HC Deb 22 January 1947 vol 432 cc268-80
Mr. T. Williams

I beg to move, in page 6, line 44, to leave out "use of land for any garden," and to insert "production of any."

I think it would be for the convenience of the House if this and the next three Amendments—in page 6, line 45, leave out "of,"; in line 46, after the second "or," insert "of any," and in page 7, line I, leave out from "not," to end of line 3—were taken together, as they all apply to the same subject.

Clause 8 of the Bill, as framed, covers only those workers engaged in gardens from which either the whole or the greater part of the produce is grown for sale, or supplied for use in competition with commercial suppliers. In Committee a good deal of pressure was brought to bear from both sides insisting that we should widen the scope of this Clause and allow it to embrace all garden workers including bona fide private gardeners. I thought then that that would be quite inappropriate, for we should be dealing with a form of domestic service. However, I undertook to look at the Clause again and see if we could come nearer to the point raised in Committee without widening the scope of the Clause to include every private garden and gardener.

My aim, therefore, in these Amendments is to cover those who are employed in producing food for sale or for consumption for business purposes. The four Amendments will not unnecessarily widen the scope of the Clause or restrict it too narrowly. It may be that there are cases of large gardens where gardeners are employed almost whole time producing food. There are institutions where large quantities of food are also grown, and where it is proved that persons are employed almost full-time on food it is not unreasonable that they should be brought within the definition of persons coming under this Bill. However, I.do not want to see the purely domestic servant, who perhaps devotes five per cent., ten per cent. or even 20 per cent. of his time to the garden, brought within the four corners of this Measure. The intention of these Amendments, therefore, is to avoid an undue widening of the Clause and making the criterion the production of consumable produce for commercial purposes instead of the use of the land for a garden. These Amendments will bring in a gardener or an estate worker, who is producing consumable produce in competition with commercially produced produce, either for consumption on the premises of an undertaking—as in the case of a large hotel or within an institution—or, if it is supplied for commercial purposes to enter into some form of trade after it leaves the garden or estate. I hope, therefore, that these four Amendments will meet the promise made in Committee to hon. Members opposite.

6.0 p.m.

Captain Crookshank

I thought the right hon. Gentleman had spent most of the vacation making speeches at farmers' gatherings, but he must have spent some of the time at Olympia learning to somersault, because his speech is a complete reversal of everything he said on the Committee stage. The matter is left very unclear, because the fourth Amendment which we are considering, that to leave out from "not," to the end of line 3, on page 7, is the Amendment we had under discussion upstairs. The change here is an alteration in the words: the production of any consumable produce instead of: use of land for any garden. The part we were discussing, which the right hon. Gentleman has in view to remove from the Bill, is contained in the words: if the amount so grown is the whole or the greater part of the consumable produce of the garden. In resisting that Amendment, nothing could have been clearer than the speeches of the Under-Secretary of State and the Minister. They said that to take out those Words would make the Clause completely impracticable and unworkable. The Under-Secretary of State, who, no doubt, had been instructed by the Minister, made the point that if the words were left out, so many people would be affected that it would be quite impossible for us to exercise any control over them whatever, and there would be innumerable abuses which could never be checked."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, Thursday. 12th December, 1946; c. 140.] After considerable debate, the Minister himself said: I still find it impossible to feel that this Amendment would be administratively practicable, or would, in fact, help with the Bill the Clause would then go so wide as to make it utterly inflexible from the administrative point of view."' He turned it down finally with the elegant words: We should be absolutely stymied."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, Tuesday, 17th December, 1946; c. 146–7.] I hope that he has got over the difficulty. The hon. Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass) says that it does not matter.

Mr. Alpass

The Minister has done it, that is the point.

Captain Crookshank

But the Minister said that this Amendment would not help the Bill. If he has found a way out of the difficulty, I am very glad. But let us be quite certain what this series of Amendments is going to do. We had some discussion upstairs about the handyman who is a gardener some of the time and a chauffeur for the rest of the time.

We also discussed the case of the odd job gardener. I think what the Minister said about both those cases was clear, that they would not come within the provision in any case. The next question is, How far, if at all, does the ordinary domestic gardener come in, the gardener employed to look after a garden in the ordinary accepted sense of the term? I am not quite clear about that. I understand that the gardener who is dealing with the growing of produce used for an institution such as a hospital, Poor Law infirmary, or an hotel, where the produce goes into the consumption of that institution, is considered to be a competitor with the ordinary market gardener because that institution would have to buy its produce somewhere else if he did not grow it. As I understand the position, that gardener would come under the Bill, because he is producing to all intents and purposes the equivalent of trade.

The difficulty about which I am not quite certain, and which I hope the Minister will make quite clear, is what happens in the case of a gardener who has an ordinary garden in the accepted sense of the term, but where some small amount of the produce is sold. The right hon. Gentleman said that he did not want to bring that person in. I am talking of the person who, perhaps, sells 5 per cent. or 10 per cent. of the produce. He might have had a surplus of raspberries one year, or strawberries another year, but he would not be in business, or carrying on an undertaking. Am I right in understanding that he would be excluded?

Mr. T. Williams

indicated assent.

Captain Crookshank

I am glad to have the assurance the Minister has given, because that clarifies the position. But, I cannot see where that is made clear in the Bill. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will tell us. The sole object of those who moved the Amendment upstairs was to equalise the position of the man who acts as a competitor with a market gardener and the market gardener, and that those two workers should be in the same position. What I am not clear about is the gardener in a place where some part of the produce is sold. In that case, I take it that it is rather de minimis. Is that the position? It does not seem a very satisfactory way of leaving it in legislation. I am sorry if I have been too inquisitive in my questions but my hon. Friends would like to be clear as to the position of the ordinary gardener. I understand that he is out altogether. But, what is the position of a gardener in a garden where, from time to time, there are sales made from the garden, but where it is not a business? Is he brought into the Bill? That is the question on which I would like a clear answer.

Mr. T. Williams

If I can clarify the matter, I shall be pleased, and I am sure hon. Members will be more satisfied. I could not do better than to read into the Subsection the words which will be inserted if the four Amendments are agreed to. The Subsection will then read: The expression 'agriculture' in the principal Act, and in this Act, shall include the production of any consumable produce which is grown for sale or for consumption, or other use, for the purposes of a trade or business, or any other undertaking, whether carried on for profit or not. It is clear, there is a question of de minimis here, and we could not avoid that. Indeed, the words we propose to be left out on page 7, would have to be determined by someone. It would not be easier for administration any more than it would be easy of administration for the ordinary gardener. The intention obviously is that the private gardener will normally be left out of this Bill altogether. I did not perform nearly so many acrobatics at a particular period as the right hon. and gallant Gentleman seemed to imagine. What I tried to do was to get a definition much nearer the desire of Members in all parts of the Committee. I think we have achieved that, and we exclude the private gardener as such.

Mr. Alpass

As I raised this question in the Committee and put down an Amendment I should like to express my appreciation of the Minister's action in meeting us, perhaps not to the full extent we desire, but to a large extent. The omission of the words which the Amendment will effect will at least clarify the position. I am not myself concerned as to how a Minister manages to arrive at the same conclusion as myself. I suppose that on consideration he thinks, in this case perhaps, that I have got the stronger argument. I am concerned that he has arrived at the result, and that what we have in view will be achieved, and that at least people about whom there was previously some doubt as to whether they would be included, will be included in the scope of the Bill. I feel that I cannot allow the occasion to pass without thanking the Minister for having done so much to meet us.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made:

In page 6, line 45, leave out "of."

In line 46, after the second "or," insert "of any."

In page 7, line 1, leave out from "not," to the end of line 3.—[[Mr. T Williams.]

6.14 p.m.

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

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

It was, I think, clear from the Second Reading Debate and from the proceedings in the Committee, that the main provisions in this Bill have the general support of Members on both sides of the House. In the Bill we have tried to ensure that the agricultural worker shall be put in substantially the same position as other workers in industry in so far as statutory wage regulations are concerned, and that the Agricultural Wages Boards are put in much the same position as any other wage fixing authority. The Wages Boards, made up as they are, of representatives of the farmers and the farm workers, and the impartial members, will, we believe, as a result of this Bill, be able to go forward better equipped to make provision for the advancement of the interests of the industry. It is true that a number of matters are left under the Bill to the discretion of the Boards, but in our view it is undesirable to limit their discretion too narrowly. We feel that with their wealth of experience they can be counted upon to exercise their functions in a reasonable way.

A number of questions were raised in the Standing Committee which were fully discussed and mutually resolved, but there were one or two questions which we promised to reconsider in the light of the representations which were argued out in the Committee. Those who were serving on the Standing Committee will recall that when we were discussing Clause 1 (3), Members on both sides of the Committee were anxious to be sure that the Boards would have the power to fix differential rates of wages, defined according to varying degrees of skill. I remember that in the reply which was given we took the view that the provisions of the Bill as they stood, in conjunction with the First Schedule to this Bill and the main Act, enabled that to be done, but my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General undertook to make quite sure that that was the case. I wish to inform the House that he has done so, and we are confirmed in our view that the powers which the Board have under the Bill are sufficient for the purpose. We can, therefore, be assured that if a wage structure is worked out between the various parties in the industry—and the House may be interested to know that the Agricultural Wages Board has set up a committee to go into this matter and see if they can work out some such scheme— there will certainly be no legal handicap in this Bill.

The other point which was largely stressed in Committee upstairs was that dealt with by the Minister a moment ago, namely, the provisions which brought in the gardening side of the Bill. That has been fully explained, and it is clearly unnecessary to pursue it further. One or two doubts were expressed in regard particularly to Clause 1 (3). I would like the House to appreciate that the wording of that Subsection has been widely drawn because we take the view that the Board should have the widest possible discretion in dealing with the different circumstances they will have to consider. * But it is quite clear that one of the important things which the Board will have the power to deal with under that Subsection and the First Schedule is to make provision, if they so think fit, for these questions of sickness and voluntary absence, without any specific reference being made to these matters in the Measure.

Hon. Members will recall that in Standing Committee the case was cited —and those in the industry are familiar with it—where for one reason or another a farmer sometimes feels when a worker is ill that he is under an obligation to give him notice, and so on. That is satisfactory neither to the farmer nor to the farm worker. Therefore, we anticipate, at least so far as this Bill is concerned, that part of it will enable the Wages Boards to consider that matter in its widest sense and to make such provision as they think fit. There was another point which was stressed in Clause 2 regarding the powers of the county committees. The view was expressed in certain quarters that those committees had not sufficient' power. We have looked through this Measure again very closely and we are satisfied that they have the powers which we desire them to have. If hon Members look at Clause 2 in conjunction with Clause 6, whereby the wages committees in the county have the power of representation, they will understand why we take the view that that adequately meets the position.

In regard to Clause 3, I think that certain hon. Members were rather suspicious about the provisions as to learners. I want to assure the House that, so far as we are concerned, we are satisfied that those provisions are wisely drawn. We feel that in this part of the Bill we are dealing with very young workers and it is necessary that adequate protection should be afforded. We anticipate that eventually both sides of the industry will reach some satisfactory agreement. I would refer hon. Members to Clause 3(5). There was some concern expressed in Standing Committee with regard to this. I think the main concern was expressed during the discussion a while ago on the question of whether or not a person came within the scope of this Bill. The important point which hon. Members must bear in mind is that in this case the Subsection applies only where the person is employed in agriculture under a contract of service or a contract of apprenticeship. That is the test. The Wages Act cannot apply in any other case. It must come either under a contract of apprenticeship or of service for a person to be brought within the meaning of this Subsection.

Mr. Baldwin (Leominster)

I would like to have the question of apprenticeship made clear. To take the case of a pupil who makes a contract with a farmer and pays a premium, does he comes within this provision?

Mr. Collick

The question of whether a man is under the terms of a contract of service or apprenticeship is solely a question of fact to be determined upon the individual case. That is clear. I am sure hon. Members will appreciate that one cannot give a general reply on a ques- tion of that kind. I wish to stress that the real test is whether such men are employed in agriculture under a contract of service or apprenticeship. If they are, then they come within the provisions of this Measure. If they are not, then they are outside the provisions of this Subsection and of the Bill. I think hon. Members may have in mind such instances as a case where a person pays a premium to a farmer for training. In the bulk of those cases he is not under a contract of service or apprenticeship. In that type of case this would not arise.

The only other point I need refer to is the position mentioned earlier regarding consultations between the English and the Scottish Boards. This Bill, of course, applies to England and Scotland in its main provisions. We have taken the view, having regard to all the facts, that the best way to get the necessary liaison between the English and Scottish Boards is not by adding to the machinery of this Bill, not by setting out any detailed machinery, but rather by administrative methods. It is our intention that as there are vacancies for impartial members, one of the impartial members on the Scottish Board will go to the English Board, and similarly an impartial member of the English Board will serve on the Scottish Board. With that we shall arrange for an exchange of documents and in that way we hope to get the necessary close cooperation between the two.

Though this is a tiny Bill of only 12 Clauses, and therefore might by some be regarded as not particularly important, I feel that it is an important landmark in our agricultural wage regulating machinery. I know how keenly this Bill was foreshadowed more than 20 years ago in this House by people who looked forward to the day when the sort of powers which this Bill now embodies would become the law of the land. There is nothing more important than that we should have the best wage-regulating' machinery possible in this very important industry. It is satisfactory to note that in the main the proposals have the support of both sides of the industry, and of the Government. We feel, therefore, that the result will be in the general interests of the industry. I wish to thank hon. Members on all sides of the House for the cooperative way in which we have been able to put this Measure forward. Many hon. Members have studied it very closely and I think the attendances in the House have been most creditable. Sometimes we have heard criticisms about the absence of Members when agricultural matters have been under discussion, but certainly no one can lay that fault against this House upon consideration of this matter.

6.29 p.m.

Colonel Clarke (East Grinstead)

Unfortunately I had not the advantage of being a Member of the Standing Committee, or I might not have had to ask this question In the past there has been some doubt as to whether an employer was legally entitled to pay part of his wages to a man who was on sick pay. Either he must pay him the full wage or nothing. Often that was rather hard because the farmer would have liked to pay something. Do I understand that that point is to be considered by the Wages Board so that in future something may be done? With the present rates of sick benefit and wages, to pay both is really unnecessary and almost out of the question. I hope I have made the point clear.

Mr. Collick

I appreciate the point which the hon. and gallant Gentleman raises, and I am very familiar with it. If he will look at Clause 1 (3), he will find that the words there give the Wages Boards the powers to consider this particular matter, and many other matters, with which the Wages Boards, in their wisdom, will deal.

Colonel Clarke

And, presumably, make an announcement of their decision?

Mr. Collick

Yes, all the decisions of the Wages Board are made known in due course.

6.31 p.m.

Major Sir Thomas Dugdale (Richmond)

My hon. Friends on this side of the House do not propose to make any further comments on this Measure, except to thank the Parliamentary Secretary for the speech he has just made. I would, however, reinforce the final words which he used that we should consider this Measure an important one. There has been no conflict between the parties upon it, and we have considered this Bill in Committee objectively. Although we would have liked the Government to meet us on even more points than they did, yet we believe that, by the arguments which we have put forward, we have made a substantial improvement in the Bill during its passage through the House.

As I see it, this Bill, in fact, is a machinery Bill, which supersedes, for the greater part, the Acts of 1924 and 1940, and it puts into permanent form the provisions introduced by the Defence Regulations during the war. Further, it deals with certain other matters which have caused friction within the industry in regard to details so far as the wage structure is concerned. My hon. Friends on this side are most interested in the statement which the Parliamentary Secretary made a few minutes ago to the effect that, under the provisions of Clause 1 (3), the Wages Board is already considering a scheme for grading agricultural wages, because we believe this to be a most important matter for the future wellbeing of the industry. We know the difficulties in connection with this problem, and it is very satisfactory to know that it has already been tackled I have no further comments to make on the Bill itself, except that we, on this side of the House, wish it well in its operation. We shall look forward to the realisation of the hope—and I admit that it was not more than a hope, but a very real one—made by the Minister when we began our proceedings this afternoon that, in a short time, we shall have a consolidated Measure, so that not only we in this House but all the members of the agricultural industry will know exactly where they stand on the wages question.

6.33 p.m.

Mr. Snadden (Perth and Kinross, Western)

As this Bill applies to Scotland, I would wish, on behalf of Scottish Members, to say that we are glad to see it go to the Statute Book. Its main provisions have been agreed upon by the agricultural organisations, and the Committee stage passed off without any great controversy. I have only two regrets about the Bill. My first is in regard to the removal of any limitations in the matters to be taken into account by the Wages Board. In Scotland there are quite a considerable number of farmers who are dissatisfied on that point, and I regret that Parliament has not given some guidance to the Board on what I consider to be a major factor in regard to our agricultural future. I think we shall find, when the big Measure comes before us shortly that if Part I, dealing with prices, is not put right, the entire Bill will be wrong. Farmers look upon that as very important and they think that the whole Bill will collapse if Part I is not put right.

My second regret is that I did not succeed in persuading the right hon. Gentleman upstairs to appoint the kind of co-ordinating committee I have in mind so that, with the two Wages Boards in England and Scotland, we could avoid the anomalies that have arisen in the past through action not being taken at the same time. My idea was for some synchronisation so that if something was done in England, we should have the same thing done in Scotland. The Minister has gone some way towards that, although it is rather surprising to me that he should suggest that Scotsmen should come down and sit on the English Board. I am not quite sure what the English members will think about that, nor am I certain what Scotsmen will think of Englishmen in Scotland. However, it is a step in the right direction, for what we are after is synchronisation, so that decisions on major questions of policy will be taken at once and so help towards the smooth working of this machine. At the moment, I do not consider that the link between England and Scotland is quite firm enough.

I think we are all agreed on both sides of the House that the labourer is worthy of his hire. "We all want him to be paid in such a way as will reward him for his skill, and we want to improve his conditions of work at the same time. Conditions of work are very important, and so is the question of amenities in the district where he lives. It is up to hon. Members of this House, on both sides, to see that both farmers and workers get a square deal in future. We are all resolved to see that these conditions shall come about, and I hope that this Bill will go on to the Statute Book to help towards that most desirable objective.

6.37 p.m.

Mr. Vane (Westmorland)

The Parliamentary Secretary at the end of his speech has said that this Bill is an agricultural landmark. I think that is a rather unfortunate illustration because, of all the qualities that landmarks should have, that of being clear is the most important, and that is exactly the quality which this Bill lacks. That criticism, however, does not mean that I do not wish the Bill well. I wish we had spent rather more time in clearing up some of the many points that were raised upstairs here this afternoon. In particular, there is the question of more specific directions to the Wages Board and also the question of the status of learners. I think we have not yet seen the end of these difficulties. After all, we have found that it was not easy to decide who was or was not a gardener. For instance, are the men looking after the flowers in St. James's Park covered? I do not believe that it has been settled whether such men are covered by the Bill or not. Questions like that will crop up all along the line.

Finally, I do not think the Bill should leave the House without some mention being made of woodmen, who are covered by the Bill. We have heard many pious hopes about the future of agriculture from the Benches opposite, but we have not heard one word about the 25,000 woodmen and their part in the industry, which is a very important one. As they are covered by the Bill, I think it is only right that a word of appreciation should be said of their work before we leave it.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.