§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Colville)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The Bill is designed to amend the procedure relating to the regulation of agricultural wages in Scotland. The House will recall that such regulation in Scotland is governed by a separate Statute, namely, the Agricultural Wages (Regulation) (Scotland) Act, 1937. This Act, although later in time than the corresponding English Act of 1924, is similar to that Act in its essential features. The House is aware that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture recently submitted proposals to Parliament for an amendment of the 1924 Act. The proposals now before the House in this Bill are not the same as those which my right hon. Friend introduced, for reasons which I will explain. This does not mean that Scotland is in revolt, but only that the same or a similar objective is being sought by rather different means, means which are believed to be more suitable to Scottish conditions than the proposals in the other Bill. The objective is to increase the effectiveness of the existing machinery and thereby to facilitate the adjustment of agricultural minimum rates of wages on an equitable basis throughout the country. Hon. Members are well aware of the difficulties of labour in agriculture and, in present circumstances, of the vital importance of preventing movement away to other employment. They will agree that a Measure designed to secure stability and a reasonable degree of uniformity in agricultural wages is desirable, and I therefore feel confidence in commending this Bill to the sympathetic consideration of the House.
In order that the House may appreciate the reasons for the present proposal, I will say a few words about the history of agricultural wages regulation in Scotland. For various reasons, partly practical and partly psychological, the processes leading to the fixing of wages have tended, until recent years, to differ in the two 982 countries. The first statutory regulation was under the Corn Production Act of 1917, when a separate scheme was authorised for Scotland, the machinery of which, like the scheme now in operation, comprised district wages committees and a central wages board. The central body of this organisation had certain powers of veto, which amounted to effective control. This scheme was brought to an end by the Corn Production (Repeal) Act of 1921, and from that time until 1937 there has been no statutory regulation of wages in Scotland. At the time of the passing of the English Act of 1924, and subsequently, Scottish employers and workers both preferred the system of private bargaining, or in some districts local voluntary agreements.
In 1924, as now, we were dealing with a type of legislation designed to improve the conditions within a large industry, and in this kind of legislation it is desirable, as far as possible, to secure the concurrence of both parties within the industry. Since, therefore, neither side in Scotland desired the change made by the 1924 Act, the Act was not applied to Scotland. For the next 13 years this difference between the two countries continued, but the critical period following on the general slump of the early 1930's was responsible for a change of outlook. It became apparent as the depression continued that the arrangements which existed, and which, of course, were not supported by sanctions of any kind, except general opinion, were inadequate to secure a reasonable wage in all cases for the workers. The position was that, while the great majority of farmers paid the best wages they could afford, there was evidence that in some cases wages were being paid at levels which could not be justified. I am referring to the period leading up to 1937. Therefore, an effort to preserve the principle of voluntary collective bargaining was made by the leaders of both the National Farmers' Union and the Farm Servants' Union, but, for reasons into which I need not go now, these negotiations broke down. This led to a request by the Farm Servants' Union for the statutory regulation of wages in Scotland. In order that the position should be thoroughly examined, Sir Godfrey Collins, then Secretary of State for Scotland, appointed a Committee under Lord Caithness to inquire 983 into the whole problem. That Committee, which included representatives of the farmers and the workers, submitted a unanimous report urging the need for legislation, and this recommendation was brought into effect by the passing of the 1937 Act.
That Act authorised the establishment of district wages committees, of which there are 11, and an Agricultural Wages Board. The Act, however, departed from the recommendations of the Committee in one important respect in that it conferred no power on the Board to vary the findings of the local committees. The committees, therefore, had, and still have, as the law is, a final say in fixing rates of wages in Scotland, the only check being a discretionary power vested in me, as Secretary of State, by the 1937 Act to direct a committee to reconsider its decision. There is no means in the Act for ensuring that such reconsideration will be effective, and in practice the discretion has not been exercised. Therefore, the position is that at present the Agricultural Wages Board's function is really a formal one. The Board bring into effect the decisions of the district committees, but they have no power to influence such decisions either by laying down principles of general guidance or by reviewing the decisions when they have been reached. It will be observed from the nature of the machinery that it is quite possible, in theory at least, for committees to reach widely divergent decisions on the rates of wages regarded as appropriate to the various classes of agricultural workers. Over against this, there is the growing tendency, accelerated by the war, towards fixing prices of agricultural products on a national basis. I do not desire here to labour that point, or to give it more weight than it deserves. I am aware that it rather attracts the answer that while some commodities have been priced on a nation-wide basis, others have not, and that in any case there are, as we must readily admit, other items on both sides of the farmer's accounts which vary widely from one part of the country to another. I feel bound to make this observation, and in making it, to stress that in formulating the present proposal I have been careful to bear this fact very closely in mind.
I should like now to say a word or two about what has occurred since the out- 984 break of war. At the instance of the Scottish Farm Servants' Union discussions have taken place from time to time between my Department and that union, and also with the National Farmers' Union and Chamber of Agriculture of Scotland. In an earlier Debate, I informed the House that the discussions were going on, that I hoped in time to introduce a Bill, and that I was anxious to get the greatest possible measure of agreement before bringing the Bill forward. These discussions ranged round the question as to what adaptation of the machinery of wages regulation was necessary or desirable as a result of war conditions. I took part in a number of the meetings myself, but in general the discussions were carried on between officials of my Department and the bodies concerned. A number of suggestions were considered but failed to commend themselves to one or other of the parties. I do not think it would be of any particular value to traverse the ground covered by these discussions, except to say that among the suggestions considered was the proposal of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Agriculture for a national minimum wage, a proposal which is now embodied in the English Bill. The lack of enthusiasm for the application of that proposal to Scotland is founded largely on the existence of substantially varying conditions in different parts of the country, and on the practical difficulties which would arise owing to the widespread Scottish custom of perquisites, under which a considerable but varying proportion of the worker's wages is paid in kind—for example, house accommodation, milk, potatoes, meal, keep of cows, and so on.
In examining this question, I was very anxious to meet the views of both sides as far as possible, since in working out and developing a matter of this kind, the good will of both sides is desirable and perhaps even essential. The proposal now before the House, although some criticism of it may be forthcoming, does, I think, command a substantial measure of agreement from both sides, and it is based on the recommendations of the Caithness Committee which represented both sides of the industry, and brought forward unanimous findings. I come now to the proposal itself. It is a simple one. It is that the Agricultural Wages Board 985 should be authorised to refer back a decision to a district committee for reconsideration, and further, if the Board should not agree with the committee's final decision, that it should be enabled itself to fix a rate, in the light, of course, of the committee's representations in the matter.
§ Mr. Cassells (Dumbartonshire)
At the present time, is there much variation, as far as wages are concerned, between one district and another?
§ Mr. Colville
I intend to deal later on with the present tendency in this respect. There is some variation. There are some different characteristics in different parts of the country, and the character of the perquisites varies from place to place.
The proposal now before the House would mean that the Board would be able to fix a rate in the light of the committee's recommendations in the matter. The Board would be able to question a decision of any district wages committee which appeared to them to be out of line with the requirements of the situation or with the general run of wages rates, and, in certain circumstances, but only after full opportunity for the expression of the views of the committee concerned, to take steps to amend such decision. This implies no radical change in the situation, since the Board will concern themselves only with the exceptional case, and most rates will continue to be settled locally. The effect of the change will be to accelerate to some extent the tendency towards a greater uniformity of minimum rates over the country. There has been such a tendency. Had it been otherwise, of course, the effects of the Bill might have been much more sweeping. In point of fact, however, there has been, even in the short period that wages regulation has been in force in Scotland, a movement towards something like uniformity. The result of the new legislation will, therefore, be to help forward a useful tendency which has already manifested itself. It will have the further effect of securing that, as and when agricultural wages rise, as they have already been doing recently, they will do so over the country by fairly uniform steps. The Bill will help to remove the incentive to workers to move towards areas where higher rates prevail. Everyone will agree that that movement exercises a very disturbing effect on the 986 industry from which the farmers are bound to suffer.
I need not expound at great length the Bill itself. It is a simple and short Bill. The main proposal which I have outlined to the House is set out in Clause 1. Clause 2 deals with the constitution of the Board. This is a matter of some importance, in view of the added responsibility which will fall upon the Board. At present the Board consists of equal representation of the two sides of the industry, with three independent members added. I think it desirable to increase the number of independent members to five, and the Clause makes provision for this. I should add that when the chairmanship of the Board recently fell vacant I thought it would be advantageous to appoint as chairman a person with legal qualifications, having in mind the new function which the Board will have to perform. The chairman will be required to preside over a Board which has to make very important decisions. In making those decisions it will have to consider the advice given by the representatives of the industry, and I thought that, as chairman, someone with legal qualifications would be specially eligible. I was fortunate enough to secure the services of Mr. J. Gordon McIntyre, K.C., Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, who, in addition to his legal qualifications, has had experience in conciliation in industry, which will stand the Board in good stead. I know that the appointment of this gentleman is welcomed by both sides. It is recognised that his ability, his experience in conciliation work and his legal standing will be of value to the Board.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
Can my right hon. Friend tell the House the reasons which moved him to increase the number of independent members to five?
§ Mr. Colville
I decided to do so in view of the importance of the work which the Board will have to undertake. I thought it desirable to have a larger independent element on the Board in view of the increase in its duties, and as to any suggestion that a person with legal knowledge is not suited to act as chairman of the Board, I disagree with that entirely. I 987 think that a gentleman with the qualifications which I have indicated will be admirably suited to that position, and, as I have said, that view is shared by both sides in the industry. Under the Schedule to the 1937 Act the appointments of chairman and vice-chairman of an agricultural wages committee are made by the committee. The principle behind this provision is that the chairman, on whom considerable responsibility naturally rests, should be selected by the representatives of the industry in the locality. The independent members were not, in terms, excluded from participating in this election, and in some cases they have felt in doubt as to whether they should take part in it. I have come to the conclusion that they should not be expected to do so, and Clause 3 confers the power of election upon the representative members alone. That, again, is a change which is welcomed by those who are interested in the industry.
The Bill will, I believe, further the interests of the industry as a whole. Primarily, however, the object is to improve the position of the worker. I am well aware that the welfare of the agricultural worker is not a matter of wages alone. There are many other factors which affect it, and none more than housing conditions. Unhappily, the war has hindered progress in the improvement of rural housing as of other housing, for reasons which I need not go into here, but which are concerned mainly with the supply of timber. Within the limitations imposed on us at the present time, however, everything possible is being done. I have very much in mind the importance of rural housing and am doing everything possible under present conditions to effect improvements in that respect.
This Bill, however, is a wages Bill. It deals with the problem to which I have referred, in a way which I think is acceptable to Scotland as a whole. Although wage levels, as I have said, are not the only consideration in the life of the worker, they must be regarded as of primary importance, and I submit with confidence to the House that when so much depends on the efforts of our farm-workers and when they, for their part, are sharing manfully in the response to the demand for increased food production, it is only right that Parliament should 988 recognise their efforts by a Measure designed to secure their permanent interests. Agriculture has a vital part to play in winning the war, and upon the agricultural worker is placed a large part of the responsibility which faces the industry in its task of increasing our food supplies. Last week-end I had to travel some 300 miles through the Scottish countryside. I was impressed by the great stretches of land which are being opened up—in many cases land which had not been under the plough for many years. The farmers of Scotland are putting their backs into the work, and I am glad that we can do something to help the farm-workers who are so loyally engaged in serving the country in this way.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)
I think the Secretary of State for Scotland will find the House ready and willing to give him the Second Reading of his Bill. The House will also, I am sure, be in substantial agreement with the observations which the right hon. Gentleman made in putting the Bill before us. He has not claimed too much for it. He has indicated that it is to amend the procedure in Scotland in respect of the fixation of wages, and that it involves no radical change in the present position. He has drawn a distinction between this Bill and the Bill which was before the House two weeks ago designed to meet the situation in England and Wales, and has declared his belief—in which I think he is right—that this Bill is more suited to Scottish conditions and more in keeping with the Scottish attitude towards these matters. The Bill will, we believe—and we accept it for that reason—increase the effectiveness of wage-fixing machinery north of the Border.
I have a personal interest in the Bill, because I recognise in it a further step along the line of dealing with farm-workers' wages which I endeavoured to get established when I was re-elected to this House in 1935. During the years prior to 1935 the economic depression had had a very detrimental effect upon wages, and during those years Scottish farm servants departed from their previous conviction that nothing should be done in the way of legislating in respect of wage-fixing machinery. Up to that time they had desired, as the right hon. Gentleman has pointed out, to have their wages fixed 989 by mutual agreement and not to have anything in the nature of a statutory authority for the fixing of wages. They recognised, and I think there is a great deal in their contention, that when you endeavour to fix minimum rates of wages those rates have a tendency to become, and indeed almost inevitably become, the standard or even the maximum rates. They did not want that then and they do not want it now, but they recognised that the depression had made such a difference that, in 1935, during the Election, representations were made to me by my farm working constituents that something in the nature of wage-fixing machinery should be established. When I returned here one of my first acts was to appeal to the then Secretary of State for Scotland, the late Sir Godfrey Collins, urging him to have an inquiry made into the conditions with a view to the establishment of wage-fixing machinery. That inquiry subsequently took place, and the Scottish Act of 1937 was the outcome of it. The inquiry reached certain very important conclusions, and these were unanimous.
Now we are taking another step in what I consider to be the right direction by giving the Central Wages Board some authority in reviewing wages and farm-workers' conditions which pertain to wages, and adjusting the arrangements in the manner indicated by the right hon. Gentleman. We are here establishing no national minimum, but we believe that under the machinery now proposed the tendency will be to prevent anomalies and that the Central Wages Board will be given the opportunity and the power to "iron out" some of the differences which still exist, although they are not very serious. Taking all in all, when consideration is given to the value placed upon the so-called perquisites or benefits which are counted and valued as wages in certain parts of the country, compared with the actual money paid in lieu of those benefits in certain other parts of the country, we find that there is not so great a divergence as might, at first, appear. But with 11 committees, charged with the duty of fixing wages over a number of different farm employments, there are opportunities for differences to come into existence. We are glad, therefore, to have this machinery to smooth out differences and to ensure that fair play will be done to the farm-worker in so far as it 990 can be ensured by means of these proposals.
I have mentioned that there are 11 committees. I may say in passing that, although the multiplicity of committees in Scotland is not so great as it is in the southern part of Britain, some of us consider that even 11 committees are more than is necessary to have at work in Scotland in the fixation of wages. We believe that wages could be fixed with a smaller number of committees and that there would be fewer anomalies. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has not claimed too much for the Bill. I think he is right in saying that Clause 1 of the Bill will do good in the way of preventing differences in wage rates, and it may, possibly, provide an opportunity for increasing the wages of farm-workers. I believe he is right also in saying that the increase in the number of members of the Board will be looked on as a benefit. In the same way, Clause 3, which limits the power of electing the chairman and vice-chairman of district committees to the representative members, and takes it out of the hands of the appointed members, also marks a step in the right direction. I believe that this Bill is generally commendable. In this House we frequently deal with legislation and Orders relating to agriculture. The marked difference between this Measure and others relating to agriculture is that in all the other cases, not directly affecting the worker, they have Money Resolutions attached to them because public money is being put into the proposed arrangements. It means that there is profit for someone. In connection with this Bill, there is no Money Resolution. It is a case of the worker's wage having, as it were, to stand on its own feet. I do not complain about that.
This Bill will call for good will in its application on the part of the farming community, and for vigilance on the part of the farm-workers throughout Scotland. The farmers will be compelled to recognise the value of their workers if they are to keep them on the land. It is regrettable that it is apparently only during war-time that the value of the primary producer of our essential needs is recognised. I hope the farm-workers will themselves realise that they will get out of the important machinery proposed by this Bill just what they put into their effort in the way of organisation and the 991 real trade-union spirit. Trade-union activity and strength of organisation on the part of the farm-workers is still needed if they are to have the best value out of the Bill commended to the House to-day, which, I believe, will be very generally approved.
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
I warmly agree with the concluding remarks of the hon. Member who has just addressed the House. I believe that stronger organisation among farm-workers is desirable from every point of view, and I have myself done everything I can in my limited way to encourage it in my part of the country. I very much hope that this Bill will have the effect the hon. Member suggests. When the present Minister of Health introduced the previous Measure dealing with this matter three years ago, his action was universally applauded in the House, and I believe this Bill will receive much the same reception. I think that in all parts of the House we would endorse the view of the Caithness Committee when they said:We have come unhesitatingly to the conclusion that there is a direct and immediate need for the introduction by Statute of some form of machinery for securing the proper regulation of wages and conditions of employment.As a matter of fact, we accepted that conclusion in 1937. Our only divergence from it, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, was that whereas the Committee recommended the creation of a Central Wages Board and the granting to it of powers of review, the Act of 1937 omitted that provision and left the fixing of wages to the county committees. The whole House agreed to that adaptation of the report. I remember that the Opposition raised the question of giving the Central Wages Board powers of review on Second Reading and during the Committee stage, but they did not press it to a Division. The whole House took that view at that time, but it may well be asked now, Why is it that we seek to-day to give the Central Wages Board this new power which three years ago we declined to give them? It might be argued that if it is right to-day, why was it wrong at that time? I think there is a perfectly good answer to that question. When the 1937 Bill was presented 992 to Parliament the whole idea of compulsory fixation of farm wages was somewhat repugnant to the traditions and customs of Scotland. It was repugnant to our tradition because for centuries in Scotland farmers had met their men at the annual fairs and markets, and agreed there between themselves what wages should be paid. Indeed it was the need for a place to arrange such agreements which brought about the establishment of the historic fairs and markets in Scotland which have played so vital a part in the development and growth of our country. It was only at these fairs that contracts could be made, and all the contracts were voluntary.
In our typical British way we have proceeded in this matter by stages. Where new orders are introduced they are introduced as gently as possible, avoiding anything that approaches Whitehall interference. So we gave to the county committees the power to fix the wages thereby avoiding the antagonism which otherwise might have been caused by giving an overriding power to the Central Wages Board. I think it was a very wise way of doing it. The decision brought farmers and workers together. The 1937 system has worked extraordinarily well, but we have now reached the stage at which, having seen the system at work, both farmers and men are on the whole prepared to take the further logical step—giving the Central Wages Board the overriding power—which as an industry they were not perhaps ready to take previously. We have grown accustomed to the method of fixing wages by Statute; but there are other reasons also why we should now advance to the further stage. These reasons were admirably stated by the Minister of Agriculture. He reminded the House the other day that the fixing of wages by a number of committees led inevitably to the creation of anomalies. Since the war has started the effect of having in Scotland 11 different committees has prevented changes being made quickly enough to meet the new circumstances created by the war. That is undoubtedly so, and it will continue to be so if some alteration in procedure is not made.
The second reason why we have taken the further step was mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman, namely, that the Government to-day are fixing prices, not 993 of all, but of some agricultural products. There has been a tendency to level prices, and various subsidies have been granted by the State. All this is on a national, and not at any point on a local basis. Gradually it is becoming true that the factors which go to establish wage rates are national factors rather than local factors, and we are therefore justified in asking that a national body, the Central Wages Board, should have the ultimate say in fixing wage rates.
The English Bill appears to present a different system. I suppose in fact it is a different system, in that it requires the Central Wages Board to fix a basic minimum agricultural wage on which the county committees operate, either increasing it or in certain cases lowering it. My right hon. Friend dwelt upon that, and, I think, I understand the reason for the difference proposed in our case. He has, as we know, met certain criticisms. But in practice I do not see that there is going to be any real difference between the two systems. Their effect will be precisely the same, firstly, to level wages and, secondly, I devoutly hope, to increase wages. There is no doubt in my mind that wages must be increased, and increased substantially, as soon as possible. Wages must rise if we are to retain the necessary amount of labour on the land to provide increased foodstuffs for our people. I remember that on a recent occasion I incurred the displeasure of my Whips when I urged and voted for a minimum wage for farm workers of £2 a week. I should not be in the least surprised if the Central Wages Board in Scotland lays down sooner or later, a minimum wage of £3 per week. Indeed, that amount would not be too much to retain the men on the land.
The reason why I take that view is that, as we know perfectly well, other trades in Scotland near to the farms are offering at least £3 a week, sometimes much more, to not more skilled men, and often to much less skilled men, than the ploughmen. Unless the farmers are able to pay at least as good a wage as the neighbouring towns, the workers will gradually leave the land.
I was glad that my right hon. Friend stated that by the provision of adequate wages alone, you will not necessarily maintain men on the land. That is quite true. Admirable as it may be, 994 this Bill alone will not keep the men on the land, and the House knows quite well why. The reason is that in Scotland the housing conditions of the agricultural worker are on the whole, with certain honourable exceptions, gravely inadequate and, in a great many cases, quite abominable. It was only four years ago that a skilled investigator of the Department of Health in Scotland made an inquiry in three different areas of that country, and came to the conclusion that 75 per cent. of the ploughmen's cottages were unfit for human habitation. That was an appalling revelation to the House.
I remember raising the matter on the Adjournment after the report was published, and the then Secretary of State showed as much anxiety as the House and undertook that drastic measures would be taken. This is directly concerned with the maintenance of labour on the land, and the House ought to know what has happened between that time and now to provide better housing accommodation for farm-workers. A special Bill was passed. What has been its result? A series of strongly worded circulars were sent out by the Scottish Department. What has been the effect of them? We must know whether adequate steps have been taken to provide better accommodation, for, even if wages are increased, the clean, healthy, house-proud ploughman's wife will not remain in a rural slum as so many of them have to do. We are entitled to receive from the Under-Secretary of State some general assurance that the words of my right hon. Friend, "everything possible," mean something definite. I should have liked to see this matter incorporated in the Bill. Why cannot my right hon. Friend demand of the Minister of Supply that all building materials not needed for Army purposes are allocated in a priority way for the improvement of farm servants' houses?
§ Mr. Colville
Such a matter could not be incorporated in a Bill of this character. It is rather a matter of administration, for in existing legislation there is provision for improving farm-workers' houses.
§ Mr. Cassells
Is not the fundamental basis of this Bill that the wage to be paid is to be determined by the individual ability of the farmer to pay?
My right hon. Friend is no doubt correct that this is not the place in which to introduce this matter, but I suggest that it would be proper for him, as Minister of Agriculture for Scotland, to present a demand to the Minister of Supply that the first claim upon housing materials, after Army claims, should be that of rural housing.
I do not intend to pursue the matter further. There is another question which is directly concerned with the maintenance of the labour supply on the land and the production of food in Scotland. Here I must ask for indulgence. My right hon. Friend knows well that, apart from wages and housing, the supplies of water in rural Scotland are very inadequate.
It is not as much use as it ought to be. It is like the other agricultural Measures of the Government; it is good in its way, but I feel that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) is justified in asking the Government to state its general agricultural policy. It has never yet been stated, and these little nibbling advances, all important in their way, do not give us the broad picture which we are entitled to have. There is an important letter in to-day's "Times" signed by. Mr. A. P. McDougall, who writes:What matters is that owing to the shortage of imported feeding-stuffs our net reduction of food produced in this country, in the first year of the war, is in the region of £60,000,000 If the policy of the Minister is carried out to the last acre and every square yard of land that is ploughed up bears a crop, we are better off by only two days' supply.Such a consideration makes me feel entitled to regret that this Bill does not include a great many other measures dealing with our food supplies. It is a good little Bill in its way, but it is nothing comparable to the needs of the situation. I hope that this Debate may lead the Government to more adequate measures.
§ Mr. Colville
This is a wages Bill, and does my hon. Friend suggest that we could improve upon it as such?
§ Mr. Gallacher
On a point of Order. The Minister has drawn attention to the fact that this is a Bill dealing with wages and perquisites. As housing for farm-workers is in general a perquisite, is it not permissible to deal with it in relation to this Bill?
§ Mr. Speaker
The first part of the hon. Member's description of the Bill is correct; it is a wages Bill. If hon. Members want to discuss a housing Bill, they must take some other occasion.
§ Mr. J. J. Davidson (Glasgow, Maryhill)
On the point of Order. In Scotland, as distinct from England, housing in certain areas is considered as part of the wages of the worker. It is a perquisite to his wages. Therefore, I would suggest that where hon. Members desire to discuss the Board's powers with regard to wages and perquisites, any reference to housing must come within the scope of the Bill.
§ Mr. Speaker
It can be discussed only to the extent that the housing of the workers is included sometimes in the amount of wages.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilfrid Roberts (Cumberland, North)
Although I am not a Member for a Scottish Division, I hope the House will bear with me if I make some remarks on this Bill. I would not advance in excuse that I find in England a certain misconception that my part of the world is part of Scotland, but it is merely as a near neighbour of Scotland that I would like to speak. The conditions of farm-workers in my part of England are more similar to those in Scotland than they are to those in the South of England. Looked at from the national point of view, from the point of view of food production and the welfare of the country during the war, the urgent problem in Scotland in connection with labour is the maintenance on the land of agricultural workers and the increase of their number.
While there are probably some valuable long-term effects to be derived from this Bill, I am afraid that we cannot hope that a great deal can be done under it to meet the immediate problem of the shortage of labour. The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) said he hoped 997 —but he did not seem very confident—that this Bill would help to raise agricultural wages. I imagine it is the intention of the Government that it should have that effect, but there is nothing in the Bill to show that that is the intention. In the English Bill a direction of a general sort is laid down as to what kind of national minimum wage should be adopted, but in this Bill, although the Central Wages Board of Scotland is given power to override the local committees, no sort of direction is given to the Board. As one hon. Member said, they could override a local committee because the committee fixed too high a wage. I see that the Secretary of State smiles, but there is nothing in the Bill to prevent that occurring.
Wages have been rising in Scotland, and they have gone up by several shillings in many districts. In fact, the actual wages paid have risen much faster than the minimum wage laid down in the various districts. That is natural at a time when labour is getting scarce. Even so, the report of the first year's working of the 1937 Act shows that there is some advantage in a time of rising wages in having a minimum wage to which farmers must conform. The report reveals that an average of over 20 per cent. of the workers concerned were not receiving during the first year the minimum wages laid down by the wages committees. That shows rather strikingly that even in a time of rising wages due to the scarcity of labour, unless there is a minimum to which all must conform, some wages will rise in some places but in others there will be a considerable lag. I would like to appeal to Scottish farmers that they should not hesitate too much to raise wages at the present time, because it is vital, in the interests not only of the farm servants themselves, but of the country, that agricultural workers should be retained on the land. The other opportunities for employment in Government camps and other works are so great that unless there is a willingness on the part of the farmers to raise wages quickly, perhaps a good deal more quickly than the slow-working provisions of this Bill will allow, there will be a permanent exodus of workers from the land which may have a disastrous effect on the increased production which should be made by Scottish agriculture.
I should like to make one short reference to the housing question, which I 998 think will be within the Rules of Order. In certain districts in Scotland, if a farm servant's cottage has been condemned by the local authority—and a very large proportion are unfit for habitation whether they have been condemned or not—the farmer is not entitled to make any deduction in respect of the value of the house from the farm servant's wages. Though that provision may bear rather hardly on farmers who find it difficult to improve the housing accommodation, I think it is a very valuable provision, and I trust that the Central Wages Board will use its influence to see that a similar condition is introduced into all district committee wage schedules. I think the House is familiar with the system. The farmer owns the house and deducts, it may be, as much as 4s. a week from the actual wage which the farm worker receives; but if the house has been condemned surely it is only just that the worker should not pay anything but should receive the full wage in cash. If that provision were extended it would have some effect in causing farmer-landlords to repair the defects of the cottages in which their farm servants have to live. I would add my plea to that of the hon. Member for East Fife that every effort should be made, if not to build new houses, at any rate to recondition some of the very bad houses which there are in the country districts. Coming to a more general aspect of the question, ultimately the capacity of Scottish farmers to pay higher wages depends upon the level of prices for farm produce.
§ Mr. Roberts
As regards rent, the Scottish farmer is better placed than his English friend, because in Scotland there is a system of leases which will make it difficult for any increased rent to be charged during war-time. The hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) objects that that is not so, but in the South of Scotland, in the Border districts, that system of leases does still obtain, and it is a safeguard to some tenant-farmers. I do not wish to go into the general question of the level of prices for farm products, except to say that I hope it will be such 999 as to make it possible for farmers to pay wages very much nearer the level of industrial wages than they are at present. Otherwise, I am certain that if the war lasts for several years, the difficulties of food production in this country will become very great indeed, and perhaps almost overwhelming. There is a large section of people—and they have my sympathy—who will not be in the least affected by this Bill although they are farm-workers. I refer to the sons and daughters of small farmers, and sometimes bigger farmers, who, in Scotland especially, manage the many family holdings which exist. They will not be helped by any rise in agricultural wages, and must depend upon a rise in the general level of farm prices to give them a better return for the very long hours which they frequently work on the farm.
Lastly, I would go back to my original point. I know that the Ministry of Agriculture in England is considering a scheme for training youths, and I would ask the Under-Secretary whether any similar scheme for Scotland is being considered. It is not too soon to make good the loss of workers from farms which has already taken place in Scotland, not only through workers going to other employment but going into the Armed Forces. Unless plans are made for increasing workers upon the farms the food production campaign in Scotland will be greatly handicapped. We welcome this Bill on general grounds. If it does not make a very great deal of difference to the structure of the organisation for dealing with agricultural wages in Scotland, I think there is general agreement that, so far as it goes, it is an improvement upon the present system.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Boothby (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Eastern)
I cannot find myself in complete agreement with the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) when he said, in his concluding sentences, that this Bill does not make a great difference to the structure of agricultural wages in Scotland and the method by which they will be settled. Although for the moment it may not perhaps make a very great practical difference—and I do appreciate the necessity for agricultural wages to rise—I think this Measure does change fundamentally the whole structure under which agricul- 1000 tural wages in Scotland will be settled. I further think that we are by this Bill setting up a piece of machinery which will in after years be regarded as almost marking a revolution in Scottish agriculture, a piece of machinery for deciding wages which, with the inevitable modifications, will stand the test of time. In the future this Bill will be regarded as a great landmark and one of immense importance to the agricultural industry in Scotland. I should like to endorse the plea which was made by the hon. Member for North Cumberland on the subject of housing. I know that, strictly speaking, it would be out of order to discuss housing on this Bill, but he did make one or two constructive suggestions regarding what might be done in the case, for example, of houses which have been adjudged unfit for habitation which I think the Secretary of State for Scotland might very seriously consider.
This is not the occasion for discussing the general agricultural policy of this country. There was a rather wider discussion on the English Bill, but this Measure is rather more narrowly drawn. Although I do not think we ought to, or can, take the opportunity to have a wide discussion over the whole field of agriculture, I would, however, say this to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland: There is at the moment a very serious shortage of agricultural labour, especially in the North-East of Scotland, and I think we can say on the Second Reading of a Bill which deals with agricultural wages that every effort should be made by the Government to see that as many as possible of the men who are essential for food production should be released from the Army, or from any other Service, in order that we may attain the maximum possible results in the shortest possible space of time. Particularly is there a shortage of labour in the case of certain small farmers or crofters who are accustomed to farm with the assistance of their families and secure the maximum output from their holdings. In my own constituency, at any rate I have found many cases in which the presence or absence of one young man of the age of perhaps 21 or 22—
§ Mr. Speaker
It would be out of place on this Bill to discuss the question of getting men back from the Army.
§ Mr. Boothby
I accept your ruling, Mr. Speaker, and I will leave that subject. I was only going to say that it makes all the difference between whether the croft or farm is well run or not. With regard to the question of wages, I regard this Bill as the logical conclusion of the legislation which was passed two or three years ago. Since the last Measure was passed by this House there has been a great extension of guaranteed prices to the farmer. The corollary of guaranteed prices is guaranteed wages, and it would have been impossible to continue guaranteeing to the farmer the price of mutton, beef, pigs, oats, barley or wheat without taking steps to secure that the agricultural workers have guaranteed wages. This Bill provides the necessary machinery.
I agree with the hon. Member for North Cumberland that there are not specific directions that the wages of agricultural workers, which are at present too low, should be raised, but I think I express the opinion of every hon. Member on both sides of the House in saying that we shall be bitterly disappointed if, as a result of this Measure, agricultural wages are not raised substantially in Scotland. I would go so far as to endorse the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) when he said that a wage of approximately £3 a week, rather than £2 a week, for the agricultural worker in Scotland, who is a skilled worker, would very much more closely correspond to the realities of the situation. It is a little difficult to discuss this Bill without taking some account of perquisites, because they play a large part in the agricultural wage system in Scotland. My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) intervenes to say that perquisites are a good excuse for not paying more. I dare say it would be simpler, and that we shall come to it in the end, that wages will be settled on a purely cash basis, and perhaps that will be more satisfactory. But there is one perquisite which is vitally important at the moment, the worker's house.
Any of us who have any knowledge of conditions in the agricultural districts of Scotland cannot fail to be appalled by the housing conditions. They really are terrible, and I do beg my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to give urgent and further consideration to this particular aspect of the case, 1002 especially along the lines suggested by the hon. Member for North Cumberland. We cannot reform in six months or a year the present condition of rural housing in Scotland. That is beyond the power of anybody, but at the same time I feel that those who are condemned to live for some considerable time to come in those miserable, wretched hovels, because that is all they are, should receive some special consideration at the hands of the Government. On the general and wider question, we shall not prevent the drift of agricultural workers from the country into the towns, which it is absolutely vital to stop at the present time, unless and until we can provide those who work on the land with more amenities and a wider form of life than they possess at the present time. It is not only the question of housing. The question of transport facilities comes in, although they have been greatly improved. The question of cinemas comes in also.
§ Mr. Boothby
I would not go so far as to say that cinemas are a perquisite, but I did think that the general question of the life and the amenities of agricultural workers could be raised on the Second Reading of a Measure of this character. It seems to me to provide an absolutely essential piece of machinery for the regulation of the wages of farm-workers. It may be amended from time to time. It may be amended in accordance with the views of hon. Members opposite, but I think they themselves will admit that the Measure is long overdue and that some centralised form of control over the wages of agricultural workers ought to have been set up long ago, and now that guaranteed prices have been given to farmers it has become absolutely essential. Such a Bill is warmly to be welcomed, and I still maintain that hon. Members on this side, no less than those opposite, would wish that the results of the Bill should be to raise rather than to maintain the level of wages at present paid to agricultural workers.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Cassells (Dumbartonshire)
I am sorry that I cannot share the Minister's optimism, but, speaking on behalf of this side of the House, I can at least say that we shall do everything within our power to see that the Bill is the success which 1003 the country and the people desire. We in Scotland sometimes think that we are rather looked down upon by our brothers South of the Border, and it is very little compensation for us to be told that we are being dealt with in the same way or slightly better than the English poeple. It reminds me of an experience that I had during my first election, when an English gentleman was sent up to speak with me at a meeting in a Scottish village. He was endeavouring to enlist support for me, but he had rather the opposite effect, because he tried to prove to that truly national Scottish audience that the battle of Bannockburn was a positive fiction and had never taken place. This Bill is highly essential to the development of agriculture in our country. I entirely endorse what the last speaker said, that, if it is to be a success, it must inevitably prevent the drift of agricultural workers from the country to the city. I am satisfied that that is one of the main reasons why the right hon. Gentleman has taken this step. For several years past the agricultural employé has been faced with low wages, bad social conditions and difficulty as far as housing is concerned. Against that there are in the cities better wages, better housing conditions and better social environments.
I thought from what my hon. Friend who followed the Minister said that his view was that there were only two parties who had to do something to make the Bill a success, the farmer and the farm servant. I would go a step further. There are three parties to the Bill who will be able to make it a success. There are not only the farmer himself and the farm servant, but there is the Minister. I am satisfied that he can either make or mar the Bill. He has a very distinct and definite responsibility. The wage to be fixed is to be determined having regard to the ability of the individual farmer to pay. I should assume that it is quite relevant to throw out suggestions to the Minister indicative of steps which can be taken to assist the position of the farmer, and accordingly, at the end of the day, if the system suggested in the Bill is invoked, to benefit the position, financially and otherwise, of the farm labourer. My constituency is to a very great extent agricultural. I have heard many people say that the average farmer is a wealthy man. My experience is rather the reverse.
1004 The Minister did not answer the point that I put to him. What is the maximum variation at present as far as wages are concerned? That is a very vital consideration. I can visualise, for example, a low wage for the district taking in the county of Argyll, which, I understand, is a difficult place from the agricultural point of view, as compared with the wage payable in South Ayrshire. I do not want to see any area getting preferential treatment as compared with any other. We are trying to treat Scotland as a single unit, and to develop it to the best advantage. I hope that the authority which the Board will get under the Bill will not be used for the purpose of reducing wages below the level fixed by local committees. I hope the very reverse will be the case and that every step will be taken to see that wages will be increased rather than reduced. I heartily endorse the appointment of Mr. McIntyre as chairman of the Board. It may well be that very rarely will legal questions arise, but Mr. McIntyre is well known to my profession as a man of the highest ability and is held in great esteem by the people of our country as a whole, and I am sure that in making the appointment the right hon. Gentleman will be well served.
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing (Weston-super-Mare)
Perhaps I ought to apologise for intervening in a Scottish Debate, but perhaps my apology need not be as heartfelt as that of the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) as I happen to be a Scotsman, an honour which he does not share. I should like to congratulate the Secretary of State on introducing this Measure. Whereas one could criticise the English Measure as having been bred by "Good intentions" out of "Little consideration," I think this Bill was bred by "Good intentions" out of "Experience," or "Commonsense." Whichever it was, the result is certainly a much more practical Measure, to my mind, than that which dealt with the English problem. There are other 1005 grounds for congratulation. It appears to me, not only from what my right hon. Friend said but from what I have heard outside, that far fairer consideration was given both by farmers and farm-workers to the problems with which they were faced, and they have evolved a very great measure of agreement and have brought about the foundation of what seems to me to be a very sound step forward. I cannot agree with the hon. Member for North Cumberland when he denied that this was any great change, nor can I agree with the description given by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby), when he called this a great revolution in the agricultural system of Scotland. It rather falls between those two descriptions. It is a step forward not in a gradual but in a rapid form of evolution, with a realisation of the important part, played by the agricultural worker in the prosperity of the industry itself, quite apart from the important part that he plays in providing a national necessity, a fact which is hardly ever recognised except in time of emergency. I feel, too, that, in comparing this with the English Measure, there is maintained an easier means of adapting local knowledge to national considerations.
I think that the system under which the determination is first made by the local wages committee, while power is given to override the decision by the Central Wages Board, is a better way of dealing with the problem. It would be overstressing the effect of war-time assistance and war-time methods of dealing with agricultural problems if we were to consider the wages question as being too closely locked up with the question of standard prices for agricultural products. Standard prices must surely be considered seriously in connection with varying costs in different parts of the country. I must admit to a sense of alarm when I hear it so bluntly stated that, because there is a standard price, there must also be a standard wage. If conditions vary anywhere in this realm in regard to agricultural production, they vary most of all in Scotland. Therefore, in that sense alone, the Secretary of State has been immensely wise in maintaining the free use of that local knowledge which has been collected in dealing with the problem of the wages of the agricultural worker.
1006 Finally, while I have a deep admiration for the work of the agricultural labourer in England, I have an even higher sense of the value of the work which his opposite number is doing North of the Border, because I believe that the skill, devotion, patience and endurance which have been shown North of the Border surpasses even what has been shown in the South. I hope that those workers may benefit under the Bill.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen (Glasgow, Camlachie)
The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken was right in disagreeing with the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) in regarding the Measure as a revolution. Perhaps the hon. Member was inclined to give the Measure an importance which it does not deserve. I have listened to the Debate with very great interest, but with only one speech was I in general agreement. That speech was by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers), whom I would like to congratulate on leading the Opposition on this question, in the absence of the Scottish Regional Commissioner and his understudy. I think that the hon. Member knows the position very distinctly and adequately in relation to this Measure.
What does the Bill do? It transfers power to override a district decision from the hands of the Secretary of State for Scotland to those of the Central Wages Board, and it increases the independent representation on the Central Wages Board from three to five. I am glad to see that the understudy of the Scottish Regional Commissioner is here. I did not notice him before, but I am glad that he has been able to get away from his onerous duties in carrying on the war.
§ Mr. Stephen
The hon. Gentleman is drawing the long bow when he says that during the last six months he has been as regular an attender as myself.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Dennis Herbert)
I would call the hon. Member's attention to the fact that the attendance of hon. Members is not dealt with in the Bill.
§ Mr. Stephen
I am sorry, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if I was led away by the hon. 1007 Member across the Gangway. As I have said, the Measure transfers powers from the hands of the Secretary of State—
§ Mr. Stephen
I do not think the difference is very big. If the Secretary of State referred a matter back to the district wages board, any reasonable district wages board would see that some alteration would, in the circumstances, have to be made. Now the Central Wages Board will have this power. I do not think it is revolutionary or fundamental in that connection.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
It is not clear what further power the hon. Gentleman is talking about. What higher power can a wage-fixing body have than the power to fix wages?
§ Mr. Stephen
The hon. Member heard what the Secretary of State said. A district wages board is able to fix a wage. If the Secretary of State has not liked it, he has had the power to send it back, but that did not necessarily mean that they had to change their position after he had sent it back.
§ Mr. Colville
I do not want to interrupt the hon. Member, but what I said was that, as the law stands, I can refer a wage rate back to a committee and ask them to reconsider their decision, but there is no means of ensuring that such reconsideration will be effected. In the Bill that I am proposing, the Central Wages Board can refer back to the district, and if the district do not agree, the Central Board will have power to fix the rate.
§ Mr. Stephen
The Minister has not stated anything different from what I am saying. The hon. Gentleman who interrupted me from the other side said that he did not see how the Central Wages Board could give a different decision if other boards were set up to make the decision. He interrupted me in order to make that statement.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
I do not want to delay the passage of the Bill or to continue to interrupt the hon. Member, but I am sure that he has not understood me. He was complaining that the Central Wages Board have really no greater power than they have had before, and he suggested 1008 that they should have greater power. My question was, What greater power does he imagine they could have than the power to fix wages, if they were dissatisfied with a decision of the district wages board? I still do not understand what greater power they could have.
§ Mr. Stephen
The hon. Gentleman quite obviously misunderstands what I said. I pointed out that there was power in the Secretary of State for Scotland before to refer back to a district board, but that it did not follow that his reference back would have any effect. This power is now given to the Central Wages Board, and there is the addition that, if they do not agree, they can fix a different wage from that decided by the district board. There is also to be increased independent representation on the Board from three to five. I do not know that that increase is advantageous to the farm-workers. It will mean that farmers or landowners will have five representatives, in addition to the representation of the farm-workers. There will be a few more supporters of the farmers and a greater possibility of a majority for the farmers on the district wages board. There is an idea that such people are independent; they are not. Everyone has his prejudices. Generally, people who are appointed to these positions take the point of view of the vested interests in the county. They are set up by a capitalist Government, and I have always found that so-called independent representatives are anything but really independent.
I was in greatest sympathy with a speech which was not made, but which I could feel coming down to this bench from the benches behind me, when I heard references to the land. There is much talk about the need for agricultural workers getting an adequate wage now that subsidies are being given, and now that this development is taking place in agriculture the worker has to share in the prosperity. Presumably, the object of the proposed machinery is to enable him to share in that way, but I do not believe that he will be able to share very much in the prosperity, any more than he did in the last war. The full benefit will really go to the landowner.
The Bill is a very small Measure that may help the worker in a very minor way. The hon. Member for Dumbartonshire 1009 (Mr. Cassells) and some other hon. Members have pointed to the fact that the Central Wages Board may tend to give a national minimum for the whole country, but the hon. Member for Linlithgow said that the Farm-Workers' Union had, in the main, been against such a development, because of their fear that a minimum would tend to become a maximum for the country. That has been the policy of the Farm-Workers' Union in the past, and was one of the difficulties that had to be faced in connection with the situation. Both farmers and farm-workers were against the laying down of a national minimum. I doubt very much whether the Measure will overcome the point of view of the workers and the farmers in that respect.
I do not represent many farm-workers, but the party which I represent in this House has a real interest in the matter and has done a great deal of agitational work in the agricultural districts of Scotland. My complaint, on behalf of the members of my party, one of the first in connection with the working of the 1937 Measure, was that the Measure was somewhat slow in coming into operation. The Secretary of State for Scotland had to be pressed to say that the district wage was being paid in certain districts. I remember that it took me some months to move the Scottish Department to get the Act operating in the part of the country to which I referred, where the wages were not being paid. From my own personal experience, I recognise that there has been a certain improvement in some districts because of the 1937 Act, and I hope that there will be a certain amount of improvement here. I do not look for much, but I believe that an important matter in connection with wages is the development of the workers' own organisation. One, of the tragedies in connection with rural workers has been the difficulty in getting the rural workers adequately organised. With an effective body of something like 100 per cent. organisation, there would have been better conditions for the workers.
I now come to the question of perquisites. Those perquisites have been used very largely as an excuse for keeping down the wages of agricultural workers. They do not represent anything like the value which has been put upon them, and the criticisms that have been made of 1010 the housing perquisite in connection with wages shows how poor have been those perquisites. I would like to give a word of warning to the Secretary of State for Scotland. While recognising these horrible housing conditions in connection with those housing perquisites, I am not prepared to say that priority should be given only in certain cases. The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) spoke quite rightly from his point of view in representing his division, and I am representing my constituents in what I say. We should have priority for both the rural and industrial centres in dealing with those terrible housing conditions.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I am afraid that the speech which the hon. Member is now making is going beyond the Bill.
§ Mr. Stephen
I am sorry if I have transgressed, but I thought the caveat should be made. I will pass on to say that I think this Bill is a very minor Measure. The question of the wages of the workers is one which will be largely settled by the organisation of the workers themselves and the struggle that the workers will have to make in the not distant future as prices rise and as the national circumstances are exploited by the landowning and the possessing classes in this country.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
The Minister said that during last week he had travelled over300 miles in Scotland and he was very interested to see the amount of new land that was being ploughed up. I would like to make three observations on that remark. First of all, even though there is a considerable amount of new land being ploughed up it is only scratching at the surface of the problem of agriculture in Scotland. Secondly, it is a lamentable commentary on the condition that we have allowed agriculture to get into, that if is only when we get war that we get this particular development. One is entitled to ask, if it has been possible to plough this land during the last few weeks, was it not possible to plough the land during the past few years. [An Hon. Member: "There is the question of prices."] I understand that the system is of such a character that it is not the welfare of the country or of the people, but the question 1011 of prices and profits which is the whole concern. My third point is that this new ploughing-up is not in any way related to this Bill.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I was merely drawing the Minister's attention to the fact that his own remarks had no relation to the Bill—not my remarks.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
It is the hon. Member's remarks that I am referring to. He must confine himself to this Bill.
§ Mr. Gallacher
This Bill will not in any way solve the most difficult problems that we have to face in connection with wages. We have certain areas in Scotland where there is a certain measure of prosperity. There are other areas that are in the very depths of depression. This Bill will not in any way help to better the position in those depressed areas. The Board has the power to examine recommendations that come from the local committee; the committee examines the condition that exists in a particular area; the farmers in these areas are very poor, and so we have, by this process, an attempt to perpetuate a situation in which you have variations of a very considerable character in Scottish districts. Where there is a very great variation between one area and another, it is obvious that the population will not go back into the area which is in a depressed condition and where the wages are low. Instead of getting the population to go back you will lose more population. We have in Scotland certain areas where there is scarcely any sign of human habitation. This Bill, by its wages system, will not bring back the agricultural workers to those parts where there is the greatest need for bringing back the population.
An hon. Member opposite asked what further powers should the Board have. There is one power which I say the Board should have and one power that it should not have. It should be clear and specific that the Board has no power to reduce a recommendation from a committee, because it is clear that no committee will propose an exorbitant wage for the farm labourer. Where it has evidence to satisfy it, the Board should have power to increase wages over and above what has 1012 been recommended by a committee. In no circumstances should it have power to reduce wages as recommended by a committee.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
I thought my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had reassured us on that point. I understood that the Central Wages Board would not have power to reduce wages fixed by local committees.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Of course the Board has power to reduce wages. It is obvious that the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) and the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) are exceptionally generous in sentiment when they are not being called upon to pay up. The hon. Members for East Fife and East Aberdeen are in favour of £3 a week for the farm labourers at some time in the dim and distant future, but at the present time are they prepared to support a proposal that the Central Board shall have no power whatever to reduce wages on the recommendation of one of these district committees? The Board should have power, if the evidence or the situation demands it, to increase wages over and above what has been proposed by an area committee. I consider that this is of the greatest importance for the purpose of raising the general level of agricultural wages in Scotland. Only as there is a possibility of raising the general level, will the maintenance of the agricultural workers on the land be possible, or will it be possible to attract back to the land the population that have been driven away.
I am all against the idea of perquisites. But perquisites are a feature of Scottish agriculture and the Board has to take perquisites into account. I ask the Minister whether he will put something into the Bill to meet this point. Potatoes are perquisites. If the Board decides that the wages of an area should be so much, plus perquisites, in the form of potatoes, would the farmer be entitled to escape his responsibilities by supplying his farm labourers with his rotten potatoes, potatoes unfit for human consumption? You say no farmer would supply his farm workers with potatoes unfit for human consumption; if he did the Board would interfere. But some of the farmers are supplying tied houses as perquisites and many of these tied houses are unfit for human habitation. Will the 1013 Board interfere? Does anyone deny that farmers in Scotland are supplying housing as a perquisite which is recognised by the Board as a perquisite? Is there anybody who will deny that farmers, having got from the Board a decision that the wages can be kept down to a particular level, because of a perquisite in the form of a free house, are supplying houses which are unfit for human habitation? Has the Board any power to deal with that? I want to know whether the Board will have power to say "The wages are at such and such a level, because you are giving a perquisite in the form of a free house and that house must be such as will conform to the conditions laid down by the 1937 Act"? Will the Minister put such a provision in the Bill?
The hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood), referring to the statement made by the Secretary of State, says that he knows Mr. McIntyre and that he is a very fine gentleman. Mr. McIntyre may be a fine gentleman, but there is always the questionable fact that he is a member of the Faculty of Advocates. We know that the Faculty of Advocates is a regular racket.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Member may or may not hold that particular view about the Faculty of Advocates, but, apart from questions of good taste, what he is saying has nothing whatever to do with this Bill, and it is entirely out of Order.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I would point out that if there is a well-paid job provided under any Scottish Bill, somebody from the Faculty of Advocates is put into that job.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Member should remember that it is this Bill that we are discussing now.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Then I will deal with this particular member of the Faculty of Advocates. The Minister said that he 1014 had put a member of the Faculty of Advocates into this position because occasionally—not often, but occasionally—a legal question might come up. But what is the big all-important question that will be continually before this Board? Is it a legal question or a question of livelihood? It is a question of the livelihood of agricultural workers. If that is the dominating question, and if legal questions are only occasional, should not the member chosen as chairman of the Board be one who has special qualifications to direct the Board on this all-important question of how the agricultural workers are to live? If you wanted such a man, whom would you select?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
If the hon. Member wishes to interrupt in order to ask a question of the hon. Member speaking he may do so, if the hon. Member in possession gives way, but I must ask him not to say that he is rising to a point of Order when the question has nothing to do with Order.
§ Mr. Cassells
May I ask whether the hon. Member considers it fair to attack a person who has received an appointment, if he has made no investigation of the credentials which that person undoubtedly possesses?
§ Mr. Gallacher
I am entitled to discuss what was said by the Secretary of State for Scotland. He said that he had appointed a member of the Faculty of Advocates because that person had very wide experience on legal matters and occasionally legal matters would come before the Board.
§ Mr. Colville
The hon. Member has forgotten the most important part of what I said. I said that this gentleman had wide experience of conciliation in industry, and that I knew his name was acceptable to both sides.
§ Mr. Gallacher
But the big question to be decided by the Board is neither a legal question nor a question of conciliation. It is the question of how the agricultural workers are to live: how much it costs them to live, and the general character of life that should be accorded to them. There will be questions about tied houses, social amenities, and so on, and how they 1015 are affected by the wages which the agricultural workers receive. Who is capable of giving advice to the Board on such matters? Not necessarily a member of the Faculty of Advocates, but a man like the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan), who comes from the pit, who has had to work and live on a wage such as the agricultural workers receive. There is the question of how the wife of the agricultural worker is to expend the amount of money that she gets in a week. What does the Faculty of Advocates know about that?
Every time a committee or a board is set up we get as chairman somebody who is called an independent gentleman, who has no real understanding of the problem at all. The chairman of the Board should be a labourer, or someone drawn from the pits, the engineering shops or the railways—not a trade union official, but someone living on a wage comparable to that of the agricultural worker. In discussing the Clauses of this Bill we should have the power in this House to force the Minister to withdraw the member of the Faculty of Advocates, and to substitute someone who understands the life of the agricultural workers, and who would, therefore, be able to guide the Board in dealing with these problems. This Bill will not solve the problems that confront Scotish agriculture or the Scottish agricultural worker if the Board is to have power to adjust wages in a downward sense. If the Board is given power to adjust wages in an upward sense only that is the one way of ensuring a general wage rate in Scotland with the possibility of restoring the agricultural population in Scotland.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Mr. J. J. Davidson (Glasgow, Maryhill)
I listened to the speeches of the Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member who led for the Opposition, and the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart), and I feel that in those three speeches very little justification has been put forward for this Bill. The Secretary of State referred constantly to the English Bill on agriculture, and we assume that this Bill follows the lines of that Bill. During all those agricultural Debates great stress was laid, not by humble back benchers like myself, but by very prominent Members like the right 1016 hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and front benchers on both sides, on the great need for agricultural development in this country, in order to assist the prosecution of the war. During all our agricultural Debates we have had devastating criticism of the small, miserable steps taken by the Government to promote agricultural development. Undoubtedly, the real reason for these Measures is not that the Government desire to do something for the agricultural worker, but that they wish to improve the agricultural development of Scotland, and bring agricultural workers back from the cities, where they have been for so long. In order to establish a scheme of production for the welfare of the country, the Government bring in a miserably meagre Measure such as this.
The hon. Member for East Fife was very worried when he discovered what powers were possessed by the Central Board. The Board can inform a district committee that their district rate of wages is too high if the district rate of wages is succeeding in drawing agricultural labour away from another area. This is the whole scheme as I see it. You are setting up this Central Board and giving them those extra powers, not in order to raise the standard of life of the agricultural workers, but in order that the agricultural workers shall not be permitted to go to areas where a higher rate of wages is an inducement. Under this Bill, if a district committee decide on a rate of wages that would induce agricultural workers to go there from another area, the Central Board can say to the district committee that, within a stated period—and I wish the Bill had been more clear on that point—theymust give reasons why the wages in that area are of a certain standard; and then the Board may decide that the district committee had no right to fix such a standard. From such a decision there will be no appeal. This will result, not in the highest minimum rates of wages, but in the lowest minimum rates of wages becoming established throughout Scotland. This is a Bill toamend the provisions of the Agricultural Wages (Regulation) (Scotland) Act, 1937, relating to the power to direct reconsideration of minimum rates of wages.My contention is that a Sub-section should have been inserted relating to interference with maximum rates of pay. 1017 The powers of this Board are far too wide. They may reduce wages where they consider those wages to be a menace to other areas in Scotland. It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to say that this has been practically agreed to by both sides. We on this side, particularly, know the position of the farm-workers' union. I would pay tribute to the great work done by the secretary of that union and his assistants for many years in bringing forward the problems and the needs of the farm-workers of Scotland. I refer to Mr. Duncan. It is not good enough to say to those of us who have had experience that the chairman of the committee or the composition of the committee has been agreed to by both sides. We know the strength of the Farm Servants' Union, and that they have to fight step by step for everything that they get. After all the negotiations, to say that they have agreed to this without qualification, in view of the pressure that they have brought to bear to try to obtain further improvements, is not stating the whole case clearly and concisely to hon. Members.
I would like to deal with the question of the appointment of this legal person on the Board. My hon. Friend the Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. Cassells) has on many occasions in the House of Commons complained that chairmen or secretaries or members of committees have not been appointed from the legal profession. I know that he will extend to a layman the right of criticising even a member of the legal profession. I would ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what is the objection to a member, for instance, of the Farm Servants' Union being the chairman? I will even modify that and ask what is the objection to a workers' representative and an employers' representative acting as is done in many industries in the country to-day? Why must it always be a man from the legal profession? It has been pointed out on this occasion that he should be a member of the Faculty of Advocates. That is an organisation which is not highly esteemed in Scotland, and in which there are many members who would do anything in order to bring their names to the forefront of public opinion.
Why must a legal man decide the questions that a district committee may bring before the Central Wages Board? Why 1018 should it not be a member of the agricultural industry itself? Why should not there be some more suitable arrangement? The Bills passed by this House are not difficult to understand as a rule. The right hon. Gentleman himself makes, on occasion, clear and concise statements with regard to legislation before the House. I do not see any necessity therefore to have a member of the learned profession to discuss the question of farm workers' wages. I trust that that question will be reconsidered and that, where possible, the workers' side of the organisation will be represented. The right hon. Gentleman stated that with regard to the appointment of the chairman both sides were agreed, but were the workers' side asked to nominate anyone for this job? Were the Farm Servants' Union representatives assured that any nominations they made would be fully considered? Had they that opportunity? If they had not, it is sheer nonsense to say that both sides agreed that this was a good appointment.
There is one other point that I would like to place before the Secretary of State for Scotland. I would ask whether a district committee, in fixing the rate of wages for farm-workers in a district, take into account the housing accommodation, and what representations the workers' representatives make with regard to the inadequacy of housing conditions. We all know the housing conditions of the Scottish farm-workers. In Scotland, the tied cottage system exists to the extent of almost 100 per cent. I would like to know what power the worker's representatives are to have in making representations, where a district committee has allowed a certain amount for housing accommodation, to the effect that the allowance is inadequate and that the house in question is not worth one-tenth of the allowance laid down—as is generally the case? To what court of appeal will they be able to apply? I believe that if the right hon. Gentleman had left a right of appeal to the Secretary of State it would have considerably strengthened the Bill. The members of the district committee understand the agricultural customs of the area and have a more intimate knowledge of the immediate problems than any outsiders. Should they come into dispute with the Central Wages Board, the latter will have complete authority 1019 to say to them, "You can make representations, but we have the absolute power to say that your recommendations shall not be carried into effect and that our plan must be operated by your district." What we desire to see in agriculture to-day is a better feeling and understanding among all sections of that great industry, and I greatly fear the result of this power being vested in the Central Wages Board, which cannot have the same knowledge of local conditions as the district committees. It will tend to cause disputes which would have been avoided if the whole matter could have been remitted on appeal to the right hon. Gentleman himself.
This is a meagre attempt to deal with the question. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers), who spoke on this point, said that he had been in touch with the representatives of the Farm Servants' Union, and pointed out that they had agreed that this Measure should not be opposed. The right hon. Gentleman opposite may smile, but we have had unions coming to the Opposition in the House of Commons and, because they were getting a small measure of advance, or because a Bill did not materially affect their conditions, saying, "There is not much harm in the Bill although there is not much good." I think that that is all that can be said about this Measure. The Secretary of State for Scotland, by the use of some words, has surrounded the real purpose of the Central Wages Board. He has kept away from hon. Members the fact that the Central Wages Board can reduce the wages in any district, and that will tend to lower the minimum rate of wages in Scotland. Agriculture in Scotland as well as in England, calls for a big policy and for generosity from the Government. As has been pointed out repeatedly, it is an industry upon which we shall depend for our ultimate survival, and halting, hesitating, little steps, such as these, in which the rights and privileges of those in power are constantly surrounded by words of protection, will not do anything to better agriculture in Scotland, and, in my opinion, will not advance one whit the demands of one of the most important sections of the community—the farm workers of Scotland.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Sloan (South Ayrshire)
Faced with the limitations of the discussions on this Bill, I do not think that it will take me very long to say all that is left for me to say. When this Bill was introduced I thought that we would be able to discuss agriculture in general, but it has been hemmed around so closely that that is impossible. The Bill which has been presented to the House of Commons this afternoon is one of the most footling that has ever been presented to this House. The Minister and the House must have realised it, because there is to be a very important discussion after we have finished this Bill on the location of industry, and it was expected that Scotland would be shovelled off the map in order to allow the discussion to proceed. The Secretary of State for Scotland stated that one of the difficulties was that in regard to the English Bill England started from a certain minimum, but in this Bill there is no minimum. I think that that is the chief defect of the Bill. In any Bill for the regulation of wages the first thing that ought to be done is to fix a definite minimum wage below which wages cannot go. That the generally accepted practice in every other industry should not be acceptable to agriculture is something that I cannot really understand.
The agricultural worker is expected under the provisions of this Bill to look forward to the day when he may have a decent wage. It has been suggested in some quarters of the House already that by and by he might reach the magnificent sum of £3 a week—not to-day, nor tomorrow, but some day, by and by. To an agricultural worker and his wife and four children—they still have families, unfortunately, in the agricultural districts—£3 a week would mean the magnificent sum of 10s. a week each. Yet the Government are getting over the difficulties with which they have been met by offering 10s. 6d. a week for the maintenance of an evacuee. I think that a great deal of difficulty has been created by the use of the term "agricultural labourer." The agricultural worker is not a labourer. We hear in general terms about the bricklayer's labourer, or the plasterer's labourer, or the general labourer, and the word "labourer" always carries with it a lower standard of 1021 wage than that of the skilled craftsman. I want to suggest, most respectfully, that the agricultural worker is not a labourer. He is a skilled craftsman; as a matter of fact, he has a dozen skilled trades at his finger ends, and I would ask any hon. Member of this House who has been reared in an agricultural district to try any one of the 12 trades. He will soon discover whether or not an agricultural worker is a skilled craftsman. The first charge upon any industry ought to be a living wage to the workers engaged in it. There has been no reluctance or hesitation on the part of the House to provide doles, grants or subsidies to help the output of agricultural produce, and we ought to have just as little hesitation in fixing wages at a standard that will allow a decent living for the agricultural worker.
Do we realise how many things the agricultural worker does produce—milk, butter, cheese, eggs, meat, cereals, wheat and oats, all required for human consumption? It is a travesty that workers in any industry who produce goods are always the last to receive them. A coal miner produces coal and sits by an empty grate; the worker in the clothing industry goes naked; shoemakers go bare-footed and makers of motor cars have to walk. The agricultural worker who produces food goes without food. I live in a very important agricultural area, and as a member of an education authority I have seen agricultural workers asking for boots for their children who are attending school. The tragedy of it was that the wages scale brought them within the ambit of the scale provided by the education authority for the provision of boots and clothing for children.
This Bill will not put a single penny into the pockets of the agricultural workers. They have the right to appeal to boards. Those of us who know something about agricultural committees know that agricultural workers have very little respect for them. They are so packed and often such decisions are given that they do not meet with the approval of the workers in the vicinity. At a time when you ought to have agricultural workers at peace, the situation is becoming very difficult. You cannot cut off huge supplies from Denmark and replace 6,000 tons of butter a month without doing something to help the agricultural workers to do it. There is not a single line or syllable in this Bill that will enable 1022 agricultural workers to do that very important job.
The Secretary of State mentioned housing, which, I may say, is very closely linked with the question of the wages of the agricultural worker in every agricultural district in this country and, more so, in Ayrshire. We have had deplorable statements made in regard to the conditions of many agricultural houses. The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr.Henderson Stewart) asked the Minister what he was doing in regard to housing. I do not know that but I can tell the House what the Minister is doing to prevent housing. I can tell the House that a circular was sent to local authorities which prevented them proceeding with housing under the Rural Housing Act. Restrictions are such that no local authority will be able to proceed under the Act and replace the houses which have been condemned in this House. It is a pity that the Government, when they have an opportunity of placing agricultural workers on a decent basis, have not taken the necessary steps in this present Bill. If the agricultural workers are expecting something from this Measure, they are doomed to disappointment. The hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) put his finger on the spot when he stated that the difficulty of agricultural workers in the country was the lack of organisation. When agricultural workers have sufficient sense to organise themselves as closely as the Farmers' Union is organised then they will have immediate results, both in this House and outside.
In conclusion, I would say that I do not think you will do anything by this Bill to relieve the conditions of the workers in my constituency, and they are not the worst by any means. The very fact that you have disappointed them will make them realise that there is no hope for them here and will, perhaps, drive them to organise, not only against their employers, but against the Government of the country.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Captain McEwen)
I would again emphasise what has already been said this afternoon—that this is a wages Bill. As such, I maintain that it has received a very gratifying meed of approval in spite of the last four speeches to which we have listened. I would like to say 1023 a word about some of the points raised during the course of the Debate. First, I would say to the hon. Member who has just resumed his seat that I have, also, a long knowledge of South Ayrshire, and it seems to me possible that the agricultural workers there may be surprised to learn, when they read his speech, that they are in any way responsible for making cheese. The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), the hon. Member for Maryhill (Mr. Davidson), and others raised the question of the powers of the Board, and I rather gathered that the view of the hon. Member for West Fife was that the Board's powers were not sufficiently wide. It is quite true, of course, that the Board, as constituted, has not every kind of power. It lacks, for example, power of arbitrary liquidation, among others, but I would like to make quite clear the point as to the revising powers which it actually possesses. It has powers to revise—up as well as down—and I would point out that that was also part of the recommendation of the Caithness Committee which was agreed to by both sides.
The hon. Member for Maryhill raised another point dealing with the appointment of the new chairman of the Board, and in that connection I would like to thank the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. Cassells) for his laudatory remarks, with which I am sure hon. Members heartily agree, about Mr. McIntyre. The hon. Member for Maryhill and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) emphasised the point that there was no such thing—and I have every reason to suppose they sincerely believe it—as an independent mind. Such has not been my experience, and I maintain, without hesitation, that in spite of what they and others may think, there is such a thing. It is very valuable, and we believe we shall have the use of such minds on this particular Board. In answer to the somewhat derogatory speeches about this Measure, I would like to point out that the Farm Servants' Union place a higher value on this Bill than any of the last four speakers.
The question of perquisites was also raised, and there is nothing here or elsewhere which compels farm-workers to accept perquisites. The minimum rate fixed is a total cash wage. Values are 1024 placed upon perquisites by committees, and if perquisites are accepted by workers, deductions cannot exceed the value fixed by a committee. A committee can also determine the maximum extent to which perquisites may be given in lieu of cash. Further, I am advised that the Board will have full power to revise any finding of a committee in regard to perquisites.
§ Mr. Davidson
Suppose the district committee fixes perquisites at so much and the Central Board decides against the district committee. Is that the final word, or is there any appeal?
§ Captain McEwen
It is also part of the recommendation of the Caithness Committee. The hon. Member for Dumbartonshire talked about the variations in the rate of wages in different parts of Scotland. It is difficult to draw an exact comparison between the rate of wages in different districts because of the varying conditions in the districts, for example, the number of weekly hours to which the wages relate, but, subject to that qualification, the wages paid at present reveal certain differences between the highest and the lowest in different districts. Let me give a few figures. The lowest wage for grieves is 38s. 6d. and the highest48s. 6d., for cattlemen 38s. 6d. and 46s. 6d., for ploughmen and horsemen 37s. and 42s., and for other workers who are not classified 34s. 6d. and 39s. 6d. That is a variation of between 10s. and 5s.
§ Mr. Cassells
The hon. and gallant Member will agree that these are considerable variations. May we have an undertaking that everything possible will be done under this Measure to prevent such fluctuations?
§ Captain McEwen
It is true that the variations are considerable, but at the same time the differences in conditions are likewise considerable. While I cannot give an undertaking of the kind asked for by the hon. Member, I hope that one of the effects of the Bill will be to iron out such differences. May I say again that none of the members of the Board are paid, the chairman included. The hon. 1025 Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) raised a point which was perhaps not strictly relevant to the Bill, but as it has been mentioned by other hon. Members I cannot ignore it altogether. That is the question of housing. While I agree that in some parts of Scotland you will find conditions in rural houses which would correspond to the extremely black picture that has been painted by hon. Members—the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) among them—it is not universal, and I must bring to the notice of the House the fact that another side of the picture exists. That is the extremely good work carried out over a long period of years under the Rural Housing Acts. If the hon. Member would like to see an example of the working of the Rural Housing Act and an example of good housing in contradistinction to the picture he drew, I would invite him to the counties of East Lothian and Berwickshire where he will find conditions which are very different.
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan) made a statement which cannot be allowed to pass uncontradicted. He said that the Department are now forbidding the continuance of rural housing. The hon. Member must be aware that there; is a war going on and that there is a very great shortage of timber. It is almost entirely due to that that strictures have been made, but at the same time the Government are continuing to pay subsidies in respect of rural houses. The hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) remarked that this was not so precise a Bill as its English equivalent. That may be so, but it is only fair to remind him that neither farm servants nor farmers would look at a Bill similar to the one passed for England.
§ Captain McEwen
The hon. Member made another point about a training scheme for youths. He gave us to understand that such a scheme was in being in England, and he wanted to know what was happening in Scotland. Such a scheme may be in being in a very embryonic form in England, and as far as we are concerned North of the Border we have such a scheme under close attention at the present time. I do not think I can deal with another point raised by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen because he hardly had time to develop it—the 1026 release of key men—before he was called to order, and I do not want to run a similar risk. The background of this Bill, which admittedly deals with one phase of agricultural life in Scotland, goes back a long way. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already given a sketch of that background. May I remind the House that some six or seven years ago there was a great desire to obtain a scheme of collective bargaining with regard to wages in Scotland, and I myself at that time did what I could in my own small sphere to bring it into being. It was not possible, and once it was found to be an imposible way of dealing with this question it was inevitable that sooner or later we should reach the stage we have in this Bill. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers) commended the Bill as one designed to standardise the rate of wages in Scotland of agricultural workers, as one which would prevent anomalies. I believe it will do both, and I hope also that it will prevent, as some hon. Members have suggested, a further drift to the towns. The Bill will require the good will and vigilance of farmers and farm-workers, and I venture the prediction that neither will be lacking. I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Mr. Buchan-Hepburn,]