HC Deb 10 June 1937 vol 324 cc2043-80

Order for Second Reading read.

7.43 P.m.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Elliot)

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

This matter has been the subject of a certain amount of controversy and discussion for several years in Scotland. The history of measures for wage regulation in agriculture dates back to the Corn Production Act, 1917. That Act imposed regulations on wages. This was incidental to its main purpose of corn production, but wages machinery, once set up, has repeatedly reappeared as an important feature in our social schemes. In that Act there was a certain machinery for Scotland which consisted of 12 district committees and a central board. The scheme was abolished by the Corn Production Repeal Act, 1921, and it is perhaps not inappropriate that it was introduced in this House just after the Government's proposal for safeguarding oats and barley had been introduced. The Act gave the argicultural Department permissive power to secure the continuance of local joint committees. Both employers and employed in Scotland rejected the idea.

In 1924 an Agricultural Wages Regulation Act was introduced for England and Wales, but Scotland was excluded at the desire of employers and employed. Later there was a movement towards the establishment of some form of collective bargaining, of conciliation machinery which should really be effective. In 1934 and 1935 efforts were made in this direction and a scheme was prepared. It was accepted by the Central Executive of Farmers and Farm Servants, but it failed to commend itself to the majority of the branches of the National Farmers' Union in Scotland.

The agricultural workers then represented to the Secretary of State that in such circumstances the only course was a statutory regulation. Consequently, a Committee of Inquiry was set up under Lord Caithness, and it reported unanimously in favour of some measure of wage regulation in Scotland. The Bill follows closely, though not completely, the report of the Caithness Committee. I think the reason the Scottish agricultural workers did not in the first instance desire to be brought within the scope of these statutory wage-regulating boards was that they believed that they themselves, through their organisation, could negotiate directly with the employers and secure better terms; but it is true that during the period of the agricultural depression it appeared that the Agricultural Wages Boards and Committees in England were stabilising the situation to a much greater extent than was the case North of the Border. The average minimum rate in England during the period 1926–31 was 31s. 8d. per week; by 1933, it fell to 30s. 6½d., and then rose again to 31s. 10d. in 1935. The House will see that the lowest point reached was only a 3 per cent. reduction during a period when agricultural prices had fallen by 29 per cent. and the cost of living by 18 per cent. The fall was greater in Scotland, and in some instances very much greater.

It seemed plain to the industry that the statutory machinery of the Wages Act had sheltered the agricultural worker in England and Wales from the worst effects of the depression, and had provided him with an element of stability. I think it has been evident to all farsighted people that this element of stability was operating in the interests not of one section of the industry only but in the interests of the industry as a whole. Without regulation, the result of the depression would certainly have been that wages would have fallen further, that there would have been a greater exodus of the best type of workers from agriculture, and the destruction of the remaining incentives to young men of the countryside to take up farming. After a period when wages would have fallen very severely, there would have been a period in which they would have risen even more steeply, but many of the skilled workers would have been driven from the land. I think that everyone agrees that in England and Wales the operation of the board in the stabilisation of wages was an operation which was beneficial to the whole industry and not merely to the employers' section of it.

Turning to the Bill, hon. Members will want to know what is the proposed machinery. There will be some 12 district committees, each comprising representatives of employers and workers in equal numbers, with an independent chairman. Each committee will be free to choose its own chairman, and will decide on an appropriate minimum rate for its own district. When decided upon, that minimum rate will be statutory. The committee will be free to set a time limit for the operation of such rate or not, and it will be free to cancel such rate at any time. It will be able, under the very wide powers in Clause 2 of the Bill, to deal specially with any special area. It will be able to deal with special classes of workers in the district, and to fix rates varying according to whether the employment is by the day, the week, the month, or by other periods. The committee will be able to deal specially and individually with the case of infirm workers. It will also determine what benefits may be reckoned as payment of wages in lieu of payment in cash, the value at which they are to be reckoned, and the extent to which they may be so reckoned.

The function of the Agricultural Wages Board will be to ratify by a formal order the decisions of the committees which fix the minimum rates and—this is an important point—to act in the place of a committee when for any reason a committee fails to fix a rate. If hon. Members will look at this provision, they will see that the representatives of either side could stultify the whole scheme by absenting themselves from the committee, thereby vetoing the actions of the committee, and making it impossible for the committee to fix a rate. H that were to happen, the central Wages Board would have the power to act in its place. Similar arrangements have worked well in England. The Central Board has not been called upon to act for a committee in default, although I have known cases where, if there had not been a Central Board, that difficulty might well have arisen.

Hon. Members opposite and deputations from one side or the other have made various representations to me, and it might be convenient to the House if I dealt very briefly with some of those representations. It has been suggested, for instance, that the Agricultural Wages Board should be given greater powers than those included in the Bill, and that it should have authority to vary the rates fixed by the district committees, or to direct the committees to reconsider their decisions when these seem to the Board to be unsatisfactory. I have considered that point, but it seems to me that the balance of advantage lies in leaving the decisions with the committees. It is essential that the committees should work with the knowledge of their responsibilities, and it is very desirable that the whole of these decisions should not be committed to some central body to settle, but should be settled in the localities, which is where the knowledge is really centred. I think it is also fair to say that in exceptional cases, where it is plain that a committee has overlooked some important consideration or where some new consideration has arisen between the giving of the final decision and the issue of the formal order, power is taken in the Bill, under Clause 6, for the Department to direct the committee to reconsider its decision. I think that is as far as we ought to go in this direction, although of course I shall be happy to listen to arguments on that point.

The suggestion has been made—and I think it is a very helpful one—that some ruling should be given in regard to benefits in kind. Benefits in kind are a very important element in agricultural wages in Scotland, and the suggestion is that the committees should be given some guidance in regard to the general principles which should govern the values which they are required by the Bill to place on such benefits. I understand that the agricultural workers' organisation and their leaders attach a good deal of importance to that matter. I am glad to accept that suggestion; it will be incorporated in the regulations, and it may be necessary to move some Amendment to the Bill on that account. It has further been suggested to me that in cases of prosecution there should be laid on the employer the onus of proving that he has in fact paid the minimum rate of wages. That suggestion raises considerable difficulties which I do not need to stress in the presence of my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate, but I can assure my hon. Friends opposite that it has been fully considered.

I may be told that as agriculture is looking up and wages are rising, there is no need for this statutory machinery. On a short view, that may be true, but agriculture has had its ups and downs in the past, and although we hope that it will be on the upward slope for years to come, we have had experience enough to show that unless we make some provision for bad times in good times, it is doubly difficult to make provision for them when they come. Therefore, I think it is easier to deal with this Measure now, and I hope and believe that I shall have the good will and co-operation of both sides of the industry. There is another very important reason for introducing this Bill now. Already there are signs and portents of a shortage of agricultural labourers. It will not be enough that agricultural wages should stand where they are. Some movement of agricultural wages is bound to take place, and it is better that it should take place as part of an organised and regulated process of negotiations, where both sides meet and discuss the matter round a table, than in a sporadic form, leading to all sorts of bitterness and ill-feeling.

I believe that as industry in the North gets into its stride, there is danger of that shortage growing rather than diminishing. I believe that the existence of stable rates of wages will contribute to what we all desire, namely, the maintenance of an adequate staff for the service of the land. I have not argued, as I think I might have done, that the Government are fully justified in introducing wages machinery, because this House has taken a great deal of interest in agricultural problems and has on many occasions done its best to give assistance to the farmers and producers. It has been rightly said that what has been done for agriculture has been clone for agriculture as a whole, and not for the farmers alone, and that part of any benefits which have accrued should have passed on to the workers in the shape of increased wages. I have not argued that case because I have not found that it is disputed in any responsible quarter, although there is, of course, plenty of dispute as to the value of the benefits. But apart from the good employers, there are undoubtedly in every industry bad cases, and there is a lack of accepted standards. There is an imperative need from the farmer's own point of view to fill up the ranks of those who are working on the land.

On all those grounds, I submit that the times demand a change. It is interesting that this Bill, when debated in another place, met with no opposition on those grounds. Although there were those who said that the Bill was not necessary, there was none who denied that assistance to the industry meant that Parliament must look at the interests of the industry as a whole and do its utmost to see that all shared in any benefits that were going. This is in essence a machinery Bill, and it depends upon the goodwill, the courage and power of organisation of those who will have to work it; but I have no doubt that both sides can and will import into this system the same friendliness and comradeship which have, in the main, marked the relations of masters and men in Scottish agriculture.

7.59 P.m.

Mr. T. Johnston

I rise on behalf of my hon. Friends on these Benches to give the purpose and general outline of this Bill a hearty welcome, although we shall have occasion to criticise specific proposals and details in the Bill and shall seek to amend certain Clauses in Committee. In my view, this is one of the very few Measures of the present Parliament which will almost certainly bring ascertainable and measurable benefits to the peasantry of Scotland. Once a year, at Burns suppers, we hear much sentimental rhetoric about the "Cottar's Saturday Night." Now we are doing something to better the conditions of the class from which the greatest of all Scotsmen sprang, the class which is the pith and the marrow of our nation.

As the right hon. Gentleman has said, in 1924 the then Labour Government introduced a Measure very similar to this giving powers for the fixation and regulation of wages and conditions in agriculture in England and Scotland. At that time, as the right hon. Gentleman also pointed out, both employers and employés in Scotland, though for different reasons, desired that Scotland should be left outside the scope of that Measure. In the Bill as introduced more power was given to the Central Wages Board than is conferred by the Bill now before us, and probably because of those powers given to the Central Wages Board to meet cases of recalcitrant and reactionary local committees, the right hon. Gentleman and his friends then saw fit to vote against the Second Reading of that Bill. Subsequently, the Bill was amended in Committee to meet their wishes. They and their friends on the Liberal benches being in a majority, Mr. Noel-Buxton, as he then was, had perforce to yield, and the amended Bill was given a unanimous Third Reading.

When that Measure came into operation it had some remarkable results. Looking up the early reports of the agricultural wages tribunal, I find that in the very first month after the Act became operative, £849 of unpaid or withheld wages were restored to agricultural workers in England and Wales. By means of district committees average wages were fixed, according to the wages payable by the best farmers, the most active and willing farmers, in a district, and not according to the standard of the worst farmers. The Act succeeded in the first year in raising the average wage in England and Wales from 28s. a week including perquisites to 31s. 6d. a week. But averages do not disclose the whole benefit that accrued from the Act. Some wages were 21s. a week and the increases in some instances were as high as 5s. 6d. per week. Half-holidays or overtime allowances in lieu of half-holidays were secured. As I shall show presently, there is only one county in Scotland to-day where the farm-workers have secured a half-holiday, and that is Ayrshire.

In the first year of the 1924 Act in England and Wales extra payments were secured for farm workers who tended animals, and extra wages were secured for harvest time, while perquisites were given a definite value and included in the wages. The value of board and lodging was fixed at about 15s. per individual, and cottage rents were fixed at a value of from 25. to 4s. a week. In some instances in Scotland to-day they are fixed at 6s. and 7s., and even as high as 8s. a week. Women workers also enjoyed benefits from these statutory regulations in England, and the average wage in England for women workers all round was fixed at 5d. an hour. Then we had the amazing spectacle, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, though he did not elaborate the point, of agricultural wages in England and Wales rising or remaining steady, while agricultural wages in Scotland were falling. The right hon. Gentleman's predecessor appointed a committee of inquiry which was presided over by Lord Caithness. On that committee there were two farmers, two representatives of the farm-workers and an economist, and they arrived at a unanimous finding. The Caithness Committee found that since 1930 agricultural wages in Scotland had fallen by as much as 8s. a week, at a time when they were either rising or remaining stationary in England and Wales.

As I have pointed out, it is only in Ayrshire to-day that there is a half-holiday for agricultural workers. In Dumfries and Galloway to-day overtime is paid at the will of the farmer. There are variations in wages in Scotland to-day for the same work, for the production of the same article, of as much as 10s. a week. There are variations in the cash values of perquisites, and the agricultural industry is still outwith the benefits of the Truck Acts. In England and Wales, the Caithness Committee pointed out, agricultural wages were higher by from 4s. to 7s. a week than they were in Scotland. In Scotland there are cases known to the Caithness Committee—I do not say it is a general practice—where farmers deliberately delay until the last moment at the hiring fairs, before hiring their employés for the next six months, in order that the employés, in a state of desperation, may accept very low wages. We also find in Scotland a great deal of shifting of labour at the ends of hiring terms. The men who are paid these miserable wages live, in the main, in houses of the kind referred to in that alarming report which was issued last week. We find that 70 per cent, to 75 per cent. of farm workers in Scotland are estimated to be living in dwellings not fit for habitation. These farm workers naturally move very frequently at the term periods. Sometimes they do so in order to get a holiday. The only way in which they can get a holiday is to shift from one employer to another at the end of six months. One bad result, educationally, follows from that practice. Ploughmen with families move frequently to the detriment of the education of their children. In once case mentioned by the Caithness Committee, a head-master reported that out of 123 pupils in a school only one had been there from the age of five years. All the others had been on the move.

Some of my hon. Friends will probably refer to the rotten housing conditions in certain areas, but I do not stress that point now. I do say, however, that agriculture to-day is a sweated industry, and I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman and the Government on trying to do something, at long last, to level up the conditions, to help the bottom dog and to achieve a state of affairs in which the present average wage of the good farmers in an area, will become the minimum wage in that area, and we shall no longer have wages being paid at such miserable rates as those reported upon by the Caithness Committee. This Bill, like all trade board Bills, is designed to curb the worst forms of sweating. It proposes to level up wages and conditions to those which are now acceptable to the good farmers in a district, and no one can complain of that proposal.

I come now to some points of criticism. I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman will not agree with us when we take exception to the fact that in the operative Clauses of the Bill it is the Department of Agriculture for Scotland which is to have power, and not the Secretary of State. In the corresponding English Measure, it is specifically stated that the responsibility is to be that of the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries. In this Scottish Bill the Department is substituted for the Minister. I know that in the Reorganisation of Offices Act, 1928, when we were transferring powers from Boards in Scotland, to Departments, it was enacted that the Departments could be sued, that they could hold lands, that they were to have seals of their own, that they could conduct operations of their own and enter into contracts, that they could sue and be sued. All this is like the beginning of the Fascist State. It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to say, as he said recently in connection with another Bill, that the Department must accept his general directions. That is true. At any rate, it is specifically stated in the Act of 1928 that he must appoint the officers. But while they may accept his general directions, what we are now doing is providing an amorphous body with powers, by Statute, to deal not with mere routine questions, but with vital matters affecting the lives, the health and the wellbeing of great masses of the people of Scotland.

I object and shall continue to object, to that procedure. My hon. Friends and I intend to offer the most determined opposition to the provision which is being inserted in Measure after Measure affecting Scotland, giving these powers to the Department. We believe that the Secretary of State for Scotland, who can be shot at in this House, who is a public representative, and who is supposed to answer for every detail of administration, ought to be mentioned in these Measures, and the word "Department" taken out of them. More than that I will not say at this moment, but on the Committee stage I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to meet us somewhat on this matter.

In Clause 2, Sub-section (3), the right hon. Gentleman has provided, and I congratulate him on it, that there shall be a general regulation sent out by the Department or the Central Wages Committee fixing the values of milk, meals, potatoes, coal, house-rent, and so on, that are to be included in farm servants' wages, and that is highly desirable. It is provided for in England, and I, for one, could not understand why it was being kept out of the Scottish Bill. The Central Wages Committee will issue regulations to the local committees guiding them in fixing fair and reasonable values—for example, that milk shall be valued only at wholesale prices in the district, not at retail prices, that potatoes shall be the same, that housing shall be valued only at what it is in the valuation roll, and things like that; at any rate, a general instruction given to see that there is fair play and that there are not wide variations as there have been in the past and as is the case now.

What is the position now? The standard weekly wage in 1936 in the county of Aberdeen was 29s. 3d., but there were many below that figure. It rose to 395. in my own county, which is, I believe, the highest in Scotland, and there is obviously no excuse whatever for farmers paying a difference amounting to as much as 10s. a week in wages for the same class of employment at the same time in Scotland. The perquisites, according to the Caithness Committee, vary in value from 3s. 3d. in the Stewartry, which is the lowest I can find, to 12s. in the Rhinns, both in the South of Scotland, and there is no justification for that. The reductions in cash wages since 1930 show very considerable variations also.

Now I come to Clause 6, and here I speak subject to correction. The right hon. Gentleman said that it was inadvisable to interfere with the local wages committees, and then he said, "Oh, but there will be cases where you must interfere," but it is to be the Department that is to do it. In Clause 6 it is the Department which may direct the committee to reconsider any minimum rate. Why should it not be the Central Wages Board? I do not understand that, but we shall probably hear later from the Lord Advocate what the reason is. If we look at Clause 4, we find that claims for the payment of piece-work rates are to be treated as civil debt cases, but in the English Act—and the Lord Advocate might help us here, for I have gone over it with a toothcomb—I see the word "summarily" used. That word is dropped out of this Clause, and I wonder whether that is unintentional or whether there is a legal reason for it. In Clause 7 we come to a matter which the right hon. Gentleman said he would consider, arising after a local committee has fixed the rate of wages. Suppose a reactionary farmer dodges and, instead of paying 35s., for instance, pays only 31s. or 30s. What we ask for here, and what is in the English Act is: In any proceedings against a person under this Section it shall lie with the person to prove that he is paying wages not less than the minimum rate. The onus at present, if you please, is on the poor farm servant to prove that the farmer does not underpay him, and we say that if it is right and proper in England that the onus of proof should be on the employer, and that the employer should be compelled to produce receipt books, papers, and documents to the law courts or to the inspectors, it is equally right and proper that the onus of proof should be on the employers in Scotland. I go farther and say that unless we can get that Clause in the Bill—and I am glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say he will consider it—a very great amount of the benefit otherwise possible under this Bill will be rendered completely nugatory. In Clause 7, Sub-section (3) there is a point probably for the Committee stage. I see that there are to be penalties applicable for 18 months immediately preceding the period of six months before the misdemeanour is committed. Does that mean that there are to be no proceedings under this Measure until it has been in operation for two years? We will have this out in Committee, but as the Clause now stands it looks as if there can be no prosecution until the Measure has been in operation for two years, and I know lawyers who take that view.

Turning to the Schedule, page 12, lines 10 to 12, we find that the Department may appoint two independent members of a local committee. Why? The farmers on the Caithness Committee did not want them, the farm workers certainly do not want them, Lord Caithness does not want them, and the economist does not want them, yet here they are stuck in like currants in a pudding, and nobody knows why. Obviously, if it is right and proper that the knowledgeable people in the district, knowing all the local circumstances, knowing what the farmers are paying and ought to pay, will meet together and fix rates, why should representatives of the Department come in? Indeed, I venture to prophesy that these representatives of the Department will get all the ill-will locally thrown at them.

But in spite of these objections and small points of criticism, I welcome this Bill. It will certainly raise the wages and improve the conditions of the lower paid rural workers up to the levels of the wages paid and the conditions observed by the good farmers in the areas. It will tend, as the right hon. Gentleman quite properly said, to keep our people more settled on the soil. There will be less vagrancy in employment and fewer term flittings. It will curb the sweater and the cheat. All the decent, public-spirited farmers will welcome it. The decent farmers in my own area object to reactionary neighbours paying 5s. or 7s. less than they themselves are paying. It may be that as a result of this and other measures which we hope to get we shall come to a realisation of the vision of Langland, the priest of the Malvern Hills where, he said nearly four centuries ago in his "Piers Ploughman," he saw beggars who would only eat bread of the finest wheat and drink of the best and brownest ale, and labourers who had nothing to live upon but their hands, refused to dine upon herbs. No penny ale would content them nor a piece of bacon nor anything but fresh meat or fish, fried or baked, and that, too, hot or double hot lest their stomachs should be dulled. They live, many of our peasants and rural workers, in rotten houses. They have no social amenities. They have miserable wages. They live in many ditsricts under systems of political and economic terrorism, and this Measure, upon which I congratulate the Government, is a definite attempt to improve the living conditions of the peasantry of Scotland and to bring comfort, concord and happiness, perhaps in our day and generation, to the common ways of men where that comfort, concord and happiness are not now.

8.27 p.m.

Sir Archibald Sinclair

I could not help feeling sorry that there were so few hon. Members present to hear the interesting speech in which the Secretary of State introduced this Measure and the eloquent oration in which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stirling (Mr. Johnston) extended a welcome to it. I also wish to welcome it, and I agree with both the right hon. Gentlemen who have spoken that it represents a big step forward in the solution of one of the most important social problems in Scotland. All over the rural districts of Scotland, as indeed in England and Wales, public opinion is perturbed by the urgency of the problem of rural depopulation, of people leaving the country districts empty and flocking to the towns. The Committee, from whose report the right hon. Gentleman has just made several quotations, gives some of the most important reasons for this decline in the rural population of Scotland.

They mention, first, low wages, and I am sure they regard it as the most important cause. That is the problem with which this Bill directly deals. They put bad housing as the second most important cause of depopulation. I agree with all that the right hon. Gentleman said about the vital importnace of tackling that question in the rural districts of Scotland. Hon. Members will remember that in the last Parliament, when the Housing Act, 1935, was before us, my hon. Friends and I and hon. Members above the Gangway urged that it would have no relation to the problem in rural Scotland, and that it would not help to solve it. The Secretary of State promised in the Grand Committee upstairs to appoint a committee, one of whose first tasks would be to tackle the rural housing problem. They have just reported in the report to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, and it fully bears out the view which we expressed when that Housing Act was before us. When we are considering the position of farm servants in Scotland and the importance of improving their status and the amenities of their lives, a Measure like the present Bill is important, but it is almost equally important to have a Measure which will help to solve the housing problem in the rural districts.

The next cause of depopulation which the Caithness Committee mentioned is lack of leisure. They then mention educational difficulties in the rural areas to one aspect of which the right hon. Gentleman has drawn attention. Then the committee mentions, although not in the particular passage from which I am quoting, lack of social amenities. A good deal has been done in recent years to improve the social amenities of the rural districts. The improvement in the roads, the growth of motor transport, the fact that many of these young men possess a motor bicycle, and nearly all of the rest possess a push bicycle, has resulted in a great improvement in the social amenities of the countryside. There are not only rural institutes for the women, but private clubs and societies created by the people themselves which do a great deal to make more agreeable than in the past the life of the farm servant. Nevertheless I cannot help thinking that a great deal more might be done. I hope that under the Physical Training and Recreation Bill there will be a great effort to multiply the number of playing fields and recreation facilities in the country districts, and that in those and other ways social amenities in the countryside will be greatly improved.

The Caithness Committee rightly says that low wages is the most important of all the aspects of this problem. It is for that reason that I welcome this Bill. Nobody in Scotland, as the Secretary of State said, was anxious to have this compulsory scheme of wages regulations. For a great many years voluntary regulation of wages in Scotland has worked well. Even in the depths of the slump, when wages sank very low, the Scottish Farm Servants' Union asked for no more than a voluntary scheme. I remember raising this question of farm servants' wages in the Debate on the Estimates for the Department of Agriculture for Scotland in 1934. The Secretary of State then told me that they were considering this scheme for the Voluntary Wages Boards. Unfortunately, the farmers did not take it up, and in those circumstances I am sure the Government will have the support of the whole House and of public opinion generally in Scotland in bringing forward this Measure.

Not only are wages low, but there are many anomalies with which it is important to deal. Casting my mind over the farms of which I have personal knowledge, I would say that on the great majority of farms the farm servants are considerately and even generously treated by the farmers, but as the right hon. Member for Stirling said, the considerate and generous employers do not like to see the practices of the inconsiderate and ungenerous employers which go on around them, and I believe there will be strong support even among farmers for a Measure of this kind. I would particularly draw attention to the importance of making sure that these committees will have power to deal not only with the standard rates of wages but also with anomalies in regard to such matters as perquisites. The Secretary of State indicated that he would consider favourably the question of giving the committees power to attach a fixed value to perquisites, and that is a matter of real and urgent importance. Not merely does the value of perquisites vary enormously as between one district and another, but even within a single district, indeed within a single county, it varies enormously from farm to farm. No doubt the system of voluntary agreements really began to break down only at the bottom of the slump, when the farmers themselves were hard hit and were driving harder bargains than in the old days, and when the position of the farm servant threatened by unemployment was weaker than it used to be; but at any rate the result has been that in some cases the value of the perquisite is added to the cash wages whereas in other cases, even where the man has been hired at the same time, it is deducted.

I went into a case two or three years ago and got the facts confirmed. The normal wage then being paid in Caithness was £40 in cash and perquisites, including meal at 17s. a bowl. On one farm the worker had to buy the meal at 17s. a bowl, and therefore it was a deduction from his wages instead of being an addition to it. Therefore, I attach great importance to the proposal that perquisites should be brought within the purview of the wages committees. In other cases it will be found that undesirable obligations have been placed upon a worker, who is afraid that if he does not accept the job on the terms on which it is offered, he will not get a job at all. In one case a man who already had a very large family was compelled to accept another man as a boarder and his house became overcrowded. There is also the question of the late hiring, to which the right hon. Member referred. In a certain hiring market, after hiring had started at the figure of £45 cash wage, one or two farmers spread a rumour that the rate had fallen to £30, and a number of farm servants, thinking they would lose the chance of a job, accepted employment at £33 and £35 cash wage. That shows the necessity, in these exceptional times, of having some machinery for regulating wages. At the same time I should like to ask the Secretary of State how the system will work in a county like Caithness, where, unfortunately, there is no organisation among the farm servants. What will be done in a case like that—because Caithness is not the only county to see that they are properly and adequately represented by independent men on these wages committees?

The right hon. Member for Stirling offered a number of criticisms which, as he made clear in the concluding passages of his speech, did not weaken his general attitude of welcome to the Bill, and the House seemed to listen to them with a good deal of sympathy; but there was one criticism on a rather important point —not important directly from the point of view of the welfare of agricultural workers—but a constitutional point, on which I do not quite agree with him. He attached very great importance to the fact that by the operative Clauses of the Bill it was the Department that was made responsible for operating the Measure and not the Secretary of State. He said that the Department must, of course, accept the general direction of the Secretary of State, because he appoints the officials, but he objected to powers being given to the Department instead of to the Secretary of State. I shall be interested to hear it argued out in the Scottish Grand Committee, but I do not believe there is any substance in that objection.

The Secretary of State is solely responsible. He is responsible to this House for every act of the Department and for every omission of the Department to act. If a duty is laid upon the Department and we have reason to believe that it is not carrying out that duty, we can challenge the Secretary of State across the Floor of the House. Whether he or the Department is named in the Bill it is he who is responsible for everything which the Department does or leaves undone. I do not think it makes any difference to the power of the House over the Department whether the Department or the Secretary of State is named. I strongly object to powers being given to the Department which infringe the rights either of this House or the Courts of Law, because it may have the effect of preventing us from holding the Secretary of State responsible for his acts if we give him the powers to legislate by Orders and Regulations without proper supervision by this House. But I do not think that point arises on this Bill, and it seems to me that we are left with complete control over the operation of this Measure.

Mr. Johnston

The right hon. Gentleman has been Secretary of State. Can he tell me why, in the case of the Herring Fishery Board Act, the Secretary of State is specifically made responsible, and in this Bill he is not?

Sir A. Sinclair

I neither was Secretary of State for Scotland when the Herring Board Bill was introduced, nor am I Secretary of State for Scotland at the present moment, and I cannot say what motives there were. No doubt the Secretary of State, who I hope will reply, will be able to tell us. It is an interesting point that the right hon. Gentleman has raised, why in one Bill we have the Secretary of State for Scotland mentioned and in another the Department. I am sure, at the same time, that there is not a great deal of substance in the point, and that the Secretary of State for Scotland is solely responsible to this House for everything that his Departments do, or fail to do. We shall, at any rate, have to hold him responsible for the working of this Bill. Having said that, I associate myself with everything else said by the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, and I join with him in welcoming this useful Measure.

8.46 p.m.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

It is a happy augury of the Secretary of State's term of office that his first important Measure should meet with such universal acceptance and should have such excellent objects in view. We all welcome it. I want merely to add my voice to the voices of others who have spoken. In the East of Scotland we have, in our farm servants, about the finest body of men to be found in any part of the country. Hon. Members might say that that statement applies to other parts of Scotland as well. It is essential that these men be retained on the land. Prices of labour and wages in most other industries are rising at a considerable rate. Therefore, to maintain farm wages at the present rate will not keep the men on the land. I see no alternative to a considerable rise in the wages of farm servants. This Measure seems a method of attaining that desirable end.

I agree with much of what has already been said. Good farmers in all parts of Scotland will welcome this Measure. Bad farmers will regret it, of course, but they are men for whom we need not be specially concerned. They degrade their great industry and they bring unrest and suffering to many homes. No branch of farmers is less thought of by their fellows than these same unsatisfactory farmers. Good farmers are prepared to pay good wages, and I think they will regard this Measure as a good one. That is all I propose to say. The points which I had noted have already been covered. I believe that the Measure will be accepted with good will.

One point about which I am rather anxious was mentioned. In the East of Fife, the farm 'servants' union scarcely exists. How is it proposed to obtain the number of representatives required? I was at a meeting of ploughmen there, a week or two ago, when the Bill was discussed, and that point was put to me with considerable force by the men. They said: "How are you to pick us, because there are only 5 per cent. or 10 per cent. of us in the union?" I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman upon the success of his first Measure, and I hope it will be the forerunner of many more that will be equally acceptable.

8.50 p.m.

Mr. James Brown

Like the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) I want to join in the chorus of universal approval which has been given to the Bill. Whatever it may do, the Bill will be regarded as a step forward, and I think we can look forward to the farm workers' union being dealt with better than it has been dealt with in the past. I was wondering whether wages could be stabilised all over the country. The right hon. Gentleman said that it was not possible to fix benefits at a uniform rate, and it might therefore be just as difficult to fix a uniform rate of wages, because everyone knows that there are great differences in farming from Maidenkirk to John o'Groat's. I agree with the hon. Member for East Fife that there is not a finer body of men than our farm servants to be found in any part of the country, and it would be a pity if anything should be left undone to prevent them leaving the land. Wages already vary very much from Aberdeen to Stirlingshire. The wages figures that we have been able to get have been average figures. We know that in some districts wages are comparatively decent and in others they are low, but the average figure does not give us a true picture of conditions in many of the districts in the country. There are low wages in one part of a county and better wages in another part of the county. I take it that it would not be possible to fix a uniform rate of wages for the whole of Scotland, but I hope that it might be possible to fix a uniform rate for a county. It is important that everybody should be encouraged to take an interest in higher wages, as wages certainly look, on the face of it, to be the principal thing.

After all, I am not sure that other things, besides lower wages, do not send a man off the land. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) has already mentioned housing. I represent a constituency of the most arid farming in the whole of Scotland, with extensive sheep farming. We have very early potato farming, besides a great number of mixed dairy farms. I can speak with some little authority upon farming and upon the differences in the various districts, and I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland that housing is a very sore point in many districts. I do not altogether agree with him that wages are paramount. If you have bad conditions all over a district you drive your people off the land in spite of anything you do —especially the women, who usually rule the men. It is essential to have good housing wherever farm workers are employed. It is one of the things we ought to have, because there will then be less likelihood of farm workers moving at term time, as they now do.

Another thing that is against us is the difficulty, in many of our rural parts, particularly in South Ayrshire, and I believe also in the Stewartry of Galloway and other districts, of getting our children educated. In districts where there are only very few people, great difficulty is experienced in getting our educational system carried out. These conditions and bad housing will drive our people away from the land just as readily, and possibly more readily, even than lower wages. On every count we want housing to be improved, and we want facilities for our children's education. We want to keep our men on the land if we possibly can, and the only way in which that can be done is by giving them better conditions than they have at present. Surely it is worth the while of any government to keep these men and women on the land. They are very fine people, and, if it is necessary to look after the other grades of workers in Scotland and elsewhere, it is even more necessary to look after our agricultural workers, and to see to it that they have such conditions as will keep them there and not lead them to go to other districts so often as they do now. Therefore, I am very glad that this Bill is before the House with a certainty of passing, and I trust that the few criticisms of it that have been made will be replied to and, if possible, met.

I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston) that it would be very much better if the Minister were substituted for the Department. I am not sure that some of us do not attach a sort of sinister idea to the Department, but at any rate I do not see any reason why we in Scotland should differ from England, unless it be that, as my right hon. Friend says; they are trying to introduce a sort of Fascist system for Scotland that does not apply to the sister country. Many people would like to make Scotland a province, but we are still a country, and we have still a very fine body of people on the land. We want to keep them there. I trust that these criticisms will be met fairly, and that everything possible will be done, as I am sure the Secretary of State and all concerned with him are anxious to do, to keep our people there, so that we may still have those peasants who were the backbone of Scotland. Many people attach great importance to big business. Big business we might be able to do without, but we cannot do without our people on the land, and surely our past experiences, both in time of war and otherwise, should lead us to the conclusion that whatever it is possible to do for our farm workers ought to be done for them, and done at the very earliest possible moment.

9.0 p.m.

Mr. Maxton

I do not rise to oppose this Measure, though I cannot say that I feel any very strong enthusiasm for it. The hon. Member for East Fire (Mr. Henderson Stewart) said that wages in the industrial field are rising very rapidly. I wish he had cited some instances, because frankly, beyond the rise in Cabinet Ministers' salaries, and a threatened rise in the salaries of Members of Parliament, I do not know of any substantial increases of wages that have taken place in recent. times. The assumption in all the speeches that have been made about this Bill is that it is a Measure to raise agricultural workers' wages, but it is not; it is a Bill to fix agricultural workers' wages, and in certain circumstances it has happened in the English system that wages have actually been reduced. All that is being done here is to set up a machinery for the fixing of wages throughout the various areas in Scotland, and whether the Measure will be a success or not from the agricultural workers' point of view depends solely upon whether it will, when it becomes an Act of Parliament, stimulate the development of trade unionism among the agricultural workers, or whether it will take away from them the desire to organise that presently exists among them.

If it makes trade unionism in agricultural circles in Scotland a more vital and militant force than it has been in the past, it is conceivable that this machinery may produce good results; but if it makes farm workers say that they do not need to worry about joining their trade union now that there is this machine of the State for fixing their wages, with a benevolent Minister at its head upon whom they can rely, then, in my view, the result of this legislation will be very disastrous indeed. This House cannot say which of those two results will ensue from the passing of the Measure, but it will be for all of us here, at least on this side of the House, to try to encourage the development of trade unionism among agricultural workers in Scotland to the fullest possible extent. The success or failure of the Measure in England has depended to a very large extent on the calibre and character of the inspectors appointed to go round and see whether the agreements are being operated or not. I am not certain, but I think that, when the Secretary of State for Scotland was at the Ministry of Agriculture, one of the economy measures was to cut down the number of inspectors engaged in agricultural wages inspection—

Mr. Elliot indicated dissent.

Mr. Maxton

At any rate, that was done, and protests to the right hon. Gentleman failed to get the men who had been cut off reinstated. I remember that quite distinctly. They cut off certain inspectors, and it was a notable fact that the inspectors who were cut off under the economy campaign were the inspectors who had been most assiduous in carrying out their duty and bringing farmers to heel. Many hon. Members above the Gangway will know, if not personally, at least by reputation, Mr. Alec Smillie, the son of the great Scottish trade union leader who was a Member of this House. He was appointed one of the inspectors under the English Agricultural Wages Board. When the economy campaign came along, and it was decided in the interests of economy that some of these inspectors should be dispensed with, he was one of the first to go. His sympathies were all with the men's side of things. He was assiduous in tracing out the farmers who were evading the operation of the Act, and no representations that were made subsequently were sufficient to secure his re-employment. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman what is the nature of the inspecting staff that he proposes to have set up under the Bill, how the men for that staff are to be recruited, and whether they are to have something in the nature of security of tenure which will save them from victimisation in the event of their operating too strenuously in the interest of the agricultural workers? I do not propose to vote against the Second Reading—in Committee probably I shall have one or two suggestions for amendment to make —but these are, in my view, the conditions which will make for success or non-success, namely, what the reaction of the agricultural workers themselves will be to the Measure when it becomes an Act of Parliament.

9.7 P.m.

Mr. Kennedy

I almost hesitate to address the House in view of the chorus of qualified approval and welcome that has been accorded to the Measure. I welcome it in the sense that I think statutory regulation of farm worker's wages is preferable to the old anarchy that prevailed in the industry, but I am by no means satisfied that this Bill, which is a machinery Bill, gives us the means of achieving what I should like to see realised. In my judgment it fails to express adequate valuation of the status of the agricultural worker. He should not be regarded as an unskilled worker. He is engaged in what all of us on this side regard as our greatest national industry. It is an industry without which we could not live. In spite of that fact, the agricultural worker is a sweated worker, and he has been regarded very largely as an unskilled worker, mainly I think on account of the fact that the main current of our national life until recently has been industrial and urban, and not agricultural. I hope we all realise that this is 1937 and not 1837, and that we have passed the stage when we can afford to regard agriculture as an unskilled industry. The agricultural worker to-day is not a manual worker, as he used to be. You have the machine, the engine, the tractor. In spite of that, though the agricultural worker is a machine operative in great part, for all practical purposes he is outside the scope of the Truck Acts and outside the whole of the benefits available under the Agriculture Acts.

I shall try to express what I regard as the main defects of the Measure. Clause 2 (6) relates to the employment of mental and physical defectives at lower rates than the standard fixed, and that provision is not only condoned but it is encouraged. I hope sincerely that that part of the Bill will not be allowed to stand. After all, mental deficiency is a relative term, and so is physical deficiency. I can easily see the possibility of danger to the industrial state of the agricultural worker if farmers are to be encouraged to employ those who may be regarded as physically or mentally defective instead of employing workers who are mentally and physically fit. Clause 2 (7) says: In fixing minimum rates a committee shall, so far as practicable, secure for able-bodied men such wages as in the opinion of the committee are adequate to promote efficiency and to enable a man in an ordinary case to maintain himself and his family in accordance with such standard of comfort as may be reasonable in relation to the nature of his occupation. The concluding words of that Sub-section expresses what I dislike in the Measure, the idea that agriculture is more or less an industry of secondary import and that the agricultural worker is an unskilled labourer. Other defects that I see relate to the general comparison that we can see between the attitude that the Bill expresses towards the agricultural worker and the ordinary industrial worker.

Very largely I agree with the last speaker that the wages of the Scottish agricultural workers would have been very much higher than they are to-day if they had realised the necessity of organised effort in order to increase their wages. Not a halfpenny of increase has ever be made to their wages in the past as a gift from above. They have had to fight for all that they have got and, if they want to get more, they will have to realise that it is the duty of every one of them, in order to give the Bill its full effect, to join their appropriate trade union and fight for their own hand. We shall have no difficulty in making up our minds that the industry is sweated. The average wage in Aberdeenshire is 29s. 3d. a week for a married man, and in that sum is included 10s. 3d. covering the perquisites or benefits that come to the worker through his employment, so that the standard rate in what I regard as our greatest agricultural county works out at 19s. a week. That is a sweated wage, and I hope that the machinery of this Bill, when operated, will enable the worker to get something more approaching a measure of justice than that denotes.

I come now to another point of comparison between the agricultural worker and other industrial workers in the matter of workmen's compensation. The total accident benefit which an agricultural worker's widow can get in case of fatal accident is £300 under the existing law, but the factory worker's widow, on the other hand, may receive a maximum of £2,000. That difference ought to be wiped out. There is no protection of life or limb or health of the agricultural worker comparable with that found in the Factory Acts for the ordinary industrial worker, and I sincerely hope that when the Bill reaches the Committee stage the Standing Committee on Scottish Bills will apply its mind to the matter of the hours of labour of agricultural workers. All the provisions of the Bill, in my judgment, can easily be evaded if the Bill is not strengthened. While I offer these words of kindly criticism of the Measure, I can promise the Secretary of State that, when the Bill goes to Committee, he will have to face the criticism and amend the Bill, if he is to give those of us on this side of the House the Bill that we desire.

9.17 p.m.

Mr. Welsh

I do not want to add any dissension to the words of praise which the Bill has received when even the elements are thundering their praise on the right hon. Gentleman but, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy (Mr. Kennedy), I am of the opinion that there are some things in the Bill which should be improved. Wages have been discussed, and I do not think that any Member on any side of the House would care to get up and justify the wages that are being paid to the agricultural worker in Scotland. If any hon. Member read the report on the rural housing of Scotland, which was issued recently, he certainly would not give credit to those who have provided the housing conditions for the rural workers. These are the things which are most important in the lives of the people, not only good houses, but houses that will provide at least some of the amenities enjoyed by the industrial and other workers.

My right hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. J. Brown) mentioned that it was not only the men who were discontented with the countryside but also their womenfolk. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) pointed out how great improvements had come into the lives of the womenfolk in recent years as a result of rural institutes and such like things. All these we welcome, but more will be required. He also mentioned that some of the men had now motor cycles and pedal cycles, which enabled them to get farther afield for recreation, amusement and entertainment. Why should not they have these things in the districts? If we do not get them in the districts we shall go on denuding the countryside of the population.

It has been said that life does not consist of mere material things, but they form the basis of life, and until we get these things we shall not see the improvement that we all desire to see. When we come to the Committee stage, I can tell the right hon. Gentleman there will be very strong opposition to some of the things in the Bill, and we shall seek to improve it. Since Members of all parties in the House welcome the broad outline of the Bill, I hope that the same spirit will prevail in the Committee and that we shall bend our energies to bring about improvements in it, so as to increase the benefits and the advantages which the rural worker ought to have as a result of the triumph of science and organisation that has come to industry as a whole. But housing is an important factor, especially when one considers that 42 per cent. of the rural houses in the county from which I come are definitely stated to be uninhabitable. The right hon. Gentleman knows the district of which I am speaking. At the moment we have many good farmers in it who do a lot for the workers, but we have also many of the other description.

I shall give a case in point. One cottage, not 50 yards from my own place, has been condemned for 40 years. You can see, on a starry night, the stars through the roof. Rain comes in, and the ploughman says that there is water in the house when it rains. He gets the snow also when it snows. In that two-apartment house there are five adults and five juveniles, and it is only within recent weeks that a waterspout has been put near the place. They had had to go a quarter of a mile to a farm for water for domestic purposes. Under these conditions, how can one expect women to be content in the countryside? I could name any number of instances. The present one will serve my purpose, but if the right hon. Gentleman cares, I can give him quite a number of cases in which, I believe, his influence, if it were used, would go a long way towards bringing about an improvement in the conditions of the people in the particular district.

9.24 p.m.

Mr. Gallacher

I listened to the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) speak about the fine body of men in Fife. I had one or two of them at a meeting the other night, and they told me a terrible story about the conditions in Fife—long hours, low wages, appalling housing and impositions of all kinds that made life almost unbearable. This Bill is an attempt to stop the rot in the countryside. The decline in the agricultural population is the big and serious problem which confronts the Government and the country as a whole. This attempt will not be successful. It is good that there should be a determined effort to raise the wages of the farm workers from their present low level, and it is good. that the Clauses of this Bill should be operated, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) said, the most important factor will be the strength of the organisation of the agricultural workers; and when the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) was speaking to the ploughmen and they drew attention to this problem and said that the union was only 5 per cent. strong, he ought to have advised them to make it 100 per cent. strong.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

I did.

Mr. Gallacher

Then just carry on the good work and get 100 per cent. and the problem will be solved, because it is obvious, as the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Mr. Kennedy) said, there are many ways of evasion. Various means can be taken by the bad farmer, as he is called, to enable him to get a big advantage over the other farmer. Attention has rightly been drawn to the question of housing—long hours, bad housing and low wages. This deals with wages and hours, but surely it will be only a start. Most of the houses are tied houses. This makes the position impossible for the farm worker. We should have big schemes of State subsidised houses built by the local authorities instead of each farm labourer being in a miserable cottage such as was described by the hon. Member for Bothwell {Mr. Welsh). If the workers had council houses they would feel that they were independent of the farmer, as far as housing was concerned, and you could put a stop entirely to the migration that goes on.

While I shall do my utmost in the areas to assist in getting the farm labourers organised and to ensure that the greatest attention is given to the strengthening of the committees which are forecast in this Bill, and while I shall do what I can in the Standing Committee to strengthen certain Clauses—I shall certainly support the right hon. Member for Western Stirling (Mr. Johnston) in the suggestions which he made for amending the Bill—I am quite certain that the Bill will not stop the decline in the agricultural population in Scotland, and that along with this Bill there will have to be a Bill dealing in a comrehensive way with housing conditions.

9.29 p.m.

Mr. Barr

I might say that the introduction of this Bill fulfils what has been almost a lifelong ambition with me, that some such Measure should come to Scotland, and so I join my words in the chorus of praise to the Secretary of State. But when my hon. Friend the Member for Bothwell (Mr. Welsh) speaks of the thunder as giving its blessing, lest the right hon. Gentleman or his Government should be exalted above measure, because of this one particular bright episode, I wish to assure them that the Lord is not in the thunder. As stated in the Caithness Report, there are great fluctuations of wages among farm servants in Scotland and some of these wages are very low, not only really, but comparatively, with the wages paid even on neighbouring farms. This fact is attributable in some small degree to the hiring system, and also to the housing shortage. As a member of the Royal Commission on the Housing of the Industrial and Rural Classes in Scotland, I may say that we had one instance of how the housing shortage operates in this regard. At the fair in Aberdeen, a man with a large family was being engaged and he asked the farmer if he thought the accommodation would be sufficient. The farmer assured him that it would. When the man arrived he found that there was nothing save a "but" and a "ben." He resolved that it was quite impossible for him to house his family there in decency, and he refused to ratify the agreement. Because of that he was haled before the sheriff court and fined 50s. for a breach of contract. That shows how men are driven because of the housing shortage and the poor housing that is provided, to accept a very low wage so that they may not be without a roof over their head.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) raised the question of whether this Bill will in effect raise wages. I think that we have considerable evidence that it will tend to raise wages, and also to prevent a fall in wages. I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston) gave some illustrations of the early workings of the 1924 Act, namely, that in the first year the average had been raised for England from 28s. to 31s. 6d., and in individual cases the rise was very much greater. I remember just before the War when the wages paid in Oxfordshire were only 14s., and now the average in England is over 30s. I think that I might take the liberty of calling the attention of the House to the testimony given on page 29 of the Caithness Report. It says: It is obvious that owing to the existence of statutory regulations the worker in England has been protected from the severe fall in wages which his fellow worker has suffered in Scotland, and as an example of the measure of this protection it was pointed out to us that there is at present a difference of from 4s. to 7s. in the total weekly remuneration of married ploughmen engaged in comparable work in neighbouring counties situated on opposite sides of the border. We look forward to an improvement in regard to hours and overtime in Scotland. In some respects there was a very distinct punctuality in regard to the opening and closing of work in Scotland. On the farm where I was brought up we closed punctually at 6 o'clock in the evening. A big bell rang from Fenwick Church tower, which could be heard from two to two and a half miles away, and there was a great desire on the part of the farmer that work should not close before six, and on the part of the workmen that they should not work after six. I remember that on one occasion when my father was getting the reaping machine turned in for a new swathe of corn, the main workman was cocking his ears to hear whether the bell had sounded. My father said: "No, it is not ringing yet, jimmy," and the reply was: "It will be ringing before we are at the other end of the swathe." There was punctuality in that regard, but not at certain other times, particularly harvest time, when there was sometimes all-night carting. I always relish an all-night sitting here, and I do not know which I have relished better—an all-night sitting or all-night carting. There is less need in the country now for overtime because of mechanisation and the speeding up of processes. The report reveals that in many cases there is no payment for overtime at harvest and other times. I would call attention to the following words in the report on page 23: In the case of Dumfriesshire and Gallo-nay, for example, we were informed that in addition to the ten-hour day"— That itself should give us food for reflection, that when we are agitating for a 40-hour week, there is still this 10-hour day in agriculture. My idea is, and it is in line with what fell from the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Mr. Kennedy), that agriculture should be brought into line in these matters and not be counted as something that has different wages and different hours. The report continues: It is the common practice during harvest and hay time for men to work overtime without payment, amounting to anything up to 60 to 100 hours. That, surely, is a desperate state of affairs, and I am glad that such a matter as that will be under the purview of the boards. Robert Burns has been referred to and his reference to something that was applicable to the fields in which he laboured is applicable to-day: We labour soon, we labour late, To feed the titled knave, man; And a' the comfort we're to get, Is that ayont the grave, man. We have evidence to-day that we are going to give them something of added comfort this side of the grave.

Another difficulty is in the wide variety of conditions. I understand that an effort is to be made on the part of the Minister and his Department to give as far as possible some measure of uniformity. The boards will also deal with the question of holidays. From the report I gather, indeed I know, that there are large tracts of the country where no half-holiday is given, even on the Saturday. There is nothing in the way of a continuous holiday. There is a holiday perhaps on New Year's Day, or on the day of the annual hiring. In my time on a farm there was a sort of conviction that people in the country did not need holidays. My father was a farmer, and for the greater part of his life he made it his boast that he had never had but one night out of his own house. I gather from the evidence given in the report that there is little demand among farm servants for holidays. If that statement be true, I should consider it the greatest condemnation of the present system. They do not know what a holiday is, and therefore they do not have the relish for it. It is in line with the kind of evidence that was given by Mr. Rothney, who was, I think, at one time secretary of the Farm Servants' Union in Scotland. When he was pressed by the Royal Commission on Housing in regard to the proposal to introduce baths into rural houses, and was asked whether it was true that the farm servants did not want baths, he replied that they were a little troubled about the matter because they had never seen the thing, and did not know how it might work out.

I should like to make reference to the perquisites, or benefits in kind. Some receive less and some more than they can use. As the system exists at present, it tends to obscure the true level of wages, and I am glad that it is to be put on a cash basis. May I refer to one or two of the objections to the scheme which are indicated in the report? One objection is that this scheme is unnecessary because better times are coming, and there is a rise going on. On the other hand, it is suggested that it would be better to wait until agriculture has so much improved that it can afford this charge. Those objections cancel out each other. At any rate, it is the old cry that the time to build the house has not yet come. One further objection I find referred to in the report is that the scheme may cause detriment to the best workmen who might tend to get only the minimum wage. That is an objection as old as the trade union movement itself. The good workman should not be seeking his appreciation always in the form of cash, and I trust that a result of the Bill will not be to stabilise the minimum wage as the standard wage beyond which no one can rise. I find a delightful argument repeated as to the friendly relations that obtained between master and servant in the days when there was no such regulated system as this. I am glad that the Caithness report says: We do not attach any weight to this view. Special reference is made to the farm where only one servant is employed—the farmer and his man, and you can hardly say which is which. My opinion is that a relationship like that tends to prejudice any opposition to a wrong or to the lowering of wages. There are some very beautiful companionships of that kind, but there comes a time when a quarrel takes place. What then? I am sure the Secretary of State will relish the little story that I am about to tell. My grandfather, who was a farmer, had a farm servant and they had worked together for 50 years, not in his case, but on another farm. One day a quarrel arose between the two and the farmer said: "I think we shall need a change at the term." The farm servant replied: "Man, I would be awfully sorry to see you leaving the place." I think, all the same, that relationships of that kind, however beautiful they may be, should be safeguarded by the kind of regulations we are seeking to make.

I do not wish to detain the House any longer. We have had a reference to Robert Burns. There were three things that Robert Burns desired for the peasantry, and I think that this Bill in a small degree will help to give them these three blessings—health, peace and sweet content. I do not want the content to be too sweet, I do not want them to be satisfied with this Measure, to be too contented, but the Bill, I think, will help to bring these three blessings to the peasant and, therefore, I will close with those beautiful words in the "Cottar's Saturday Night": O Scotia! my dear, my native soil! For whom my warmest wish to Heaven is sent! Long may thy hardy sons of rustic toil Be blest with health, and peace, and sweet content!

9.47 P.m.

Mr. Watson

I should not have intervened in the Debate at all, but I must inquire why there should be so much silence from the other side of the House. We are discussing a matter of first-class importance to the farm servants of Scotland, and the supporters of the Government who come from Scotland mainly represent agricultural constituencies. This is an opportunity which I should have thought they would have seized for impressing upon the people of Scotland the fact that they really welcome a Measure which will be of some advantage to the farm servants in Scotland. I hope, however, that my remark will not prolong the Debate unduly, but I cannot help noticing that up to the moment, apart from the speech of the Secretary of State, the only Member supporting the Government who has spoken is the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart). That is an extraordinary silence. I hope it is not because of the probability of the Farm Servants' Union in Scotland getting a little bit of assistance in the way of organisation as a result of the passing of the Bill. It is supposed to be a joint effort of agriculturists and agricultural workers in Scotland to set up machinery for the regulation of wages and conditions, and I think hon. Members on the other side ought to have shown more enthusiasm for the Bill than they have, because they ought to be as anxious as we are for a proper understanding and proper working between agriculturists and agricultural workers.

The agricultural workers in Scotland have been a downtrodden race up to the present; they have been paid low wages and are working under the worst conditions in any country. This Measure, which I welcome, is an endeavour on the part of the Government to improve their wages and working conditions, and I hope that the few criticisms which have been offered and the suggestions which have been made will be carefully considered by the Government. I welcome particularly the assurance of the Secretary of State that as far as perquisites are concerned an endeavour will be made to regularise or stabilise them. The right hon. Gentleman has gone some way to meet us on that important point. I hope also that in Committee he will give sympathetic consideration to the other points which have been stressed, particularly to the evidence the farmer may produce to any inspector who comes along, that he is paying the minimum wage or the wage agreed upon by the committee. I hope this point will be conceded by the Secretary of State, as well as the other points which have been mentioned. If so, he will get his Measure through the Scottish Standing Committee without much difficulty. Up to the moment, the Secretary of State has been very successful in piloting his Bills through the Committee. He has been able to create a very good atmosphere, and I hope that the same atmosphere will be present when this Bill comes before the Committee. I hope we shall find the Secretary of State willing to make the Bill as good a Measure as it can be made for Scottish farm servants, so that something effective may be done to improve their status and conditions.

9.52 p.m.

Mr. Elliot

I am afraid that the enthusiastic support of the hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Watson) might lead to a delay in our proceedings, which I should deprecate all the more because I can give him an assurance on behalf of all Members on this side of the House that it is not through any lack of desire to see the Measure passed or to any lack of sympathy with the farm servants that they have refrained from taking part in the Debate. I think it is a little unfortunate on the part of the hon. Member to drag so strongly-scented a red herring across the trail of what I hope will be the end of the Debate. May I say in the words of another poet: They also serve who only stand and wait. Or sit and wait, in this case. It is not always the case that a multitude of eloquent speeches is the most rapid way of securing the passage of a Bill. We have been more than complimented by the reception of the Bill; indeed, the hon. Member for Coatbridge (Mr. Barr) said that the Heavens, although they 'may thunder in comment on the Bill, were not making Amendment points, because the Lord was not in the thunder. I could not help wondering whether he was intending to deputise for higher affairs when he came to us in the unaccustomed role of the still small voice. All I can say is that no Minister could complain of the reception the Bill has had, and I hope we shall be able to close the discussion and pass to the Committee stage, which in fact is the appropriate theatre for a discussion of most of the points which have been raised. I do not see eye to eye with the right lion. Member for Stirling and Clackmannan (Mr. T. Johnston) on the question whether Department means Minister or a Soviet organisation, or whether it is a mere fashion of speech. I do not take that view. I do not think there is the slightest difference, whether the wording refers to the Department or to the Minister. In any case it would be out of place to pursue that matter further now, and it can be dealt with, if it is raised, in the Committee upstairs. I am certain of this, that if any Secretary of State for Scotland tried to defend his own action on the ground that it was done by the Department and not by himself, he would receive very short shrift from the other Scottish Members on the Floor of the House.

Another point raised by the right hon. Gentleman was why the word "summarily" was dropped out of Clause 6. I am informed by the Lord Advocate that the insertion of that word would not make any difference. It would be a little difficult for me, as Secretary of State, if whenever there was a difference between the wording of the English Bill and the Scottish Bill, we had to insert the form of words of the English Bill. The right hon. Gentleman also asked, with reference to prosecutions and repayments, whether the provision in the Bill meant that no prosecution could take place until the Measure had been in operation for 18 months. I am advised that that would not be the case. The terms are exactly the same as in the English Bill, under which numerous prosecutions took place as soon as it was on the Statute Book. The Bill begins to operate the moment it comes into force and orders are made under it.

With reference to the right hon. Gentleman's remarks about the two independent members who may be appointed to a local committee, all I can say is that there might be cases in Scotland where the presence of a third party would be of advantage. There might be cases in which it would be an advantage to have the weight of the decision diverted from the two main persons to the argument. I shall certainly consider that point, together with the other matters that have been raised. I shall not refer further to the question of the onus of proof, since I addressed some remarks to the House on that matter in my opening speech and said that it is one of the subjects which I have under consideration. I am sure that hon. Members will not expect me to go further than that at the moment.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) and the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) raised a question of the representative person, and asked how he was to be chosen. Hon. Members will see from the Schedule to the Bill that the representative persons are to be chosen either by nomination or by election, and that the actual method is to be prescribed by regulations made under the Schedule. The method will have to suit the very varying circumstances of the various counties in Scotland, and of course the House will have an opportunity of reviewing these matters on the Vote for the salary of the Secretary of State for Scotland. Indeed, I was a little surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman ask why it should be the Department and not the Wages Board which calls upon a local committee to vary a decision. I should have thought that that was exactly the sort of decision which would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, because the Department, that is to say, the Minister, can be shot at in the House if the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends disapprove of any action of the Minister in such a case, and that would not always be so in the case of actions of the board.

I think I have dealt with the main points that were raised. It is true, as was said by the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) and the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), that everything depends upon the spirit in which the Bill is worked. It is also true that our ideas as to the spirit in which the Bill should be worked differ a little on this side from those of hon. Members opposite. Indeed, one hon. Member opposite said that he hoped that the employés would realise that it was the duty of every one of them to join a union and fight for their rights with all their might. All I can say is that if similar advice were given to the farmers, there would be vigorous complaints from hon. Members opposite. I hope that the spirit of sweet reasonableness will prevail, as indeed I am sure it will. I think it is probable that when the representatives meet each other face to face they will find that they have more in common than they have separating them and more to gain by agreement than by disagreement.

I do not wish to prolong the discussion—[An HON. MEMBER: "What about the inspectorate?"]—I hope very much to be able to prove to the right hon. Gentleman in the Committee that the inspectors will be selected absolutely impartially and that they will be guarded against any form of victimisation. I think that the experience which hon. Members have had of certain appointments which I have made will indicate that at any rate, for my part, I am not in any way biased against those who might have held opposite views to my own. The task of the inspectorate must be to gain the confidence of all classes, and not merely that of the employers, in the inspections which they carry out. It will be my object to secure that. I do not wish to prolong the Debate any further, and therefore I will resume my seat, hoping that it will not be necessary for any other hon. Member to continue the Debate.

Mr. J. Brown

Can the Minister give us any indication as to whether the wage will be uniform?

Mr. Elliot

I think the purpose of the Bill is that the wage will be determined by the districts, and it will not be possible to fix one wage which will be applicable at once to Caithness-shire, Stirling-shire and Ayrshire, for instance.