Clause 1. — (Transfer to Agricultural Wages Board of power to fix, cancel or vary minimum rates of agricultural wages.)

Part of Orders of the Day — Agricultural Wages (Regulation) Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22nd January 1947.

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Photo of Mr Robin Turton Mr Robin Turton , Thirsk and Malton 12:00 am, 22nd January 1947

I do not think the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Stubbs) put the difference between us on this matter quite clearly. What we are asking is that the system of wording advised by the present Foreign Secretary, when he was Minister of Labour, and adopted in 1940, a system that raised wages from 35s. to the present level of 80s., should be continued. The hon. Member is advocating that the usual official terminology that "all relevant factors be taken into consideration" be put, I believe for the first, or perhaps the second time, into an Act of Parliament. I believe that the 1940 wording, as moved in the Amendment by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale), is right. If one does not have regard to the economic conditions in agriculture, the five independent members will be able to tell the workers and the farmers that they have not got to pay attention to agriculture, but have to look wider to the conditions in other industries. That is the grave danger that I see. I think we shall be in very difficult economic times in the future, and I think we should not tolerate agriculture remaining at the bottom of the ladder. For that reason I think it vitally important that wages should be tied up into the price fixing structure.

If we have the general provision that all relevant factors are to be taken into consideration we shall, I fear, get a certain hostility to agricultural wages and prices going up when other wages and prices may, owing to the economic crisis, be falling down. That, I think, would be extremely bad for the agricultural industry. [Laughter.] The hon. Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass) laughs and twiddles his toes, but it is not really quite so laughable a matter as he appears to think. It is clear that there is in this country a very grave crisis in production; there may well be, as the hon. Member knows, a very grave continued shortage of food in the future. Therefore, it is in the Government's interests to do what they can to attract workers and farmers into agriculture by giving good prices and good wages, and thus save this country from grave shortage and, perhaps, starvation in the future. If we tie it up as the Minister is doing in very nebulous official language, I fear that the price-fixing machinery—which I believe to be excellent—will be vitiated by this very fact.

Wages and prices must be tied together, but if, later in this Session, we are to consider a Bill which orders a special review when economic conditions in agriculture change, then it is important that in this Measure plain words should be used so that we have a clear connection between wages and prices in agriculture. If we establish the principle that wages and prices in agriculture must depend on wages and prices generally in other industries then, because we are only a minority in this country, we shall find that agricultural wages and prices will be at the bottom of the economic ladder. I hope very much that the Minister, who I know has the good of the agricultural industry at heart, will reconsider this matter and accept the Amendment.