New Clause 7 — Agricultural wages
Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South, Labour)
I will speak briefly, as I am conscious of the comments of my right hon. Friend Alun Michael. I do not represent a rural constituency, but a city-centre constituency which, as the House of Commons Library tells me, has approximately zero agricultural workers living in it. It seems to me that this is about fairness. As many speakers have pointed out, the Agricultural Wages Board covers not only workers’ wages but grading arrangements, skills and qualifications, overtime, training costs, apprenticeships, allowances and grants, holidays, sick pay, leave and housing. It is inconceivable that, if the board were abolished, there would not be downward pressure on the terms, wages and conditions of agricultural workers.
I want to address one more issue about the industry more broadly. My right hon. Friend Mr Field, when he was in his place, talked about the need for security of supply and how the industry needs to expand. I am very worried that if the Agricultural Wages Board is abolished, it will lead to destabilisation in the industry. It can be no coincidence that there has not been a major industrial dispute in this sector of the economy since 1923. I am told that the
industry needs 60,000 entrants. According to some research, because of the machinery and the nature of the work, the industry has the highest death and injury rate per capita. For reasons of security of food supply, we need people to move into the industry and I am deeply concerned that, if the Government get their way this evening, the changes will act as a major disincentive to people entering it.
I said I would be brief, so I shall finish on this point. We have not had an industrial dispute in this sector since 1923, but if we do have one as a result of the Government getting their way tonight it would be a very sad day indeed.