[Mr. TURTON in the Chair.]
Whereas it is expedient that councils and committees representative of persons employing workmen in agriculture and of such workmen should without delay be formed by agreement throughout Great Britain for the purpose of dealing with the matters mentioned in paragraph (16) of the report of a sub-committee of the Reconstruction Committee on Relations between Employers and Employed, dated the eighth day of March, nineteen hundred and seventeen:
Now, therefore, the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries as respects England and Wales, and the Board of Agriculture for Scotland as respects Scotland, shall have power, in so far as such councils and committees as aforesaid are not formed within three months after the passing of this Act, to take such steps as they think best adapted for securing the voluntary formation thereof.
The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Sir Arthur Boscawen): I beg to move, after the word "that" ["expedient that councils"] to insert the words "Joint Conciliation." This is simply a verbal Amendment which makes the Clause consistent with the title of the Bill.
Amendment agreed to.
The CHAIRMAN: The next Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. W. Smith) and three other hon. Members—to leave out the words "by agreement" ["formed by agreement"]—is consequential upon the Amendment dealt with when we first met. The same remark applies to the three subsequent Amendments—to leave out the words "have 720 power," "to," and "voluntary"—standing in the names of the same hon. Members.
Lieut.-Colonel ROYDS: I beg to move to leave out the words "the matters mentioned in paragraph (16) of the report of a sub-committee of the Reconstruction Committee on Relations between Employers and Employed, dated the eighth day of March, nineteen hundred and seventeen"— and to insert instead thereof the words "any difference or dispute as to wages, or hours, or conditions of employment." The object of this Amendment is that no wages should be considered or fixed by the Conciliation Boards until a dispute arises. The persons themselves, either individually or collectively, through their unions, should be at liberty to fix rates of wages, terms, and hours of employment, and it is only when a dispute arises that it should be necessary to refer the matter to the Conciliation Committees. This Amendment also limits the matters which are to be considered. It does not give the Board power to deal with matters mentioned in paragraph (16) of the Report of a Sub-Committee of the Reconstruction Committee on Relations between Employers and Employed. It limits the power to dealing with any difference or dispute as to wages, or hours, or conditions of employment. That is all that is necessary in the case of agriculture. So far as I know, I do not think there is any industry where Wages Boards come in to fix rates of wages if the parties between themselves, by their unions or individually, agree as to the terms, the rates of wages and the conditions of employment. It would be fatal to agriculture if the Farmers' Union and the Workers' Union are not to be at liberty to make their own arrangements, or the farmers individually with their men. If a dispute arises then is the time to refer to the Conciliation Committees. I think everybody agrees that there should be conciliation committees to whom any dispute should be referred. The labourers, as regards their organisation, are in a very different position now from what they were when the first Corn Production Act was passed, and my own feeling is that with the guarantee gone and the Wages Boards gone the labourers' organisation will be much stronger in future than it is now. It is in their interest that they 721 should be strong, and it is in the interest of the farmers that their union should be strong. Then they can meet on fair terms, and I have no doubt they will be able to come to satisfactory arrangements. If they do not come to terms reference can be made to the Conciliation Committees.
Mr. PRETYMAN: This is a very important point for the Committee to consider, and I believe that on the result of this Amendment peace in the industry in future will very largely depend. As the Bill stands at present, the Conciliation Committees are to undertake all the different responsibilities which are included in paragraph (16) of the interim report of the Whitley Council on Reconstruction. Those responsibilities cover a very wide ground. They were evidently designed for Whitley Councils in industries where organisations between employers and employed are very highly advanced. I understand that even in those cases the full ground covered by paragraph (16) has in no case really been dealt with, although it may be in the future. For such an industry as agriculture, to include all these objects at the present stage, when what we all desire is to get peace and working agreement, seems to me to be unnecessary, and may have very unfortunate results. Moreover, this is legislation by reference, which we want to avoid if possible. What was paragraph (16) of the Whitley Report? Acts of Parliament are comparatively easily obtained, but even when reference is made to an Act of Parliament it is bad enough. When it is a reference to an interim report you may hunt about the library of the House of Commons, and with the assistance of an extremely active and intelligent librarian you may succeed in finding it; but for the ordinary farmer or labourer, who has to be bound by the terms of the paragraph, it is all Greek. Whatever we decide to do let us do it plainly. It is very vital what these committees are to do. Let us put in plain words what they are or what they are not to do. The Amendment covers the whole ground which, to begin with, these Conciliation Committees ought to be asked to cover. We are calling these Conciliation Committees, and we mean them to be Conciliation Committees. We do not mean them to be Wages Boards. If there be any attempt to make these Conciliation Committees into what I may call 722 spurious, voluntary wages boards, it will be really worse in one sense than having the Wages Board system in its present form, because you will have a committee which will lay down or suggest rates of wages, conditions of labour, and hours of employment in their district, and which will have no power whatever of enforcing these recommendations. Again, you get the geographical difficulty which is most serious. As long as they are Conciliation Committees you may have one in every county. That committee will cover the area of the whole county in a satisfactory way as long as it is a Conciliation Committee and nothing else, because then any dispute or difference which arises on a farm in that area can be referred to that committee for adjustment. It can take into account the whole of the local conditions affecting that difference, and will not be hampered by what is happening in other districts where conditions are wholly different. But the moment you have that Conciliation Committee for a county laying down what is to be the standard conditions of employment throughout the county, you immediately get into the impossible position of a flat rate for the county. Take the case of Worcestershire. In the Eveeham district there is some of the richest land in England, where better conditions of labour can be obtained than in some of the very cold clay districts at the other end of the county, which are some of the most difficult to farm in present conditions. In Lincolnshire you have the fens in one district and poor light land in the high wolds at the other end of the county. The same conditions would not apply to the high wolds above Tattershall as to the district represented by my hon. Friend the Member for the Holland division (Mr. Royce). To have one committee laying down rules and regulations to cover these two would be impossible. There is another side to the matter. If this amendment be carried, the position of the labourer will not be made any worse. He may or may not belong to a union. If he does not he will be in a position in the first instance to make an arrangement with his employer as he likes.
Mr. G. EDWARDS: As the employer likes.723
Mr. PRETYMAN: As they like, or he will be unable to make an arrangement satisfactory to himself with his employers. In that case he may join a union, if he be not already a member and get them to take up his case for collective bargaining. They will take up the case for him primarily with his employer. If they fail with him they can go to the conciliation committee. On the other hand a labourer will have the right to take the matter himself to the conciliation committee, if he desires to do so. His rights will not be in any way prejudiced. Take, however, a case which is not one between the individual labourer and the employer, but one where there has been a strike, as a consequence of a breakdown between the workmen in an area and the employers. The employers are represented, say, by the local branch of the National Farmers' Union, and the workmen represented either by the Workers' Union or the Agricultural Labourers' Union, and if they have a difference as to hours, and rates of wages affected by this common bargain over an area, they can take this question to the conciliation committee and are in no way prejudiced by this Amendment. The Conciliation Committees are judicial bodies and it is important that they should not try to duplicate their functions. An arbitration court, which has to decide individual cases on their merits, with regard to all the circumstances affecting that individual case, would prejudice its own position and it would deteriorate its possibilities as a conciliation committee if it proceeded to issue a general statement as to what it thinks should be the relations between the different interests in that district. These committees will have to act as judicial bodies, and my hon. Friends will find it far better that these committees should build up what is called case law. A case will be brought to court. They will decide it on its merits. A great many of the features of that case will be general. So far as those cases are general so far will this decision amount to case law in that particular area, just as a case decided before an arbitration court settles those matters as case law.
Mr. SWAN: Fox law.
Mr. PRETYMAN: I do not know what that means. I hope that it means good law. In an industry like agriculture it 724 is a primary right, for the sake of the industry, for the employer and the man, if possible, to adjust matters satisfactorily for themselves. That is particularly the case in agriculture where there are perquisites—perhaps that is hardly the word—such things, for instance, as a pig in some cases or potatoes in another case, things which secure food for himself and his family are given and where it is easier to make payment in kind than to find money. I know that that is against the idea of the solidarity of labour, but that does happen. Many a large pig I have seen in the sties of labourers—
Mr. EDWARDS: We do not want them.
Mr. PRETYMAN: The labourers do, even if the hon. Member does not, want to make an arrangement with the employer, who could say, "You are not compelled to do it, but if you find it better for yourself and your family to make an arrangement with your employer you can do so," and in such a case it is iniquitous for any outside influence, whether for the solidarity of labour or any other purpose, to step in and say, "Here is a farm which can be carried on in this way by agreement between employer and employed, where all is going to be happy and something produced, but for what is called the solidarity of labour this arrangement must not be carried out." I trust that in the interests of agriculture this Amendment will be carried.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN: This Amendment divides itself into two parts. The first is, whether we should limit the functions of these councils to certain definite things, or give them the power to operate in all the matters contained in the Whitley Report. I think that many of the things mentioned in the Whitley Report are inapplicable to agriculture, and I do not think that we shall lose anything if we limit them to the special things which we want to get amicably settled—wages, hours and conditions of employment. That has the advantage of substituting a simple code that anybody can read for a somewhat elaborate scheme which the farmer could only ascertain by reference to the Report of a Committee. I agree that this is, perhaps, a bad example of legislation by reference. I can only say that I copied this part of the Clause almost verbatim from a similar 725 Clause in the Railways Bill. I am not claiming that that is any recommendation. I am merely explaining how it has got in this form into this particular Bill. I have consulted my advisors and they are clearly of opinion that, by limiting the functions of these bodies to these particular matters, which are matters in which we want to have conciliation and to have as little trouble as possible, probably we shall be doing the wisest thing. Therefore, I am disposed to accept the Amendment in a certain form. But I do not think, much as I regret it—because I have considered the matter very carefully, and I am anxious to meet the view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman), who throughout the whole of this business has been most helpful in every way and whose knowledge and experience are of great value—that it is wise to say that they are only to operate in cases of any difference or dispute as to wages, hours, or conditions of employment. That is a complete departure from the procedure which has been adopted by the Whitley Councils in every other trade, the theory being that they are to conciliate in advance rather than to come in as arbitrators in a dispute afterwards. The things which my right hon. Friend fears would happen to a large extent just as much under his amendment as if these particular words were omitted. He does not wish conciliation committees as I understand, to fix general rates of wages, but that if there be a dispute they should come in at the second stage and say that the rate in the case of this dispute is to be so much. But they cannot limit that to that particular instance. It must inevitably become general. I am most anxious for peace in the industry, but I think it would be far better that these bodies should act in advance and prevent a threatened strike rather than wait till a strike has occurred. Perhaps the word "strike" is rather suspect just now, and I will say dispute, or some trouble in the industry. I would very much sooner that the possibility of a dispute should be avoided than that these bodies should only come into operation when a dispute is threatened or when it has actually arisen. The whole idea of Whitleyism is conciliation in advance by agreement. That is a very valuable principle, and, though I quite admit many of my right hon. Friend's 726 difficulties, I do not think we should depart from that principle on the present occasion. May I point out another thing? My right hon. Friend is afraid that the county committee covering a large area may fix rates which may be quite inapplicable to smaller areas within itself-and he gives the very good example of Worcestershire with a very rich district like the Vale of Evesham and Lincolnshire with a rich district in the Fens, and a very poor district on the Wolds. I never intended that these Conciliation Committees should be for counties only. You must take the county as the initial unit, but I have always believed and hoped that there would be smaller sub-committees acting for particular districts. Therefore, I think that that difficulty would be entirely got over whether we adopt my right hon. Friend's words, or whether we leave them out. This is a matter upon which we are all anxious, quite irrespective of party views, to do what is really best for the industry and to seek peace. Therefore, I am not going to protest on the merits or demerits of this particular matter that I wish to force my opinion upon the Committee; but my opinion, having listened to my right hon. Friend and given great consideration to the matter in the last few days, is that it would be in the interests of peace not to limit the duties of these bodies to cases of difference or dispute as to wages, hours, and conditions of employment, but to enable them to act in the first instance instead of waiting until a threatened dispute has arisen. I shall be prepared to accept the Amendment leaving out the first words, namely, "any difference or dispute as to." That is the proposal I shall put before the Committee.
Mr. ACLAND: How would it read?
Sir A. BOSCAWEN: It will read thus: "for the purpose of dealing with wages, hours, or conditions of employment"—
Mr. W. SMITH: I did not anticipate that this morning we should get on to what appears to be the most vital point which must arise in connection with Clause 4, namely, whether it is to be a purely voluntary operation or whether it is possible to attach anything else to it. I want to be 727 perfectly frank in this matter. If it is to be a purely voluntary operation, then really there is no reason why this committee should spend another minute upon it. If the Act we are passing will be just an expression of pious opinion and carry no authority or power with it, then the bodies that will have to be formed and the sides that will have to carry it out will just please themselves as to what they will do, and the Act itself will not have the slightest power over their conduct. If this Committee has finally made up its mind that all it will permit to operate following on the abolition of the Wages Boards is just a voluntary arrangement, then there is not the slightest reason why you should add any section to this Act at all. It is quite obvious that the Movers of this Amendment do not want anything in the way of collective bargaining or general agreements. We may just as well be quite frank on these matters. They still want the old individual arrangement between the employers and their workmen. What does this Amendment mean? If there be a difference which arises between an employer and his workman, either side can go to the Conciliation Committee to get a settlement. How is the Conciliation Committee going to settle the difference unless there be some standard by which they can judge the points at issue. If it be a question of wages, as to whether the wages are satisfactory or adequate, how are they to determine that question unless according to a standard fixed previously and by which they can measure the whole position? The whole thing is absurd. Hon. Members seem to think that employers and workmen can please themselves whether or not they belong to an organisation, and, as soon as they are in a difficulty, have the right to claim the protection of that organisation. No organisation can possibly carry on under those conditions. If there is to be this machinery established, there will have to be some financial obligation, the expenses of secretaries, of hiring, of railway travelling expenses, to carry on the work of these conciliation bodies. Is a man who has never contributed a farthing to the organisation to have the right, as soon as he is in trouble, to claim the protection of this machinery? That is how the thing is 728 going to work out in practice, and as soon as a man has got a decision he can fall out again. The whole thing is quite unworkable in practice. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman) speaks of those desirable conditions where the workman and the employer can settle their own affairs and live happily and comfortably, just like they did in the days before the War, when in some counties the labourer was in the happy and comfortable position of having to keep a wife and bring up a family of six children on 16s. a week. Those are the conditions to which the right hon. Gentleman wants the labourer to go back. He speaks of perquisites as if every farmer was imbued with the strong idea and desire of helping his labourer so far as the keeping of a pig is concerned. My hon. Friend beside me (Mr. G. Edwards) can produce written agreements which labourers in the past have been compelled to sign placing them under an obligation not to keep anything in connection with their cottage, not even a cat or a fowl. Quite recently, I came across a case where a man by thrift and industry was able to keep a pig in order to assure to himself some measure of independence, and, when he left his employer, the man who succeeded him was bound down, and was not permitted to keep a fowl or a pig for fear he might establish some degree of independence. Yet the right hon. Gentleman is trying to persuade the Committee that all farmers are imbued with the idea of helping their labourers in this particular respect. As a matter of fact, for years and years these things have never operated. It was the condition at one time that the labourer was allowed to have his pig and some straw, and was paid for his pig when it was fatted and ready to be disposed of. Those conditions have gone. I do not say that there is no case where they do not obtain to-day. It would be a very bad state of things if all benevolence had disappeared from human life, but, generally speaking, these things are now foreign to the facts of the case, and the agricultural labourer, like other workmen, is compelled to look to his wage alone as the means by which he can support himself and his family. I do not know that we have ever taken a line of opposition to perquisites. If an employer seeks, out of the generosity of 729 his heart, to give anything to his labourer, we have never taken exception to it. When, however, it is put forward that these perquisites are of such a character as to warrant a low wage being paid, I say that the general principle of these perquisites is such as to make the argument entirely void. If all this Committee is going to give us is a voluntary arrangement, you might just as well leave us to arrange matters with the Farmers' Union. You need not interfere at all. Seeing that the House of Commons has established a condition of paying in connection with the industry as far as wages is concerned, our contention is that you have no right to cut us clean off from that particular method without giving us something in the nature of a substitute to enable us to carry on. That is why I hope the Committee will understand that the only difference on this question is whether it is to be a purely voluntary arrangement or whether something else is to be attached to it. If you want a voluntary arrangement, you need not spend another minute in the consideration of this Bill.
Captain FITZROY: I cannot say that I welcome these discussions, which seem to lend themselves to heat on one side or the other. There is always an inclination to assume that every farmer is a scoundrel and that every labourer is a saint or vice versâ. I consider that they are both human beings, endeavouring to get the best conditions that they can out of the industry in which they are engaged. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down assumed that some of us wish to do away with what he called collective bargaining. That is really not the case. We do not want to prevent individual bargaining; we are quite in favour of collective bargaining under a proper system, but you do not want to put out of court altogether the possibility of employers and employed coming to an agreement one with the other. I am sorry that the Minister has taken the view that he has with regard to the elimination of the first three words in this Amendment, because those three words really embody the principle. The Minister says that if we put in these words we are setting up Conciliation Committees of a totally different character from those which are functioning in other industries. That may be true, or it may not—I am not going to say—but he, of all people, 730 should know that agriculture is totally different from any other industry, and to that extent it requires a different system to be set up whereby these adjustments of hours and wages can be made. The workers in every other industry work under the same conditions. It does not make much difference in what part of the country the industry is carried on. That is not the case with agriculture. As we have heard, in all parts of the country different conditions arise in different counties, and in districts of counties, and that is one of the reasons why the system of Wages Boards has been very difficult to work. It is because of the different conditions of the industry in different parts of the country. My idea of the conciliation committees is that they would not function unless a dispute was brought to them to decide, and that it would not be their duty to have the initiative of setting up standard rates of wages, hours, etc. There is a great difference between the two things. The hon. Member who has just sat down said that conciliation committees such as I have described would be perfectly useless. Let us consider what would happen. A conciliation committee would be set up; some dispute might arise, and very likely would arise, over matters of wages and hours of employment. The dispute would be brought before the conciliation committee for them to adjudicate upon it. Having done so, the particular rate of wage upon which they decided, or the hours of employment would become the standard rate over that particular district. That might appear to be exactly the same thing as if they in the first instance were, of their own initiative, to settle rates of wages, but it is not so. In my view, the great fault of the Wages Boards has been, not that they have confined themselves to the functions for which they were originally established, but that they have made their awards, without any reports from the district, on their own initiative, and settled different sets of rates of wages. It has been said that a conciliation committee, having given its award, would have no power to enforce it. It is an extremely difficult question, but for my part I should be prepared to agree, if it can be done, that these conciliation committees when a case is brought before them should have legal power to enforce their award. I should have no objection 731 to that; but it must be the case that, of themselves, they have not the initiative of setting up rates of wages. That is the whole difference. I am quite prepared to accept a proposal to give legal power to them to have their rates enforced by law, but not to have power of themselves to fix rates of wages in the first instance. That would be a fair adjustment between, the two proposals.
Mr. ACLAND: What the hon. and gallant Member has just said seems to me to be of great importance and to offer a way out from some of the difficulties which will confront the Committee during the remainder of its deliberations. On the face of it, and taking it by itself, I prefer the general words of the Minister to the words of the Amendment. If hon. Members who support the Amendment, and who carry such weight in the industry, would agree, perhaps on unanimous petition from these conciliation committees, that the decisions given by them should have the force of law, and if they would accept some modification of the new Clause which is on the Order Paper for to-day, then I think we might find a way out more quickly. Whether we can come to some sort of agreement as we go on, or whether it needs a little more thought and conference outside, I am not quite sure.
The CHAIRMAN: The hon. Member will forgive me for interrupting him. It is quite obvious, after the speech we have heard from the hon. and gallant Member (Captain FitzRoy), that an important change has taken place in regard to this question. I propose to allow hon. Members free play for the expression of their views on this Amendment. There will be no question of their being out of order. At the close the Minister in charge will, no doubt, desire to make some statement, after which I would suggest, with the approval of the Committee, that we should adjourn until Tuesday morning. There is an additional reason for adjourning until Tuesday, as manuscript Amendments have been handed to me—I have no complaint to make on that score—and it is necessary that all hon. Members should see those Amendments in print. Therefore, our wisest course is to have a very full, free, and frank discussion on this matter this morning, and, after the Minister's reply, to adjourn until Tues- 732 day, on the distinct understanding that the proceedings finish on that day, as this Committee is charged with another Bill.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN: Let me be allowed to say that I welcome the fullest discussion at this stage, and after that I should not resist an adjournment until Tuesday.
Mr. PRETYMAN: I fully concur.
Mr. ACLAND: I entirely agree, and I accept the suggestion of the Chairman that we should on this occasion have a full and frank discussion. I do not want to disturb the atmosphere of possible agreement which has been brought into our discussion, but I must make one point perfectly clear. It is this. As the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir A. Boscawen) now reads— (2) The persons who are at the date of the passing of this Act members of a district wages committee for any area as representatives of persons employing workmen in agriculture or of workmen engaged in agriculture shall, until the expiration of two years from that date until a joint conciliation committee is formed, whichever first happens, form a joint conciliation committee for the purpose of dealing with the matters aforesaid within any part of the said area for which a joint conciliation committee does not exist, and any vacancy occurring among those representatives shall be filled by the appointment of a member by the remaining representatives of employers or of workmen, as the case may be. (3) Any minimum rate of wages fixed under the enactments repealed by this Act, whether in operation at the date on which the repeal takes effect or fixed to come into operation at a later date, shall as from the date of the repeal or that later date, as the case may be, until the first day of January, nineteen hundred and twenty-two, have effect, as if it were a minimum rate of wages agreed to by such a council or committee as aforesaid, but so that it shall cease to have such effect in any area if and when another rate in substitution therefor is agreed to by the joint conciliation council or committee for that area. While any fixed rate as aforesaid continues in operation it shall be an implied term of every contract for the employment of a workman to whom the rate applies that the employer shall pay to that workman wages at not less than that rate, unless the employer and the workman otherwise agree. (4) Any such council or committee as aforesaid may appoint an independent person to act as chairman, or may agree to such an appointment being made by any Government Department or other body, and a chairman may be appointed with or without power to vote, and with such other powers as the appointing body may determine. 733 (5) The representatives of employers and workmen on a joint industrial council or committee shall, respectively, have one collective vote on any question— it contains a perfectly definite, I do not say deliberate, breach of faith with me with regard to the point I raised yesterday I then moved an Amendment, which had a certain amount of support, that the Conciliation Committees should not operate until the Minister was satisfied that they would operate and that their operations would have validity and respect and loyalty throughout the districts. The Minister said that would mean in some districts that the Wages Boards would go on and that in other districts the Conciliation machinery would operate. He said he had been thinking over the matter and as a means of meeting my point, to some extent, he offered not that the Wages Boards themselves but that the orders of the Wages Boards should continue to operate until the new year. Later in the day he quite fairly told me that there was one condition which he did not mention at the time—namely, that if meanwhile between now and the new year the Conciliation Committees did get to work their recommendation as to rates should take the place of the recommendations which might be left in operation by the Wages Boards on their decease on 1st October. That is contained in his new Amendment, and is a modification, and to some extent a relaxation, of what he said to the Committee and myself, because it would be quite possible for the orders of the Wages Boards left at their decease not to operate and to be superseded by some lower rates of wages. I do not complain of that at all. What I complain of is that in his new Amendment he has inserted the words that the rate shall have effect "unless the employer and the workman otherwise agree." He has introduced since yesterday a system of complete contracting out, which, of course, is entirely incompatible with any statutory rates at all. If he had had in his mind yesterday the system of allowing contracting out, and had said so, I, of course, should not have withdrawn my Amendment, which I have now lost the right to move. I am bound to make this statement publicly in my own justification, because those interested in the matter might say that I had simply been "had" in withdrawing my Amendment if all we are to get in exchange is a 734 system of contracting out. I support the idea of an adjournment after this discussion, as it is better that questions of this kind should be discussed and put right by agreement, rather than by hammering them out on the Floor of this Committee.
Mr. WINTRINGHAM: If I do not follow the last speaker, it is in order to preserve the new atmosphere that has resulted from the valuable suggestion of the hon. and gallant Member for Daventry (Captain Fitzroy). I do not want a long rambling and heated discussion now. I would welcome an adjournment in order that the hon. and gallant Member for Daventry and the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. W. Smith), and the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. G. Edwards) with their friends can get together, and see if something can be hammered out for our meeting on Tuesday. I have no need to waste words on the Amendment suggested by the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman) as to the restrictions of paragraph (16) of the Whitley Report. Paragraph (16) provides a whole decalogue of virtues by reference, which it would be difficult to impose on an industry which is not as highly developed as an industry in Lancashire or the West of Yorkshire. It is better to have a minimum reference. I recognise the difficulties. There is the difficulty of contracting out. I see the difficulty of operating. I see a difficulty from the labourers' side and from the farmers' side in bringing up a case and getting it substantiated; but I do see a most invaluable suggestion in the proposal that where a case is brought up the decision of the Conciliation Committee should have the binding force of law. I suggest to the representatives of the labourers and of the farmers that this suggestion should be explored and considered as a basis for settlement. We want to avoid trouble. My sympathies are with the hon. Member for Wellingborough. I am a curious and detached sort of person, because I am not particularly interested in the land, and I cannot claim to be a Labour representative, but I do want to avoid trouble, and, unless we can come to some agreement, trouble is coming. I see in the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Member for Daventry something that will bring peace, and I ask the Committee not to dismiss it but to see if it can be done. 735 The worst thing that can happen to agriculture is to have the farmers on the one hand and the farm workers on the other at sixes and sevens. That would be a long and troublesome business, and we should get into the region of heat. There would be no difficulty if the farmers were all of the same fair mind as the hon. and gallant Member for Daventry, and if they had to meet workers representing the same fair mind as that of the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. G. Edwards). It might be done with a chairman, with or without a vote. This suggestion will relieve the Minister of Agriculture, who has a very long and windy Amendment on the Paper. It will give him an opportunity to make waste paper of that Amendment, and he would be only too pleased to do that.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN: Yes, if I can get something better.
Mr. WINTRINGHAM: You are in the way of getting something infinitely better. I do ask the representatives of the Farmers' Union and of the workers to come together and see if something cannot be done.
Mr. W. SMITH: I have no desire but to act in a manner that will make things smooth, and if it would help the Committee I would be perfectly willing to adjourn now and to see how far we can, by common agreement, come to an understanding. All that I am seeking, and all that my friends are seeking, is to create a condition which will be helpful to the industry. Of course, I may have some special regard for the labourer, but I know that unless the industry is firmly and properly secure, neither the labourer nor anybody else stands any chance. I am quite prepared to fall in with any suggestion which will lead to consultation whereby common agreement can be reached.
Mr. J. GARDINER: I do not oppose the suggestion of an adjournment, because I think it is a very wise course to take. Everyone wishes to reach a settlement by agreement if it be possible; but once more I must speak for the part of the country which I represent. I do not wish to differ from the representatives of Labour, and especially from the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. W. Smith), but I would point out 736 that the position occupied by the Scottish Farm Labourers' Union is absolutely opposite from that which my hon. Friend describes. The representatives of agriculture labour in Scotland welcome the Bill, and do not ask that the Wages Boards should be continued. One hon. Member spoke of perquisites. So far as I know that is a system which applies on practically every farm in my district. I have here a list of the perquisites that are granted to a farm labourer in my neighbourhood. He has £130 in wages, which is equal to 50s. a week, and his perquisites bring up his total emoluments to £212. People give different descriptions of the life of the agriculturist, but I would refer to a description given by a man whose name will be known when we have all passed away. He was a humble ploughman. I refer to our national poet, Robert Burns. In his poems he referred to conditions of things existing in his days, and wrote a very touching poem dedicated to a daisy which he, unfortunately, had to turn down with his plough. Coming home at night, and thinking about the ploughman's position in those days he wrote: "Some ha'e meat, and canna eat, And some wad eat that want it; But we ha'e meat, and we can eat, And sae the Lord be thanket." I should deplore very much anything that would hinder the making of an arrangement between the farm servants and the farmers. Two years ago one of my neighbouring farmers put a man into a cottage with an acre of land adjoining. He ploughed up that acre of land for the man and planted it with potatoes, and I was present when the patch of potatoes was sold by public auction and it fetched in the public market £120. I do not want the farm labourers in my constituency to be debarred from privileges like that, and anything that would prevent it would have my opposition. We should surely be able to reach an arrangement whereby the interests of the farm labourer and of the farmer can be secured by negotiation; but I think it will be necessary for the Minister to consult the Secretary for Scotland and see that the words introduced will not interfere with the Scottish position.
Lieut.-Colonel WILLOUGHBY: My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Daventry (Captain FitzRoy) threw out a suggestion which some of us 737 who act with him had not considered, and we ought to have time to consider whether we can agree to the legal enforcement of this particular proposal. One appreciates that my hon. Friend is very fair-minded, but there is a great deal to be said on the other side. No one can accuse me of being very popular with the farmers. They seem to think that I do not represent them. I am not really speaking for them, but I do think that they have to be considered. We hear from the representatives of labour a great many hard things about the farmers, but they ought to tell us that some of their own men do not always do their best for the farmers. If you are going to make these things enforceable by law, it is going to be difficult when a man slacks and does not do his work. It will require careful consideration before we can agree to make something compulsory so that a man may get wages when he does not earn them. However, I am willing to do my best to reach agreement.
Captain TUDOR-REES: I will do my best to develop the excellent suggestion which has been made by the hon. and gallant Member for Daventry (Captain FitzRoy), a suggestion which has entirely altered the outlook. I have a suggestion to make with a view to bringing to a successful conclusion the negotiation which will take place. About two weeks ago I asked the Minister in the House a certain question, and he said that he was in communication with the Farmers' Union, and he proposed to get into touch with the Agricultural Labourers' Union, and hoped to have a joint conference and to attend it. I do not know whether that conference has taken place or whether it is possible that the conference could take place between now and next Tuesday. If so, it might have considerable weight and might help negotiation very considerably.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN: I have been, and shall be, for the next few days, very much in touch with all parties. The people principally concerned are Members of the House of Commons and especially Members of this Committee; but I shall take every possible step to come to some arrangement. I welcome this Adjournment. There has been produced to-day an atmosphere which is very favourable for an honourable settlement of a great difficulty. We desire nothing 738 else but peace in the industry. I cannot at this stage indicate the lines upon which settlement should come. The proposition which has been made is practically this, as I understand it, that there should be conciliation committees, and that their awards or orders, whatever they may be, should be enforceable in law.
Mr. PRETYMAN: If it be confined to dealing with disputes.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN: If it be confined to dealing with disputes their orders should be enforceable by law. I cannot disguise from the Committee that there are great difficulties in the way. It is an entirely new departure. The Whitley conciliation committees, and the trades boards or Wages Boards, who have the right to enforce their decisions by law, have been kept entirely apart up to the present time. In some trades you have trade boards whose decisions are enforceable at law. In others you have conciliation committees, whose decisions are enforced by agreement and public opinion and not by law. We are now proposing to mix the two systems together. There may be in a sense justification for it as agriculture differs in many respects from any other industry. But it is a big departure, and I could not assent to it without, at all events, consulting some of my colleagues in the Government, and especially the Minister of Labour. But if we adjourn till Tuesday I shall occupy the interval, so far as I am able, in endeavouring to arrive at some solution which I think will be generally accepted though I do not disguise the difficulty. My right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne (Mr. Acland) will, I am sure, acquit me of any intention of trying to mislead him or induce him to take a certain course under false pretences. There was no such intention, but we in this matter are up against one difficulty. We have got to deal with the question which arises now under the permit system. If you have a system whereby any wage decided by a Wages Board goes on for a period, and the permit system is swept away, you must either allow contracting out or substitute some other plan for dealing with the questions which arise under the permit system to-day. Otherwise you would have a more rigid system for the intervening period than exists to-day, whereby an old man or an unfit man, a man suffering from definite physical 739 disability, can contract out, and though it may be that the words which I put on the Paper go too far, we must set up some machinery for deciding whether contracting out is fair and reasonable or not. If we persist with that Amendment of mine, I should be quite willing to consider that point. But my right hon. Friend will realise that something on those lines must be done. I regret very much if, in the somewhat hurried conversation which we had, I did not make that clear to him yesterday. I agree that my words may go too far. In that case I should be prepared to modify them so as to ensure the elasticity which is necessary. Perhaps we need not pursue that further, as we are trying to deal with the matter in an amicable spirit. I will consult my colleagues and advise Members of the Committee and others between now and Tuesday with a view to ascertaining whether anything can be arrived at by agreement which would be generally satisfactory.
Mr. ACLAND: I accept entirely my right hon. Friend's statement. But I am sure that he will realise that there is a great deal of difference between simply allowing universal contracting out and altering rates under a system of permits. If a man can say to his employer, "You propose to pay me less than the rate which has been declared to be the rate which you ought to pay," the worker is in a very much stronger position if he can say, "That is all right, but it has got to go at all events before a sub-committee of the conciliation committee for them to consider whether, in the circumstances, it is fair." There are two more suggestions which I may make as to the main lines to be kept in mind in any discussions which are going to take place. One perhaps may seem to be 740 giving away the full strength of the case for compulsory powers behind the recommendations of the conciliation committee. You might set up these conciliation committees with only voluntary power, and let them see whether they can get their recommendations accepted in a friendly way throughout the area without the force of law being behind them. If that could be done it would be better.
Mr. WINTRINGHAM: It cannot be done.
Mr. ACLAND: I am personally of that opinion, but a great deal would be gained if you tried it. Then you could give the conciliation committee the power, if by unanimous resolution they asked for it, to request that certain recommendations with regard to hours or wages or conditions should be approved by the Minister which, if so approved, should be enforceable. The point is, you might say, let them do their best. If the public opinion of the country is fairly unanimously behind them and they foresee that unless they can get the few recalcitrants into line it will break down and there will be a strike, we should let them ask that their recommendations should be enforceable. The point which the hon. Member for Pembroke (Sir Evan Jones) has in mind might well be considered, so that you should not enable penal action to be taken, but only that the rates and wages should be recoverable in a civil court as a civil debt. Those two points are a modification to some extent of the hard and fast mandatory threatening regulations and you might apply them to the present Wages Board as far as possible, bearing in mind that they might help to make it possible to come to some general agreement.
Committee adjourned at Twenty-two Minutes after Twelve o'Clock till Tuesday, 19th July, at 11 a.m.741
THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:
Turton, Mr. (Chairman)
Barton, Sir William
Beckett, Sir Gervase
Bird, Sir William
Boscawen, Sir Arthur
Edwards, Mr. George
Gardiner, Mr. James
Jones, Sir Evan
Lowther, Major Christopher
Newman, Sir Robert
Rees, Captain Tudor-
Smith, Mr. Walter
Sprot, Colonel Sir Alexander
White, Mr. Charles
Williams, Mr. Charles
Wills, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Gilbert