§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY or AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (LORD BLEDISLOE)
My Lords, in moving that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill I think I had better inform your Lordships that Notice will be given to-morrow to suspend the Standing Orders of the House in order to take the further stages of the Bill. I hope to get it through to-morrow so that it can be taken after 11 o'clock in another place the same evening and be ready to receive the Royal Assent on the following day. I do not know that I need offer any apology for mentioning this matter. Your Lordships will realise that the Bill took much longer in Committee in another place than was at one time anticipated, and it is most important that it should receive the Royal Assent before the end of the financial year in order that the financial advantages provided by the Bill shall be available as from October I last to the producers of home-grown sugar.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Bledisloe.)
§ LORD OLIVIER
My Lords, there is one aspect of the Bill to which attention ought to be called. I sympathise with the noble Lord in charge of the Bill in respect of the great haste with which we have to deal with it. The point I wish to draw attention to was briefly alluded to by the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, last night when speaking of the former system of Continental sugar bounties under which our own Colonial producers suffered so grievously for so many years. This Bill abandons our attitude of not giving any bounties and it abandons it in a much more extensive degree than any Continental nation has ever adopted. I am entirely in sympathy with the principle of the Bill, but I had nothing to do with the formation of the Schedule. If such a Schedule had been framed by a Labour Government I should have given ft a pretty rigid examination. The fact is that the bounty proposed exceeds the value of the sugar; sugar being worth 18s. 6d. per cwt. while the value of the bounty is 21s. That is an enormous bounty. Having abandoned the principle of not giving bounties, if Con- 732 tinental nations such as Germany, Austria, Czecho-Slovakia and Russia, were to revert to their former policy of stimulating export and dumping sugar in this country, we shall have no word to say against their doing so. We can hardly be in the position we occupied when Mr. Chamberlain protected the West Indies against Continental sugar bounties.
The West Indies and other sugar-producing Colonies will feel themselves much aggrieved if the result of such a Bill as this is to encourage the giving of Continental bounties again, which would compete with them in our own home market. That bounty never exceeded £4 10s. 0d. per ton. This is a bounty of £19 per ton, and there is a large margin there for Continental nations to give such an amount of bounty as would completely exclude them from our markets and destroy our Colonial sugar industry I want to call the attention of the Government to this point—to warn them that they are committing themselves to a position which, if it led to a recrudescence of the Continental bounty system, would expose them to a strong moral claim to give relief by way of subsidy to our sugar-producing Colonies. I think it right to put this on record. The West Indies and our other sugar-producing Colonies have favoured this Bill and the policy of home-grown sugar because they were not jealous and did not believe it would injuriously compete with them, and more perhaps because, like practical men, they saw that the establishment of a strong sugar interest in this country could not fail to strengthen their own position in regard to their own industries. I thought it right to call the attention of your Lordships' House to this point, because I am sure it is one which will arise in the future if there is any recrudescence on the Continent of giving bounties to sugar.
§ LORD BLEDISLOE
My Lords, it is only natural that the noble Lord, who at one time occupied the honourable position of Governor of one of our West Indian Colonies, should draw the attention of the House to this matter, but I think he need not be in the least apprehensive about it. After all, this is a special bounty given to this industry and is not likely to be continued for any long period. It is not for us to anticipate what may be the domestic policy of foreign countries, 733 but if, as a matter of fact, bounties are reimposed on sugar exported from the countries of Central Europe we shall deal with the case as it arises. If any injustice is likely to be inflicted on our West Indian Colonies, which supply us with our raw sugar, we shall have to meet the case on its merits. I do not anticipate any such trouble, but I can assure the House that if there is any such trouble we shall take care that our Colonies do not suffer.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly:
§ [The EARL of DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.].
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ Clause 2:
§ Accounts of companies in receipt of subsidy to he laid before Parliament.
§ 2.—(1) Any company to which a subsidy if paid under this Act shall send annually to the Minister a statement in the form of a balance-sheet, audited by the company's auditors, containing a summary of the company's share capital, its liabilities, and its assets, giving such particulars as will disclose the general nature of those liabilities and assets and how the values of the fixed assets have been arrived at, and also a statement of profit and loss, audited in the like manner. Every such statement shall be made up to such date as may be specified therein and shall be sent to the Minister within ninety days of that date.
§ LORD BLEDISLOE moved, after "Any company" at the beginning of the clause, to leave out "to which a subsidy is paid under this Act shall send annually," and to insert "which manufactures in Great Britain sugar or molasses from homegrown beet shall in every year in which a subsidy is payable under this Act send." The noble Lord said: This Amendment is intended to cover the case where sugar is manufactured partly in one factory and partly in another. As your Lordships are aware, there is at least one factory already established where it is contemplated that the raw sugar shall be produced from home-grown beet while the actual refining of the sugar, the production of white sugar, will take place in another factory belonging to the same company. Since public money is involved it is desired, of course, that the accounts relating to the whole concern shall be available to the Government, as contem- 734 plated by the Bill, and it is with that object that I beg to move this Amendment.
Page 3, line 25, leave out from ("company") to ("to") in line 26 and insert the said words.—(Lord Bledisloe.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 3:
§ Fair wages to Be paid by employers in receipt of subsidy.
§ 3. The wages paid by any employer to persons employed by him in connection with the manufacture of sugar or molasses in respect of which a subsidy is payable under this Act shall, except where paid at a rate agreed upon by a joint industrial council representing the employer and the persons employed, not be less than would be payable if the manufacture were carried on under a contract made between the Minister and the employer containing a fair wage clause which complied with the requirements of any resolution of the House of Commons for the time being in force applicable to contracts of Government departments, and if any dispute arises as to what wages ought to be paid in accordance with this section it shall be referred by the Minister to the Industrial Court for settlement.
LORD BLEDISLOE moved to add the following new subsection to the clause:—
(2) Where any award has been made by the Industrial Court upon a dispute referred to that Court under this section, then as from the date of the award or from such later date as the Court may direct, it shall be an implied term of the contract between every employer and worker to whom the award applies that the rate of wages to be paid under the contract shall, until varied in accordance with the provisions of this section, be in accordance with the award.
The noble Lord said: This Amendment, was promised in general terms when this matter was under discussion in another place, and it is an attempt at a compromise between the two strongly expressed views which found utterance in the course of the Committee stage of the Bill in the House of Commons.
The object of the Amendment is to secure; that, where an award has been made by the Industrial Court in relation to a wages dispute, the wages so decided upon by the Court shall be legally enforceable by the workman. As your Lordships are aware, when the Industrial Court makes an award it is a voluntary award as the law stands to-day, and in no case can it be made enforceable in a
court of law. The object of this Amendment is, so far as this particular Bill is concerned, to carry the matter somewhat further, a Government subsidy being involved, and to enable the workman to enforce this award in Court. The words used are:
…. it shall be an implied term of the contract between every employer and worker to whom the award applies that the rate of wages to be paid under the contract shall … be in accordance with the award.
The use of the words "an implied term of the contract" means that the award will be legally enforceable.
§ I think I ought perhaps to add that in this connection the noble Lord opposite, Lord Arnold, took some exception to certain words which found a place in the original draft of this Amendment and which certainly might have rendered it possible for a workman and his employer to contract out of this clause. After some consultation with the noble Lord, it has been decided that his contention in this respect is a quite reasonable one, and we have left out the offending words.
Page 4, line 18, at end insert the said new subsection.—(Lord Bledisloe.)
§ LORD ARNOLD
This Amendment deals with a somewhat complicated matter which, however, has been, I think, quite clearly and sufficiently explained by the noble Lord. Shortly, the Amendment is designed to make Clause 3 more effective. It is true that in another place the Amendment was originally moved in quite a different form. This was rejected by the Government, but the Minister of Agriculture undertook to reconsider the matter. He has done so in conjunction with the noble Lord opposite, and the Government agreed to put this Amendment upon the Paper. The Amendment in its present form, particularly after the change has been made to which the noble Lord refers and which was, as a matter of fact, the deletion of three words, undoubtedly goes a long way to meet the representations which have been made, and I desire to thank the noble Lord and the Minister of Agriculture for the trouble that they have taken in the matter.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 3, as amended, agreed to.
§ Remaining clauses agreed to.
§ First Schedule agreed to.736
§ Second Schedule (Minimum Prices of Beet):
§ LORD OLIVIER
I should like to call attention to a point which I ought to have raised on Clause 1, but your Lordships had passed that clause before I realised that it contained the operative part for this Schedule. I can deal with it on the Schedule, however, because the 44s. a ton proposed to be given for beet is not a financial provision and does not affect the Imperial Exchequer. I wish to call your Lordships' attention to the proposal fixing a minimum rate of 44s. per ton to farmers. I have calculated the value of the sugar contained in a ton of beets on the basis of a 15½ per cent. content, and I make out that it is really about 17s. or 18s., so that the sum that it is proposed that the factories shall pay to the farmers is really nearly two and a half times the actual market value of the product. This is even a more enormous subsidy than the subsidy which we propose to give to the manufacturer, as it is to be more than twice the value of that which he is producing.
I do not want to go into the minutiœ of this calculation because it is obviously unnecessary. We are at the outset giving a considerable price to the farmer, but I should have preferred that the price to the farmer should have been left to be settled between him and the manufacturr. We give the manufacturer such an enormous bounty that he can now pay to the farmer not only two and a half times the real market value of his product but, as the noble Lord told us last night, he can pay 56s. to-day with an ample margin. But if we reduce the subsidy he will not have an ample margin four years hence, still less seven years hence, and by the time sugar comes down to the point of being sold out of these factories at the ordinary market price he will not be able to give the farmer more than the real value of the sucrose in his beets which, as I have said, is about 18s.
We have to face this position, and I think it is very unfortunate that we begin by passing this legislation and giving a guarantee to the farmer, who forms part of a well-organised class and a class which, having once opened its mouth, is very unlikely to shut it again without a consideration, once we have set up this excessive guarantee to him of a price for his beets which cannot be economically 737 maintained and, under the provisions of this Bill, is not likely to be maintained. Is it not perfectly certain that, having fixed this price of 44s. a ton, the Government will be faced, four years hence, with an organised protest on the part of the Farmers' Union, who will claim that the Government have set up the price of 44s. as a proper one, and will protest that they cannot continue to produce beet sugar unless they get this price?
They will continue to demand it four years hence, and again seven years hence, and this Government, or some other Government, will have to go to Parliament and say that they find that this experiment cannot be carried on unless they give the manufacturers a rather higher price than was laid down in the Schedule, so that they can give the farmers the price which they have been accustomed to receive. It is quite impossible, I think, that you could have induced the farmers to enter this business if you had told them they were not going to get more than the real world value of their sugar beet. It is reasonable, they should get from the manufacturers, who have the subsidy, a very high price at the outset, but I do not think they should be led to expect a level price for four years and that it should be suggested they should then be left to their fate, because I am quite sure you will not be allowed to do that.
§ LORD BLEDISLOE
The noble Lord has told us that the farmer is apt to open his mouth somewhat wide. With some knowledge of farmers. I should like to 738 tell him that not very much has been passing into that month in recent years, and I do not think that the noble Lord need have any very great apprehension on this score. It has been found extremely difficult to arrive at suitable figures which are going to provide sufficient inducement, to the manufacturer on the one hand and to the farmer on the other, to establish this new industry in this country, and farmers, I am confident, are not going to be instrumental in killing the goose which lays the golden eggs. Nor, indeed, are the manufacturers likely to deny to the farmer a suitable price for the beet upon which they will depend to keep their factories going. Of course, the whole truth of the matter is that farmers know, to-day, exceedingly little about the economic and scientific production of beet as that applies on the Continent, and particularly in Holland, and during the first years it is important to give them sufficient inducement to produce what is really an entirely new crop. We have reason to believe that after the four years farmers, particularly in the eastern counties, will be very much better informed as to how economically to produce the crop, so that they may rest satisfied with a smaller price than is now being offered to them for the first four years.
§ On Question, Second Schedule agreed to.
§ Third Schedule agreed to.
§ House adjourned at five minutes past seven o'clock.