HC Deb 27 March 1956 vol 550 cc2034-9
Mr. Amory

I beg to move, in page 22, line 40, at the end to insert: (5) Any agreement under this section shall provide that the purposes for which incentive payments made under the agreement will be applied by the Corporation will include the provision of benefits for persons employed by the Corporation. The Amendment gives effect to something on which I think the whole Committee was unanimous. It refers to the incentive payments made to the British Sugar Corporation for increased efficiency. The view of us all was that that would be appropriate, and that it is always appropriate in such cases that some share of the benefits should go to the permanent employees of the concern. In my own experience I certainly have always found that a wise and sensible arrangement. It is one which we all felt should be applied to the Sugar Corporation, and I think that the management of the Corporation would not itself feel otherwise.

We felt it right that the provision should be flexible, because the particular share and the way in which the money should be used would be a question for decision, I think, either by the management or by the management in consultation with the employees. I hope that the House will feel that the Amendment is sensible and appropriate.

Mr. Willey

This is another occasion on which the Opposition can claim to have obtained a very real concession from the Government. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that his Parliamentary Secretary said that they must resist us when we proposed such an Amendment in Committee. He said that the difference in method was a very real one. Again, as on the earlier occasion to which we have referred, the Committee had to divide.

Mr. Amory

But the hon. Gentleman will recollect that the Amendment then proposed really covered a great deal more.

Mr. Willey

It covered growers—

Mr. Amory


Mr. Willey

—but the difference was one of method, and it was such a marked difference that I said four-squarely that I would make political capital out of this: that if the Government were not prepared to set an example of profit-sharing we would point it out.

Where we were agreed was that the British Sugar Corporation had a very good record. I do not wish to be at all unfair to the Parliamentary Secretary. His argument was that this could well be left to the Sugar Corporation, but we argued that the Government should seize the occasion to show that they were genuine in their desire to provide profit-sharing. It was upon that that the Committee divided. I do not want to say more than that we are very pleased that, by this Amendment, the right hon. Gentleman has been able to meet us and not escape, as it were, on a technicality. Whatever difficulties there may be in providing for benefits for the workers under the incentive agreement we felt that the Government should set an example. We are very happy that, on reflection, they have agreed with us and are doing that.

If I may mention one point raised by the Minister, it is true that we argued that this should apply both to workers and to growers. Whilst we should still be prepared to argue a good case for providing a direct incentive payment to growers we appreciate at the same time that there is a much more direct relationship with the workers in the sugar beet factories. For that reason we are very happy to accept the Amendment, and to express our appreciation of the Government for taking this opportunity to show that they are willing to provide for profit-sharing in such circumstances as these.

Mr. Dye

While I share the pleasure of my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. F. Willey) in welcoming the Amendment, I have some slight reservations. It is true that when we considered the Bill in Committee it appeared that the only incentive payment proposed was in relation to increased dividends to those holding shares in the British Sugar Corporation. I felt that that was a weakness; that if incentives were to be given to the Corporation they should be shared by all who had taken part in the work and had aided the efficiency of the Corporation—the workers. I am glad that provision is now to be made for the workers in the Corporation's sugar factories to share in these incentive payments.

The right hon. Gentleman used a qualifying phrase. He referred to the permanent workers of the Corporation. A certain number of permanent workers are employed all the year round by the Corporation at its factories, but the larger number of workers are employed for the beet sugar season—the period from September until, generally, January. It so happens that many of those workers, though employed only for that period are so employed year after year, and the right hon. Gentleman's qualifying words would mean that they would not be allowed to share in any incentive payments.

The whole efficiency of the campaign in the sugar beet industry depends on those people who do the hard work in just that period. They do shift work seven days a week without a break, and unless they keep up with the work things slow down. Those who are permanent workers, who go through the campaign period but have a comparatively easy time for the rest of the year will get incentive payments which have really been earned by those who worked in the campaign season. I should have liked the Amendment to include benefits for those persons. As the system is operated those who work for the campaign only are entitled to holidays but they do not have the holidays. At the end of the period they get money in lieu, but if they do not work to the end of the campaign period they lose that advantage. Therefore, the casual workers are at a disadvantage.

6.30 p.m.

I would much rather have seen them included in some scheme so that if in any season a factory gets through its work, takes in more beet and produces more sugar in the same number of days or even in fewer days, those men should have some incentive payment. If, on the other hand, they take longer over their work and produce less sugar because of dilatoriness or for any other cause, I can understand that they should not be entitled to any incentive payment.

What I am asking for is that there should be no distinction between the workers, that at all the factories of the Corporation there should be at the end of each campaign an incentive payment or bonus according to merit. That would encourage the employees to work efficiently, to be loyal to their factories and to work as a team, instead of thinking, "If we work extra hours and lose more sweat"—and some of these factories are very hot places indeed—"we are only doing it for the benefit of other workers." That would be unfair.

I should like the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary to say that that is not the intention of the Amendment, but that under the Amendment the Corporation will be in a position to negotiate with the trade unions concerned an incentive bonus scheme to cover all the workers at all the factories in such a way that they will share in any increased efficiency to which they have contributed. It may be difficult to get together sufficient men as a team to work in the factories unless we include some such scheme as this. I hope that what the right hon. Gentleman said was not what he really meant, but that we shall have an all-embracing incentive bonus scheme covering, as the Parliamentary Secretary said in the Committee, all of them from the bottom to the top. All who make that contribution should share in these payments.

It is true that in Committee we also argued for an incentive payment to the growers. That idea has been set on one side, on the ground that they will get their own benefit by the payments which they receive. It was, however, brought to the notice of the Committee that some growers delivered their beet with more dirt tare than others, and that there might be some incentive payment to the growers who sent the least dirt tare with their beet to the factories. I know what interest my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Mr. G. Jeger) took in this matter. No doubt, he had every reason for drawing the attention of the Committee to this problem.

I would rather have seen the Amendment drawn still more widely so that in each factory area there could have been some incentive bonus to the growers in addition to their ordinary payment, which would encourage them to deliver cleaner beet to the factories, thus causing less trouble in the working of the factories.

Captain J. A. L. Duncan (South Angus)

Surely the hon. Gentleman realises that the grower who sends beet with a lot of dirt already has a penalty in that he has to pay for the dirt being carried to the factory?

Mr. Dye

That is not a penalty. That is the ordinary transaction under the contract. I admit that when that sort of beet is delivered it causes trouble to the Corporation.

Although I should have preferred to have seen a wider Amendment than this, I am grateful to the Government for having gone so far as they have, and I hope the result will work to the benefit of the Corporation as well as to the men.

Mr. M. Turner-Samuels (Gloucester)

I was not a member of the Standing Committee and, therefore, I feel like an interloper in taking part in this debate, but I must say that I have heard with surprise of the limitation which my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye) thinks is placed upon the Amendment. It is only right that the Minister should be asked to clarify the position.

As I read the Amendment, the interpretation appears to be that the proposed new subsection is not only wide enough but is intended to include the very persons about whom my hon. Friend appears to be apprehensive. It is clear from the terminology of the proposed subsection that it includes all persons employed by the Corporation. There are no exceptions whatsoever. It seems to me that the limitation about which my hon. Friend is apprehensive is non-existent. However, as this matter has been mentioned and as there may, therefore, be misapprehension and misconception about the operation of the subsection, I should like the Minister of the Parliamentary Secretary to confirm what I am sure is the legal result of this language.

Mr. H. Nicholls

I must first say that I would never look upon the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels) as an interloper in any circumstances whatsoever. He said that he had not heard the argument in Committee. It was suggested in Committee that the growers and the workers should be included, but I think we have disposed of the growers in this context. It is clear that they are taken care of separately.

As for the employees, there is nothing in the words which exclude the workers to whom the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye) has referred, but it is a matter which will be left to the management. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the workers are not specifically excluded and any misapprehensions that he may have had on that score are without foundation. As I said in Committee, we must leave it to the management to decide how they are to work out the schemes. They work very closely with the trade unions, as the hon. Gentleman knows. In that industry they work as partners, and on the pension schemes and such matters the management have worked in mutual understanding with the unions. Therefore, the apprehensions which the hon. Gentleman may have felt about these words need not be felt any longer.

Amendment agreed to.