HL Deb 23 February 1937 vol 104 cc231-76

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I think it will be necessary for me, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, to explain to your Lordships the circumstances in which it has been introduced into your Lordships' House. In England and Wales the wages and conditions of service of farm workers are regulated by the Agricultural Wages (Regulation) Act, 1924. It is proposed by the Bill now in your Lordships' hands to introduce into Scotland a similar system of wage regulation. Your Lordships will, of course, notice that it is proposed to make this change in Scotland some thirteen years after the passing of the English Act. In order to explain why that is so, I think it is desirable that I should outline briefly what has occurred in connection with the regulation of agricultural wages in Scotland during and since the War.

My starting point is the Corn Production Act of 1917, which dealt, incidentally to its main purpose of the encouragement of cereal production, with the regulation of agricultural wages. It set up separate machinery for England and Wales, for Ireland, and for Scotland. I think it may be useful to your Lordships' consideration of the present proposal if I describe shortly the provisions of the 1917 Act which related to Scotland. The Second Schedule to the Act provided for the division of Scotland into a number of districts (leaving the exact number to be determined by the then Board of Agriculture for Scotland) and for the establishment of a wages committee in each district. These committees were representative joint committees comprising a chairman and equal numbers of representatives of employers of agricultural labour on the one hand and of workers employed in agriculture on the other. The number of districts subsequently determined on by the Board of Agriculture for Scotland was twelve, and accordingly twelve district committees were set up. The function of these committees was the fixing of minimum rates of wages for time work. Following the provisions in the Schedule, there was also a Central Agricultural Wages Committee. This body was selected on a representative basis. Its duty was to act for any district wages committees which failed for any reason to fix minimum rates of wages for time work within its district. The Central Committee might disallow the rates fixed by a district committee.

Now the operation of this arrangement was brought to an end by the Corn Production Acts (Repeal) Act of 1921, and for the next few years there was no compulsory regulation of agricultural wages in Great Britain. Section 4 (1) of the repeal Act, however, gave the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries as regards England and Wales, and the Board of Agriculture as regards Scotland, power to take such steps as they might think best calculated to secure the voluntary formation and continuance of local joint conciliation committees. So far as Scotland was concerned, both employers and employed at the time made it plain to the Board that they preferred that the fixing of wages should be left to the industry itself. This view still prevailed in 1924, when the principle of statutory regulation was again applied in England and Wales on the passing into law of the Agricultural Wages (Regulation) Act, and Scotland was excluded from the scope of that Act.

It would not be exaggerating to say that the idea of statutory regulation has until very recently been distasteful in Scotland, and for a very natural reason. Generally speaking, engagements in Scotland are made on a yearly or half-yearly basis. The traditional method of recruitment has been by personal arrangement between masters and men at the half-yearly hiring or feeing markets. The wages agreed upon at such meetings between employers and prospective employees have always been regarded as a matter for themselves alone, but naturally of course the terms of such private bargains were guided by local practice. In some districts, although the practice is less common than it was, a further guide is afforded by the recommendations of a joint committee of employers and employed meeting every six months to discuss and recommend rates for the ensuing term. There is no compulsion on farmers to adopt the rates as recommended. In normal times the system of private bargaining seems to have worked well enough. But by "normal times" I mean periods like that from 1926 to 1929, when prices for agricultural produce were stable and reasonably satisfactory, and when there was a reasonable balance between the supply of, and the demand for, agricultural labour. In those circumstances the wages paid, although tending to drop to some extent, were, on the whole, not unsatisfactory to the workers.

Of the period of live years or so from 1930, a period covering one of the worst slumps in the history of agriculture, there is a different tale to tell. In that period minimum rates of wages in England and Wales fell slightly, but rose again, and by 1936 had regained the loss and were, if anything, rather higher than in 1930. But in Scotland, where there was no wage regulation, there was a reduction of cash wages over the same period of the order of 10 per cent. This considerable reduction in average or standard rate is not in itself a complete picture. The statistics of average wages collected by the Department of Agriculture for Scotland do not claim to show more than standard or typical rates. It has been strongly represented by the workers' representatives—namely, the Scottish Farm Servants' section of the Transport and General Workers' Union, that in individual cases rates of wages considerably lower than the standard or usual rates in the district have been paid. It has not been suggested that, in general, the Scottish farmer has paid less to his employees than the rates recognised in his district, but that cases of such serious underpayment, even if relatively few, can occur is sufficient to show the weak point in the present method of wage fixing.

In 1934 and 1935 an effort was made to secure the adoption on a voluntary basis of a scheme for establishing collective bargaining and conciliation machinery throughout Scotland. It was fully realised that the findings of voluntary committees could only be recommendations, but it was thought that if there was general agreement to set up such machinery all over Scotland and to abide by its findings, the object sought might in practice be achieved without resort to compulsion. Meetings were held between representatives of the Farm Servants' Union and the National Farmers' Union of Scotland, and with the assistance of the Department of Agriculture for Scotland a scheme was prepared. This scheme was accepted by the central executives of the parties concerned, but it failed to commend itself to a majority of the branches of the National Farmers' Union of Scotland. At this point the Farm Servants' Union represented to the late Secretary of State for Scotland that it was useless, in view of the attitude of most of the branches of the National Farmers' Union, to proceed further with any voluntary scheme, and that therefore machinery should be set up to effect compulsory regulation of wages.

This request represented a change of view on the part of organised agricultural labour in Scotland, and the late Sir Godfrey Collins therefore, in January of last year, set up a Departmental Committee of Inquiry under the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, with the following terms of reference: To examine the existing system of employment and remuneration of farm servants in Scotland; to inquire what changes have taken place in recent years; and to report whether in their view it is desirable to take any action, and if so what action, for regulating the remuneration or the conditions of employment of these workers. This Committee was of an independent character, but it included among its members two farmers and two other gentlemen with wide experience of labour questions. The Committee carried out a most careful inquiry and last June presented a comprehensive and valuable Report. They came to the unanimous conclusion that statutory regulation of wages should be extended to Scotland. The Government have carefully considered the terms of that Report and, as the present proposals show, they agree with the Committee's main recommendation.

Your Lordships will observe that the Bill follows closely the terms of the Agricultural Wages (Regulation) Act, 1924, by the division of Scotland into districts following the precedent of the 1917 Act and the Committee's recommendations. The English Act, while providing in general for separate county committees, included in the Schedule a combination of counties for which committees were to be set up after the first establishment of committees. Power was also taken to effect the further amalgamations proposed. The division of Scotland into districts, comprising in some cases several counties, is therefore broadly in line with the present facts in England and Wales. The committees, which will include equal representation of workers and employers and will, if possible, select their own chairmen, will be authorised to fix minimum rates of wages for their districts: An Agricultural Wages Board, mainly composed of representative members but including three independent members appointed by the Department of Agriculture for Scotland, will act in the event of a district committee failing for any reason to do so, and will in certain circumstances exercise advisory functions.

In framing their proposals the Government have adhered as closely as possible to the recommendations of the Caithness Committee. Where they have departed from these recommendations they have been moved to do so solely by the consideration that it is obviously desirable on general grounds that the system of wage regulation in Scotland should, as nearly as possible, follow the system which has worked very well in England during the past twelve years. There will, of course, be opportunities in Committee for the details of this scheme to be thoroughly considered and examined, and I shall content myself now with referring to a general consideration which, in the Government's view, provides a very good reason for instituting wage regulation in Scotland at the present time. The period 1924–29 was a period of reasonable balance between supply and demand in regard to labour; but during the slump period which followed there was in agriculture, in common with other industries, although not to the same extent, a certain amount of unemployment. We are now emerging from the depression, and it seems not unlikely that between the demands of industry and of agriculture there may well be in the next few years a shortage of agricultural labour. There are indications, of which some noble Lords in their own experience will be well aware, that that shortage is already apparent and that there is a strong tendency for farm workers to migrate to the better-paid jobs in the towns. This tendency is all the more unfortunate since it is very often the best of the farm workers who leave their employment on the farms. A supply of good labour is an essential condition to the development and future prosperity of agriculture, and it seems to me that every reasonable step should be taken to add to the effectiveness of farm employment.

The Unemployment Insurance (Agriculture) Act of last year will no doubt help, by bringing the agricultural worker within the scope of the benefits of unemployment insurance, and the proposals now before your Lordships will have the effect of fixing appropriate minimum rates of wages in each district. They will ensure that the agricultural worker of each district will know just where he stands in the matter of wages. The Government are assured that this knowledge and feeling of stability will materially assist in dealing with the vital problem to Scottish agriculture of keeping the worker on the land. I am sorry to find that some noble Lords have felt it necessary to express a disinclination towards this measure in the form of a Motion for its rejection, as I had hoped that your Lordships would prefer to recognise the justice of the principle underlying this Bill, and give it a Second Reading, then undertaking, as we are prepared to undertake, a close and thorough examination of it in Committee. This Bill seeks to ensure that the farm worker receives his due share of the assistance which the Government have given and are giving to the industry as a whole, and on this ground an on its general merits I trust your Lordships will agree to give it a Second Reading. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal.)

LORD SALTOUN had given Notice that on the Motion for the Second Reading he would move, That the Bill be read 2a this day six months. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Stair, has put me in to but first and break the bowling, and I will try my best to do so. I speak for Aberdeenshire and Aberdeenshire contains one-fifth of the arable land in Scotland. It should, therefore, carry more weight in a Scottish debate than Lancashire and Yorkshire together in a similar debate on England. The subject of our debate is one that I have studied for more than thirty years, since the year 1904 or even earlier. There are many noble Lords in this House who know a great deal more about Scotland than I do, but I think few have given more continuous and earnest study to the subject of this debate. My personal interest in agricultural land is now very small; in fact during the worry and trouble that have come to me I have tried to take comfort to myself by saying that after all it does not matter a doit to me personally. My attitude to this Bill is dictated entirely by my consideration for, and my understanding of, the Scottish farm servant, and in particular the Aberdeenshire farm servant.

Inexperienced as I am in addressing your Lordships, I feel none the less that I ought to make some comment upon the manner in which this Bill has been introduced. In the first place it is founded upon a Report which is very much open to criticism. The Report condemns out of hand customs, such as the long-term hiring system, which we, who have studied the farm servant and are champions of the farm servant, have been accustomed to look upon as the most favourable circumstances of his life. It condemns them practically without discussion and, apparently, without knowledge of all there is to be said in favour of those customs. Even if it were the best Report in the world I should still wonder whether the procedure in the Bill itself had not been planned to take advantage of special features of your Lordships' House.

In the first place we have been told that it is a great honour that the Government should introduce a Bill of first-class importance here, and that it would be a great mistake for us to reject this Bill, it being the first of its kind to be introduced here. Well, at the bottom, that argument is what Professor Gilbert Murray would call an inorganic argument, by which I mean that it can be applied to any Bill at any time. I would not for a moment suggest that your Lordships should not give that argument any weight it may deserve, but I have been told—I was not of course a member of this House then—that in the time of the predecessors of the present Government, in the time of the Labour Government, they never scrupled to bring in measures of first-class importance and introduce them to Parliament for the first time in your Lordships' House. The members of that Party are, I think rightly, regarded as being subversive but, in view of the stable Constitution under which we live, I think we ought to give them this praise, that while they were resorting to this method they worked it fairly.

There is another point. Your Lordships know that Scottish Peers are three times poorer on the average than those in this country, and that they live three times as far away from Westminster. I think it is a mistake to introduce Scottish Bills before Easter. There is no hurry for this Bill. If it were passed to-morrow it could not become effective for over a year. The Whitsuntide hiring date is in May, but the bargains are made in March and April, and if this Bill were law tomorrow it would be completely ineffective until next year. Again, as has very often been complained in this House, the date of the debate has been changed, with the result that Peers who came here for it last week were disappointed. Certain Peers who made great efforts to stay in London last week have had to leave and are unable to be in their places to-day. That applies to my noble friend the Marquess of Aberdeen, who is very interested in this matter. He has been forced to return to the County of which he is Lord Lieutenant on business and is, therefore, unable to be present this week.

But there is a further important matter which I feel it my duty to lay before your Lordships. It is a personal one, but I can assure you that I do not present it in any personal spirit or with any personal feeling. The Report on the farm servants in Scotland is so extraordinary that I went to the Printed Paper Office and asked to have the evidence, and I was told that it had not been printed. I therefore wrote to the Secretary for Scotland and asked that, as the evidence must have been duplicated for the use of the Committee, I might be allowed to see it. The Minister replied that this was impossible as the evidence was confidential. Now there is nothing in the terms of reference to make the evidence confidential, and there can be no possible reason why I should not be allowed to see it. Whatever my occupation all my life I have all the time been forced into close relations with farm servants. I have a theory which is common to many of those who have had to manage land, that it is one of the most important points in the policy of land management to foster the farm servants. Again, I have worked with a firm of accountants who managed landed estates in Scotland, and, further, as a very poor man with insufficient capital, I have occupied a farm and worked my own fields in intimate companionship with my men. I base my complaint now not upon those favourable qualifications for judging the matter, but merely upon the fact that I am a member of your Lordships' House trying to do my duty in the task set before me, and I say that I ought to have been allowed to be supplied with the information necessary to enable me to discharge that duty.

Moreover, I submit that it is a bad principle of government that a Committee should be allowed to make an investigation and report, as this one has done, on almost every point directly against the evidence submitted, certainly against the evidence on many points of grave importance, and then be allowed to refuse to Parliament the right to inspect the evidence which they have seen fit so thoroughly to disregard. There can be no question here of victimisation of witnesses. It is not easy to victimise men of proud and independent temper secure in a yearly contract, and even if the refusal is because of a distrust of my discretion it is a simple matter to expunge the names of witnesses. I have not had much experience of Parliamentary practice, but I have always understood that when reference was made either in debate or in a Report laid before Parliament to any document both Houses of Parliament were entitled to have that document placed before them. Perhaps my noble friend in charge of the Bill will have some inquiries made into this matter.

The withholding of the evidence is all the more serious owing to the inconclusive nature of much of it as disclosed by the Report itself. In paragraph 6, for instance, dealing with the number of workers employed, the Committee say they have "great difficulty in reconciling the two sets of statistics" and they say that "little reliance can be placed upon the changes shown under the various classifications of the census returns." In paragraph 14, dealing with casual labour, we are told that the departmental figures "cannot be accepted as a true index." Again, in paragraph 75, the Committee state that "it is difficult to obtain accurate information regarding current rates," and in paragraph 5 they say that the "inquiry has been an intricate one." Yet in spite of all this the Committee only held ten meetings. One of those was a preliminary meeting, so that there were only nine effective meetings. Moreover, they only examined twenty-two witnesses for all the districts of Scotland, some of which differ from each other as much as England differs from Germany agriculturally speaking. It cannot have been possible to obtain the facts in many cases. Indeed, with regard to long-term engagements, the Committee appear to have preferred their own personal opinion to the evidence laid before them.

Besides the inconclusive nature of the evidence, the Report is no more satisfactory in respect of the sources from which that evidence was derived. Evidence was taken from representatives of the Farmers' Union, but the membership of the Farmers' Union only covers about 25 per cent. of the farmers. The Committee very wisely took evidence from independent farmers outside the Union. On the other hand, the strenuous efforts of nearly twenty years have failed to secure a membership of more than 15 per cent. for the Farm Servants' Union. I know very well that this body does not commend itself to the Scottish farm servants in my part of the country, for reasons which will presently appear. Yet the Report states that the Committee accepted the evidence of the Union as adequately representing the point of view of farm workers throughout Scotland, and the Committee expressed the hope that the result of their efforts might be to attract farm servants into the Union. The object of the Bill is the political exploitation of the farm servants. I myself represent the view of the farm servants who have not been consulted, and many of them resent this kind of driving. Only three days ago I received a letter from a farm servant in central Aberdeenshire. It is quite a spontaneous, unsolicited expression of opinion. He writes: I see you are going to speak against the Farm Servants' Wages Bill. I do not think much of it, or the Unemployment Bill either. Well, that is a letter from a very shrewd man, and he very rightly couples this Bill with the Unemployment Insurance Bill.

I have been told that noble Lords who reside on the Border approve this Bill. It is very good for them, and they want to see it carried. I frankly admit that. I have been told that all parties want to see this Bill carried for the Border counties. I have visited the Border counties, and I have many warm friends there whom I hope I shall not lose by what I am going to say now. I have an immense admiration for the enormous, perfectly clean fields, beautifully farmed in the Border counties. We have nothing better in Aberdeenshire. We can equal it, but we cannot beat it. But somehow or other when I visited that neighbourhood I felt an unaccountable sense of depression. I love that country now, but at the time I could not account for my feeling. After a bit I realised what it was. I was saying to myself: "What place is there in this country for the poor man?" In the part of the country I come from there are holdings of every size, and men of every kind of fortune can own land. That is what the true farm servant wants to do. He wants to get the occupation of land, and that, as far as I can see—I stand subject to correction—is the great difficulty in the southern counties of Scotland by reason of the enormous size of most of the holdings. I do not want noble Lords on the other side of the House to take it that I am making a charge against the great body of landowners. The landowners have no blame in the matter. It is a frightfully difficult thing to alter the system of agriculture in any district within the lifetime of one man, or within two generations, and I know that efforts are being made to help that state of affairs.

I can quite understand that this Bill will be welcomed in these Border counties. One reason is that the agricultural industry there finds that people are drifting away from it and those concerned in the industry want to get them back. For that reason they want the Unemployment Insurance Bill and the Bill which is before your Lordships to-day. But see how it will work. You have an Unemployment Insurance Bill, and that means that you are bound to have a class of unemployed. I am perfectly ready to admit that the Bill before your Lordships will probably have the effect of raising the lower rates of wages paid, but that will be accompanied by the fact that some of the lower grade men will not be employed. You always have a certain number of third horsemen—horseman is our word in Scotland for Ploughman—who may become second horsemen. As you have unemployed third horsemen who can be employed as second horsemen there will be a surplus of labour amongst the second horsemen. That will displace a certain number of second horsemen, and you will have the same thing among the first horsemen. The point I am making now is that by means of this Bill and by means of the Unemployment Insurance Bill you will create a surplus of labour in the industry. No system you set up can be impervious to economic facts. The Soviet Government of Russia itself is not proof against economic facts. One undoubted economic fact is that if you have a surplus of labour over the demand for labour wages go down. The effect of this Bill will be to raise slightly the wages of the lower paid men, but to create a certain amount of unemployment and therefore to pull down the wages of the higher paid men.

It was with this thought in my mind that I wrote to Lord Clinton, who, as your Lordships know, has been unwell. I wrote to him in the South of France where he is hoping to re-establish his health and begged his counsel and help in regard to the Bill. He replied to me, and I asked if I might be allowed to quote his letter. He sent me the following, dated February 18:

"My dear Saltoun,

Farm Servants.

"I have telegraphed to you. My remarks may be quoted, but if possible wait for letter. I have always felt that the Scottish farm servant was very well able to look after himself in the way of wages, and that was for a long time the view of the leaders of the union. We have seen the standard of wages in Scotland found by negotiation between farmer and man kept well above the English standard. The Wages Act of England has not, I think, been the main cause in the increase of the wages there; that increase would have come in any case; but it has had, I think, three main results—(a) unemployment of older men; (b) increasing wages of unskilled men, and keeping down the wages of better skilled men. I fear the measure will largely induce farmers to increase machinery at the expense of manual labour. I am glad you have got the matter in hand. …"

There is no man in Parliament whose wisdom and experience I would sooner rely upon in a matter of this kind than Lord Clinton. I am sure your Lordships will agree with that, and whatever happens to this Bill to-night and however few of your Lordships there are to support me, I will still be content to be on his side.

At the same time is this not precisely the difficulty which the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, so often deplored in your Lordships' House—the raising of the lower grade wages and the depressing of the higher grade wages, leading to the development of less skill in industry, so that, as he says, anyone who starts an aeroplane factory is injuring the country because it is drawing skilled men away from places where they are more required? Because we do not produce nearly enough skilled men for our most elementary needs. That is what appears to me is happening in this measure. I am perfectly certain that in Aberdeenshire one of the effects of this will be to lower the total wage bill paid by the farmer. In paragraph 44 the Report says that the decline of the rural population is due to the desertion by the wage earner of his occupation in agriculture. As a matter of fact the accusation is ill-founded. Under the English Agricultural Wages Act the decline has been proportionately far greater than in Scotland. If your Lordships want figures I have them here. The general decline in the rural population in Scotland is entirely due to the ruin of rural industries and factories all over the County of Aberdeen, many of which I remember in active and prosperous days. But if men are said to be deserting their employment in agriculture, as the Report states, how can there be unemployment? It seems to me the two suggestions are inconsistent. As a matter of fact, the fact of unemployment appears very doubtful to me. The figure given for Scotland is 5.7 per cent., but your Lordships must remember that any man who has ever done even a day's work upon a field always calls himself a farm servant because he thinks it is a much more dignified employment. That must go a very long way to swell the figure given in the Report.

In paragraph 47 of the Report agriculture is called a "blind-alley occupation" and in paragraph 49 it is said that "under the tied-house system it is not possible for the farm worker to achieve any real independence." The facts are that under the present tied-house system it is possible, and has been possible, over two generations, for a competent farm servant to save enough to take a small farm. The period varies, partly according to the man, and partly according to the prosperity of the agriculture in the county at the time he starts his work. When I started estate management, from one-quarter to one-sixth of the farm servants in the countryside rose in this way. Only a week ago I visited my home and I heard that a man whom I have long known in different situations has lately taken a farm on his savings. About one-half of the farmers in Aberdeenshire were originally farm servants. That is the proportion generally quoted in the County and it is borne out by investigations of my own, undertaken for this purpose. One-half of the tenants on my father's estate were originally farm servants. I have not confined myself, however, to this solitary instance and have obtained information from different parts of the County. Not long ago I saw a letter from a farm servant in the Aberdeen Journal complaining that the practice of multiple farms prevented farm servants from getting farms themselves. Not a word about lack of means; only about lack of opportunity. It may interest your Lordships to know that the lowest figure I got was in Banffshire—40 per cent.—and the lowest figure in Aberdeenshire was 45 per cent. I got my figures from all over the County. The same condition of things obtains in Perthshire and other parts of Scotland.

We are told that we must have this Bill in Scotland because they have it in England. When you can show me a county in England where one-half of the farmers commenced without capital between the stilts of a plough I will begin to consider the force of that argument. The commonest form of persuasion used to induce farm servants to join the union is that they have made a mistake in trying to become farmers and that they would be much better off as farm servants. In Aberdeenshire I doubt if 5 per cent. of the farm servants are members of the union. They know that their wages are low when they are learning their trade. There is a point there about wage regulation. I do not know any county where there are more frequent ploughing contests and other contests of farm servants and every servant knows every other man's work. It is quite possible that no two farm servants in Aberdeenshire were estimated at the same amount, simply because every man is engaged on his personal character. I am sure that the men themselves do not wish the lower-grade wages to be raised at the expense of the higher-grade wages in the business, because it is the higher-grade wages on which they depend for their advancement. They are very proud of their bargaining power, and I do not think they really wish to join the union. Yet, as I have pointed out to your Lordships, the Government have confined their opinion on this subject to evidence in support of the Bill from the representatives of a union which is hostile to the rise of the ploughman, a Bill which is bound—and the Committee half confess it—to lower the wages of an ambitious man. All the farmers who have risen from the plough have risen under this tied-house system which the Committee so condemn. It is possible that the Committee do not consider the farmer independent. Perhaps the only independence is that of the man on strike or on the "dole."

But your Lordships must remember that it is not only as farmers that farm servants rise in the world. One of the greatest of our all-round scientists started life as a farm servant in Aberdeenshire. One of our greatest poets started life in the same way, and there is a legend, which I believe is untrue, that they were feed—"feed" is our Scottish word for hired—together on the same farm. One of the greatest British surgeons is the grandson of a farm servant. None of these men could have got his start in life unless the wages of a farm servant had been sufficient to give him the start he required. I do not want to see wages down; but the point I have to make to your Lordships is that there is not a single word about this process of rising from the plough in the Report which is laid before your Lordships. I cannot understand how any inquiry into the wages of farm servants could take place without disclosing this vital fact. No one can say that in an inquiry into life and wages the fact that half the masters in the county were originally men could be irrelevant. Nobody can say that it is irrelevant that a competent man can save enough of his wages to lease and stock a farm in ten to twenty years.

The Government have introduced this Bill and have prefaced it by laying before your Lordships a Report which purports to give all the relevant material on which your Lordships should decide this issue. In practice there is hardly a single conclusion in the Report which does not have to be qualified in the light of the facts which I have just laid before you. It is, of course, for your Lordships to decide what to do, but it appears to me that here is a very strong case for putting the whole thing back and getting a proper inquiry made, because that fact qualifies every single conclusion that is embodied in the Report.

I will just turn for a moment to the Bill. I do not consider this a good Bill; I think it is altogether too much in the air. In the first place, Scotland is to be divided into districts at the discretion of the Department. Why are these districts not specified? I have myself suggested the existing shrievalties, but I understand that plan is open to objection. Whatever system is adopted should, however, be part of the Bill. Your Lordships are better qualified to say how these districts should be divided than any other body in the whole country, because your Lordships know the people and the country where you live; you know their history; you know how they are divided from their neighbours, and how they are divided by custom and by blood. Again, the method of nomination or election of the local committees is left to the Department. Why should this method be omitted from the Bill? In this House we have a definite interest in seeing that these local committees work well and harmoniously. If they do not, then of course the matter is referred to the Board, and that will inevitably put more power into the hands of the Department and its officials. I am sure they would do their best, but it seems to me on every ground that the method of nomination and election should be stated.

There is another reason. In Appendix IX of the Report there is given a scheme which has been tried before and has failed. Now, suppose I criticise this scheme; my noble friend, when he replies, will be able to say, and say very truly, that it is not included in the Bill. Suppose, however, I leave it and you pass this Bill, it is then in the power of the Department to adopt all those details of the scheme in Appendix IX which are not inconsistent with the Bill itself and to say that it has been laid before Parliament. One of the points of that scheme in Appendix IX is that the nomination of the local committees in every district is left in the hands of the union. That is going to prove very hard in Aberdeenshire, where very few people are members of the union: it means that our members will probably be nominated from somewhere in the south.

I should like now to turn to the question of long-term hiring, to which the noble Lord who introduced the Bill referred. It is condemned by the Committee, apparently against the weight of the evidence which was before them. It is closely connected with the housing question, to which I have already referred. As far as the interests of agriculture are concerned, long-term hiring is obviously an advantage because of the interest it engenders in the men in the farm and in all the details of the farming. When I was a farmer I used to hear my fellow farmers complain about it because it gave too much advantage to the men. I think they were short-sighted. Of course, I know perfectly well that the monthly engagements which the Committee recommend do not necessarily mean short engagements, any more than long-term engagements mean short engagements. The point is this. In Scotland there are two removal terms: Martinmas and Whit-Sunday. They are universal, and of these two terms Whitsun is by far the more important, and practically every change of house takes place at Whit-Sunday. The Committee say nothing about the position of a married man on a monthly engagement whose engagement ends, not on Whit-Sunday but at a time when there is no house and no other place ready for him. Under the long-term-hiring system a man knows that at the end of his time, when his engagement ends, there are certain to be, if he wishes to change, other houses and other places open to him. Under the monthly system he can never be sure that he will have a place or a house to go to when his engagement ends. If your Lordships consider, you will see that this point is independent to a great extent of the tied-house question. The Committee, however, do not appear to have considered it at all; they give no indication that they have thought of the matter.

There is another point about long-term hiring which the Committee have not mentioned and which I consider important. Under the long-term-hiring system practically the whole of our work on the farms is carried out by permanent labour. In fact one of the main points is that most farmers keep a man too many, because they say "I aye like to have plenty of force." If you have monthly engagements, as the Committee suggest, it is perfectly certain that one of the results will be—and it will be one of the results of this Bill—to turn Scotland over from permanent to casual agricultural labour. I call it casual agricultural labour where a man is laid off for a fortnight or a month in a year while his master economises his wages. The attitude of the Committee to hours of work is extremely curious to anyone who has ever run a farm. They seem to think that it is the main object of the men to avoid their work. I have found them as keen on it as I was myself, or even keener. I was the first man in my own district who worked on Sunday. Why? Because the men came to me and said they could not bear to see a fine day lost; and when you think of the amount of time lost in Scotland, especially in the north, owing to short days, winter storms and bad weather in the winter, it is a very fortunate thing for us that our men are so keen. It is the one thing that enables us to compete with our fellow farmers in the south. Only the other day in going north I saw a headline in a newspaper, "Ploughs rust in furrows for a month." Exactly. There had then been no work done around me for over a month. That is one reason why I deprecate introducing hours of labour into the question, when the men are just as keen on the work as their masters.

Sitting beside my cattleman at midnight in an empty stall waiting for a cow to calve, neither of us looked upon the time as "overtime." As a matter of fact you cannot keep a good cattleman out of the byre. A good cattleman, after his tea, is always slipping back to the byre to see how the beasts are resting. How can you turn that into cash and overtime? And do you think it is going to improve the relations between master and man to do it? In paragraph 79, the Report remarks that it is common enough to find a difference of 5s. a week between the wages of men doing exactly the same work upon different farms. I will go further than that and say that you will find a difference of 5s. a week between men doing exactly the same work on the same farm. The first and second horsemen do exactly the same work, but the greater skill or seniority of the first horseman gets a bigger reward. And even between the first horsemen in different places there is very often a difference, and always will be a difference, in a country where every man is known by the quality of his work, and in a country which depends on the individual work of a man, and not upon machinery.

But the Committee pass the bounds of reason in the same paragraph when they suggest that farmers delay hiring their men until after the feeing markets in order to keep down wages. Only a fool could contemplate such an action; that is precisely the way to get the worst men in the market on to your farm. I know exactly how a farmer would look at a thing like that, and I think that the Committee must have been very credulous to believe so malicious a statement. I know that wages are not as high as I should like to see them; they are not as high as I used to pay, but they are improving. And, as a matter of fact, I have only just heard from home that the rates quoted in that district are £5 higher than they were. The rates quoted in the Report are quite illusory. All over the County of Aberdeen there are farmers who have retained their staffs since the good times, and that at the same or very slightly lower rates. The farmer next to me has had the same staff for I do not know how many years, and so have many others. The rates that you see in the papers, and which are to be found in the Report are therefore quite illusory. They are not the average rates at all. I have already pointed out many matters where this Committee have seen fit to report apparently against the weight of the evidence, but page 32 of the Report must be a record. It contains four paragraphs, in each of which the evidence is set aside as the Committee "do not attach weight to it." I may say that a very large number of the conclusions of the Report are against my own personal experience and require very serious qualification.

The object of the Bill—the Committee are quite frank about it—is that the farm servants should join the Farm Servants' Union. I should not have the smallest objection to that if the union would help the natural line of development, but the union sets its face against that and I think it is a great mistake of the Government to bring in a Bill which is frankly designed to force the farm servants to join the union. Moreover, this purpose probably accounts for the Committee's reference to what they term the curiously intimate relationship between master and man. It looks almost as if they wished them to be at odds, and to set them at odds. They go half-way to it in wishing that "employer and worker would more clearly realise their exact position." That is in paragraph 70. We all know what defining rights generally leads to; for instance, in the Chaco in South America.

There is only one further matter I would touch upon and I think it is a serious one. There is in Scotland a small and unimportant body. It is a little cloud no bigger than a man's hand, and yet I think it is fraught with great danger to this country and to the Empire. I mean the Home Rule Party. I have said it is a small body, but if it should grow up into a large or a clamorous party do your Lordships really think that, as things are to-day, you would be able to refuse Scottish Home Rule? If we get Bills from Westminster which take no account of local feeling, no account of local conditions, which say that because a thing is law in England therefore it must be the law in Scotland, people in the North will say: "If that is the best consideration we can get from Westminster, how shall we be worse off if we have Home Rule?" People are saying it already. I have in my pocket a cutting from a local paper of a rather heated speech by an ex-farm servant on this very Bill, in which he hints quite clearly that Home Rule is the solution. In the whole history of mankind I think that the most extraordinary thing is the union of Scotland and England. That two nations so different from almost every point of view you can think of should join in partnership, with so much respect for one another's sovereignty, so much frank mutual admiration, so much forebearance, is, I think, one of the wonders of the world, and especially when it has lasted for two hundred and thirty years. Is it worth while to imperil such a wonderful thing for the sake of a Bill of this kind?

I object to this Bill because the preliminary Report does not take into account or disclose that in Aberdeenshire, for example, and in Banffshire, Kincardineshire, and the rest—in more than a quarter of Scotland, in nearly one-third—the classes of farmer and farm servant are so loosely divided that members of the one pass freely into the other without difficulty and therefore no distinction should be drawn. If you, by this Bill, place farmers on one side and farm servants on the other they will keep to those positions. Your Lordships will remember how difficult it was during the War to get farm servants to accept promotion because they did not wish to leave their mates. If this Bill passes you will get exactly the same thing happening. I object also to the Bill because it will substitute casual labour for permanent labour in agriculture; because also it is incomplete as it stands; and because, if left alone, it will put too much power into the hands of a Department which I submit has not shown itself impartial in the preliminary inquiry. I object also because it will cause the greatest discontent in many parts of Scotland. Most of all I object to this Bill because, under the pretence of bringing great benefits to the farm servants of Scotland, it is really going to do them the greatest possible injury. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Leave out ("now") and at the end of the Motion insert ("this day six months").(Lord Saltoun.)


My Lords, the noble Lord who has just spoken stated that he was going to open the batting against the Government and was going to destroy the bowling. He has had a very long innings, but I am bound to confess he has not made many runs. On the contrary, to us on these Benches, as umpires in this dispute on the Government Benches—we have our own disputes and our own disagreements on this side of the House but we can on this occasion act as umpires—it seemed that the noble Lord had become a bowler himself. He has been bowling steadily for three-quarters of an hour, and it seems to me, speaking from a purely objective point of view, that a good deal of his bowling has consisted of wides. He began by saying that he spoke for the farm servants of Scotland, but he gave away his case by at once admitting that a great many of the farm servants he knew were supporting this Bill. He did not tell your Lordships, so far as I could gather, that the Scottish Farm Servants' Union are supporting the Bill. They do not altogether like it, as I shall explain in a moment, but they are giving general support to the Bill. That is a fact which the noble Lord failed to lay before your Lordships.

I can leave out that wide of which he was guilty in an attack on myself and my Party when he said we were accused, "rightly" accused, of desiring to subvert the Constitution. If that is so, my blood-stained hands must be a matter of profound regret, but I have tried to wash them, and I can assure the noble Lord that I personally find very little sign of this subverting of the Constitution which appears to frighten him. He did pay us one compliment when he said that the Labour Party used your Lordships' House to introduce first-class measures. That is quite true. He himself appears to admit that this is a first-class measure because he foresaw the destruction of the Empire if it were carried, as Home Rule would grow in Scotland leading to the break-up of the United Kingdom and eventually of the Empire. So I suppose he considers this is a first-class measure. But I do think the Government have something to answer in his indictment that they did not let the Scottish Peers know the date of the Second Reading, or, at any rate, of the alteration of the date, if that accusation is accurate. It must be particularly trying for members of your Lordships' House to come a long way, especially from Aberdeen—it costs a great deal of money—and then to go back again without any debate. I think there is a great deal in that point. That is a good ball, if I may say so, and the Government should answer it in the course of their reply.

The noble Lord stated that the Bill was going to cause a surplus of labour in the industry. He said that the Unemployment Insurance Bill caused unemployment, and that if you paid money for unemployed persons, you would always get unemployed people to take that money. I have never heard a more ridiculous argument by any member of your Lord-ships' House. It is time that sort of argument was jumped on heavily. It is almost incredible that an argument of that type can be put forward in these days when, for years, most members of your Lordships' House have learned to read and write intelligently. I cannot understand why we have an argument of that type put forward seriously by a noble Lord, unless he imagines that members of your Lordships' House are incapable of serious thought. The noble Lord quoted a letter that he had from the South of France, where, I suppose, the writer was conferring with agricultural labourers who are in the South of France recovering from their annual work, in which he said that the results of this Bill would be more machinery. Of course, we want more machinery in agriculture. One of the problems of the agricultural industry is that we are not employing sufficient machinery. More machinery adequately used means cheaper production, and therefore a readier sale for the products of the industry, and a greater fund available for wages, especially to skilled labour. That seems to me an elementary argument, and if that is the argument for this Bill, then I, as an umpire, welcome it and give it support. I hope the Government will take courage from that argument and proceed with the Bill.

The noble Lord quoted a number of extracts from the Report of the Caithness Committee. He does not seem to like the Caithness Committee. He appears to have some objections to it. He was not satisfied. He wanted another inquiry. He said that Scotland had not been taken into account, but, reading the names of the members of this Committee, it seems to me they are mainly Scottish. I may be wrong—perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona, will tell us, if they are not Scottish—but to me they appear to be Scottish, and therefore they ought to know something about the position in Scotland. I hardly think a Committee presided over by a man of the knowledge of the noble Earl who was Chairman can justifiably be accused, to use the words of the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, of foolishness, of credulousness, of its Report being entirely illusory, and of its Report being against the weight of evidence.


May I interrupt the noble Lord? I should be the last person in the world to suggest that the noble Earl who presided over the Committee was foolish. I never intended to call him anything of the kind. He is a great friend of mine.


I am very glad to hear the noble Lord say that because I think it was a very regrettable expression, and I am very glad he has withdrawn it. It was quite unnecessary to say it of a Committee of the eminence of this Committee which has produced a Report of the value of this Report. I hope noble Lords will take the trouble to read the Report. There is a great deal, it seems to me, of very real value in the Report upon the matter under discussion. There is no need to bring in questions of hours of work, which are discussed in the Report of the Committee but are not in the Bill. It does not seem to me that there is any point in discussing the question of hours of work. There is a lot in the Committee's Report which is not included in the Bill, which only deals with one quite minor and small aspect of the Report of the Committee. There are certain things in the Report which I think are well worth reading.

Take for example the question of tied houses. That is a vitally important matter which affects the subject of the Bill we are discussing. On page 17, paragraph 56 says: On the evidence submitted to us it is clear that the housing question is one of the direct causes of the unsatisfactory position of the farm worker to-day. The fact that he is faced with the loss of his house at the end of his engagement … places him in an inferior position when it comes to a question of bargaining upon the price to be placed upon the only commodity he has to offer, i.e., his labour. That is common sense, and the Committee surely are justified in bringing forward that aspect of the problem as an argument in favour not of doing away with the tied cottage, because that would take years to carry through and there are many argument in favour of a tied house, but of doing away with the disadvantages of the tied cottage to the lower-paid agricultural worker, by securing for him a minimum wage below which he cannot be forced to sink due to the inferiority of his bargaining position as the occupier of a tied house. On page 18, the Committee emphasise this point. They say: We are satisfied that under the tied-house system it is not possible for the farm worker to achieve any real independence, but whatever form any modification of the system may take, it is obvious that the process must be a gradual one. The Committee have faced a difficult situation with, it seems to me, great courage. Far from being a foolish Report, it seems to me to be a Report which deserves very careful study, and I think that in so far as the Government have followed that Report in the matter of fixing wages they are to be congratulated.

Wages are dealt with specifically on page 23 of the Report, and the Committee point out how difficult it has been to get accurate information with regard to the general wage level in Scotland. They describe their method of obtaining this information, and while, of course, it is possible to produce evidence on either side against the average results suggested by the Committee, yet the Committee seem reasonably to prove that they have made very careful inquiry and have come to a reasonable decision. They say, among other things, that the farmers on the local committees would normally be expected to pay reasonably good wages, but it is probable that the returns would reflect somewhat higher rates than the usual. That is because the farmers on the committees are men who take seriously their position and may be expected, therefore, to be rather better employers than would be the farmers in remoter districts where there may be no control whatever over wages. Then the Committee go on to say: Whatever the merits of the figures, it is clear that they do not disclose what may be regarded as the main evil of the existing lack of regulation of wages—viz., the cases in which extremely low wages are being paid and the wide fluctuation in wages in general, even on farms in the same neighbourhood. So far as I understand it, this Bill is to secure that in no circumstances shall very low wages, upon which no man can really live, be paid in Scotland. It is not a question of Scotland coming up to England. It is a question of Scotland setting its own house in order in a state of affairs which has only arisen within the last few years—the state of affairs which has arisen as a result of the financial crisis, as a result of the difficulty in regard to the primary products generally, coupled with a gradual rise in the cost of living which has hit agricultural workers in the midst of an actual diminution in the wages they have been receiving. That rise in the cost of living is not dealt with in the Report, but it is known to all members of your Lordships' House, and I do not think we should be doing our duty in an objective examination of both sides of this problem if we did not recall that rise in the cost of living, which has coincided, as the Committee point out, with an actual fall in wages. Our objection to the Bill is that it has not followed the recommendation of this Committee, that the Central Wages Board should have the power to vary the recommendations of the local wages committees.

That recommendation, which is made by the Committee on page 34 (No. 6 of the Final Recommendations) is quite categorical. They say: The Central Wages Board should be charged with the duty of giving effect by order to proposals made by the district wages committees for the determination of minimum rates for their respective areas; but the Board should have power to vary or amend such proposals as they may think fit (after consultation with the district wages committee concerned). I think it is regrettable, when there has been such a close and careful argument by the Committee with regard to the powers of the Central Wages Board, that the Bill should have omitted this right for a modification of wages recommendations. On the other hand, I can see that the Government may say that if they are assailed on one side because they are doing too much, and from another side because they are not doing enough, that indicates that they are taking a medium position which will probably be the most satisfactory line to take in an argument in which there are bound to be two widely differing opinions. My own belief is that it may be possible to make a slight modification which would improve the Bill from our point of view. In any case a Bill of this kind is bound to result in a far better understanding or both sides, which in the end will be to the value of Scotland, and, above all, to the value of the agricultural industry which is so important in the Border Counties.


My Lords, I put down a Motion for the rejection of this Bill mainly because I could not find anybody else to do so. It is very rarely that I intervene in debates in this House, nor did I intervene very often in another place where I was a member continuously for thirty-one years. In fact, I have never intervened except when I thought no one else was likely to do so equally well or better than I could. I think that your Lordships will agree that my noble friend Lord Saltoun traversed almost every point, and he did it probably better than I could have done it. My object in opposing this Bill has not been to try to defeat the Government, but to try to persuade them if possible to proceed a good deal more cautiously than they have been advised to go by the Caithness Report or than they have actually gone. My attitude at this moment might be considerably altered if I could be assured whether I heard correctly the last sentence in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona. I am not sure what he meant when he spoke about referring the Bill to Committee. Did he intend to indicate that the Bill could be referred to a Select Committee where it would get more adequate consideration?


May I be allowed to make it clear to my noble friend and to the House that what I intended to say, and what I think I said, was that this Bill would deserve very careful consideration by your Lordships in Committee.


I am extremely disappointed. I have never yet known a Bill receive adequate consideration from a Committee of the whole House either here or in another place. I will confine myself to trying to emphasise some points. My noble friend Lord Saltoun has asked me to emphasise that one of his complaints against the evidence given before the Caithness Committee was that there was no evidence whatever from independent farm labour. The only evidence came from members of the Farm Servants' Union which the Committee themselves admit only represents a small section of the farm workers—and probably the more discontented of them. I have read the Report with considerable care and the more I read the less satisfied I was that the evidence was conclusive or accurate in regard to figures or anything else.

With regard to the statements about the fall in wages, I may say that I have been farming on a very large scale on both sides of Scotland and on widely differing classes of farms ever since the War, and in my experience, if there has been any fall in wages, there has only been a very slight fall. We have only very recently included agricultural workers in State insurance and it seems to me to be rash, to say the least of it, to start another experiment such as is entailed by this Bill until we have at any rate some indication of what may be the results of including this body of workers in State insurance. The noble Lord, Lord Marley, questioned the statement of my noble friend Lord Saltoun that bringing certain classes into insurance would increase the apparent number of unemployed. I do not think anybody will deny that after a considerable number of workers, in an industry in which there was previously no unemployment insurance, have been paying unemployment insurance contributions for a number of years, some of them—perhaps the worst of them—will want to get their money back.


If I may venture to interrupt I would say that it is a case of post hoc sed non propter hoc.


I have forgotten most of my Latin, and I am afraid I do not understand the allusion. In addition to that, there will be a large body of men not really genuine continuous farm workers who will come under this insurance, and the result in statistics I think will become more misleading than ever. I do not wish to continue repeating things which have already been said a good deal better than I can put them, but I would like again to appeal to the noble Lord in charge of the Bill and to ask, if the Bill is given a Second Reading, that it be referred to a Select Committee where the whole matter can be thrashed out more thoroughly than has been the case so far.


My Lords, I should like to say a few words in support of this Bill. I am sorry to differ from my noble friends the Earl of Stair and Lord Saltoun. My noble friend Lord Saltoun gave us a very full and interesting description of the conditions of agriculture in his own County of Aberdeen. It is rather curious that my two noble friends should come one from the extreme north-east and the other from the extreme south-west. I myself come from somewhere in between. I feel bound to support this Bill. In the first instance, I confess, I was somewhat doubtful as to the need for it, but when I studied the Report of the Committee presided over by my noble friend Lord Caithness I found very strong argument in favour of it. I do not agree with my noble friend Lord Saltoun's criticism of the Report. It seems to me that the Committee do seem to have been able to give a very accurate account of the conditions of agriculture in different parts of Scotland. It is true that statistical information and figures are very difficult to get, but I think they have done their best. The difficulty of getting accurate figures is precisely one of those things which it is hoped this Bill will remedy.

I think Lord Saltoun somewhat forgot that it is not to standardise and fix all wages but to fix minimum wages. I would be exceedingly sorry if the object were to make all wages uniform. I maintain that it is not in the interests of agriculture or of Scotland that the best and the most intelligent farm workers should migrate to the towns, and yet that is happening to a considerable extent. It is quite true, and it is not confined to Aberdeen, that some farm servants have risen and taken farms. I am sorry Lord Saltoun was so depressed by the sight of our large farms in the south of Scotland, but I know plenty of places where men have got on and taken farms themselves. I know of one example a little time ago of a man who had taken a small farm, and I should not be surprised if he went on to a bigger one. That drift, it seems to me, can only be remedied in two ways, by securing better housing conditions—and we are going a long way to get that at the present time through the working of the Rural Housing Act. In my own county, nearly every farm cottage has a bath and bathroom and hot water laid on, so that their homes are as good as those in the towns occupied by the working class. As regards pay, the conditions are not so satisfactory. Many of these men do get a fair wage, but wages have fallen owing to the very depressed condition of agriculture in Scotland. It is hoped that they will tend to rise. In fact, a farmer told me the other day that he thought they would go up a few shillings.

We do wish to ensure that these men get adequate remuneration. I would like to emphasise this point, that a good all-round farm worker is really a skilled man, and he ought to receive a wage adequate to his skill. He has far more responsible work, and skilled work, to do than many a man employed in the factory or in engineering work. I saw men the other day who do the same job every hour, every day of the year round, a job that is comparatively easy to learn. But the ploughman has to look after and care for the horses; he is also entrusted with the working of a good deal of machinery. In these days of mechanisation it has become more and more important to have skilled men, and you will not get them or keep them unless they are adequately paid. And they have to do different jobs all through the year. There are many other things which require real skill, and I contend that it is very important that he should be assured of an adequate remuneration for his work. In my part of the country wages have not gone down so much, but there are areas where they are too low to support a family. It has come to my knowledge all too often that married farm workers have had to apply for assistance, and we have had to give them assistance as being necessitous under the Education Act in order to provide boots and clothing for their children. That ought not to be the case with any man employed in full work.

A man in regular employment ought to be receiving a wage to enable him to obtain food and clothing for his family. It seems to me that thirty shillings a week is the very lowest sum on which a man can maintain his family. The system has been in operation for twelve years in England, and so far as I know, it is working well. I hope that some of the noble Lords with more experience of this side of the Border will tell us how the system is working, but I am convinced that with good will results ought to be good. I believe this system does provide sufficient scope for the necessary elasticity. It has been said that the best farmers have nothing to fear. It is maintained, of course, that there must be a certain amount of elasticity as regards hours, and that applies particularly, as Lord Saltoun has said, to shepherds. It seems to me that properly representative men should be appointed on both sides. I should like it to be laid down that these representatives, whether they be on the employers' or the workers' side, should be men really engaged in agriculture, practical men knowing what they are doing. The noble Earl, Lord Stair, asks me to add that they should not only be men employed in agriculture but belonging to the districts for which the board is appointed. It would be very undesirable to have one man as organiser sitting on different boards and travelling about Scotland.

I hope that, subject to such alterations as may be permitted in this House, your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading to-day, because I honestly believe that it will not interfere with the really skilled men. However much we multiply smallholdings we shall not, in that way, solve the problem. In that, as in other industries, more and more mechanisation will come in. Other trades are able to fix a standard of wages by negotiations with the organisations on both sides. In agriculture it is very difficult to come to an agreement. We did have an agreement and it did work well for some time. I do not feel that there is any need to detain your Lordships longer, but, as one who has knowledge of farming for many years past, I give this measure my support and believe that it is for the real good of Scotland and will help to maintain the best class of agricultural population in our rural districts.


My Lords, in the long discourse of the noble Lord who moved the rejection of this Bill, we were tempted to travel over rather a wide field which is not really contained in the pages of the Bill. May I remind your Lordships that the kernel of the Bill is contained in Clause 2 (7): In fixing minimum rates a committee shall, so far as practicable, secure for able-bodied men such wages as in the opinion of the committee are adequate to promote efficiency and to enable a man in an ordinary case to maintain himself and his family in accordance with such standard of comfort as may be reasonable in relation to the nature of his occupation. That, I think, is the kernel of the Bill. It is a Bill to establish a minimum wage below which a man would not be receiving a reasonable return for his labour.

The noble Lord who moved the rejection of the Bill, and, I think, Lord Stair who followed him, criticised the bringing of this Bill into your Lordships' House and particularly criticised its introduction at this period. They said there was no hurry, that more time could be taken, and that the Bill should be delayed for further investigation. In fact, Lord Stair pressed very strongly that if a Second Reading were given to the Bill it should be committed to a Select Committee rather than to a full Committee of your Lordships' House. Surely the intention of the Government in bringing the Bill into your Lordships' House at this period is quite clear: to give us an opportunity of thoroughly investigating the Bill, looking at the various points in Committee and carefully "vetting" it before it goes to its next stage. I can remember, although my period in this House is not so long as that of some of your Lordships, that practically every year a complaint has come up in this House that Bills are thrown upon us in June and July when there is no time to deal with them. This Bill, which is of vital importance to Scotland, is now presented to us at an early stage and we are given the opportunity of investigating it carefully in Committee.

There were also a complaint that the Bill was unnecessary, because conditions were improving, and a warning that we should look again before we leapt; that we were asked to take a sudden leap over an abyss and that we might land in the abyss instead of crossing it. Has there ever been a Bill in which the ground has been more carefully prepared? I do not for a moment admit that because a system has succeeded in England it will necessarily succeed in Scotland. At any rate, however, we have been sufficiently cautious to try out the system in England before suggesting that it should be brought into Scotland, and we have the experience of thirteen years' operation of this system in England on which to base the Bill applying it to Scotland. In addition to that, we have had the Report of the Caithness Committee, which has been frequently referred to in the debate to-night. On this point I think Lord Saltoun, in his criticism, said that evidence was not available. Surely here again it is clear that evidence given on such a matter as wages is necessarily confidential. It would not be given unless those who gave it were confident that their trust would be respected, and for that reason it is clear that evidence on such matters must remain confidential.

In turning to the Report we find in paragraph 97 this very striking record of the Committee's findings: With these considerations in mind, and after a very careful review of all the evidence submitted to us, we have come unhesitatingly to the conclusion that there is a direct and immediate need for the introduction by Statute of some form of machinery for securing the proper regulation of wages and conditions of employment. In face of that, and in face of the preparation of the ground to which I have referred, the Government could not be held to be doing anything else but failing in their duty if they disregarded a Report unanimously presented in those terms, and failed to bring in some measure to meet the request made to them by the workers in this industry. The Government have been constantly called upon to take an interest in and to do something to help agriculture. They have proved themselves willing to do something from various aspects: for example, they have improved the position with regard to wheat, beet sugar, live stock, and the growing of vegetables. An intelligent view of the situation must, however, surely, above all, take into consideration the conditions of work and life of those who are employed in the daily routine of the business, and their proper remuneration. Hence I find adequate reason for bringing in a Bill of this kind.

We have constantly had put before us in Scotland the difficulty of obtaining satisfactory and authoritative statistics, and here is another reason for the introduction of a Bill of this kind. In England and Wales, which have been operating an Act for the last thirteen years, it is possible through the records of the Ministry of Agriculture to obtain an authoritative survey of the conditions, the numbers of people employed and the wages. It is not possible to do so in Scotland. Though these facts and statistics are collated by the Department of Agriculture, they are collated, if I may use the term, in rather a haphazard way. There is no complete survey from which it is possible to collate full and accurate information. When we have added to this the fact that in Scotland a large part of the farm servants' wage consists of perquisites and that those perquisites vary in different parts of Scotland and even in different parts of the same county, we see that it is impossible to arrive at an accurate estimate of what a farm servant's wage really is.

That is the general situation, but there are three points which are of material interest at the present moment. Though the conditions are better at the present time and wages are tending upwards, we cannot forget that the industry has passed through a terrible depression, in which the wages of the farm servants had to bear a very considerable part of the burden; and in comparing the fall of wages in England and Wales with that in Scotland we find that the average decrease in England and Wales was only Is. Id. as against something like 4s. in Scotland. I do not say that that was entirely due to the operation of the particular Act, but the Act did have the effect of helping to keep the minimum wage steady at a point below which it was impossible to go. The second point which I should like to make is that there has been a definite request to the Government from representatives of the workers for action to be taken, and this definite request was backed and homologated by the Committee which went into the full discussion and investigation—the Caithness Committee. To throw out a Bill of this kind on Second Reading without considering the details would be at variance with proper policy, would be hurtful to Scotland, and hurtful to the cause of agriculture and those employed in it.

Further, we have the point which has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, the pull of the town. Certainly those of us who come from the midlands of Scotland, the industrial belt, cannot neglect the fact that there is a very decided pull on the lives of those employed in agriculture by the attraction of the extra amenities, the opportunities for social and recreational and educational activities, which they can get by moving into the towns. And, once moved, it is very rare that you get them back again. Conversely there never was a time when it was more important to keep the very best intellects, the very best labour available for work on the land. We have the mechanisation of farms, we have the various new processes which are being brought into farming operations through science—grass drying and other new processes. All these require brains as well as muscle; and for that reason it is most important to make the lot and the lives of these workers in agriculture better and more satisfactory, and to give them the confidence which comes from knowing that their wages will not fall, as they did in the former slump—the con- fidence which comes from a stable minimum wage.

I wish finally to emphasise that point. The Bill is not a Bill necessarily to increase the wage costs throughout the whole industry. It is to prevent the under-dog from being taken advantage of; it is to prevent the decline of wages from that level, in the terms of the Bill, which it is reasonable for a man to have in order that he may bring up his family and get a reasonable return for the labour which he does. I trust that your Lordships will give not only a sympathetic consideration to the Bill at this stage, and accord it your support if the Motion for its rejection is pressed to a Division, but that you will take the same line as was taken by the Chamber of Agriculture in Scotland; you will accept the position, and do your best to make the Bill work smoothly.


My Lords, I can well imagine that all those who are interested in agriculture in Scotland and in the production of food must view this Bill with grave apprehension. I recognise that it is perfectly impossible for your Lordships to reject the Bill on Second Reading: it would instantly be said that you were standing between the poor agricultural labourer and an increase of wage, and I for one should be the last person to prevent his getting a well-deserved increase in wage. But, in spite of all the nice things that have been said about the agricultural labourer and the desire that he should have sufficient on which to bring up his family in happiness and plenty, one has to consider who has to pay the wages, and out of what the wages have to be paid. It is very easy for those noble Lords and others who have not got to face the difficulties of making a living out of farming to preach and to say that those engaged on the farms should have better wages and better working conditions. I for one am perfectly certain that this Bill will have the effect of raising wages. It had that effect in England, and will probably have that effect in Scotland.

I should like to refer to what the noble Earl who has just addressed us describes as the whole pith of the Bill. He quite rightly says it is contained in Clause 2 (7), which says: In fixing minimum rates a committee shall, so far as practicable, secure for able-bodied men such wages as in the opinion of the committee are adequate to promote efficiency and to enable a man in an ordinary case to maintain himself and his family in accordance with such standard of comfort as may be reasonable in relation to the nature of his occupation. Of course, having read that, one finds it perfectly impossible to vote against the Second Reading of the Bill. But, against that, what is the position? These agricultural wages boards are to decide how much pay a labourer is to receive. They have not to consider what is the price of corn, or the price of cattle, or the price of anything that a farmer has to sell, but merely what is the smallest sum on which a labourer can live in comfort and happiness. That is to say that the sole thing which the committees have to decide is what is a living wage for an agricultural labourer, and not what the industry can afford to pay. Well, that is a very nice theory, and it is perhaps equitable, but I am not sure quite sure whether it is sound economics.

It is true that wages in Scotland have not gone up like wages in England. I think that is greatly due to the fact that in England the farmers have received more assistance from the Government. I need only mention the guarantee of a fixed price for wheat and the sugar beet subsidy, both of which largely affect some of the most distressed parts of agricultural England, but do not to anything like so large an extent affect very large districts in Scotland. I can safely say that almost the whole of the money which has been given under the wheat subsidy and the sugar beet subsidy has gone in the increased minimum wages which have been set by the agricultural boards in England. It seems rather hard that Scotland should have a Wages Bill thrust upon it without any adequate provision or promise that the Government are going to do anything to make farming a paying proposition in Scotland. I have only stated what my feelings about this Bill are. I think it is impossible for your Lordships to throw it out on Second Reading, but I feel most strongly that if Parliament, in its wisdom, is going to say that men are to have a living wage—agricultural labourers or any other workers—if that industry cannot afford to pay it, it will simply go out of existence. Agriculture both in England and in Scotland is very near the precipice now, except in very favourable districts, and I am perfectly certain that if wages are raised much higher in Scotland, and the Government do nothing to help the farmers to pay better wages in future, then more farms than ever will go out of cultivation and less and less food will be grown.

You cannot have it both ways. If the agricultural workers are to have a decent living, then farming must be made a paying concern, and it is for the Government of to-day, if they insist—which I think they are perfectly right in doing—that people should have a living wage, to bring forward such measures as shall make it possible for those who employ these men to pay them a suitable and living wage. So far as I can see, there are only two ways in which this can be done. One is to put up the prices of agricultural produce, and the other is for the Government to subsidise wages. I am quite certain that unless the Government are prepared to take some steps to improve the condition of agriculture and make it more profitable, the only effect of insisting on a rising and increased scale of wages will be to put more land out of cultivation and to have fewer men employed on the land, and to make agriculture even more depressed than it is to-day.


My Lords, I was sorry to hear my noble friend who has just sat down suggest we are not paying a living wage to our farm servants in Scotland.




The noble Earl referred to the statement on the face of this Bill as requiring a living wage to be paid to farm servants, and said that if this Bill were passed then obviously it would be necessary to pay a living wage. From that I infer that the noble Earl has suggested that farm servants in Scotland are not to-day paid a living wage.


What I suggested was that a great many farm servants in Scotland are receiving a very small wage indeed.


I have great sympathy with the Government over this Bill. They have been approached by a small but persistent body of workers with the object of stabilising the wages paid to farm labourers in Scotland. If that demand had not been preceded by anything else, I should have said that that formed a very weak part of the Caithness Commission's Report, but, as a matter of fact, we all know in Scotland that this question of regulation of farm servants' wages is not one which has just begun to agitate the minds of our people. The question has been at issue for a long time. We know that the farmers attempted collective action with the object of regulating and adjusting wages, and we know also that in certain parts of Scotland there are already agreements of a voluntary nature doing this self-same thing. I take the point which I think is one of the most important in connection with this matter to-day, quite apart from the regulation of wages. In this country we are in the position of having at our command only three or four months' supply of foodstuffs for our own consumption. It has been indicated in speeches by important members of His Majesty's Government that it is necessary to increase the food supply of our country. Unless you are going to regulate and stabilise the wages of agricultural workers in Scotland in the same way as has been done in England, then I fear you will have a drift away from the farms into the towns such as has been going on already. In these days also we have to face up to the fact that where the employers are given favourable consideration by the Government, through protection or through subsidies or through quotas, or by some other method which, at any rate, enables these employers to increase their livelihood, then it is necessary to see that the workers receive the same consideration.

For twelve years the same measure as is proposed in this Bill has been tried out and worked in England, and whilst I subscribe to the belief and knowledge that there are many matters in Scotland in which we differ from England, I would not subscribe to the alarming suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Saltoun that this measure could possibly affect the issue of Home Rule for Scotland or lead to the downfall of the Empire. From what I have heard—and I have taken steps to inquire from time to time—on the whole the wage regulation committees in England are working satisfactorily and well. If that is the case in England, I am sure that we in Scotland, who always have assumed a state of superiority in matters of administration and that sort of thing, ought to be able to administer this Bill through our committees just as successfully as the measure has been administered in England.

I am also given to understand that the Scottish Unionist members, whilst not agreeing in all details, as I do not myself, with the provisions of this Bill, support it in principle and intend to support it when it goes to the House of Commons. If the Scottish Unionist members, who are dependent upon votes for their successful return to another place, are prepared to support this Bill, I feel that your Lordships ought to do the same, and I sincerely hope that my noble friend Lord Saltoun will not press his Motion to a Division. I hope also that at later stages of the Bill the same attitude will be maintained. I was rather alarmed at what the noble Earl, Lord Ancaster, said a few minutes ago. He said in effect: "Let this Bill through now and then we will see what we do with it later." I hope that the action of your Lordships later will be what the action of your Lordships will be now; that is, to give a Second Reading to this Bill, and then let it pass through this House with whatever Amendments may be deemed necessary.


My Lords, of all the speakers who have addressed your Lordships this afternoon there is, I think, only one who really put his finger upon the crux of the whole matter, and that was the noble Earl, Lord Ancaster, when he drew attention to the fact that farming cannot be carried on except under economic conditions. I propose in a very few sentences to explain to your Lordships why we have had a situation in which wages in England have recovered in a way that they have not done in Scotland. The reason is simply this, that though the depression affected both countries, and while there was a tremendous fall in the prices received for agricultural product, at the same time far more was done by the Government for England than was done for Scotland. The noble Earl, Lord Elgin, alluded airily to the great benefits derived from the wheat quota and the sugar beet legislation. He was perfectly correct, but, as the noble Earl, Lord Ancaster, said, those benefits to all intents and purposes were non-existent as far as Scotland was concerned.

The mixed farming system of Scotland means that for the last few years our main primary products, oats, beef, potatoes and mutton, have been for the most part in a very sad state of depression. To-day there has been a certain amount of recovery, and things are undoubtedly better. Thanks to some extent to the Potato Marketing Board—one of the few Boards that have justified their existence—an adequate price is now obtained for potatoes. Prices for sheep are also considerably better, and oats have recently risen, but no one could claim as a producer of cattle that prices for beef, prices per live cwt., have yet reached anything higher than an absurd figure. While something was done for England, Scotland lagged behind, but there is no reason to assume that Scottish wages are not going to rise equally with those in England in the near future.

The complaint some of us feel is that this legislation is being rushed through because not sufficient time has been given to see whether the lag of wages behind prices would not be overcome, as has always been the case in the past sooner or later. I think that the Government are going a little too fast in abolishing the method of individual agreements for a collective system without having really had sufficient time to judge what is happening in the agricultural world so far as prices are concerned, and I must say that I subscribe to the opinion that the Report of the Caithness Committee cannot be considered a really good one. For myself I call it a scamped Report, because I do not think it was possible to deal adequately with the evidence which ought to have been dealt with in the short space of nine sittings and by calling upon merely nine farmers, however eminent—and many of them are known to me—and seven farm workers, all members of a union which is of complete unimportance as far as agricultural life in Scotland is concerned.

That is really not enough to make anything like an adequate investigation, and what I am afraid of is that, while the wages of certain farm workers will be definitely raised by this legislation, there may well be a reduction in the wages of many of those who are more highly paid to-day. I am afraid of men being put out of employment. What I should like to see is a position in which wages much higher than they are at the present time were paid to the Scottish farm worker, who has probably the longest hours and does the hardest work of any one in Scotland, but I am by no means convinced that this measure is going to bring that about. I think that further and much more searching consideration should have been given before this Bill was introduced. At the present time I am not prepared to vote against it, but I feel that it would have been better had further consideration been given to the subject so that we might have had more material on which to base what must be a very important decision.


My Lords, I would like to say a word of two in support of the Second Reading of this measure. As the last speaker, Lord Mansfield, said, I think that although we have not been doing so much to help in Scotland as has been done in England by protection, yet now we have protection the price of oats, the price of sheep, and so on, have definitely improved. I think that, as we have admitted protection for the price of agricultural products, we shall be driven sooner or later to accept—and we may as well accept now—the principle of protecting agricultural wages. Too much emphasis has been put upon the fact that this is a minimum wage Bill, because I gather from subsection (7) of Clause 2, which has been constantly referred to, that the minimum wage is only as far as the industry permits. There is no fixing of a wage regardless of the industry.

I will not say more on the general subject as so much has been far better said already than I can say it, but there is one point I should like to refer to. My noble friend Lord Saltoun, who spoke with such great knowledge of the subject, dwelt almost entirely upon the question of the agricultural labourers. I hope that as the result of this measure we shall have more permanency of employment amongst agricultural labourers. It is unfortunately a fact, as your Lordships know very well, that many of our ploughmen are engaged for one year only, and then move on to another farm; flitting, as we call it in Scotland. I think the tendency of this measure will be to make that less necessary. There are two main causes, I think, for this movement. The first is that a man wants to get greater experience, and the second is that he wants to improve the wage that he is getting. If there is a standard wage fixed, that second motive for going elsewhere will be withdrawn. I hope that will have the result of more permanent residence for the agricultural population. The result of this annual flitting, which is so common, is that children in Scotland go from one school to another year after year, and so there is very little permanency in their education. I am sure that your Lordships will all agree that that cannot be good for the education of the children. Nor can it be good for the homes of our country.

Houses on the farms in Scotland are not all that we would like them to be, and one cause of the unsatisfactory condition of the houses is that they are not used as homes but are regarded merely as camping grounds for a year. Anything that will tend to make the homes of farm servants more permanent will, I think, be tremendously to the good. It would also help the landowners. Landowners can now be helped under the rural housing scheme to improve the houses on the farms, but efforts in that direction will be thrown away if people do not make these houses their homes. We are getting better houses and let us hope that the families of farm workers will get the benefit of them. I think this Bill will tend in that direction, and for that reason I hope it will be given a Second Reading.


My Lords, although the hour is late I hope I may be allowed to detain you for a few minutes. Anyone listening to this debate might get the impression that farm labourers in Scotland are being paid almost starvation wages. I speak with a certain amount of authority because I have two fairly large farms in hand, and I have lost, as I suppose many of your Lordships have lost, a fair amount of money on them. It must be remembered that in my part of the world at all events there is something else besides wages. If you have a 350-acre farm and have thirteen times in the year to pay seventy pounds or thereabouts that takes some getting; but the farm labourer gets other things besides. There are potatoes for instance. Two tons of potatoes may be worth very little in some years, but in other years they are worth about eight pounds. Then there is milk. The workers in my part of the world were asked some time ago to take a shilling a day in lieu of that, but they very wisely would not do so. Again there are twelve bowls of oatmeal.

There is another point to be borne in mind. Landed proprietors in England, I suppose, as well as in Scotland, are being made to put their cottages into a condition that accords with modern standards. I do not complain of that, but it is costing landed proprietors a very considerable amount of money. I may mention as an instance that on one small holding I have had to improve cottages and the bill for it is about £700, or something like ten years' rental. That sort of thing is going on all over the place, and therefore I think landed proprietors are entitled to be considered in this Bill. If farmers are going to be called upon to pay a very much higher wage I do not know how they are going to afford to pay much in the way of rent. If these wages are to be paid it will be incumbent on the Government, I think, to see that prices are maintained. We have no guarantee of any sort in this measure that they will be maintained. I agree that at present they are improving, but no one knows when there may be a slump and when it would be impossible to pay very much in the way of increased wages. We have also to remember that there is an Insurance Bill which will throw a fresh burden on the farmer. With one thing and another I do not think it can be said that the farm labourer in Scotland, at all events, is being neglected. I agree that on some farms wages are not so good as they might be, but on large farms wages in Scotland, generally speaking, compare very favourably with those in other parts. I do not intend in any way to oppose this Bill, because I think it is a good Bill, but I agree with previous speakers in hoping mat it will be very carefully examined in Committee.


My Lords, we have had a very valuable discussion on this Bill, valuable because it will show how keen an interest is taken in this matter in Scotland. It is important, as I indicated in my opening speech, that we should do our utmost to improve the Bill as much as possible when it goes through the Committee stage. I think I may be allowed to pay a tribute to the opponents of the Bill for the reasonableness with which they have spoken, and for the great sincerity that they have shown. I should like to reply to the point made, I think, by the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, in which he questioned the introduction of the Bill in this House at the beginning of the year. The noble Earl, Lord Elgin, gave an answer to that when he said that it showed that the Government appreciated that there is in this House a body of opinion specially qualified to deal with the questions raised in this Bill. It was for that reason that the Bill was introduced in your Lordships' House, so that we might avoid that circumstance, which occurs so often, of having the Bill thrust upon us at the end of the Session after it has been dealt with in another place. I hope, therefore, that the fullest opportunity will be taken when this Bill is in Committee of dealing with the points which have been raised in the debate to-day.

The noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, and others suggested postponement of the Bill, but as I said in my first speech I think that a very unreasonable request after the Government have satisfied themselves that legislation on the lines of this Bill is wanted. This matter has been made the subject of a special Report, and the question of wage regulation in Scotland has been a live one for the last two or three years. It was only after voluntary negotiations had failed that this question was referred to the Caithness Committee. I would like to reply also to the complaint made by the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, that the evidence taken before the Caithness Committee was not made available to the public and to your Lordships. I understand that the Caithness Committee decided at the beginning of their task to exclude the public and the Press from their meetings, and that they proceeded on the basis that the evidence given before them should not be disclosed, for the very good reason that they took the view that witnesses would be more frank and more forthcoming if they understood beforehand that what they said would be treated as confidential evidence. This, I should have thought, is obviously a matter closely touching the personal relations between employer and employed, and I think no further elaborate defence of that course is required from me.

The noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, also, with some justice, questioned the size and representation of the Farm Servants' Union. I have had some inquiries made about that, and I am informed that this union has 187 branches, of which twenty-four have been formed during the past twelve months, in view, of course, of the prospect of wages committees being set up under this Bill. I think the question of nomination or election was also raised. On that I would just like to say that so far as I can see in advance, it is impossible to say which would be best for each district. It will have to be decided in the light of the conditions as regards the strength of the union and so forth. Still, it may be possible to decide on nomination as a general rule. Going back for one moment to the procedure in this House, I think it was the noble Earl, Lord Stair, who asked if this Bill could not be taken before a Select Committee. I think it would hardly be doing justice to that experience to which I have already alluded in your Lordships' House, if it were decided not to take the Bill here. The experts are in this House, and we have heard from them this afternoon. I hope to get this Bill sent to another place in the best possible form, with such amendment as may seem necessary. The noble Lord, Lord Marley, raised the question of cost of living and asked why it was not referred to in the Caithness Report, but I would only point out to him that the rise was not very marked until recently, and that, I think, is the reason why the Committee did not refer to it in their Report which was published in July of last year.

Of course, a great many other points came up in the debate to-day which I think your Lordships will recognise are points which require discussion on the Committee stage, and I hope, as I said, we shall have full discussion then. I think the noble Earl, Lord Ancaster, said that Scotland had derived nothing in the way of benefits for the farming community, but I would point out that it is hoped that the industry will derive some benefit from the £5,000,000 for beef producers and the 60 per cent. tariff which I understand is also introduced. These are some of the various measures which may help that portion of the industry. I do not wish to enter into the question of Home Rule for Scotland because I think that is so far outside the purview of our deliberations to-day that it would be undesirable that I should do so. But I do want to assure the noble Lord once again that it is the intention of the Government that this Bill should be examined very closely in Committee, and we hope, if this is done, that we shall be able to send it away from this House in a manner satisfactory to all those who have raised criticisms.


My Lords, we beg to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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