It is on grounds of economy as well as on technical grounds that it has been agreed between the parties concerned—Abe Farmers' Union and the Men's Union—that this Schedule should be as it is. It is almost certain that the Joint Committee will appoint a sub-committee voluntarily for the Scilly Isles, and that, I hope, will completely serve their purpose. There is no question that separate treatment is desirable, but it will be brought about in a simpler way on voluntary lines by leaving the Schedule as it is.
I should like to ask the Minister how it is that he has treated the administrative counties of East and West Sussex as one? The framework of the Bill provides that each administrative county is to have a separate committee. Sussex consists of two separate administrative counties, East and West Sussex. I cannot help thinking that this is an oversight on the part of the Minister, and I would ask him if he can accept an Amendment to include separate committees for East and West Sussex. If he is not acquainted with Sussex, I may tell him that the centre and meeting place for East Sussex is Lewes and for West Sussex, Chichester. They are a very long way apart, the train service from place to place in the county itself is very difficult, and I believe there will be great practical difficulty in the representative members attending whatever meeting place is selected for one committee of the whole of Sussex. I am aware that, under the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Sir D. Newton), this could subsequently be put right, but I cannot help thinking that this is an oversight, and that it would be very much more convenient if it were put right now and if Sussex, a large county separated as it was under the Corn Production Act had separate committees for East and West Sussex.
I am aware of the reasons for allowing separate treatment for the two different parts of Sussex in connection with railway communications, and so on, but the hon. Baronet will remember it was desired that the two organisations—the organisations of farmers and of men—should arrive at an agreement in regard to the area to be covered by the committee, and he will, I think, agree with me it would hardly be appropriate to vary the Schedule at this stage in view of that agreement. I am quite aware that, in the opinion of many hon. Members, it would be better and more appropriate to adopt the two administrative areas of Sussex for this particular purpose, but would it not be unwise to do so in face of this agreement to which I have referred?
The right hon. Gentleman is aware, I suppose, of the reason why, at the time we passed the County Councils Act, Sussex was formed into two administrative councils, although the area of each was smaller than in the case of many counties. The reason was that the means of communication between different pasts of the county rendered it almost impossible, if there was only to be one county council, for some of the representatives to attend either council or committee meetings. If the right hon. Gentleman tells us that the agreement between the Farmers' Union and the Labourers' Union is that the area which shall be covered by this wage committee shall be the whole county, then I hope he will invite both bodies to reconsider their derision in this particular instance. I do not think it is sufficient for the Minister simply to tell us that both bodies have agreed to this Schedule. He should find out their reasons for coming to what appears to me to be an extraordinary decision. There is no local authority or other body, except perhaps the Territorial Association, which covers the whole county, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give an undertaking that he will again consult the bodies to which this matter has been referred, and ascertain from them the grounds for making for the first time this distinction in respect of this county. If the reason does not appear to him to be a good one let him undertake to get this Schedule altered if necessary in another place, so that Sussex may have two wage committees.
I think there is a rather larger question of principle involved in keeping the two administrative counties together. No doubt hon. Members realise that for all practical and administrative matters Sussex is divided into two areas. This Bill, rightly or wrongly, leaves the balance of power in the hand of the wages committee, and from that point of view it is important that the area should be reasonably large. We want to make certain that the workers through their organisations shall be able to adequately express their point of view. We have agreed that the workers may, through their union officials and trade union representatives, be represented on the district wage committees, and clearly the more we multiply the number of areas the more difficult it will be for those officials to cover the ground adequately.
I should not have thought that both halves of Sussex constituted larger areas than the general run of counties. It seems to me that those who are connected with county administration will feel that every area which ought to be administered separately should stand separately, and from the point of view of adequate representation we should give the workers' side the best chance of presenting their case. Therefore there is something to be said for not making more areas than is necessary. If we agree to divide Sussex why should we net divide the Isle of Wight from Hampshire or Cumberland from Westmorland, and Cambridge from the Isle of Ely. This Schedule is the result of a carefully considered agreement between the workers and the farmers' organisations, and I should not be inclined to proceed to divorce the areas which have now been joined together, particularly as the Minister has already agreed to take power to make a division between them later on should it seem necessary or desirable to do so.
The right hon. Gentleman asks why the Isle of Wight and Hampshire should not also be separated. Any one acquainted with that district knows that it is not impracticable to work as one area. It will be necessary to have a sub-committee for the Isle of Wight. I have risen to protest against the idea that this House is to take an agreement which has been come to between two parties, who are no doubt very greatly interested, without giving expression to its own reasons and views on the matter. I venture to submit that when two hon. Members representing the County of Sussex ask the Minister for Agriculture to reconsider the matter, and see if an Amendment cannot be introduced in another place, the right hon. Gentleman ought to undertake to do that.
This is a Schedule which no doubt commends itself to the two sides, but I think we may agree to ask the representatives of the two sides to reconsider this particular question, and if we find that, on the whole, it is better to make this alteration we can deal with it in another place.
I beg to move, in line 9, to leave out the word "counties," and to insert instead thereof the word "county."
The fact that the Isles of Scilly are separated from the mainland makes it impossible very often for people to get to the mainland for weeks at a time, and therefore it will be almost impossible for representatives from the Isles to attend meetings of the wages committee in Hampshire. In view of the conditions under which agriculture is carried on in the Isles it is essential that those concerned in the industry should be represented on and able to attend the meetings of the wages committee, and therefore it will be necessary to have a separate committee for the Isles. It may be suggested that under the powers contained in the Bill it will be possible to appoint a sub committee, but that, I submit, is not sufficient, because such a subcommittee would not have the power to fix the minimum rate of wages for the island, and it would be barred doing a good deal of useful work.
I beg to second the Amendment.
I should be glad to hear whether the Minister of Agriculture, when he assented to the arrangement which he tells us has been come to bet w eel the representatives of the farmers and the representatives of the farm workers, had under consideration the special conditions obtaining in regard to Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Of course, if they were considered, we do not want to make a change in the arrangement so long as those immediately concerned believe the plan to be workable, but on the face of it I suggest there would be considerable difficulty, because Cornwall is really no part of England in sentiment or feeling, and still less so are the Scilly Isles. Bearing in mind that the agricultural conditions obtaining in the Isles are quite different from those which obtain on the mainland, I think there is a special case here for the separate treatment for which my hon. Friend asks.
I beg to move, in line 49, to leave out the word "counties" and to insert instead thereof the word "county."
If this Amendment be carried, I shall move to leave out the words "and Cardigan." The means of communication between the two counties make it utterly impossible for the members of the committee from one county to attend meetings in the other county. It takes practically a whole day, with the present methods of communication, to get from one county to the other, and I therefore move this Amendment.
The grouping of the counties was in connection with the old wages board exactly the same as in this Schedule, so far as these two are concerned. In order to fortify ourselves in regard to what was the best basis to construct these committees, we have, as the Minister has already stated, consulted the representatives both of the farmers and of the workmen. This is their own recommendation. I submit to the House, following the experience of the four years of the old wages board's similar grouping, that the House will be well-advised to accept the schedule as it stands.
On this Motion I should like to say a word or two. This is a very different Bill from the Bill we introduced. To cut a long story short, however, there is a great deal of good in the Bill as it stands. I should like to acknowledge the spirit which has animated all parties in the House in desiring, at all events, to deal with the most urgent cases of the extremely impoverished men. I congratulate the House on the progress made in this direction as represented by the Bill. These cases of extremely low wages are so distressing that, one cannot hut feel an immense satisfaction that, as we hope, they are about to be removed. In our case, however, that satisfaction is tinged with keen regret that this decision could not be made to apply to the whole problem, as we see it, of agricultural wages. We were powerless, however, to impose our will on the House, and for what help we have got in a small way we are duly thankful. In the present state of parties, legislation is only possible by agreement. We have succeeded, in this matter, in agreeing on something which is of very high value.
I cannot help saying that last year we, who then sat on the opposite benches, urged, without success, that something should be done to legalise the regulation of wages which, as we saw, was not seriously tackled by the conciliation committee system. I am very glad to think that some change has taken place as a result—and that the logic of events has shown parties that the conciliation committee system was not adequate to general regulation. Anything done in this matter must be done very quickly, because there is a rapid drift of the population from the villages, resulting from conditions which offer no attraction to the labourer to remain there. From the point of view of the farmer, too, you had no other alternative but to deal with these conditions, and not in course of time but quickly. The shortage of labour is already severe in many parts. I feel that, as there is a very good prospect of the Bill becoming law at an extremely early date, the sooner we test the machinery it sets up the better. It does set up statutory regulation of wages, and the principle of a legal minimum wage. It gives us a system of collective bargaining and powers of compulsory arbitration in default of agreement. That power will be exercised locally by the chairman and by two appointed members—appointed by the Minister—or, in default, by the national body, the Central Wages Board. Wages will be legally enforceable by summary proceedings.
Let us hope that the Bill will be worked with a measure of willingness by all parties concerned so as to enable wages to be considered and fixed at a very early date. I should hope that this Bill will pass into law in a very short time, and that committees will be established in September. Wages ought then to be fixed in a very short time after that. Committees ought to be able to come together and settle wages, not long after the harvest. Under the original proposals, which were in our belief more adequate to the whole case, it is very doubtful whether wages could have been fixed so early that. The confirmatory and default powers of the Central Board would have taken longer to operate. The Corn Production Act of 1917, which some of us remember so well, was passed in the August. The old Wages Board under that Act did not issue its first orders until April, 1918. Under this Bill there can be no breakaway from the standard wage, whatever it is, and although this is a point on which many farmers vary, the good farmer will be protected from the competition of his retrograde neighbour, and indeed I think there is a real grievance in this matter in a large number of cases.
The need for the Bill arises from the failure of the conciliation committees, and the weak bargaining power of the workers. I do think that the real justification for the Bill is the increasing prevalence of abnormally low wages which are creeping in, while standardisation has almost vanished away. There has been a tendency quite lately for these bad cases to increase. Those farmers who have not joined the Farmers' Union are disregarding, in an ever-increasing degree, the rates which it recommends. The best farmers are paying more, and I desire to pay my tribute to the thoughtfulness as well as the sagacity on the part of these employers in seeing that low wages do not pay. On the other hand, the lowest class of wages is increasing. The unattractive wages of the country are causing men to leave the land for the towns or to emigrate, and it is almost a condition of chaos which has followed the repeal of the previous Act. We have now got cases where there has been a breaking away from the standard. There have been cases where, nominally, men were paid 25s. a week, but really were very rarely paid so much. Inspectors of the Ministry have reported on some of these cases. We can tell of one case where ever since the first days of the year the man has not received 25s.; there have been no allowances, no free house, and in one week he only received 15s. The man never really received so much as the nominal 25s. The shortage of labour is a very serious matter. In some districts it is difficult to get skilled workers. The man whom we might call the mainstay of the farmer is disappearing from the land, and the labourers who are doing the work accept it as a stop gap while they look for chances to get away and secure work in the towns.
There is another matter, and that is the low standard of comfort of the agricultural labourer. The malnutrition is serious. Malnutrition or inadequate nutrition of the children is a problem which cannot be left alone. Something must be done, and quickly, that will meet this most urgent need. Certainly, the prospects for the farming industry as a whole are very different to what they were when we debated this question a year ago. There has been a good hay harvest. Prices are improving in many respects. On the whole there is more ground for encouragement than last year. Sweated labour means inefficient labour, and experience has shown the farmers that, in order to take advantage of their opportunities, some form of regulation is desirable, even from their point of view. The experience of the trade boards has shown that employers do not lose but gain by standardisation of wages. I am sure that the best farmers see that general agreement is really desirably. I should like to appeal, both to them and to the workmen, to live up to the spirit of give-and-take shown by their representatives on both sides of the House in regard to this Bill. I would ask them to do their best to work it in a willing spirit. We have had on this side of the House to swallow our disappointment in regard to the Bill, but we are animated by a desire to accept the decision of the House, and to do our best to make the Bill all the success it can be made. I would ask hon. Members in all parts of the House to use their influence to that end. In such a way, I believe, the work which has been put in with regard to the Bill will produce lasting benefits for the workers in our countryside.
I am sure the whole House would wish to respond to the appeal which has been made by the Minister about this Bill. It has been passed with a considerable amount of agreement, and I should wish to see a desire to work it by all sections as an agreed Bill. I hope very much the spirit of agreement which is in favour of the Bill as it stands will have that very desirable effect. The immediate effect of this will be to make the Bill easier and speedier to work. When the right hon. Gentleman speaks of disappointment and spoke in the Committee of pain caused him I trust he will realise that it is like paying a visit to the dentist, that the operation may be unpleasant, but at the same time beneficial. I cannot help thinking that we have saved the right hon. Gentleman and his reputation as a Minister by having persuaded him to adopt a solution which will eventually secure far greater good will and the better working of the Act. The Bill has been considerably changed in Committee, and the form in which it now stands really represents opinions expressed on the Second Reading of the Bill from all quarters of the House. The scheme of the original Bill was that the various district rates of wages should be suggested only by the district committees, and they were subject to confirmation, revision, and even cancellation by the Central Board. Hon. Members opposite will recollect the action taken by the former Member for the Holland Division (the late Mr. Boyce) and the great help he was in regard to the suggestions made by various parties. This was a matter upon which the late Member was a great authority, and his desire to secure a measure of agreement was largely dictated by his intimate knowledge of the subject.
What was the position of the Bill originally? We thought or this side that there would be no measure of agreement if you adopted the original solution because we know that farmers would be on their defence against what they would think was a Socialist Committee in London, and labourers would be unwilling to settle hoping for greater benefits from the London Board. The Bill has been considerably strengthened by the Amendments which were moved by hon. Members on this side. Some of those Amendments were supported by hon. Members below the Gangway. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Acland) said that you might very well limit the power of the central body, to those points to which it is now limited. The hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Hope Simpson) took a similar view, and he told us that he had attended meetings of labourers at which they objected to the central control, and were all in favour of the thing being settled in the district where their representatives knew the conditions, and they urged the Minister to consider these views. Therefore it is absurd to say that only on this side of the House the view was held that central control was undesirable, and that control by the district committees would be on the whole more satisfactory.
An Amendment was moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tiverton, and the confirmation powers of the Central Board were taken away, and the decisions of the local committees and their powers were made free and independent. The Central Board was limited practically to the points raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tiverton, and now the position is that the District Committee have the absolute initiative, in fixing the wages. I think that is a far better system than the Bill proposed as it was originally brought in, and I believe the working of the Bill would be very mach more satisfactory than it otherwise would have been. The Minister of Agriculture has met us frankly and reasonably, recognising that those who supported the changes we suggested in the Bill were composed principally of those who had had some considerable personal knowledge of the problem, and it cannot be denied that all those who spoke in favour of these changes had a greater measure of the real knowledge of the problem than those who spoke in favour of maintaining the Bill as it stood originally.
We have set up the best machinery we could, but we are not creating a new wages fund. I think there has been far too much said about the wages which prevailed under the old wages board. The conditions now are totally different to what they were when prices were soaring, and I think it is a cruel thing to attempt to delude men by telling them that if a Bill of this sort is passed they can secure the same scale of wages which was provided for them under the Corn Production Act. I earnestly hope that those who discuss this Bill in the agricultural districts will remember that, although we are securing now the best possible machinery for fixing wages, we are not doing anything to materially increase wages except by rounding up some of the worst employers who are paying less wages than their neighbours. The Minister of Agriculture very wisely decided to adhere to his decision not to put an actual wage figure in the Bill. It is true that some hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, with an eye to the General Election, sought to raise the question of a fixed wage in a very acute form, but I still maintain that the right hon. Gentleman was wise in adhering to his decision to maintain the Bill in this respect in its original form, and if I required any further argument in this direction, I would refer hon. Members to the very eloquent denunciation of a certain figure during the last General Election by Liberal and Labour candidates as to the iniquity of putting in a figure which might depress the whole scale of wages, and lead to political corruption and bribery.
I cordially support what the Minister of Agriculture has said in expressing the hope that there will be goodwill and general agreement in trying to make the best of this Bill. There are some hon. Members in this House who would like a different sort of Bill, but now that this Bill has been passed I hope all sections and classes throughout the House and throughout the country will do their best to make it a success. The great industry of agriculture has been far too long the plaything of politicians, and if we can keep party feeling out of this matter and give this Bill a fair chance then I think we shall be doing the best we possibly can to make the lot of the agricultural labourer better in the future than it has been in the past.
I am one of the few of those who voted against the Second Reading of this Bill. I happen to live among farm labourers; I know all their difficulties as well as any hon. Member of this House, and I am not convinced that putting the power into the hands of the central authority in London and placing the destinies of the whole industry in their hands was doing the right thing. I was very sorry to have to vote against the Bill, but what I fail to understand is the attitude adopted by the, Government. I remember the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Mr. E. Wood) offering a compromise on this Bill, and I remember the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture saying that he was firmly convinced that the Central Authority laid down in the Bill was vital to the agricultural workers. If the vital part of the Bill has been taken out, it must be a dead Measure. I am now wondering whether I ought to vote for this mutilated Measure by sup- porting the Third Reading. I think hon. Members know which way I shall vote, and of course I shall support the Bill.
There is one other matter to which I should like to draw attention, and it is one upon which there has been a good deal of sympathy expressed. I will give as an illustration my own case. On my own farm my valuers have shown me the accounts which prove that during the year 1923 there has been a loss of £690. That does not allow of a very large increase in wages. I am, however, assured by a circular which has been issued in the bye-election now in progress that the Government are guaranteeing fair prices to the farmers, so that they will know in advance what their crops will fetch, and, accordingly, I shall not give up my farm next October, as I had anticipated doing, if they really mean this. In view of that circular, I should like to carry the minds of hon. Members who sat in the last Parliament back to the occasion when we had a Debate on agriculture, and to recall to them the scorn that was poured on the scheme of guaranteed prices by hon. Members who now sit above the Gangway. If the right hon. Gentleman means what was said in this circular which was issued during the bye-election, it is going to have an enormous effect—
By the Labour party. If they mean it—[HON. MEMBERS: "Read it!"] It says:
The Labour Government wants to help the farmer, as well as the agricultural workers, by guaranteeing fair prices to the farmers, so that they may know in advance what their crops will fetch.
If they do mean that, they can have the minimum wage and they can have the Wages Board, and I can assure them that agriculture will be more profitable both to masters and men, though I am wondering what will happen with regard to the landlord under those conditions. What I want to know, however, is what is the Government's real attitude towards this question. I have always been rather an independent Member, and my action has not always suited either my constituents or my leaders, but I have always tried to look at every question from the honest point of view, without considering
whether I may or may not lose votes, and I should very much like to hear what is the policy of the Government on this matter.
I join with the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash (Lieut.-Colonel Lane-Fox) in hoping that this Bill will bring lasting benefit to the agricultural community. We all know how the workers have been suffering for so many years, and let me also say that I know, too, how the farmers have been suffering. Unfortunately, my banker indicates to me how I myself have been suffering, and it is by no means easy for farmers to pay their way. I agree that there is a brighter and fairer prospect before us, but how some farmers manage to carry on, and pay even the wretched wages that are being paid now is a mystery to me. I hope that this Bill, when it is passed, will bring real benefit to The whole of the agricultural community, and I shall have the greatest pleasure in supporting it; but I do hope that in future, when the Government say that a great principle is involved, a principle which is fundamental to a Bill, they will not mislead me and others who wish to vote honestly and straightforwardly by withdrawing that principle which they say is vital to the Bill.
When this Bill was introduced, many of us felt that it had a very slight prospect of passing into law, and I think that many of us on this side of the House will join in congratulating the Minister that he has been able to handle a delicate and difficult situation so satisfactorily, and that he has been able to carry through this House a Bill which is more or less acceptable to all parties, although perhaps pleasing none. The Bill is a compromise, and, so far as we on these benches are concerned, it is very different from what we should like, nor do we think that it is in a workable form. So far as the other side are concerned, it appears that they have given up their ewe lamb, the central wages hoard. We have never believed that a powerful centralised body sitting in Whitehall could determine with any degree of satisfaction to those engaged in the great industry of agriculture, whether workers or employers, a system of wage regulation. We know that even under the Corn Production Act, where there was a balanced arrangement by which prices on the one hand and wages on the other were guaranteed, a great deal of dissatisfaction arose; but we believe that if a Bill giving extensive powers to a central body had been passed through this House without such a balanced arrangement as was embodied in the Corn Production Act, it would not have succeeded in increasing wages, but would have succeeded in turning a great many men out of employment.
I desire to emphasise a point which has already been made in other quarters of the House, namely, that, just as a compromise has been reached in this House, so we hope that the workers and employers who have to carry out this Measure will also do their best to reach a compromise and give effect to what we all admit is by no means a perfect Measure. We hope that there will be no boycotting of the wages boards by either side, and that a spirit of goodwill will obtain. Many think that the progress of agriculture is bound up with having the greatest possible arable acreage in this country. We have something like 1,000,000 acres of land—marginal acres—which it pays to cultivate as arable land when prices are high and business is good; for my part, however, I doubt the wisdom of any attempt to try and bring these marginal acres under arable cultivation, for when prices slump the employer loses his capital, and, too often, alas, the worker loses his job. I hope, however, that more attention will be paid to the intensive cultivation of good land—and no country has better land than this country in certain districts—because agriculture is a business just as much as any other industry, and it is a business which responds to business methods. It is no good attempting to develop unprofitable business lines when you have profitable lines which you can develop.
Another point that I would venture to put to the Minister is this: I hope that, having passed this Bill, he will, so to speak, rest on his laurels and leave the industry alone, and will not introduce an extensive measure of State interference with the industry. I believe that, as organisation in the industry expands, as it undoubedly will do partly as a result of this Bill, we shall not only have regularisation of wages, but that we shall also gradually develop a system of regularisation of prices. I think that the two go to a great extent together. Much good could be done to the industry of agriculture by paying more attention to this subject. We know that in regard to milk there has been a regularisation which has proved to the advantage of the worker, to the employer and also to the consumer, and more attention might be paid to the regularisation of other important classes of British agriculture, such as the production of meat, to the advantage of all these three interests. I hope the State will bend its activities towards furthering research and improving education in agriculture, and that it will give every encouragement that it can in these directions, because I believe that in that way will be found the surest and speediest road to progress in the industry.
I fully endorse the hope that has been expressed in all quarters of the House that, when this Bill becomes law, all the parties concerned will endeavour to work it with good will, so that not only may the worker feel that he has some protection and that he will have a better standard of living, but that the industry as a whole may prosper and be in a better position than it has been in the past. Having said that and fully realising that this was the best Bill in the present circumstances that we could expect to get from the present House of Commons, I should like also to say that it does not satisfy me entirely. I disagree entirely with the hon. Member for Cambridge (Sir D. Newton) in his remarks on the central board. If he suggests that the central board would have no knowledge of agriculture and of the great problems that they would have to discuss, I do not think he knows the agricultural labourer and the farmer, because my experience of the old board is that both farmers and labourers knew their business. I am sorry that the Central Board has lost the powers which the Bill, when it was first introduced, proposed to set up, and I am also disappointed because no minimum wage is fixed. If the Amendment dealing with that matter had not been ruled out, I should have voted for it.
I want to say again, however, that, the Bill having now been agreed and being on the point of receiving its Third Reading, so far as I myself and my friends are con- cerned we shall do our very best to see that it is worked peacefully, that it will be enabled to carry out its functions without friction, and that the greatest good will will exist between all parties who are called upon to work it. I also hope and believe that it is not going to bring about the disaster that was prophesied by hon. Gentlemen opposite when it was brought in. There will be no attempt to ruin the industry, there will be no attempt to place on the industry more than it is able to bear, but one thing of which I am perfectly satisfied is that those who are responsible for carrying on the industry will be compelled by force of circumstances to make it prosperous by farming better and on a more intensive scale. So far from its reducing employment, I am perfectly satisfied that when the Bill begins to work there will be an increase. Hon. Gentlemen opposite need not think that the passing of this Bill into law will not lead to any improvement in the agricultural labourer's wages, because it will, and I am perfectly satisfied that when they receive it all parties concerned—the farmer, the labourer and the landlord, too—will welcome it and will endeavour to work it so that the industry may prosper and the land produce the food of the people, while the workers, who have been far too badly paid, will find a great improvement in their conditions and will have a better standard of life than they have had hitherto. Once again I say the Bill does not meet our expectations. We wanted the central board and we wanted the minimum wage, but having failed to obtain them, I hope the Bill will pass and become law at the earliest possible moment so that friction may be avoided.
As one who has been a whole-hearted supporter of the Bill as it was introduced, I must profess my disappointment that it is going to pass into law in a very different state from that which many of us on this side had hoped. It has been, by the compromise which has taken place, emasculated almost beyond recognition, and I for one am very sorry that the Amendment standing in the name of myself and my colleagues to include a minimum wage of 30s. was not allowed to be discussed. I consider that the Bill will be of very little use for the purpose for which it was intended. Obviously the idea of the Bill was to see that an improved standard of wages in agricultural districts was brought about. But the mutilation it has suffered in Committee—not at the hands of the Liberals—in my opinion made the case for the inclusion of the minimum wage of 30s. irresistible. It is for this reason that my colleagues and I have put up as strong a fight as possible on this matter. The whole Bill and nothing but the Bill with the inclusion of the minimum wage provision, is what we have fought for. The Bill having been so mutilated will be of no use in bringing about that immediate improvement in the majority of cases which we all very much desire. There can be no doubt that had the Minister of Agriculture not shown such timidity in dealing with the matter, he would have introduced a minimum wage when the Bill was brought forward for the first time, and I believe there is in the House a majority which would have ensured the passage into law of the Bill with the inclusion of the 30s. minimum wage.
I cannot understand what reasons may have actuated the right hon. Gentleman. He has led us to believe that there would be no chance of getting the Bill passed unless we arrived at some sort of compromise. If that is going to be the attitude that we are going to adopt, that we who believe in certain fundamental principles are going to sacrifice them, then there is surely not going to be very much progressive legislation passed in the House of Commons in spite of the present progressive majority. The right hon. Gentleman in Committee gave three reasons why he did not include the minimum wage, reasons which to my mind were perfectly inadequate. First of all he said the cost of living was ever changing, then, that if a standard was set up it would be used and quoted, and, thirdly that there were a large proportion of the farm labourers who were opposed to this principle. I should like to ask him when he discovered those objections, for I find that in his more Radical days, in a speech delivered with that sacerdotal eloquence of which we know he is capable, after rebuking a Member who was opposing the introduction of the then 30s. minimum wage and pointing out to him that he would be judged in the country, not by
his line of argument, but by the vote he gave, went on to say:
This is the first time that Parliament has got to grips with tins matter of farm labourers' wages, and it is also the first time when the high importance of this matter of the general national welfare has been realised by the country. Some of us have urged the establishment of a standard minimum wage for agriculture. I think we may say that everyone now realises that if the standard of agricultural wages had been raised in that way some years ago, the situation now in the crisis of the War would be infinitely better."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd July, 1917; col. 925, Vol. 96.]
It is a cruel fate for the farm labourers that they should have lived to see the first Labour Minister of Agriculture, who in his Radical days was a very strong advocate of the principle that the minimum wage should be applied to that industry, in his high position where if he had only given a lead or said a word could have ensured the carrying into effect of these ideals of which he was such a friend and supporter in the days gone by, actually voting against it. Although we hope this Bill is going to accomplish the purpose for which it is intended, we feel that it is going to bring, when it is known that the principle of the minimum wage is definitely ruled out, despair to the hearts of hundreds of thousands of farm labourers who have to exist on a wage of 27s. and less to think that in this House of Commons, with a Labour Minister of Agriculture and with a progressive majority, this principle has been rejected. I do not know what may be the fate of the right hon. Gentleman. I warned him when I addressed the House on the Second Reading of the fate of his two immediate predecessors, and I warn him now of the fate which awaits him in the country for having forsaken the principles in which he professed to believe. I think when he goes into political obscurity—and the sooner the better for the hundreds of thousands of our farm labourers, in view of the attitude he has taken—he will carry upon his shoulders the knowledge of the fact that he has killed the faith of hundreds of thousands of farm workers in the efficacy of the House of Commons as a means of taking them away from the deplorable conditions in which they find themselves. We fear that the Bill will have the effect of stabilising wages as they are at present in counties where the rate of
wages is 26s. or 27s. We feel that, those who are getting below that wage will, when this Bill comes into operation, be immediately raised to the level of 26s. or 27s., but that the Bill, having been passed without the inclusion of the minimum wage provision, will mean the stabilisation of what is admittedly in the country a disgraceful rate of pay, and the consequences for that action must rest entirely upon the Minister of Agriculture and the Parliamentary Secretary, who themselves voted against the provision put forward to make sure of an immediate rise in the labourers' wages. We hope the Bill may have the effect the right hon. Gentleman expects, but many of us fear that the consequences of his failure to do what was his obvious duty will be felt very keenly in the country, and his action will be resented by those who are looking to Parliament to remedy a very grave injustice.
This Bill is being carried into law by the co-operation of the Conservative and the Socialist parties, to the obvious disgust and chagrin of the Liberal party. I am going to vote for the Third Reading, not because I am under any delusion that this is any serious contribution towards a solution of the agricultural problem. I am certain that the Bill, although it may touch a few abnormal cases—and the Minister admits that they are abnormal—and may remedy them, as everyone would desire to see them remedied, is not going to secure a living wage for the agricultural worker.
The reason I am prepared to support the Bill is that I do not want to lose any opportunity of trying any expedient that is going to help agriculture in any degree, even though it may eminate from hon. Members opposite. Also I wish hon. Members opposite to have an opportunity of trying their expedient in order that they may be convinced, as I believe same of them, if not all, ultimately will be, that something, a great deal more drastic and more important is necessary to give a chance to, agriculture. We listened with very great interest to a speech in Committee by the hon. and gallant Member for East Leyton (Major Church), in which he sketched a policy under which the Socialist party would pay some sort of a subsidy in order that the agricultural labourers should earn a living wage. I am further encouraged in my hopes of hon. Members supporting the Government by the terms of the pamphlet which has just been read to the House. I want to ask the Minister a straight question. Does that pamphlet or does it not represent the policy of the Government? Surely that is a matter which can be answered monosyllabically. I hope the Government have had sufficient experience of election pledges coming home to roost for them not to repeat at elections, pledges which are merely meant to be pledges and do not represent their policy. I think it is time the Government declared to the House and to the country what their policy in regard to this matter is. I can assure hon. Members opposite that if they will bring forward a policy which is going to enable agriculture to pay a living wage, there will he a great many Members from this party who will give them their most enthusiastic support.
We are willing to give this Bill a Third Reading, because we wish the expedient to be tried of wages boards, but we know perfectly well that the industry is not in a position to pay its workers a living wage at present. If anyone doubts it, he has not got far to look for the facts. We have already had pointed out at great length the tremendous loss of the farming operations of the co-operative societies covering, as they do, practically every county in the country, covering some 70,000 acres, and being run at present at a gigantic loss. We had only two days ago the figures, that the Minister quoted in answer to a question, of the various Government farms which are being run by the State at present, every one of them at a loss. We have had other figures quoted, and in every quarter of the country that you look to you will find that the farmers are not in a position in which they can possibly pay a substantially higher wage. Do hon. Members opposite really doubt that? If they doubt it, what are their reasons for doubting it? It will be helpful and important that their reasons should be given to us this afternoon. If they do not doubt it but admit it, what right have they to shut their eyes to the facts? Are they content to go on agitating for £5 or £6 a week, or more, for trade unionists in the towns, and to leave agriculture in such a condition that even a Socialist Minister did not dare to put a minimum wage of 30s. a week in the Bill when he introduced it.
That is the problem which all quarters of the House are up against. How are we going to make agriculture an industry in which the people can earn a living wage? The Conservative party, alone of any party, brought forward a policy, which was rejected by hon. Members opposite and rejected by the country. It is, therefore, up to hon. Members opposite to do something. They will not have Protection. Then it must be by subsidies or by guarantees, or whatever you like to call it, that agriculture is to be put on a fair basis. At the present time, wherever you go, you find that agriculture is throttled by unfair taxation and excessive railway rates which have been forced up enormously since the War. We must help agriculture to get over these difficulties before agriculture can hope to pay a decent minimum wage. For hon. Members who sit below the Gangway to try to secure a political advantage, because it is nothing else—
I do not think that interruption is worth answering. For hon. Members opposite to bring forward an Amendment such as they have, which is mere vote catching, which could not be brought into this Bill, will not do them any good. I can tell hon. Members opposite below the Gangway that the day of their party is past. If they are keen about a 30s. minimum wage for agriculture now, why did not they move a little finger during the Lime they were in office to do something to agriculture? We did not hear of a 30s. minimum wage during the 10 years the Liberal party were in office. What has their party ever done to help the farmer or the agricultural labourer? Their party has fought every relief that has ever been offered to agriculture. They fought the Agriculture Rates Act; they fought the Corn Production Act, and they fought the proposals brought forward by my right hon. Friend and leader at the last election. They have done nothing but obstruct every proposal that has ever been brought forward to help agriculture. They regard agriculture as land for electioneering, as a gold-mine for votes, as a shop-window in which rare and refreshing fruits can be put. That is the sole use that the Liberal party have ever had for the land, and that is all they know about the land. Most of them do not know a turnip from a mangold wurzel. I look with more confidence to hon. Members opposite above the Gangway, because although they have not the knowledge, at any rate they have the desire to help agriculture in the future.
It has often been said by hon. Members opposite that it is a great mistake for agriculture and politics to get mixed up, and I do not think I have ever been more of that opinion than while I was listening to the speech of the Noble Lord. I extract from that speech this one point, which as a mere political matter is worth noting, that he, at any rate, and he speaks with great authority for his party, is still in favour of the policy that was put before the country by his party at the last election. I should like to get as much as I can outside the line of political argument and get back to the Bill. I believe very thoroughly that it is a good thing for the industry on all sides that an arrangement has been come to under which we hope that this Bill will be passed in substantially its present form before the House adjourns for the Autumn Recess. I have always felt that it was more important for the worker to get a legal sanction behind his rate of wages, to get it for certain, to get it quickly and to get it with a maximum amount of general goodwill, than to consider any point concerned with the particular powers that the central wages board may have compared with the district wages committee. I am glad, having held that view all along, which many of my hon. Friends above the Gangway have not held, that my hon. Friends have come round entirely to that view, and are now supporting it through thick and thin in the action they are taking in this House.
It has been tempting in this Debate to talk politics instead of thinking of the agricultural industry, and I notice that some of my hon. Friends above the Gangway have been inclined to take the view that the action taken by the Government in their compromise has followed the line which the carrying of a certain Amendment which I proposed made it necessary that they should follow. That is not historically true. It is true, of course, as I said on Second Reading—and in Committee we carried out the view which most of us held—that our view was that specific powers should be given to the central wages board instead of absolute powers, but it is not true that the line of the Government compromise is the line that either I suggested on Second Reading or that—[HON. MEMBERS: "Do not apologise!"] It is not a question of apology. Is it not worth making the point as clear as possible? It is riot a fact that the compromise followed wholly the lines that we should have wanted.
The, three specific powers which we wished to give in one form or another to the wages board, as was suggested in the quotation which has been read from the Second Reading Debate were, first of all, that the central board should have the power to secure something in the nature of a wage in accordance with the formula laid down in the Bill; secondly, that they should have power to act in the case of a deadlock; and thirdly that they should have power to act in a case of an appeal by a district wages committee. There are several ways of doing the first. One is to say that there should be an overriding standard, and to insert in the Bill a definite figure. The second is the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Southern Norfolk (Mr. G. Edwards) to enable the agricultural wages board in advance to name a figure which they believe to he a figure which all the recommendations of the district wages committees should come up to. Thirdly, there was the line of the Amendments that we put down from the first, namely, that if the Minister considered that the figure recommended by the district wages committee was inadequate he should have the power of referring it to the central wages board, which, after consulting the local committee, could substitute their own view of what the rate ought to be for the recommendation of the local committee.
The compromise did not quite follow that line. It did adopt the second and the third powers that we thought it right and reasonable for the central wages board to have, namely, to act in the case of a deadlock and in the case of an appeal. But it was agreed, and I think wisely, in the interests of getting the Bill through, that the power of giving the central board or this House an overriding power of stating a minimum rate should not be in any form included in the Bill. I do not wonder that the particular point—the Government has not thought it right in any form to accept the power of fixing an overriding minimum, either by this House or by the central wages board—has had a great deal of importance attached to it by some of my hon. Friends. They genuinely believe that it would be possible by an overriding legislative enactment to secure a universal minimum wage of 30s. I am not quite so sure.
There is also the quite obvious and perfectly fair political point, that hon. Members above the Gangway have never tired of attacking, most unfairly, hon. Members below the Gangway on this side for having, I think a year or two ago, no doubt far perfectly good reasons, voted against a certain minimum wage being inserted in a Bill concerning the coal mining industry. I have seen placarded in mining division after mining division, attacks on Liberals, stating, "These are the people who did not think a miner was worth 5s. a day and a boy 2s. a day." It is, therefore, only natural and it is only human nature that now the chance comes of putting the boot on the other leg and pointing out the position, as has been done by my hon. Friends, that they should call attention to it. Perhaps it might suggest itself to my hon. Friends above the Gangway that if they had been less anxious to be unfair to my hon. Friends for having taken what, probably, was a perfectly wise and right course in not including a minimum wage for miners in a certain Bill, that my hon. Friends would be less willing to retaliate, as they are doing and as they will no doubt do, in regard to this particular matter.
I think, on the whole, probably the action taken in regard to the coal-mining wage was perfectly justifiable when it was taken, and I believe that the action the Government are now taking, which makes it impossible for them to insert in this Bill a minimum wage, if they are to get their compromise through and to get their Bill, is also a wise action, in the general interests of the industry at the present time. It is significant that the leader of the Agricultural Labourers' Union, who is a man absolutely devoted to the cause of those whom he represents, has been thinking it right, in the interests of those he represents, not to press for the inclusion of any named figure in the Bill. That is a fact which we ought to have in mind in considering what is the right thing to do on this subject. The compromise having been made under the circumstances, what was the right and reasonable thing for us to do? So long as we have the present three-party system under the present circumstances, it is possible for one party, if it sets itself deliberately to talk and to move its Amendments, to make it impossible to get a Bill agreed to, when time is of the essence of the matter, as it is in this case.
The majority of us on these benches, although we would have been perfectly willing to fight side by side with the Government in order to get stronger powers for the Central Wages Board under one or other of the alternative methods which I have named—personally I think the line suggested by the hon. Member for Southern Norfolk of giving the Central Wages Board power from time to time to fix an overriding figure might have been the better way—it would have meant carrying the Bill over to the autumn, for a prolonged struggle in the autumn, with an uncertain issue. On the whole, the present arrangement having been made, it would not have been right for us to take the responsibility of not allowing the compromise to go through. None of us know what may happen in the autumn.
Two years ago I was interested very much in a Bill concerning allotments. The Minister in charge was very anxious that it should not go over to the autumn. Some of my friends here were very anxious to improve it, and that would have involved further discussion in the Autumn Session. We accepted his advice and got the Bill through, though it Was not as good a Bill as we had hoped for. It turned out that there was no Autumn Session and that the Minister of Agriculture at that time had been very wise in advising us not to carry the Bill over to the autumn, because he was one of the main persons who murdered the Government before the Autumn Session came, and it is very likely that it was in anticipation of what was likely to happen that he gave us the advice. I do not suggest that my right hon. Friend has any such intention in his mind with regard to this matter, but anyone who has been in this House for any considerable time knows that very often it is unwise not to take a measure if you can get it, and that if you let a good time go past it is extraordinarily difficult to revive the atmosphere of general goodwill. The main point in favour of this Bill, though it does not follow the lines which those of us who have been working together have always thought the right lines, is that even in its present form it does carry with it a considerable amount of the goodwill of all concerned.
It is wrong to say that it is a Conservative settlement. We all know that the largest Conservative vote recorded this Session was recorded against the Second Reading of this Bill and the majority by which it was carried was a comparatively small one. The party opposite whipped up against this Bill more than they whipped up against any other proposals brought forward. They have moved forward considerably from that, position. They not only agree to the passage of this Bill, but they will agree to there being a central board, and will agree to that central hoard having certain powers, however imperfect. In doing that, one ought to realise that they have gone a very long way. That is very much to their credit, but, at any rate, the point ought not to be raised that there has been a complete surrender by the Government. Anyone coming into this House for the first time, and not knowing anything about agriculture, and having no prejudices, would agree with me that if there is to he a compromise, you could not have a mope fairly balanced one than this, particularly if it means that the Bill will be passed into law within the next 10 days. Therefore, although my friends and I would have been very glad to fight it out in the autumn, to get further powers for the central wages board, on the whole we think that the House will be doing a sensible thing to give a Third Reading to this Bill, which has the greatest prospect of being accepted with the greatest amount of general goodwill by all the parties concerned.
I rise to support the Third Reading of this Bill. I do so from motives entirely different from those of both speakers Who have preceded me. I am not sure as to the attitude of mind of the right hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Acland). The explanation which he has given seems to have left the House in greater difficulties than it was in before. The fact is that the central purpose of the Bill was the establishment of a central wages board, with the powers of veto, and while we are all discussing the difficulties of agriculture, without pleasing everybody else, what we have got to bear in mind is that this is a Bill to set up negotiations designed to deal with the wages of agricultural workers. It is not crops which we arc selling. It is men. That appears to have been entirely overlooked. We have got into all sorts of deep water regarding the variation of wages in connection with the raising of stock and crops, the difference between a shepherd and a cowman, and so on, all of which is irrelevant with the purpose of this Bill. The point, which so far has been unexplained by those who have opposed a central wages board, is that the difference between a central wages board and county committees is the difference between what might be described as the agricultural workers' Plimsoll line, and the setting up of machinery which is more likely to perpetuate the existing inequalities than it is to establish a national minimum wage that can be regarded as a subsistence.
That is the plain statement of fact, and while I am going into the Lobby to support the Third Reading I hope that the House will understand that those of us on these benches who do so will do so conscious of the fact that we have come to the conclusion regarding this Bill f hat it is not so much what my right hon. Friend described as co-operating, but that it is more in the nature of what trade unionists describe during a strike as "peaceful persuasion." It is due entirely to the fact that we knew that there wits sufficient voting power against us to prevent us from getting any Bill at, all if we had not accepted the terms of this. I would remind my hon. Friends below the Gangway that when they proposed to have certain machinery, which would give a minimum wage, they made no attempt to cover that by the Amendment which they supported, but which we now realise could not be obtained for the very reasons which I have already given, and that is why we have to go into the Lobby to-day to support a Bill which we are compelled to accept by the weight of voting power in opposition to us, and not because we regard it as a good Bill. The people who destroyed the powers of the central wages board have automatically forced us into the acceptance of a, compromise. Having done that, as we are parties to the compromise we are going to honour the bargain, and we are supporting this Bill fully conscious of the fact that hon. Members below the Gangway have compelled us to adopt that attitude.
As many hon. Members opposite have expressed the hope that this Bill is going to work I 'hope sincerely that it will. One virtue which yet remains in the Bill is that it gives some sort of foundation on which we can start to erect machinery, by the bringing together of the employer and the workman, which at any rate, from a county point of view, will create a rather larger outlook than has prevailed hitherto in agriculture. Some of us had hoped that we might have got a national outlook with regard to agriculture. This is where I differ from my hon. Friends opposite. I do not believe that you will ever get that national outlook in agriculture until you have done precisely what had to be done in every other industry, that is to create the machinery which above all else enabled you to develop a national outlook. I cannot understand the attitude of mind of some hon. Members opposite, who arc always pleading for a broad national outlook with regard to agriculture, and every time when they get an opportunity to set up machinery which would bring the mind of the nation to a national standpoint with regard to agriculture immediately take us back to the parish pump outlook with regard to this industry. Bad as this Bill is, we shall go into the Lobby in support of it in the hope that it will give, if only in a limited form, some machinery where to-day there is none, but I hope sincerely that none of us will indorse the hope of the noble Lord that this is going to be the last act of Parliamentary interference with agriculture, because, if so, agriculture will remain where it has remained.
If that be so, I unreservedly withdraw what I have said with regard to the Noble Lord, but that point of view has been expressed, I think, by the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite.
I am only concerned with the point of view, and if agriculture has got to be revived in this country, it can only be revived by Parliament not allowing to continue the chaos which has hitherto prevailed. The mere fact that a responsible Minister can quote figures to-day as low as £1 a week, and that some hon. Members in another quarter of the House are threatening us that if we include a minimum wage of 30s. in the Bill it will wreck the industries—the mere fact that that is the condition of agriculture when there has been the minimum of State interference, is in itself a very potent reason why Parliament should take a far greater interest in agriculture, and we support this Bill to-day believing that if no national machinery as is suggested in this Bill had been set up, we should thereby prevent the national outlook which would give an opportunity of further interference, all for the good of agriculture and the nation in general.
I only intervene for a few minutes for the purpose of making three observations. I do not know that I should have done so if it had not been for the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Acland) who said that it was a very astonishing thing to observe the distance which the party with which I am associated had moved in the course of the discussions in Committee on this subject. I think it important that any misconception which might arise from that should at once be corrected. Hon. Members in all parts of the House will remember—and I thought that we had made our position abundantly plain in the course of the Second Beading Debate, both by the words of the Amendment of the hon. Member behind and in every speech from these benches—that we were prepared to accept and to recommend to those whom we might be able to influence the statutory regulation of wages, provided that it was done on a district basis. From that position we have never departed.
6.0 P. M.
The right hon. Member for Tiverton was at some pains, it seemed to me, to offer what appeared to me to be somewhat like an apologia for the action of himself and his friends in Committee, with which I, at least, am not particularly concerned. He was also at pains to explain to us that the lines of the ultimate agreement adopted, the ultimate compromise at which the Committee arrived, was very different from the compromise that he and his friends had in mind to propose when they put their Amendments on the Paper. I am, of course, familiar with both the suggested compromises, and I am bound to say that, except for one particular, I do not think there is any very great or substantial difference between the Government plan and the plan suggested by the right hon. Member for Tiverton. But perhaps that is hardly worth arguing at any length. What does seem to me, an outside layman, as entertaining, is the attempt by the right; hon. Member for Tiverton to minimise the great influence that lie and his friends have had upon the course of the Committee discussions. I am sure that nobody on this side of the House the least wishes to grudge hon. Members of the Liberal party any portion of the credit that rightly belongs to them for having originally moved and carried an Amendment that was indeed the most vital carried during the Commit too stage. I rate the right hon. Gentleman's services, towards what I conceive to be the right way to handle this problem, so highly that I would be disposed to say that, unless the right hon. Member for Tiverton and his friends had been able to carry that Amendment, we on this side would never have been able to bring the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary into a frame of mind in which compromise was acceptable. Therefore, I have nothing on that score but feelings of extreme obligation to hon. Members of the Liberal party for the way in which they induced a reasonable frame of mind among right hon. and hon. Gentlemen of the Labour party.
There is evidently considerable difference of opinion in the House as to the value of the Bill as it emerges from the Committee. The hon. Member for Southern Norfolk (Mr. G. Edwards), when he intervenes in our discussions, can always count upon being heard with great respect. He made a valuable contribution to the discussion. I do not think I am misinterpreting him if I say that his view was that, although the Bill had been weakened and gravely weakened in Committee, yet it did represent a useful contribution to a very difficult problem. I think he gave us to understand that that was his View. There is no man in the House who speaks with a greater measure of experience or with a greater desire to appreciate the point of view of his opponents than does the hon. Member for South Norfolk. Certainly he speaks with knowledge. I was, therefore, the more astonished to find that, although the hon. Member evidently thinks that a great deal of good is still to be found in the Bill, the hon. Member for Northern Dorset (Mr. Emlyn Jones), who may, indeed, have wider and longer agricultural knowledge than the hon. Member for Southern Norfolk, but whose agricultural knowledge in comparison with that of the hon. Member 'for Southern Norfolk I am inclined to doubt—I was astonished to find that he was so emphatic as to say that there was no good now in the Bill, and that if he was not deterred by considerations either of reluctance or prudence, he might even be found registering his vote against so unworthy an act of legislation. I can quite appreciate his feelings. He attached great importance to a particular Amendment that he moved in the Committee with great eloquence, on which he was unable to expend eloquence on the Report stage, which eloquence has been diverted to the interesting speech we have heard at this stage. I was very much entertained by one of the most ingenuous and naive confessions that I ever heard from a Member of this House, which fell a few minutes ago from the Liberal party's leader, the right hon. Member for Tiverton. I have always wondered whether it was fair to suggest that the hon. Member for Northern Dorset, in taking the action that he has done about the 30s. wage, was not wholly actuated by motives of philanthropy.
I was in no way seeking to misinterpret motives. Since the Amendment first appeared on the Paper I have heard Members on both sides of the House from time to time throw doubt on the sincerity of Liberal Members who moved in that matter, and I have always endeavoured to constitute myself their champion and to maintain against all corners that I could conceive of nothing that:would shock me more than that I should be convinced that they had not seriously intended their Amendment to benefit the labourer as well as their own electioneering prospects I must honestly confess that there was great ground for thinking that, whatever good the 30s. wage might be held likely to do at first sight to the agricultural labourer, if put into the Bill, there was little doubt that it was probably very good electioneering Therefore hon. Members, if they have been good enough to apprehend my mind that I thus shamelessly expose to them, will have also apprehended the sensation with which I heard the right hon. Member for Tiverton say quite nakedly, and without reluctance, reserve or apology, that the explanation of the 30s. Amendment went back so far as to have its roots in a division in which he and his friends had voted against the Amendment on some coal mines Bill to insert a figure of 5s., and that if hon. Members of the Labour party had not used that vote in what the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends considered an improper fashion, they would not have so much to fear from the retaliation which has been expressed in the form of this all-important Amendment. He went, indeed, so far as to say, in a House of human beings where human feelings always have their influence, that it was perfectly legitimate for his friends to find enjoyment, having that experience in their recollection, now to see the boot upon the other leg. I of course, in these matters am only in the position of a tertium gaudens, a third party to rejoice. I, therefore, am able to look on, and, perhaps, to discount at a truer figure than the hon. Member for North Dorset, or even the Minister of Agriculture, the value of the hon. Member's prophesy that on this issue, when the Minister goes to the country, he will find the fate that awaits him. I am not sure. I may be sure about the fate, but I am not sure whom it awaits.
I would like to press a question which was asked by the noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer), in
support of a question asked earlier by the hon. Member for Horncastle (Mr. Pattinson), with regard to the exact Government position on a very interesting leaflet which some time ago circulated round the House. As those who were then present will remember, the leaflet in question is apparently obtaining wide currency in a bye-election area where a contest is in progress. It is a leaflet issued under the auspices of the Labour party, and in it there is the very interesting and rather sensational statement—I have not the exact introductory words—that the Labour party proposes to
guarantee fair prices to the farmers so that they may know in advance what their crops will fetch.
Excepting that farmers, as far as I know them, are not accustomed to attach undue importance to anything on which they cannot firmly put their hands, it might be supposed that that statement would have great influence in this electoral contest, but in any case, whatever its influence and its effect there, it is of the first importance in a great political issue that we should know what the attitude of the Government is. Either words like that mean something or they mean nothing. If they mean something, we should like to know what they mean. I would press the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us whether he is able to respond monosyllabically, yes or no, to the invitation of the Noble Lord whether the Government have revised the view, stated in this House not long ago by the Prime Minister, and whether they are prepared now to reconsider their policy on the question of guaranteeing prices to the producer on the soil is correct. That is, if the statement means something. If it means nothing, I suggest that the repudiation of it, in the general interest of honest dealing and straight electioneering, should be immediate and unequivocal. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be good enough to apply himself to answering that question. I join with my hon. Friends on this side of the House in saying that we believe that the Bill is better as an agreed Bill than it was originally, and I am sure that I can speak for all on this side, and for all our friends outside the House, when I say that we shall spare no efforts to respond to the invitation of the Minister, and use such influent, as we possess to
secure that the Bill is given a fair chance. It will then go a long way to secure the objects which we all seek to attain.
It would be, I presume, appropriate to this Debate to introduce the metaphor, "patient oxen." am not a very patient ox, and I have not too much confidence in all my leaders on this side of the House. For my own part, I prefer to go my own way, especially on agricultural matters, because I fancy I know as much about them as most of my leaders at any rate. It has been the fashion to gibe at those who sit on these benches—that we are out to bribe the agricultural labourers. I remember at the last Election there were posters all over the Eastern counties calling upon the people to vote for the policy of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley (Mr. Baldwin)—to "vote for that policy and 30s. a week for the agricultural labourer." I am sorry that bribes of this kind and corrupt posters of this kind should be put upon the walls by any political party, because it is impossible for any Government to guarantee a wage unless they can guarantee the conditions by which that wage can be paid. Therefore, I dissociate myself entirely from appeals of this kind. I take a different view from my hon. Friends here. Personally, I am against a central wages board. I wish it were not in the Bill, and, though it is emasculated, I believe we in Devonshire know better how to settle Devonshire matters than a central wages board in London.
The hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. Dukes) asks us to have a national outlook on agriculture. We want a few national objects in agriculture. For one thing I should like to have a national cow—a cow which did not want to be milked on Saturday afternoons or Sunday mornings or Sunday evenings. Unfortunately, we cannot get it. I wish we could always have sunshine when the harvest is in progress, but unfortunately we get weather of the kind which we are now having even at the end of July. If my hon. Friend could secure these national attributes for agriculture, then I would be able to look at it with his eye, but, if we cannot have a cow which does not want to be milked on Saturdays and Sundays, and if we cannot have proper weather for carrying out agricultural operations, you had better leave us in the country districts to manage our own affairs, and not talk too much about nationalising this industry.
I do not understand the hon. Member's reference. [HON. MEMBERS: "He is trying to be funny!"] Oh, I understand, it is the new form of humour. Is it national humour? If so, I prefer some other kind of humour. I will ask hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway whether what I am going to say now is humorous. There is a bye-election in progress, and I am going to question the Minister about his policy and the policy of the Government. I will ask hon. Members to say if it is humorous or not, or whether it is merely "tripe"? This is an extract from their candidate's speech as reported in the "Boston Guardian" of 26th July, 1924—
Their practical policy was to help the farmers and other people by reducing railway rates, by getting cheaper credit, by stopping all the profiteering that was going on with the middlemen, and by guaranteeing the farmer fair prices for what he grew on condition that he paid fair wages.
Ts that the policy or is it "tripe"?
The hon. Member says it is a very good policy. I understood, however, we had another declaration by the Prime Minister. On 12th February, the Prime Minister, speaking, I presume, for the party below the Gangway, said:
So far as we are concerned, we shall not touch tariffs nor bounties.
Which is right? Is it this gentleman speaking in Lincolnshire, or the Prime Minister speaking at that Box? Where is the "tripe" now? Let us have a little straight dealing with our Labour friends. They are going out to attack us, and I am prepared to retaliate. If they are the party of electoral purity, why do they say one thing in the constituencies, and another thing at that Box? Are we to understand that the candidate for the Lincolnshire constituency who announces this new agricultural policy is, in the words of Alderman Kirk,
A university gentleman whose profession is to teach capitalist economics"?
I wish to know from my right hon. Friend the Minister if he has a policy, because on it depends entirely what wage will be paid. If this Bill be passed, then wages
will be paid upon the prices of the products. If you are going to increase the prices of the products, then bigger wages will be paid. Will my right hon. Friend tell me which policy is to be pursued by the Government? Is it to be the policy of the Prime Minister of no bounties and no tariffs, or is it to be the policy announced in Lincolnshire? We shall know then what kind of wages are to be paid. I am very glad the Minister has accepted the compromise. Nobody is satisfied. I do not like the Bill—in fact, I hate all control from London. I dislike the central board, but I recognise that this Measure will give the agricultural worker bargaining power. There will be local committees with independent chairmen, and each with two other members nominated by the Minister, to fix wages which will be enforced, and that to my mind will be the greatest benefit of this Bill. It will bring up the wages of those labourers who are being exploited by their employers.
That is the great benefit of the Bill. I hope it will be worked in that way and that we shall have reasonable good will on both sides. I desire to pay my tribute both to the Minister himself and to the Parliamentary Secretary for their uniform and unvarying courtesy during the Committee stage. They met us quite fairly. They, naturally, had their own point of view, but they were very willing to consider the points of view of those who differed from them. I hope, if this Bill comes into operation, the Minister will keep politics out of its administration and will appoint as members of the committees in the counties men with a real knowledge of the industry who are not partisans on one side or the other, but who can bring an independent mind to bear upon the facts. I hope he will not appoint men who have taken an active part on either side of the controversy, but that he will bring this Measure into operation—and I think he will have an opportunity of doing so—in a manner which will create as much good will as possible among employers and workers in the agricultural industry.
I think it is very important to realise in this Debate that this is not only a rural question affecting the agricultural workers, but is also a question which concerns those hon. Members who represent urban constituencies. For my part, representing Norwich, I can say that the problem of, the agricultural worker is constantly with us. During the last 50 or 60 years, thousands of workers have been driven from the land and have had to seek refuge in Norwich. Very badly paid and unskilled work has been found for them, and factories have been started which have absorbed this lowly-paid labour. The question of the position of the agricultural worker in Norfolk is, therefore, a vital one and I welcome any Measure, even this Bill as it stands after the Committee stage, which will give those workers some sort of machinery to help them to improve the conditions under which they live. Everyone will agree that the present position is chaotic. The conciliation committees have been absolutely useless, and the wages of the workers are a disgrace to a civilised country. An hon. Member has asked us why we have gone on with this Bill since the vital principle has been taken from it. We have done so because it offers machinery which will penalise some of the worst employers. At the same time, when I hear hon. Members opposite state that they are going to support the Third Reading of the Bill, though they opposed the Second Reading, I become suspicious of what is left in the Bill. After all, hon. Members opposite arc the political descendants of those who, in the early part of the last century, enclosed the common lands of the people and took from the agricultural labourer the right to a certain amount of land.
Those who have had some experience of trade boards realise that, with the central wages board gone, and the fixing of wages under the Bill left almost entirely in the hands of the local committees, the position is very bad indeed. The county committees will include representatives of the agricultural workers, who will be constantly faced with the fear of dismissal, and who will not be able to speak their minds in the same way as the workers' representatives on a central board. That will prevent any kind of living wage being fixed in the industry. It is all very well to speak of goodwill in the carrying out of this Measure, but in the cases of many of are people concerned their position is too desperate to speak to them of goodwill. The men and their wives are having a terrible struggle, the children are going to school half starved and not properly clothed, and it is insulting to talk to such people about goodwill in the industry. The farmers in the last year have had considerable relief; they have had £3,250,000 relief in rates and over £1,000,000 relief in road charges, and it is up to them to use this machinery to establish a wage which will be nearer to a living wage. Clause 2 of the Bill says that in fixing the rates the committees shall secure for able-bodied men such wages as will enable men in ordinary cases to maintain themselves and their families in accordance with such standard of comfort as may be reasonable in relation to the nature of his occupation. If the Bill does that; it will succeed. It does not do so, it will fail and then we shall want the Government to come back to the House and ask for further powers to strengthen the Bill and make it a weapon in the hands of the workers to protect them against sweating employers.
One outstanding feature in connection with this Bill will have to be faced by the country within the next few months. That is the attitude of hon. Members below the Gangway. It is a thing that they will not be able to get away from so far as Norfolk is concerned. All over Norfolk a revulsion of feeling took place when they took away the powers of the central wages board, and so far as we on these benches are concerned, we face the future in Norfolk with every confidence, because the labourers there realise that, with the powers of the central wages board so curtailed, their position is very bad, and that is due to the hon. Members below the Gangway. An hon. Member opposite said he wanted the Government to leave the agricultural industry alone and not to interfere with it, but I hope that that is the last thing the Government are going to do. The industry is in a hopeless state, and I look on this Bill as the first step in an attempt to reorganise the whole industry in such a way that we shall be able to be proud of it as a nation.
I really ought to rise to say a few words from the point of view of those of us who sit on these benches, so eager has been the attempt of both the other parties to attach all the blame for this very bad Bill to our party. As a matter of fact, I think all sides should
deprecate the political swashbuckling that has been going on over this Bill. It was a very unfortunate thing for the agricultural labourer and for this Bill that a bye-election took place in an agricultural constituency while it was in course of progress through this House. The result has been one shift and another shift, and everbody trying to make party capital out of provisions which ought to have been essential principles for the passing of this Bill. The Minister, although he is now rather jubilant at getting a Bill at all, started out with a principle which was really very sound. It was the principle contained in Clause 2, Sub-section (4), which provided that
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 arc 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 a very good principle on which to base the Bill, and so long as it remained in any shape or form a part of the Bill, I, for one, and I think all my hon. Friends below the Gangway here, would have supported it, but about half way through the Committee stage the Minister entirely did away with that excellent provision, because, when he scrapped the central wages board for the benefit of hon. Members opposite, although he left this Sub-section in the Bill, he removed any power under which it could be operated, and that is really the difficulty which those of us on this side who disagree with the Bill in its present form are up against; that is the only reason for the jubilation of hon. Members opposite, and why, although they voted against the Bill on Second Reading, they are now going to vote for it on the Third Reading. The Clause now means nothing at all, because there is no one in this country who has any power to enforce it. If a district committee fixes a wage of 20s., which is far below the standard laid down, it is not in accordance with the Bill, but no one has the least power to alter that decision, and, that being the case, some of us on this side, at any rate, I, myself, decided that the Bill was becoming quite useless without the provision of a minimum wage. Therefore, although I voted against a minimum wage
in Committee, because I did not believe in Parliament fixing wages, I came to the conclusion that the Bill, in its present form, would be very little use indeed to the agricultural worker without a minimum wage being fixed. [Interruption.] The idea that the right hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Acland), in moving his Amendment, spoiled this Bill, is merely a party cry and an attempt to attach blame to our party for a Bill for which nobody wants to take the credit.
The statements of the Minister and of the Parliamentary Secretary in Committee differed very widely in their effects. If you take the reading of the Minister, the fault is ours, but if you take the reading of the Parliamentary Secretary, the fault is not ours, so that there is a wide divergence of opinion on that matter even on the Government Front Bench. The minimum wage of 30s. which we so desired to be put in the Bill in one form or another has now been definitely abandoned by the Minister, and a compromise has been made. Although my right hon. Friend below me says it is not a compromise on the side of hon. Members opposite, it is, to my mind, entirely a compromise in their favour and not a compromise to which some of us on these benches would be willing to agree at all. It is a compromise which I very much deprecate, and in making which I do not think the Minister had the support of his party. It is a great pity that in conferring with hon. Members opposite, in order to get the Bill through on their lines, he did not confer with hon. Members in our party, in order to get through a Bill which would have been a great deal more useful to the agricultural labourer. The only reason why he did not, do that was because, at the beginning of the Committee stage, he wanted to make a little cheap party capital by accusing us of spoiling the Bill, and he closed the door to any possible further negotiations.
I want to reinforce what my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. Mond) has said. Hon. Members on the Committee will remember that among the Amendments of our party there was one which retained to the central wages board the power to interfere if a local committee had not acted in accordance with the law. The object of that Amendment was that, in cases where a minimum wage had not been fixed in accordance with Clause 2, Sub-section (4), the central wages board should have the power of fixing a wage which would represent a living, wage. That Amendment was sacrificed in the agreement come to by the right hon. Gentleman with the party opposite. [An HON. MEMBER: "It was out of order!"] The Amendment was not out of order. It was in order, and it would certainly have been passed if the right hon. Gentleman had attempted to pass it with our assistance in Committee. The failure to do so was a failure to retain the power of the central wages board to act in cases in which a minimum wage was not a living wage, and we feel strongly that had that power been retained for the central wages board, this Bill would not have been the semi-useless thing which it is at the present moment. At the same time, we believe that from this Bill something will be gained. Hon. Members opposite say that an industry can only pay in wages what can be got out of that industry, but many of us on this side think that you are not paying at present all the wages out of the industry that the industry can pay. We believe that, many farmers are not in fact paying the wages that they can well afford to pay, and this Bill will at least effect a reform an that matter, because all farmers will be bound to pay the wage fixed by a committee. I shall support the Third Reading, though I think this might have been made a very much better Bill without any difficulty, had my right hon. Friend taken a different course in Committee.
Those who, in the early part of this year, heard the statement so often made by Conservatives that the Liberals had brought National ruin, when they put the Labour party into office, may be wondering what they are feeling like to-day in view of the fact that they have compelled the wild Socialist party to accept their Amendments. The Bill in its present form is nothing else than exactly what the Farmers' Union have stood out for from the first. This central wages board is now left with no power at all, and what is the position of the agricultural labourer? Hon. Members above the Gangway must remember that he is fighting a battle at the present time for a living wage, and he has no chance of any guarantee at all under this Bill that he will get it. The party opposite think they have won a victory, but I am not so sure that they are not entering upon a most dangerous period. I made a pledge a few years ago that if I were returned to Parliament I would do my best to see that the agricultural labourer must have a minimum wage, so that anything I say to-day is only trying to keep that pledge. We are told to-day, on the authority of the Minister of Agriculture, that in some districts they are paying wages as low as 20s. a week to agricultural workers, and that the average wage throughout the country is only 28s. This means that, with the increased cost of living figure at 70, you are paying a married man with a family a wage of not more than 16s. or 17s. at pre-War rates, and I venture to tell this House seriously, and to remind them, that if there is one real excuse for a revolutionary spirit it is that the people who are working diligently are starved; and they are literally starving under these conditions. I wish the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) had been here. Consider what he would have thought of a proposal to grant to a married man, unemployed, with a family of eight children, a weekly allowance of 20s.! Remember that these men are working every day, and yet cannot make enough to feed their wives and children. To my mind, it is appalling.
I hear it often said that wages must come out of an industry, but I am not so sure about that. My own feeling is that we have no guarantee of any kind that the employer is competent to give them. We hear that the farmer cannot afford decent wages, but one fact remains, and that is that in this country to-day, if you want to rent a farm, you have the greatest difficulty in getting it, whereas the first and certain sign of agriculture being in so bad a condition would be that you would have a number of farms to let. These are the men who were so valuable to us in the dark days of 1914, but we have very soon forgotten them. If these were your horses, you would feed them, but these are only your fellow citizens. I, for one, at any rate, as one of the taxpayers, have no hesitation in publishing here and now that, when conditions are such that a well-managed farm cannot pay a living wage, it is a problem which the whole of us as a nation have to face and to solve. If it be true that 400,000 of our population, who are farm labourers, are working for a less wage than 28s. a week, it means that a million and a half of our population are not on the verge of starvation, but are absolutely starving. It is said farmers complain, that because of the urban attitude they have no chance. To my mind that is not quite just. The farmers appeal, or seem to appeal, from a selfish motive. I believe if it were driven home in this country, even amongst the working classes in the towns, that so large a mass of our population was living under these conditions, they would be ready to face any thing reasonable to alter it. I am sorry that this Labour Government, in spite of its flambuoyant speeches at Election time, and the promises made, should have failed at the first fence. It is not quite fair of the hon. Member who spoke of the leaders in our party. Even in our party, as in others, we sometimes offer a little prayer, "Heaven preserve us from our leaders!" He might be fair enough to say, that some of us on the Committee put up a great fight, and gave evidence of our anxiety to see we kept within this Bill the right and power of the central board to have a veto. No one could have foreseen in Committee that the first Amendment meant the ruling out of others that followed.
Mine were in order, and they were not ruled out. A definite ruling was given by the Chairman that my consequential Amendments, which would have given the power of the central board, on reference by the Minister, to fix the wage, ii they did not think it came up to the formula, were in order.
But it was the Minister himself and the Parliamentary Secretary who gave way to opposition. It is all very well to round on us, and say we destroyed the Bill. The fact is that if you had retained the central board you would never have come to agreement with the party opposite. They would never have come to terms with you.
I am sorry. I only want to say, in conclusion, while I shall vote for the Bill, which I hope will fulfil some of the pious wishes the Minister, in particular, and some of his followers have expressed, I do so regretting that the Labour Government have not offered, at any rate, something to these poor people, who are actually begging for bread, and have not done something better than this miserable, emasculated Bill we are sending to the other House.
I feel the same as several hon. Members on these benches, in voting for the Third Reading of this Bill, that we are not voting for anything resembling the Bill which we voted for on Second Reading. We were opposed by hon. Members opposite because of the central board, and we voted—at least the majority did—for the central board. I, for one, shall always regret that Amendment which did away with the central hoard. There was absolutely no point in the Bill when the central board was taken out. This is another Bill we are dealing with to-day. The central board and a minimum wage really go to the root of reform in the agricultural industry. I, and I think most hon. Members, are heartily sick and tired of the eternal way we are going on in agriculture to-day. The landowner, the farmer and the agricultural labourer are all in the greatest and direst distress, and the weakest goes to the wall. They have got to be helped in different ways, and we have got to see that the one at the bottom is not starved, as he is to-day. It is said that the objection to a minimum wage is that some of the farmers cannot afford to pay it. The farmer does not say, "I am just getting along, and this will cripple me." They are losing, in many cases in Norfolk to-day, £1,000 on the year's working. If you had that minimum wage, it would only add another £100 or £150. No farmer would have to lay down land to grass because of paying the minimum wage of 30s. That is not the reason he has to do it. The reason is a bigger one, and that is the help he wants in various ways.
It has been urged that the reason for our wanting this minimum wage is a political one. It is certainly not mine. At two elections I have put it forward, and shall continue to do so, because I believe it to be the only solution, and the right thing in this industry as it is to-day. Having a constituency alongside the Minister's, I know full well all he has said in his constituency, and I hoped he would have carried out a tittle of what he said at the last Election. No one has let down his party more than he has by his compromise with the party opposite. He has absolutely ruined this Bill as a reform in agriculture. It is an absolutely weak Bill, which is welcomed on the other side, because they know it is going to do no good, and I for one regret having to vote for it on Third Reading.
I would like to support this Bill on Third Reading, not because I am in any way satisfied with it, because I feel it will not be long before this House is asked to give further powers in connection with this legislation. In Committee, the same tactics were adopted of trying to rule the Amendment for the 30s. minimum out of order, and even after it was permitted—
Apart from the Chairman, I should like to say that the right hon. Gentleman for Ripon (Mr. E. Wood), in or before the discussion, tried to get us to compromise, and not raise the matter in the House, on Third Reading or Report. I was not surprised at your ruling to-day, after the Parliamentary Secretary told us what might happen after the Committee stage of last week. I must say this is my first Session in Parliament, and I do feel this is the first touch of the Socialist Government putting on the gag.
On a point of Order. The hon. and gallant Member referred to something I said in Committee last week. I think the inference to be adduced from that was I had said something then which had some bearing on your decision, Mr. Speaker, to-day. I ask the hon. and gallant Member to state what I said, and to let the House judge.
I can only say here most emphatically that I have never used those words to my hon. Friends in the Committee. I hope one will be allowed to clear this matter up very fully. The hon. and gallant Gentleman accused me of having arranged with the Chairman of the Committee the ruling out of the Amendment, and I had then very strongly to speak to him against making such an accusation, not only against me, but against the Chairman of the Committee. I deny emphatically that there has been any collusion between myself and the Chairman of the Committee, and I deny most emphatically that I ever used words such as he has uttered to-day.
If what the hon. Member states be the fact, all I can say is there must be some misunderstanding, and I certainly withdraw. We have been accused as a party of being the cause of this compromise. I should like to say to the Minister, and to Members on the back benches, that before any suggestion was made of a compromise, there was no word of a minimum wage to be in the Bill as part of the policy to which the Socialist party have been pledged. Many of them owe their seats to that promise at the last Election, and the hon. Member for Norwich, speaking last Saturday week, said. "We will not only give you bread; we will give you roses." I suppose the roses are the complete capitulation and surrender to the dictation of hon. Members opposite. It was very noticeable that so much had the Minister given way in Committee, that we were rushing through Amendments without any idea of what we were doing, without any explanation from the Minister or from any hon. Member from the Front Bench as to what alterations had been made in the Bill, and, when the Minister was asked to give an explanation, he really did not know on what he had given way. He had given way so much that lie really could not explain to the Committee in what shape the Amendments then stood. The right hon. Member for Ripon doubted our sincerity in introducing an Amendment for a 30s. minimum wage, and stated it was an Election dodge.
I am sure the hon. and gallant Gentleman does not wish to misrepresent me. I was very careful to say I had resisted that impression as far as ever I could, and I only began to yield to it when his own leaders asserted that that was their interpretation.
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman must have remonstrated with his own leader when he made the observation as to the 30s. minimum wage at the last election. What we feel is very important is that the position of the worker should be known at once. It was stated in Committee—and I repeat it again—that there are 400,000 workers in receipt of a wage of less than 26s. a week, and in parts of my division and the division of the Minister the wages are lower than 25s. I gave a budget to the Committee showing how a family laid out their 25s., and the Minister has told us himself he has worked out the average cost of a meal per head to the agricultural worker. It works out at three farthings, and yet he is quite content to surrender the whole object, leave out the minimum wage, and leave the agricultural worker in the same miserable condition as that in which he finds himself to-day. If it be correct, as the Tory papers tell us, that we are to have a Tory Government next time, it means that for five years the agricultural worker will be deprived of getting any improvement in his conditions. The Minister, too, has stated to-day that he is satisfied that the Bill will work well. In the spring of last year, we had a strike in Norfolk when the Farmers' Union suggested that the farmers were not in a position to pay more than 5d. per hour, which would reduce the wages £1 a week. The men naturally resisted that, and said they could not live on £1 a week, with the result that a strike was brought about. That strike was desired neither by the farmers nor the workers. It was, unfortunately, a political stunt, and done with the object of making the Leader of the Opposition make some offer, which he did not make until just before the Election. The Farmers' Union were anxious that a subsidy should be given to arable land. Farmers told me, and it was stated all over, that they did not desire the strike. The men said they did not want the strike, but, unfortunately, the men had been the lever to make the then Government do something for the industry. The Committee under the new Bill will have no more power than the Committee had when it made that arrangement last year. That arrangement was not kept. They say the farmer cannot afford to pay more.
There are many ways to help the farmer. The question of tithes must be dealt with. There is the question of rates and assessments and, as the Noble Lord said, the question of the rail rates. The farmer must also organise his form of marketing and take up co-operation. We are really passing the Third Reading of a Bill with very little consideration, and we have sacrificed the whole of the interests of the agricultural worker to get a Bill through quickly, so that the Minister can say that he has accomplished his object of getting a Bill through Parliament. I am surprised that hon. Members opposite should feel happy to think that they have destroyed a Bill which was going to bring comfort to 400,000 odd workers on the land. It is important that we should encourage the men to keep on the land. The towns are now filled with unemployed. The young lads in the village see nothing to attract them because of the low wages, and they are going to the towns. A good deal has been said about the dropping of the Bill as it stands at the present time, and that it was due to an Amendment moved by the right hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Acland). Hon. Members below the Gangway know that many Members on these benches did not support the Amendment. I remember well the Private Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture himself was one of those who voted against his own Minister. I am going to support this Bill to-night not because I agree with it, but because I should be sorry to deprive the agricultural worker of the small crumbs which have fallen from the rich man's table. It is really only the crumbs that are left to the agricultural worker.
I support this Bill on the Third Reading, because I am anxious not to stop any measures which may possibly improve the position of the worst paid skilled class in this country, but I admit I do it with less enthusiasm because my feelings are not so much with the politicians as with those people who I know have been looking forward to this as really giving them a chance of a living wage. The position of the farm workers gets worse in comparison to other classes every day. He feels it. He hears of people in London striking for increases of 10s. a week or more with the enthusiastic support of hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway. Then he hears that a minimum wage of. 30s. per week is voted down by the same hon. Gentlemen. I want also to see the 30s. minimum wage as a recognition of a change in the centre of gravity of farming; a recognition that it is no longer first the rent, then other expenses, and then see what we can leave over for the men, but decent standard living wage for the men first. We are told that this Bill is being given not only a safe conduct here, but a safe conduct in another place. The party on the other side are as generous as the leader of an investing army who tells a convoy that they can go through to the City, if they will only leave behind the munitions they are carrying there. The Minister is going to get his Bill through, but there is not going to be very much left that is worth while. What I want is something that will give the agricultural worker a wage of which the rest of the country need not be ashamed. I hope this Bill will do something. I very much regret that a Labour Minister of Agriculture had not the pluck to stick out for this wage.
The range of the Debate has been very largely round the question as to whether or not the Government have taken the right course in accepting this Bill under the circumstances that presented themselves to us. My task, in reply to some of that criticism, is made somewhat easier, because my right hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Mr. E. Wood), I think, proved conclusively that the arrangement now made rested upon a combination of my hon. Friends below the Gangway and my hon. Friends opposite on the Committee. If there had not been that combination in regard to an Amendment which completely destroyed the neutral board as an effective instrument, we should not have been in the position in which we are at this moment. I know some of my hon. Friends have stated that they were prepared to go on and fight for something more. We tried to get something back after the passing of that Amendment. We realised that it was hot a wise and a proper thing for those of us who were representing the Government on this Measure to throw up the sponge without an attempt to get back some of the ground lost. We discovered, when we put our Amendment down, that the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Acland) was so far-reaching and embracing that an attempt to regain what we thought some of the lost ground proved to be use less. All those Gentlemen who have spoken to-day, who were Members of the Committee, and who have suggested that we have made a mistake in not combining with them for the purpose of retrieving some of the ground that was lost, know perfectly well that the Amendments which they asked us to co-operate with them in seeking to establish were out of order just as some of the previous ones as a result of the passing of that Amendment.
The right hon. Gentleman stated in the course of his speech that he was willing to fight with us for that Amendment. We were informed that Amendment was out of order. Therefore, it is all idle pretence to stand in this House and argue that we were wrong in not taking a course which was not open to us to take.
I think I am right in saying that any Amendment that sought to give power to the wages board to have any measure of control over the local committees in regard to wages was out of order, as the result of the passing of my right hon. Friend's Amendment. It is no use pretending anything different. These are the facts of the, case, and we were compelled to take the position up from that particular point. We had no option. The hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Hillary) said his feelings were, "Heaven preserve us from our leaders." That is just what we felt at that time, because we realised the difficulty in which we were placed. My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset (Mr. Emlyn-Jones), in rather what one might call a fierce speech, said some rather hard things about the Minister and myself. I really think he was under a misapprehension when he was speaking. Those observations of his should have been addressed to members of his own party. They are the people who caused all the trouble. My hon. Friend stated that the Bill was mutilated in Committee. By whom By the Government? Did we mutilate it? Was any mutilation carried out by my hon. Friends? Who was it? It was by that combination of my hon. Friends below the Gangway and my hon. Friends opposite.
There is the further fact that it was a Liberal Amendment supported by Liberal votes in combination with my hon. Friends on the other side, and it destroyed the central board for all purposes. To go back on that decision was absolutely impossible. My hon. Friend claimed to speak for the agricultural worker. I do not deny that claim, but I want to say this, that so far as the organised agricultural worker is concerned, if he were asked to which he attached the most importance—to the central board or to the 30s. a week minimum—he would unhesitatingly reply the central board. By depriving the central board of all its power in the matter of controlling the fixing of wages, my hon. Friends were not acting in the interests of the agricultural workers, neither were they taking a line that was calculated to meet with their approval. The hon. Member also went on to say that the principle of the minimum wage had been ruled Out as a result of our action. I deny that. This Bill has not ruled out, even in its present form, the principle of the minimum wage. It, has provided for the fixing of one, and the mere fact that 30s. is not mentioned in the Bill does not mean that the principle of the minimum wage for agricultural workers is not possible of application at the present time. It is possible, and it is not true to say that by the action of the Government the principle of the minimum wage has been ruled out.
My hon. Friend the Member for Horn-castle (Mr. Pattinson), in the earlier part of the Debate, rather complained of my statement on the Second Reading of the Bill. He said that in winding-up that Debate I claimed that the principle of a central board was vital. That is quite true. I did say it; but in Committee I pointed out that if a certain Amendment were passed it would destroy the Bill for all effective purposes from a standpoint that we believe to be effective in the interests of the labourer. Let the hon. Member take his mind back to the fact that, when winding up the Debate on the Second Reading, I appealed to my Liberal Friends to hesitate before taking steps which would destroy the central board. I asked them to examine the question more fully, but in spite of that they took the step they did and thereby they landed us in the position of being compelled, if we wanted to do anything for the agricultural worker and to help him in his present difficulties, to come to the understanding that we have arrived at. It is frequently said that an arrangement made between more than one party which satisfies no party generally has a great deal of merit in it. It may be so; it may be that that may be the result in this case.
Let me tell my hon. Friend the Member for Horncastle that I have not changed my views in the slightest degree in regard to this matter, and I still believe that the central board is vital. We of the Government had to take cognisance of the fact that if we were to get something for the agricultural worker we had to make this arrangement, and come to this understanding, or else put the agricultural worker off for a time, probably until a time when he would have no weapon in his hand to defend himself. We could not go back on the decision come to in Committee. I hope the House will pass the Third Reading of this Bill. It may be that it does not contain all that we aimed at, it may be that if we were able to go back on what has happened we should ask for something more. But we did believe that the Bill we introduced was a good Measure in the interests of agricultural workers. We say that we are not responsible for its mutilation, but we have been compelled to accept it in a modified form owing to the circumstances imposed upon us. At the same time we hope that when the Bill is passed there will be no hesitation on the part of all the interests that are involved to use it thoroughly and completely to establish rates of wages which will be helpful to agricultural workers, and if it is proved that it lacks effectiveness, we may be able to consider means of making it more effective. The position at the moment is this: we could not get more immediately for the agricultural workers, and we ask the House to pass this Measure because we believe that, even in its modified form, it will bring some relief to the agricultural workers in the difficult time through which they are passing.
I am afraid I thought my right hon. Friend was hardly serious when he raised this point. I have never understood that a leaflet issued in an election campaign necessarily carried with it the pledge of any Government or party. I can only say this, that the right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert.) read rather further than was quoted from the leaflet. If I remember correctly there was rather a sequence of statements mentioned by the candidate in this election, and they referred to rail charges, to the abolition of middlemen and to guaranteed prices. I can only assume that the candidate's mind on the question of guaranteed prices was that it was part of a number of reforms. After all, the statements in a leaflet have to be very brief, and really, before I could give any expression of opinion on what was in the mind of the candidate in this respect, I am afraid I should have to go in for a more lengthy statement. I can add nothing to that.
Surely the hon. Gentleman has taken up a very singular attitude on this question. Here we have a candidate standing for a constituency with the authority of his party, and, with their support., he puts forward a programme which he says is the programme of the Government and of the party. The hon. Gentleman who represents the Ministry is asked whether this is the programme of the Government and of their party, and whether it is intended to adhere to that programme. This is important, seeing that they are asking for votes in the constituency on the faith of that leaflet. The hon. Gentleman has replied that he is entirely unable to say what is in the mind of the candidate, and he leaves us to infer that he is equally unable to say what is in the mind of the Government. I think we can supply the deficiency. It is perfectly plain that the Government have no intention whatever of implementing the pledges which are made in their name, but they refrain from saying so, lest the statement should have a discouraging effect on the prospect of their candidate. That may be good electioneering, but it is very dishonest politics, and I think the hon. Gentleman and his Friends will not find that, in the long run, they will convert the country to their way of thinking by an attitude of that kind.
If I am in order I would like to say a few words on this Motion. In my opinion the question of the minimum wage deserves to have the serious attention of the House from this standpoint, that it ought not to be difficult for the farmers of this country, although we have not been able to put the 30s. minimum into the Bill, to reach that amount in their various local districts. The Minister has pointed out that in the early stages of this Bill in Committee there was a proposal on the part of the Government to keep the central board practically first, and he animadverted on the position taken up by the Liberals in Committee. He said he desired that the local district committee should have some measure of autonomy and should he able to discuss matters with some expectation that the decisions at which they arrived would have some weight and be respected by the central board. We on the Liberal side considered that the local district committees ought to have fair play with regard to their negotiations, and therefore we brought forward our Amendment. At the same time I would like to put this point to the House, that in districts such as Leicestershire, where the minimum that is now being paid ranges from 27s. to 28s. per week, it ought not to be difficult, seeing that the county is doing fairly well this year, to at least reach the figure of 30s. I should hope that throughout the country there will be a disposition to raise the minimum to that point. I was rather interested to notice in the discussions in Committee that while on the one hand a Member representing the Liberal side, came to the conclusion that any such sum as that mentioned was far too low, and therefore ought not to be put into the Bill, on the other hand, Members of the Conservative party were saying that if the Government world give the subsidy of £1 per acre for arable land, then they would be willing to put the minimum into the Bill. You see the two extremes. Just a word or two with respect to the conditions that obtain, and which, in my opinion, have been largely brought about by the unfortunate position in which the farmers found themselves owing to the introduction of the Corn Production Act. This enabled landlords all over the country to force their land upon the farmers very much against the latter's will, and the farmers, in many cases, at the point of the bayonet were compelled to purchase their holdings. HON. MEMBERS: Oh!"] I feel this has a great bearing upon the subject. The farmers, in view of all this, had to borrow to purchase their farms either through the banks, very often from private—
I was only trying to point out how these things have tended to depress the wages of the agricultural labourers. The money the farmers had to pay back for their farms has caused them to ask the labourers to take a lower wage, and the consequence of it all has been that a large number of these men have been in a very difficult position, and many have had to go into bankruptcy. I do not say that we can go back to the landlords who have got their money and ask them to give it to the relief of the labourers. My point is this: that I do not see why these facts should prejudice the position of the labourers. The position of the labourers ought to make an appeal, and I believe it does make an appeal, to the sympathy of the large majority in this House. I am sorry we have been unable to move our Amendment. At the same time I hope the various district committees will do everything they can to see that the minimum will be not less than has been mentioned.
I desire—[HON. MEMBERS: "Agreed!"]—I do not wish to detain the House more than a moment or two. I do not inflict myself upon the House in agricultural matters for the very good reason that I know quite clearly that there are other Members much better qualified than I am to speak upon them. I do, however, feel it incumbent upon me to say just one word, because I happen to represent a constituency in Wiltshire where the farmers have been accused by the Minister of Agriculture of paying wages of 20s. per week. I quite appreciate what the Parliamentary Secretary has said in regard to the central wages board. But it does seem to me that someone has blundered very, very badly. I accept entirely the statement of the hon. Gentleman that the Government is bound by what happened in Committee as regards that, but he did not quite convince me that, the principle of the 30s. minimum wage could not have been embodied in the Bill. I do not see how the compromise arrived at could not have included that. The agricultural worker is not a subscriber to insurance funds, and he has more difficulty in providing for himself than other workers. I do say we have to consider how these difficulties are to be met.
The Bill, as it stands at present, seems to me to be absolutely futile without the central wages board and without the minimum wage of 30s. It is the claim of the Government that there has been a great victory by getting the Tory party to agree to the principle of a minimum wage in this Bill, but as I understand it, the fear is that if we do not clinch the matter pretty quickly the Tory party at the first opportunity will run away from the arrangement. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] I am very glad to hear they will not, because I have always maintained they would not. We are told that they have a new social programme, and I shall be surprised if they do not include in it that 30s. minimum wage. The right hon. Gentleman opposite twitted the Parliamentary Secretary for doing something dishonest in regard to a leaflet, but that does not come well from a party whose leader has just told them that having abandoned Protection, he was quite prepared for a tariff on imported goods under the conditions which he specified.