HC Deb 02 February 1967 vol 740 cc165-7W
Mr. Hazell

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he has yet received the report of the National Board for Prices and Incomes on the recent reference on agricultural wages in England and Wales; and whether he will make a statement.

Mr. Peart

Yes. My right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State and I have received this report and copies are now available in the vote office.

In the light of their consideration of all the factors involved, including hours of work and average earnings compared with those of other industries and the distribution of earnings, the National Board for Prices and Incomes states that it has no doubt that the decision of the Agricultural Wages Board to increase the minimum rate for the adult male agricultural worker by 6s. a week (and proportionately for other categories) from 6th February is in full accord with paragraph 28 of the White Paper on the Period of Severe Restraint.

The Board's view is that in applying this paragraph of the White Paper it is necessary to draw a distinction between differentials which should be maintained and those which should not, whether permanently or as a temporary contribution towards combating inflation. For this reason it has also considered the question of consequential increases for those agricultural workers who are at present getting more than the minimum rate. Since the span of differential payments (other than overtime) is very narrow in agriculture compared with most other industries, the Board considers that most differentials in agriculture cannot be substantially narrowed.

The Board refers, however, to the relatively small numbers of agricultural workers whose pay is well above the minimum. Although in the absence of an agreed wage structure the Board has felt unable to distinguish precisely between those differentials which cannot be narrowed without damage, and those which cannot justifiably be maintained as part of a pay increase intended to benefit the lowest-paid worker, it does give examples of the second type. Where differentials, or part of them, are paid because of competition for labour from sources of relatively high paid employment there is no case for an increase in pay at this time, just as there is no case for an increase in the pay of the competitive employments. Where farm-workers enjoy relatively high earnings through incentive payments, there is no case for an increase in pay during the period of severe restraint, particularly since they have the opportunity to increase their earnings by increasing output. There is also a group of workers, mainly in managerial positions and often on annual contracts, whose earnings are relatively high and for whom increases would not be justified on this occasion.

The Board also recommends that an adequate wage structure for agriculture should be negotiated at an early date.

My right hon. Friend and I accept these conclusions, and are confident that we can look to the co-operation of both sides of the industry in implementing the Board's recommendations in respect of consequential increase for those workers who are receiving more than the new minimum rates.