Clause 2. — (Duties and powers of agricultural wages committees with respect to minimum rates of wages.)

Orders of the Day — Agricultural Wages Bill. – in the House of Commons on 28th July 1924.

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Photo of Mr Walter Smith Mr Walter Smith , Norwich

I beg to move, in page 2, line 21, at the end, to insert the words In the exercise of their powers under this Sub-section a Committee shall, so far as is reasonably practicable, secure a weekly half-holiday for workers. I do not think there will be any opposition to this Amendment, because in Committee there was general agreement that this was very desirable, the only difference at that time being as to whether it should be in the Bill in the form of establishing the holiday direct, or in a form such as this. The varying conditions of agriculture made it almost impossible to establish it by legal enactment, and, therefore, we are putting it in the Bill in this farm as a direct instruction to the committees to secure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the principle of a weekly half-holiday. Judging by the experience of the old wages board, it will have to be done in an indirect form, but I am quite sure, having issued this instruction, the committee in each district will establish the half-holiday on the lines best suited to each case.

Photo of Hon. Edward Wood Hon. Edward Wood , Ripon

As the hon. Gentleman has said, there was substantial agreement in Committee as to the principle of this Amendment, and I think a suggestion for an Amendment with a similar purpose was put forward, but, in the course of the discussion it was revealed that there were such great variations of practice in some counties of England and Wales, that to endeavour to enforce the object by a single form of procedure might, in a good many cases, not be either satisfactory or even effective, and, in order to meet those difficulties, the hon. Gentleman has introduced, I understand, this Amendment, which, so far as I am able to interpret them correctly, represents the feelings of all parties on the Committee, and will secure the purpose everybody desires to secure.

Photo of Mr Innes Stranger Mr Innes Stranger , Newbury

As a Member of the Committee, I endeavoured to accomplish the same object, but it does appear that the words "so far as is reasonably practicable," leave a very wide scope to any committee to disregard the words of this Amendment. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he should amend this instruction by saying, that if there be no weekly half-holiday, the period after five hours have been worked shall be treated as overtime. That was the suggestion I made in Committee, and I thought the hon. Member, when he was dealing with the matter here, would make it an alternative either that there should be a weekly half-holiday, or to insert words providing that after five hours have been worked on the sixth day of the week the time shall be treated as overtime. I suggest that the hon. Member might even now introduce these words, and thereby ensure that the agricultural worker shall either have a half-holiday in the week, or shall have money for overtime he works above 5½ days a week.

4.0 P.M.

Photo of Sir Francis Acland Sir Francis Acland , Tiverton

I have great sympathy with the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Stranger), because, as a matter of fact, it is really only by their control over overtime that under this Bill, as under the old Bill, the committee can, in practice, secure a Saturday half-holiday. But no doubt the committees will be informed of the practice of the old committees and the old Board, and will realise that that is the way in which it is most easy to work. It is very remarkable how in the old days, even in the great pressure of work and pressure for workers in the War, the very fact of saying, as was said in most counties, that after a certain number of hours had been worked on one day in the week—and we were careful not to specify the day, because where people employ stockmen they cannot let them all go on one day—overtime should be paid, although that overtime was only a time and a quarter, was to give one half-day holiday per week, and generally it was on a Saturday. I, personally, believe that from the point of view of the younger worker nothing is of greater help to him in doing his work well and cheerfully and with his heart in it than the knowledge that he is going to have a half-holiday in the week. Many of the older men do not care so much about it, because they have been accustomed to the full week.

I am sorry to say that many farms returned almost at once to the practice of not giving the half-holiday, though I am glad to say that on a good many farms the practice which the Board had introduced has been continued. A great many farmers find that it makes for the contentment of their men. We ought, however, to be careful not to give too many statutory directions to the Committees, and I think, on the whole, the arrangement that has been come to is about as far as we can reasonably go. I believe, when it gets to work, that the effect in most counties will be to revive the practice of the half-day holiday. There are some counties where the men live in, and are a very great distance from any centre of amusement, and they prefer the system under which they get two weeks off, one week in each half-year, rather than this system of a certain number of hours off each week. That was one of the reasons why we did not think that we should lay down directions in any more definite form than we have done here. I hope the Amendment will be accepted, because I rather doubt if we could put it into any other form which would be likely to work any better.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

I do not select the Amendment standing next on the Paper in the name of the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Emlyn-Jones), in page 3, line 4, at the end, to insert (5) In fixing minimum rates for time-work under this Section a committee shall secure for able-bodied men wages which, in their opinion, are equivalent to wages for an ordinary day's work at the rate of at least thirty shillings per week."— or an alternative proposal handed in in manuscript by the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. J. Hope Simpson).

Photo of Mr John Emlyn-Jones Mr John Emlyn-Jones , Dorset Northern

An Amendment in similar terms was moved by me in Committee, and, after discussion, a Division was taken, and the Amendment was rejected only by a small majority. This Clause is similar to one which appeared in the Corn Production Act of 1917; and, further, after discussion on the Coal Mines (Minimum Wage) Bill of 1912, although no minimum wage was included in that Bill, an Amendment was moved in Committee, and again on the Report stage, to include a minimum wage of 5s. for men and 2s. for boys. May I, therefore, appeal to you to allow my Amendment to be submitted?

Photo of Mr John Simpson Mr John Simpson , Taunton

May I draw your attention to the commencement of Clause 2, where it says: Subject to the provisions of this Act, Agricultural Wages Committees shall fix minimum rates of wages for workers employed in agriculture for time-work"— If one of these Amendments were included, then, subject to the provisions of that Amendment, the committees would fix wages still in accordance with the provisions of the Act. You have not yet told us on what ground these Amendments are not selected, but doubtless it is because you are of the opinion that they are not in accordance with the Bill as it stands. I submit that they really are in accordance with the Section.

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

Under Standing Order 27(A), the Chair does not give ground for its decision. There is complete discretion on the part of the Chair.

Photo of Mr William Pringle Mr William Pringle , Penistone

Is it not an unusual exercise of that discretion? [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Well, I am making a suggestion. This is a question which affects all parts of the House, and it raises one of the most serious issues that can be raised under this Bill. It was debated in Committee, and the Amendment was defeated only by a majority of seven, the voting being 27 to 20. I submit that this is a question of sufficient seriousness to deserve the attention of the House and to receive a decision of the House. Furthermore, may I submit that this was one of the leading issues at the last General Election, and that this point was actually in the programme of one of the parties in the House.

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

The hon. Member is not entitled to dispute with the Chair. I have my decision to make, and I take the responsibility for the decision.

Photo of Mr William Pringle Mr William Pringle , Penistone

I shall put a Motion on the Table to repeal that Standing Order.

Photo of Dr William Chapple Dr William Chapple , Dumfriesshire

On that point of Order.

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

There is no point of Order.

Photo of Mr William Pringle Mr William Pringle , Penistone

This was never contemplated.