§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.46 p.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Thomas Williams)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This Bill is one of two which were foreshadowed in the statement on agricultural policy made by me in this House on 15th November, last year. In that statement, the Government promised two pieces of legislation. One of these, by far the larger, dealing with a comprehensive agricultural policy, will, I hope, be presented to the House reasonably shortly. This Bill is concerned with a much narrower, though very important issue, namely, the question of machinery for regulating wages in agriculture. The main purpose of this Bill is to transfer permanently to Agricultural Wages Boards in England and Scotland, the major powers previously conferred upon county wages committees by the principal Acts of 1924 in England and Wales, and of 1937 in Scotland.
Although many hon. Members will have some acquaintance with past legislation on this subject, it may be for the general convenience of the House if I briefly outline the history of the development of wage-fixing machinery in agriculture. Prior to the 1914–18 war, when the agricultural worker in this country was very poorly organised, the average wage for the ordinary adult male labourer, according to sample returns collected by the then Board of Trade, was something like 18s. a week. By 1917—in the middle of the 1914–18 war when the late Mr. Lloyd George said we were within a few weeks of starvation—the wages had slowly crept up to 25s. a week. Then came the Corn Production Act in the same year, which, amongst other things, established an Agricultural Wages Board charged with the duty of fixing a minimum rate of wages for agricultural workers. Between 1917 and 1920—in the August of that year, I believe—by a series of slight increases, the wage of the ordinary adult agricultural labourer had reached 46s. But, by 1921, three years after the end of the war, the return journey had commenced, and the general minimum wage fell to 42s. 1268 a week. That was during a period when the wages machinery was in existence, and there were wide variations between county and county. As the general minimum wage tended to increase, county variations automatically decreased. Finally, in 1921, when the Corn Production Act was repealed, the Agricultural Wages Board was abolished with it. We had then a few years when so-called voluntary conciliation committees were in existence, but, unfortunately, very few of them functioned, and once again, between 1921 and 1924, the wage for the agricultural worker went down to 25s. a week. That is an experience that this House ought never to allow to be repeated, and the Bill has that in mind.
In 1924, the position in England and Wales was more or less restored by the Agricultural Wages (Regulation) Act, with one vital difference—the effective power for wage-fixing was transferred from the national Board to county wages committees. The national Board, therefore, merely approved the decisions of county wages committees, and there was, of course, no national minimum wage under the 1924 Act. Having been present in the House on the occasion, when that Bill found its way on to the Statute Book—the then minority Labour Government were labouring under extreme difficulty—I well recall that when the Bill went to Committee the Liberal Party of that time were anxious to embody in it a minimum wage of 30s. a week. But the Conservative Party, then the largest party in the State, were hostile to the 30s. minimum. They were also hostile to a National Wages Board as such. Therefore, the minority Labour Government, between the devil of the Tory Party and the deep sea of the Liberal Party lost the 30s. national minimum and also lost the national Board, and all they came out with was the Act as we now know it, the Act of 1924. That Act provided for the fixing of the minimum wages by county agricultural wages committees. These committees were composed partly of farmers, partly of workers' representatives, and there was an element of impartial members. The national Board merely registered the orders that were made or decisions that were taken by the county wages committees.
In Scotland, from 1921, wages were left to voluntary arrangements until about 1937, since when the system has been very 1269 much the same as that in England and Wales.
In 1940, because of circumstances created by the war, two further Acts were passed, one for England and Wales and one for Scotland. In England the Act imposed upon the central Board the duty of fixing a national minimum wage for adult male workers. This national minimum formed a datum line for county committees, which could not fix a minimum wage below the national minimum. In other words, although county committees still had the duty of fixing a county rate, they could not fix it below the national minimum without the consent of the Board. Changes in Scottish law were pretty much the same. Therefore, the two central Boards finally ensured a greater degree of uniformity throughout England, Scotland and Wales with regard to wages for agricultural workers. Yet another step was taken in 1942, under Defence Regulations, by transferring to the two national Boards the principal wage fixing powers of committees for the period during which agricultural prices were fixed nationally and assured markets were guaranteed. These Regulations were intended to be temporary, and in fact they come to an end in December, 1947.
However, although the Government intend to continue with price and market guarantees, I think the new system has fully justified itself on its own merits, and wages ought not necessarily to be tied up with any price-fixing aspect. So far as I can recall, ever since agricultural wages were first fixed statutorily, the workers' organisations have supported the view that the major powers should be vested in a central Board. On the other hand the farmers' organisations did not share that view. Between 1922 and now, I have made many speeches in this House and outside advocating that the major power ought to rest with a statutory Board rather than a county wages committee. It was recognised on all sides that during the recent war circumstances had changed radically, and that the arguments in favour of dealing with wages on a national basis were overwhelming. Therefore, lest we forget, may I say that the primary purpose of this Measure is to make the transfer of powers from the county committees to the Board permanent and, I 1270 hope, irremovable. Of course it does not mean that the Board will be obliged necessarily to fix a uniform rate throughout the country. They are still empowered to deal with wages on a county basis if they think fit, by differing rates and by rates differing in particular respects for different counties. But the tendency for some time in this country has been towards a greater measure of uniformity. I think that tendency is bound to continue for a considerable time. In any case there can be little doubt of the desirability of ensuring that wage rates are suitably related, and to achieve that the powers must, I believe, reside in the central Boards. Clause 1 (1) of the Bill provides for that.
The powers of wages committees include the definition of overtime and of "benefits or advantages," such as the occupation of a cottage or the supply of milk, which are allowed to count as part payment of wages. As these items are obviously part of any wage-fixing system, these powers will also be transferred to the Board. Under Clause 2 of the Bill, it will be observed that the English Act of 1940 and the corresponding provisions in the Scottish Act will be repealed. The main purpose of the 1940 Acts was, as I said earlier, to enable the Boards to fix a national minimum wage as a guide to county wages committees. With the transfer of the powers to the Board itself, there seems to be no purpose in retaining that provision any longer. Certainly the Board do not need to fix a national minimum wage as a guide to themselves. In any case, should there be any doubt as to the real effective power of the national Board, I would commend to the notice of hon. Members Clause 1 (3) of this Bill. It will be noticed that this does not weaken the power of the Board in any way. They can still fix a national minimum if they so desire, and although some doubts may here and there have been expressed, I wish to make it clear that instead of weakening the power of the Board, Subsection (3) and the reference in the First Schedule actually strengthen the power of the central Wages Board.
It will be noticed in Clause 1 (2), that Section 2 (4) of the 1924 Act is to be repealed. The Act of 1924 and the Act of 1940 sought to define the circumstances 1271 which the wages committees and the board should take into account when reaching their decisions. The House may like to be reminded that Section 2 (4) of the 1924 Act provides:In fixing minimum rates a Committee shall, so far as practicable, secure for able-bodied men such wages as in the opinion of the Committee are adequate to promote efficiency and to enable a man in an ordinary case to maintain himself and his family in accordance with such standard of comfort as may be reasonable in relation to the nature of his occupation.In these days that sounds a little out of date. It is far too reminiscent of "God bless the squire and his relations, and keep us in our proper places."[HON. MEMBERS: "Stations."] "Stations" if hon. Members like, "places" if I like. In so far as the earlier provision might be thought to suggest that agricultural wages must always be at the bottom of the scale, it is positively objectionable. With this repeal that objection is being removed. The Boards, therefore, in future will be left with full power to take into account all relevant factors. In some respects, the powers of Agricultural Wages Boards and committees are at present more restricted than those of wages councils under the Act of 1945. For example, the power to make directions about holidays with pay is by the Holidays with Pay Act, 1938, limited in two important respects. First, the length of holidays conceded can not exceed one week in any one year; secondly, provision can not be made for more than three days' holiday to be taken consecutively. It is proposed, therefore, to give the Boards the same freedom as wages councils with regard to holidays. It is also desirable that the Boards should have the greatest latitude to make provision, if they see fit, for special circumstances of other kinds, such as absences from work due to sickness or various other causes. The powers of the Boards are widened very materially by Clause 1 (3) and by the First Schedule.
I should like to emphasise that although the main powers are transferred to the Boards, there are still many important functions left to be exercised by county committees. I should like to take this opportunity of expressing our gratitude to those county wages committees who, over a long period of time, have done splendid work in an obscure manner. 1272 Sometimes it was very unpleasant work. They have served the nation and the industry well in awfully difficult circumstances. In this Bill it is specifically provided, in Clause 5, that the Boards shall, in carrying out their duties in relation to any county:…have regard to representations made to them by the agricultural wages committee for the county.Therefore, in the nature of things, these committees will continue automatically as the advisers of the Boards on local circumstances and conditions. There are other specific functions. For example, they have always dealt with applications for permits of exemption—that is, permits for individual workers who through physical or mental infirmities are unable to earn the full wage. That duty will still rest with the county committee. Another of their responsibilities is to deal with cases where it is claimed that individual dwellings, because of special amenities or defects, should be reckoned at something above or something below the "standard" values put upon workers' dwelling houses, for the purpose of assessing wages. For instance, if the Board were to decide, for the whole country, or for any particular county—and they can do either—that the value of a service cottage was 5s. or 6s. per week, where the cottage is a particularly good one or where it is a particularly bad one—and there are both in the country—it is open either to the employer, on the one hand, or the worker, on the other, to apply for a higher or lower value to be put upon that house. Quite clearly, such decisions must rest with a local committee. It is true that the Board will have power to set perhaps an upper or a lower limit on the range of values to be taken. Much of this valuable work, in the nature of things, must be of an individual character and it must be undertaken by wages committees who are actually on the spot. A further duty of the committee is to grant certificates for a completely new purpose.
§ Mr. Alpass (Thornbury)
It is laid down that the ultimate discretion on these matters rests with the central Board?
§ Mr. Williams
If my hon. Friend will look at Clause 1 (3), and the First Schedule, I think he will find that they have absolute discretion over matters of that kind.
§ Lieut.-Commander Joynson-Hicks (Chichester)
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the subject of houses, would he elaborate the point a little? How does this affect the rental of houses which are provided under the Housing (Rural Workers) Act at a limited rental? Can the local committee say, "The rental of this house is 5s., but we assess the value at 10s.,"and consequently put 5s. into the pocket of the landlord? I do not see how it is going to work.
§ Mr. Williams
I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman will appreciate that if the national Board fix a lower and an upper limit, the individual case will be dealt with by the wages committee on the spot, very often, as is the case at present, by two members of the committee visiting the cottage and reaching a decision there and then. That procedure, I assume, will continue. They will be able to fix a rent for the cottage in between the higher and lower limits fixed by the national Board.
I was about to say that a further duty of the committee is to grant certificates for a new purpose, and I refer hon. Members to Clause 3 of this Bill. In providing this Clause, we had two special points in mind. An occasional case has come to light where some sort of apprenticeship apparently existed which was merely a thin disguise to enable the farmer to pay something less than the statutory minimum for the boy. Maybe the full wage was paid at the commencement, but the fanner recovered part of the wage he paid, as some sort of premium. We intend to stop that form of evasion. in Clause 3 it is proposed that wages below the ordinary minimum will not be allowed unless a local committee are satisfied that proper instruction is being given in any apprenticeship case. Subsection (2) also enables a committee to impose certain conditions upon the farmer before granting that certificate. They are conditions such as will safeguard the learner—that proper instruction is being given and that all the conditions are right. The county committee will have the power to revoke any such certificate at the appropriate moment. While the general arrangements of such a scheme can hardly be a matter for a central Board, it seems desirable that, in the last resort, the Board should have the necessary powers to deal with the wages side. The second point we had in mind when producing this Clause was that 1274 we hope and anticipate that the two sides of the industry may come together shortly, with a view to building up an apprenticeship scheme of their own.
Having dealt with the general principles of the Bill, I should now like to refer to one or two matters dealing with machinery. The extension in the definition of Clause 7 is to make clear that workers employed in private gardens or the gardens of an hotel, school or institution, where most of the produce is sold or consumed on the premises—to borrow an expression from the licensed trade—are entitled to the protection of this Act; for, in any case, the produce must of necessity be grown in competition with the produce of an ordinary commercial grower. Clause 8 deals with expenses and it contains two points of interest. The 1924 Act, as I said earlier, was passed at a time of extreme political difficulty and financial stringency. The section of that Act dealing with expenses emerged therefore in a very unusual form in that a statutory limit was placed on the sum allowed to be expended on the enforcement and administration of the Act. Although in fact the limit allowed by the Act has never actually been reached, the Government feel that it would be far better to leave the matter of expenses to be dealt with in the normal fashion. Subsection (2) provides for the payment of expenses to individuals who are required to attend the county wages committees as witnesses or for any other purpose. I hope that the committees, when dealing with applications for permits of exemption and certificates under Clause 3, will continue their usual practice of asking one from either side to visit here and there and make an investigation on the spot, instead of holding formal meetings and calling people to attend, but while we hope that that procedure will continue in future, there may be cases where it will not be entirely possible. Therefore, it seems necessary to make ample provision for expenses in this Bill.
The last two Clauses of this Measure are self-explanatory, although very few Englishmen will know what they mean. All I need say is that this Bill does not apply to Northern Ireland, because that country has wage-fixing arrangements of its own. In the First Schedule, certain amendments are made to speed up procedure in making Orders. Under the existing procedure, the Board are obliged to 1275 consult a committee on any proposed wage changes and to take into consideration their observations. Then, the Board must give notice to the public of their proposals and allow at least a fortnight for any objections. It is perfectly obvious that both the committee and the public are entitled to be notified, but it is equally true to say that there is no good reason why both sections should not be given notice at the same time, adopting one step instead of two as under this present dilatory procedure. Further, it may well be, as has, in fact, been the case, that an Order has a very restricted application to one county or to part of a county. Paragraph 3 of the First Schedule is devised to meet any such cases.
Finally, I would like to say that the proposals in this Bill have been discussed with the representatives of the National Fanners' Unions for England, Scotland and Wales, and with the workers' unions, too, and, in principle, all these proposals are agreed, I believe, by both sides of the industry. I hope the House will share the view that, at this moment, it is more important than ever that the machinery of wage regulation in agriculture should work smoothly and sweetly, and, what is perhaps more important still, that those concerned should have full confidence in it. I believe that this Bill will materially help in that respect, and, because of that fact, I heartily commend it to the House and hope it will receive a very quick Second Reading.
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Hurd (Newbury)
I am sure we are all indebted to the Minister for refreshing our minds about the past history of agricultural wages regulation in this country. On this side of the House, we recognise the need for this Bill. In the course of our experience, under the 1924 Act, the 1940 Act and the Defence Regulations, various points have arisen which we felt ought to be tidied up, and I hope that this Bill will provide a satisfactory answer on those points.
I think there should be very little controversy in this House, as, indeed, there must have been no controversy between the various partners in the industry—the National Farmers' Union and the two workers' organisations—about agreeing, generally, to the proposals which the 1276 Minister has now put before us. This is a short Bill, and I must say it rather surprised me that the Leader of the House should have allocated a whole day to its discussion, because, as I say, we are all pretty well agreed upon it. Those of us who represent agricultural constituencies are always delighted at an opportunity of discussing the problems of the industry, which certainly are many to-day, and we would dearly like to probe the Government's mind about future supplies of labour in agriculture, so that we can cany out the undertakings to which we are committing ourselves for next harvest, but this Bill does not give us scope for doing that. It is entirely a wage-fixing Measure, and we cannot, of course, go further than the actual terms of the Bill.
We should not be in any doubt, however, that this Bill, in itself, is not going to enable the farm worker to earn a decent wage for himself and his family. This Bill is only going to decide the size of the cut of the cake which, through various procedures, may come to the farm worker in the form of a national minimum wage. It is not going to decide the size of the cake itself. Some of us feel that this Bill is a little out of time, and that we should have had some opportunity of discussing the Measures which the Government have promised, and which the Minister mentioned in his speech, before deciding the way in which this cake is to be cut. But I see that I must turn to the Bill itself.
Clause 1, as the Minister told us, transfers the wage-fixing powers from the county wages committees, as under the 1924 Act, to the Agricultural Wages Boards in England and Wales and in Scotland. The Bill puts into permanent form what had been operating under the Defence Regulations, and we are all agreed that that is a wise and proper measure. I hope, however, that we shall hear before the end of the Debate a little more in detail about the functions that are to be performed by these county wages committees. We, on this side of the House, in this matter as in others, believe that there is an advantage in using to the full the local man on the spot. He knows the conditions better than any civil servant in Whitehall, who has to rely on papers and files.
§ Mr. Alpass
What does the hon. Member mean by a civil servant in Whitehall in connection with this matter?
§ Mr. Hurd
Of course, the civil servants will be the people on whom the central Wages Boards will rely, as they do today. Their home is in Bickenhall Mansions, but it is much the same as Whitehall. We approach this matter, perhaps, from a slightly different angle from that of the Minister and his supporters. We hold that, in all these Measures, we get the best results and the smoothest working by making the fullest use of the local men on the spot—the reputable men chosen by their fellows. In the case of the wages committees in the counties, the farmers choose their representatives, and the workers choose theirs, and there are independent members, one of whom is the chairman. I think that system has worked admirably well, and I am very glad that the Minister is to continue it, so far as the county committees are concerned. So well does it work that, in my own county of Wiltshire, the two sides of the committee have joined together to make a presentation to the chairman, and I think that is an admirable testimony to their smooth working over a long period of years. In the case of the war agricultural committees, the Minister is keeping the representative character of the county committees, and I hope very much that nothing will be done in this Bill, or in any subsequent legislation, to destroy that. It will make for smooth working in wage regulation. I hope that the widest discretion will be given to these committees to do what they know from their local knowledge, to be the right thing, the thing which will satisfy local opinion, and make this Measure work smoothly.
I am sure we all welcome in Clause 1 (2) the widening of the scope in which the Boards can determine these national wage rates; they are not to be limited by any considerations as they were under the 1924 or the 1940 Acts. It was very difficult, at the time the 1924 Act was passed, to give agriculture that status which all parties now wish to see so strongly established that it can never be shaken. As the Minister has reminded us, there was that curious provision in Section 3 (4) of the 1924 Act which read:…and to enable a man in an ordinary case to maintain himself and his family in accordance with such standard of comfort as may be reasonable in relation to the nature of his occupation.That provision, happily, was widened in 1940, and today we see no reason at all why those working in agriculture should 1278 not be able to earn for themselves as good a living as those working in other industries. That former stigma, is, I hope, now removed for all time. I would remind the House that the 1940 Act, which widened the basis of consideration for the Wages Board when it came to fix a national minimum wage, stands to the credit of my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson), who was then Minister for Agriculture, and the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. That was a very handy combination which, undoubtedly, greatly helped to raise the status of the farm worker, and put him in on the road to getting pay equal to that received by other workers and, I hope, of never falling back below the general level of other industries.
In Clause 1 (3) there is a point which the Minister did not explain to us. I hope that whoever answers for the Government will make quite clear, their intention in regard to that Subsection. It seems to us that Subsection 3, read in conjunction with paragraph 5 of the First Schedule, means that the Boards will be able, among other things, to make special provision for the payment of wages during a worker's absence due to sickness, and will also deal with voluntary absenteeism. It is important that this position should be cleared up. The Minister will, no doubt, remember that in the Court of Appeal there was a case only last week in which the judgment of a county court was reversed. There is a great deal of uncertainty as to the legal position. Happily, these disputes are not frequent, because the relations between master and man in the farming industry are peculiarly close and friendly. There is very little malingering in the industry, but no opportunity must be left for malingering, not only in the interest of the farmer, but also in the interest of other workers who are seriously disgruntled when they see a man on the farm or a neighbouring farm getting away with something to which he is not entitled.
I have often found it difficult to persuade a man who has a heavy cold to stay away for a day or two in order to nurse his cold and to get rid of it. He will stick on and do the job, perhaps ploughing, because he considers it supremely important, and more often than not, he will not go sick as he should do. That, perhaps, 1279 is a happy sign of the true comradeship between farmer and farm worker. I do not think that voluntary absenteeism and malingering are at all general. There are, of course, occasional cases where master or man may seek to take advantage of the other's predicament, and I am glad that this Bill will enable the central Board to clear up this matter for us. I am not quite sure what the present legal position is. Indeed, I believe that I have often broken the law. What I have normally done, where a man is away from work for one or two weeks, is to pay him his ordinary wages. If he is away for more than a fortnight, I go to see him and say, "The doctor tells me that you are going to be away for another two, three or four weeks. I do not want to give you notice to quit, which I should do legally; I think we can come to an arrangement by which I will make up your sickness benefit to what your full rate of pay would be. "That arrangement, I believe, is outside the law, but it has satisfied my men and myself for over 20 years, and nobody has suffered because of it. Possibly, under this Bill, the central Board will give us a clear line on what are our obligations, so that the worker and the farmer may know where each stands.
Under Clause 2, the Boards will have powers to define the benefits which may be reckoned as payment of wages in lieu of payment in cash. There are, of course, the service cottage, milk—sometimes free and sometimes bought at the wholesale price—and, on a good many farms, firewood and a row of potatoes in the field may also be provided. Certain of these benefits come under this category and are recognised by law as payments in lieu of cash. The most interesting point, of course, is going to arise in the example which the Minister himself quoted about the rental value to be set on farm cottages. I am talking of service cottages, what are commonly called "tied cottages." Today, the normal rent which a farmer is entitled to deduct from a man's wages is three shillings. The Minister has mentioned the sum of five or six shillings as being, possibly, the normal deductable allowance which the Wages Board might consider to be a proper one, in the future when they get down to the problem. I am sure that it is right that all service cottages should be revalued. Some such cottages are worth 1280 no more than three shillings, and will not be worth more until the Minister of Health allows us to go ahead with reconditioning. But there are plenty of other cottages which are worth five or six shillings and, in the villages, there are some, with piped water and electricity, which are going to be better than the new cottages which the local authorities may be able to put up one day. On what the rental of such cottages ought to be, I should not attempt to hazard a guess.
However, I am glad that the Wages Board will have power to set a lower limit and an upper limit and that, within those limits, the local committees will be able to use their discretion in determining what rents should be allowed. It is absolutely vital that we should get a more true set of values for these farm cottages, even though service cottages are tied cottages. Unless we get a set of true values, we are never going to raise the standard of our rural housing to what it should be. It is hopelessly uneconomic today to spend any considerable sum on repairs to a service cottage; it is simply a dead loss so far as rental is concerned. I do not wish to see a profit made out of tied cottages, but there should be sufficient revenue from rents to cover their maintenance. The farm worker is a self-respecting man, and does not wish to accept charity in the form of a low rent for a bad cottage. He would much rather pay 5s. or 6s. which the Minister has mentioned as the possible rent in the future, or even more, for a better cottage with the amenities which he and his family have every right to enjoy.
§ Mr. T. Williams
I do not wish to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I hope he will not quote that figure of 5s. or 6s. as something which I hinted ought to be the rent. I only gave the figure as an example. I do not want to vitiate any future decision of the Boards.
§ Mr. Hurd
I fully agree, and I would simply say that figure might be the standard rent as the result of the Boards' deliberations.
I now turn to Clause 3, which deals with the position of learners in agriculture. This Clause makes rather heavy weather of what is not really an important or serious problem. It is a normal practice for a lad who is receiving instruction 1281 to take rather a lower wage as a learner or an improver. Under these proposals, his special rate of pay will have to be covered by a certificate from the county wages committees, and theymay impose such conditions as appear to them requisite for securing that the worker"—that is the learner—…shall receive adequate instruction, and that the terms of his employment shall be in other respects satisfactory…The Minister mentioned the possibility of some exploitation of learners in agriculture. I have yet to come across any such case. If there are any cases, they should be dealt with, but I myself doubt whether we should have to go through this paraphernalia of getting certificates from the county wages committees. Subsections (5), (6) and (7) of this Clause prohibit the farmer taking a premium from a farm pupil without the approval of the local county wages committee. A farmer will render himself liable to a fine of £20 if he makes a private arrangement to have a premium-paying pupil without the consent of the committee. Here again, is this really necessary? It is quite normal for the parent or the guardian of a boy, or possibly the trustees of some fund, to pay a farmer to train a boy while he is gaining experience at the farmer's expense.
Let us be quite clear about this. The premium that is paid for a pupil is not by any means all clear gain to the farmer. On a farm with which I am concerned, we have at the moment a farm pupil whose parents pay £50 a year, and as part of his experience he has learned to milk, and drive a tractor. After he became fairly handy with those things, he was given the job of looking after the poultry, and he soon got into the way of handling those birds well. But his experience was by no means complete. He had not yet learned what responsibility means. One night he went off to the pictures without shutting up the hens. He came back 2½hours later and there were 23 corpses lying around. The value to me of those 23 corpses was £15—that is, £15 out of his premium. He is learning, at our expense, what responsibility means, and that if he is put in charge of a job to look after the hens he must not go off to the pictures, leaving the shutting up of the hens until afterwards. This provision should be reconsidered, because I 1282 am sure the Minister would agree that we should do nothing to hamstring the farmer who is prepared to teach lads the practical side of farming.
I hope we shall have a two-way flow, and that while some of the boys of the village go to the town where their aptitudes lie, there will be other boys, as there are today, in the towns coming to the farms to learn the job. I do not think there is anything at all nefarious in a farmer taking a premium to teach a town boy the job. When this point is considered in Committee, I hope we shall make sure that this matter is not tied up in red tape, so that the farmer will say, "I am not going to bother about taking a pupil at all." Ten days ago I visited the Rhine Army School of Agriculture at Ostinghausen. It is there that men may take a short preliminary course in horticulture, general farming and dairying before they leave the Army. They get a first taste of what farming is. They can then take the Government's vocational training course for a year. I talked to them about the future prospects of British farming and various other subjects, and one of the questions that continually recurred at question time was: What about the future wages in farming? They remember, or their fathers had told them if they had not experienced it themselves, that it is not so long ago when the farm wage was 35s. or 30s., and even 12s. a week, a generation or so ago. They asked me what was the prospect of the farm wage being maintained at a decent level. They liked the sound of the job and they thought they and their wives would settle down and would find something worth while doing in life, but they wanted to know the wage prospect in the industry. I did my best to be optimistic within reason, as I always am about the future of fanning, but those men know just as well as all of us in this House that no amount of Agricultural Wages (Regulation) Bills will ensure that the farm worker can earn as good a living as a man working on another job.
This Bill, which deals with the machinery of fixing wages in agriculture, as I said at the beginning of my remarks, would have been better timed if it had been introduced after we knew the Government's proposals which will decide the total income of the farming industry. We are considering this Bill before we know that. The Minister rather alarmed 1283 me when he said that wages ought not to be tied to any price-fixing arrangements. I am not quite sure where we are getting to. It seems to me that an essential consideration is the size of the cake which is going to be cut up between the three partners—the farm worker, the farmer and the landowner; whether the landowner is an individual or the State, does not matter. It is rather misleading —it is misleading to me, at any rate—when the Minister talks about wages not being tied to any price-fixing arrangement. After all, the level of wages to be fixed under this Bill will be decided largely by the income which will accrue to the agricultural industry under the price-fixing arrangements which are to be discussed between the Minister and the industry. I do not think the two can be divorced. This would be a more timely Bill, and we would know what it might produce, if. it were introduced after a more definite statement of Government agricultural policy, particularly with regard to price fixing; but, for what it is, we welcome the Bill.
§ 4.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Gooch (Norfolk, Northern)
I, personally, welcome this Bill, and I am sure that that welcome is shared by all the farm workers in this country. It has long been apparent to most people that the Government mean business with regard to the nation's greatest single industry. The Labour Party is no longer purely an industrial party; many of us have been sent here by the votes of farmers and farmworkers on the strength of the party's promises, and I am sure the Government will not let down either farmers or workers. The farming community, I am glad to say, can no longer be regarded as one of the hindwheels of the Tory chariot.
When the Government first took office, the farming community was left in no doubt of the Government's great concern for the industry. This Bill is but part of an all-embracing agricultural policy which was, as the Minister has said, foreshadowed as early as 15th November last year. The Minister then made known the general principles on which the Government's policy was based. Those general principles embraced adequate remuneration for farm workers—and I am glad that that point was also referred to in the Gracious Speech. The point was endorsed by the statement that the economic posi- 1284 tion of the workers in the industry would be safeguarded by Act of Parliament. I am certain the farm workers will be grateful to the Government, for so far attempting to redeem their promises. The steps taken by the Government up to now, in connection with agriculture have been widely appreciated, and have not been without effect upon the industry as a whole. May I point out that bankruptcies in agriculture under a Labour Government are the exception rather than the rule; and the farm workers themselves have not fared so badly, although their objective has not yet been reached.
By making permanent wage-fixing machinery in agriculture, the Government will enable farm workers to consolidate their position. I hope there will be no going back in the matter of wages. Not only can the farmers as a body plan ahead with confidence, knowing that under a Labour Government they will be safeguarded, but the farm workers, whose labours are so vital to the nation at this stage, can go forward to play their part in peace as in war, knowing that they will receive a just reward for their labours. The attention given by this Government to agriculture is in striking contrast to the treatment meted out to it after the last war. May I endorse what the Minister has already said with regard to the repealing of the Corn Production Act after the first world war? At that time, thousands of the best acres went out of cultivation, prices came tumbling down, and many farmers finished in the bankruptcy court; the workers' wage-fixing machinery was smashed, and in place of the wage-fixing machinery, we had what were termed conciliation committees—the trouble was, all the conciliation was expected from one side. The result was, as the Minister said, that wages in the county of Norfolk, and in other counties too, came rumbling down from a top figure of 46s. a week to 25s. In my own county of Norfolk, no fewer than 15,000 farm workers were out on strike in an endeavour to prevent further wage reductions and a lengthening of the working week. The men won their fight; and today I am glad to acknowledge that it was the first Labour Government which gave back to the farm workers their wage-fixing machinery It is that machinery which this Bill is designed to improve and to make permanent.
Lately some of the farm workers have been asking that the Control of Engage- 1285 ments Order shall be removed from agriculture. so that they shall be free to leave the industry, should they wish to do so. Of course, I do not want men to leave the agricultural industry, and I have told them so. Given the right wages and conditions, farming is a great calling, even from the workers' standpoint. I do not want farm workers to decry their industry, but to take pride in it, as I am sure they will. I agree that bad housing goes to the root of social discontent in rural areas. I want an abundance of houses—and free houses—sited in villages, with other amenities. I think the amenities are necessary, if we are to build up and maintain a labour force in the industry from British homes and not from foreign countries. Whatever we say with regard to good houses and modern amenities, those things will not, in themselves, compensate for a low wage. Here is the machinery by which the wage can not only be maintained, but improved.
I will now address myself for a short time to a few features of the Bill. I welcome the decision to leave to the Agricultural Wages Board the fixing of a national minimum wage. I have been the workers' leader of a county wages committee ever since the wage board machinery was re-established; thus I speak from personal experience covering a period of years. I heartily welcome the proposal contained in this Bill, that no longer shall it be the duty of the county wages committee to fix the wage, or decide what the wage shall be, but that that duty shall continue to be carried out by the Agricultural Wages Board. This has worked very satisfactorily during the war years. Previously the determination of the wage in a certain county was the work of a county wages committee, with the possibility of having as many different wages as there were county wages committees, although—and this is the point I wish to stress in this connection—human needs were the same in each county. I agree with the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd), that there is a general good feeling between employers and workers in the industry. On the majority of the farms, masters and men work side by side. It was never helpful to the maintenance of those good relations to have frequent arguments about wages on county wages committees. I have always felt these decisions should be taken on a national basis, and by a body quite outside the 1286 atmosphere prevailing in a particular county.
I am glad that in deciding what shall be the wages of the future, the Agricultural Wages Board are to be able to take all relevant factors into consideration. I served on the Agricultural Wages Board in London for a short period, and in the past, the county wages committees and the Agricultural Wages Board have been tied down to certain conditions, outside which they could not go, in deciding what the wage should be. I am glad that this Bill removes that bad feature, and enables the Agricultural Wages Board, in deciding what the wage should be, to take all relevant factors into consideration. At the same time, I hope the Bill will succeed in speeding up the implementation of decision reached. Speaking from experience on my own county wages committee, I would say that a very disturbing point has been, that although in the past we may have decided that from a certain date the wage should be increased, the machinery through which it has to move, has been so slow moving and cumbersome, that it has been a matter of some weeks before the proposal has become an Order issued by the Agricultural Wages Board. I hope and believe that the provisions contained in this Bill will result in the period between the proposal being made, and the Order being issued, being cut down by about half what it is today. The new farm prices agreement rightly provides for the shortening of the time lag between the negotiations and the operation of the new prices I say that the same principle should apply to future wages negotiations. At present, there are many weeks between the issuing of the proposals and the time when the worker gets his wage increased.
I welcome the proposal contained in the Bill that the Board shall define the "benefits or advantages," which may be reckoned as payment of wages in lieu of payment in cash, and also the proposal that the Board shall fix cottage rents. I hope that in fixing cottage rents, the Board will have due regard to the condition of many of the cottages. Some are not worth any rent at all. For hon. Members opposite to suggest that there would be better cottages today if this Government had not scrapped the Housing (Rural Workers) Act is to overlook the fact that in the past there were ample opportunities for putting the cottages right, but they were allowed, literally, to 1287 tumble down. I spend a good deal of my time travelling in rural Britain. I see types of cottages in various counties. Only recently I saw in Dorset, that delightful county, more appalling conditions in regard to tied cottages than I have ever seen in any other county in England, including my own. For hon. Members on the other side to say that things would have been all right if this Government had not done such and such a thing, is to condemn themselves, in so many words, for failure in their duty to the farm workers, in days gone by. I repeat that some of the cottages are not worth any rent at all; indeed, in regard to some of them, I think the farm workers should be paid something for living in them. It is also very satisfactory, to my mind, that there will be a removal of the present restrictions on granting holidays with pay, and that the Bill provides that the private gardeners should be brought within its provisions on certain conditions. The wages of the private gardeners are, I think, often extremely low.
In conclusion, I thank my right hon. Friend the Minister, in the name of at least 150,000 organised farm workers, for his kindly thought for their future welfare, the future welfare of the junior, but necessary, partner in the industry. I warn him that we shall have something more to say with regard to the tied cottages and the constitution of committees, but that does not prevent me from admitting that he has made a good start in his great task of equipping agriculture, and helping the farm workers to meet successfully any future economic storm.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)
It is with some diffidence that I find myself following the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Gooch) with his very great experience in these matters; and I find it strange, also that there was a great deal in his speech with which I agree—so much so, that I do not intend to offer any comment, except one. He is an hon. Member with a very great responsibility, I consider, in this country, a responsibility which he exercises nobly for the greatest part, I am quite sure. There is, however, one point upon which, I think, he could help the farming community at this moment. It arises out of the shortage of houses. There are in my constituency several tied cottages which are quite 1288 habitable, but agricultural workers will not live in them. That is due, no doubt, to a prejudice. I am not going to say whether it is a well-founded prejudice in the particular circumstances, or an ill-founded one. But if that prejudice could be overcome during this present housing shortage, and if some assurance could be given to the workers concerned that it is a purely temporary situation, then, I am sure, a great deal of good would be done. I know of a village where council houses are being built. although there are tied cottages empty.
To turn to the Bill. I welcome it, as my hon. Friends do; and I welcome it not only for its intrinsic merits, but, also—and, perhaps, even more—because it seems to me to be an earnest of the Government's intention to do something about agriculture. I am sure that there are many Members of this House who have been asked by their constituents, whether big farmers or small farmers or agricultural workers: "Do you think that farming is going to pay? Is it going to be a proper living for us in future?" We have all been asked that question. As a Member of the Opposition one cannot say, "Well, of course, I can speak with knowledge that the Government are going to do this or that." One cannot do that. All that one can do is to offer intelligent speculation with regard to the future. At least, I hope it is intelligent. Sometimes, I have said, "Well, I think that the food shortage is going to force the hand of this Government, as it would that of any Government, whatever its political complexion. "Sometimes I say," Well, the lessons of the war have been fairly bitter lessons, and no Government will want to let farming down." But here in this Bill we have something to show, as well as what is promised in the King's Speech, that something is going to be done. It may be that, just as a great Measure which we have been promised with regard to agricultural prices, and so forth, is going to be a charter for the farmers, this Bill, in a smaller way, but to some extent, is a charter for the agricultural workers. It might, perhaps, have gone even further; however, it does go some way.
It always seems to me to be wrong that the agricultural workers should ever have been regarded as being, so to speak, at the bottom of the hierarchy of labour. That mistake arose perhaps, because from 1289 the earliest days—and not so long ago as the hon. Member for North Norfolk suggested—the poor fellow hoeing in the field was sometimes carrying a good many people on his back. He was carrying on his back a lot of people who were earning good wages and profits in the export trade for one thing. It seems to me that on this occasion, as on many other occasions, the division in this House is lamentable. We have to face it. It is not between Right and Left so much as between those whose constituencies are largely interested in the export trade and other industries, and those whose constituencies are rural ones. We had better face up to it. That is the real line of cleavage. Now, in recent years, three factors have combined to improve the status of the agricultural worker. First, education; secondly, the improvement of scientific methods which call for an even higher degree of skill than was required in the past—mechanisation, electrification, and the innumerable things which these days call for a higher standard of production; and, thirdly, there is no doubt that the war has improved the status of the agricultural worker, for the war has shown what we owe him. It has shown that we owe him a very great deal, and that we must not let him down. It seems to me that this Bill does something to consolidate that improved status of the agricultural worker.
There are various other ways in which it can be consolidated and which, to some extent, may be commented upon when considering this Bill. I hope I shall not be out of Order in doing so. First, of course, the Bill will fail entirely in its purpose unless the Government ensure that the farmer is able to pay the good wages recommended by the Agricultural Wages Board. That is elementary. Secondly, it seems to me that the trade union leaders representing the workers in other industries can do a great deal of good by using their influence. They can do a great deal of good by pointing out to other workers, "It is no good your using the agricultural wage minimum as a sort of basic yardstick for your own wages, because the truth is that the agricultural worker is just as good as any of you chaps, and he is better than some of you." I would make that plea to hon. Members—naturally, they are on the other side of the House, because they are the trade unionists—to use their influence. [Inter 1290 ruption.] I know that there are Members on the other side who are not trade unionists, and I know that there are trade union supporters who voted for hon. Members on this side, but the trade union officials in this House happen to sit on the other side. Perhaps, one day, we may be able to welcome them to this side, but, in the meantime, I address myself to hon. Members opposite. If they could use their influence to impress upon the community at large that the agricultural worker has acquired this new status, something further will have been done to consolidate him in that status.
The other point which I think would naturally fit in when considering a Bill of this kind is this. Everybody naturally wishes to be able to better himself according to his ability, industry and so on, and it so happens that the Liberal Party in the past has had a rather good record in introducing the principle of small holdings. I believe I am right in saying that the first Smallholdings Act was introduced as a result of persuasion exercised by one of my predecessors who represented Huntingdonshire almost exactly 40 years ago; and there are in my constituency very many smallholders who were once themselves agricultural workers or whose fathers before them were agricultural workers. When the Smallholdings Act was introduced, it gave them an opportunity of bettering themselves, and I am glad to say that in recent years, at any rate, they have been prospering. Agricultural land, especially good agricultural land, is difficult to get. Perhaps that is not to be regretted; perhaps it is a very healthy sign indeed; but the fact is that it has become very difficult for people to become smallholders. Perhaps during this Debate we may hear from the Government what their intentions are, with regard to smallholdings.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. Collick)
It would be out of Order.
§ Mr. Renton
I am not sure that it would. I have not yet been ruled out of Order, and at any rate it is an interesting matter; I was getting along very nicely until that interruption.
There is one caution I wish to utter. This Bill is essentially a measure of centralisation; that is its key note. There is already a lot of centralisation in agriculture. If one writes to the agricultural 1291 executive committee in one's own constituency for advice or for an independent opinion, one is asked to write to the Ministry of Agriculture, and is told that of course the Ministry will refer back to the agricultural committee before replying. There is that amount of centralisation already; and in Clause 5 of the Bill, provision is made for ensuring that the Agricultural Wages Board shall have regard to representations made by the county committees. It is to be hoped that the procedure will work in such a way that there really is consultation between the two, and therefore a real measure of decentralisation. We do not want too much of what the Germans call Gleichsckaltung in this country; we do not want too much centralisation. After all, local circumstances vary greatly, and the differences between constituencies represented by different hon. Members of this House are really tremendous. In conclusion I would repeat that I welcome this Bill as an earnest of the Government's intentions. I welcome it, because I hope that it will lead to still further efforts on the part of the Government to keep agriculture on its feet; and, if they are efforts made along sound lines, they will continue to receive the support at any rate of my hon. Friends and myself.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Collins (Taunton)
I, too, would like to join in the general chorus of welcome that has so far greeted this Bill and to congratulate my right hon. Friend on the fact that it has fallen to him to bring in a Measure to consolidate the wages of agricultural workers, and to provide machinery for these purposes. The Bill will indeed be a charter for the workers, as the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) suggested. My right hon. Friend has worked very many years in this field, and it is important that this Measure has been introduced so early in this Session, indeed at the first possible opportunity. It was particularly interesting to me to hear my right hon. Friend's reference to wages in 1921, when they stood at 46s., later to fall to 25s., and to realise that today there is, under the Labour Government, a national minimum—still not, in my view, high enough—of 80s. a week, on a cost of living for basic standard commodities which is considerably lower than it was in 1921.
§ Mr. Boothby (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Eastern)
Surely the hon. Member does not claim the entire credit for that for the Labour Government?
§ Mr. Collins
I made no such claim, but I will claim a great deal of credit for the Labour Government in that, in spite of the extremely difficult postwar conditions, they have preserved and already improved the conditions of the farm worker. was particularly interested in, and a little puzzled by, the remarks of the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd). He expressed, first, surprise that a full day should be given to this Debate—I, for one, will never join in suggesting that too much time is given to the discussion of agricultural affairs—and then quite rightly spoke about the concern in the farming community on the subject of the labour force. He went on to suggest that this Bill was a little premature. It is quite rightly said that rural amenities such as housing and all sorts of other things are vital factors in attracting labour to the land, and ensuring that labour is kept on the land, but I can assure the House that in my experience wages are a very vital factor also. The improvement in wages will certainly help to attract labour to the land. The fact that this matter has been dealt with so early, the fact that machinery is to be set up which cannot be interfered with by local pressures of any kind, and that a national body will be able to follow well-defined lines as the result of consultations between both sides of the industry, will be regarded in rural communities not merely as an earnest of the Government's intentions, as was suggested, but as absolute evidence of the way they mean to go on.
I, myself, particularly welcome the present evidence of the conversion of hon. Members opposite from their attitude of the inter-war years—referred to by my right hon. Friend—when their action prevented the fixing by the minority Labour Government of 1924 of a national minimum of 30s. I hope that their present attitude is an earnest that we shall have their support on future Measures which will be introduced for the benefit of agriculture. I regard as particularly welcome the fact that limitations on holidays with pay are to be removed, and I welcome also Clause 7, which enlarges the definition of agriculture so as to include gardeners employed on private gardens 1293 where a considerable proportion of consumable produce is sold. In my experience, there has been considerable victimisation of these people in the past. I know a number of cases in which men have been compelled to accept wages very much lower than the national minimum for agricultural workers, by reason of the fact that, owing to the present housing shortage, they could not move elsewhere. It is a very good thing that they are now to enjoy the benefit of a national minimum.
There are one or two points on which I should like my hon. Friend who is to reply to give us a little more information. Reference has already been made to Clause 1 (3), which is intended to clear up the position with regard to payments during periods of sickness. It was lightly pointed out that this might allow payments during voluntary absence, and I think it should be made clear that it is not intended to cover any absence from work in breach of contract. It would mean that paragraph 5 of the First Schedule would have to be amended to indicate that the Bill referred only to involuntary absence. In Clause 2 (2), reference is made to the power of committees to fix the value of a house for the purpose of inclusion as part of any minimum rate of wages, where the value does not correspond with the true value. I know that it is suggested that upper and lower maximums should be fixed by the Board, but I feel that there are likely to be some very unsatisfactory variations as between different localities in this matter. I think that there should be an upper limit, and any variations should be in a downward direction and not in an upward direction.
Reference has already been made to learners and apprentices under Clause 3. I think that there should be some definition of "learner," or "apprentice," which would remove any doubts on this matter. There are other points in this Clause which either are not clear, or are unsatisfactory. Subsection (2), for example, rightly gives the power to revoke a certificate if the conditions are not being complied with, but it adds also "if the terms of the worker's employment are no longer satisfactory." Surely, if the committee have approved the conditions in the first place, and if the conditions are being faithfully observed, there should be no question of revocation. In Subsection 1294 (3), there is an unusual and extraordinary provision which may be dangerous for workers and employers alike. It is surely wrong to suggest that if a contract is being properly carried out under the terms laid down by the committee, the committee should have power to vary them without application from either party, and without appeal from either party. I can visualise circumstances where that might create a very unsatisfactory position, particularly from the worker's point of view. In Subsection (4), there is provision for the serving of a revocation notice on both the worker and his employer, but no provision is made for either party to be. heard in the matter. They should surely have the right to speak in their own cause. The Minister may already have these points in mind and a satisfactory explanation may be forthcoming, but I hope to hear something about these matters from my hon. Friend who is to wind up the Debate. I wish to give a cordial welcome to this Bill, which will have very far-reaching and extremely favourable results for farm workers and for agriculture as a whole.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander Joynson-Hicks (Chichester)
I certainly join with the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Collins) in his hope that the matters to which he referred will be dealt with in the Government reply. Many of the questions he has put to the Minister are exceedingly pertinent, and we shall await replies to them with great interest. It may be necessary, arising from the reply, to give consideration in Committee to some of the detailed points raised by the hon. Member. There was one matter referred to by him, which I, too, should like to mention. He welcomed what he claimed to be the conversion of hon. Members on this side of the House, from the attitude they adopted in 1924. I do not think there is any conversion in the sense in which he was speaking. It was partly owing to the circumstances then prevailing that we were opposed to a minimum wage of 30s. per week in the agricultural industry. I hope that those circumstances will never be repeated, although I, for one, would be opposed to a minimum wage of 30s., because if there is one thing which has been abundantly proved, it is that once you fix a minimum wage it automatically becomes a maximum wage for the industry.
1295 We on this side also welcome the advance in the rate of wages, and we hope that this Bill will be worked in cooperation with the right hon. Gentleman's colleague the Minister of Labour, so that the rise in agricultural wages will not set in trend a further competitive spiral compelling us to come back to him for a further adjustment. The wages of agricultural workers should be fixed at a comparative figure in relation to wages of workers in other industries. For far too long have the wages of the agricultural worker been fixed at a much lower rate than those of his opposite numbers in urban industries. We shall be glad to do everything we can to destroy that position and render its return impossible. I know many farmers in my constituency and in my own locality, but I do not know a single case in which a fanner desires to see his employees paid a lower rate of wages than his business can afford. We are now a controlled industry, and the farmer is being deprived of the returns which he could get for his produce if he were selling in a free market. It is only fair, therefore, as the farmer is unable to look after the rate of wages as a result of the controls imposed on him, that the Government should do it for him.
I wish to refer in particular to Clause 2, on which I asked the Minister a question when he was kind enough to give way during his speech. Frankly, I do not think that the point has yet been cleared up. It is in regard to the provisions dealing with the reassessment of cottages. I am in accord with the principle contained in the Clause in question, namely, that the local wages committee shall have the revision right of assessment of the value of the cottages occupied by agricultural workers. But the difficulty I foresee is this: In a great number of cases, particularly in the more advanced counties, such as the one which I have the honour to represent—and where, consequently, the Housing (Rural Workers) Act was very largely used—we get the case in which a cottage, once old and nearly derelict, has been reconverted and modified to make it an attractive residence for the agricultural worker. But, owing to the loan which the owner of the cottage has received from the local authority, the rental of that cottage has been tied, originally at 3s. a week, and now, I understand, at 5s. a week. Over a period 1296 of 20. years, if my recollection serves me, the owner of the cottage cannot, without permission, or without repaying the loan—
§ Lieut.-Commander Joynson-Hicks
It is a distinction without very much difference. The owner of the cottage cannot, during that period, let the cottage, otherwise than to an agricultural worker, at I rental in excess of that figure, although the fact is that the value of that cottage to the agricultural worker, at the current rate of wages and the current market competition, is considerably in excess of 3s. or 5s. a week. In a great number of cases, to my personal knowledge, if such a cottage could be put into the general market in the village the average rental, without any question of wartime inflation, or anything of that sort, would be 12s. 6d. or 15s. a week. I would therefore like to know how the local wages committee are to assess the value of that cottage in the agricultural worker's wages. If the agricultural worker is getting £4 a week, is the cottage to be rented at 15s. a week or 5s. a week, the figure to which it is tied by the operation of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act? I should be grateful if the Minister, who is to reply, could indicate further the lines on which it is intended that the local wages committees will function in regard to the assessment of these cottage rental values. Presumably, there have been some discussions on this point, and it would be of assistance if we could be told something more about this matter, because it is essential to the agricultural industry as a whole that these cottage rentals should be regarded from the point of view not only of the agricultural worker, but of the landlord as well.
In the days to which the hon. Member for Taunton referred, when there was an agricultural wage of 30s. a week, it was quite obvious that the landlord, if he was not the farmer himself, was gaining the benefit of cheap labour. But when wages went up to £4 a week, the question of rentals became much more important. The rental of a 5s. week cottage produces a gross return of £13 per annum. Out of that, the landlord has to pay his rates and taxes, insurance and repairs. The 5s. a week cottage is generally old, and has a high repair rate. If there is any- 1297 thing left, the landlord also has to set aside something for depreciation, and consider improvements of the cottage, which might be necessary. For this, he is unlikely to gain any advantage in rent, and he has to take into account the fact that, nine times out of ten, the rental covers not only the cottage but a substantial and highly productive piece of garden as well. Will the local committees take into account that aspect of the matter, because unless they do, I do not see how they will be able to ensure the provision of satisfactory cottages in the future? If they tie down cottage rents to an uneconomic figure for the landlord to maintain, whether the landlord be the local authority or a private owner, it will be to the detriment of the agricultural worker in the long run, and will not be to his welfare at the present time. I therefore hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us that the point of view of the good landlord, who wants to maintain his cottage well, and house the agricultural worker to the best possible advantage of that worker, will be taken into account, just as much as the worker's needs and amount of pay.
I would pass from that to Clause 3 and the trainee scheme. The Minister indicated, rather severely, I thought, that there were farmers who have not been working the scheme fairly. That may be so; there are bad as well as good men in all walks of life, even, possibly in the farming community. I would, however, like the right hon. Gentleman to consider the opposite side of the picture. There are some trainees who are not so successful as others. I have personal knowledge of a case in which a farmer volunteered to accept a trainee from the agricultural committee. He took him on the committee's recommendation, as an ex-Serviceman, and was determined to do everything he could to help him. When the man turned up, the farmer thought there must have been a mistake, and that the man's grandfather had been sent. He said, "You are not an ex-Serviceman," and the man replied, "I was in the Pioneer Corps in the 1914–18 war." What is the good of a trainee like that? It is a great mistake to start a fellow of that age on an agricultural career, and it is not fair to saddle a farmer with the responsibility of trying to turn such a man into someone whose heart and soul will be in the farm, and whose knowledge and 1298 brain will also benefit from farming experience.
I believe that the training scheme in my part of the country has not been a success. We should like it to be a success. It has not succeeded in directing either the number or class of people we would like to see coming on to the land. I believe that the real reason is not so much the difficulty which Clause 3 is trying to overcome, as the fact that the Government have not set forward any long-term plan or policy for agriculture which convinces these men, and women, too, that here is an industry which is an attraction to them, in which they can make their lives, and in which they can settle down happily and prosperously. Until the right hon. Gentleman can produce something which will convince the industry—and he has not done so yet—that there is security in the industry; until he can satisfy those engaged in it that little difficulties in regard to price variations are not going to knock the bottom out of such hopes of profit as they may have had; until he can satisfy them that a year like this, in which farmers have, on the average, made no profit at all, is not going to be the usual run during the time to come—until he can do all this he will not succeed in attracting to the industry the class and type of person we are anxious to obtain.
Then there is the question of amenities. How can we get people who have been accustomed, during the past six years, to every modern convenience and invention, in the Services, or in industry or wherever it may be, to scrap the whole of that, and start" afresh in some of the rural areas as they are to-day? It is essential that the Government should take immediate steps, not only with regard to housing, which is the most vitally urgent thing of all in the rural areas, but in regard to the provision of electricity, water, gas and all those other amenities which we very well know are so essential. I hope that something further will be said about Clause 8. I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, if he is replying, will elaborate what has been said by the Minister upon it, because I am by no means happy about this Clause. Generally speaking, the effect of Clause 8, as I understand it, is to enable the payment of personal expenses on the part of the Minister, of his agents, of wage committees and of persons operating under the Act, through and up to the Minister— 1299 to enable all their personal expenses to be paid. Originally it was up to the limit of £70,000, without question, but now it is without any limit at all. I find it difficult to see what justification there is for this wild and limitless expenditure of the taxpayers' money The right hon. Gentleman has given no indication what his expenses are likely to be, and I think that he should, at least, give the House an indication of what they have been in the past.
§ Mr. T. Williams
I thought that I had indicated that to the House, but for the edification of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, I can tell him that the limit was £70,000, but that it was never reached. The expectation under this Bill is that the administration and enforcement of the provisions of the Act will cost perhaps another £10,000, but no more.
§ Lieut.-Commander Joynson-Hicks
I am much obliged to the Minister, and I appreciate, as I thought I had made plain, that the limit was £70,000; but the Minister still has not told us that the limit has never been reached under the economic management of previous Governments.
§ Mr. T. Williams
It is no use passing an Act of Parliament if we do not employ a number of inspectors to enforce the provisions of the Act—Parliament may just as well save its time. The number of inspectors appointed by the Minister of Agriculture to enforce the provisions of the Act obviously determines the amount of expenditure annually. Sometimes it has been 12 inspectors, sometimes only six; but last year's expenditure, if this is of any value to the hon. and gallant Member, was £53,000 in England and Wales.
§ Lieut.-Commander Joynson-Hicks
I do not know why the Minister should be so reluctant to produce the figures.
§ Wing-Commander Millington (Chelmsford)
Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman not aware that these figures are printed in the Bill?
§ Lieut.-Commander Joynson-Hicks
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is, I think, looking at the wrong Bill or the wrong page. Nothing in the world would induce me to encourage the Minister to increase the number of inspectors in the agricultural industry. I am still more horrified 1300 when he says that not only this surplus of £17,000, which he has already in the Bill unexpended annually, but some unlimited amount beyond that sum, may be required for additional inspectorate. The Minister has opened up a line which may be a great potential cause of distress to the industry. I hope that he will give us an indication of what his plans are for this wide expansion of the inspectorate, which produces nothing, and hampers the farming community and the producers of raw materials.
§ Mr. Paget (Northampton)
Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman really asking for an Act without any machinery to enforce it?
§ Lieut.-Commander Joynson-Hicks
On the contrary, I am asking that the machinery of the Act should bear some relation to the amount of the expenditure.
§ Lieut.-Commander Joynson-Hicks
I do not think that the hon. Member has quite grasped the point. The point I am objecting to is that under Clause 8 of the Bill the principal Act is amended in so far as it limited the expenditure of the personal expenses of the Minister and the officers working under him, including the. local wages committees. It limited their expenditure to £70,000, but now, under the provisions of this Bill, that limit is removed. Subject to the Treasury's consent, the amount of the personal expenses of the Minister and of all of those working under him, including the members of the local committees, can go up to an unspecified sum. The Minister has now assured us that he has £17,000 annually in hand, because that was the amount by which the limit had not previously been reached, but he is to remove the limit, because he anticipates, owing to the increase of his inspectorate, that he will require more than the £17,000.
§ Lieut.-Commander Joynson-Hicks
I think that the House is entitled to further information on this point. I have delayed the House longer than I intended. I am very grateful for the cooperation of hon. Members opposite, and I should like 1301 to say, with other hon. Members, that the Bill, in general, is a helpful Bill, and carries the position a little further, but it does not go to the root of the matter, and it does not go far enough. It is a question of tinkering with the position here, as the right hon. Gentleman tinkered with prices during the war years. He will not get down to the root of the agricultural problem in this way. It would do him and the country far more good, and particularly the agricultural community, if instead of introducing little Bills like this, he would take steps to enable the capital which has been lost in the industry, and which the farmers have been unable to plough back into the industry during the war, owing to the heavy taxation, to be put back into the industry. All these troubles and difficulties would then settle themselves. If only the Minister would provide the means whereby the industry could be rendered sufficiently attractive to the worker, the farmer and the landlord—and it does not nowadays require a very high degree of attraction—all the capital necessary would flow automatically into the industry, and we would then have all the amenities and other requirements which are necessary to enable the industry to attract the type of recruit which it wants and which, I know, in his heart, the Minister wants as well.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Mitchison (Kettering)
I wish to raise a point on behalf of a class of people who are particularly amenable to hardship in the operation of these Measures for regulating agricultural wages. I refer to cases in which permits are given for the employment of some man, perhaps a cripple, at a reduced rate. I have in mind a case within my experience, in which the man, notwithstanding the permit and in contravention of it, was employed by the farmer at a rate below that allowed. The legal remedies appear to be comprehensive Section 7 of the original Act, a section which is referred to in this Bill, enables proceedings to be taken in such cases, but there is, and there always has been, one practical difficulty, which is simple and obvious enough. If those proceedings are taken and if they result in a conviction, there is at present no means by which the defaulting farmer can be prevented from dismissing the man a day or two afterwards; and in the case of these people whose employment is obviously limited by 1302 their physical capacity, it may be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, within the confines of a small country area, for the man to find employment again.
We have recently had to consider in the House the case of letting furnished houses, in connection with which it was provided and agreed that where proceedings had been taken to assess the rent, and often to lower the rent, of furnished houses, the tenant who had made such an application should not be victimised by being turned out of his accommodation immediately afterwards, and in fact, as a consequence of having made the application. The point I want to raise is that if that can be done for the benefit of tenants in the case of the letting of furnished houses, why cannot there be some provision for a similar security for those who have to make applications for the enforcement of orders or permits concerning agricultural wages? I suggest it is time that a man's right to continue in his job was recognised by Parliament as fully as a tenant's right to continue in his house. Under the law as it stands at present, there is no reason why the farmer should not in a purely vindictive spirit, dismiss a man simply because the law has been enforced against the farmer. The practical consequences of that are obvious. In such a case a man, and his friends and relatives, will be reluctant to take the proceedings that ought to be taken, or to give the necessary information to enable a prosecution to be brought.
I suggest that when this Bill is given further consideration in later stages, that omission should be rectified. It is a short and simple matter, but it is one which, as any one who has had any acquaintance with agricultural employment knows, may create at present the greatest possible injustice. Now that this opportunity presents itself, I suggest that the party which was responsible for the introduction of the original Act, and which is now seeking further to extend and modify that Act, should take the opportunity of giving that degree of security and of practical efficacy to provisions which are no longer disputed in principle, as they were originally, by the party opposite.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Snadden (Perth and Kinross, Western)
A good many points have been raised in the Debate, and I do not wish to repeat any of the arguments that have 1303 been made. As the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is to reply, I wish to put one or two points of some interest to people North of the Border, although what I have to say applies more or less generally to the United Kingdom. I cannot say that I am particularly enthusiastic about this Bill, although I recognise there is a substantial reason for its introduction at this stage. In so far as it affects Scotland, I would have preferred to see the wage fixing powers left in the hands of the district committees, first, because of the democratic basis of regulating wages in that way, and second—and perhaps more important—because of the particularly wide variation in our system of farming North of the Border, about which only the district committees can have adequate knowledge.
In March, 1944, some two years after the transfer of powers to a Central Board in England and Wales, the then Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr. Tom Johnston, brought out an Order in Council transferring wage fixing powers to a Central Board in Scotland. Mr. Johnston then made it clear, in a speech to the National Farmers' Union of Scotland, that he would have greatly preferred—I am using his words—to leave wage fixing powers in the hands of district committees, but that because of our wartime system of United Kingdom assured prices, he had found it necessary to effect that change. The weakness of that argument, in so far as it refers to Scotland, at any rate, is that our marginal and hill farmers are far more numerous relatively than they are in England and Wales. Their share of assured prices, because in the majority of cases they sell in the store markets, is small, and in some cases, as with hill farmers, it is almost negligible.
For that reason, minimum wages fixed on a national scale can prove to be a serious handicap upon the many farmers who fall into that particular class. In my own county 01 Perth, which is, I think, one of the largest hill farming areas in Britain, shepherds must be paid a minimum of 88s. a week. That is a very high wage indeed when one considers that the total revenue of the farm has to come in from a comparatively small number of lambs sold in the store market. Moreover, I do not think the view is generally held in Scotland that the machinery existing 1304 prior to the handing over of powers to the Central Board had broken down, as was alleged by the Secretary of State of that time; but I do go to the length of saying that it is recognised now, I think on all sides, that farmers and farm workers must get together. They must get rid of mutual suspicions and stand shoulder to shoulder to face the problems of the future. That desirable object, in my opinion, outweighs any other consideration, and as far as I can see it can only be achieved through the sort of machinery we have in this Bill. For that reason the agricultural community north of the Border generally accept the main provisions of this Bill.
I should like, however, to call the attention of the House and of the Government to the particular case of the marginal and hill farmer and emphasise the need, if hardship is to be avoided, of the Central Board, when exercising their powers, of taking fully into account the vast variation in conditions as between arable and dairy farms on the one hand and marginal and hill farms on the other. In particular, I would direct the Minister's attention to the First Schedule, Paragraph 5. I think I am right in interpreting that to mean that the Board has full powers to take these factors into account and discriminate according to the various systems of farming carried on throughout the country. As regards the Clauses in this Bill hon. Members in all parts of the House have made one or two points I intended to make myself. I am not going to run over their arguments because I know that there are other Members who wish to speak.
I do not think however that we have yet had enough on one Clause which to me is of great importance. I refer to Clause 1 (3). It is important that we should be given a clear meaning of this Clause. Does this Clause really mean that the Board will be able to make special provision for the payment of reduced rates due to sickness? If that is so I consider that an important step forward has been taken in tidying up a very ragged position. Even if it does mean that, great care will have to be exercised by the Board, and full attention will have to be paid to the representations which will be made in the district Committees. Complications are bound to arise because we have varying customs throughout our country. In Scotland there is no standardised system. Some farmers, depending no doubt on the 1305 degree of personal relations with their workers, pay full rates until the worker is entitled to sickness benefit, when they pay the balance between that sum and the normal wage. Others—I think they are in the minority—pay no supplement at all and the worker has only the amount of benefit.
A complication arises here which differentiates between the agricultural worker and the industrial worker. It arises because of the custom throughout the country of giving what in my part of the world are called perquisites. Where a worker is living in a tied cottage he continues to live in it although he is not working and not drawing money wages because of the fact that he is sick. That is an actual supplement to his sickness benefit which is not drawn by the industrial worker. He may also be drawing perquisites, as workers do in my district, like milk, meal, potatoes, fuel and so forth. These represent quite a lot and are valued at some 12s. to 14s. a week. These perquisites again vary according to the districts, so that we may have a worker in one district whose perquisites are a house, milk, meat and potatoes, and another worker in the next district who only has a house and possibly milk. Yet again we may have someone living in a council house and drawing no perquisites at all. It is perfectly obvious, if any wages board is to lay down a standard system of sickness payment that it must take all these factors into account. The greatest possible care will have to be exercised by the board, who must see that the district committees are fully consulted and that all local customs are taken into account.
On Clause 3 mention has been made of learners. I am not going to say much about it except on the Subsection (5) which can prohibit premiums being paid to a farmer by a pupil who is a learner. I have been both a worker in my lifetime and a learner by premium. I have worked on farms with and without paying a premium in order to increase my knowledge of a special line of agriculture. I do think that we are running great risks by putting such a lot of red tape on the system which might have the effect of preventing farmers from taking on premium paying pupils. There are many students in England and Wales who write to me in Scotland asking if I can get them placed 1306 upon a farm where a certain type of specialisation is taking place. Obviously, the owner of such a business is too busy to have people coming to him about these things, and the pupil really has to press his way in as I had to do about 25 years ago in order to acquire a special knowledge of a particular type of farming. I think it is quite right that in such cases a premium should be paid. I can see under this Bill that if farmers have to go to an office and get a certificate and go through all this red tape, they will not be bothered with premium paying pupils. That will be a bad day for agriculture and will adversely affect ex-Service officers and men.
There is one further Clause I want to mention. It deals with holidays with pay and removes the limitation at present existing on holidays with pay. Speaking from memory—and the Minister can correct me if I am wrong—until now the limit of the obligation on the farmer has been to provide seven days' holiday in any year and not more than three consecutive days in any one week. No doubt, the idea behind this Clause is to bring the farm worker into line with the industrial worker, and certainly we are all agreed that that is a sound principle. We all want to do our best to provide conditions in every way comparable as between farm worker and industrial worker. However, I should like here to throw out a word of caution to the Minister. Again I feel it is necessary to draw the attention of the Government to the fact that agriculture is very different from any other kind of work. In this country there are many small farmers. Many units all over the country employ one or two regular workers. Supposing an order is made by the Board extending the seven days to 14 and extending the existing three consecutive days to seven, we might easily find small farms at a critical time with only one third of its labour force. That time might be in the hay, grain or potato harvest, and that would be a serious business for the farmer. I do not say that that cannot be overcome; it can be overcome, but I point to it in order to draw attention again to the fact that if we try to legislate for agriculture on an industrial basis we shall only get into trouble. We have to take into account the local conditions and once more consult the local committee on each specific advance.
1307 Another point I want to make is for the particular attention of the Secretary of State for Scotland, although I dare say the Minister of Agriculture will also be interested. I want to draw attention to what I consider to be a serious omission from this Bill. Here we have a Bill setting up permanent machinery for wage fixing with two separate Boards, one in Scotland and the other in England and Wales, but there is nothing in the Bill to provide that there shall be any kind of collaboration between these two important bodies. This omission could, I think, be quite easily remedied by inserting a Clause to set up a coordinating committee. This seems to me to be not only desirable but most necessary if we are to avoid the kind of anomalies and delays which we have seen during the past three years, particularly in Scotland. What has actually happened during those past three years? First, we had the district committees in Scotland asking for increased minimum rates, mainly because an increase had been granted in England and Wales. The Scottish Board turned down the application, but a little later, after they had been given new powers through Mr. Tom Johnston's council, they looked at the thing again and finally awarded it. That meant that although the producers—including myself, as a farmer—had benefited, through a price increase, the Scottish farm workers had lagged behind and were out of pocket. Although the prices for agricultural commodities had been fixed on a United Kingdom basis and the Scottish farmer was benefiting, his workers were not receiving the increased rates granted in England and Wales. That naturally aroused a certain amount of discontent and feeling which, I maintain, could have been avoided if there had been proper coordination between the two Boards.
The next thing that happened began in Scotland. It was the unwise decision—as I believe—to reduce working hours in conditions of a world food shortage and at a time when the producer was being urged by the Minister to grow the maximum amount of food possible. The idea may have been all right, but the timing was all wrong. The point to note is that there was a considerable time lag before England and Wales decided to follow Scotland's lead in reducing the working day. Last of all, we had the recent 10s. 1308 rise in wages. England and Wales took that decision first, with effect from 14th July, but in Scotland it did not take effect until 7th October, although again prices had been adjusted on a United Kingdom basis and were operating North and South of the Border at the same time. That may be all very well for the farmer, but there is no doubt that it caused discontent among the workers. We must not forget that it is quite possible that in the future wages may go down instead of up. An hon. Member opposite said that he was proud that under the Labour Government there had been practically no bankruptcies. No doubt we are all pleased about that and know the short and simple answer. But if he has read an article by Mr. A. G. Street published in September by the "Farmers Weekly" he will know that the writer told us that bankruptcy was just round the corner. It is logical to suppose that we shall be in power then because, by implication, the hon. Gentleman suggested that we were the people who made the farmers go bankrupt.
What would happen if wages had to come down? We might have a position where a demand for a reduction of wages took place in England and Wales first, which is the usual thing that happens. followed by a reduction of United Kingdom prices affecting the entire country before Scotland had in fact reduced wages. The main point I wish to make is that it does not matter which Board acts first; the other must follow suit. The trouble arises because they play their cards differently and the results are never exactly the same. A very strong case can be made out for a coordinating body between the two Boards to avoid the kind of trouble I have pointed out. Without some such coordination we shall just have a repetition of the trouble we have had during the past three years. I accept the main principles of this Bill, but I am a little apprehensive about the great powers given to the central Board. All we can say about that is that we must hope again that they will use them wisely and pay attention to the representations that will be made to them by the district committees. The vast power which have been given have caused a[...]mount of apprehension in my part or[...] dd, and I hope the Minister will think over what I have suggested with regard to coordination. I am perfectly certain that 1309 something of the kind is required in this Bill to make it work between the two countries.
In conclusion, I would say that no one deserves better treatment than the farm worker. In my experience no one appreciates that fact more than the farmer, but it is just as well to bear in mind that it is not a central Wages Board, or any other board, or even the Government that pays these wages. They have to be paid by the farmer himself, and he can pay only if he receives prices which will enable him to meet his expenses, the biggest item of which, in many and indeed almost all cases, is wages. Farmer and farm worker really sink or swim together, and it is up to hon. Members of all parties to see that both farmer and farm worker receive a square deal in the future, otherwise this industry cannot possibly be established on the solid and secure basis we all desire.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Mackay (Hull, North-West)
I confess at the outset that, coming as I do from an urban constituency, it is with some trepidation that I intervene in a Debate on agricultural wages, the more so since the point I rise to make relates not to the substance but to the form of the Bill. Nevertheless, in my view it is a very material consideration. An hon. Member who spoke earlier said that this Bill was a consolidation of the law relating to agricultural wages, and that is, of course, exactly what it is not. It is because I suggest to the Minister that it should be such a Bill that I am rising to make this point. The Third Schedule mentions a number of Acts, one of which is repealed, the others of which are not. Those latter Acts have in the main already been repealed and very little of substance remains in each case.
Take the principal Act of 1924. From the Schedules it will be seen that parts of this are repealed but that Section 1 is left. Section 2 is left in part, and if one looks at it in relation to the extent of the repeal in the three Schedules one can spend quite a lot of time seeing which parts remain and which do not. Subsections (2), (4) and (5) of section 2 are repealed or amend[...] Subsection (1) remains, as do [...]ions (4) and (6). But if one proceeds further through the Bill, one finds that Section 4 is not repealed at all, and that it deals with complaints concerning 1310 inadequate piecework and the payment of wages. Section 7, dealing with the power of the Agricultural Wages Board and penalties and legal proceedings, remains. Section 9 also remains, as does Section 10 Part of Section 11 is left.
If, instead of a Bill in the form of the present one, we could have had a Bill repealing all the previous Acts and containing all the provisions which now remain, we should have had a much clearer piece of legislation. I do not want to weary hon. Members by going through the Acts to which the Schedule refers, but perhaps I might refer to the last one that is mentioned, the Act of 1940. This is a prize example of the point I am making. We are asked to repeal Section 1 and we leave three Sections, which are only 12 lines long and which relate directly to the subject matter of the Schedule. In the Bill itself, Clause 8 (1) contains a provision relating to the amount of money, which cannot exceed a certain figure. If we were considering a consolidating Bill there would have been no need for that provision. Clause 7 would also be unnecessary because, in a consolidating Bill there would be a definition of "agriculture." If the Bill had been drafted in the way I suggest it would not have needed more than 20 Clauses and the number of pages would be only two more. We should have repealed four or five existing Measures relating to the same subject and should have had the whole of the law on the subject of agricultural wages in one Bill.
I can conceive objections which might be raised by the Minister to the course which I am proposing. The first—and it is one of substance—is that if we had to do this every time we should take much longer to get Bills through the House, because the House would be able to discuss all the Sections of the Acts that were being repealed in the consolidating Measure. That objection might apply in other cases. but not to this Bill, which is, in a sense, an agreed Bill. There has been no substantial opposition to it. I rise to speak on it because it is a subject of importance in the legislation of the country. I hope the Minister will look at the Acts mentioned in the Schedule which are being partly repealed, and see whether something can be done at a later stage.
I would draw attention to the fact that many other British countries, the 1311 Dominions particularly, always consolidate. There are two Dominions which never introduce a Bill in this form; it is always as an amendment of a previous Act. When they publish a Bill they publish it in the form of an amendment and they publish the old Act as consolidated by the amending Bill. That method makes for great simplicity. We have only to go to the Library to realise how many volumes of Public Statutes we have to look at, but in the case of one of those Dominions countries they get their law into eight volumes. I am not making a plea that we can at this stage consolidate the whole of the law of Great Britain, although I hope that at some stage that will be done. I ask the Minister to reconsider the matter before the Committee stage. I suggest that we could take out the relevant Sections of the Acts of 1934, 1937 and 1940. The Minister will see that about two-thirds of them are repealed and about one-third is left. Of the one-third there is very little which could not easily be brought into the Bill. It is only right that I should point out that my argument does not apply to the Measures relating to holidays with pay, because they apply to industries other than agriculture. I do make the plea that the right way to deal with them is to have an amendment taking out the agricultural directions from those Measures and embodying the whole thing in the one Bill.
While welcoming the Bill, like everyone else, and congratulating the Minister, I would like to strike just one more blow for the community as a whole. Many people complain that lawyers like to make the law complicated, but I think we have a responsibility in this House to see that legislation is not more complicated than it need be. My suggestion is that we should do all we can to avoid complications of this kind. I do not think my proposal would involve the Minister or his advisers in any very great amount of work in carrying it out.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Mr. York (Ripon)
I would reinforce what has just been said by the hon. Member for North-West Hull (Mr. R. Mackay). I confess that I cannot see why his suggestion was not carried out in this particular instance. I can understand that a larger and far more com- 1312 plicated Bill may cause more difficulty because of cross-references to other Acts of Parliament but, so far as I understand the legislation on this subject, there are no such difficulties here, and only a limited number of Acts is involved. Amendments to those Acts could be shown in one of the Schedules, as was done, in fact, in the case of a recent Bill—I think it was one of the Housing Bills. The Minister might well consider these remarks and see whether he can introduce in Committee all the relevant Sections of other Acts, and so make the Bill into a complete Statute to which, alone, the people who operate it need turn. This is not the first time I have made this plea on agricultural Bills, and I have yet to learn that anything has been done.
I want to comment on the Bill in regard to four major technical points. The first was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) and relates to sickness pay. As I understand the provisions of the Bill, they seem inclined to work against the interests of the worker. The implication is that the central Board will impose upon employers conditions which are less favourable to the worker than those already agreed with the workers by the vast majority of employers. I believe that a great majority of employers make up the difference between national health benefit and the normal wage, but under the Bill the Board will be able to lay down a uniform rate for, roughly speaking, the whole of the country.
There is no doubt that the effect of what the Board will do, or attempt to do, will be to prevent the good employer from carrying on a satisfactory and just agreement with his men and that only the bad employer will have any alteration in his status. The Bill provides that the employer can still come into this in sickness cases, and therefore the position of the bad employer is not quite as some speakers may think—
§ Mr. Alpass
May I ask whether there is anything in this Bill, or in any existing Act of Parliament, to prevent farmers paying more than the minimum?
§ Mr. York
I do not quite understand the relevance of that remark. The point I was making was that in the past the majority have paid the usual wage of the sick man. That was an equitable arrangement. Under the new provisions which 1313 may be produced by the Wages Board, that equitable provision may be decreased. My second point is in regard to benefits in kind. The party opposite are inclined to favour uniformity in all things, but I am inclined to the opposite view. I like variety. The danger lies in the alteration of the powers of county committees whereby instead of having the last word, they have only a very minor advisory capacity in the decisions about various benefits in kind which are to be put into effect. On the whole, it is inevitable that this should be so, but I hope that local customs which are convenient in most parts of the country to both sides of the industry will not be unduly squashed by a national Wages Board decision.
The tied cottage provisions have been discussed at some length and there are strong feelings on this matter. I appreciate the criticisms that have been made about the tied cottage but I can say quite fairly that in my part of the country the tied cottage has not been abused except perhaps in a very small number of cases. In all walks of life, there will be abuses of any provisions which are made. They will always be necessary one way or the other, and indeed the new legislation foreshadowed by the Minister in regard to turning out farmers from their farms will raise the same difficulties as those raised in the matter of tied cottages. The Board need very carefully to consider this question, and I am convinced that it is in the interests of the industry that the deductions which are allowed should bear some relation to the economic rent plus rates. What makes me so certain of this is that, more and more, as the cost of maintaining or of building houses rises, this cost is a direct charge on production costs, and anything which tends to unbalance the relationship between the cost of housing the worker, and the money that the worker receives in wages, tends unnecessarily to unbalance production costs in the industry. I thoroughly agree with the hon. Member for Northern Norfolk (Mr. Gooch) that there are a few cottages which are worth no rent. I would say, as he said, that the county wages committee should have a perfect right to say that no rent should be charged for those cottages, but, on the other hand, for the modernised or new houses which are going up, the upward limit should be very high. There should be a small gap for the loss of the privilege of tenancy, but 75 per 1314 cent. of the economic rent plus rates should be the upward limit. What does that leave us with? It leaves us with a margin of from nought to 10s. or 12s. I would like to ask the Minister whether he contemplates that that wide variation should be the variation allowed by the central Wages Board to the county agricultural committees. I am glad to hear him say that each case will be dealt with on its merits, and I hope most strongly that the variation will be as wide as I have indicated.
I pass to Clause 3 and the subject of farm pupils. I view this Clause with some dismay because I am certain that it will have the effect of discouraging farmers from taking pupils. There are two reasons. First, they will not tolerate forms if they can avoid them; secondly, in a number of cases at any rate, they will disagree with the terms of the certificate issued to them by the county wages committee and will therefore refuse to accept the pupils. As the hon Member for Newbury said, the procedure for the protection of pupils is altogether too ponderous. I have a pretty wide experience, as he has, in agriculture generally, and I can state categorically that I have never come across a case where a premium for a pupil or a lower wage rate for a learner has been abused by the farmers. The Minister is legislating for a very small number of cases scattered throughout the country. I am convinced that all that is necessary to protect the pupil is a legislative proposal for the pupil who may think himself dissatisfied to appeal to a county wages committee If that were all that was done, the Minister would in no way make it more difficult for a pupil to find a farmer to take him. As the provision now stands, he will in fact be doing a disservice to the people who wish to go under instruction on a farm. Incidentally, I would like to give notice to the Minister that I intend to raise a question in Committee as to whether Clause 3 covers what we call "mud students," in other words, pupils of land agents and surveyors. I will not ask him for an answer to that now.
My last point deals with holidays with pay. We all welcome that without reservation, but I want to make the point of the cost of it upon each of the three types of estates which will be affected. First, the agricultural landowner's estate. There will be need to be some small weight given 1315 in the rental which is fixed for the extra increase in the cost of maintenance of estates. It is perhaps so small on some estates that it is fairly insignificant, but certainly on a timber estate it will have an appreciable effect, and that is a factor which should be taken into account when the new prices of timber are fixed, as I believe they are to be in the near future. On large farms, the second type of estate, I do not think there will be much difficulty, because output is sufficiently large to cover this additional overhead charge. It is on the third, the small farms, where different factors arise. First, there is generally only one man. In a large number of cases the farmer, in fact, is not earning a very great deal more, if as much, as he has to pay his farm worker. The farmer himself cannot, if it is a small dairy farm, ever take a holiday himself, and the output of that farm is so low that the additional costs of holidays with pay are rather more than that farm can stand. Therefore, special consideration will have to be given to this point.
I have two suggestions to make. The first—it may not be practicable; I know all the difficulties—is that the county agricultural committees should have some form of relief workers who could go and take over the man's job while he is on holiday. The second, and this is by far the most important, is that there will have to be a special weighting of prices for small farms I sincerely hope that the Joint Under-Secretary for Scotland, who is I understand to reply, will say that in fact the Ministry are alive to that point and will take that into consideration in their new price review. In my part of the world we always have very great difficulty in arranging when the holidays are to come for everybody except the dairy staff, because the seasons follow one another in such rapid succession. However, there is cooperation between farmers and their workers, and we succeed. Those are the main points on which I am uncertain. There are other criticisms which I hope to have the opportunity of making at a later stage of the proceedings on the Bill but, in general, I welcome the provisions contained herein.
§ Mrs. Leah Manning (Epping)
Would the hon. Gentleman elucidate one point raised by him which was very interesting? It was on the question of holidays with pay, and the suggestion of the substitution 1316 of a worker by the county agricultural committee. Did he mean that the county agricultural committee would pay the man in substitution? If not, how would it make any difference to the overhead costs of the farm, which was the point on which he was speaking?
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Skeffington-Lodge (Bedford)
I rise for a very few minutes to give my blessing to this Bill. There has been a certain amount of adverse criticism from my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hull (Mr. R. Mackay), from the hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. York) and from the hon. and gallant Member for Chichester (Lieut.-Commander Joynson-Hicks). To a certain extent I endorse the criticism of the hon. and gallant Member for Chichester in regard to the rentals of tied cottages. I shall have something more to say about that in a moment, and I think he will appreciate it, as it to some degree underlines what he said.
The hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton), my next-door neighbour, said very truly that this might be called a farm worker's charter, so good is it and so unexceptionable are its contents. It gives to our farm workers that same measure of long-term security which the farmer himself will get from the Government's policy for assured markets and for fixed prices. While, under Clause 1, it transfers permanently to a central Agricultural Wages Board all the major powers of wage-fixing conferred on county wages committees by previous Acts of 1924 and 1940, what is most important, I think, is that these powers will henceforth be exercised without regard to any price-fixing system. In passing, I might tell the House that the 1924 Act was actually introduced by the first Labour Government in an effort—which was unfortunately largely frustrated by its opponents—to regulate farm workers' wages. It was known as the Agricultural Wages (Regulation) Act.
Now, among the functions of this Bill under Clause 2 are those which will enable the Board to assess the values of farm cot- 1317 tages and supplies of free milk, or other "benefits and advantages" which may be reckoned as "wages in lieu of payment in cash." It is very much to be hoped that, while rural amenities generally in the countryside are so woefully lacking and inadequate, a generous interpretation, from the farm workers' point of view, will be put on these perquisites, if I might call them such, in assessing their value.
There are, of course, many anomalies at present in regard to tied cottage rentals, and they were carefully pointed out by the hon. Member for Ripon-and the hon. and gallant Member for Chichester. The provisions under this Clause should do a lot to iron them out, but on rentals of 3s. a week, where the farmer also pays rates, as I see it, little or nothing is being done or can be done to bring such properties up to date. It seems to me that from the farm worker's point of view, it would be reasonable out of his bigger wage to expect him, in some cases at least, to pay an extra few shillings a week, if only because he would then have a greater claim on his landlord in demanding improvements. I know no one likes his rent put up, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Northern Norfolk (Mr. Gooch) pointed out, some of these cottages are so appalling that it is not decent to charge rent for them at all. Yet I am satisfied that, as conditions exist at the moment, in the short run part of the solution of the problem of a better standard of housing for the workers lies in this particular direction. In the long run, of course, it lies in the complete abolition of the tied cottage, and in the provision of ample and good housing in the countryside and in the towns alike at rents which everyone can afford.
Under Clause 6 the holidays with pay arrangement marks a real step forward. There the Bill lays down that the Board will no longer be prevented from granting more than one week's holiday in the year or, as previously, more than three consecutive days of paid holidays; in other words, it gives parity with all other workers who come under the Wages Councils Act of 1945. That is a real advance as far as agricultural workers are concerned. Clause 7 is especially good and I liked the Minister's exposition of it. Under it workers employed in private, hotel or institution gardens, where most of the produce is sold, are to be paid the full wages prescribed. We all know that 1318 the deplorable situation experienced by the farming community after the 1914–18 war, is very well avoided by the provisions of this Bill and is, therefore, not likely to recur. It will be within the memory of many hon. Members that the wages of our countryside craftsmen—I like to call them countryside craftsmen rather than farm labourers because I think that is a much more telling, and much more accurate and precise, term—in many cases went down to as little as 25s. a week. The consequences of that calamity in Britain's oldest and most vital industry are well known to us all. The fact that this Bill effectively guards against a repetition of that and represents yet another step to wards putting agriculture on its feet, on a permanent basis, justifies our giving it our wholehearted support, which for myself I am very glad to accord this evening.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Brigadier Peto (Barnstaple)
This Bill, even to me—and I am not well versed in understanding legal wording—seems fairly simple when one reads it for the first time. I am not going to spend any time this evening in criticising it as a Bill, but I am going to spend a little time in pointing out one or two ambiguities, and one or two doubts which this Bill raises, and to which I hope the Minister who is to reply may consider it worth while to give his attention.
Under Clause 1 (2) the Board are to take into account all relevant factors when they consider minimum rates. That was rather emphasised by the Minister of Agriculture in his opening speech. It was also very much emphasised in a letter of 18th November, which he wrote to Mr. Turner, Chairman of the N.F.U., on the consideration of price-fixing. In fact that word "all" was underlined in the last paragraph of that letter. By mentioning this "all relevant factors," does the Minister sound a warning to farmers that perhaps when all factors are considered, such as world prices, prices for our commodities will have to come down considerably? Does this mean that wages will perhaps come down in accordance with prices? Does it mean that prices will fall, but wages will stay as they are, or possibly rise? Already there is some disquiet about this problem. I was rather horrified when the Minister said that prices and wages in agriculture will not be related the one to the other. Agriculture, after all, is supposed to be the principal 1319 industry of this country. or it was supposed would be turned into one of the most important industries of the country by whatever party was returned at the last Erection. Why, when the Labour Party is now in office, is this industry to be jeopardised by wages being at a certain rate, and prices unrelated to them? I ask for a clear answer on that point. Only last Friday I received a notice from the Catering Department of the House saying that my luncheon was to be put up from 2s. to 2s. 6d. because prices had gone up and we had therefore to pay more to meet them. There was a relation between the two. If that is so in relation to a humble thing like a 2s. lunch, why should it not apply equally to the great agricultural industry?
The Minister's exposition of Clause 1 (3), coupled with the relevant paragraph of the Third Schedule, left me with the same feeling of complete doubt as to its real meaning as when I put a pencil mark opposite it in the train last Friday. I ask the Minister to clear up the obscurity of the wording of this Subsection, because this is a matter on which there is already considerable uncertainty. Probably I am more stupid than most people, but I do not understand whether it means that a farmer is entitled to pay less than the minimum wage if one of his workers is absent continuously, voluntarily or because of sickness. Does it mean that the farmer can apply to the wages board and receive instructions to pay less than the minimum wage? Or does it mean, as I understand is now the case, that the only alternative for a farmer when dealing with a case of continuous absenteeism is to discharge the labourer—I should say "worker," or "craftsman." "What's in a name" after all, as so many of our opponents have asked? I would like a clear answer so that my untutored mind can grasp the exact meaning of Clause 1 (3).
Many hon Members have mentioned the question of the tied cottage. I only say that, on this side of the House, we think it a good thing for a key man to be housed in a cottage or house which goes with his job, and is handy to the job. Not only on this side of the House, but on all sides of the House, we agree that it is a good thing that you, Mr. Speaker, should be housed in a cottage or house 1320 that goes with your job. If it is right for one, why is it not right for others?
In relation to Clause 6, which deals with holidays with pay, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Mr. York) that it may not be possible for a small farmer, who employs only one man, to give more than three consecutive days' leave with pay. It is frequently quite impossible for a farm worker to look ahead and say, "I will go on my paid holiday on such and such a date" for more than three consecutive days, unless there is replacement available. Therefore, I do not see that this Bill really achieves anything in so far as holidays with pay are concerned. There, again, it may be that I have not quite understood it. I am entitled, and anybody on this side of the House is entitled, to speak of the Holidays with Pay Act. Just as hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House are proud of the fact that they brought in the 1924 Agriculture Wages (Regulation) Act, so we on the Conservative side take some credit for the Measure providing holidays with pay. It is only one of the many Measures which this great party has brought in for the benefit of the worker.
Clause 7 has already been fairly fully covered. Existing conditions are that practically every gardener employed privately is registered as an agricultural worker, and he gets his agricultural minimum wage, plus, in many cases, a cottage free of rent and with many perquisites. I should have thought it would have been a good idea to include all gardeners in this Bill. I would even go further and say that grooms, who do not fall within any category in this Bill, so far as I know, should be eligible for the minimum agricultural wage. It may be a platitude, but it is certainly true, that agriculture's chief need today is to be able to plan ahead for 12 months, with a reasonable chance of making a reasonable profit. Therefore, I finish as I began, and ask that any doubts or ambiguities that can be cleared away with regard to prices and wages, and with regard to the other points which I and others have mentioned, should now be cleared away by the Minister who will wind up the Debate this evening. There is a saying which I read somewhere recently—it was by a man called Bacon—that 1321Money, like muck, is not good unless it be spread.[Laughter.] That may be laughed at, but the Labour Party would do well to apply that precept. They do so in so far as Socialist propaganda is concerned and it is spread very widely. It is just as important, when money is being spread, to remember those who farm and own the land. They cannot possibly keep their farm buildings and cottages in proper repair under present conditions. There is no possibility of securing licences, or of receiving rents for cottages which can possibly keep cottages in suitable state of repair—and they and farm buildings are falling into dilapidation. I would ask that when money is being spread, the owners and farmers of the land should, for once, be remembered.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Major Wise (King's Lynn)
I am glad to intervene at this point in this agricultural Debate, because many of the speeches we have heard from the Opposition have been of a pessimistic nature. The worst possible thing anyone can do to the agricultural industry at the present time is to cry it down, and raise doubts whether it is likely to prosper in the future, or whether it is not likely to sink back into the position it occupied in the period between the wars. This is not a time for pessimism, so far as agriculture is concerned. This is a time, I hope, when, as the outcome of this Bill, we shall be able to pay full and sufficient wages to the men who spread the muck, if I may use the expression quoted by the hon. and gallant Member for Barnstaple (Brigadier Peto). If we can pay them sufficient wages, we can continue the industry as a prosperous one. This Bill is the first agricultural Measure of the Session. It has been referred to as a simple Bill, but it is a very important one. On it is based the whole foundation of the prosperity of the agricultural industry. At long last we are considering not prices but wages, and I think it is well that we should do so. We have too long had wages tied to prices in the agricultural industry. We now want to build up our prices from our wages, and the greatest lead the farmers have ever had is that this Bill provides that the worker should have a proper and sufficient wage.
The finest provision in this Bill, in my view, is Clause 1(2), which gives power to the Agricultural Wages Board not to limit 1322 their decision to any particular matters but to take everything into account, and not only the question of the ability of the industry to pay, by which they have been hamstrung in the past. This opens a very wide field. It will provide for wages according to the job, and, I hope, according to the age and competence of the worker. I think the first charge on the agricultural industry should be wages. I thought the hon. and gallant Member for Barnstaple was concerned with the other end of the stick. He was concerned with the landowner and the occupying farmer. We on this side of the House are prepared to say—and to legislate accordingly—that the man who counts most is the farm worker. I say so as a farmer. Without him we should be in dire straits. This Bill encourages progress in our industry, and that is all-important. We want workers now and we shall need them even more next year. They will see, when this Bill becomes law, that at least they have moved up the ladder.
There are one or two points I wish to make in regard to certain Clauses of the Bill. I am not unduly happy about the whole of Clause 2. We have heard a lot about this Clause, and many hon. Members have talked of perquisites. Though perhaps some of my hon. Friends on this side of the House would not agree with me in this view, I would like to see the whole perquisites system abolished. I want to see a fair day's wage for a fair day's work. Perquisites in the way of tied cottages, milk, potatoes, manure, or anything like that, are of no use to the industry. A farmer cannot differentiate between one man and another. If we are in a position to pay our men a proper rate of wages then they, in turn, can pay for their cottages, milk and potatoes. That is a proper business proposition. We have abolished the system of tipping in our dining rooms here and tips were merely part of a system of perquisites. I am certain that the agricultural industry would benefit much if we paid a clear-cut wage for a clear-cut job.
My second point on this Clause is the question of the cottage. I look forward to the day when the agricultural worker will be able to pay rent for his cottage and will not have disputes with the landlord or, in this particular instance, possibly with the committee or Board, on what the rent should be. Let the worker go to a job, and be paid for it, and in turn pay a 1323 fair rent. That is a far better system. Clause 2 (2) helps to continue the tied cottage system. I will not go into that matter fully, but there is something behind this Clause which draws my mind to the fact that the continuation of the tied cottage system cannot be avoided at the moment.
There is nothing in the Bill about the composition of the Boards or the committees. I do not know whether the Minister was satisfied with the composition of the previous Boards or committees. As far as committees are concerned, looking on as an outsider, I think they have been a squabbling ground for the farmer and the worker. I think it would be better if, in the future, we avoid the sort of conflict which arises where the workers have put forward a claim for an extra shilling or two and the farmers have refused, saying they were unable to pay. If we could dispense with that system, it might be to the good of the industry. Whoever replies to this Debate will, I hope, say something about the composition of the Boards and the committees. There is also another question which arises, though it may not be material at the moment. I refer to powers in regard to the revision of wages. I do not know whether it is provided how long a decision of the Board shall last, and when it can be revised either by a decision of the Board or by some outside influence. I hope that point will be explained. I conclude with a welcome to the Bill. It is the start of what, I hope, will be a Session of great agricultural legislation and one which will prove to be the finest Session that Parliament has ever held.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Major Mott-Radclyffe (Windsor)
The broad principles of this Bill have been accepted by hon. Members on all sides of the House. I want to detain the House for two or three minutes only on Clause 2 because I believe that the finance of rural housing is the key of the whole question of agriculture today. As hon. Members have pointed out, Clause 2 raises the question of the value of wages in kind. I was glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture that there was to be an upper and lower limit within which the Wages Boards could assess the value of a service cottage, because there are both good and bad tied cottages. Some are very bad and, as the 1324 hon. Member for Northern Norfolk (Mr. Gooch) said, these are not worth 3s. nor would they ever be made worth more than 3s. so long as the 3s. limit is imposed. There are others which are in good condition, where there is water, light, and modern sanitation, and where the statutory amount which one can now deduct for rent in lieu of wages certainly ought to be revised. As the hon. and gallant Member for King's Lynn (Major Wise) said so well, it is a business proposition. No man can be expected to spend £1,200 or £1,300 on building a new cottage on his farm, or £700 or £800 on reconditioning an old one, if he is not allowed to deduct more than 3s. or 3s. 6d. in respect of rent.
I must admit that I thought that hon. Gentlemen opposite had conceded the principle that prices must keep in step with wages. Therefore, like hon. Members behind me, I was a little surprised to hear the statement from the Minister of Agriculture that wages must not be tied up with the price fixing system. It seems to be a rather peculiar economic theory. Perhaps part of the new production drive to encourage the farmer to get the most out of his land is to tell him that the price he gets for his fat cattle when he sends them to market is in no way related to the wages he pays to his stockman, and, if so, that statement will be viewed with dismay by farmers in all quarters of this country. But, if the level of wages is to bear a close relation to farm prices—as should certainly be the case—so also must the value of wages in kind, where rent is concerned, keep in step with building costs. because building costs themselves reflect the increase in wages. Perhaps the Under-Secretary for Scotland will tell us at what rent it is proposed that the new Forestry Commission houses should be let? These houses, according to the Minister of Agriculture, in reply to a Question by the hon. Member for Southwest Norfolk (Mr. Dye) a few days ago, were for the exclusive occupation of forestry workers. I have a feeling that the rent for these Forestry Commission houses will be more than 3s., and, if I may paraphrase the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Fuel and Power, to the miners at the Socialist Party Conference, the farmer cannot be expected to give concessions which neither the Government nor the local authorities will give.
1325 The hard fact remains that it is no good hon. Gentlemen opposite approaching this matter from too prejudiced an angle. Certain key men must have cottages near their work, and we cannot get key men on a farm if the only accommodation offered them is six miles away. Nor, as a matter of business or, indeed, of commonsense, is any farmer going to outlay the necessary capital to build a new cottage unless he is perfectly certain that it will be available for his own employee. It was because hon. Gentlemen opposite failed to realise that fact, and the harmful effect on rural housing in consequence, that they made the mistake of winding up the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, and of inserting the condition that the new alternative grant of £15 for 40 years should not be applicable if the cottage is tied.
In conclusion, I beg the Government to suggest to the Wages Boards that, if they really have the best interests of agriculture at heart, as I am sure they have, they must review the upper and lower limits on the genuine value of the house on sound economic grounds, and thus encourage the agricultural landowner and the farmer to make their contributions to the rural housing problem by allowing them to build houses for which they can obtain an economic rent.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Attewell (Harborough)
I would like to answer one point put forward by the hon. and gallant Member for Windsor (Major Mott-Radclyffe) before I come to the particular matter which I wish to raise. On the question of wages being related to a price-fixing method, surely the majority of industries today do not fix their wage systems according to a price-fixing method. They do relate their wages to the economics of their industry, and, by giving the national Board the duty of fixing the minimum rate for the industry as a whole, it will be made possible for the representatives of the industry, round a table, to put forward to the Board the economics of the industry. That is the only way in which they will be able to relate the demand for a wage increase to the economics of the industry. I have sat for many years around a table engaged in fixing minimum rates. Obviously, each side put forward its view on the economics of the case, but we did not relate that to the price-fixing of the article which we were going to sell. 1326 May I make it quite clear that I am concerned with boots and shoes? We do not fix our rates according to the rate for which a pair of shoes is sold in a retail shop. We do fix the rate according to the economics of the industry and what it can pay. While I find hon. Members giving approval to this Bill, yet in the main speech from the other side of the House the national Board is condemned as against the ordinary local body.
§ Mr. Attewell
The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) indicates his disagreement. I am afraid I have misunderstood him, and if so, I withdraw that observation as far as he is concerned. Why should we go to a national Board? We should go to a national Board because agriculture is a national industry, and especially so, when that national industry is related to guaranteed prices. All the information that is gathered must be of a national character, and, that being so, the price that is paid for the commodity can only be determined upon a national basis. Is it not wiser then to fix the minimum rate by a national Board, instead of having many local boards fixing minimum rates according to their own local experiences?
§ Mr. Hurd
If I might make my position quite clear, I never criticised the continuance of a central Wages Board. I consider that to be absolutely vital. The point that arose between the Minister and myself, concerned the dependence of the national wage on a price-fixing settlement, and I still hold to the view that the level of price-fixing is going to decide the size of the cake, and of the slices which will be allocated to the farm workers and the landowner. I think that is clear.
§ Mr. Attewell
I noticed that the hon. Member was indicating dissent, and I withdrew my previous remark immediately as far as he was concerned. I believe that the national Board is the best body for fixing a minimum rate. Let us take as an illustration, the county of Northamptonshire with the counties abutting on it. A number of minimum rates are being paid there. My own Division, which is in Leicestershire, joins up with Northamptonshire, and if we had a body of agricultural workers living in Market Harborough, they would be paid on two different rates.
1327 There is another point with which I should like to deal—the question of permits. I am certain that it is in the best interests of an industry to have a permit system. Permits are issued in my industry. Unless there is such a system, there will be dissatisfaction and misunderstanding between the employer and the operative on what is actually agreed on a given point. Let us take the question of permits for disabled persons. If there is a minimum rate for an industry, surely there must be some understanding as to what is the qualification or disqualification for a firm to pay the minimum rate laid down? That point needs to be covered by words understandable by both sides. Therefore, I think that a system of permits for those who are disabled and who would not earn the normal rate in industry is correct. Regarding permits for the trainee and the apprentice, is not that a system which operates in the major industries today? Has not industry proved that that practice is indispensable? Of course it is. If a lad goes into the agricultural industry, or any other industry, he wants to know, not only the commitments that he will undertake, but the commitments that the employer will undertake. Normally, the conditions are drawn up by a solicitor in order to make the position perfectly clear. When a lad goes into agriculture, he should know exactly what his course of training is going to be. He should not merely be trained in one specific part of the industry according to how the employer interprets his liability and responsibility; he should be trained according to the contract between himself and the employer. If that is done, the lad will be trained in all branches of the industry. I am certain that, if agriculture is to be placed in the position which it deserves, we must have a central authority, a system of permits and all the things that go with it.
§ 7.23 p.m.
§ Major McCallum (Argyll)
I want to thank the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Attewell) for something he has said and also to question him on another point he made. In the first place, I am glad that hon. Members opposite at last recognise agriculture as a national industry. Surely, it has always been a national industry; in fact, our greatest industry. It is rather a confession by hon. Members 1328 opposite to say that they now recognise it as a national industry. Hardly had the hon. Member for Harborough said that, while talking about the wage-fixing arrangements, when he asked, "What do we do in the major industries?" By implication, agriculture is not a major industry. I hope that the hon. Member is not contradicting himself. We on this side of the House feel a certain worry as to the point of view taken by several hon. Members opposite. I think it was the hon. Member for Northern Norfolk (Mr. Gooch) who said, at the outset of his speech, that his party is no longer only an industrial, but is now also an agricultural party. We on this side welcome that statement. We who represent agricultural interests remember the attitude of hon. Members opposite in the last Parliament, and we are very glad to see such a change of heart.
To come back to the Bill for a moment, I wish to reinforce the point made by the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) in regard to the setting up of the central Wages Board. It is agreed.in Scotland—and I am speaking of Scotland—now that this is necessary. On the other hand, it is going to present considerable difficulties, particularly, as he himself said and as I have experienced in my constituency, in regard to the marginal and hill sheep farms. Two or three years ago, the Wages Board in Scotland assessed wages on the farming "economics" of Ayrshire, Renfrewshire and Argyllshire—in other words, on some of the best dairy farming parts of Scotland and some of the poorest hill farming and marginal farming areas.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, or his chief, will bear in mind, in setting up the Wages Board for Scotland, that these difficulties exist there far more than in England. It may be that they exist as acutely in Wales. We foresee the difficulty of paying the present minimum wage of 80s. a week for a shepherd or an agricultural worker on a hill farm. The "economics" of the hill farmer are the prices he gets for his lambs. They are not guaranteed prices, and do not come within the present guaranteed price arrangements. Therefore, a very large proportion of the agricultural industry in Scotland may tend to find itself in difficulties because of this lack of price arrangements for hill farmers. That is going to become all the more difficult now 1329 that the Essential Work Order is being lifted in the agricultural industry. The poorer farmers will be unable to find even the small number of agricultural labourers available at present.
I apologise to hon. Members for coming back to the subject of the tied cottage. Many hon. Members opposite do not realise the difficulty, almost the impossibility, of carrying on certain types of farming in the Highlands of Scotland without the tied cottage. The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeffington-Lodge) said he agreed with the short-term policy of raising the rent allowed under this Bill from three or five shillings to a satisfactory economic figure, but, as a long-term policy, he looked to the total abolition of the tied cottage. I doubt whether the time will ever come in Scotland—certainly not in our lifetime—when the Highlands of Scotland will be able to do without the tied cottage. I particularly asked the Minister, in connection with the framing of regulations and the setting up of these committees, not to allow his mind to be prejudiced. Hon. Members behind him have this prejudice, and, I ask the Joint Under-Secretary, when he replies, to give us an assurance that he does not take this bigoted outlook on tied cottages.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Tolley (Kidderminster)
I welcome the opportunity of adding my support to this Measure, because I regard it as the agricultural workers' charter. I am reminded of the chaotic and bankrupt position of the farming industry between the two wars. Having heard hon. Members opposite chaffing hon. Members on this side of the House, and saying that we took no interest in agriculture, I would remind them that we have been closely associated with the industry for many years, and that the agricultural worker in Britain owes nothing to successive Conservative Governments.
§ Mr. Snadden
May I interrupt the hon. Gentleman? Does he recall that—in 1939, I think—his party went into the Lobby and voted against the first guaranteed prices Measure which had been introduced in this House?
§ Mr. Tolley
That may be so, but I would still remind hon. Members opposite of the chaotic and bankrupt position into which they brought agriculture. I was listening a few weeks ago to an eminent British fanner giving an address and his 1330 words are worthy of being remembered. He said now the war was over, he knew that British agriculture would never sink back into the position which it occupied just prior to the war. He said, "We were promised many things after 1918, and we had come to expect that we should be recognised as the greatest industry in Britain." I have always held that view and, coupled with that view, I have also held that the agricultural worker is one of the greatest and most important artisans in the country. There is a tendency for increased mechanisation on the farms, and rightly so. We welcome it. With that increased mechanisation, will come increased skill on the part of the agricultural worker. Apart from the many skilled occupations which he performs on the farm, he will, in the immediate future, have to adapt himself to new conditions, and become a skilled mechanic. Those who have treated with scant respect the man who has produced Britain's food, and who have called him the "agricultural labourer," would do well to pay proper regard to his outstanding qualifications.
This Measure is designed to give, perhaps for the first time in the history of British agriculture, a safeguard to the workers so far as decent wages are concerned. Bandied about as the farm worker has been in the past, with no due regard paid to his wages in comparison with those of the town worker, he has felt himself neglected. My long association with agriculture in the countryside has caused me on many occasions to express my dissatisfaction with and disapproval of the conditions and wages of the agricultural worker.
Would the hon. Gentleman say in what respect this Bill increases the agricultural worker's security, over and above the 1924 Act?
§ Lieut.-Commander Joynson-Hicks
The agricultural worker has no representation, either under the 1924 Act or this Bill.
§ Mr. Tolley
He will have representation now, if only through his powerful organisation which has come into existence during the past few years. The National 1331 Union of Agricultural Workers has become a powerful organisation. In the past, it was not so effective because of the intolerable conditions under which the men were employed. Only a few years ago, many agricultural workers in remote areas were afraid to express themselves politically, and dare not join the union. Today, all that has gone. The agricultural worker now has the same privilege as the town dweller of associating himself with his trade organisation which will safeguard and protect his interests. There is no doubt that today he feels a greater sense of security than he ever felt before.
There is only one Clause in this Bill to which I take exception, and then it is only a part of the Clause to which I object. I am sorry that in Clause 2 we are perpetuating the system of perquisites. I stand for a minimum wage for the agricultural worker, which will enable him to purchase all the commodities he wants, so that he is not dependent upon a generous farmer for any perquisites, whether it be a pig or a piece of ground which he is allowed to plough, or anything of that sort Also, when the new houses are erected in the countryside—not tied cottages; I am against them—I want the worker to be a free agent and to occupy a modern house at a rent which he can afford, instead of living in a cottage which is regarded as a perquisite, or part wages, or some charity bestowed upon him by a farmer. Let us show in this Measure that the time has arrived when the farm worker must have the same independence and freedom as every worker in industry in the towns and cities. Let him receive a minimum wage which will enable him to purchase all the things he requires, to pay rent for a house and not have to suffer the terrible tragedy—
§ Mr. Speaker
I must point out to the hon. Member, who I do not think has been within a hundred miles of the Bill so far, that the Bill only sets up machinery and does not deal with a minimum wage or give anything to the farm workers. It merely sets up machinery and does nothing else.
§ Mr. Tolley
I am sorry if I have digressed, but, having listened to the Debate, I must say I think all the points which I have mentioned have been dealt with by other speakers, and in particular the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll 1332 (Major McCallum). However, I welcome the Bill because it sets up machinery for dealing with those outstanding problems which have confronted the agricultural worker in the past, and because it is calculated to give him the benefits enjoyed by other classes of workers. I hope that when it becomes operative, it will raise the status of the agricultural worker to the desired level.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Baldwin (Leominster)
As an employer of farm workers I welcome this Bill. I happen to farm on the borders of two adjoining counties, and in the past it has been extremely difficult when some of the men have lived in one county and worked in the other, with varying rates of wages allocated by the county wages committee. I think it is all to the good to have a central Wages Board, and that the county committees should deal only with the smaller matters. I do not propose to go into the Bill very closely at the moment. I have very little criticism to make of it. I desire mainly to elicit some information about Clause 1 (3), which I think we would all like to have cleared up.
Referring firstly to Clause 3, it would appear that if care is not taken we shall do away with the opportunity of a learner getting the very best possible education: I refer to farm pupils. I have had many mothers coming to me asking whether they should send their sons to an agricultural college, or what they should do. My advice has always been that they should select the best practical fanner, who would send their sons out to till the land, collect a cartload of muck and pull the swedes, in order to find out what the work means. I have always said that the privilege of being taught by a good man should be paid for; and there are not too many of those good men about who are prepared to take in pupils. I hope that in this respect something will be done to leave open this particular avenue of education.
We have heard a great deal of the history of wages throughout the ages. However, there has been such a lot of agreement with regard to this Bill that I hope we shall be practical in the view we take on farm wages. What is the history of farm wages?
§ Mr. Baldwin
Exactly. Wages have gone up and down with the price of the commodity paid to the farmers, and they always will go up and down with the price which is being paid. Let us be practical about this. No party in this country is free from blame. The history of this country has been industrial for the last 80 years. Liberals, Socialists and Conservatives have been in power, but they have been put in power by an industrial community., Up to the time of the first world war wages were 15s. a week. After the first world war we again had lip service paid to the industry, and the Corn Production Act was passed. It was going to give the farmers guaranteed prices and to set up a wages board for the farm workers. We all know the melancholy result of that: guaranteed prices were taken away, but the wages board was left, and that wages board did not tie the wages to the value of the commodity which those wages were producing. What was the result? For the 20 years between the wars farm workers left the countryside at the rate of 1,000 a year. That is bound to continue unless prices are linked with wages, and wages with prices.
In my opinion the Wages Board should be part of the negotiating machinery which fixes prices in February. It is not the slightest use having a price fixing machinery in February if a few months afterwards the wages are to be altered by 10s. That will lead to the same disturbances which have gone on in the industry in the last six months. In fixing prices wages must always be related to prices. The hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Attewell) mentioned that in the shoe industry wages were fixed at an economic figure. He must remember that fixing wages for agriculture is a great deal more difficult than fixing wages for the shoe industry. In the shoe industry, if the demand for shoes goes down, the factory owner merely has to put his men on half time, or give them the sack altogether, and then his commitments are finished. Agriculture is a long-term planning job, and in it we have to know what we will have to pay in wages during the 12 months in which the crops are growing. It will be seen, therefore, that it is quite different in the two industries. The hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Collins) taunted hon. Members on this side of the House with conversion because we were 1334 supporting this Bill. I may be wrong, but I can never remember any great attempt being made by the Socialist Party to put agriculture on a proper basis.
§ Mr. Baldwin
There was 1929 to 1931—Sand do not let hon. Members opposite say they were not in power. Had the Socialist Party then introduced an agricultural Measure, which they had the opportunity of doing, they would have had the full support of both sides of the House. But they did not do it. During that time more agricultural labourers went out of employment than in any other period between the two wars. The hon. Member for Northern Norfolk (Mr. Gooch) referred to bankruptcy in connection with agriculture. I have not looked up the statistics. I wonder whether he looked up the figures for bankruptcy in the industry in the years 1929–1931? I think he will find that there were probably many more bankrupts in those three years than ever took place in the industry before.
§ Mr. Baldwin
How many bankruptcies took place in the first year after the first world war? It is nonsense to talk about bankruptcies at a time when there is a world demand for produce, and when prices are sky high. It is nonsense to link that up with the industry, and the hon. Member ought not to do it.
The hon. Member for Northern Norfolk also mentioned the fact that the farmers and land owners had not taken advantage of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act up to 1939. May I remind him that the industry was in a parlous condition; much of the countryside was bankrupt; and how would it be possible for anybody to spend money in a big way on the reconditioning of farm cottages? In those days much of the land was being ranched and cottages were not necessary, and did not look like being necessary. One of the greatest disservices the Socialist Party could have performed towards the agricultural labourer was to do away with that very excellent Act. I can speak with 1335 some feeling on this matter, because I made use of it for myself and clients to the extent of about a dozen cottages; and the people who got the advantage of that Act are the people now living in them at a rent of 4s. a week.
We have not been told what is the composition of this Board, which I think is rather important. I hope the men who will be appointed will have some practical knowledge of the land. I do not anticipate that the chairman will be paid £7,500 a year, but I hope that a Board of practical men will be selected. The hon. and gallant Member for King's Lynn (Major Wise) said it was not right for us to be pessimistic. We do not want to be pessimistic, but we do want to be realistic. We want to face the fact that the farmers' prosperity and the farm workers' prosperity are absolutely bound up one with the other. I challenge the other side to say that the farmers of this country do not want to see their farm workers paid the highest rate of wages in industry. I agree with the hon. Member for Kidder minster (Mr. Tolley) that the farm workman is a highly skilled craftsman on any job, however simple it may be, and I have always maintained that these men should be paid a rate comparable with the so-called mechanic who probably stands by a conveyor belt air day long, and turns a few bolts in the machinery as it goes by. I hope hon. Members opposite will give us every assistance, if farm workers wages are raised, by saying that it does not mean that the wages of everybody else should go above the farm workers wages. The farm worker is entitled to as big a wage as the workers in any other industry in this country.
I should like to support what the hon. Member for North-West Hull (Mr. R. Mackay) said with regard to the coordination of the various Acts. He made an excellent contribution to this Debate. I do think that this system of legislation by reference is very pernicious. It would have been quite easy, instead of referring back to three or four other Acts, to have brought them all together in one Act. Those who interpret these Acts would find it easier if they were brought together in one Measure. Otherwise, it means a harvest for the lawyers. I thank the Leader of the House for having given us a full day for this Debate, but I hope it does not mean that, at some future date, 1336 when we hope to discuss this great industry at greater length, the fact that we have had this Debate will be thrown in our faces.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Janner (Leicester, West)
I do not intend to follow, nor would I be capable of following, some of the speakers who have participated in this Debate, because my knowledge would not be adequate to the purpose; but there are one or two points on which I should like to make some comment, and, I hope that they may result in soma benefit accruing to the agricultural workers. I should like to say, first, that it seems to me that there is nobody in this House at the present time who does not realise that it is high time that the agricultural worker was placed on a level with skilled workers in any other industry. Representing an industrial constituency as I do, I am the last person in the world—and I believe that mv constituents would be the last people in the world—not to acknowledge the fact that the agricultural worker is an extremely important element in the economy of the country.
I do hope it will not be regarded, as has been suggested by one hon. Member, that the general position is a conflict between town and country in these matters. On the contrary, I think that the fact that Socialism has taken this matter in hand will, in itself, provide for a proper understanding of and dealing with the conditions and the requirements of the agricultural workers. Thus, for example, the Minister himself, who is an authority on this subject, and who has done so much in order to assist agriculture in this country, originally was engaged in an industry which was entirely different from the one in which he is taking, and has for so long taken, such a great interest and concerning which he is showing so much knowledge. It merely means, of course, that the workers of the country have that sympathy and understanding with each other's problems which is essential for producing adequate and proper consideration for their colleagues, no matter in what industry they may be engaged. The Bill, as we have it presented, has obviously appealed to all sections of the House. This indicates, apart from minor criticisms that have been offered, that it is recognised that the Government are doing what they possibly 1337 can in order to improve the situation in the agricultural industry.
There is one point that causes me a little anxiety—I was going to say alarm—and that is in Clause 2, Subsection (2), of the Bill. The idea of taking into consideration services and amenities, when one is dealing with a matter of wages, is in itself, in my view, not an ideal state of affairs by any means. A man—or a woman—should be given proper and adequate remuneration for the services he renders. Although I appreciate the intentions of this Clause, I am afraid it may be taken as a perpetuation of the system of the tied cottage, which I think—and, I believe, many Members of this House think—is an invidious system. The proposition that an amount should be taken into consideration as the value of the use of the house or tied cottage carries with it, not only the fact that the cottage remains tied, but the implication that the Government still regard the tied cottage as part and parcel of a system, in respect of occupying premises, that should still prevail.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing (Weston-super-Mare)
Would the hon. Member then defer the passage of this Bill until all tied cottages have been abolished? Because unless he would, unless he would like to defer it, quite obviously his remarks are beside the point.
§ Mr. Janner
I am afraid that the hon. Member is not at all right in his view. I am going to make a practical suggestion in that regard. I certainly do not suggest for one moment that the progress of the Bill should be impeded in consequence of the fact that my belief is that the system of tied cottages is a very vicious thing. What I am going to suggest is this. We are in the difficulty at the present moment, as we are told by my right hon. Friend's colleague, the Minister of Health, that there is such a vast amount of legislation to be got through—which we accept and which is highly essential to clean up the mess we have inherited from the past—that we cannot get a new complete Rent Act. One can quite understand that it would have to be a very heavy Measure. But we can, in my contention, introduce points in small Acts of this description in order to adjust situations which are anomalies. We can insert, in these small Measures, Clauses to provide some corrections which are necessary to 1338 put some parts of the Rent Acts right. It has been done by the recent short Act introduced in respect of furnished lettings, and we know of the tremendous result that has accrued in consequence of that very small Measure—a small Measure in number of words, but a very extensive Measure in its results.
I am suggesting that this Bill might afford a fine opportunity of introducing a Clause whereby the system of tied cottages, and the value of the amenities to be taken into consideration in respect of tied cottages, should be abolished; and that, instead of that type of amenity being taken into consideration by farmers, the cottage itself should become—if I may use an expression which has not been used before—"untied,"in other words, that the cottage should become part and parcel of the ordinary system of protected dwelling houses within the scope of the various Rent Acts. Then the complaints of hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House, as well as our complaints, would be removed. We should then be in the position that the assessment of the value of that house, made by the committee itself, would be the standard rent of the cottage, and the tenant would not be deprived of his protection in regard to possession, which is an extremely important thing. The hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) said that he could not understand why people were prejudiced against the tied cottages or why they preferred to go into a house owned by the local council instead of a tied cottage. The answer to me is perfectly plain. It is obvious that a man does not want to go into a tied cottage knowing that he can be turned out as soon as his employment is terminated, and without the landlord, the farmer, having to go to a court for an order to do so. That is where the hon. Member for Huntingdon made his error. Obviously no man will place himself in that position if he can possibly avoid it.
I can see that my right hon. Friend the Minister may not be prepared to respond very much to my suggestion, and if he does not accept it I will say one other word to him. In the Bill as it stands the agricultural wages committees are to have the right to assess the rental of a cottage between the higher and lower limits which will be set by the Agricultural Wages Board. I would like to know whether the agricultural worker, assuming 1339 that he is dissatisfied with the decision of the committee, has any right of appeal against it? The limits may be fairly wide ones; I do not know whether in all cases they will be or not, but one may fairly assume that there will be in some cases a reasonable space between the lower and higher levels. If the Agricultural Wages Board decide on a certain rental, has the worker any appeal against that decision? If not it is important that the Minister should consider whether such a provision ought not to be inserted, though this will only be necessary, of course, if he does not accept the suggestion I have made already.
§ Mr. Janner
Well, I hope the Minister will take my second point into consideration. I would like to impress upon him once more that the agricultural workers of this country want to finish with the tied cottage, and I think they are right. I would like him to make it perfectly clear that the implied reference to tied cottages here is not to be taken as an indication that the Government are of opinion that the principle of the tied cottage should remain, so that the argument cannot be used at a later stage by opponents who may say, "Here is a Bill brought in by yourselves, and in it you retained the principle of the tied cottage."
§ Mr. Janner
I am afraid I cannot have made myself clear. I know it is not a rent restriction Bill, but what I am asking for is, I think, possible to be included in this Bill. We are dealing here with the question of wages, and are taking amenities into consideration. The Bill states that in order to define what an agricultural worker should earn the rent, or the equivalent of the rent, of a tied cottage shall be taken into consideration. Otherwise the Bill would not mention the words:If an agricultural wages committee are satisfied, on an application in that behalf made by a worker employed in agriculture in their county or by his employer, that the value determined by an order or direction under this section for any house or part of a house occupied as a separate dwelling by the worker does not correspond with the true value thereof…1340 Of course, if a distinction could be made between value and rent I would be wrong, but obviously what this means is that a sum x,which is taken into consideration in arriving at the wage—is the value in use of the house, otherwise the whole clause would be unnecessary. The agricultural worker is being given the use of a cottage which is worth a certain amount as its value in use, and consequently he is in effect paying a rental for that cottage. That is all it is; it is only a matter of putting it down in a different form of words. He is paying rent for that cottage, otherwise, he would get an additional sum in wages, and the cottage would be under the protection of the Rent Acts. I say it is possible, in this Bill to lay down the principle that that kind of occupation of a cottage by an agricultural worker should no longer be considered, but that houses or part of houses should be available for the agricultural workers in the same way as houses are available for other workers. That would mean that the house would be brought under the provisions of the Rent Acts and would accordingly be protected without having to use the term "Rent Restriction Act" in relation to this Bill.
§ Mr. T. Williams
I know my hon. Friend knows the rent restriction law inside out, and he must know that if a rent equal to one-third of the rateable value of a cottage is paid, the house comes within rent restriction law. I do not see how, with all his ingenuity, he can attempt to use this Bill as a rent restriction Bill at all. It seems to me that he is trying to use this Bill to insist that a rent must always be paid which is high enough to keep a house within rent restriction law, instead of being a tied cottage as at present interpreted.
§ Mr. Janner
I do not want to underrate the intelligence and ingenuity of my right hon. Friend, but it is not as easy as that. These houses can be brought within the rent restriction law quite easily, but we are told that the Government cannot give us a complete Measure. Therefore we must do it piecemeal, and that is the whole point. I am trying to indicate a method by which we can remedy some of our difficulties in a very simple manner. I do not want to protract the discussion, but I believe that by a very short Amendment of the Bill this matter could be put right, and I appeal to my right hon. Friend to deal with it. I hope 1341 he will not regard this as destructive criticism; my intention is to be constructive, because I admire the manner in which he deals with the work he has to handle, and I think all hon. Members of this House have the highest respect and regard for what he does in furthering the interests of agriculture generally and of the agricultural worker.
§ Mr. Alpass
May I suggest to my hon. Friend that he should draft a Clause to abolish the tied cottage; then, if Mr. Speaker will accept it, I shall be only too pleased to support it?
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing (Weston-super-Mare)
I listened with interest and considerable amazement to the speech which has just been made by the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Janner). He comes down to the House, flushed with success in some other spheres, adorned with a magnificent horticultural production of a colour which seems to indicate that he is not yet quite sure where his political opinions lie, and delivers a most heartrending attack on this Bill. He invites us to delay this Measure, dealing with this vitally important issue, until some involved principle in his mind can be applied to turn an Agricultural Wages Bill into a Rent Restriction Bill. It is really most extraordinary that when a Bill comes before the House to deal with agricultural wages, we should be invited to translate it into a Bill dealing with an entirely different purpose. We cannot imagine that by the time this Bill becomes an Act it will have been possible, even for right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench opposite if they have their way, to remove the tied cottage altogether. If we "muscled in" on the Minister of Health, and he got on and built more houses, then it would be possible for them to produce the argument that there were so many houses that there was no need for the tied cottage, but that is very unlikely in the lifetime of this Socialist Government. But the hon. Member for West Leicester comes along and says, Put off this Bill—hold it back for a theory of my own; we cannot consider the wages issue at all."
I am particularly interested in this Bill, because I remember so well its predecessor—its stepfather or father—in 1940. I did not like the Bill of 1940, and I think I was the only Member at that time who gave vent to his displeasure and dislike. The 1342 moment that the Act of 1940 became law, I realised, just as with the Bill we are now considering, that this was not by a long way the end of the run. This Bill is its successor and will possibly be among a whole chain of successors, in the logical sequence of events. I cannot help feeling amused when hon. Members suggest that it is a pity that local committees are going to be kept under, and are not to be heard so much. Surely they understood that in 1940. There was no alternative whatever. Either we have centralised control, or not. Do not let us humbug about that. This Bill comes out in the open by telling us that we are to have centralised control, and that the Government mean to apply it. So far as it is an honest expression of intention, I welcome it, but in the Measure itself I can see many defects. In Clause 5, the relationship between the county committees and the Wages Board is set out. First, in sonorous tones, the Wages Board are instructed to haveregard to representations made to them by the agricultural wages committee for the county.That would naturally have to be put in, but then, on quite a different key, we have Subsection (2), which says:The functions of agricultural wages committees under the principal Act and this Act shall, subject to the provisions of the principal Act and this Act and any order made thereunder, be exercised in accordance with any directions in that behalf given by the agricultural wages board.It really means that the Agricultural Wages Board have to pay attention to the county agricultural wages committee, which have been instructed on their activities by the Agricultural Wages Board. They are judge and jury, and everything else, all mixed up together. Why put in the Clause at all? Why pretend that the county agricultural wages committee are to have any standing in the matter. If you say you are going to pay attention to what somebody says, but that that somebody can only speak with words that come out of your own mouth, the attention paid to those words is bound to be very small indeed.
We come now to the point which I feared in 1940. Once we start progress towards central control, we eventually reach the stage where the county committees have no standing at all. We can pay lip service to them, and say that they come in in an advisory capacity and so 1343 on, but really they have no weight and standing in the machine at all. I stress the word "machine," because the central control set out in the Bill is a machine-made control, and can pay little attention to those local conditions which it is vital to consider on any agricultural question. Another surprising thing about this Measure is that it was introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture. To my mind, he was not cast for the job. The Minister who should have introduced the Bill is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because he really governs the whole structure. He controls entirely what people are able to pay for their food, and he is the "king pin" in the whole structure. With the greatest respect—and the right hon. Gentleman knows that I respect him in many ways—the control of agricultural wages is no more a matter for him than is the control of railway rates, it is in the hands and at the discretion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We had it thrown out that wages were to have no relation to prices in the industry. We could see that the Minister was throwing up the sponge, and was saying, "I have nothing to do with this. Do not blame me, or the Minister of Food. The chap to look for is the Chancellor of the Exchequer." We shall not forget the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is sometimes very difficult in the present Government to find who is the master and who is the pupil, but in this case the Chancellor of the Exchequer is the master.
A great deal has been said about premium payments for learners, and whether they are right or wrong. I am not sure that I agree that they are right in their present form. I think that they should be subject to fairly rigid scrutiny. This Bill covers not only field agriculture, but horticulture and market gardening. That brings us into an entirely different field, and I think it wise and right that the conditions of apprenticeship and premium payments should be under fairly close supervision. Why have we not specific mention in any of these Bills of the higher grades of skill? Why is notice taken only of the lower ranges? I would like to see something put into this Measure to cover the conditions of those in the highest grade, the men who can get to the maximum. I do not think we pay enough regard to the high-grade worker in agricul- 1344 ture, who is probably one of the most highly skilled workers in any industry.
I wish to ask a question about the position of those who have been disabled, or who are otherwise unable to perform a full day's work in agriculture, and the permits granted to enable them to be paid at a differential rate. We have heard a lot about this, but nobody has told us how many permits have been issued. Is it a system which is used to a wide extent; is it one we wish to see encouraged; is it a growing system? I think we should know more about that before we come to the Committee stage. In Clause 4, the Bill says that the employer should be informed of the cancellation of the permit if the employer of the man concerned be known. That is a curious stipulation. Obviously, it is the duty of the committee to find who the man's employer is and let him know that the permit has been cancelled, otherwise he will be breaking the law and be subject to a heavy fine. I hope also the Minister will look again at Clause 7, in which there are two definitions, one extending agriculture and the other talking about consumable produce. In Subsection (2) we find that "consumable produce" does not mean consumable produce at all, but produce used for purposes other than for consumption after being separated from the land on which it is grown.
We have been told today by some Members that this Bill will be the charter of the agricultural worker. Without trying to make party capital out of a largely agreed Measure, we know that it is not a charter for the agricultural worker at all. It does nothing to make it possible, if wages are to depend on the economic position in the industry—which is not the case at present—to put stability into the position of the agricultural worker. It certainly adds to the strength of the machine—and I stress that—through which the problem of fixing agricultural wages must go, but it is not a human approach to the problem of the agricultural worker. It is that human approach which is still lacking.
§ 8.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Dye (Norfolk, South-Western)
This is, perhaps the first time that in an Agricultural Debate, three Members from one county have been called upon to speak, and that, I take it, is a tribute to the county of Norfolk for having sent here Members who take a particular interest in 1345 the welfare of agriculture. Listening to the speeches from the other side of the House, I have not been able to make up my mind whether hon. Members opposite willingly accept the Bill, and give it their wholehearted blessing, or whether they have doubts about the timeliness of its introduction just now and about its efficiency to achieve the purpose for which it is intended.
So far as I can see, the most important point about this Measure is that it is the first Bill this Session in relation to the Government's agricultural policy, and shows that they have, at any rate, started at the right place. We have frequently heard from all sides of the House the statement that the great problem in agriculture in the next few years will be the supply of manpower. Here, the Government are coming along with proposals for permanent machinery for the regulation of agricultural wages. They are doing this in a way which will ensure a national system, which is what farm workers, and farmers, too, want. They want to get away from local differences and so on, and to have a general, national system for agreed agricultural wages. The second thing of importance in the Bill is that it enlarges the scope of the central Wages Board in fixing minimum rates of wages. It allows the Board more freedom than they have had in the past. Hon. Members opposite seem to think that we are heading for confusion, but with the anticipated shortage of manpower for agriculture it is time the central Board had power to fix wages—even if they are, for a time, above the economic ability of the industry to pay—that will attract people to the industry leaving to the price-fixing machinery that is being set up the duty of fixing prices which will enable higher wages to be paid. Whether that is to be related to the price of food, or the ability of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to subsidise the cost of living, is a matter of policy for the Government.
If, in the next year or two, we want to attract young people from school into the industry, or people who may' become unemployed, we must be in a position to put a minimum wage into operation that will attract them, and not attempt to drive them. The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) was concerned about the size of the cake that was to be divided. If he is referring to the total amount of money that the agricultural industry has to divide 1346 between the farmer and the farm worker, surely it is the job of those who are in control of the volume of production, as well as the price, to be able to ensure that there will be sufficient money in the industry to attract the necessary workers by paying them decent wages. I was rather amused at the hon. and gallant Member for Chichester (Lieut.-Commander Joynson-Hicks), who was anxious to assure the House that he had not been converted in any way from the principles of Conservatism. He went out of his way to assure the House that be was fundamentally a Conservative. His speech amply showed it, since in the discussion of a Bill to regulate agricultural wages he brought in a long plea that landlords should be enabled to raise rents. He could have saved himself the trouble of saying that he was an unconverted and unrepentant Tory, because it has always been the hallmark of Toryism to argue that adequate rents should go to the landlord. It would seem that we cannot even have a Debate on a simple matter of agricultural wages without that argument being dragged in and rubbed in, over and over again.
I do not wish to take up a great deal of the time of the House, but it seems to me that running through most of the speeches from the other side is a lack of confidence in the agricultural industry, and in the Government's policy to put the industry in a position to pay the higher rates of wages, which a central Wages Board will be called upon to fix for the future. If hon. Members opposite have no more confidence in the future of the agricultural industry than their forbears had in 1919, what are the hopes and prospects for the future? It. is certainly as well that the future of the industry is not in their hands, but in the hands of hon. Members on this side, who have confidence in the future of agriculture. In Norfolk, some 20 years ago, we had to fight a very bitter struggle to secure wages to enable people to have a bare subsistence level of living. We had the farmers and the Conservatives, in those days, asserting that the weekly wage of the farm worker should be based on the price of a sack of wheat, when the price was low, but they completely failed to live up to that standard when the price of wheat was high. In the future machinery, governing both agricultural wages and the fixing of the prices of farm produce, we have to sepa- 1347 rate the two, and give a central Wages Board full power to fix rates of wages. We must have machinery under which the farmers' representatives and the workers' representatives come together for the sole purpose of hammering out a wage structure for the industry, which will be comparable with any other industry in the country. I say, on behalf of the farm workers and the farmers of Norfolk, that they will welcome this machinery and wholeheartedly put it into operation. I hope, as a result, that both men and youths will be attracted to the industry, that a high rate of wages will be forthcoming, and that on this basis of prosperity we shall be able to ensure that in rural Britain in the future the people will be able to pay for the amenities which will be made available to them.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Boothby (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Eastern)
I do not wish to delay the House more than a few minutes at this comparatively late hour. I have a great deal of sympathy with the point put by the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Orr-Ewing), in the doubt he expressed about the extent of the part to be played in this business by the county agricultural committees but there is one point which I should like to put to the Minister: We have heard a lot in this and recent Bills of the phrase, "So and so—that is some body or committee—will take into account the advice of some other body or committee." I wonder what that really amounts to in legislation. It does not seem to me that it is anything enforceable in a court of law, and I wonder whether it is not rather a waste of time to put in these phrases about taking the advice of other bodies, or whether it means enough to justify the printing involved. Presumably any body will take into account the advice of any other body that is capable of giving good advice, and obviously, no central Wages Board in its right mind would be likely to ignore the views put forward by the county agricultural committees; but I think it is rather a waste of time for us solemnly to instruct the Wages Board to take into account the advice of the county agricultural committees. With all due deference to the Minister, I think this is treating the new Wages Board almost as if it had a subnormal mental ability, because one would 1348 have thought that any sane man on a Wages Board would consult the county agricultural committees before taking the advice of anybody else, even that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
I welcome this Bill wholeheartedly because I think it recognises the new status of the agricultural worker in this country. The agricultural worker has a new status today, and it is recognised fully by all parties. I welcomed that statement in the otherwise somewhat irrelevant speech of the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Janner), and I also welcomed his remark that there was no fundamental difference between the town and the country. That is true. At long last the people of the towns are beginning to realise that home-grown food is best, that they owe something to the people who produce it, and that to get food from the foreigner as cheaply as possible, whatever may be its quality and preferably in tins, is not perhaps the final aim of a civilised life. I believe that within the next two or three years, under the auspices of the present Minister of Agriculture, we shall have to increase agricultural production in this country by at least 25 per cent., and I should like to see it nearer 50 per cent., above the 1945 level. I believe that, taking into account our general economic position, that is the only way in which we shall get through, because our export position is, I think, much more serious than most hon. Members realise. Furthermore, I do not believe the foreigner will be prepared any more to go on providing this country with food at below the cost of production in order to subsidise our competitive power in manufactured goods all over the world. The foreigner did mat for a century, and because of that, our agriculture languished, and we prospered in industry greatly, and also because he did it for a century, we think he is likely to go on doing it. I think we shall find quite soon that he is not prepared to go on doing it any more.
§ Mr. Boothby
I am dealing with the essence of the Bill, which is to try to put heart into our agriculture. I am arguing that we must vastly increase the agricultural production of this country, and I submit to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, with all deference, that if that 1349 is not the main purpose of the Bill, it was a waste of time to have introduced it. That must be its main purpose—to put heart into the agricultural industry and workers. I will, however, in obedience to your Ruling, quit the main theme which I was trying to develop, I hope to the interest of the House, and pass to the general question of the amenities of the agricultural workers. That matter has been raised constantly throughout the Debate—
§ Mr. Alpass
I do not wish to prevent any hon. Member from advocating amenities for agricultural workers, but may I remind you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that when one of my hon. Friends was speaking, Mr. Speaker ruled that that was entirely outside the scope of the Bill and that the Bill had to do with the machinery for fixing wages?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Member is anticipating what the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) is going to say. I must wait to hear what he says.
§ Mr. Boothby
Before I say it, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I will hasten to say that I have attended quite a considerable part of the Debate, and I have heard endless discussion on the subject of housing and the tied house—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Even if that is true, it does not justify the hon. Member going outside the scope of the Bill.
§ Mr. Janner
I understood the hon. Member to say earlier in his remarks that what I had said was irrelevant, and if that is his view, although I do not agree with it, why does he wish to reply to it?
§ Mr. Boothby
I would only remind my hon. Friend that there is a great difference between being irrelevant and being out of Order. If every time an hon. Member was irrelevant he was out of Order as well, we would get hardly any speeches in this House at all. The hon. Member made a bitter attack upon the tied house. Into that attack I shall not follow him in detail, but if he came up to Aberdeenshire with me, as I hope one day he will, and saw the isolated parts, I would ask him whether he would rather get up at five o'clock in 1350 the morning and walk ten yards, or cycle ten miles in the snow. It makes a difference.
§ Mr. Janner
The hon. Gentleman has asked me a question and I would answer him by saying there is no reason why—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
We are not now in Committee. The hon. Member cannot speak a second time without leave of the House. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) is not only irrelevant but also out of Order.
§ Mr. Boothby
I shall quickly leave that subject in order to express my deep regret that the Secretary of State for Scotland has seen fit to repeal the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. That is directly relevant to this Bill. All I can say is that if the Government think that by setting up a wages board they have solved the problem of attracting agricultural workers to the land they will find they have made a very great mistake, because it is not so. The whole question of the living conditions of the agricultural workers and the question of wages are bound up inseparably, and merely by giving some form of stability to the wages of agricultural workers, the Government are not necessarily ensuring that they are going to attract anything like the number of workers to the land which we shall require in the next two or three years. It is a serious point because, as the Minister has pointed out, we shall be in desperate need of workers for the next harvest to replace the prisoners of war used in the last harvest. I should like my right hon. Friend to give us some assurance that he does not imagine that this Bill is going to solve this problem. What it does is to recognise the new status of the agricultural worker—that he is to be regarded as being in the same classification as the skilled industrial worker, and that is something for which some of us, on both sides of the House, have been fighting for the last 20 years.
I come to my final point. I was a little alarmed at the suggestion, which I think the Minister made in his opening speech, that there was no very direct connection between wages and prices.
§ Mr. Boothby
If I interpreted my right hon. Friend incorrectly, perhaps the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland 1351 when he replies will put me right. That was what was conveyed to me and to a number of my hon. Friends on this side of the House by the remarks of the Minister.
§ Mr. Boothby
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman does not think that that is the case. I agree with the hon. Member for South Western Norfolk (Mr Dye) that the amount of subsidy in respect of food prices and wages will have to be settled as part of our food policy. We may have our views on whether the subsidy or the price is too high; nevertheless there is an absolutely inseparable connection between the prices paid to the farmer and the wages he is asked to pay to the worker. I ask the Government never to lose sight of that fact for a moment, because if they do, they will take the whole confidence out of the industry. I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary will give us an absolute reassurance on that point.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Walker (Rossendale)
I think that the agricultural worker of this country must feel a very strong sense of gratitude to hon. Members of this House and their political parties for the genuine interest which they are taking in his welfare and prosperity. Here we have brought before us today this Bill dealing very specially with the conditions of the agricultural worker's life, and the cooperation and good will displayed on every side of the House is something which is quite out of the ordinary in the various subjects we have to discuss.
I was very struck by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) when he declared that there was a measure of genuine agreement on all sides with regard to the interests and life of the agricultural worker. I do not represent the part of the country where I live. I come from a place where we have had in vogue for many generations a system of engaging agricultural workers on what is described as the "hire system." I have been told by local farmers that this has worked very satisfactorily for a long time, yet when I place that system alongside the conditions of this Bill, I can see that it has many defects. What we are aiming 1352 at in this Bill is to make the position and the life of the agricultural worker more secure than in the past. We have been apt to regard the agricultural worker's life as a blind alley in which he had no conception of what lay before him. There was no real promise about it, and no attraction. In this Bill are the elements which attract people who are interested in the land, in fanning, and in agriculture generally.
Under the hire system of my county a boy was hired in the market place at Whitsuntide or Martinmas at a given amount of money for the half year. He left his home and worked for that half year. If he turned out satisfactory he was re-engaged; if not, he had to start again and get himself hired by some other farmer. This was an altogether uncertain method for a young lad who had to provide himself with a future career, and I am glad to find that in this Bill there is to be laid down a system whereby a boy can be taught his trade as an agricultural worker in such a way that he may ultimately become a farmer on his own account. I am glad, too, that the local county committees are being empowered to provide certificates to ensure that he can be taught his trade properly and that the instruction that is given to him is of a type that will provide him with a thorough knowledge of agriculture and farming work in general. There is another Clause in the Bill which gives me a certain amount of satisfaction. It is Clause 2, Subsection 1 (d), which says that the Agricultural Wages Board shall have powerto define, for the purposes of any differential rate of wages for overtime fixed under the principal Act, the employment which is to be treated as overtime employment.I am sure that when studying the industry hon. Members on ail sides of the House must have been very much concerned by the fact that the agricultural worker has had no definite hours of employment. Under the Bill, there will be some kind of understanding when farm work is to start and finish and what will be regarded as overtime. I know of no other industry where overtime is so specifically defined for the workers.
We are putting this industry on to its feet and giving it an organisation which it has never had before. The conditions that we envisage are a very long way from the time when my old grandfather 1353 was an agricultural labourer. He worked in Hampshire and never had more than 12s. a week. He worked from 5 o'clock in the morning until 8 or 9 o'clock at night. We cannot imagine that conditions even three times as good as that will appeal to modern youth. We have to offer them something different. If the great industry of agriculture is to serve this country in the future, as it must, we must make it attractive to the young man. Therefore, I feel that with the passing of the Bill, we are for the first time setting up permanent conditions which will appeal to the young man who wishes to spend his life in the open air and in agriculture. I give the Bill my hearty support because I feel that we are now getting to the kernel of the whole matter and are putting the industry upon a sound basis. Young fellows who are desirous of enjoying the pursuits of the countryside in agricultural work will have something to which they can look forward.
A great deal has been said about the tied house. I feel that if the agricultural worker is given a decent wage the tied house problem will probably solve itself. A good wage determines the kind of life that an individual will live. I have always argued that a good wage means good clothes, good furniture and a good house. If we introduce it into the agricultural life of our country we shall be doing a good job. I therefore hope that the Bill will pass with the unanimous consent of this House.
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Baker White (Canterbury)
There is one point relating to Clause 7 on which I think we should have a little more information. I would call attention to these words in the Clause:shall include the use of land for any garden consumable produce of which is grown for sale or for consumption or other use for the purposes of a trade or business or other undertaking, whether carried on for profit or not, if the amount so grown is the whole or the greater part of the consumable produce of the garden.What is meant by those words? This matter affects Kent, which is a horticultural county, where, more and more, large market gardens are being turned over to commercial horticultural production. I would like to know what percentage of consumable produce is envisaged. It is important, as there are many gardeners who should be brought up to the agricul- 1354 tural wages level. Many are over it, but many are still below it.
On the general question of the Bill, it seems that this is a recognition, perhaps for the first time in the life of this Government, that agriculture and industry are an indivisible whole and that the prosperity of one depends on the prosperity of the other. This is really doing for agriculture what is already done for urban industry. The hon. Member for South -West Norfolk (Mr. Dye) said that hon. Members on the other side of the House had complete confidence in the future of the industry. I wish that some Members of the Government would demonstrate that more fully sometimes. After all, wages regulation must be founded on a sound economic foundation. I suggest that we have not got that condition in agriculture today when something like £185 million is being paid in subsidies for home produced food and when we have a shortage of labour and machinery. This may be a good thing in theory, but not in practice.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Mrs. Leah Manning (Epping)
I regret that so much pessimism has been exhibited by hon. Members on the other side of the House—
§ Mrs. Manning
It is not justified. Belief in the future of agriculture is expressed here in this Bill. It is exhibited in the fact that we believe we can set up machinery with which to establish a fair wage for the agricultural worker and afterwards fix prices. We believe that we can fix these prices, because we know that agriculture will be prosperous under the guidance of this Government. That is something hon. Members on the other side of the House refuse to accept, but we believe that wages must be fixed first, if we are to recruit men to this great industry. Then we can fix prices in accordance with those wages. We should not say that, if we had not a belief in the future of agriculture, but we have such a belief. To have exhibited such pessimism as we have seen displayed on the Opposition benches is not to put heart and encouragement into the agriculturists of this country, though that is what we should have expected from hon. Gentlemen who have always claimed that they had more interest than we had in agriculture.
1355 I want to speak on the question of the wages for young workers. This Bill fixes a minimum wage for the adult. Wages for the young worker are dependent on that minimum wage, but recruitment to the land is actually recruitment of the young worker. If we lose the young worker, we lose the basis on which people are to be recruited to the land. The Minister should take care that the central Wages Board realise that the wages of the young worker must not be too far removed from the minimum wage fixed for the adult worker through this machinery. There are some dangers on the horizon which make me rather anxious about this and to which I would call the attention of the Minister. The first is that when the Education Act is in full swing, we shall have county colleges to which our young workers must go, and some at least of these county colleges will not be colleges for our young workers to attend just for two half days a week. The administration of that kind of county college would be very difficult. I hope it may be possible for our young workers to go to their county colleges for, perhaps, a period of two months or even three months when they can best be spared from the farms. I hope the Minister will bear that in mind because in establishing a minimum wage under which the young worker's wage will also have to be fixed, a great deal of care and attention will be required, lest the amount offered to the young worker is insufficient to recruit people to the land. Our great stream of recruitment must come from young people straight from school, so I hope that point will be borne in mind.
On the question of the Clause dealing with holidays with pay, would the Minister consider the desirability of giving pay to an agricultural worker who is sufficiently interested in his job to ask for time to go to an agricultural college? In every other profession today, an employee who is prepared to take time off to make himself better for his job, nearly always receives his salary during the time he is trying to improve himself. There is a suggestion that doctors shall do this in future. Therefore, I want to know whether the Minister, under the Clause covering holidays with pay, would consider issuing a directive or an instruction to these committees that if a man takes time off to go to an agricultural college, 1356 perhaps for a month, in order to improve his knowledge of his job, he should be paid for that period. I want to feel that the agricultural worker will be regarded in the same way as every other professional worker who is in need of time in which to improve himself for the important job he has to do.
Some doubt has been expressed about a point which many of us on these benches have tried over and over again to stress in regard to the question of wages; that is the question of higher wages, built up from the minimum wage, for people who are doing jobs of greater skill and greater importance on the farms. For some time, our friends in the agricultural industry have thought that it was neither administratively possible, nor really advisable. I hope they have moved from that position, and that in this industry we have left the idea of a dead level of accomplishment. It should be possible in the industry to find people who are prepared, either by study or by native ability, or by some other means, to do the more skilled and the more difficult jobs. If a man is prepared by study or by industry, or by returning to one of the agricultural colleges or by going in the evenings to a technical college, to improve his skill and ability, I hope the central Wages Board will be able to find some way to recognise it. It may be through a scale of wages or by advantages for different types of work. Whatever it is, there should be some way in which that particular work can be acknowledged and it should be possible for men to be paid in accordance with their skill. There is not an industry to-day, including my own, in which people who are doing better work and have greater responsibilities, do not get extra payment for that. I would point out to those hon. Gentlemen opposite who think a central Wages Board could not take notice of this, that, and the other, that in Clause 1 (3) there is the possibility of doing this.
I hope, therefore, that this will be encouraged, because it is one of the most important methods of recruiting young people to this profession. How often in the schools have parents said to teachers, "I do not want my boy to go on the land. Once an agricultural labourer, always an agricultural labourer." We want to get away from that old tradition altogether 1357 and there is no better way of doing so, than by finding a means by which a young man who is ambitious, industrious, anxious to make himself skilled at his job, and to understand it, knows that his skill and accomplishment will be acknowledged. I believe that the Bill before us tonight gives the first opportunity of doing that, and I would like to hear from the Minister that I have read Clause 1(3) aright.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Captain Crookshank (Gainsborough)
Unlike last Monday, we have today had a nice quiet Debate without the excursions and alarms to which we were then treated. I am sure the Minister must be very grateful for the reception the Bill has had and the general agreement that has been expressed in all quarters of the House. The hon. Lady the Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning), who always charms us with her contributions, which are so valuable—although I am not so sure that her last suggestion is quite practical in these days—charged us with being pessimistic. I do not know that anyone on this side of the House is pessimistic, but we are not going to turn ourselves inside out in expressing confidence in His Majesty's advisers on any subject, nor do I see, in view of their recent records, why we should do so. Last week we showed our position in regard to confidence, or the lack of it, in the Amendment to the Gracious Speech. Tonight, we are talking about a very different matter, a machinery Bill.
As my hon. Friends have pointed out, we have some points of anxiety and we hope that before the final stages of this Bill are reached some of them may have been cleared up. I agree with the comments of the hon. Member for North-West Hull (Mr. R. Mackay) that this might have been a Bill which tidied up some of the reference to previous legislation. If the Minister finds he can do anything in that way during the passage of the Bill, I am sure we shall not delay him because, as the hon. Member pointed out, there was so little left, after the full effect of the Third Schedule had been seen, of the remaining parts of the existing Statutes that it might be as well to tidy it up now.
The object of the Bill is to transfer permanently the powers at present being exercised by Defence Regulations, and the Minister made that quite clear. So it is 1358 not in fact any very great revolution. The hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Walker), in his impassioned speech just now, seemed to find that some mention of overtime in the Bill was something terrific. But he had not read the Subsection which refers to overtime as fixed by the principal Act, and the principal Act is the Act of 1924. So he is just 22 years out of date. It is not even new machinery, because the machinery has been worked during the war under the Defence Regulations.
What the Bill does do is to put into statutory form something which various hon. Members have commented upon; that is, increased centralisation. To that extent it may lessen the interest and use of the knowledge of local people. I hope that will not be the case, but there is a danger there as, indeed, there is in so much of this Government's legislation, which seems to be directed more and more at the concentration of power instead of its diffusion. As my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Orr-Ewing) said, our philosophy is rather against that, because there are great risks of bringing too much power into the centre. In that connection, I was rather surprised at a remark made by the hon. Member for Northern Norfolk (Mr. Gooch) in welcoming the Bill on behalf of the agricultural workers of this country, when he seemed to look forward to a permanent system of Control of Employment Orders. We have had protests from the workers against that, but he seemed all for it. That is a most startling example of concentration of power. Although we recognise that in certain circumstances in certain industries it may be necessary to continue Control of Employment Orders, what becomes of the remark of the hon. Member for Epping, "Once an agricultural worker always an agricultural worker"? If the Control of Employment Order in agriculture is to go on for ever and ever what she said might be true.
I will concentrate the attention of the Minister who is to reply upon two or three points which have worried us right through, and have run through a great number of speeches. First, there is the method by which sickness is to be dealt with. My hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Mr. York), in his able and lucid speech, made that point very well. There is underlying all these speeches the fear that possibly the Board may, perhaps for the sake of tidiness—because that is what 1359 boards are so often apt to be prompted by—impose conditions which are, in fact, less favourable than what happens now. It has been admitted that what happens now is not strictly in accordance with the law; it is in accordance with the unwritten law, which sometimes counts almost as much as the written law in the various activities of our country. It may be that if the Board is too rigid, a number of agricultural workers who, in the past, have been well dealt with, either in the case of sickness or temporary absence, may find themselves up against some tangle of regulations and be worse off at the end of it. It may be that our reading of the wording of the Clause is wrong. If so, we can be put right. If, however, we are right, it may be that there is a field there for Amendment on the Committee stage.
That was one group of anxieties. Another was on Clause 3, which deals with provisions as to learners. There, it seems to be a rather unnecessary complication to go into all this machinery of certificates, and possibly withdrawing certificates, and, I suppose, inspection of certificates, for something which can only occur in very rare cases, and can be dealt with in other ways, as we may point out later upstairs. The Minister was rather proud of it when he introduced the Bill. He said: '' Here is something new"— part of the revolution referred to by the hon. Member for Rossendale. It is true that it is new in this form. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has always been amenable when he has heard the criticisms of those who speak in this House on agricultural matters. Perhaps he will think about it again before we have to take final decisions.
Thirdly, and this was perhaps the point which was most dealt with, there was this question of the tied cottage, and the determining of the benefits or advantages which come under that category. The point which my hon. Friends have repeatedly made has been that the maximum and minimum figures which the Board will lay down must have some relation to economic rents and rates. With the increasing cost, not only of building but of maintenance, this becomes daily more important. We know that many council cottages and houses are having their rents looked at again to see if they ate in keeping with maintenance charges 1360 and replacement. The same is true of all dwellings. We hope, therefore, that that aspect of the matter will be carefully kept in mind. Of course hon. Members opposite have had their usual day out on the subject of the tied house and its iniquities, but most of them have overlooked the fact that it was only on the 4th of this month that the Minister had reluctantly to admit, as Minister of Forestry, that he was proposing to set about building them, and that at least 143 were shortly to be in the programme.
It is hard luck on hon. Members opposite when that sort of thing happens because the Minister has to deal with the practical problem in the same sort of way as lots of other people have had to do in the past, whether they thought it was in itself a good thing or a bad thing. They had the problem and they had to answer it. The Minister has acted in exactly the same way. He has had to answer it and he has given exactly the same answer. There again there is some ground for anxiety. We all feel that is a very important question which will come before the Boards, and it will be important for them and for the agricultural wages committees to work together.
But the real matter of anxiety, I think, which largely arose from something the Minister himself said, is the relationship of wages to the general economic position of the industry. The Minister quoted what they had to do under the 1924 Act, which had the effect, in his view, of in some way putting down the status of the agricultural worker. But the 1940 Act had quite different considerations and I was rather surprised that he did not happen to mention them. Perhaps they would not have suited his theme, because the Agricultural Wages Boards there fixed a. minimum, after consulting the agricultural wages committees. This time they are not going to consult them but they are going to have regard to what the agricultural wages committees have to say. I do not think that is quite the same thing, and I do not suppose it is meant to be the same thing. Under the 1940 Act, the Board had to consult the committees and…after considering the general economic conditions and the conditions of the agricultural industry, fix a minimum wage.This time all that is said about it is that they shall not be limited to the consideration of any particular matter. I do not know whether that is tantamount almost 1361 to saying they need not bother about the general economic conditions or the conditions of the agricultural industry. I should have thought they would have to bother very much and that those were very relevant factors, but the Minister in his opening speech said that wages ought not to be tied to any price-fixing machinery. I am not taking that out of its context unduly. I hope the Minister will explain just what he means, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) pointed out in a very interesting speech, the level of wages, at any rate, in the past, has been decided largely by the income of the industry. As the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) said, the purpose of the Act would fail unless the Government saw that the farmers had the money to pay the charges. It is just nonsense to pretend that that is not true.
The Minister said they ought not to be tied to any price fixing machinery. He told us he had the agreement of the spokesman of the fanners to this Bill. I wonder whether they accept that as his interpretation for the future handling of this problem. After all, if wages too far—or at all, perhaps—outstrip the possibility of paying for them, the consequence obviously is less employment and possibly—not necessarily, but possibly—less production. The hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Attewell) was very indignant about that. He could not understand why there was this bother about wages. He talked to us about what happened in the boot industry. "In the boot industry," he said, "we do fix wages on what the economics of the industry permit." Of course, that was exactly what the Board had to consider under the 1940 Act, and it is exactly what the Minister has taken out; yet when talking about boots the hon. Member thought that was the right way to do it. Quite true, as was pointed out afterwards, there is something in that, because, if it is a factory, it can either be closed down or go on short time, which you cannot do in the agricultural industry. Of course, we would be happier in considering all these problems if we had any idea of there being a national wages policy—
§ Mr. Attewell
I am sure the right hon. and gallant Gentleman would not misquote me. I meant that we fixed the 1362 rate on the economics of the industry, but we did not link it up with price-fixing, and that was my point.
§ Captain Crookshank
The economics of the industry is the price-fixing system, but price-fixing in agriculture is a thing on its own and for a very special reason. As I was saying, we would be more confident on this issue if there was any sign of the Government having any kind of national policy about wages, but as they have not, we have to take this as we find it, and the words of the hon. Gentleman opposite make us rather nervous, even if he has got a very good explanation—
§ Captain Crookshank
—about again falling over ourselves backwards in showing confidence in the explanation. There is not much to be said about this Bill, because most of the points which have been raised are points of detail which we can discuss on the Committee stage. But I would remind the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland— and I do not think he has forgotten it—that we would like an answer to the point put by the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) as to coordination between England and Scotland and in regard to the time lag which has existed in the past. Of course, that is not the only coordination that is required. Not only is there a need for coordination between England and Scotland but, looking over the points as they emerged from those taking part in this Debate, there is need of more coordination between town and country and the new industrial policy of the nation, and, as the Minister has told us, between the owners, farmers and the workers.
Therefore, in so far as it provides better machinery to bring about this coordination—and I understand from the right hon. Gentleman that the Bill has the agreement of the fanners and the workers—the Bill is a good thing, but do not let us exalt it into something which it is not. As the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare pointed out, this Bill is not really a great charter for the workers. What it does has been described by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby)—it recognises the status of the agricultural worker. It is only a machinery 1363 Bill, and we should get it in its right perspective. In itself it will not give anyone a penny more. In itself it will not attract a single other person to the land. It will not do any of these things—
§ Captain Crookshank
No, he will not, because he is going to finish in order to allow the Under-Secretary to reply. Let, us not exalt this Bill into something which it is not. It is, in fact, a machinery Bill, and, as such, is carrying on to the Statute Book the existing machinery which has worked well—and let us recognise it—during the war and up to date, but which must end with the lapsing of the Defence Regulations. We hope that we may be able to help the Minister to improve it on the Committee stage, and, for that reason, we do not oppose it on Second Reading.
§ 9.24 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Thomas Fraser)
This little Bill of ours, and it is a little Bill, although very important, has been welcomed on all sides of the House, but many hon. Members on the other side have come very near to damning it with faint praise. Indeed, the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) made, I think, the same mistake as some of his Friends behind him, including the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd). He and many other hon. Members opposite pulled out of its context what my right hon. Friend said about this Bill not necessarily being tied to any price-fixing system. He said that, because he had just informed the House that the existing central wage fixing machinery had been set up under a Defence Regulation which tied the two things together. What he argued was that the case for central wage-fixing machinery stood on its own legs; the case is made on its own merits. He did not say a word about wages not being related to prices, or prices having nothing to do with wages.
But that was what hon. Gentlemen opposite inferred in their speeches. In fact, as I listened to hon. Members opposite, I was almost led into believing that they had forgotten that we have at present a system of guaranteed prices and an assured market and that, in fact, the Defence Regulation under which our wage- 1364 fixing machinery is set up at present, comes to an end in 1947. But prices for the main agricultural products are already guaranteed up to 1950. Hon. Members opposite have, apparently, forgotten that. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough asked whether the National Farmers' Union were aware of my right hon. Friend's attitude. Of course they were aware of it; they knew that the prices had been fixed and they knew of the other Bill that is going to be introduced later in this Session. They know that prices will continue to be guaranteed, and the market assured for the main agricultural products.
Another thing that seemed to confuse hon. Members opposite very much was the fact that they wanted to support the setting up of central wage-fixing machinery, but regretted this increase in centralisation because they wanted local committees to continue having the fullest possible power. Hon. Members opposite must make up their minds; either they want national wages or they do not. They said today that they wanted national wages and, therefore, central wage-fixing machinery, but that they regretted this centralisation. They wonder where it is going to end. Let them show the courage of their convictions. If they want national wages, let them have national wage-fixing machinery; if they want local wages, then let them come into the open and say that that is what they want. How they can want the local committees to be given more power than it is proposed to give them under this Bill and, at the same time, ask, as did the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough and the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden), that there should be greater coordination between the Scottish and the English Boards, so that there would be uniform wages throughout the country, just leaves me wondering where we are getting to.
§ Mr. Snadden
The only point I am making is that it is unfair to the workers where prices are fixed on a United Kingdom basis. Therefore, it is necessary to have coordination.
§ Mr. Fraser
I know, but the hon. Gentleman began his speech by saying that he did not like the Bill because he did not like central wage-fixing machinery and thought that wage-fixing 1365 ought to be left to the local committees. If he will take the trouble to read his own speech tomorrow he will discover that that is what he said. He said that the fixing of wages ought to be left to the men on the spot. He called attention to the different types of farming in different parts of Scotland, and said that only the people in the localities knew the wages that could be afforded and that no central body in Scotland could determine the wages in those areas. He then went on to say that the wages of the men in those different areas ought to be determined in accordance with the wages decided by the English Board.
§ Mr. Snadden
Since I have been challenged, perhaps I might try to clear up any misunderstanding that may exist. What I said was that I would prefer to see wage-fixing powers left in the hands of district committees, and I recognise that it would probably be desirable to accept some machinery of this sort, but I still contend that there should be some degree of uniformity.
§ Mr. Fraser
I leave the hon. Gentleman to the House. He wants to leave wage-fixing to the committees, but he wants the wages to be uniform throughout Great Britain. I think the hon. Gentleman even said that he did not want to have a Scottish Board; he made a first-class case for one Wages Board for Great Britain. In any case, we will have to look at it further; it is a question that can stand considerable examination.
Many hon. Members have asked me to explain further the reason for bringing in these provisions with regard to learners, and have asked why we should have them, although at the same time many hon. Members, including some hon. Members opposite, have also welcomed them. Surely, if we are to have a system of apprenticeship in the industry—and many farmers and farm workers have expressed themselves as being in favour of some such system—it is desirable that the Boards should have power to set out conditions in the Wages Order governing the employment of the learners, and that is what is proposed in the Bill. The Wages Boards are not instructed to make orders governing the conditions under which the learners will receive their tuition, but they are permitted to do so if they should be so inclined.
1366 Some hon. Members have said that it is unnecessary to regulate or control the conditions under which the students would work or would get their instruction in agriculture. It has been said that not many students are coming forward; but, surely, we can expect more learners when they and, in the case of the younger people, their parents know the conditions under which they will get their education in the industry. [An HON. MEMBER: "There will be fewer teachers."] I would have thought that was quite straightforward, and I do not accept the suggestion that we will have fewer teachers. There have been abuses in the past, but we are taking what we consider to be the most appropriate steps to ensure that they will not recur in the future.
There has been considerable discussion on Clause 1, Subsection (3), and on paragraph 5 of the First Schedule. I was asked to explain the intention of the provisions there set out. Farmers and farm workers, speaking through their organisations, have expressed a desire to see the Wages Boards given the power and authority, if they felt so inclined, to include in the wages orders some provision for payment during sickness for certain periods. Therefore, there is provision in this Bill which gives the power to the Wages Boards which we believe the industry wants them to have. They are not obliged to make provision for payment during sickness, but they are empowered to make provision if they feel so inclined. In this respect, it is worth remembering that these Boards are not composed of people who have little or no knowledge of the industry. We have been asked in the course of the Debate if we would give certain advice to the Boards, or see that the Boards got certain advice from the farmers in this country, or from the farm workers. Really, hon. Members who have participated in this Debate must be fully aware of the constitution of the Boards, and of the fact that they are representative of the employers and the employees, with a certain small independent membership nominated by the Minister concerned.
§ Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
Will the hon. Gentleman make one point clear? I gather that the present law is that the farmer must pay the worker the full minimum wage during sickness. Is the proposal in Clause 1 (3) that the 1367 worker shall receive a less wage than that, at the discretion of the Agricultural Wages Board?
§ Mr. Fraser
There is some legal doubt as to what the farmer is obliged to pay at the present time. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Newbury expressed doubt as to the legal position.
§ Mr. Fraser
He said he had perhaps been breaking the law, but that the position was still in doubt, as indeed it is. I am merely saying that the Wages Boards, representative of the industry as they are, with a small independent membership, are now empowered to make provision for payment during sickness for certain periods; and that they will do so, having regard to the ability of the industry to pay such remuneration as is set out in the orders they issue, because they know full well that they cannot in any case enforce the payment of wages during sickness after the worker's contract has been terminated. It is always possible for the farmer to terminate the worker's contract with him. Thus, all we are doing is, giving some freedom to the Boards to carry out what has been expressed as a desire of the workers and the farmers In the industry.
§ Brigadier Peto
Would the hon. Gentleman be explicit in explaining the meaning of that Subsection with regard to absenteeism?
§ Mr. Fraser
I do not think I ought to go further just now. There are one or two other points to which I want to reply before we conclude the Debate. We have had a longish Debate, and many points have been raised. There has been considerable discussion of the "benefits and advantages" in Clause 2—the perquisites. I have been asked to explain what the present system is and how it works. I have been asked to give an assurance that we shall give certain instructions to the Boards when they are assessing the value of cottages. It is true that the present 1368 system is a bit rough and ready, but it works; and I was surprised to hear from that side of the House the plea that we in the Government should interfere further with the freedom of the Boards in the determination of those rents and the values of the perquisites. I should have thought that we did not want any further Whitehall interference than is necessary, and, indeed, we do not propose to have it in this respect.
Then, I was asked two or three times about Clause 8, and about the expenses provisions. Why should we remove the limit of £70,000? It is appropriate that I should reply to that, because this limit was imposed, in the first place, in the English Act, and no limit was imposed when we got our first Scottish Act regulating wages in 1937. It is just a case, this time, of this Government putting the same trust in the English and the Welsh as a previous Government put in the Scots. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) referred to permit abuses, abuses of the provisions, under which certain incapacitated people are employed in the industry at wages under the minimum; and he related a case to us which I am sure, shocked all of us who listened to him. But I am not so sure that we could take the steps to put the matter right which he suggested to us; and, indeed I would remind him that the position he outlined as obtaining in the agricultural industry is one that obtains in industry generally. The worker, in normal times, is free to choose his own industry, free to choose his own employer, in so far as the employer will give him employment, of course; and the employer is equally free to choose his employee; and the one can leave the other, or the one can say he is finished with the other, as either thinks fit. If, in fact, the farmer is compelled to pay the wage to the incapacitated worker, as set down by the committee, and, having to do so, decides to get and of the worker, there is nothing to be done about it, because he is quite free, as is the employer in any other industry, to get rid of the worker whenever he thinks fit, having given the normal time of notice.
I was also asked some questions about the removal of the limit on holidays, and certain hon. Members on the other side expressed considerable apprehension lest the removal of the limit on holidays might 1369 result in the Wages Boards running riot and giving far too long holidays to agricultural workers, thereby upsetting the work on the farms. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who said that?"] If that is not what was implied—if not actually said—I do not know what was. The hon. Member for West Perth, for one, said he wondered what would happen now that we were removing the limit. Under the existing Statutes not more than one week's holiday in the year could be given, and not more than three consecutive days. That limit was being removed, and he said that he foresaw that operations on farms would be adversely affected.
§ Mr. Snadden
What I did was to draw attention to the fact that industry and agriculture were different. I pointed out that small farms, employing one or two workers, would be thrown into some difficulty in the event of a holiday extending to seven consecutive days, and I expressed the hope that district committees would be consulted in regard to the specific conditions of certain areas.
§ Mr. Fraser
Of course the local committees will be consulted and allowed to make representations all along the line. It does not alter the fact that hon. Members did express apprehension that the taking away of the limit would have an adverse effect on certain farms.
§ Mr. Fraser
It is exactly what was said. The right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough, in winding up for the Opposition, agreed with one of my hon. Friends that this was a Bill in which we could possibly, and indeed probably, have tidied up several Statutes, repealing some altogether, and repealing others in part. In fact, I thought my hon. Friend made a very good speech and put up a very good case for consolidating the Acts of Parliament that are not being fully repealed in this Bill I am not so sure, however, that we can take his advice and so amend the Bill we now have before us as to consolidate in the way he suggested. He made a very good case; it would be ungenerous of me not to say so, and we should certainly be pleased to examine it at greater leisure. But having said that, I would add that we must look at it very carefully, and I doubt whether it would be quite as simple as he suggested.
1370 One or two hon. Members, in dealing with perquisites as set out in the Bill, said they would prefer to have them abolished altogether, and the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Janner) dealt at very great length with the tied cottage, saying that we could easily have ended the tied cottage in this Bill. For my own part, I have considerable sympathy with those who say that it would be better to abolish perquisites altogether. Indeed it is not true to say that in this Bill we are perpetuating the giving of perquisites as part payment. The fact is that the perquisites are being given. Workers are being given cottages at less than the normal rent, they are being given milk, potatoes, meal and all sorts of produce of the farm.
What we are doing in the Bill is to make sure that they will not be exploited in being given these perquisites. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] What we are doing is to see that the wages' machinery will examine the different perquisites, and lay down what is to be allowed or what is to be deductible from wages in respect of perquisites.
§ Mr. Janner
What is to prevent perquisites being dealt with under this Bill merely by saying that they will not be taken into account?
§ Mr. Fraser
I have just said that the perquisites are there. They are being enjoyed, and I am perfectly sure that the workers representatives would not stand up today and say, "End it all tomorrow." All we are doing is to regulate the deductions which may be made from wages in respect of perquisites, which seems to me to be a very fair thing to do. Perquisites are not really wages in the sense that they affect the minimum wage—you have deductions from wages in respect of such perquisites as are given in the industry.
This Bill has been described by several hon. Members as a charter for the agricultural workers. It is admitted that hon. Members opposite do not find themselves, even yet, able to catch up with the mood of the country. It is worth remembering that wages were regulated by Statute during the last war, and that in the mad scramble after the war of 1914 for false freedom, we scrapped the statutory wage-fixing machinery, with the results referred to by my right hon. Friend in his opening speech. This time, 1371 the mood of the country is different, or perhaps it is that this time, the Government are keeping in touch with the mood of the country. We are taking what is best in our prewar legislation, and making permanent the better provisions of the Defence Regulations, together with a few new ideas thrown in. I am perfectly sure that the country will agree with Parliament on this occasion that this Bill is in the best interests of this great British industry.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee.