HC Deb 20 January 1983 vol 35 cc463-5
3. Miss Maynard

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is his latest estimate of the percentage of full-time hired agricultural workers whose weekly earnings are less than £93.

Mr. Peter Walker

It is not possible to give a precise estimate of the number of full-time hired adult agricultural workers earning less than £93 per week. The latest figures from the wages and employment inquiry, which relate to the third quarter of 1982, show that in England and Wales 24 per cent. of such workers earned less than £90 and 31 per cent. less than £95 per week.

Miss Maynard

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that 40 per cent. of farm workers with families of two—that is four out of every 10—earn less than £90 per week and therefore fall below the poverty line? Does he further accept that that happens in a highly productive and rich industry? As more farm workers than any other groups of workers draw family income supplement, does the Minister agree that that is subsidising the wages bill of rich farmers? Does the right hon. Gentleman further agree that in such circumstances the last pay award of £5 per week was a scandal?

Mr. Walker

I know that the hon. Lady takes an immense interest in this subject. However, perhaps she would bear in mind three basic facts. In the last two years of the Labour Government, agricultural wages fell in real terms compared with 1975. During every year under this Government, agricultural wages have increased in real terms. Perhaps the hon. Lady will recall that, under the Labour Government, between 1975 and 1978 agricultural wages increased by less than £19. Since the Conservative party took office, wages have increased by £45. If the hon. Lady wants to know which Government treated agricultural workers better, she should bear in mind that the gap between agricultural and manufacturing wages has been smaller in every year of this Government than it was during all the years of the Labour Government.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Is it not true that farmers' incomes were 40 per cent. higher last year? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that, by their efforts, all agricultural workers deserve to be paid wages in the upper quartile of average industrial earnings?

Mr. Walker

If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that agricultural wages should be linked to farm incomes, I must ask him whether when, in previous years, agricultural incomes fell by nearly 50 per cent. and agricultural wages increased in real terms, that process should have been reversed. During this Government's term of office agricultural wages have done better than agricultural and farming incomes.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall call two hon. Members from each side to ask supplementary questions.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the figures that he has given refer only to cash incomes and do not include other benefits, such as the housing at less than economic prices which many farm workers rightly receive?

Mr. Walker

Yes, Sir. In fairness, one must point out that not all agricultural workers receive the benefits of no or low rents. Of course, for some it is an important factor.

Mr. Farr

My right hon. Friend will recognise that there has been great concern about the purchasing power of the lower-paid agricultural workers. Will he confirm that the purchasing power of an agricultural worker's wages has never been higher than it is today?

Mr. Walker

Yes, Sir. I also confirm that in every year of this Government the purchasing power has improved.

Mr. Skinner

Is the Minister aware that for the past three and a half years he and his Government colleagues have been defending not the wages of farm workers but the conditions in which Mr. Gordiano can pick up a £500,000 a year salary and Mr. Bill Fieldhouse can get a golden handshake of £700,000? That is the society that the Government are protecting. At the same time, they are the people who—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Are they farm workers?

Mr. Skinner

No, Sir.

Mr. Speaker

The question relates to agricultural workers.

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