HC Deb 22 January 1947 vol 432 cc245-68

4.30 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. Collick)

I beg to move, in page 1, line 7, to leave out from "Act," to "to," in line 8.

The Bill was amended in Standing Committee, and a new Clause resulted, which is now Clause 4 of the amended Bill. It embodies those parts of the provisions of Section 3 of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1944, which are to be retained. In view of this consolidation, reference to the Act in Clause 1 is no longer necessary, and to that extent this Amendment is consequential.

Captain Crookshank

I have no comment to make on this Amendment, except to say that it cuts the ground from under the right hon. Gentleman in regard to what was said in our previous discussion.

Amendment agreed to.

Major Sir Thomas Dugdale (Richmond)

I beg to move, in page 1, line 15, to leave out from "shall," to "and," in line 16, and to insert: have regard to the economic condition of the agricultural industry or any section thereof. We had some discussion in Committee on this point, but at that time we had not the benefit of having seen the new Agriculture Bill, which reinforces our case. The words which we suggest should be included in this Measure are inserted in the new Bill. We feel very strongly that it would be right and proper to give some definite guidance to the Agricultural Wages Board to help them in the work they have to perform. We feel it of great importance that the Board should be given guidance, and that they should consider the economic position of the industry when making up their minds in regard to any questions arising out of wages.

There are two questions I should like to ask the Minister in this regard, because, as I understand it, reference was made to the economic position of the industry both in the 1940 Act and in the Scottish Act of 1937. Now we have again the inclusion of these words, although I admit that it is in a rather different context, in the new Bill, when discussing a special review dealing with prices. Why has the Minister left them out of the present Measure? During the Committee stage the right hon. Gentleman implied that the reason for omitting any reference to economic conditions in the industry was that we had an assured market for agricultural produce, and guaranteed prices up to the beginning of 1950. That may be all very well so far as agricultural products are concerned, but it certainly does not affect horticulture, which has no guaranteed prices. We therefore feel that it is in the interests of the industry and the Wages Board, that some reference should be made to this question. At the end of it all it is the farmer who has to pay the wages, and there must be some relationship between the wages he pays, and the economic conditions of the industry.

There is one other point, in connection with the Wages Council Act of 1945. I understand that the Measure we have before us today follows very closely the principle of that Act. In the 1945 Act, no reference is made to economic conditions of the industry. In the view of my hon. Friends on this side, and myself, we cannot agree with the view that there has been no mention of the economic position in this Bill because it is not mentioned in the 1945 Act, because agriculture is in an entirely different position from that of any other industry. The Minister, with his special knowledge, must realise that it is impossible to legislate for agriculture on exactly the same lines as for our other great industries. You cannot turn off, or close down, agriculture at leisure. It depends very largely upon weather conditions and, still more on a long-range constructive policy. In asking the Minister to accept this Amendment, I believe it is right that the country as a whole, and the consuming public in particular, should realise that the prices of home-produced foodstuffs must depend, very largely, upon the wages that are paid in the industry. There is no difference of opinion whatever on the broad principle that we want to see craftsmen in the agricultural industry brought up to the standard of craftsmen in other industries. We are all agreed that the standard of agricultural wages should be as high as is reasonably possible. Great advances have been made in this direction during recent years, and it is not the wish of any of us on this side of the House, that we should go backwards on our wages policy in this industry. But it seems common sense that we should, at all times, draw to the attention of the Wages Board, and the public as a whole, the fact that the economic position of the industry does matter in relation to what agricultural craftsmen may receive in wages. It is for that reason that we thought it right to move this Amendment, and I therefore hope that the Minister will meet us on this point.

4.45 p.m.

Mr. Baldwin (Leominster)

I beg to second the Amendment.

We are moving this Amendment because we want to give a direction to the Wages Board when they are dealing with the question of wages. The one thing we must have in the industry, is confidence in our future. If we have not got it, we cannot produce, because production is a matter of long-term policy. If the Wages Board fixes wages without paying due regard to economic conditions in the industry we shall have no confidence in the future. We have had our confidence shaken in the past, by a letter which came from the Ministry, in which they said: Moreover, it is expected that whilst prices of farm produce will tend to fall, labour, will remain a comparatively high expense.

Mr. T. Williams

Does the hon. Gentleman say that I wrote that from the Ministry?

Mr. Baldwin

It came from the Ministry.

Mr. Williams

I should hate that form of misrepresentation. The statement now being quoted by the hon. Member was raised in a Parliamentary Question, to which I made the appropriate reply. I disowned completely the content of the letter which the hon. Member is now quoting.

Mr. Baldwin

I do not wish to misrepresent the Minister in any way, but I was given to understand that the letter went from the Ministry of Agriculture.

Mr. Williams

It was disowned by me, standing at this Box, and replying to a Question.

Mr. Baldwin

Is it admitted that it went from the Ministry? That is the sort of thing that shakes our confidence. I thought this was not a party question at all, but that we should give this direction to the Wages Board so that they should take into account the economic position in the industry.' It is recognised by the Ministry, in the new Agriculture Bill, that the Measure will stand or fall by the prices that are paid to the fanner. This Bill will do likewise. May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that when the Agricultural Wages Act was first placed on the Statute Book, in 1924, no direction such as we suggest was given, with the result that wages were fixed without any relation to the economic position of the industry. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] That, apparently, is not accepted, but if that is not so, why was it that the result of fixing those wages led to 10,000 agricultural labourers leaving the land during the next 20 years? It is because we want to protect the wages of the agricultural labourer that we are asking for this direction to be taken into account. Unless it is taken into account the agricultural worker will be in a difficult position. This matter was argued in Committee, when I could not understand why the vote went against our Amendment. Several Members spoke as if they were in favour of the Amendment, and then voted against it. For instance, the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Stubbs) said: I am opposed to this AmendmentgThere have been rapid strides in recent times in economic conditions in this industry, and I think we are safe now in viewing the industry from the economic point of view, and in fixing wages upon the prices obtaining from time to time."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 4th December, 1946, c. 21.] Yet the hon. Member voted against the Amendment. We agree with every word he said. If we are to keep agricultural wages as we want them to be, we must have farm prices put right at the same time.

Mr. T. Williams

The first thing that will be noticed about this Amendment is that it sets out to delete the following words: The Agricultural Wages Board shall not be limited to the consideration of any particular matters. In other words, while we think that the Board ought to be able to consider any matter, in fact take into account all relevant factors, this Amendment proposes to limit the consideration by the Board to a single factor, which we think is inimical to the interests which we all have in mind. The second thing is that it attempts to import into the Bill the words: have regard to the economic condition of the agricultural industry. Hon. Members will have observed that in line 16, the Bill itself sets out to repeal Section 2 (4) of the 1924 Act, which was a limiting factor to the Wages Board. Quite contrary to what the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) has said, there was a limiting factor in the 1924 Act. If he will look at Section 2 (4) he will see just what those words are. I need not quote them and waste the time of the House. They had to have regard to the nature of the occupation of the persons to be catered for, namely agriculture. Clause 1 (2) of the Bill deletes Subsection (4) of Section 2 of the 1924 Act. Therefore, it cannot be true, as the hon. Gentleman said, that tens of thousands of agricultural workers left their jobs because wages were being fixed higher than farmers could pay. Actually the hon. Gentleman must know, having been so closely associated with agriculture for such a long period of time, that between 1921 and 1939 we lost nearly 250,000 agricultural workers. The economic conditions of the industry were so poor, the wages were so low and so miserable that we lost that army of skilled farm workers; and we badly needed them in 1946. But it was not because they were paid high wages. It was because they were paid very low wages, but that is not an adverse reflection upon the farmer, whose position perhaps would not permit him to pay high wages.

Mr. Baldwin

The reason for those low wages was the low prices paid to the farmer, and we want to relate prices to wages.

Mr. T. Williams

I will not go into the highways or byways as to which Government was responsible. All I would say is that we were not in office from 1924 to 1929 or from 1931 to 1939. I leave the rest to the imagination of hon. Members.

In reply to the mover of the Amendment, I would say that we thought in introducing this Bill that the words in the 1924 Act were wholly inappropriate at this stage. We recognise, of course, that the economic condition of the industry must be considered by the Board when they are dealing with wage questions, either for an increase or for a decrease, but they must. not concern themselves exclusively with one consideration. They must take into account all the factors relevant to the employment, to the individual industry and to the industries of this country taken as a whole. If any hon. Member has any doubt as to whether the economic condition of the industry will be taken into account or not, it must be because he is not aware of the constitution of the Agricultural Wages Board. I could never conceive eight representatives of the farmers attending Wage Board meetings and not producing evidence to show the economic condition of the industry. If the farmers were to forget the economic condition of the industry, it is quite conceivable that the eight representatives of the agricultural workers would remind them of it. If all 16 were to forget, the farmers and the farm workers, at least there are, five impartial members who, I am quite confident, would not allow decisions to be taken before the economic condition of the industry had actually been considered.

The hon. Member who moved this Amendment said that there was a difference between agriculture and most other industries, and, therefore, we ought not to pursue the line of the Wages Councils Act, 1945, too closely. I cannot agree with the hon. Member more. There is a vast difference between agriculture and most other industries, but the policy laid down for the Wages Councils seems to me to be just as clear, just as definite, and just as necessary as that which we are trying to lay down in this Bill. We want Wages Councils, and we want this Agricultural Wages Board to take into account all relevant considerations. The Wages Council is not informed that, when it is going to consider the question of wages for steel workers, iron workers textile workers, or any other workers, the economic conditions of the steel industry or textile industry or some other industry must be taken into account or that they should be a single limiting factor. I think that it is not wise to give positive direction to a Board of this description, but give them the power to take into account all and every factor relevant to the wages level of those engaged in agriculture. That form of guidance on one thing means, of course, a limiting factor, and I am quite convinced, having given this matter very careful consideration that there ought to be no limiting factor, being assured that the Wages Board would never for one moment contemplate reaching decisions, without having due regard to the economic condition in the agricultural industry.

Major Mott-Radclyffe (Windsor)

The Minister of Agriculture has put forward quite an ingenious argument for rejecting this Amendment, but the line which he has taken does not really deal with the case put from this side of the House. His argument is based on the proposition that the Wages Board should take into account all relevant factors, without specifying the most important relevant factor, namely, the general economic condition of the industry at any given time. We all agree, on both sides of the House, in wishing to secure for the farm worker the high wage which his skill deserves, but that wage cannot possibly be divorced from the prices which the farmer, who pays the wage, receives for his produce off his farm.

5.0 p.m.

Mr. Alpass (Thornbury)

Ought not the prices to be altered?

Major Mott-Radclyffe

I will come to that point later. This Bill relating only to wages cannot be put into a watertight compartment. It must be taken in conjunction with the general provisions of the bigger Bill which we shall be discussing shortly. I remind the House that Clause I of that Bill seeks to secure production at minimum prices, consistent with proper remuneration and living conditions for farmers and farm workers alike, and an adequate return on capital invested. Those are very sound principles, but I do not think they can possibly be implemented if agricultural wages are to be fixed without specific reference to the economic conditions of the industry. I repeat that the farmer can only pay wages out of the prices he receives for his produce. Moreover, in the farming industry, unlike other industries, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dug-dale) has already pointed out, there is the inescapable time lag, a period of anything up to 12 months, before the farmer receives any cash return as a result of the wages he pays to his employees. I know that, in Committee, the Minister made considerable play with the fact that the farmer is assured of guaranteed prices until 1950, but that will not inspire very much confidence unless the farmer is equally certain that the level of wages will be related to the guaranteed price.

If the hon. Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass) thinks that it does not matter whether a rise in wages is not related to prices in general because a rise in wages can always be followed by a rise in the guaranteed prices, let me remind him that the consumer has some say in the matter. I ask him also to bear in mind that we are already paying £400 million a year in subsidies to keep down the prices of food to the consumer. I would further remind him of a point that has already been made from this side of the House, namely, that although the Agricultural Wages Bill covers those who work in horticulture, there is no guaranteed price for horticultural products. Finally, if the Minister wishes to instil into the agricultural industry, as I am sure he does, that confidence which is so essential both to farmers and farm workers, I hope he Will confess that it was only by a slip of the tongue in the Second Reading Debate that he said that wages must not be tied up to any price-fixing system. From the economic point of view, I think that remark must have caused some qualms to the Chancellor of the Exchequer who, at long last, is beginning to discover—and certainly we shall bring this to his attention very often from this side of the House—that the real value of wages is not so much in the amount paid, but in their purchasing power.

Mr. Stubbs

I am a little at a loss to understand this Amendment moved and supported by hon. Members opposite. Do you really mean by it that, before proposing a wage, the Agricultural Wages Board shall have an inquest on the prices operating in the industry? Is that what you really mean?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

The hon. Member must remember that when he uses the word "you," he is referring to the Chair, and not to hon. Members opposite.

Mr. Stubbs

I apologise, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I have been a member of a wages board since 1937, and I have never known an occasion when the farmers' representatives on the board have not put forward, from their point of view, the economic conditions operating in the industry. Whether it was a question of wheat prices, stock prices, or the prices of almost any other commodity which they sell, they have always put their position before the board. Moreover, will not the representatives of the National Farmers' Union on the Agricultural Wages Board know the economic conditions of the industry? From what has been said, anybody would think that those representatives would come to the board empty headed, and not knowing anything about the industry. Of course, they are experts at the job, and know conditions in the agricultural industry. What about the statistics supplied by the Minister and the Universities? There is all the information that is wanted, unless this Amendment is meant to be a means of delaying things, so that before any increased wage can be given to the farm workers, all the economic conditions of the agricultural industry have to be looked into. We have had many years of terribly low wages, which were a disgrace to those who paid them, and a disgrace to those who received them. We have been through all that, and in those times hon. Members used to argue in the same way as they are now doing. I hope the Amendment will be defeated, because there are now guaranteed prices, and we know what are the economic conditions in the industry from time to time.

Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)

I do not think the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Stubbs) put the difference between us on this matter quite clearly. What we are asking is that the system of wording advised by the present Foreign Secretary, when he was Minister of Labour, and adopted in 1940, a system that raised wages from 35s. to the present level of 80s., should be continued. The hon. Member is advocating that the usual official terminology that "all relevant factors be taken into consideration" be put, I believe for the first, or perhaps the second time, into an Act of Parliament. I believe that the 1940 wording, as moved in the Amendment by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale), is right. If one does not have regard to the economic conditions in agriculture, the five independent members will be able to tell the workers and the farmers that they have not got to pay attention to agriculture, but have to look wider to the conditions in other industries. That is the grave danger that I see. I think we shall be in very difficult economic times in the future, and I think we should not tolerate agriculture remaining at the bottom of the ladder. For that reason I think it vitally important that wages should be tied up into the price fixing structure.

If we have the general provision that all relevant factors are to be taken into consideration we shall, I fear, get a certain hostility to agricultural wages and prices going up when other wages and prices may, owing to the economic crisis, be falling down. That, I think, would be extremely bad for the agricultural industry. [Laughter.] The hon. Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass) laughs and twiddles his toes, but it is not really quite so laughable a matter as he appears to think. It is clear that there is in this country a very grave crisis in production; there may well be, as the hon. Member knows, a very grave continued shortage of food in the future. Therefore, it is in the Government's interests to do what they can to attract workers and farmers into agriculture by giving good prices and good wages, and thus save this country from grave shortage and, perhaps, starvation in the future. If we tie it up as the Minister is doing in very nebulous official language, I fear that the price-fixing machinery—which I believe to be excellent—will be vitiated by this very fact.

Wages and prices must be tied together, but if, later in this Session, we are to consider a Bill which orders a special review when economic conditions in agriculture change, then it is important that in this Measure plain words should be used so that we have a clear connection between wages and prices in agriculture. If we establish the principle that wages and prices in agriculture must depend on wages and prices generally in other industries then, because we are only a minority in this country, we shall find that agricultural wages and prices will be at the bottom of the economic ladder. I hope very much that the Minister, who I know has the good of the agricultural industry at heart, will reconsider this matter and accept the Amendment.

Mr. Gooch

There are three main reasons why the farm worker feels very happy about this Bill. The first is that one of the chief values of this Bill lies in the permanent transference of wage fixing powers from the county wages committees to the Central Wages Board. Another feature which makes the farm worker very happy is the new procedure which is to be followed in making orders. The third has a bearing on the object of the Amendment now before the House. It is that the Central Wages Board will no longer be tied down to certain factors in determining wages.

I hope the House will reject the Amendment because it has been made very clear by speeches from this side, that the economic position of the industry is not overlooked, either at meetings of the county wages committees or at those of the Central Wages Board. There are enough experts at all those meetings to ensure that the farmer's case is put fairly and adequately. I urge the House not to tie wages to prices but to keep to the Clause already in the Bill and allow the Central Wages Board to take into consideration all relevant factors in determining what the wage should be. The most important point, and one which I think has been overlooked by hon. Members opposite, is the human side of this business. It is not always just a question of what can be paid in the form of wages that has to be looked into, but one of human beings. When we were down to 25s. in Norfolk, and when the farm workers had to go on strike to prevent the wage becoming lower and it was argued that the rate should be 18s. 11d. a week—I could never understand why this was not made up to the full shilling —did hon. Members opposite argue that they would be prepared to vote for fixing wages at 18s. 11d.? No, the human need had to be taken into consideration. Whilst it has been declared that all these points will be before the committees and the Central Wages Board in the matter of farm prices, I do urge that the Board should not be tied down in this respect but should be able to take into consideration all matters which have a direct bearing on the question, and certainly that they should be in a position to address themselves to the question of human need.

5.15 p.m.

Mr. Wilfrid Roberts

It seems to me that we are concerned here with two very different interpretations. While the Minister has argued that the economic condition of agriculture is one factor which ought to be and will be taken into consideration, it is nevertheless only one factor. In my opinion there are many other factors which ought to be considered. For example, there is the question of the rates of wages ruling in other industries, which certainly ought to be taken into consideration. Then there is the question as to what is a living wage—whether 18s. 11d. or the modern equivalent is a wage which we can countenance on any grounds being paid to any worker in this country at the present time. Thus, as I say, there are many factors which should be considered, and to put in just this one and give it the prominence of being the only factor concerned would be altogether wrong.

I have listened very carefully to speeches by hon. Members of the official Opposition who are often very clear minded on these matters, but I have been unable to get their arguments straight on this occasion. I agree that prices and wages in agriculture must be related, but this seems to me to be the wrong place to say so. The place where I want to say it is in the annual February price review. I want to say then that unless prices are on a proper level wages will be too low and we shall lose workers from the industry and shall not get any food. That is the argument which I want to put, and that is the chain of connection which I want the Government to have in mind in fixing prices. I could understand the argument of hon. Members above the Gangway if agriculture were profitable at the present time. If it were possible to fix wages much higher than in other industries then there would be a reason for putting in this Clause. But since wages are still lower in agriculture than in other industries we should only be keeping them pegged down by adding this Clause and, quite frankly, that is what I want to avoid. For both those general reasons I should be against this Amendment now. With regard to wages generally in agriculture, I think we should remember that we are fixing a minimum only, and that there are all kinds of arguable reasons why wages should vary. It could be argued that they should be higher where the land was more profitable, and lower where it was less so. I feel that unless we set out to do this and provide in this Bill that all the factors ought to be taken into account, there is a danger that we may do the industry harm.

Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)

When I first looked at this Amendment I wondered on what grounds the Minister would turn it down. It became obvious to me, when I first looked at it, that the Minister's first line of defence in rejecting it would be that it would be a limiting Amendment. That is interesting because so many of the limiting Amendments proposed by our Front Bench are rejected on the ground that they are wrong. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there is in this Amendment what has been pointed out by two or three speakers— that it would be too limiting in that it would only direct the boards to have regard to the economic factor. I say quite frankly, as has been shown by some on this side of the House and also by hon. Members on the other side, that we must have regard to the human factor. I also say that the whole question, as the hon. Member for Northern Cumberland (Mr. Roberts) said—as far as what he said was understandable—must have some direct relation to wages and prices. Up to that point I should like to see the original words kept in, but having got to that point, I look at the words which we on this side of the House propose to insert. I think it essential, especially after the speech the Minister made when he certainly gave the whole case away, that somewhere, it should be laid down clearly that the economic factor should be considered.

The Minister took the line that, of course, it would be considered, but the fact that he has refused to allow it to go into the Bill will make it perfectly possible for it to be sidestepped. The mere fact that the Minister gave the suggestion his nominal blessing, but would not put it in the Bill, only draws the attention of the industry and of the committees to the fact that, ultimately economics must have some relationship to wages. For that reason I had hoped that the Minister might possibly, if he could not accept our proposal now, look at it before the Bill goes to another place, and perhaps with some slight alteration he might be prepared to accept it. He could put in the words "shall have full regard to" or words to that effect so as to emphasise the point he made, namely, that the committees are to have full regard to the economic circumstances. If the Amendment could be partially accepted in that way it would seem to me that the Minister would be going a considerable way to meet a point which has a very great deal of support.

When I first saw this Amendment I thought to myself that it was an Amendment which the Minister must accept. We have been told within the last 36 hours in this Chamber, that we must have the most modern and fullest statistics in regard to industry, and we have passed a whole Bill to collect those statistics. Why not, when dealing with a vital industry like agriculture, lay it down that we must have a sound knowledge of the facts of the industry? I would have thought that the arguments used yesterday would have convinced the Minister at once, that this was an Amendment which in no conceivable circumstances, at any rate as far as the second part is concerned, could be left out of the Bill.

I should like to emphasise a point made earlier by one of my hon. Friends, that as far as ordinary farmers are concerned this is comparatively simple from the point of view of their prices for a year or two. However, that is not the position with regard to horticulture and it certainly is not the position in relation to market gardening. It is possible that by the work of some wild President of the Board of Trade or someone like that, the whole market could be swamped. Indeed, as far as my information goes, an Order is at present almost ready which will injure a great number of workers on the land Certainly it will do much injury in the West Country by completely upsetting our markets for the products of market gardening. As far as horticulture is concerned, therefore, the Minister's argument is not sound, because there is no protection given to the market gardener in regard to prices in the same way that protection is given to the agriculturists. Not that I would take this protection away from agriculturists, but I would point out that market gardening is one of the most progressive sections of the industry and one that absorbs a large body of men, because in recent years it has been a paying proposition.

For this reason I respectfully ask the Minister whether he does not think that he could consider putting something into the Bill that would direct these organisations to have real consideration of the economic side, in the widest possible sense. I do not mean to suggest that that economic consideration should be merely from the farmers' point of view or from the agricultural labourers' point of view. I mean it rather in the widest sense and with regard to other industries as far as wages are concerned. If that were in the Bill on the lines I have suggested, without any limiting of discussion of other factors, I believe that it would be in the best all-round interests of agriculture.

Amendment negatived. CLAUSE 3.—(Provisions as to learners.)

5.30 p.m.

Mr. Hurd (Newbury)

I beg to move, in page 3, line 28, after "are," to insert: under a contract of service and. The purpose of the Amendment is to clear up doubt which exists in the minds of some hon. Members about the rather conflicting assurances given by the Attorney-General and by the Minister, concerning the position of farm pupils. Our desire is to give effect to the assurances which the Minister gave us. He told us that it was not the intention of the Government to apply the Clause to pupils who were not under contract of service. That is why we are seeking to insert words to make that point clear. In our view it is unnecessary, and would indeed hamper the pupil as well as the farmer. The pupil is not a worker, in the ordinary sense of the term, but a learner.

Is this pupil to be required to go before the local county wages committee, and be subject to a set of rules and regulations for the short period during which he is learning his job on the farm and when he is, in effect, an apprentice? He will have to learn to milk a cow and to drive a tractor. Such arrangements have been left in the past to be made quite informally between the boy or his parents on the one hand and the farmer on the other. I think the Minister will agree that there is no evidence of exploitation in connection with them and that the arrangements for learners must be left fairly flexible. One man may learn quite quickly and may soon earn a full wage, whereas another may have to carry on for six months or possibly for a year, and it would be perfectly justifiable for the premium to continue.

All who are interested in agriculture wish to see a two-way flow. There always will be village lads who want to go out of farming and out of the rural atmosphere. There will also be a number of town boys who want to go into farming, and I want to see every possible encouragement given to the farmer to take that kind of boy for six months or a year. We should not hamper in any way the flow from the towns into the country. Let us get the town boys who are willing to learn and let us teach them all we can about farming. We shall not encourage that flow if we tie the arrangements up with applications and certificates, and make it necessary for their cases to be considered by the county wages committees. If certificates are given, they may be out of date after three months, and the farmer may have to go back to the committee. He would probably say "Bother it all. It's not worth while taking these boys," and let the matter drop.

This is not a question of exploiting cheap labour. The pupil on a farm justifies some premium being paid on his behalf. By the time a pupil has learnt to milk a cow he may have spoilt one or two cows, and by the time he has learnt to drive a tractor he may have driven one or two tractors into ditches. Our purpose is to make quite sure that no hindrance is put in the way of a farmer who is prepared to take pupils and that it is quite clear there will be no nonsense about getting a certificate where the lad is not under a contract of service. The Minister gave an assurance on this point in the Committee, and I hope that he will now be prepared to accept the Amendment.

Mr. Vane (Westmorland)

I beg to second the Amendment.

It is not only the farm pupil who is affected by the Clause. When the Bill was first printed there was considerable doubt among the members of certain professions and societies, in particular the Land Agents' Society, as to whether their pupils would be affected by the Bill. I have been such a pupil myself some years ago. The Minister will know that besides the professional and office side of land agents "work, there is also the practical farming side which has to be learnt. Whether hon. Members like that form of professional training or not, we must accept the fact that it exists. There is some need to clear up the doubt whether this form of training is covered under the Bill, a doubt that will continue to exist unless the Amendment is accepted. Another large class coming into this question is men who are undergoing vocational training. I did succeed, after having asked the question several times in Committee, in ascertaining that men undergoing vocational training were not affected by the Bill, because they are not under a contract of service. I am sure the Minister will agree that it would be very much easier for all concerned if the few simple words proposed in the Amendment were inserted in the Bill, so as to clear up doubts, not only now but for all time.

Mr. Collick

I think that hon. Gentlemen opposite have put down the Amendment under a misapprehension. To get its correct meaning one must refer to the principal Act It must be borne in mind that the only rates of wages that the Wages Board will have power to fix under the principal Act and under the Bill, are rates of wages for workers employed in agriculture. Therefore we must turn to the principal Act to get the definition of workers employed in agriculture. We shall find it clearly set out in the Act of 1924. It says that the expression "employment" means employment under a contract of service or apprenticeship. Therefore, since that is the definition in the main Act, the Bill applies only to those who are under either a contract of service or a contract of apprenticeship. I hope, in the light of that explanation, that hon. Gentlemen opposite will wish to withdraw the Amendment.

Captain Crookshank

Of course, the Minister is right in referring to the principal Act. That is just one of the cases which we have discussed earlier. This little Amendment ought to be described, to that extent perhaps, as a consolidating Amendment. The hon. Gentleman has just read out the definition which is contained in the principal Act, but we are fortified because we remember what the Minister said in Committee. He said, specifically: If no contract of service exists the person concerned does not come within the meaning of the Bill. Later he said: We are trying to preserve those under contract of service from entering into this very bad arrangement. He also said: The Bill deals only with a person who has entered a contract of service with an employer. Having said that three times, his final words were: I hope that that is clear enough."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 13th December, 1346; col. 123.] I quite agree that if the Minister says something and the same thing oddly enough, three times, it is clear what he means. Fortified now by a reference to the previous Act and the law of the land, I still come back to my hon. Friend's view that it will be very much simpler, in a Clause dealing with learners—a new phrase and a new idea being conveyed into practice—that it should be made clear also in the Bill. I am sorry that the Minister seems to be so reluctant on a matter which he says he hopes is clear enough to us. I hope, since this is not the final stage of the Bill, that he will think again and put in this little bit of consolidation, at least as a sop to us for the gallant attempt we have made to make the Bill better and clearer.

Mr. Baldwin

Is it clear that an articled pupil who is not receiving wages does not come under the Wages Act? Or is he under a contract of apprenticeship?

Mr. Collick

No, certainly not, unless the pupil is under a contract of service or a contract of apprenticeship.

Mr. Baldwin

Does that mean a contract of service without cash? These pupils are under a contract with their instructor. Does it mean that a pupil who pays a premium is under a contract of apprenticeship, and therefore comes under the Bill?

Mr. T. Williams


Amendment negatived.

Mr. Snadden (Perth and Kinross, Western)

I beg to move, in page 4, line I, to leave out from "may," to "vary," in line 2, and to insert: on the application of the worker or the employer. The purpose of the Amendment is to ensure that the wages committee cannot suddenly vary the conditions of a certificate, after granting it, and to limit the power of variation to cases where the employer or the worker wishes such variation. A certificate may have been granted under certain conditions. Under the Clause it will be possible for a wages committee to come along, right out of the blue, with a variation of conditions which have already been agreed upon. In the Standing Committee an hon Member called this a contract between the farmer and the pupil, and he was corrected by the right hon. Gentleman opposite and informed that it was a contract between the farmer and the committee. Under the Subsection as it stands, the whole thing can suddenly be changed almost over-night. It is a very strange form of contract if the whole business can be changed after a farmer and a worker have agreed upon the conditions imposed by a wages committee. It would be only sensible that the two partners to the contract should be allowed to make application for any variation which is required. It should not be possible to change the whole thing without reference to either party when they have agreed to the conditions and are working happily. Surely the contract or certificate when granted should contain all that is reasonable and should then stand as the agreement entered into unless either party—the farmer or the worker —asks for a variation?

We have put down this Amendment in order to clear up the position. Speaking from memory, I would point out that the right hon. Gentleman opposite in Standing Committee put forward reasons why he retained the word "otherwise. I think he said there might be changes in regard to technical education and facilities of that nature in the intervening period. But surely the people who are concerned in these matters would, themselves, become aware of them and would apply to the committee for a variation if it were desired? It is the arbitrary nature of the Clause that seems to me and my hon. Friends to raise needless uncertainty in the minds of farmers. Farmers are not as keen to take on pupils as some people imagine, and we must do everything we can to generate confidence, rather than promote lack of confidence. For these reasons, we have put down this Amendment in order to limit these powers to an application by the farmer or the worker as the case may be.

5.45 p.m.

Mr. C. Williams

I beg to second the Amendment.

I would like to emphasise what my hon. Friend the Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) has said, that if we are to get pupils on the land, we should not leave anything vague and uncertain. Both the pupil and the farmer dislike the uncertainty of suddenly having a Minister coming along and changing the whole position. As far as the word "otherwise '"is concerned, there is an educational difficulty which is fairly clear, although I think it might be got over in some other way. If a contract has only a short time to run—say three or six months—it is rather difficult to break that up, because of some educational or other matter. If that uncertainty is always to overhang the contract, we shall find the existing reluctance to take on pupils rather accentuated, and I am sure the Minister does not wish to do that.

The words which it is proposed to insert will give equal opportunity to both sides to make an application, and from that point of view, there can be no great objection to those words. The words we propose to leave out are of a rather in- decisive nature, I hope the Government may think on this occasion that the words we suggest are a little more decisive and will remove the anxiety which is aroused by such words in a Bill and the lack of decision to which they must lead. The words we propose to insert are much clearer and should be more acceptable to everyone.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Thomas Fraser)

I am a little surprised that hon. Gentlemen opposite have returned to the fray with this proposal. I should have thought that the explanation and the concession given by my right hon. Friend in the Standing Committee would have satisfied them. It seems to me that a committee should have the power to vary conditions in the light of changing circumstances. When a committee grants a certificate—as it may very well do—for a period of about three years, it clearly cannot visualise all the circumstances that may develop during that time, and we are thus giving them the power to grant a certificate covering a longish period. We are not thinking only of certificates with three or six months to run. As the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) has already indicated, my right hon. Friend in Committee called attention to the possibility, and indeed the probability, of facilities for technical education being made available. When facilities for technical education, which were not available at the time the certificates were granted, come along and new certificates are being granted to new learners, with a condition that such facilities should be utilised, it would then be necessary to vary the conditions attached to the earlier certificates. I should have thought that the committee in that case might justly wish to vary the conditions on existing certificates. In general, it is desirable that a committee should exercise a running supervision over the circum-stances under which the persons who are the subject of certificates are working, and it would not be sufficient to make the power of variation completely dependent upon the receipt of an application from the worker or the employer concerned.

As I have already indicated, my right hon. Friend made a concession upstairs. It will be remembered that he agreed to provide that there should be no variation of the conditions on a certificate without both the employer and the worker having first been notified and given an opportunity of making representations. This provision is now in the Bill in Clause 3 (4) and I should have thought that it would meet fully whatever fears the supporters of the Amendment might have. I feel that our case is fully made, and I hope that with that further explanation hon. Members will not persist with this Amendment. I give them an assurance that we have given the matter a lot of thought, and that it is not possible to accept the proposal.

Sir T. Dugdale

The reply of the Joint Under-Secretary is most disappointing because he did not answer the point raised by the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden). The point we want to make is this: It is perfectly true that the Minister made a concession upstairs to the effect that there should be no change in any contract without notifying either of the parties, but in this Amendment we are trying to prevent an agricultural wages committee from varying any conditions against the will of the worker or employer. The Amendment limits the power to vary the conditions to cases where the employer or workpeople wish to do so; in other words, not to interfere in a situation which is entirely satisfactory. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] Because we believe that if a contract has been made in which neither the employer nor the worker wants any variation, it seems a pity that a wages committee should have the authority to override a contract which everybody is satisfied is working very well. It is that kind of red tape which we believe brings governmental organisations into such bad repute all over the country, namely, unnecessary interference where a scheme or contract is working very well, if for no reason at all the wages committee wants to alter it against the wishes of either the worker or the employer. We quite agree that if the worker or the employer wishes the scheme to be altered, it is right that it should be done with the approval of the wages committee. That is the point of the Amendment.

Mr. Stubbs

May I interrupt? The wages board fixes a definite minimum rate of wages. If, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman says, a contract can be broken either by the worker or the employer, what becomes of the guaranteed minimum rate?

Mr. T. Williams

I feel I should endeavour to clear up this matter in view of what has just been said by the hon. and gallant Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale). We are not anxious that any wages committee should, without rhyme or reason, interfere with an acceptable contract between employer and employee, neither do we contemplate that such a thing would happen. What we think may happen is that in some parts of the country technical educational facilities will become available which are not available at present. Once new circumstances supervene, it is clear that the county wages committee, if they feel that there is an advantage both to the employer and the learner, should be able to contemplate varying the certificates, but not without consulting each farmer-employer and learner to hear what they have to say. It is rather a stretch of the imagination, therefore, to think that a wages committee would necessarily interfere between farmer and learner where both are happy with the agreement under which they were working. It is because that would not happen in individual cases of that description, but more on the county or general basis, that I ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman to believe that we are genuinely sincere in our position on this Amendment

Amendment negatived.