HL Deb 30 March 1936 vol 100 cc313-39

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill, which is the outcome of long deliberation. It has been considered by Departments, by various Committees, and by groups of members in both Houses for the past fifteen years, and I venture to suggest that the Bill is now well due. It carries out a promise given in the gracious Speech last December, and I think it was very exhaustively examined in another place. Perhaps it might be well to say something about the historical side of this Bill. In 1920, when a Committee under Sir Henry Rew considered the question, opinion was against unemployment insurance in agriculture, and it was reported against. In 1926 another Committee, also under the Chairmanship of Sir Henry Rew, made a more favourable Report, but the Government of the day did not think that a real case had been made out, and the Bill was turned down. In 1927 Lord Blanesburgh's Committee on unemployment insurance generally was against the extension of the system to agriculture.

In 1930 there was a Royal Commission on the whole question of unemployment insurance, and that Commission in its Report distinctly laid down that unemployment insurance should be extended to agriculture. About this time also a Motion was introduced in the House of Commons—I am not sure of the date, but it was early in the Labour Government's period of office in 1930—and by a majority of 182 to 85 that Motion was carried, declaring that the time had come for a scheme of unemployment insurance in agriculture to be carried out. Then under the Unemployment Insurance Act, 1934, it was expressly laid down in Section 20 that a Statutory Committee should be set up, and this Committee was asked forthwith to examine the question of whether or not agriculture should be brought within the scope of the Act. Under the able chairmanship of Sir William Beveridge the Committee reported strongly in favour of its inclusion and the present Bill is based very largely on that Committee's Report.

The object of the Bill is therefore to bring into the Act of 1935 a scheme for dealing with the unemployment insurance of agricultural workers. In Clause 1 the necessary powers are taken to bring the scheme within the scope of the overriding Act of 1935. Under Clause 2 and the Second Schedule the rates of contribution are laid down; they are slightly different from those in the Statutory Committee's Report. In the Statutory Committee's Report the contribution for adult men was 4d., but in the Bill it is 4½d. The reason for that is that under the Bill the extra benefit obtained for the extra ½d. is well worth while. In Clause 3 and the Third Schedule of the Bill various rates of benefit are laid down. Your Lordships will notice that the weekly rate of benefit for adults is 14s., for the first child 3s., and for each subsequent child 3s. In the original draft of the Bill it was 3s. for the first child and 2s. 6d. for subsequent children, but that was amended in another place to the present figures. For adult men the Statutory Committee laid down a benefit of 12s., and with the extra halfpenny contribution they get the additional benefit raising the amount to 14s.

Clause 4 lays down the initial qualifying conditions for the benefit. Under the Act of 1935, on the industrial side, thirty contributions are required before an adult man receives benefit. This Bill lays it down that twenty contributions in the last two years will be sufficient in order to entitle an insured person to benefit. Generally speaking, on a claim being made by a man for benefit, he would be entitled to twelve days of benefit for the first ten contributions, and for each additional contribution he would get three days of benefit. Thus, for twenty contributions a man can draw benefit for forty-two days. There is a limit later in the Bill which provides that a man may not draw more than 300 days benefit in a year. Clause 7 lays down the method of accounting. It brings the insurance within the scope of the principal Act and provides that there shall be, in fact, a separate account for the agriculture insurance benefit. This account is not responsible for any deficits which belong to the industrial side.

Clause 10 is the next clause of interest in the Bill. It deals with the vexed question of long hires. We in Scotland and in the North of England and part of Wales are to a large extent used to what we call long hiring contracts, for a year or six months, in dealing with employees in agriculture, and in the past, when this Bill has been discussed in the North, it has been represented that it would be unfair to treat these long hirings quite in the same way as the ordinary weekly engagements. The Bill lays it down that where the agricultural labourer is employed by contract for a year, there shall be a rebate at the end of that time of 25 per cent. of the amount contributed both by the employee and by the employer, and in respect of six-monthly hirings the reduction will be at the rate of 12½ per cent. of the contributions made by the employee and the employer. I do not think I need worry your Lordships with the details because they are clearly laid down in the Bill.

Clause 11 gives the Minister power to deal with cases of persons insured under both schemes—the agricultural insurance scheme and the industrial scheme. There has been a good deal of controversy on the question of how to deal with a person insured in industry who wants to go into agriculture, and whether there could not be conversion from one form of insurance to another. After weighing up all the various possibilities it has been decided in this Bill that each scheme must stand on its own feet. Therefore, the two schemes are separate, but that does not prevent any one who completes industrial insurance drawing the industrial benefit for the time he has contracted, just as any one who has completed the number of contributions on the agricultural side can draw the amount of benefit which has accrued. It should be remembered that this scheme is an insurance scheme, and in this Bill we try to give the maximum benefit that the premiums—that is to say, the contributions—can justify.

Clause 13 is a new clause. It is brought in to deal with the question of gardeners. "Gardeners" include various men who work in private gardens. The ordinary worker in a public garden—a garden run for profit—comes under the definition of an ordinary agricultural employee. He is insured according to the Bill, but the private gardener is not now within the scope of the Bill. Under Clause 13, however, powers are given to ask the Statutory Committee to examine the question of whether or not these gardeners ought in fact to come within the Bill. If the Statutory Committee reports that they consider it right and proper that these private gardeners should come within this scheme, then the Minister takes power under Clause 13, by Order, to bring them into the scheme. Such an Order, of course, would have to be approved by both Houses of Parliament. The next point to which I think I should draw your Lordships' attention is the Fifth Schedule. Under that Schedule various migratory workers not usually living in this country are exempted from the scope of the scheme. This refers particularly to Irish agricultural labourers who come over for the purpose of work. The Bill also excludes those who are working on what is known as the family farm—that is, a farm which is worked by a farmer and his wife and various members of his family; the relationship is laid down in the Schedule.

The general finance of this scheme is interesting. There are various assumptions on which this Bill is based, and the information at the hands of the Minister and his Department when they drafted the Bill is very much better than ever it was before; certainly very much better than when the original Insurance Act was passed. The assumption is that there are 750,000 employees in agriculture, of whom 700,000 are men and 50,000 women. The extent of unemployment which would have to be met is about 7½ per cent., and the extent of long hirings, either for a year or for six months, is reckoned at 15 per cent. These figures have been got from the investigations of the later Committees who have examined this subject, and they confirm the figures obtained in the 1931 Census. In that Census questions were put dealing with the occupations of the various people who were out of work at that time, and these figures very largely confirm the figures that have been worked out by the various Committees of Inquiry. Therefore, the belief is that this Bill, from that point of view, is well founded.

It is estimated that between May and November of this year, if this Bill becomes an Act of Parliament, £900,000 will come into the Fund and the expenses are estimated at £100,000. Then between November, 1936, and October, 1937—that is, the first complete year—it is estimated that there will be coming in a sum of £1,706,000, that the benefits paid out will amount to £1,470,000, and that the expenses of administration will come to £213,000, leaving a balance of some £23,000. That £23,000, with the original £800,000, collected in the first six months, will give a total of £823,000, which is to cover a period of seventy-eight weeks. The Exchequer grant will be £600,000 a year. Therefore there seems reason to hope that this Bill is so based financially that it will be able to meet what is expected of it. The finances of the scheme will be examined from time to time by the Statutory Committee, and it is hoped, as time goes on, that some amelioration, either in the form of increased benefit or reduced contributions, may take place in the same way as has now happened in the case of industrial insurance. If this Bill becomes law, it is hoped that the first payment of contributions will be made on May 4 of this year, and that benefits will begin to be paid on November 5, 1936. It is a straightforward Bill, and I think it very largely explains itself. I think it is a good Bill, and I am sure many of your Lordships who are interested in agriculture will welcome it, as I do. I had the honour in 1923 of sitting on a Committee on Agriculture which recommended this very scheme, and therefore I am particularly glad to see it in the form of a Bill. I trust that your Lordships will be good enough to give it a Second Reading.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a—(Lord Hutchison of Montrose.)


My Lords, for a good many years this House has been accustomed to the introduction of Agricultural Bills by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, who has always been very clear and lucid in explaining the Bills he has brought before your Lordships. I am quite certain everyone will agree that his mantle, so to speak, has fallen on good shoulders, because we could not have had a clearer or more lucid exposition of this straightforward Bill than was given us by the noble Lord. We on these Benches welcome the Bill. We have always stood for the principle of the extension of unemployment insurance to agricultural workers, and to me it is a matter of considerable regret that my Party was not able to bring in some such measure when we were in Office. The Minister in the other House gave an extremely interesting summary leading up to the present position, and the Labour Opposition gave what they called a restrained welcome to the measure, partly because they considered the benefits were far too low and partly because they were dissatisfied with certain other aspects of the original Bill. Then the Bill had five days in Standing Committee, and, as the Minister says, it was exhaustively examined. I think they had a day more than they expected in Committee in the other place, and certain improvements were made, notably the sixpence extra for children, which was a concession we were very glad to have, and also the concession in Clause 13 dealing with gardeners. Therefore, when it came to Third Reading, the Opposition in the other place supported the Bill notwithstanding the disadvantages which they knew existed in it, and now we have it before this House.

I am not going over the same ground this afternoon as was gone over in another place. If with an effective Opposition of about 160 members in the House of Commons it was not possible to get more concessions than have been extracted from the Government, my Party in this House, three in number I see, cannot expect to do what 160 in another place failed to do. Therefore I have no intention of going over the ground discussed in another place. I only want to put one or two main points of view and make one or two constructive suggestions. It has been suggested that there is a possibility that the effect of applying unemployment insurance to agricultural workers may be an increase in the casualisation of labour. It is suggested that a farmer may stand off men who in the past perhaps he has kept on out of good will and good relationship—that he may tend to stand them off now because he will feel they can go on to unemployment insurance and therefore will not suffer as they would have done had he stood them off in the past. I do not think there is very much reason for that suggestion, because it is a fact that casualisation has been growing in agriculture in recent years. For example, we do know that in East Anglia there has been a considerable amount of standing-off of men owing to changes in some types and aspects of production, and I am hopeful that this Bill will not make that greater but will in fact minimise the effects of such casualisation. Therefore I do not feel that there is a very great deal in that objection.

Our real objection is that when men are stood-off they are going to get a very low scale of benefit. We know that even under the ordinary scale of industrial unemployment insurance men have to get assistance from other sources to supplement the insurance pay. The matter was brought up in Committee in another place and the Minister then pointed out that that was regularly being done. I cannot help thinking that there will be a need for some supplementation of this low scale of benefit in the agricultural areas. I would like the noble Lord to say that the Government realise that that may be necessary and that it will be possible to supplement the benefit in rural districts as has been done in urban districts. I am sure that everybody in this House is agreed that when a man who is a decent worker becomes unemployed through no fault of his own we ought to minimise the shock to him and his family of suddenly dropping to a lower income.

I am going to make a suggestion to deal with that, and I feel rather hopeful, because of the sympathetic manner of the Minister when explaining this Bill, that he may be prepared to ask the Government to consider making a very small alteration in the Bill. If he can give me any hope I shall be glad after consultation to put down an Amendment at the Committee stage. If your Lordships will look at Clause 3 (2) (b) of the Bill, you will see that there is to be a maximum benefit of 30s. a week. That means that if a man is married and has children he will get 3s. for the first child, 3s. for the second and 3s. for the third. He will get nothing for the fourth or fifth or sixth. I do not know that he deserves anything if he has many more. Anyhow, the point I want to make is that, the greater the need, the further this 30s. will have to be made to go. I am wondering whether it might be possible for the Government to propose some modification of the maximum scale. I am rather encouraged to put forward that suggestion by something that was said by the Minister in Committee in another place. On the second day of the Committee stage he is reported, in column 52 of the OFFICIAL REPORT, as saying: … the Statutory Committee brought forward a proposal and said they thought that, at any rate at the start, we must place the benefits against a background of 30s. a week. The Government have adopted that, not as an irrevocable limit, because those who are administering Insurance Acts, past or future, have an advantage which their predecessors never had. We have under the Act of 1932 an independent statutory body… and it is in its power to recommend any changes that may be necessary from time to time. The Minister said this is not irrevocable. When the question of the small surplus which it is calculated may be expected was being discussed, the children's allowance, as the noble Lord will remember, was increased for the second and third child from 2s. 6d. to 3s. I think I am right in saying that that will not absorb the whole of the estimated surplus. If the object is to reduce the shock to a man when becoming unemployed, might it not be possible to put the maximum on what I may call an escalator basis? There are a number of men—cowmen, stockmen and others—who are getting a wage of 34s., 36s. and even 39s. It seems to me a little unreasonable that these men should only get a maximum benefit of 30s. when that maximum is based on the average minimum wage of 32s. paid to other workers. By an escalator basis I mean a rate of unemployment insurance 2s. below the normal rate of pay. Suppose a man has been working as a carter, perhaps for twenty years in one job, getting 39s. a week. I notice that in the discussion in Committee in another place the honourable member for the Forest of Dean, Mr. Price, quoted cases of men in his area getting from 36s. to 39s., and the honourable member for North Cumberland, Mr. Roberts, said the minimum in his constituency was 39s. a week. If we took the escalator basis that I am suggesting, with a maximum 2s. below the normal wage, a man earning 32s. would get a maximum benefit of 30s. and the man whose ordinary wage was 39s. would get a maximum benefit of 37s.

Considering that the percentage of those getting a higher wage is comparatively small, and considering that these first-class workers are those who do not normally become unemployed, I believe that the effect on the finances of the Bill would be very small. I would ask your Lordships to consider the position of a man who for a long time has been earning 39s. He has built up his little home and even arranged his family per haps upon that basis of income, has worked out his expenditure, allotting so much each week for rent, so much for clothing, so much for food. Then, suddenly, he finds his weekly income reduced from 39s. to 30s. because, through no fault of his own, he has become un employed. That 9s. is equivalent to 25 per cent. of his whole income. He has arranged his outgoings for a number of years on the basis of an income of 39s., and he does not know what to do when he suddenly finds himself on the lower rate. If that suggestion could be adopted I believe it would help to soften the effect of unemployment without costing the Fund a great deal, it would benefit those agricultural workers who are the most important, the skilled men, the backbone of the industry. It would make this Bill more acceptable to a large section of the community, agricultural as well as urban, because they would see in that alteration a measure of justice to a very hard tried industry.


My Lords, speaking as a member of a landowners' association to which many of your Lordships belong, I should like to add a word of congratulation to the Minister in charge of the Bill for his very clear statement. If I may be allowed to do so with all respect, I should like also to extend my sympathy to noble Lords opposite in view of their very honest admission that they would have liked to have brought before the House a Bill of this character. I should like to say also—possibly because I myself come very near that danger-limit of six children to which Lord Marley referred!—that his proposition meets with my sympathy and I think probably also with the sympathy of a number of your Lordships on this side of the House, were it possible to adopt it consistently with the contribution by the labourer being kept at its low level. I have said that I was impressed by the clearness of the Minister in charge of the Bill. I was not quite so impressed by his sense of its importance; possibly he deliberately minimised that. But to us who live in the country this Bill goes far deeper than a Bill merely to bring into unemployment insurance so many hundreds of thousands of workers. It touches us in our most neighbourly relations. Those of us who live in the country live surrounded by the persons whom this Bill will principally affect, and we cannot but feel that the effect of this Bill may be as to create a rather different general feeling and social relationship in the villages of England, Scotland and Wales.

The first question to be settled was whether or not there was a demand amongst the agricultural labourers to be brought into such a scheme. While I am sure it was true that in the grassland areas that demand was completely insignificant—I believe that there were whole counties in which there was virtually no demand at all—yet in the arable areas there was a distinct and a growing demand, coupled with a certain percentage of unemployment; a percentage, I might add, which a further strengthening of our agricultural policy might reduce if it did not altogether obliterate. We feel also that there is a great deal of force in the contention that the agricultural labourer, being out of insurance, suffered some small slur on his status, and we feel that the younger men in particular were deterred from entering or from staying in the industry through the feeling that the security given was not so good as if they had had work in another industry. For these two reasons we have no quarrel with the general principle of the Bill, and in particular we should like to say that we welcome the separation of the finance of this scheme from the finance of the general scheme. We should also like to congratulate the Government on the lowness of the contribution which the worker has to pay. It is, I venture to say, a remarkable feat so to arrange the scheme that 14s. benefit to an adult male worker—only 3s. less than in the general scheme—is secured for a contribution of 4½d. per week.

As to the scope of the Bill, your Lordships will perhaps permit me to quote the Bill for a moment. The scope is governed by the following words:

" … where manual labour in agriculture is performed… the performance thereof shall be deemed to be insurable employment in agriculture."

We find the only general definition of the scope in those words in Clause 1 (2), and we are told in Clause 15 that: ' Agriculture ' includes horticulture and forestry. Further, we are told in the First Schedule that employment in agriculture by various family relations is excepted employment. There was considerable discussion in another place as to the inclusion of private gardeners in the scheme, and I think I am right in saying that the great majority of the Standing Committee in the other place were desirous of seeing private gardeners included. The arrangement which was finally come to was, I thought, somewhat different from that described by the noble Lord in charge of the Bill. It is not a very big point, and I dare say that he did not mean anything different. I understood him to say that the Statutory Committee would examine the right and fairness of whether private gardeners should come into the scheme, but I thought that the Government went rather farther than that in another place. I thought the understanding was that, provided there was no actuarial difficulty, private gardeners would come into the scheme. Perhaps the noble Lord when he replies would deal with the point.

Passing on from the scope of the Bill, I am brought to my first doubt, which I think I ought to express: that is, some little doubt as to the financial stability of the scheme. I agree that we have to take risks, and I do not say that I should not have taken the same risks that the Government have taken. But the margin is very narrow. We are down to £19,000 after the children have got their extra allowance, and when one considers that the extension of the practice of long-term hiring may be very great in view of the inducement put out, and that any single trade agreement with Argentina, for instance, or with Denmark may throw some hundreds of workers out of employment, one is bound to feel that the Government have sailed pretty near the wind. My second doubt is whether, as a result of this scheme, the casualisation of the agricultural labourer will be increased. In my youth—and that is not so very long ago—it was the regular practice of tenant farmers in my part of the world to stand off their "day men" during the winter. We call that man a day man in our part of the world who is not a stockman or a carter; he was, as a rule, stood off during the winter. I have always considered it an enormous gain for the agricultural labourer that that practice has fallen into desuetude during my lifetime, and I am rather afraid that it is likely to grow up again.

I am not sure, however, that there is not a counterbalancing gain if some of the agricultural labourers of whom I am speaking are stood off. I think that there will be a certain stratum of labourers who formerly would have eked out an existence in towns but who will earn their right to come under agricultural unemployment insurance and stay in the villages, because in the villages as well as in the towns it will now be possible to receive benefit. On the whole, I think the nation may be a gainer, though I am not sure that the villages will be equally a gainer. If they do stay in the villages they will find unemployment considerably less intolerable than they would have found it if they had gone into the towns. A man in the village can always work on his garden or his allotment; if he is in a woodland country, he can at least gather fuel free of charge. Altogether the fate of the unemployed man in the country is very much better than it is in the town and if we anchor some of the floating population to the country it will be to the general advantage.

My third misgiving or set of misgivings is more definite, more remediable and at the same time more difficult to set out. Your Lordships will have had it brought to your notice that this Bill with certain exceptions incorporates the Act of 1935. That Act has 116 sections against the modest 16 clauses and five Schedules of this Bill, so that really it is not possible fully to understand this Bill without having a pretty good general knowledge of the frame-work of the general scheme, as set out in the principal Act. This Bill must be judged as to its effects upon rural life, not only by what is printed in the particular Bill, but what is also printed in the Act of 1935. Furthermore, under both that Act and this Bill, both Minister and Statutory Committee are left with very considerable powers to deal with matters by regulation. That leaves a further unexplored recess which is not covered by this Bill. That illustrates my point. I do not know whether noble Lords have realised that there is no specific provision in the Bill for any Government contribution whatsoever, except by reference, of course, to the principal Act. In this Bill there is also no mention of how, by whom, or where, the Bill is to be administered, and the administration of this Bill raises some most important considerations which I venture to say have been insufficiently considered, and which I hope will give rise to Amendments in the Committee stage.

Are we to see our unemployed farm labourers tramping five, six, or perhaps ten miles into the towns twice a week, in order to register at the labour exchanges, wasting half a day at least, as well as boot leather, omnibus fares, or bicycle tyres? Do we want to see them join in that rather pitiful queue where the one thing that is to be said is that they will not find possible agricultural employers? Is it altogether to the advantage of the town labourer that a certain proportion of husky agricultural labourers should be brought into that queue, and made available for the town employer? Does the labour exchange, as it is now constituted, make the fullest use of what after all is the most important factor in employment, the employer? Is the labour exchange the place where the farming employer is to be found? Would not the farm labourer's needs be better met by an organisation of persons who understood his needs, and possibly a much more local organisation than that of the labour exchanges? The answers to these questions are not contained in the Bill; yet they are answers which will greatly affect our life in the villages. I venture to hope that Amendments put down to improve the labourer's lot in respect of these questions will meet with sympathy on the Front Bench, and I am sure that your Lordships will realise that the bringing into contact of town and country in this rather gruesome way may have reactions which it is very difficult to foresee.


My Lords, I wish to join with other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord who introduced the Bill this afternoon upon the Motion for the Second Reading. He has my special sympathy, as he hails from Scotland, although not quite so far north as that part of Scotland to which I wish to refer specially this afternoon. At the present moment there is a Committee sitting to inquire into the position of farm servants in Scotland. No report has been received from them yet, and I should have thought that it would have been much wiser to have awaited that report before bringing in a Bill to include agriculture in industrial insurance, when we do not know quite what that Committee is going to report. This Bill, although it does not definitely refer to many points, such as those which the noble Lord who has just sat down has mentioned, does raise a great many abstract questions, which will have to be dealt with if the scheme outlined in this Bill is to work satisfactorily, and bring content to both the parties concerned.

In the county from which I come we have very little unemployment in agriculture, on account of the system that we have of six months engagements for unmarried men, and twelve months for married men. This system has been so successful that many of these farm servants—they do not like the words "agricultural labourers" in Aberdeenshire, because they are considered an insult to the men concerned; we call them "farm servants "—form the backbone and chief recruiting medium, if I may so call it, for future farmers. In fact, I can include in my own tenants men who have been in the past my first horsemen or foremen. After ten or fifteen years service, they have been able to save sufficient to be able to stock a croft, and as they manage to make the croft pay, so they have been able to move on to larger holdings. I feel that there are some provisions in this Bill which will rather discourage that very desirable movement of men becoming tillers of their own farms after having served an apprenticeship as farm servants. It is that system which has raised agriculture to such a skilled and satisfactory employment as we have it in the North or North-East of Scotland. I am anxious that the very cordial relations which exist between proprietors and farmer-owners or tenants should not be spoiled by legislation which does not fit the actual area to which it is applied.

I would like to emphasize what the noble Lord, Lord Phillimore, has just said about the mixing up of town and country employments. I think it will be a thousand pities if the suggestion made in Committee in another place cannot be adopted and the unemployment benefit paid at the Post Office instead of the labour exchange. In certain parts of Scotland—and I think this might also apply to certain parts of Wales and Yorkshire—the agricultural labourer would have to travel many miles to the nearest labour exchange to draw his benefit. Much time would be wasted, and to no good purpose. Then there is the point that you may be encouraging men—and possibly it may also affect the farmer in certain cases—to stop work in order to get benefit. Agriculture is in a depressed state to-day and it is no use saying it is not. I am not blaming the Government for that, but I say that this is the wrong time to impose an extra burden, no matter how small, on an industry in such a condition. I should be the first to agree that the present Government and its immediate predecessor have done more for agriculture than any other Government in modern times, and I am voicing the feelings of Very many who live in the country when I say that we thank the Government most heartily for all that they have done. It is perfectly true that we are not all quite pleased with the way in which things have worked out, but it is for those in the industry to try to make the machine work which is provided by the Government and entrusted to those in the industry. Therefore to a certain extent where there has been failure the Government might perfectly justly say that it is the industry which is responsible for not making the machine work.

There are, of course, exceptions to that statement. For example, what is going to happen if a trade agreement is made with the Argentine or with Denmark which will make the selling of the farmers' produce impossible? It is matters like this which make me feel very doubtful whether the time chosen for launching this scheme is as happy as it might have been if those responsible for it had inquired a little more closely into the nature of the industry. The Statutory Committee had the opportunity of hearing the representatives of agriculture, but I would point out that in all rural matters unless you have rural people to administer a rural scheme you cannot get the best out of it. When a rural scheme is administered by people who live in towns, who do not understand the conditions of the country, it is impossible to make it a real success. That is why we who live in and understand the country sometimes feel disappointed that we are not more freely consulted. It is perfectly true that our societies represent the interests concerned, but very often they are not given much time to consult their constituents before they give their advice to the Government Department. I would plead with the Government—not on this particular question only but on all matters concerning rural occupations—that they should try to get the real rural feeling apart from the opinion of the town administrator before they launch, or even consider, a scheme which is to apply chiefly to the rural areas.

There is another point which arises under this Bill, though it is not mentioned in it, and that is the housing question, because you cannot expect a depressed industry to change the whole tenour of its custom and provide houses for its employees if its employees have large families. The noble Lord opposite referred to a man with a family of six children whom he could not support, but very few farm servants' houses could under last year's Act contain a husband, wife and six children. That is going to make the farmer's choice of competent servants very much more difficult, because if you cannot take a man who is competent because he has a large family you will throw these people on to the Unemployment Insurance Fund, which will make things much worse, both for the Fund and for the industry. I will conclude by making a remark the truth of which is not sufficiently realised. We talk about industry and agriculture, but I suggest that agriculture is an industry entirely by itself, totally different from all other kinds of industry. For that reason it requires entirely different administration from other industries, practically all of which are in urban areas and the great majority of them, unlike the industry of agriculture, not subject to weather. These two facts make an enormous difference in the industry of agriculture, and I hope that when we go into Committee on this Bill some of these difficulties which we have in the rural areas will be realised and that any Amendments put forward to make the administration of this Bill fair to all parties concerned will receive the Government's support.


My Lords, any measure which seeks to ameliorate the conditions of the agricultural worker is sure of a warm welcome in your Lordships' House, but all your Lordships will agree with me when I suggest to the Government that the justification for this measure must depend to a very large extent upon its success, and its success must in turn depend on the extent to which the Government are willing to modify it if, and when, it is found, as I am sure it will be found, that certain of its provisions are not perfect for the purpose for which they have been intended. The noble Marquess, Lord Aberdeen, indeed spoke the truth when he alluded to agriculture as an industry entirely different to all other industries. He might have gone a little further and described it not so much as one industry, but as a group of allied industries all suffering under certain disabilities, like the weather, from which no other industry suffers, and with some of its branches acutely competitive among themselves.

As regards the demand which there was in rural areas for this Bill, I can speak only with reference to Scotland in that respect and, indeed, as to all the provisions of this Bill. My own experience of two years ago, when I was still a member of another place, may be of some interest to your Lordships. At that time, wishing to discover what my constituents really thought about the question of unemployment insurance for farm servants, I did what I had done on one or two other controversial matters—that is to say, I inserted in the local Press a request that all interested should write to me personally and express their views. On one or two other subjects, I had a very satisfactory response, especially in regard to the first raspberry marketing scheme which, being of an indifferent nature, did not meet with the approval of the industry; but on this occasion, although the newspapers in which I put this notice circulated not merely in my own constituency and in my own county, but covered the whole of the East of Scotland from Aberdeen down to the Firth of Forth, the fact that I received only ten replies at a time when agricultural depression was intense shows, I think, that it could not have been regarded as a very burning question among the farm workers. Of the ten replies I received, four were in favour of some form of contributory insurance; three were definitely opposed to it; and three paid no attention whatever to that subject but used my request simply as a peg on which to write about grievances of a totally different character. I think that is proof that, as far as the East of Scotland was concerned, the matter was not one in which marked enthusiasm was felt.

It is also worthy of note that the better the farm worker the less is he inclined to regard such a scheme with approval, simply because, even to-day, the best men are almost always able to find jobs. But we have to bear in mind that as the depression became intense a very considerable number of men, some of them first-class, some of them not so good but still tolerably good workers, were unable to find employment, and up to the present day have not been able to find employment. It is to these, I think, that the Bill will be of chief benefit. I should like to reinforce and, if necessary, labour the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Phillimore, and the noble Marquess, Lord Aberdeen, that it will be grossly unfair to expect agricultural workers in distant rural areas to register at employment exchanges which may be anything up to fifteen or twenty miles away. In many parts of the country that is going to be completely impossible, and these men will be subject to a burden of discrimination which will be most unfair, and it is bound to be very deleterious to their interests.

As regards the question of gardeners, there, too, I hope the Government will make up its mind quite definitely that private workers are to be included in the scheme. There is a definition, a very complete definition, in Clause 15 of what a private gardener is: ' Private gardener ' means a person employed in horticulture otherwise than in any trade or business carried on for the purposes of gain, not being a person so employed by a public or local authority, or a society, institution, association, club, or company. As I read that, if one of your Lordships employs a man for the sole purpose of producing vegetables he is not to be included, but if one registers the same man as a market gardener, without any alteration whatever in his conditions of employment, he is going to be eligible. That, I feel, is an incongruity which is rather absurd. Unemployment among gardeners has been of a very serious nature, and I am afraid that for some time to come it is not likely to improve. For this reason I hope that the Government will make up its mind forthwith to include gardeners within the scope of this Bill.

As I have said, the success of this measure must be judged as it goes along, and that success is bound up to a very large extent with long-term agricultural policy. If agriculture receives the continued benefits which it deserves, then it may well be that in a few years the need for such a Bill may have practically disappeared, but until that time comes it is probable that such a measure is not merely justifiable but necessary. At the same time I hope that neither your Lordships nor the Government are going to take it as a fixed principle that for all time it will be in the interest of agriculture to have such a scheme because, if we do once make up our minds in that sense, I am afraid it will be a bad thing for agriculture as a whole. What we want to-day is to get the industry into such a condition that such a scheme will become superfluous for the reason that once again we have 100 per cent. employment in the industry.


My Lords, like most of your Lordships I agree with the principle embodied in this Bill, but I should like to emphasise the point made by my noble friend Lord Phillimore—it is important, and it is of very great importance to the agricultural districts particularly—with regard to the possible reaction of this scheme on the relations that now exist between employer and employed. It is almost impossible to say exactly what change it may make, but it needs watching very carefully so as not to cause too much or too violent a change in the present extremely satisfactory arrangements. Although the scheme may be agreed to in principle by your Lordships, as it has been agreed to in principle in another place, I cannot say that it is approved by the majority either of labourers or of farmers. We have heard that said of the farmers and the labourers in Scotland. I come from the other end of the Kingdom, from the South country, and I am pretty certain that in my part of the world the majority of those who will have to pay contributions or derive benefits from this Bill do not want it; and as was said by the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, it is the best employer and the best workman who are most opposed to it.

There are numberless men in the South who are on a weekly wage and, therefore, on a weekly notice. They have been in their employment ten, twenty and thirty years. Although nominally on a weekly employment basis, they have always felt as safe as houses, and they feel that there is no need for them to make any contribution to an unemployment insurance fund. I must admit that when one does have an insurance scheme of this kind the good lives have to pay for the bad lives, but I think there is a very much larger proportion, so to speak, of good lives in the agricultural industry than has been realised, and therefore a much larger body of opposition. Although I know of that opposition, and although to the un-instructed it might seem unnecessary to have any scheme of this nature, especially when one is told, as I have been told, that the Minister for Agriculture has been asked to receive a deputation from the National Farmers' Union to consider the question of the lack of agricultural labour in certain districts, and although it may seem, on the face of it, that that is an indication that there is no need for an unemployment insurance scheme, I would point out that the lack of agricultural labour is caused by the flight of labour from the land to the towns, and for the same reason as that mentioned by my noble friend Lord Phillimore—namely, that this Bill will raise the status of the agricultural labourer—I welcome it, and welcome it heartily.

As the noble Lord said, the agricultural labourer is looked down upon; he is the Cinderella amongst employees. He has even got the name of being an unskilled labourer. Why, I do not know, for he is probably far more skilled than most men engaged in modern industry. He has to do a far greater variety of jobs. For all that he is looked down upon, and if this Bill, when it becomes law, raises his status and persuades the best men that we produce in the country to remain in the country rather than go to the towns it will have achieved a great work. Turning to the Bill itself, I would like further to emphasise Lord Phillimore's remarks regarding the place where the unemployment benefit should be paid. It is vitally important that this scheme should be kept separate not only financially from the industrial scheme but also from the actual administrative details of collecting unemployment benefit. I do not know that it is any great hardship to a countryman to walk some distance to draw his unemployment benefit, even if he is unemployed; it may possibly be a break in the monotony; but I do think that he needs to be kept separate from the industrial employment section for the reason mentioned specifically by Lord Phillimore—namely, that if he does go into the town he may not come out again.

There is another point. The noble Lord, Lord Phillimore, in the early part of his speech congratulated the Government on producing a scheme which could give this scale of benefit with such a low contribution. Then, in the latter part of his speech, he questioned the soundness of the scheme actuarially, and that is the thing that I wish to bring forward very strongly. There has been some question of a possible increase in casualisation in the industry. I am not very much afraid of that, because I think that generally speaking the farmers will realise that overmuch casualisation in the industry will drive away their best labourers. When they have got a good man they generally like to keep him. But I would like to mention to the noble Lord in charge of the Bill the question of long hiring. Before he made his speech I had this point very much in mind—namely, that with such a small margin I do not think sufficient allowance has been made for a very probable increase in long hiring.

The noble Lord told us that they had allowed for 15 per cent. of long hiring, and he said that that figure was supported by the figures obtained from the Census. That fills me with considerable anxiety, because it means that what has been arrived at has been arrived at by the actual figures so far as they can be ascertained as being the fact at the moment. But long hiring is not, or was not so very long ago, confined only to certain districts in the country. It was a very common form not very long ago in all kinds of districts, and when you come to the South country you still find that the agricultural labourer goes to a certain sheep fair it may be, or cattle fair, in the autumn, because it is the hiring fair. That is a relic of the old days when a man was engaged by the year, and I think you will find, especially in view of what I have said about men who have been ten, twenty and thirty years on the same farm, that when this Bill comes into operation the farmer, both to save his own pocket and to save the pocket of his labourer, will, with his carman, his shepherd, his head carter, and any man that he has got whom he does not want to lose, make a year's agreement with that man knowing that he will not want to get rid of him in the course of the year. I think that ought to be very carefully considered in its effect on the finances of this Bill, because the margin is not very wide, and 25 per cent. reduction in a large number of contributions may have a disastrous effect on the financial stability of the scheme.

There is one other point which has been already mentioned to which I wish to refer, and that is the question of gardeners. The clause dealing with gardeners is Clause 13, and if the noble Lord, Lord Phillimore, is right and the intention of the Government is to bring in gardeners, I do not think that clause does it. Subsection (1) says that the Minister shall refer the question to the Statutory Committee, and subsection (2) says: The Minister shall lay the Report of the Committee before Parliament and if, after considering the Report, the Minister is of opinion that it is desirable to amend this Act,"… and so on. One cannot expect the Minister to go against any Report of the Statutory Committee in those circumstances. I think I am right when I say that the question of gardeners was considered by the Statutory Committee in their Report before this Bill was brought forward, and that this Bill is drawn largely on the Report of the Statutory Committee. I do not know that one can expect the Statutory Committee to change their minds at very short notice. It is an important point, because there are a very large number of gardeners in this country, and curiously enough, to my mind, it impinges on the question of defence. In our gardeners, though they may be purely for ornamental purposes, we have a reserve of men who, in time of national emergency, are capable of growing food. We want the best men for that purpose, and we want to keep them in employment. I hope the Minister will be able to give some indication of the real intention of the Government on that point. I think we shall watch the working of the Bill when it becomes an Act with considerable interest, even if with a certain amount of anxiety, and I hope that its main result will be to stop the flight from the land to the towns.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hutchison, introduced the Bill in such a clear, lucid and able manner, and there have been so many excellent speeches since, that there is little left which can usefully be said. Nevertheless I venture to rise to support the Second Beading of the Bill. Like other speakers I have found some difficulty in ascertaining the extent of the demand for this Bill. In another place I observed that the Bill was met without enthusiasm but that there was no effective opposition. I want to point out to your Lordships that the Bill imposes a very considerable burden upon the industry of agriculture. It will impose a burden of over £1,000,000—probably £1,200,000—on a distressed industry, and I hope that nothing will be done during the passage of the Bill which will tend to increase that burden. It is a matter of great importance that the agricultural worker should achieve the same status and have the same measure of security as are given to the worker in industry, and I share the view that the exclusion of the agricultural worker in the past from the main unemployment insurance scheme has undoubtedly led to the further migration of agricultural workers to the towns in competition for townsmen's jobs. It has increased the drift and has aggravated the difficulties. I hope this Bill will stop that drift. The cure for unemployment in agriculture, however, is not going to be by way of a Statute of this kind. The best possible insurance for the agricultural worker is more employment. What is wanted is a real, live, fruitful agricultural policy which will give full employment.

The scheme in this Bill is necessarily complicated and it is made all the more difficult to understand because of the cross references to another Act. I always wish that a Bill when introduced could be self-contained so that the ordinary individual could understand its provisions without cross references. These cross references, and the fact that it is a carefully built up structure, make it very difficult to criticise the Bill and make it still more dangerous to interfere with that carefully constructed piece of work. I venture to think that it is not only a workers' Bill but that it is a Bill which will be good for the industry as a whole. I believe that it will lead in a small way to encouragement of long-term hirings, and it must be a good thing for the industry that the term of contract should be longer than a week. I often think it is a tremendous hardship to an agricultural worker that he should be in the position of possibly losing his job, and even his home, at a week's notice, although he may have been employed for many years upon one holding. This Bill does seem to deal with that point.

I welcome, too, the fact that it is a special scheme designed to meet the needs of agriculture, although it is in strict accord with the main scheme of industrial insurance. Under the scheme as it is drawn the money will be kept, so to speak, to a large extent inside the family; that is, inside the agricultural industry; and the industry will receive the benefit of its own lower level of unemployment as compared with the average rate under the general scheme of industrial insurance. I hope that very great care will be exercised in the application of the scheme by the various orders and regulations which will be made when the Bill becomes an Act, so that the whole-time agricultural worker will not have an unfair burden placed upon him in contributing towards the unemployment pay of the higher paid casual worker. I believe that the Bill will add to the good feeling which has always existed between farmer and worker and will add to the good feeling which has grown up so conspicuously during the last two years between townsman and countryman. I beg to support the Second Reading.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission I should like to reply to one or two points made in the course of the debate. In the first place I would like to thank the noble Lord opposite and noble Lords behind me for their more than generous compliments to myself. It is indeed pleasant to receive them. The noble Lord, Lord Marley, referred to one or two points to which I think I can reply very briefly. One is the question of the casualisation of labour, which was also referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Phillirnore, and the noble Earl, Lord Radnor. My own view is that the Bill ought to have just the opposite effect. In certain cases we have found—and I know it from my own experience—that labour during certain of the winter months tends to drift into the towns. Once men get into the towns they very often stay there, and there they become really casualised, only going for a short time to work in the country and then going back to the town. I think this Bill will do something to keep the agricultural worker in the village during the time of unemployment, because with his unemployment benefit ho will be able to stay there. From that point of view I think the Bill is all to the good.

The noble Lord, Lord Marley, also asked whether there could be any payment supplementary to the benefit laid down in the Bill. All I can say is that that is not prohibited. What we shall see in the new regulations when the Board is set up and acting I do not know. But under the present arrangements for public assistance there is no objection and there is nothing to prohibit such supplementation. Of course, when the Board is set up that will be a matter for the Board. The point will certainly receive attention. Another point raised by the noble Lord was in reference to the payment made during the time of unemployment to those agricultural workers who have been in receipt of the higher scales of wages. It is quite a novel idea to me, and I am somewhat attracted by it, but I cannot give any opinion on it at the moment for the simple reason that it will have to be carefully examined. I can assure the noble Lord, however, that I will bring it to the notice of my right honourable friend and that it will be examined with the greatest care. I am obliged to him for making the suggestion.

The noble Lord, Lord Phillimore, raised two questions which were also touched upon by the noble Marquess, Lord Aberdeen, and the noble Earl, Lord Radnor. One question had reference to the relations between the employer and the employee under this scheme. As far as Scotland is concerned I think I can reassure the noble Marquess that it will not alter the splendid relations that have always existed there. Our farm workers there have always been looked upon as part of the family. In England I think there is no reason to fear any alteration because the farm labourer has accepted a scheme of insurance. After all, it is only what I may call common care of the future to have insurance. Because insurance happens to be in a way compulsory for the benefit of the whole is not a reason why it should be regarded differently from any other form of insurance. We all insure against the various risks of life, and I imagine that this insurance ought not to have any evil effect in the direction which the noble Lord suspects. At any rate, I hope it will not.

Might I draw Lord Phillimore's attention for one moment to Clause 13, which deals particularly with the question he raised concerning gardeners? This clause says that the Minister shall refer the question of whether it is desirable and practicable to include gardeners to the Statutory Committee, which shall go into it. Of course it lies in the hands of the Minister whether, having been advised that the inclusion of gardeners is desirable and practical, he shall apply that advice. I have the mind of my right honourable friend, who tells me that if the Committee say that it is desirable and practical, then he will of course go straight ahead and table an Order in both Houses. I am perfectly certain that he is only following the advice which was given by the Statutory Committee when they said, in that very fine Report of theirs, that the matter demanded closer examination before they could recommend it.


Thank you.


Then the noble Lord referred to the question of the finance of the Bill, and said that the margin was very small. I think it is the first time in my experience that I have ever found a Government too generous towards a scheme of this nature, and therefore I cannot help thinking that the opinion held by those who have inquired into the matter is that they are able to give that amount of benefit which is laid down in the Bill. At any rate, it is their affair, and it is our affair, in His Majesty's Government, to deal with it. If noble Lords say that the scheme is unsound financially, all I can reply is that this is the advice which we have received from Committees and from every sort of inquiry; that we have founded the rate of benefit on that advice; and that I hope that our advisers were fully justified. There is just this point. The noble Lord raised the question of long hirings. He thought there would be an inclination to have more and more long hirings in England on the same basis that we have in Scotland and that exists in Northern Ireland. If that be so, then it is all to the benefit of the finance of the Bill, and if we have more long hirings, they will always help us with those who are not so fortunately placed.

Another point was raised by Lord Aberdeen and also by Lord Phillimore: the question of payment through the Post Office instead of making unemployed labourers go a long distance into industrial centres where they might have to stand in queues for a long time and be more or less drawn into the vortex of that type of unemployment. I know that is in the mind of my right honourable friend the Minister. I raised that very point with him, and he is willing to consider anything—he is most sympathetic—in order to see that the administration of the payment gives the least possible trouble and that the benefit shall be paid at a place as near as possible to the homes of the unfortunate people who happen to be unemployed in agriculture. After all, it is laid down in Section 50 of the Act—and this Bill applies the Act to agriculture—that: Regulations made by the Minister under this Act may, with the concurrence of the Postmaster-General, provide for the payment of benefit through the Post Office. When he comes to look with experience into the administration of this Bill after it has become an Act, that provision can doubtless be applied. I am sure that the Minister, who has a very sympathetic mind and who is very progressive, will do all he can in the matter. I am very grateful for the way in which this Bill has been received. If I have not answered all your Lordships' questions, I hope you will forgive me.

On Question, Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.