[Mr. WILLIAM NICHOLSON in the Chair.]
(1) Agricultural wages committees subject to confirmation by the Agricultural Wages Board in manner provided by this Act shall fix minimum rates of wages for workers employed in agriculture for time work, and may also, if and so far as they think it necessary or expedient, fix minimum rates of wages for workers employed in agriculture for piece work.
(2) Any such minimum rates may be fixed by a committee so as to apply universally to all workers employed in agriculture in the county for which the committee act, or to any special class of workers so employed, or to any special area in the county, or to any special class in a special area, subject in each case to any exceptions which may be made by the committee for employment of any special character, and so as to vary according as the employment is for a day, week, month, or other period, or according to the number of working hours, or the conditions of the employment, or so as to provide for a differential rate in the case of overtime.
(3) If, on an application in that behalf, a committee are satisfied that any worker employed or desiring to be employed on time work to which a minimum rate fixed under this Act is applicable is so affected by any physical injury or mental deficiency, or any infirmity due to age or to any other cause, that he is incapable of earning that minimum rate the committee may grant to the worker, a permit exempting, as from the date of the application, or from any later date specified in the permit, the employment of the worker from the provisions of this Act requiring wages to be paid at not less than the minimum rate, subject to such conditions as may be specified in the permit, including if the committee think fit, a condition as to the wages to be paid to the worker; and, while the permit has effect, an employer shall not be liable to any penalty for paying wages to the worker at a rate less than the minimum rate if the conditions specified in the permit are complied with.1336
(4) 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.
(5) A committee may, if they think it expedient, and subject to confirmation as aforesaid, cancel or vary any minimum rate fixed under this Act.
(6) Before fixing, cancelling or varying any minimum rate, the committee shall give such notice as may be prescribed of the rate which they propose to fix or of their proposal to cancel the rate or of the proposed variation of the rate as the case may be, and of the manner in which and the time within which objections to the proposal may be lodged, not being less than fourteen days from the date of the notice, and shall consider any objections to the proposal which may be lodged within the time mentioned in the notice.
Where the proposal is modified in consequence of any objection so lodged, notice of the modified proposal need not be given except where in the opinion of the Agricultural Wages Board the proposal has been altered so materially that a fresh notice ought to be given.
Mr. LAMB: I beg to move, in Sub-section (3), at the end, to insert the words "provided that an employer shall not be liable to any penalty for paying wages at a rate less than the minimum rate to the worker in respect of whom an application for a permit has been made under this Sub-section during the period that such application is before the committee unless the application shall have been considered and determined within fourteen days of the receipt thereof." The object of this Amendment is quite patent, and I believe and hope the Committee will see that it is a legitimate object and one likely to be of advantage to both sides in promoting the smooth working of the Bill. The object is to limit the liability of the employers and to cause reasonable expedition in the granting of these certificates. A great asset in connection with any Bill dealing with employers and employed is that there should be good relationship between the two parties, and I believe this Amendment, by removing uncertainty, would tend to the attainment of that object. I can cite two cases where this provision would be desirable. One is the case of old men who have for years been in the employment of farmers, and through no fault of their own, but in the natural course of events, have become incapaci- 1337 tated for the performance of the full duties required for the wages they are being paid. In such case I think it is desirable, both on behalf of the men and of the employer, that certificates should be obtained with as little delay as possible. Further, if a farmer were to pay such men a reduced wage under an agreement with the men themselves, he might be running an unnecessary risk and claims might be made against him later on as a result of a certificate not having been granted. Then, again, I ask the Committee to suppose the case of a man who applies for new employment. That man may be obviously a man in respect of whom there should be a certificate, and he may himself recognise the fact. The farmer would say, "There is some doubt as to whether you will get a certificate, and, consequently, until you have a certificate I cannot employ you." In that way such a man would be deprived of a certain period of employment, which it is probably very desirable that he should have. In that case also some reasonable period should be granted. Although it may be that the actual wording of this Amendment requires alteration, I hope the right hon. Gentleman the Minister will concede the principle which underlies it.
The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of AGRICULTURE (Mr. W. R. Smith): I fear it will be difficult to accept this Amendment, because it would create a situation by no means helpful to the local wages committees in their work. In some ways I am very much surprised that my hon. Friend should have moved it, because earlier in our proceedings he led this Committee to believe that a local wages committee was a very excellent body which should be left to do its own work. Now he seeks to place restrictions and limitations upon it, and he is not prepared to trust it to deal with this phase of the work. Here, again, it is rather unfortunate that there can be quoted no previous case to warrant this proposal, notwithstanding the fact that thousands of permits were granted under the old régime, and, though there may have been some exceptions, I believe the general practice was to date the application for a new rate to the date of the application for the permit, and no employer was penalised in that respect.1338
Mr. LAMB: The object is to limit the liability of the farmer. I said it would tend to expedite the granting of certificates, but it would not necessarily compel the certificates to be given within a certain period. It would leave the committees free.
Mr. SMITH: Yes, but it would involve very frequent meetings of the committees if decisions were to be given within fourteen days on all cases which arose. Does the hon. Member think that proposal is fair to the committees? The members of a committee representing the labour side might be stockmen. Would it be reasonable to be continually drawing these men from their work to deal with these cases? Then take the case of the farmers. Are they to be asked to leave their business, and to come every week to deal with such cases? That is a real difficulty, but there is a further point. Farmers, if they wished to take advantage of this, could apply on behalf of all their men, and pay them less than the rate, and if a committee meeting did not take place within fourteen days, all the men on a farm would be penalised.
Mr. LAMB: Public opinion would prevent anything of the sort.
Mr. SMITH: It will be seen that on the one hand the hon. Member wants us to trust the farmers, but on the other hand he does not want to trust the committees. I think it better to trust the committees to do their own work. Then, again, if it is felt desirable, the farmers who form half of the committee could hold up any decision as long as they liked, and of course on the sub-committees, you could not have your chairman present. If you proposed to have a chairman at every sub-committee meeting and if that sub-committee had to meet nearly every day to deal with cases scattered all over a county, the difficulty is obvious. Looked at from that standpoint, by putting in this restriction you are making the work of the committees more difficult, while on the other hand, if the situation is left open, and the committees are left free to do their own work, the members of the respective sides all see that justice is done to the people whom they represent, and it will be a far better way of dealing with the question. I regret I cannot accept the Amendment.1339
Mr. LAMB: I press the Amendment. I was hopeful that the hon. Gentleman would have accepted the principle at any rate, and endeavoured to include some words in the Bill to carry out its object. The hon. Gentleman said that these Committees might take a considerable time in granting certificates. He has almost gone so far as to say that they will take a considerable time, which makes my point all the stronger. If they take a considerable time in considering these applications it increases the responsibility of the farmer still further, and I think places upon the farmer an undue responsibility. As regards the suggestion that a farmer might apply in respect of all his men, I think that is going too far, and I do not think the hon. Gentleman himself believes that such a condition would occur. The average farmer is as much liable to public opinion as any other individual, and a man who adopted such a procedure would be deserving of no consideration at all, not only in the eyes of the public generally, but in the eyes of his fellow farmers. Therefore I do not think we need take too much notice of that suggestion. I hope the hon. Gentleman will yet give this matter favourable consideration and see if, on Report Stage, he cannot include some words to limit in some respect the farmer's liability with regard to these claims.
Mr. BLACK: I support the Parliamentary Secretary in his refusal to accept this Amendment. The cases which have been brought forward by the mover of the Amendment do not support his contention. In the case of an old man who has been for years in the service of a farmer, is it necessary for that farmer suddenly to come to such a man and say he will not pay him the full rate of wages? The farmer has any amount of time in which to consult with such a man and say to him "I think you are getting past your work and I shall make an application." Then he can apply to the district committee and the matter can be considered in due course. Then take the new applicant, the only other case the hon. Member brought forward. Surely it is possible for the farmer to say to him: "I shall pay you the minimum rate for the first few weeks until the committee have decided the question," but then the thing must be regarded as sub judice. I fully appreciate 1340 the argument brought forward by the Minister, and I support him in his attitude.
Mr. EDWARD WOOD: Although I think there is a real point of substance in my hon. Friend's Amendment, which the Parliamentary Secretary does not perhaps entirely apprehend, I am inclined to think that on the whole, in view of the obvious sense of the Committee, he would be wise not to put the Committee to the trouble of a division, but I would like to emphasise the point that I think he had in his mind, because I think it is one that the Minister can possibly consider between now and Report. It is perfectly true, as the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Black) said, that if a case is sub judice, by arrangement between the employer and the man, if and when a committee decide that the man may possibly be employed at a rate less than the minimum rate, obviously no difficulty will arise, and an informal friendly arrangement will have been confirmed by a statutory arrangement, but I think my hon. Friend had in mind rather a different class of case, that of a man who might be just on the border line as to whether or not it was worth the farmer's while keeping him. If the farmer was compelled to pay him the full minimum wage, he might think it was not worth while, but if he was able to pay him less than the minimum wage, he might be willing to keep him on, and the man would probably be willing to stay. Hon. Members may, however, say that the Bill gives the committee power to make retrospective permits, and that is true, but the farmer will not know until the permit has been either given or refused, and, therefore, he may be in the position of parting with a man, whereas if he had had some kind of protective clause of this sort, he would have been willing to keep him on the chance of getting a permit. I think that only is the plain point. I have thought, ever since the Amendment appeared on the paper, that, although that point was sound, it was an Amendment that might lead to abuse and that would be rather difficult to safeguard, and, therefore, I would be inclined to advise my hon. Friend not to press it at this stage to a division. Rather I would join with him in asking the Parliamentary Secretary if he can, because I am sure he recognises that there is a certain amount 1341 of substance in that admittedly narrow point, consider it and, if possible, meet it between now and Report.
Mr. BLUNDELL: I should like to support the appeal to the Minister to consider this Amendment in some way. I do not think the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Lamb) is wedded to the words of the Amendment or to the particular time he has inserted, but there is a point of substance in the fact that there should be some limitation of time within which the Committee could grant these permits. I have heard under the old Board of a case in which a farmer was four months before he could get any decision in the case of two men for whom he had applied for permits. I do not think it is a case that would likely arise very often. If a farmer has an old man, who has worked for him for a long time, he would not grudge him a few extra shillings for a few weeks while the decision was being reached, but cases do occur, if not often, especially when new men are being taken on, and I think there is a point of substance in the plea that there should be some limitation of time within which the committee should make a decision.
Mr. SMITH: One could only give consideration to any point put, but in practice the procedure was that, as soon as an application was made, there was no penalty so far as the employer was concerned, and I would ask hon. Members to keep in mind the undesirability of having meetings every day. If there be any way in the light of experience, we will consider it in the meantime.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
The following Amendment stood on the Order Paper in the name of Mr. BUXTON.
In Sub-section (4), to leave out the words "in the opinion of the Committee."
Sir HENRY CAUTLEY: On a point of Order. This Amendment, I submit, is declaratory and leads up to two further Amendments on the Order Paper in the name of the Minister. The first is in Clause 3, Sub-section (2), to leave out the words "forthwith take the matter into their consideration and shall, as soon as practicable, either make an order confirming the rate 1342 or the cancellation or variation, as the case may be, or" and to insert instead thereof the words: "as soon as practicable either make such order as may be necessary for the purpose of carrying out the decision of the committee or, if the decision fixes rates of wages for men and does not so far as practicable secure for able-bodied men such wages as, in the opinion of the board, 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, or cannot for any other reason be so carried out consistently with the requirements of this Act"; The second is in Clause 6, to leave out the words "(a) fail to comply with a notice of the Agricultural Wages Board under this Act requesting the committee to fix, cancel or vary a minimum rate of wages within the time specified in the notice, or? (b) when a minimum rate fixed by them, or a cancellation or variation of a minimum rate has been referred back to them for reconsideration by the Agricultural Wages Board, do not, within the time specified in the reference, fix or make, and notify to the Board such rate, cancellation or variation as in the opinion of the Board, can properly be confirmed," and to insert instead thereof the words "(a) do not, within two months after the committee are established, fix a minimum rate of wages which they are required to fix under this Act; or (b) fail to fix a minimum rate of wages in substitution for any such rate as aforesaid which, by cancellation or otherwise, has ceased to operate; or (c) request the Agricultural Wages Board to fix, cancel, or vary a minimum rate of wages; or (d) when a minimum rate of wages which the committee are required to fix under this Act is referred back to the committee by the Agricultural Wages Board under this Act for reconsideration, do not within one month thereafter make and notify to the Board such modification of their decision that the decision as so modified can be carried out consistently with the requirements of this Act." The point of Order is that this Amendment is, in fact, a direct reversal of the decision come to by the Committee when they struck out of Clause 2 the words "subject to confirmation by the Agricultural Wages Board in manner provided by this Act." To make it clear, the original provision of the Bill was this: Under Clause 2 Sub-section (1) the wages committees were, subject to the confirmation of the Agricultural Wages Board, to fix a 1343 minimum rate of wage for time work and that wage was provided by Sub-section (4) as follows: "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 was the framework of the Bill, which then provided, by Clause 3, Sub-section (2), that the Board should either make an order confirming the rate or refer the matter back to the committee. Then by Clause 5, there was power given to the Board to request a committee either to fix, cancel, or vary the minimum rate. By Clause 6 it was provided that if an agricultural committee failed to vary or to alter a minimum rate when requested, the Board might, "after giving the prescribed notices, by order fix, cancel or vary the rate as the case requires, and for that pupose shall have and may exercise all the powers of the committee which is in default, and the order made by the Board shall have effect in like manner as if it were an order confirming a rate fixed by the committee." The effect of the Bill as it stood was that an order made by a committee had to be confirmed, or, if the Wages Board did not choose to confirm it, they might tell the committee what it had to be, and if the committee did not carry that out the Board could make what order they pleased. On the Amendment moved by the right hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Acland), after considerable discussion, the words requiring confirmation by the Board were struck out, and the framework of the Bill was then made to be this, that the wages committees were empowered and directed to fix the minimum rate of wages, and the only wage they had to fix was that specified by Clause 2, Sub-section 4, i.e., a wage that as far as practicable secures "for able-bodied men such wages," etc. That is the effective Clause of the Bill so far as passed, and that was the decision come to by this Committee. Now the Minister wishes to strike out of Sub-section (4) of Clause 2 the words "in the opinion of the Committee," and to leave such a wage to be fixed as shall secure "for able-bodied men such wages," etc. He then proposes, by an Amendment to Clause 3, to provide that the Agricultural Wages 1344 Board shall, as soon as practicable, that is, after having received the decision of a committee— "either make such order as may be necessary for the purpose of carrying out the decision of the committee"— that is a confirming order— "or, if the decision fixes rates of wages for men and does not so far as practicable secure for able-bodied men such wages as, in the opinion of the Board, 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, or cannot for any other reason be so carried out consistently with the requirements of this Act," it is then to refer the matter back to the committee for reconsideration. They are taking power here to review any decision in fixing wages come to by the committee, and, by a further Amendment to Clause 6, the Minister seeks to take power for the Central Wages Board, under paragraph (d), which runs: "when a minimum rate of wages which the committee are required to fix under this Act is referred back to the committee by the Agricultural Wages Board under this Act for reconsideration, do not within one month thereafter make and notify to the Board such modification of their decision that the decision as so modified can be carried out consistently with the requirements of this Act." They then take power to order, cancel, or vary the rate as the case requires, and for that purpose to have and exercise all the powers of the committee. In other words, although this Committee has decided that no confirming power shall be in the Central Wages Board, the Minister is, by these Amendments, deliberately trying to reverse that decision by taking power to replace in the Bill the power to confirm and the power to enforce such wages as the Central Wages Board decide, instead of what has been decided by the Committee. It is a direct reversal of the decision arrived at in this Committee, and I ask you, Mr. Chairman, to say that it is not in order.
Mr. ACLAND: On the same point of Order. I think the hon. and learned Member for East Grinstead (Sir H. Cautley) has not noticed that the scope of Sub-section (1) of Clause 2, out of which the words were taken, is very much wider than the scope of the Minister's Amendments which he proposes to insert later, which are on the same lines, of course, as the subsequent Amendments 1345 which my friends and I were going to move subsequent to the deletion of these words in Sub-section (1). Sub-section (1) refers specifically to minimum rates of wages for workers. That means for all workers—men, women, boys and girls, piece-work, and time work. If these words, which were left out, had not been left out the Wages Board would have had power to modify as it pleased any recommendation of the Wages Committee on any of these matters. We took the words out and, therefore, the Agricultural Wages Board, admittedly, has no power now, as the Bill stands, to alter all these rates. It seems to me to be perfectly consistent with that decision that my hon. Friends and I should move, as we had intended to move, or that the Minister should move, as he now intends to move, Amendments later, giving the Wages Board the right, first of all, to consider, then to refer back to the local committee, and in the final course, no doubt, to amend rates which are intended to secure something much less than what is dealt with in Sub-section (1), namely, to secure for every able-bodied man wages in accordance with a certain standard. It seems to my friends and myself to be in order to give, as we alweys intended to give, the Agricultural Wages Board the definite and specific powers of seeing that the wages of every able-bodied man were in accordance with this definition; but it was necessary, first of all, to get out the much broader words of Sub-section (1), and then to give the specific power. Now that the Minister takes the same view, and intends to take the same course which was already in our minds, I do not think that he is doing anything inconsistent with the deletion of the words which we cut out.
The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Noel Buxton): Your judgment, Mr. Nicholson, on the question raised will, doubtless, depend upon the explanation of the bearing of the proposals in question and the degree of difference which they embody in relation to the original proposal. Therefore, you will allow me to outline the idea of the Amendments which I have put down. This is the first of a series designed to confer on the Board such powers as would justify the Government in going on with the Bill. 1346 The general effect of them is to enable the Board to decide whether a minimum rate is a living wage under Sub-section (4). I am very glad to know that, while the decision to omit the confirming powers of the Board left the local committees with power to fix rates without compliance with the standard set up in Clause 2 (4)—
Mr. ACLAND: No, it did not. The Minister has just said that the words which were left out left the committees without power, in fixing their rates, to have any regard to the definition. That statement was contained in the statement which he read to the Committee at its last meeting. I have had to challenge the accuracy of that statement in a letter which I wrote to him last night, and to point out that the omission of these words "subject to confirmation by the Agricultural Wages Board in manner provided by this Act"— does not in any way affect the power of the local committees to secure for able-bodied men such wages etc. as in their opinion are adequate.
Mr. WOOD: Or their obligation?
Mr. ACLAND: Or their obligation. It says that they "shall." The Minister, I am sorry to say, has now repeated the absolutely false statement as to the obvious effect of the Amendment which he made at the last meeting. I did not take up the matter at the time when he read it, but, as soon as I looked at the words carefully yesterday, I saw that his statement contained something that cannot be justified, and I asked him to withdraw it. I am sorry that, instead of withdrawing it, he has repeated it now.
Mr. T. WILLIAMS: Hear, hear. He is justified.
Mr. ACLAND: Some of my friends and myself will find it very difficult to continue work on this Committee unless that statement, which cannot be justified, is withdrawn.
Mr. BUXTON: I hope that my right hon. Friend will allow me to complete what I was going to say. I am glad, as I said, to know that the intention of my right hon. Friend is to give to the Board the right to intervene if the standard is not complied with. The fact is, that his Amendments on the Paper would not have 1347 carried out that intention. We think that the power now proposed by him, and also the power which I propose, is a very inferior and limited power compared with that which we desire. As far as it goes, it is of great value. If I may complete what I was going to say about the proposals which he and I have discussed, I would say that the Wages Board must make an order carrying out the local Wages Committee's decision, unless it is inconsistent with the Act. This power of the Board is not inconsistent with the decision of this Committee last Thursday in objecting to confirmation. For instance, the rates for a special class such as shepherds are not under the control of the Central Board. We, of the Labour party, greatly regret the deletion of the general confirming powers.
Mr. STRANGER: On a point of Order. The right hon. Gentleman is reading his statement. Is it in Order to read a statement to the Committee?
The CHAIRMAN: That is not a point of Order.
Mr. BUXTON: It is just as well to be careful what one says. I think that the Board ought to be the deciding factor on this question of compliance, and I think it is the Board which should decide, rather than the Minister, as suggested by the Amendments of my right hon. Friend. If my right hon. Friend accepts that view, I shall be ready to keep an open mind on the question of Clause 7, which deals with the power of the Minister to require reconsideration of rates. We think that it is, on the whole, a power which justifies us in continuing to proceed with the Bill if the Bill secures a living wage as far as practicable. Local decision on the question of a living wage is not conclusive. The acceptance of the Amendment does not prevent a local minimum which may be a living wage represented by a different figure, possibly, from that of another district. On the point of Order, may I bring to your notice the fact that in Clause 1 the words occur: "Subject to the provisions of this Act." In terms, therefore, it was left open to this Committee to limit the powers of Wages Committees to fix wages. The only question is whether the Committee on Clause 2 determined that no confirmation should be so imposed. The Com- 1348 mittee have decided that the words at the beginning of the Clause: "subject to confirmation" should be omitted. The Debate was based upon the assumption that some other proposals might be made. It was directed, particularly by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Acland), to the proposals in the Bill by which every rate came before the Board. The Board had absolute discretion either to confirm or refer back, and no rate became operative unless it was confirmed. Other schemes were advanced as preferable to that scheme, but the Debate turned on whether there were alternative schemes which were worth discussion by the Committee at a later stage. The result of that decision, which appears to me to reject the scheme in the Bill, was to leave the question of alternative schemes still open. If this point of Order were established, the Committee would not be at liberty to consider the schemes which it had in mind previous to its decision of last Thursday. The Amendments that we have put down propose an alternative scheme, and confirmation by the Board disappears. It is a radically different scheme. The Board are required to make an Order to carry out the Wages Committee's decision, instead of having the power to alter it, except in certain cases where the decision does not fulfil the intention of Clause 2 (4), and in certain other respects where it may be contrary to the Act. In either of these cases the Board must refer the matter back to the Committee. I submit that this is a quite different proposal and that it would be inappropriate if this Standing Committee were not able to discuss it. The Committee have not yet had an opportunity of pronouncing their opinion on it. Therefore, I feel confident that on the point of Order you will be in agreement with me.
The CHAIRMAN: Perhaps it would be convenient if I say what I have to say now. I have given very careful consideration to this point, and I have also had the assistance of some of the authorities of the House of Commons. I have come to the conclusion that the question raised by the Amendment made to Clause 2 seems to me to be whether wages should be fixed by the Agricultural Wages Board or by the Wages Committees finally. The 1349 decision of this Standing Committee to leave out the words providing for the confirmation of the Wages Committee's scale must mean that the scale fixed by the Committees is the scale to be brought into operation. The Amendment to secure its revision by the Central Board seems to me inconsistent with the decision already arrived at, and the Amendment, therefore, is out of Order.
Mr. SMITH: I have always understood that procedure on Committee has been along these lines, that where it has been necessary in an early Clause to delete certain words in order to give effect to a general intention, that is done for the purpose of clearing the way in order to bring other provisions into the Bill. I have always understood that to be a legitimate practice in Committee. Let me draw your attention to the statement made by the mover of the Amendment (Mr. Acland). The right hon. Member said that it was not for the purpose of clearing out entirely the Central Wages Board, but for the purpose of finding a middle course. You will find his statement in column 124 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of Thursday, 10th July. This is what he said: "My friends and I have not worked this matter out, only or mainly in order to try to find a middle course. Middle courses are not always the best."—[OFFICIAL REPORT; (Standing Committee B), 10th July, col. 124.] The deletion of these words was only preparatory for a further provision which would come later. The same point was emphasised later on in the Committee last Tuesday, and, therefore, it was the intention of those who moved the deletion of these words that they were not to be completely destructive, standing by themselves, but rather as clearing the ground for further provisions.
Mr. ACLAND: I do not think in your ruling you referred at all to the point I made, which I feel bound to press, and upon which I respectively ask you to rule specifically. The power originally given by Sub-section (1) of Clause 2, relates to all wages for all workers, time-rates and piece-rates, and Sub-section (4), which we are now considering, only refers to wages for able-bodied men. It seems, therefore, that any action we have taken in restricting the power of the Agricultural Wages Board over all wages is not inconsistent with giving the Board power 1350 to fix rates for a particular class other than able-bodied men. That, I think, goes to the root of the question, and I ask your view upon it.
Mr. STRANGER: I agree with everything the right hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Acland) has said, but in considering this matter possibly attention has not been drawn to the fact that Sub-section (1) of Clause 2 refers to confirmation, and there is no relation, I submit, whatever between the words which were deleted from Clause 2, Sub-section (1) and the words which are proposed to be deleted from Sub-section (4). Clause 2, Sub-section (1) now says that the Agricultural Wages Committees shall fix minimum rates of wages for workers, and Sub-section (4), under the proposed Amendment, provides that in fixing minimum rates the Committee shall, so far as practicable, secure for able-bodied men such wages as are adequate. I submit that there is no relationship between the words proposed to be deleted here and the words which have been deleted from Sub-section (1), and, if there be no relationship, I submit that the Amendment is in order
Mr. G. LAMBERT: I want, for the sake of clarity, to have some idea as to what your ruling really means. It seems to me, and I ask if this be true, that you rule precisely what the Minister of Agriculture said was the case on Tuesday last. The Minister came down with a carefully prepared statement and said that the Amendment proposed by the right hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Acland) deprived the Central Wages Board of any control whatever over the action of the District Wages Committees. That is the statement made by the Minister of Agriculture, and I understand that your ruling confirms it and allows the District Wages Committee to fix whatever rates they think fit. You agree with the position taken up by the Minister of Agriculture on Tuesday last.
Mr. T. WILLIAMS: It is fair to assume, I think, that the intention of Sub-section (1) of Clause 2 was to empower the Central Wages Board to confirm, or otherwise, wages that had been fixed by a local committee. Wages, of course, may be the bare minimum referred to in Sub-section (4), or they can be considerably higher. In Sub-section (4), assuming the Amendments referred to are accepted, the Central 1351 Wages Board will merely have the power to declare as to whether or not the decision of the Wages Committee comply with the intention of this Clause; that is, that the wages fixed shall be consistent with the barest efficiency. If that be not so, there appears to be no justification for the statements of the right hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Acland). He has challenged the position taken up by yourself as Chairman of this Committee, and I submit that Sub-section (1) of Clause 2 is a very different thing altogether, since wages can be as elastic as the economics of the industry permits, while the bare physical efficiency is a standard which is likely to be immovable, except when prices are fluctuating.
Mr. MOND: We had a statement from the Minister of Agriculture on Tuesday, and the question has been brought up again this morning by the right hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Acland). So far, we have had no statement from the Minister on the last point raised by the right hon. Member for Tiverton.
The CHAIRMAN: As regards the question of Order, I see no reason for altering my decision, and I adhere to the point that these Amendments are out of order as being inconsistent with the decision already come to by the Committee.
Marquess of HARTINGTON: I beg to move, in Sub-section (4), to leave out the words "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," and to insert instead thereof the words "represent the full economic value of their labour." I understand that the words in this Sub-section are sanctified by something which is in the Corn Production Act, but I confess that they seem to have no meaning whatever. If the Sub-section laid it down that the Agricultural Wages Committee must secure all able-bodied men a reasonable standard of comfort, then it would be clear.
Mr. STRANGER: On a point of Order. I submit that the words "represent the full economic value of their labour" 1352 are so indefinite that it is impossible for any Committee to interpret them.
The CHAIRMAN: That is not a point of Order. If hon. Members think that they are too wide, they can vote against the Amendment.
Marquess of HARTINGTON: I do not complain of the general meaning of this Sub-section, but I contend that the words are so indefinite that they mean nothing at all. They are qualified over and over again. They are qualified, first, by "so far as practicable," then "in accordance with," and again by "as may be reasonable." No one can really agree as to what the Sub-section means. We know what its general meaning is, that the agricultural labourer should get the best wage the industry can possibley afford, and I submit that that object is much better secured by the words I suggest than by the Sub-section as it is now. I am rather surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should have inserted such words in the Bill. I have devoted a certain portion of my time when I had more leisure to a study of the Socialist Press, and I have found that there is a good deal of objection taken in that Press to what is called the fodder basis; an objection which is, I think, reasonable. I am surprised, therefore, that the Minister should have adopted it. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is a practical farmer or not, or whether he goes in for anything but guinea pigs and silk worms. Apparently, he has bright hopes for the future of agriculture—hopes which I do not share. I remember him making a speech in the House of Commons in which he said that he hoped to restore prosperity to agriculture. If by any chance prosperity does come, then the agricultural labourer should have full value for his labour. He would get more, and it is clearly unfair that he should get less. Let me deal with the point made by the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. Smith), who suggested that it might act as a stimulus to the farmer if he had to pay higher wages than he can at present afford. The necessity of having to pay higher wages might, he said, lead him to adopt better methods of cultivation. I wish that theory would work. Wages at 40s. per week would then make a farmer prosperous, 50s. would make him a rich 1353 man, and £10 per week would make him a millionaire. After all, I ask the hon. Member to remember that the farmer in the last few years has had a great deal of this kind of stimulus. He has had to pay more for everything he has had to buy, and, if this theory were right, we should have seen greatly improved methods of agriculture. Anyone who knows the rural districts knows that the land is steadily going back. There is no doubt about that. Farmers have not the money they used to have to spend on their farms. In my own county of Derbyshire, wild nature has not yet been fully subdued. The high ground has never yet been reclaimed, and all round the uncultivated areas are extending. The farmer has less money and is compelled to practice economy in the purchase of seeds and in other respects, with the result that the unreclaimed area is steadily spreading, and the heather, the gorse, and the bracken and so forth are extending lower down the hills. Honestly, I do not believe in the theory that the effort to find more wages will make the farmer improve his methods. In regard to another point which has been raised, I believe a very definite proportion can be arrived at in regard to the economic value of labour. I am not an accountant, and I do not pretend that I could do so, but I submit that a competent accountant, in possession of the books and all the information, could strike a definite balance in relation to the incomings of a farm, and with some approximation to accuracy could say how much of those incomings were due to the capital sum in the farm represented by buildings, roads, land drainage, culverts and so forth; how much was due to the technical skill of the farmer, and how much was due to the labour of the farm labourer. It would take time no doubt to arrive at these figures, but it would serve a useful purpose. We all hope that no agricultural wages committee would fix a wage below that which would give a reasonable standard of comfort, but, if we had the figures to which I refer, we should have something definite to go upon; we should know where we stand, and we should know the definite alternatives with which we are faced. That would be something gained. At present, people go on arguing about this subject, and it is a subject about which one could argue 1354 almost for ever. One will say that the difficulty is all due to the idleness and inefficiency of the farmers; another will say that it is due to the fact that the farmers will not pay proper wages, while others will say that the money is not in the industry. It would be a definite gain to know the actual position in the agricultural industry, and whether, as things are at present, the value of the agricultural labourer's work is such as will give him a reasonable standard of life. I respectfully ask the Minister to consider this Amendment on its merits as an Amendment. I know it can be misrepresented, and has been abominably misrepresented by the "Daily Herald." I know that anyone who supports it can be misrepresented as being opposed to a reasonable standard of living, but that is not the case at all. I submit it, because I believe it will secure better results, and I hope it will be considered on its merits.
Mr. BUXTON: I beg to move "That the Committee do now adjourn." I have had a moment in which to consider the bearing of your judgment, Mr. Chairman, upon the future work of the Committee, and I think your decision raises such a vital issue that it will require further consideration on our part before proceeding with the discussion of the other Amendments.
Mr. WOOD: I am sure nobody objects to the Minister asking for more time in which to consider a situation that was as unexpected by him as by me, because I had no idea of what the ruling of the Chairman was going to be, and it obviously puts all the Committee in a difficulty. I only rise to express the hope that when the Minister considers the situation created by the ruling, he will not allow to be absent from his mind the opinion expressed on more than one occasion by all parties in the Committee, namely, that it was their intention to endeavour to co-operate to the utmost of their capacity in securing an agreed Bill, which would hold out the fairest hope of securing those objects which we all desire. I associate myself emphatically with the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Acland) with regard to the Minister's statement as to the effect of the Amendment which the right hon. Gentleman moved and which we supported, and if the Minister reads 1355 over again the statement which made everybody so angry—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—
Mr. WILLIAMS: This has confirmed it absolutely.
Mr. WOOD: He will perhaps realise that there was in his mind some little misunderstanding. [HON. MEMBERS: "Not a bit!"] Perhaps my hon. Friends will allow the Minister to express his own opinion. [HON. MEMBERS: "He has done so already."] If he wishes to do so he has an acute intelligence and will no doubt express his opinion as well as hon. Gentlemen can express it for him. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will have the general consideration to which I refer in his mind when he reviews his position.
Mr. ACLAND: No one wishes to press you, Mr. Chairman, for anything further in the nature of a ruling to-day, but I should like to ask a question which may facilitate further discussion. Do I understand that your ruling was limited to the specific Amendment to cut out the words "in the opinion of the committee" or do I understand, by inference, that it went further, and indicated that you might be inclined to regard also as out of order the further Amendments which stand in the name of some of my hon. Friends and myself seeking to give the Minister certain powers of reference to the Board, and the Board certain powers of action, as well as the Amendment, rather similar in intention, of the Minister himself which seeks to give the Central Board certain power with regard to a limited class of wage questions. If we knew whether this was a decision merely on the few words in sub-section (4) or whether it applied also to the subsequent Amendments on the Order Paper, it would be very desirable.
The CHAIRMAN: I was dealing with the Amendments which had been put down by the Minister of Agriculture.
Mr. ACLAND: The one or the several?
The CHAIRMAN: The two.
Mr. ACLAND: But not necessarily with those which my hon. Friends and I have put down?
The CHAIRMAN: No.1356
Mr. LAMBERT: I do not want to get into any controversy, but it seems to me the Minister has placed the Committee in a false position. The action of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Acland) was quite explicitly described by the Minister. The Minister said that the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment deprived the Central Wages Board of any control whatever over the action of the district wages committees. That was the considered opinion of the Minister. He said it quite clearly in his recent speech, and we ought not to have been called together here to-day if he proposed to take the serious action which he now proposes. We came here fully expecting to proceed with the Amendments on the Paper, and the Minister suddenly makes a Motion to adjourn the Committee. He knew full well on the last occasion the effect of this Amendment. Having said so much, may I make another appeal to the Minister to endeavour to get an agreed Measure through this Committee, through the House of Commons, and passed into law with regard to this vexed question of agricultural wages. Let us try, if we can, to avoid controversy and to help the under-dog in agriculture. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] My hon. Friends cheer that remark, but they will not help, and there is not one of them, except the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. G. Edwards), who has a practical knowledge of agriculture.
Mr. DUKES: On a point of Order. Is the right hon. Member in order in making these assertions?
The CHAIRMAN: The right hon. Gentleman is quite in order. I shall call him to order if I think it necessary to do so.
Mr. LAMBERT: The difficulty is that there are always so many Chairmen in a Committee. I say to my hon. Friends that I do not want to raise controversy on these matters. I want to help the agricultural labourer, because I have lived with him all my life.
Mr. DUKES: Address the Chair, and do not be schoolmastering us.
Mr. LAMBERT: I have lived with the agricultural labourer, and I wish, through you, Sir, to make an appeal to those Members who profess to be sympathetic 1357 with him, but who are now endeavouring to make political capital out of him, and who are carrying electioneering into the Committee rooms of the House of Commons. I appeal to them to come down from this not too elevated pedestal and seek to secure something for the worst paid of the agricultural labourers of the country. After that, I ask the Minister, and I presume it is not out of order to address a request to him, to endeavour to get some kind of good will to secure a Bill which can be accepted by all concerned as an effective Measure. Let us try to do that, and we shall have done something for the agricultural labourer. Meanwhile, I protest against the action of the Minister in moving the adjournment of the Committee now when he knew perfectly well the effect of the Amendment carried at the last meeting.
The CHAIRMAN: I must point out that on the Question, "That the Committee do now adjourn," we can only discuss reasons for or against the adjournment.
Mr. MOND: Although I agree with a great deal which has been said by my right hon. Friend who spoke last, I disagree with him on the question of the adjournment. I am very glad that the Minister has moved the adjournment. I think the Committee have come to a very difficult and almost hopeless position with regard to this Bill. First of all, the statements of the Minister and of the Parliamentary Secretary absolutely differed. The Minister said he knew what the result of this Amendment was going to be. The Parliamentary Secretary said he knew what the intention of Members on this side were—
The CHAIRMAN: We cannot go into that matter on the Question before the Committee.
Lieut.-Colonel LANE-FOX: I agree with one thing said by the last speaker, that it may be a good thing that the adjournment should be moved in order that the Government may consider the matter, but I hope that does not necessarily mean that in a fit of almost ill-tempered haste—I do not wish to provoke controversy, but I suggest it is a rather hasty decision—they are taking this decision with the idea of not continuing the Bill. I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman 1358 that he has in this Committee sufficient people who are full of good will on this matter to pass an agreed Bill, and that he has an opportunity of getting an agreed Measure, if he will take it. I know I am not in order in discussing that matter, but I hope this Motion for Adjournment does not mean that, because the Government cannot get all they want, they do not realise that they can get a great deal if they will pursue the proper and ordinary course.
Sir DOUGLAS NEWTON: I would like to reinforce the arguments put forward by the right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert). He is one of the oldest and most respected Members of the House, and I think the observations he has addressed to the Minister should receive very careful consideration by the right hon. Gentleman. I only want to add that I hope the Minister, when he takes time to consider this question, will not feel, because he has introduced a Bill, that it is therefore incumbent that he should carry through into an Act of Parliament every Clause, every line, and every word of it as drafted.
Mr. G. EDWARDS: I heartily wish that there was a possibility of coming to an agreed measure, but there is no such possibility. When we sit here and listen to the Noble Lord the Member for West Derbyshire (Marquess of Hartington) moving an Amendment such as he has just moved, which was echoed and cheered from the other side, when such ridiculous and scandalous Amendments as that, to put the labourers down further and lower than they are already, are moved, there is no alternative but to adjourn. Without questioning your ruling at all, Mr. Chairman—and I speak with great respect—but, after your ruling, the Committee has been thrown into such a state of chaos that there is no option but to adjourn.
Lieut.-Colonel LANE-FOX: On a point of Order. If these statements are going to be made, shall we have an opportunity of answering them?
The CHAIRMAN: I must point out to the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Edwards) that on this Motion we can only discuss reasons for or against the adjournment.
Mr. EDWARDS: I did not mean to transgress, but I said there was no option 1359 but for us to adjourn and think the matter over, in order to see if we cannot come to some decision as to the best course to pursue.
Mr. BLACK: I should like to appeal to the Minister not suddenly to throw this matter up, but to adjourn with the object of considering the question. There are many Members who are sympathetic towards agricultural labourers, and who have had a large number of letters from them asking for the establishment of a minimum wage. I should like to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the fact that the next Amendment on the Paper is for the establishment of a minimum wage which would be satisfactory to the agricultural labourer, and if we adjourn—although this is a reason why we should not adjourn—I should like the 1360 right hon. Gentleman to take this Amendment into consideration, to see whether it would not give him what he wants.
Major COLFOX: I should like to reinforce the appeal which has been made to hon. Members opposite to arrive at a compromise. The hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Edwards) says that no agreed Measure is possible, because, apparently, in his view and that of his colleagues, no compromise of any sort or kind is to be allowed. They seem to consider that, unless they get the whole Bill and nothing but the Bill, as originally introduced, anything else is impossible.
Question, "That the Committee do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.
Committee adjourned accordingly at Twenty Minutes after 12 o'Clock until Tuesday next, 22nd July, at Eleven o'Clock.
THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:—
Nicholson, Mr. William (Chairman)
Cautley, Sir Henry
Dalkeith, Earl of
Davies, Major George
Davies, Sir Thomas
Duffy, Mr. Gavan-
Edwards, Mr. Charles
Edwards, Mr. George
Grenfell, Mr. David
Hartington, Marquess of
Henderson, Mr. Thomas
Mansel, Sir Courtenay
Mitchell, Mr. Foot
Newton, Sir Douglas
Roberts, Mr. Samuel
Robinson, Mr. Sydney
Simpson, Mr. Hope
Smith, Mr. Tom
Smith, Mr. Walter
Titcheld, Major the Marquess of
Williams, Mr. Thomas
Wood, Mr. Edward