HC Deb 09 April 1940 vol 359 cc515-29

4.13 p.m.

Mr. T. Smith (Normanton)

I beg to move, in page 1, line 6, to leave out from "shall," to "after," in line 8.

The Committee will remember that when the Second Reading of this Bill was moved nearly everyone who addressed the House pleaded for a national minimum to be fixed at the earliest possible moment, and I move this Amendment because I believe the present wording of this Clause is likely to cause some considerable delay. The Minister said, in his winding-up speech last week, that no doubt when we came to the Committee stage of the Bill we should have something to say with regard to the first part of Clause 1. The Committee will know that the Agricultural Wages Board, before fixing a national minimum, have at least three things to do. First of all, they are to have consultations with the agricultural wages committees, secondly, they are to consider general economic conditions, and, thirdly, they are to consider the conditions of the agricultural industry. Then it says that they shall proceed to fix a national minimum wage.

What is the real purpose of the Agricultural Wages Board consulting the different county agricultural wages committees? It cannot be for further information as to what is the wage at the present time, because that information is well known. I am not sure whether, in order to judge the general economic position of agriculture, they will consult these 47 committees. I would ask the House just to visualise how long it would take to consult them. What is to be the procedure, assuming that this Amendment is not carried? Does consultation mean that they will have to meet each of these 47 committees separately, or that the Agricultural Wages Board will submit to each agricultural wages committee a series of questions to which they would be expected to supply answers, and from which they might then be in a better position to know exactly the national minimum wage to fix? It might be argued—and indeed I believe it will—that these committees will have a right to be consulted. I am looking at it from one point of view—and I think there is some force in that argument—that, in considering the economic position of agriculture, they will have to have some kind of consultation with these committees.

If the Central Wages Board fix a minimum which, in the opinion of any of the counties, is considered too high, the county committees under the terms of the Bill will have the right to appeal for a modification of the national minimum wage, so that to some extent they will be safeguarded even if the Amendment were carried. I want the Committee to believe that the whole purpose of putting down this Amendment is that we feel that it may have the effect of delaying the fixing of a national minimum, and we recognise, equally with hon. Members opposite, that in these days the production of essential foodstuffs is absolutely necessary, and that the position on the land from the angle of man-power is almost desperate, and there ought not to be the slightest delay in fixing a national minimum. It is because we believe that the wording of which we complain may lead to delay that I have moved this Amendment.

4.18 p.m.

Mr. Riley (Dewsbury)

I beg to support the Amendment. If the words which we propose to leave out remain in the Bill, the Minister will be taking away from the Central Wages Board the very powers for which this Bill has very largely been designed. In this small Bill there are two distinct functions. First, all the increased powers of the Central Wages Board are more definitely defined in giving them the power to fix a minimum standard rate of wages for agricultural workers throughout the country. In the second place, there is a more clearly defined function for the county agricultural wages committees. As my hon. Friend has pointed out, if these words are left out of the Bill, the county committees will still have the power if there are special conditions in their areas, to appeal to the Central Wages Board to have those special conditions dealt with. If these words are left in the Bill, it will be like taking away with one hand what has been put into the Bill by the other. It is giving a sort of analogous power to the committees to influence the Central Wages Board in performing their duty of fixing a general minimum standard rate of wages. It is up to the Minister really to give us a sound reason why these words should be left in the Clause. The practical reason why they ought to be taken out is that it seems to be inevitable that their retention will mean a very long delay. If the committees have to be consulted, as suggested by the wording in the Clause, one cannot see an end of such consultations, and on these grounds I hope that the Minister will see his way to recognise the desirability of accepting the Amendment.

4.20 p.m.

Mr. Orr-Ewing (Weston-Super-Mare)

I was critical on the Second Reading of the Bill on this particular proposal that we are now considering in the form of an Amendment. Now that the opinion of the House has been recorded in favour by a Second Reading of the Measure, it is my purpose, as I am sure it is the purpose of everybody in the Committee, to make the best of this Bill in the shortest possible time, in order that the greatest measure of encouragement to agricultural labour in this country can be given at the earliest moment. On that background, I would only like to make this one comment on the Amendment. If it is true that it is the main purpose of the Bill to give encouragement to agricultural labour to remain on the land, and give greater encouragement to labour to come on to the land, I cannot imagine anything more catastrophic than the absolutely flat description of a minimum without consultation, as suggested in this particular Amendment. I do not say that in criticism of Members of the Opposition in the least bit. I believe they have the same purpose at heart that I have, but it has been agreed by the Minister that the powers of the Central Wages Board up to the present have not been such as to encourage the collecting of information, because that particular Board has not been armed with executive powers.

I do not myself think that it will be fair to allow the Central Wages Board the responsibility of fixing a minimum wage without having had time and oppor- tunity to collect all the necessary information from the different parts of the country as to what the effect of a minimum they fix would be on those particular districts. It would be catastrophic if they fixed the minimum at the wrong point. We recognise the danger of fixing it at any point—we are quite frank about that—but if they fixed it at a point other than the best point they could select, they would be doing grave harm to agricultural labour. It has been mentioned that they might fix the wage too low. I am not at all sure that in fixing a minimum wage we should think only of those areas which would wish to work below that minimum wage. One of the greatest difficulties about the minimum wage will come in those areas which are already working above the point at which the minimum will be fixed. We have to look to it to see that the Central Wages Board have information of the position in these areas. Unless the Central Wages Board are extremely careful, the fact that a minimum wage is fixed below the point at which some counties are working will act as a brake, or as a deterrent against future rises of wages in those already higher wage-paying counties, and that is a danger which nobody in any quarter of this Committee would wish to be brought into effect. We have to see that where a county can pay a higher wage, they should pay a higher wage, and if an increased wage is possible, it should be paid. We do not want to do anything which will slow down the process of wage increases where a wage increase is possible, but while I quite understand the point of view of the Mover and the Supporter of the Amendment, personally I would be extremely sorry if they pressed it, as I believe that it would act in exactly the opposite direction to that in which they hoped it would act.

4.25 p.m.

The Minister of Agriculture (Colonel Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith)

I, too, hope that this Amendment will not be pressed. We have to get two things working in the Central Wages Board. One is clearly that of carrying out the scheme, and I am certain that the Central Wages Board will be fully aware of the wish of the House of Commons on that question. But surely also we want to get at the right figures, and we want real co-operation between the Central Wages Board and the county agricultural wages committees, which will have a lot of functions to perform even under this Bill. Therefore the Committee would not desire to lose that wealth of experience which the county committees have gained for quite a long time, such as a knowledge of the conditions in their own counties, how the present wages are affecting their own counties, and so on. There is no desire at all on my part to regard the Act as a brake, but I feel that, in approaching a new subject, the Central Wages Board would want to get advice from the county committees. I do not think that there is the slightest need for contest between the Central Wages Board and the county agricultural wages committees.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) said during the Second Reading that they would get from them—that is, the county committees—the fruits of their experience, and the facts that one obviously must get when they are gathered together and fixed at a centre. That is the sort of thing that we have in mind. Exactly how the Central Board will set about their task, I do not want to try to lay down here. One can see that there will be one or two ways in which they can do it. They can make their own determination, and send it down to the county committees and say, "We would like to have your observations on this. This is the calculation at which we have arrived. And now let us hear what you think about it." Or else they may say to these committees, "We would like your advice on the general question and your observations upon it." In any case I think that they will probably feel bound to do it, whether or not it is provided for in the Bill. The other point I wish to make is that this is not just a temporary Measure, and it is not going to be the only determination which that Board will have to make. If you are to have an alteration later on and a new examination, then the Central Wages Board will want to know what has happened in the counties arising from the first examination, and it will be necessary for them to have that experience and to consult again with the county agricultural committees.

Mr. T. Smith

Supposing the Central Wages Board found that one or two committees were absolutely obstructing and causing delay, would that debar the Central Wages Board from getting on with the work of fixing a national minimum?

Sir R. Dorman-Smith

No, Sir. I do not want to take the legal view, but if the Central Wages Board actually sent a letter or something like that to them, then that would be consultation. It is up to the county committees. Obviously, one does not want to see one or two county committees obstruct the whole work. It is not the intention of this Bill that obstruction should be allowed, but I still cannot think the Committee would want to do away with all the wealth of experience which is there, and I hope they will trust the Central Wages Board to act speedily and sensibly, get the co-operation and help of these county committees, and not start on the wrong foot.

4.30 p.m.

Mr. T. Williams (Don Valley)

My hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) made out a good case for this Amendment, which was amply supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Riley), but both the cases they put forward were not nearly so effective in support of the Amendment as the statement of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. In fact, he proved much more effective in showing the absolute non-necessity for the words embodied in the Bill. He told us that the Central Wages Board will be bound to consult with the wages committees and collect their experience.

Sir R. Dorman-Smith

Have consultations.

Mr. Williams

I think such consultations as may be deemed to be necessary by the Central Wages Board would take place without delaying words being embodied in the Bill. I cannot conceive of the Central Wages Board fixing a national minimum without in some way contacting the county wages committees, but while the Wages Board are fulfilling the conditions laid down here, and while considering the general economic conditions and special conditions affecting the agricultural industry, such information, advice and guidance that they may require from the county committees could be made available for the Board. There is another point: the Central Wages Board will be made up of six representatives of labour and six representatives of employers, and it is fair to assume that the 12 members together are in some way closely identified with the activities of the county wages committees.

Mr. Orr-Ewing

There are more than six counties.

Mr. Williams

I know there are something like 47 counties, but the representatives of employers and employed, particularly the representatives of employed, very often s operate in four, five or six counties, so that their accumulated knowledge of the position will be available for the Central Wages Board. I hope the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will see the wisdom of deleting these words and leaving the Central Wages Board with power to consider general economic conditions and the special conditions affecting agriculture, and acquiring such knowledge as they may deem necessary, and not insist that they consult every county wages committee in the country, one after the other. They may find that some county or counties were hesitating and that it would hold up the fixation of the original national minimum. My support for this Amendment is not because I feel that there would be months of delay, but because I realise the seriousness of the position in the country to-day. I know that labourers have been leaving at an alarming rate; we cannot afford to lose any more. The sooner this Bill is in operation, and a national wage fixed, the sooner shall we prevent the continuation of their departure from the countryside, which we have been witnessing not only during the past 20 years but, particularly, during the past six or seven months. If only as a psychological concession to rural areas, I hope that, even now, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will accept the Amendment.

4.35 p.m.

Mr. John Morgan (Doncaster)

After hearing the Minister, I felt my uneasiness grow about the retention of these words in the Clause. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman did say that whether they are

in the Bill or not, the Central Wages Board will in fact consult these various agricultural committees. Therefore, any words that can be removed as being unnecessary should be removed, because they have an effect upon the Central Wages Board, and in view of the permanent character of this legislation it might give at some future time, when there are, perhaps, less urgent circumstances, a chance to certain areas of the country to develop delaying tactics in regard to the minimums that may have been fixed, either up or down. In view of the assurance which the Minister has given that the Board will function satisfactorily, I fail to see any real objection to removing these words, unless they will have some effect. That effect is what we fear. I cannot see what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's objection is unless it is that he wishes to retain them in order to give the county committees some power or influence on the decision taken, and I must, therefore, fully support the Amendment which has been put forward.

4.37 p.m.

Mr. Ridley (Clay Cross)

I want to ask the Minister to be a little more explicit about what these words, "after consultation," mean. The words in the Bill impose upon the Board an obligation which it cannot itself of its own power and volition discharge. It cannot consult with any one of the county committees unless a county committee chooses to consult with the Board. It seems that the insistence on the inclusion of these words is very unfortunate indeed, because there is no equality and balance on the other side. In view of what the Minister has said, he would put the Board in a much happier position if, with the words out, he left the Board to make such consultations as they could before arriving at a final decision. To leave them in seems to be contrary to what I think is the sensibleness of legislation.

Question put, "That the word 'after' stand part of the Clause."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 194; Noes, 115.

Division No. 58.] AYES. [4.40 p.m.
Acland, Sir R. T. D. Bennett, Sir E. N. Braithwaite, Major A. N. (Buckrose)
Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J. Bernays, R. H. Brass, Sir W.
Albery, Sir Irving Blair, Sir R. Briscoe, Capt. R. G.
Assheton, R. Boothby, R. J. G. Broadbridge, Sir G. T.
Baxter, A. Beverley Bossom, A. C. Brooke, H. (Lewisham, W.)
Beauchamp, Sir B. C. Boulton, W. W. Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith)
Beechman, N. A. Boyce, H. Leslie Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)
Browne, A. C. (Belfast, W.) Higgs, W. F. Ramsbotham, Rt. Hon. H.
Burton, Col. H. W. Holmes, J. S. Ramsden, Sir E.
Butcher, H. W. Horabin, T. L. Rankin, Sir R.
Cary, R. A. Horsbrugh, Florence Rathbone, Eleanor (English Univ's.)
Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.) Howitt, Dr. A. B. Reed, A. C. (Exeter)
Channon, H. Hume, Sir G. H. Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury)
Chapman, Sir S. (Edinburgh, S.) Hunter, T. Reid, J. S. C. (Hillhead)
Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston) Hurd, Sir P. A. Reid, W. Allan (Derby)
Colman, N. C. D. Jarvis, Sir J. J. Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)
Colville, Rt. Hon. John Joel, D. J. B. Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)
Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.) Jones, Sir H. Haydn (Merioneth) Robertson, D.
Cooper, Rt. Hn. A. Duff (Wst'r S. G'gs) Keeling, E. H. Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)
Cooper, Rt. Hon. T. M. (E'burgh, W.) Kerr, Sir J. Graham (Scottish Univ.) Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.
Courtauld, Major J. S. Keyes, Admiral of the Fleet Sir R. Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir E. A.
Courthope, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir G. L. King-Hall, Commander W. S. R. Russell, Sir Alexander
Crooke, Sir J. Smedley Knox, Major-General Sir A. W. F. Salter, Sir J. Arthur (Oxford U.)
Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C. Lamb, Sir J. Q. Sandeman, Sir N. S.
Culverwell, C. T. Lambert, R. Hon. G. Sanderson, Sir F. B.
Davidson, Viscountess Leighton, Major B. E. P. Schuster, Sir G. E.
Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil) Levy, T. Selley, H. R.
Davison, Sir W. H. Liddall, W. S. Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)
Denman, Hon. R. D. Lindsay, K. M. Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)
Denville, Alfred Lipson, D. L. Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.
Doland, G. F. Little, Sir E. Graham- Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)
Donner, P. W. Little, Dr. J. (Down) Smithers, Sir W.
Dorman-Smith, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir R. H. Locker-Lampson, Comdr. O. S. Somerset, T.
Drewe, C. Loftus, P. C. Somervell, Rt. Hon. Sir Donald
Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side) Lyons, A. M. Somerville, Sir A. A. (Windsor)
Duncan, Rt. Hon. Sir A. R. Mabane, W. (Huddersfield) Southby, Commander Sir A. R. J.
Duncan, J. A. L. (Kensington, N.) MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G. Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)
Eckersley, P. T. McCorquodale, M. S. Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)
Eden, Rt. Hon. A. McKie, J. H. Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E. Macmillan, H. (Stockton-on-Tees) Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.
Emrys-Evans, P. V. Magnay, T. Sutcliffe, H.
Entwistle, Sir C. F. Maitland, Sir Adam Tasker, Sir R. I.
Erskine-Hill, A. G. Makins, Brigadier-General Sir Ernest Taylor, Captain C. S.
Etherton, Ralph Manningham-Buller, Sir M. Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (Padd., S.)
Everard, Sir William Lindsay Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R. Thomas, J. P. L.
Foot, D. M. Mason, Lt.-Col. Hon. G. K. M. Touche, G. C.
Fox, Sir G. W. G. Mills, Sir F. (Leyton, E.) Train, Sir J.
Fremantle, Sir F. E. Moore, Lieut.-Col. Sir T. C. R. Tree, A. R. L. F.
Glyn, Major Sir R. G. C. Moore-Brabazon, Lt.-Col. J. T. C. Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.
Goldie, N. B. Morris, J. P. (Salford, N.) Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon. Euan
Gower, Sir R. V. Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester) Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Graham, Captain A. C. (Wirral) Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H. Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)
Gridley Sir A. B. Nicholson, G. (Farnham) Waterhouse, Captain C.
Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.) O'Connor, Sir Terence J. Watt, Lt.-Col. G. S. Harvie
Grigg, Sir E. W. M. O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh Wayland, Sir W. A.
Grimston, R. V Orr-Ewing, I. L. Webbe, Sir W. Harold
Hacking, Rt. Hon. Sir D. H. Palmer, G. E. H. Wells, Sir Sydney
Hambro, A. V. Peake, O. White, H. Graham
Hannah, I. C. Pickthorn, K. W. M. Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.
Hannon, Sir P. J. H. Plugge, Capt. L. F. Williams, C. (Torquay)
Harbord, Sir A. Pownall, Lt.-Col. Sir Assheton Williams, Sir H. G. (Croydon, S.)
Harland, H. P. Procter, Major H. A. Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton) Pym, L. R.
Hely-Hutchinson, M. R. Radford, E. A. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan- Raikes, H. V. A. M. Mr. Munro and Major Sir James
Herbert, A. P. (Oxford U.) Ramsay, Captain A. H. M. Edmondson.
Adams, D. (Consett) Dalton, H. Isaacs, G. A.
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.) Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill) Jagger, J.
Adamson, Jennie L. (Dartford) Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton) Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)
Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.) Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) John, W.
Ammon, C. G. Dobbie, W. Jowitt, Rt. Hon. Sir W. A.
Anderson, F. (Whitehaven) Dunn, E. (Rother Valley) Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.
Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R. Ede, J. C. Kirkwood, D.
Banfield, J. W. Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough E.) Lathan, G.
Barnes, A. J. Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty) Lawson, J. J.
Barr, J. Edwards, N. (Caerphilly) Leach, W.
Bartlett, C. V. O. Frankel, D. Leonard, W.
Beaumont, H. (Batley) Gallacher, W. Leslie, J. R.
Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W. Gardner, B. W. Lunn, W.
Benson, G. Gibbins, J. Macdonald, G. (Ince)
Broad, F. A. Gibson, R. (Greenock) McEntee, V. La T.
Brown, C. (Mansfield) Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth) McGhee, H. G.
Burke, W. A. Griffiths, J. (Llanelly) McGovern, J.
Charleton, H. C. Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel) MacLaren, A.
Cluse, W. S. Hall, W. G. (Colne Valley) Maclean, N.
Cocks, F. S. Hardie, Agnes Mainwaring, W. H.
Collindridge, F. Henderson, A. (Kingswinford) Mander, G. le M.
Cove, W. G. Henderson, J. (Ardwick) Marshall, F.
Daggar, G. Hills, A. (Pontefract) Martin, J. H.
Mathers, G. Riley, B. Tinker, J. J.
Maxton, J. Ritson, J. Tomlinson, G.
Messer, F. Salter, Dr. A. (Bermondsey) Walkden, A. G.
Montague, F. Shinwell, E. Walker, J.
Morgan, J. (York, W.R., Doncaster) Silkin, L. Watkins, F. C.
Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.) Silverman, S. S. Welsh, J. C.
Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.) Sloan, A. Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)
Muff, G. Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe) Wilkinson, Ellen
Naylor, T. E. Smith, E. (Stoke) Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)
Oliver, G. H. Smith, Rt. Hon. H. B. Lees- (K'ly) Williams, T. (Don Valley)
Paling, W. Smith, T. (Normanton) Wilmot, John
Parker, J. Sorensen, R. W. Wilson, C. H. (Attercliffe)
Pearson, A. Summerskill, Dr. Edith Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)
Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W. Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth) Young, Sir R. (Newton)
Quibell, D. J. K. Thorne, W. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Ridley, G. Thurtle, E. Mr. Adamson and Mr. Groves.

4.49 p.m.

Mr. Wilfrid Roberts (Cumberland, North)

I beg to move, in page 1, line 6, to leave out from "after," to "after," in line 8, and to insert: giving notice to the agricultural wages com-committees and considering any representations made by them and. There is no one who wishes to see the processes under the Bill speeded up more than I, but I think it would be very unfortunate if county agricultural committees were entirely ignored. I have tried to find words which will express what I actually mean in the way of consultation. "Consultation" is a very vague word, and the Minister did not make quite clear what he had in mind. He suggested that the obligation as to consultation might be carried out by the Central Wages Board, by simply writing a circular letter. I do not think that could ever be described as consultation. I have tried to find words which express the amount of interchange of views between county committees and the Central Wages Board which seems reasonable. I was unable to vote for the previous Amendment, because I think that to give no direction for consultation of any sort or kind is a mistake. If you have local committees, they should have some functions to perform, and I would point out to hon. Members above the Gangway that there are as many representatives of the workers on county committees as there are of employers, and if the Central Wages Board are to consider the actual rate, whether it is 40s., or 45s., or as high as 50s., surely it is to the interests of the workers' representatives that they should be able to suggest what the figure should be. I should have thought that some opportunity for consultation and some opportunity for the workers' representatives in the counties to put their case would have been welcomed by hon. Members above the Gangway.

If the Bill is to be operated, it must be with the good will of employers and workers. Some form of local consultation must take place, and my Amendment suggests what I think is the right amount of consultation. The Minister has said that there may be more than one revision of the national minimum wage. Therefore, the county committees should be notified when a revision is going to be made. I have given effect to that in the first part of the Amendment. Secondly, the county committees should have the right to make representations which shall be considered by the Central Wages Board. The Amendment carries out that object. The onus is on the Minister of Agriculture, if he cannot see his way to accept the Amendment, to explain how it does not provide sufficient consultation. He may say that he wants to leave the thing vague and give the Central Wages Board every opportunity of finding out the opinion of the country. If he says that, I shall have to regret the vote I have given because that would, in my opinion, be delaying the matter. I do not believe he wants to delay the processes and that he will not prefer words which are clear and definite to his own vague and indefinite words. In any case, when the Bill is carried, you will have to have representations from the county committees. Presumably they will come in within three weeks, certainly within a month, and then a decision of the Central Wages Board can be given within another week. There is no need for delay if the procedure indicated in the Amendment is carried. I hope the Minister will be able to accept the Amendment, which will clarify and simplify the Bill and not detract from it in any way.

4.55 p.m.

Mr. J. Morgan

I rather like this form of Amendment. I think it is better than the previous one. Not being sure of the position, and feeling that the Clause as it stands might easily give rise to circumstances in the future which would lead to deep controversy, I supported the first Amendment. But this Amendment meets the Minister's position and enables him to give a satisfactory answer on the point. I have no intention of preventing the Central Wages Board properly consulting county committees. That would destroy and disturb a very effective piece of work. The Amendment does meet the real position which will arise, and prevents any misunderstanding in the future when things are different, and when, in a piece of permanent legislation, we may regret having left the matter so vague as it is in the Bill.

4.57 p.m.

Mr. Orr-Ewing

I am afraid that I cannot agree with the two hon. Members who have supported the Amendment. Their intention of clarifying the Minister's proposal is obviously good, but I read into the Amendment something which is restrictive. It would imply, to my mind, that the Central Wages Board would send out a figure and that, having given notice of the figure, they would accept representations. That may be one way of doing it. But there are other ways of doing it, as were indicated by the Minister of Agriculture. I do not want to restrict the Minister in the advice that he gives to the Central Wages Board. Obviously, he must give advice to them in this new sphere of activity, and I do not want to restrict the advice that he gives or the action which the Central Wages Board may take. I can see a situation in which possibly the Central Wages Board might adopt the second alternative mentioned by the Minister of Agriculture. The county wages committee might be asked to frame proposals on which a minimum wage will be based, but if we accept the Amendment, it will debar the higher paying counties from asking whether, before considering the fixing of a minimum wage, the Board would take into consideration certain aspects which affect only that group. If we accept the Amendment, we shall rule out any representations from local committees before any figure is mentioned at all, and at once you get into the minds of county committees some idea that, after all, whatever advice they give does not very much matter, and that it is hardly worth their while to consider it seriously. These things have to be considered seriously. I think hon. Members will agree with me in that. While I agree with the purpose of the Amendment to the extent that we want to get something on which both the Agricultural Wages Board and the county committees can advise us, I think the effect of the words in the Amendment would be in the opposite direction.

5.1 p.m.

Mr. Loftus (Lowestoft)

I support the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Orr-Ewing). I feel that the Amendment is a restrictive one. It defines the method of consultation and appears to narrow the subject of consultation, and for that reason, I am opposed to it. I can imagine a situation arising in future in which the Agricultural Wages Board desire to fix the minimum wage at a certain figure, and are in agreement with the agricultural wages committee that that should be done, but both the Board and the county committee then consulting together and discovering that that minimum cannot be paid because the state of the industry will not allow it. Therefore, I want the widest measure of consultation in order that the Central Board may discuss all possibilities and, if necessary, discuss proposals to be put before the Government so as to enable the industry to pay the wage which they think desirable.

5.2 p.m.

Sir R. Dorman-Smith

My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Orr-Ewing) has put the objections to this Amendment in very good language. I feel, too, that it would be unsafe to try to prescribe the actual method by which the Board should carry out this consultation. Having decided, as we have, that there should be consultation, I am convinced that the best way of dealing with the matter is to allow the Board to find out what is the best method in any given circumstances. Circumstances may differ from time to time. The Board may want a different type of consultation in six months' time or a year's time, and I think we can trust them to find out the quickest and best method of consultation. If we were to insert the words of the Amendment, we should lay down rules of a more or less formal character which would limit and be harmful to the purpose which all of us have in mind. We have to visualise the different sets of circumstances that may arise. I think the Committee would be well advised to leave the provision in general terms and allow the Board to find the best and most appropriate method in any given case. Therefore, I hope the hon. Member will not press the Amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.