till the soil and sow the seed and reap the harvest, the countryside has 1007 been the cinderella of industry, and under the scheme it will still be, to use more vulgar language, the bottom dog.
Although we can approve of this Measure, we cannot be satisfied with it, because of the differentiation it brings into unemployment insurance and of the comparisons that are made in contributions and benefits. We who have had long experience in agricultural organising, sometimes wonder whether hon. Members who go to the Agricultural Hall to see milking competitions and to admire the beautiful cattle and the dairymaids, would be satisfied if they knew that the wonderfully skilled dairymaids had to live on 6s. per week, if they were under 18 years of age and became unemployed. Would that be the practical indication of what their admiration really meant? Everybody recognises that agriculture is a changing occupation, and that it is difficult to compare, say, the grazing and milk-producing counties with those which of recent years have been adapting themselves to varying conditions in the growing of grain and sugar beet. From this point of view, it is important that we should now have an unemployment insurance scheme for agriculture, to help to solve some of the problems that have been arising during recent years.
I hope that, when the Minister gets over this hurdle, as the son of a fisherman his next responsible duty will be to weigh up the evidence which has been submitted to him on behalf of the share fishermen, and that his next Measure will be one for the fishing industry, but with even better benefits than he is now providing for agriculture. We welcome this scheme as a first step, which we hope will gradually be absorbed in a general scheme applicable to town and rural workers alike, to the advantage of all and to the disadvantage of none. It is not possible to differentiate between the various counties and the various districts; we must look upon agriculture in all its phases, so that those who are in regular employment may assist those who in other counties where the conditions are not so good, are more unfortunate, so that they may have the advantages of the operation of this scheme.
§ 10.48 p.m.
§ Sir R. W. SMITH
I feel that I cannot allow this Bill to go to its Third Reading without protesting against the application of the Bill to Scotland, and certainly to that part of Scotland which I have the honour to represent. I think I may say that I have the right to speak for a fairly large number of agricultural workers, for in Aberdeenshire alone there are no fewer than 14,000 out of a total of 112,000 for the whole of Scotland, and the industry in that district is, as everybody knows, almost entirely dependent on stock-raising for its welfare. I do not say that the time may not come when it would be possible to have an unemployment insurance scheme for agriculture in that part of Scotland, but I say that at present the time is not ripe. The Minister has stated that the scheme is a workable one, and no doubt it is, but I think that a scheme, if it is to be a proper scheme, must be something more than workable—it must be just, and its burdens must fall fairly on the shoulders best able to bear them. The Minister also said that the scheme was warmly welcomed by thousands of workers. I quite believe that it was. Certainly the workers in the district of the hon. Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Maxwell), who made his maiden speech to-night, desire it, and I believe it is also desired in parts of Scotland, but still there are large parts of Scotland where it is not welcomed by the agricutural workers.
Reference has already been made to Mr. Duncan and the number of meetings he addressed before the last Election. No doubt he did report that there were a large number at those meetings who were in favour of this scheme. But who attended those meetings? They were not the old, stable agricultural workers; they were the young men who, if they could find something better would leave the agricultural industry. The Government have not made the inquiries that they should have made before bringing in this scheme. We are told by the Beveridge Committee that there are no statistical records which in any way make it possible to judge the volume of unemployment in agriculture. If you are to have a proper scheme, you ought to know as nearly as you can the proportion of unemployment in agriculture. Why have we not been finding out during the last few years 1009 what the position was in various parts of the country? The Government have not made the necessary inquiries with regard to Scotland and the proportion of unemployed there. The Government have accepted the Beveridge Committee Report without making the inquiries that should have been made into the position. On page 45 they say:We are satisfied that the greater part of the agricultural workers are not only willing but anxious to pay contributions for insurance against unemployment.And they go on:As regards the employers, the contribution required is smaller in proportion to their wages bill than in many other industries.That is not much good to the farmer in Scotland, who in many cases is not paying his wages out of profits but out of capital. We hear a great deal about the fortunate having to contribute to the unfortunate. I am quite agreeable to that, but will anyone tell me it is fair that a man who is earning a wage of 28s. 2d. a week, as a single farmworker is in Scotland, should have to pay to keep solvent a fund to which gardeners in public parks and men working in seeds-men's warehouses, who are making £2 10s. and £3 a week and probably more, contribute? This scheme has not been as carefully considered as it should have been by the Government before they introduced this Measure.
The hon. Member for West Kincardine (Mr. Barclay-Harvey) mentioned that at the present time the position of the agricultural industry in Scotland is serious. Is it fair to put a further burden upon their shoulders when those engaged in the industry are not making profits? It would have been totally different if they had been making profits or if the farm workers had been getting higher wages, but wages have been falling. Farmers asked me at the last election what was my view of unemployment insurance and I said I was opposed to it under present conditions in Scotland.
§ 10.56 p.m.
§ Mr. BEVAN
I do not suppose I have more than half a dozen agricultural labourers in my constituency but the Minister of Labour will shortly be bringing before the House regulations relating to unemployment assistance. I represent 1010 a constituency in which more than 60 per cent. of the insurable population in some parts are out of work and I am concerned about losing 45,000 allies when I come to face the Minister of Labour in a few months' time, because there are 40,000 to 50,000 unemployed agricultural workers in Great Britain, all of whom, when the second appointed day comes into operation, will be chargeable to the same authority that will be responsible for my unemployed constituents. What the Minister proposes to do by this Bill has deprived me of a substantial number of allies. I am entitled to ask whether he is taking those allies in circumstances which will benefit my constituents. Hon. Member's opposite have argued that the Bill is a boon to the agricultural labourer and, no doubt, many of my hon. Friends are right when they say the agricultural worker ardently desires it, much as he may deplore its shortcomings, but I believe it is because the agricultural labourer is misinformed about the actual position of the law in relation to himself, because when the Minister brings the unemployed agricultural labourer under the protection of the National Board, he will have to make regulations for him as well as for any unemployed constituents.
Hon. Members representing agricultural constituencies—and a very large number of the supporters of the Government are drawn from agricultural constituencies—will, if the Bill does not pass, be vitally interested in those Regulations. If the Bill goes through, they will no longer have any interest in them, and representatives of the industrial constituencies will be deprived of the pressure they would bring generally upon the Ministry of Labour. From the point of view of the industrial worker, we are, by this Measure, being deprived of protection that we might enjoy, and the Minister is relieving himself of the pressure which would otherwise be brought to bear upon him.
It is because that is the situation that the Government have surprisingly become converts to agricultural insurance. It is not because the case for agricultural insurance is better now than it was. The case is no stronger for unemployment insurance for the agricultural worker today than it has ever been. In fact, it is weaker. The reason why the Government 1011 are bringing forward the Measure is because they want it to he the shock absorber between a large body of their supporters and unemployed constituents. If this Measure were not carried the agricultural workers would be able to go to their agricultural Conservative Members and ask for protection against the bad regulations of the National Board, but by this Measure the agricultural Parliamentary representative is able to plead the tactics of the actuarial gods in extenuation of alleviating the agricultural worker. He will be able to say, "The reason why the benefit is only 14s. or 21s. a week is because the fund has to balance. If you want more, the contributions will have to be increased, and that is the reason why we are where we are."
Therefore, the reason why the Government have come forward to settle agricultural unemployment insurance is not because their hearts have been moved in favour of the agricultural worker, but because it is politically expedient to do it now, and because, at the same time, the Treasury are going to gain £1,000,000 by doing so. On the second Appointed Day the agricultural worker will go from off the shoulders of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. This puts him off the shoulders of the taxpayers on to the shoulders of the countryside. If Members of this House are in favour of the countryside taking £1,200,000 more than they need, it is because of the fact that by doing it they will have protection against the agitation of unemployed, agricultural workers. If the unemployed agricultural worker comes to the board he is under the means test. If the Government were prepared to abolish the means test, the agricultural unemployed worker would have the benefit of higher scales of pay without the need of having to pay £600,000 a year for lower benefits.
This is a device on the part of the Government to fob off the agricultural worker with lower scales of benefit for which he finds £600,000 a year in order to provide Conservative Members of Parliament with an alibi against their own constituents. The Government have a very difficult case to make out when they try to prove that the Bill has been brought forward in the interests of the agricultural worker. The argument that the finances of the Unemployment Insurance Fund are inadequate to pay 1012 higher scales of benefit to agricultural workers is completely false. About £6,000,000 is being received in excess of outgoings. Nevertheless the one plea which the Minister has always put forward is that the finances of the scheme will not allow higher rates of benefit. He has not defended the rates of benefit on the ground that they are adequate. In addition to the £1,000,000 which the Treasury will make net of this transaction, they are going to present themselves with £2,000,000 out of the general scheme; £3,000,000 altogether which could be used to supplement the agricultural workers rates of benefit.
I do not propose to go into the Lobby against the Bill, because those who speak for agriculture believe that it is going to confer benefits on the agricultural worker. I believe that in six months time they will be disillusioned. I believe that the lower rates of benefit will have a depressing effect on standards of living in areas bordering on rural areas. In some parts of South Wales where the public assistance committee are paying rates on the same scale as the benefits paid under the general scheme, these scales will result in the rates being substantially lowered. In this sort of legislation there is always the danger of the lower scale driving out the higher. There is always a tendency, where you have two scales of benefit for the same class of workers, for the lower scale to assert itself, and I protest that the House of Commons should consider that 14s. and 21s. for a man and wife are sufficient upon which to live.
I sit down with this challenge. If hon. Members opposite declare that they do not believe that the scales of benefit in this Bill are sufficient to meet the needs of the unemployed agricultural worker, I challenge them to state from what other source that scale is to be augmented. That has not been replied to. The Minister dare not get up and declare that it would be the function of the National Board to supplement these scales. He knows that if he did so the whole of unemployment insurance in this country would be disorganised. Hon. Members are declaring by this Bill that British men and women shall live on 14s. a week, and that the maximum shall be 30s. They are actually saying that where public assistance committees are paying more than the scales in this Bill that the. 1013 public assistance scale shall be lowered. I believe that when the full facts are known in the countryside not only will there be diminishing enthusiasm for the Bill, but in a year's time there will be actual hostility. I, for one, will never allow my name to be associated with a proposal that English men and women shall be paid a miserable scale of 21s. a week.
§ 11.13 p.m.
I am in favour of the principle of insurance for agricultural labourers, and I would like to congratulate the Minister on having introduced the Bill so promptly and piloted it so skilfully because time is of the essence of the contract. It is quite obvious that if the people to benefit under this scheme are to draw these benefits next winter the matter must be dealt with at once. I took some trouble last spring to find out what my constituents really thought on this question, and I found that the Agricultural Workers Union were very keen about it, but otherwise there was no great enthusiasm expressed on the subject except by gardeners and chauffeurs who are not included in the Bill. They really did want it and for that reason I am glad their inclusion has been referred to the statutory committee. People in the New Forest are commonly supposed to be of a rather conservative turn of mind. I would like to tell my right hon. Friend that that is a delusion. They are most wideawake, up to date, and progressive. I am informed that parents are already reluctant to allow their children to go into gardening because in doing so they enter a part of the agricultural industry which is not to be insured—so carefully do these people study the proposals of my right hon. Friend. Earlier in the evening, I understood the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) to say that, far from being an attraction to people to stay in the industry, the Bill would drive the best people out of agriculture. It seems to me that the opposite has already occurred, and that the best people, masses of whom live in the New Forest, are regarding it as a great attraction.
I recognise the difficulties which face my right hon. Friend. There are, for instance, the borderline cases, the gardener who sometimes takes the car to 1014 meet his master at the station and the chauffeur or butler who sometimes takes a little light exercise in the garden. I am also aware of the difficulties that would lie ahead of me if I wanted, which I do not, to pursue the matter in any detail. I had hoped that my right hon. Friend would have made the concession off his own hat, but as he was not able to do so, I think he has done the best thing by referring it to the Statutory Committee. There will be some delay, but there will not be very much. I would like to conclude by congratulating once more my right hon. Friend on carrying out this Election pledge of the National Government, and on giving the best benefits that the Finances of the scheme could possibly give at present.
§ 11.17 p.m.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
In these days I must confess that I am becoming more and more of the opinion that in politics there is little difference on any side of this House. I say frankly that from questions of foreign affairs and sanctions down to questions of unemployment insurance, although I often see great differences on matters of detail, there is little that I see of difference on principle. To-night the Farmers' Union, the Government and the Labour party are united on this Bill. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) delivered a very clever and eloquent speech denouncing the Bill and the figures contained in it. Let him not forget that his party intend to vote with the Government for 14s. 0d. a week for a man. To-night we are to see the spectacle of the Labour party voting for 6s. 0d. a week for a woman. To-night my hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) sees the united front extended. On this Bill, voting for rates that have been condemned over and over again, we are to see the party opposite and the Labour party walk into the Lobby together.
I want to say to the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale that if he believes, as I do, that he is right in saying that before long this Bill will have a depressing and not an uplifting effect, why should he wait for six months 4 If I believe that at the present time, then it is my duty to stop the Bill having a depressing effect on anybody by voting against it now. On the Second Reading Debate, those who spoke for the Labour party said, in effect, that if this Bill were not improved 1015 on Second Reading, they must reserve to themselves the right to vote against it on Third Reading. There have been two changes, the one making the Bill worse and the other making it slightly better. One of the changes, explained to us as being an improvement, concerns private gardeners. The Statutory Committee will be able to recommend to the Minister that private gardeners should be brought within the scope of the Bill. Private gardeners are not agricultural workers. The overwhelming bulk of them are employed in towns, alongside townspeople. They ought to come under the general scheme. Things are being made worse by having sections of townspeople brought into a scheme with which they have little contact.
The only other concession which has been made and which has, apparently, altered the views of my hon. Friends above the Gangway and caused them to support the Bill is the concession about children. A man with three children is to get an increase of one shilling a week. If he has only one child he gets no increase; if he has two children he gets an increase of sixpence and if he has more than three children, he still only gets the increase of one shilling. For that, the Labour party are prepared to support the Bill. I am opposed to the Bill as much as ever. I see greater dangers in it even than those foreseen by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan). What are the facts? In unemployment insurance not only agricultural workers and private gardeners but domestic servants and black-coated workers and railwaymen were left out of the general scheme. By passing this Bill we are in effect agreeing to the black-coated workers, the railwaymen, the domestic servants and other sections being in different schemes. I would not be opposing this Measure so bitterly, though I should still be opposing it, if it was only legislating for farm workers but it goes far beyond them. It affects seeds-men like the people employed by Dobbie's of Edinburgh—hundreds of them—Carter's at Baynes Park, Sutton's at Reading, and others. Every public park employé is to-day an agricultural worker and is covered by this proposal. We are saying to the public park employés of Dundee, Glasgow and London, "Your rates of benefit in the future shall be 14s. 1016 for a man and 7s. for a woman with a 30s. maximum.
The hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell) said the Bill meant an improvement for the agricultural worker who formerly had to go on public assistance. He said the public assistance authorities in his district would have to pay less. That is about the strangest argument I have heard to show that the Bill is not an improvement. Whatever can be said on Part II of the Unemployment Act, it took them away front public assistance and made them chargeable, and if the hon. Member and his party believed that, they ought not to have voted against Part II. To-day we are erecting a thing that I think will stand more than ever in years to come. If ever the Labour party take office again, I am certain that they and almost any new Government taking office will almost inevitably abolish the means test, and when that is abolished, as I think it must be in the near future, what will be the result? Part II will go, and then you will have got them all covered by an insurance scheme, and the only augmentation allowed will be Poor Law augmentation which is nil. You will have living alongside each other two sets of people, one on a 30s. standard, with a family of five or six, and the other on a standard of £2 or £2 4s. To that, I think, there is no answer. The hon. Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Maxwell) made a good speech, but might I ask him to stop using terms like "shirkers"? It is a shocking thing to do. All of us can sneer at these poor folk, but it is not nice or fair. Anyone can sneer, and I do ask the hon. Member not to use such phrases again. He said, in regard to seasonal workers, that they will come in.
§ Mr. MAXWELL
The hon. Member must have mistaken my meaning. When I talked about shirkers, I was making the point that the seasonal workers and the casual workers whom we are trying to help in this Bill are not by any means shirkers, but very often extremely good and skilled workmen.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Yes, but the hon. Member is wrong about the seasonal workers being undo this Bill; they are dealt with under the ordinary law, and the person the hon. Member described as getting so much beet sugar work in a season will be disqualified under the 1017 Seasonal Workers' Regulation. This Bill does not abolish another Act, called the Seasonal Workers' Act.
§ Mr. MAXWELL
I think the hon. Member is wrong when he suggests that. If he reads the Bill, he will see that the man who is employed solely in harvesting will not be eligible under this Bill, but the man who does sugar-beet work, which entails hoeing in the early part of the season, will be entitled to benefit.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Let my hon. Friend take this from me—and in these matters I am generally nearer right than most—or let him take the opinion of the Parliamentary Secretary, and what he says I will abide by, but I know he will say that the Seasonal Workers Act is not repealed. What Sir William Beveridge did in his report was to recommend that seasonal regulations should not apply. But that has not been put into this Bill, and if I am wrong, the Parliamentary Secreretary can correct me when he replies. In conclusion, we have been a good deal sneered at. I remember on the Second Reading a Conservative Member called us impossible, and the Parliamentary Secretary dismissed us with a sneer, saying it did not matter what we said, they would find it wrong. I do not deny these things. To some extent we are liable to be kicked, but it is not always easy to occupy our rôle, and we cannot divide to-night for two reasons. One is that I have a good deal of respect for you, Mr. Speaker, and it would be wrong to put you to the inconvenience of a Division if there were only three of us dividing against the Bill. If I were sure of collecting eight Members to go in the Lobby with us, I would divide against the Bill. If Members of the Labour party were free men, and were allowed to vote as their constituents wished them to vote, there would be more than eight who would go into the Lobby with us. To-night, however, it is not the Labour party that is deciding, but the Trade Union Congress. They have told Members of the Labour party what to do and to-night Members do not represent their divisions but a caucus. To me this Bill is shockingly bad and indefensible. There is only one argument that the Minister can put up and that is that the Bill is better than what the agricultural workers' trade union asked for. I admit 1018 it is better, and that is why I have not supported that union. I would not support a union that asked for 2s. for a child in 1935 at a time when Tories in this House had actually voted for 3s. For that union to determine my conduct at a time when it asks for scales of benefit—
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
I am sure the hon. Member does not want to misrepresent the Agricultural Workers' Union, but I think he must have misunderstood the position. The scale referred to, including 2s. for children, was sent to the Statutory Committee when the payment under the general scheme was 2s. It was subsequently that it, was raised to 3s.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
It was asked for by the union after Tories had voted for 3s. Is that union to define our conduct on this Bill? We shall not divide, however, as I have said, unless we can get the support of a few other Members.
§ 11.35 p.m.
§ Mr. LENNOX-BOYD
I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary one question arising out of what the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) has said on the subject of seasonal workers. In my constituency there are a considerable number of people engaged in what would be called subsidiary occupations, the growing of potatoes, brussels sprouts, onions and the like. Under the principal Act those people would be excepted from insurance, but as I read the Fifth Schedule of this Bill if they can prove that this subsidiary employment is their main means of livelihood they become insured persons. I should be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary would deal with that point.
§ 11.36 p.m.
§ Major COLFOX
In my judgment, this is a bad Bill, but it is better than no Bill at all. I do not in any sense blame the Minister for the faults of the Bill, because it was the situation in which he found himself that compelled him to produce what is so far from a perfect Measure. I do not, however, accept it as a final solution of the problem. Its chief merit in my eyes is that it represents the first attempt to tackle this difficult problem, and is laying the foundations for what, I believe, will be a very useful reform in time to come. I regard it as a bad Bill, 1019 first, because the contributions are too high for agricultural labourers to pay. Secondly, the benefits are too low. Of course the benefits are as high as is possible under the finances of the scheme, but that merely emphasises the contention what has been rightly made from the benches opposite that the Treasury ought to have made a more generous contribution. The Treasury ought to have contributed as much per man to agricultural insurance as it does to industrial insurance.
The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) when he seriously applies himself to a problem is capable of making a very useful contribution to our Debates and I find that to a very large extent I agree with what he said on this Third Reading. That makes it all the more regrettable that he should, earlier in the evening, have indulged in pseudo-witticisms and abuse, because he is so ponderous and futile in efforts of that kind that I am led to wonder whether he and some of his friends realise how ridiculously comic they appear from the benches on this side. Another drawback of the Bill is that it includes a number of people who ought to have been left out, and leaves out a number of those who ought, in my judgment, to have been included. It should have been possible to allow individuals whose occupations are on the border line to say whether they would prefer to came within the agricultural scheme or to be included in the general industrial scheme. I do not see how we are ever likely to make a real solution of the problem of unemployment insurance for agriculture unless and until the industry has been once more reestablished on a, prosperous basis. Clearly, all the contributions which go to make up the benefits which are eventually payable must come out of the industry. It is only by restoring the industry to full prosperity that we can hope to do all that we desire, and that hon. Members on this side of the House have wished to-night, namely, to be able to bring agriculturally-insured people on to the same terms and conditions as those who are insured under the ordinary industrial scheme.
I strongly believe that our endeavour must continue to be to restore the prosperity of the industry on which these people depend. When endeavours are 1020 made by the Government and their supporters with that object in view, they find they are defeated, or at any rate opposed, at every turn by hon. Members on the Socialist benches, who only have the interest of the urban population at heart and who either do not interest themselves in, or fail to understand, the problems of the rural community.
§ 11.42 p.m.
§ Sir F. ACLAND
It is much too late to attempt anything like a. general review of the Bill, and I find myself able to make only four brief points. First of all I would congratulate the Minister on the way in which he has conducted the Bill. He has shown a very admirable temper on the Second and Third Readings and on the Report stage. I was not on the Committee, but I believe was the same there. I congratulate him on getting an important Bill to this late stage.
Secondly, it must be easy for all of us to see the defects of the Bill. Many hon. Members have been pointing them out for many hours, and we are all accustomed to them, if not tired of them. It is difficult to be happy about some of these rates. I speak seriously. It is not nice to think of men having to go on to 14s. a week or of their dependants getting only 7s.; or to think of the young fellow of 18 years of age with 10s. 6d. per week, an inadequate sum to maintain him in food, let alone keep him in boots and clothes. All those things we know well. Particularly is it not nice to think of those rates when we know in our heart of hearts that they will not be supplemented by any other organisation unless it be because of illness or special hardship. It would justify a little more generosity in the Bill, particularly in view of the fact that it is 18 years now since is was first proposed, and that anybody who pays taxes in connection with agriculture has made his contribution—a by no means negligible contribution—towards the State contribution of everybody else who has been insured in industry, without, until now, getting anything back from the industry for which the payments have come.
In spite of all these difficulties, the sooner the Bill is on the Statute Book the better. Until it is on the Statute Book, and we know how it is going to work, we cannot really say what is going to happen. My right hon. Friend says 1021 that, according to the best advice he can get, to do this would cost an extra £14,000, or to do that would cost an extra £70,000; but, with the greatest respect to him, until the Bill is working he will not know whether these figures are right or wrong. We none of us know what the scale of unemployment is going to be, and, perhaps, in three or four years time we shall not be able to recognise the Bill as the same one which we are passing to-night. Therefore, whatever our opinions may be, let us pass it, in the hope that it will work for the best, and that what we all hope for will happen, namely, an improvement in the benefit that can be given. That can only happen when we have got the figures we want, and we cannot possibly get them until we have passed the Bill itself.
§ 11.17 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MUIRHEAD
At the beginning of the Debate I was not sure whether it would be necessary for me to make any winding-up remarks, but, apart from one or two specific questions that have been put, I think that some expression of opinion is necessary out of compliment to the very wide expression of opinions that we have had from many quarters of the House. I have been struck by the wide distribution of those opinions geographically. It shows that the interest in the Bill is widespread throughout Great Britain. We have had speeches from hon. Members who come from the extreme North, and we had a speech from the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams). I remember that in the last Parliament I used to listen, from a bench behind the one on which I now sit, to the hon. Member manfully stating his arguments on numerous agricultural Measures; and, now that I am at rather closer quarters with him, I am delighted to find that his hand has lost none of its agricultural cunning. We had also a speech from Staffordshire from the hon. Member for Cannock (Mr. Adamson), who drew almost idyllic pictures of dairymaids, which stirred me deeply, and, I am sure, stirred the right hon. Members on either side of me.
The hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell), too, with what I may call his robust ruralism, gave us one of those speeches of his to which we are always ready to listen. From the far east we 1022 had what I think we all agree was a most delightful maiden speech from the hon. Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Maxwell). Whatever his opponents may have said about him before the Election, at all events he proved to-night that a good sportsman can be a good Parliamentarian. If I may be allowed to express a purely personal opinion, what I liked about his speech was that he did not succumb to the temptation—and it certainly is a great temptation in a maiden speech—just to deliver a set speech, but showed that he had very carefully followed the Debate, and was prepared to argue the various points which had been raised by hon. Members. I am sure that was appreciated. Hon. Members below the Gangway would agree that it is better to be noticed unfavourably than not to be noticed at all. Then we had two speeches from Members for non-agricultural districts—one from the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) and one from the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). Then we went further south, via Hampshire and Dorset, until we closed, appropriately enough, with the last speech almost literally from Land's End.
I think we must all admit that this Bill is a beginning on substantially the right lines, and I agree with the right hon. Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland), let us get it on the Statute Book as quickly as we can, and the test then will be to see how it will work. I think that is the almost universal feeling in the House. The hon. Member for Brigg denounced a good many of the provisions of the Bill. When I hear hon. Members saying what terribly hard times people will have under the scales in this Measure, I wonder that they did not starve to death long before the Bill was talked about. Eventually he was honest enough to say that the Bill we are going to have is a great deal better than the nothing which we had before. The same was true of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, who, after a denunciation of the Bill, became a Parliamentary Balaam and said that those best qualified to know, the agricultural workers, felt it would give them great benefit. Two substantial points were raised during the discussion. One was by the hon. Member for Gorbals regarding the seasonal workers. It was a point which we had not overlooked. It is true that as the 1023 Bill stands the Seasonal Workers Order does apply. The Statutory Committee said that the Order is unsuitable for agriculture, and recommended that the ratio rule should take its place. It would be inappropriate to deal with that in this Bill, but it will be necessary to amend the Order before November, when the scheme comes into operation. My right hon. Friend has power to do that under the principal Act, and on his behalf I can give an undertaking that it will be done. The hon. Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) asked a question rather on the same lines. I have already partly answered him. The remainder of the answer is contained in an amendment in the Fifth Schedule. It is within the province of the Minister to make regulations bringing in people whose main employment is of the nature which the hon. Member has in mind.
In a few minutes I hope this Bill will have passed successfully the final stage in this House. I hope that in a short time it will have completed its Parliamentary life and have become an Act. It will then be committed to the countryside of Great Britain, and in my opinion it could 1024 be committed to no better tribunal. Rural England is not the unchanging, unimaginative, slow thing that people very often think. To my mind its main characteristic is its absorbent capacity. Throughout the centuries people, processes, and ideas have very often come into the countryside, and rural England has moulded, adapted and modified them and finally incorporated them successfully into that life of its own which never dies. That is what rural England will do with this Bill to its great advantage.
Question put, and agreed to.
Bill read the Third time, and passed.
The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
It being after half-post Eleven of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
Adjourned at One Minute before Twelve o'Clock.