§ 6.30 p.m.
§ LORD BEAVERBROOK
had the following notice on the Paper: In view of the need for maintaining agricultural production in Britain, to call the attention of His Majesty's Government to the necessity of making representations to the Central Agricultural Wages Board as to the desirability of an immediate increase in wage rates to agricultural workers; to the need for making available supplies and services required for the repair of farm workers' cottages; to the need for increasing the regular food rations to farm workers over and above the special cheese ration; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, we have heard a great deal this afternoon about the shortage of labour in agriculture, and it is on account of that shortage that I put down this Motion. I am sure that both landlords and farmers in this House—I regret there are no agricultural labourers here, as far as I know, with the possible exception of one—will all agree that the shortage of labour is the most serious issue in the agricultural industry at this moment. There is only one method of overtaking the shortage, and that is by raising the standard of wages and the conditions of employment to the level of other industries.
The Motion to which I direct your attention is divided into three sections. First, wages, then cottages, and, lastly, additional food rations. In all three respects the agricultural worker is at a 445 disadvantage compared with the industrial worker. The minimum wage of the agricultural worker is 70s.; the minimum wage of the miner is 100s. The railway worker gets 84s, and the average for the engineering worker is 95s. 6d. But we are told that benefits are conferred upon agricultural workers which are of immense importance, and that these have to be taken into account. I do not deny that, but what are these benefits? First of all, there is the cottage, which, after all, is not a very great benefit to the worker. There are, I am told, 150,000 tied cottages altogether. Of that number, the rental is an average of 3s, or 3s, 6d., with an advantage to the worker of 5s. But there are 750,000 workers, or something like that figure, so that if you distribute the benefit over the whole working force, you get something like 1s, a head. We are told about milk; that is said to be another important advantage that the agricultural worker gets. But milk is very generously estimated if it is valued at 1s, per worker. Then there are potatoes, fuel and greens. Here we get an exact figure of 1s., a figure that will be accepted by the Government as accurate. At any rate, that was the figure on January, 1941, which I now double, making 2s. That brings us to a total of 4s, spread over the whole of the agricultural workers in the industry.
The benefits conferred upon them are worth 4s., so that you get the minimum wage of 70s, reinforced by 4s. But the miner gets benefits too. The miner, with his 100s, gets a cheap cottage, and he gets free or cheap coal. Altogether, the benefits that the miner reaps are worth 45. 1d. I give you a figure again which is not my figure but one taken from the Government records, the report of the Board of Trade Journal of November 24, 1945, which values the miner's benefits at 4s. 1d.—1d. more than the agricultural worker. Yet, we hear the same old story about the benefits and advantages that the agricultural worker gets in addition to his minimum wage. When we examine the situation, we find the miner actually gets more benefits than the agricultural worker.
Then we are told about the conditions of labour, and about the beauty of the countryside. Of course, the countryside is indeed beautiful if you look over the fields and see your own herds of cattle, your own cottages and your own house, but it is not such a good proposition to 446 the agricultural worker who is tied to a cottage with very disagreeable conditions, a cottage inadequately equipped and with no hot water, no bath, no water closet, and bad drainage. That is the condition of the cottages of the agricultural workers throughout the community. Often there is no adequate cooking arrangements. Again and again I have seen in the cottage of the agricultural worker no proper cooking equipment. Then there is the weekly journey to town which he must make, and the cost of that journey. He must carry his children, or must have them transported, to the bus stop in order that they may go to school. The miner has his schools at hand, and his cinemas nearby. He has shops, too; I sometimes think all too many shops. If he has inadequate cooking arrangements, at least he has plenty of coal to build up his fire, whereas the agricultural worker these days very often goes short of coal.
Then, again, there is another story of the agricultural worker which is hard to kill. That is the story of the 70s, minimum. It is said that this minimum is not really the proper method by which his wages should be estimated, and that a very much higher wage level is paid to the cowman, the shepherd, the cattleman and others. Of course, there is extra pay, but a recent report shows that of this extra pay one-sixth is for extra skill, and five-sixths for extra hours worked. That is a report handed down by the Central Wages Board, and I hope we shall hear a great deal less one day of this story of extra payment for special classes among agricultural labourers. Then there is piece-work. Of course there is piece-work, but piece-work issues do not arise when we are trying to determine the value of the wage of the agricultural worker. The agricultural worker does not get piece-rates. Piece-rates are for a very special and particular class, and have no relation to the issue I am now laying before you. I think I have established the point pretty successfully that the agricultural worker has not got the same advantage or benefits as the miner, the engineering employee or the railway worker. I think I have shown that the benefits of the agricultural worker are no more than those gathered by the miner.
The next question that arises is, Can the industry afford to pay higher wages? I think it can. I came to that conclusion by casting up the statistics. I have them 447 in my pocket if I am asked to produce my authority. The industry has had the additional income since the war of £ 300,000,000. Of that £ 300,000,000, the worker gets £ 70,000,000, so that there is £ 230,000,000 left for other outgoings. The cost of electricity has not doubled; electricity is purchased at the same price now as before the war. There has been no increase for water services. Implements are up by about one-third, and fertilizers and feeding stuffs—wheat, barley and oats—are up by about one-half. Tractor fuel, railway and transport costs are up by a half at the most.
The receipts from the farm have gone up by £ 300,000,000, which is just double, or a little more than double, what it was before the war, but the agricultural worker, of that £ 300,000,000, receives £ 70,000,000, which is just double what the agricultural worker received before the war. But for these other services, where there has been any advance at all, there has only been an advance from one-third to one-half. Thus it will be seen that with many outgoings up by only half the pre-war prices, there is a probability of a surplus in the pockets of the farmers, which would enable the industry to pay an increased wage to the agricultural worker now. Even if there is not a surplus in the pockets of the farmers, there is the Government's policy of an assured market with guaranteed prices. If the industry is permitted to charge extra prices, if there is to be an increased price, then it is much better that the agricultural workers should not be allowed to dwell in penury any longer, and that they should be in a position not inferior to their co-workers in Britain.
Now to deal with the cottages. I suppose the unsatisfactory condition of the cottages is admitted everywhere. Any person who walks about the rural districts in Great Britain will see cottages that are in an unsatisfactory condition. They will see good landlords, excellent farmers, with cottages that are in a derelict state, largely because they cannot provide the repairs that are necessary at this time. The whole cottage plan has gone down to such an extent as to be an abuse and a disgrace to the people of Great Britain. Repairs are urgently necessary and must be carried out forthwith. It was wrong to abolish the grant, quite wrong. But that has gone. That 448 was the grant which was provided for reconditioning cottages. If the labour and material can be released now, it is really an economic benefit to the country to do so, because the cottages are rapidly falling into such a condition that they will be beyond repair. Many of them are actually beyond repair now. If the labour and material can be released then the nation will benefit by it. There are small builders all over the country everywhere who are only too anxious, if they are permitted to hold their labour, to carry out the reconditioning of the cottages. If the Government takes the decision to permit them to hold their labour and to supply them with the necessary fitments, then the work of reconditioning can go forward to such an extent that the cottages which are falling into complete disrepair can be dealt with before they become of no value at all.
Failure to provide facilities is simply going to mean the loss of many more houses. More will be lost in a short space of time than the Government has built in the last six months unless some system of repair, rehabilitation and reconstruction is carried out.
I come to my third point, more food for the farm workers. More food means more work. It is absolutely and simply a question of seed corn. Plant seed corn now by giving the farm workers more food. The industrial workers have more food; they have their canteens. The agricultural workers do not have canteens. Heavy workers have double meat rations. Agricultural workers do not have any double meat rations. I know they have the harvest ration, but that is for a very short period of time. Farm workers produce more wealth than any other industry in this country. By farm workers I mean the farmers, the smallholders and the farm workers—all of them together. There are 1,100,000 of them on the land, and they are producing an annual wealth of £ 600,000,000. The coal miners have a 100s. minimum wage with more benefits than the agricultural workers get, yet the coal miners, 700,000 in number, produce only £ 275,000,000 of wealth, so it will be seen that in agriculture we are dealing with an industry which is the greatest wealth producer we have got. If ever there was a case for planting seed corn for the agricultural workers now, then it seems to me that the arguments 449 which I have put forward today ought to carry us some little distance anyway.
And now a word for the smallholders. The smallholders are not even entitled to the extra cheese ration that the farm worker and the miner get. The miner gets just the same cheese ration as the agricultural worker in addition to his other benefits, but the smallholder does not even get the extra cheese ration unless he is employed by another farmer. He must have an employment card, otherwise he does not even get the cheese ration. I know there are others who mean to speak, and I must not take up too much time, but I want to say one more word about the state of the industry. The state of our greatest industry is really most unsatisfactory, and we are only blinded to it by the present prosperity that is abounding amongst the farmers. In fact, fortified somewhat by statements made by the Secretary of State for the Dominions a day or two ago, I have come to the conclusion that there has been no increase whatsoever in the money value of agriculture during the war, that is, no increase whatsoever taking money value into account. The only increase we get is money increase, but actual increase there has been none. Yield has gone down. A view which is widely held, and respecting which statements have been made in newspapers—not always the Daily Express, although I have seen it in that paper, too—up and down the country is that the milk production of Great Britain is up. Nothing of the sort. The milk production of Great Britain is down. The yield of cows is down—I mean compared with the pre-war figure—by fifty gallons. Excluding the heavy milkers, I say without any doubt or question the yield per cow is something in the vicinity of 400 gallons per cow per annum, which is far below the level that should be maintained. There has been no increase in output per man. An examination of the financial results, the statistical results, will show that there has been no increase in output per man: and that is no reflection on the agricultural worker, for you would get better results if you would give him a better home and more food, he being one of the heavy workers of the country. Nevertheless, there is no increase per man. And the cow stalls! Probably many members of this House know a good deal about the cow stalls, that they are dirty and dilapidated.
§ LORD BEAVERBROOK
Their condition is disgraceful. If some consumers saw the conditions of production they would not drink milk.
§ LORD BEAVERBROOK
They would not drink milk if they saw the conditions of production. There has been no repair of the many cottages and buildings for years and years. I was intending to go further and deeper and deeper into this subject, but I am going to bring my remarks to an end by moving the Motion which stands in my name so that others may get a chance to speak. I do so with this final declaration, that agricultural production waits on man-power, and that man-power can never be obtained until we raise the rate of wages and conditions of employment to the level of other industries. I ask you to help us; I ask for all of us to work together to see that the ends I have enlarged on to-day he obtained.
§ 6.50 p.m.
My Lords, I find it a pleasant task to follow the noble Lord who has just spoken and to feel so much sympathy with what he has said on all the three points that he has raised in his Motion. I venture to think that there are very few in your Lordships' House who will disagree with the tenor of his Motion. There is not much at this late hour, without going into controversial matters, which can or should perhaps be said, except this. It has been recognized by all who have had any association with land or with agriculture, even to a very minor degree, that the farm worker in this country is one of the most skilled workers in any industry. He is not a labourer in the common sense of the word, a man merely of muscle; he is a man who, after years of experience, has acquired a knowledge which cannot be taught in books, which can only he learned by the work that he does in the fields in all seasons of the year, good or bad, work without which the industry cannot go on. However much the industry is mechanized, however much machinery is provided to assist him in his labours, ultimately the farmer and his labourer, his farm hand, require experience to grow the crops that come up; and without that experience and skill, with all the machinery that 451 human ingenuity can provide, the crops will not be grown.
Yet that skill which a man has learned and very often inherited from his father before him, is remunerated on almost the lowest basis of labour in this country, and his conditions will be admitted by all your Lordships and by everyone who has come across them to be a disgrace to this country. Writers who have written about agricultural conditions and who have tried to point to the labourer's remuneration as being adequate, have almost invariably taken the cases of good landlords and have taken the somewhat rosy view of the pleasantness of life on a farm. But by and large, those rosy conditions do not exist except in a few happier areas and among a few of the more enlightened and wealthy landowners and farmers.
Is it impossible to do anything to improve the conditions of rural workers houses? In the part of the world in which I live it is wholly exceptional for a farm workers cottage not merely to have sanitation but even to have running water, let alone electricity or anything like that. Questions of cost, and things like that, do not enter into a man's budget: he is lucky if he has only a quarter of a mile to go to get water, in most cases. Certain improvements have been envisaged and it is mainly on those which I wish to dwell a little this evening, rather than on the actual monetary wage, because we are at a point where large numbers of young men are being released from the Armed Services, many of whom have in the past worked in factories or in towns, and who want to go and live on the land instead.
What can we offer them? At the present moment we can not only offer them nothing in the way of houses, but we cannot even offer them, owing to recent changes of policy in rural housing, the hope of the houses which is being held out to those who dwell in towns. The Housing (Rural Workers) Acts have been dropped and nothing was put in their place. We have been led to hope that one day there will be improved water supplies in rural districts, but, without waiting for the wide scheme, the perfectionism which may take years to accomplish, we are able to hold out to them nothing in the immediate future of 452 the next year or two, for the improvement of the lot of those who are there, nor can we hold out even reasonable conditions for those who want to come from the towns in which they lived before.
It is not only money and money wages that matters in this problem of attracting labour back to the land and increasing the labour force; it is a problem of how people live. Nothing that one sees in the countryside now could possibly attract a man who is being released from the Services, nor can we hold out to him that in a year's time, or even in two years' time, his prospects will be materially improved. There are two things which have been done which have made the position worse. One is that what little improvements were being made under the Housing (Rural Workers) Acts, and the grants which were being made, have been suspended; and, as a result, uncertainty reigns among people who wish to make improvements. We are waiting to know what the next step is going to be. Some of us have waited for months already, even to have an indication of what the next step is going to be. So that so far from improving the position, the dropping of that measure has created greater uncertainty than there was before.
The second point, which touches very closely on a point the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, made, is that of repairs. With the limitation of repairs to £10 throughout the country, the repair of rural workers' cottages has, in my experience, had a very definite set-back. I personally have no complaint against the machinery for granting permits. We want to see controls abolished; we want the thing free. I have been able to secure the permits for which I have asked, but with such a delay that season after season is lost. It is perhaps unfair to criticize the many controls for their dilatoriness, but the fact is that month after month passes, and the repair which could have been done in May is postponed until July; it is then postponed until September because another permit has to be obtained; the season is lost and it is postponed until the next year, by which time the state of the cottage requires a new scheme. That has not been helpful in dealing with rural workers' housing.
453 There are many cases of estates' small builders who could have got on with repairs if a rather greater latitude had been given, and one of the greatest improvements that could be made now by His Majesty's Government would be to "let out" on that, to allow these repairs to be done without the formalities and without the permits which involve us all in so much correspondence and so much delay. We may ultimately get them hut, as in my case, it is very often a year after we started asking for them.
When the question of rural labour is discussed, it seems to me that we must have something very clearly before us. What is it that we are trying to do? We are trying not: only to keep our labour there but to increase our labour force. I am one of those who believe that the productivity of the soil in this country, great as it was during the war, can be increased even more. I believe that two blades of grass can be made to grow where one has hitherto grown. But that requires labour, and in order to get that labour the conditions of life of that labour must be made attractive.
They can be made attractive in the three ways to which the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, has referred, but mainly by improving the amenities of the man who has the skill and who is the only man who can make two blades of grass grow where one grew before. If, therefore, the objective is to increase our productivity, to make ourselves more independent of imports, then the highest priority must surely be given to encouraging the labourer, who is there already, by adequate remuneration and housing, and to importing new labour to take the place of the prisoner-of-war labour which, within a measurable time, will have disappeared from our fields.
I do not believe there is anyone in your Lordships' House who would argue against the thesis which Lord Beaverbrook has put before you. What we ask is that we should be told what the Government—if they agree, as I am sure they must—propose to do to make life more attractive to those who are there and to those who want to go there. An agricultural policy is not merely a policy which envisages the growing of so many bushels of wheat or the breeding of so many cattle or sheep. What we want 454 is a statement from His Majesty's Government to the effect that they do regard the agricultural industry, and those who are in it, as having at least the same rights, both with regard to wages and housing, as any other industry in this country, and those engaged in it, and that workers in the agricultural industry should not continue to be treated as the poor relations of industry as a whole. At this late hour I do not think there is anything more which I need say, or which I should say. I hope that a full statement upon these points will be made by the noble Lord who replies.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ LORD QUIBELL
My Lords, I could not help but agree with the concluding sentences of the noble Lord who has just resumed his seat, in which he said that in his view until we gave to agricultural labourers conditions equal to those of other industrial workers in this country we should never solve the shortage of labour in our rural areas. I think the noble Lord must have listened to some of my speeches delivered in another place 15 years ago, when I was almost a voice crying in the wilderness. I entirely agree with him; that is exactly my policy. The responsibility in the main for those horrible conditions mentioned by him and by the noble Lord who moved this Motion—with whose speech and whose Motion I am not in great disagreement—must be laid on the fact that we have never yet had a price level fixed for agricultural commodities which would encourage, help, or induce the landlord to put his buildings into proper repair—indeed many of them have not—or a farmer to farm properly or to pay proper wages.
I disagree fundamentally with one statement of the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, namely, that there is no more money in agriculture to-day than there was pre-war. I do not want to misquote him.
§ LORD BEAVERBROOK
I said the total cash value of agriculture has increased by £300,000,000 over the pre-war figure.
§ LORD QUIBELL
I took it that he meant that so far as the farmer was concerned, he was in no more prosperous a condition to-day than he was pre-war.
§ LORD BEAVERBROOK
I tried in my speech to make out the case that the farmer's condition had improved.
§ LORD QUIBELL
All I can say is this. If the noble Lord will spend a weekend with me, I will take him to one or two markets in my own area, where he will meet some of the people who previously supplied him with the artificials, with the seeds, etc. He will discover that while ten and twelve years ago they were up to their necks in debt, in these days most of them are smiling. So far as the farmer is concerned, he is in a fairly good financial position at the present time. That is what price levels have done for farmers. I know that some members of your Lordships' House are asking that this present Government shall get on with the reconstruction of shippens, sheds and so forth in agricultural areas, and with the rural housing which is so necessary and essential.
When we talk about the building of cottages and the rebuilding of agricultural holdings, is not the whole problem now one of labour? I went to the village where John Wesley, was born, and I said to a man who is an agriculturist "There are a lot of people walking up and down this road. Where are they going?" He said," There is a house being built"—this was some time ago—" at the other end of the village." I said: "What are they going there for?" He said, "Because there has never been a cottage built in this place in the lifetime of anybody that is in it, and they are all going to look at what sort of thing it is." That applies equally to every village. I do not remember one being built in the village in which I was born until as recently as when the Council built some houses. What was wrong with them? As a previous speaker has said, and quite rightly, the agricultural labourer is not living in them. Why? Actually it was railwaymen and other skilled men who occupied the houses built for agricultural labourers, because the agricultural labourers could not in those days afford to pay the rent. That is the state of affairs which exists.
I went round the area in which I was born and in which I now live and have done for all my life with the exception of a few years. I went round and canvassed them to get to know why, twelve houses having been built to house agricultural labourers, not one single agricultural 456 labourer was occupying them. That was the condition, and it was a condition due to the fact that the Tory Party has always pretended to be a friend of agriculture, but has neglected it. Those who have held political sway in this country ever since I can remember have always been doing something for agriculture instead of getting off its back and allowing agriculture to do the job for itself. Those are the conditions; but they imply no criticism of us whatever. The picture is ugly, it is not nice to look at; it is even worse than you have said it is, but if you look through the mirror it is a reflection of the Tory Party's policy which has been in force ever since I can remember. It is the biggest condemnation of them that could be made. It is why they are ceasing to live, why they are ceasing to get support in some of the villages. The difference between the two Parties which were in power for so many years was the difference between two cock sparrows on the ridge of a house, one wagging his tail down and up and the other wagging his tail up and down. Each of them left agriculture in a derelict condition.
§ LORD ALTRINCHAM
Will the noble Lord allow me to interrupt? I would remind him that the long controversy on a cheap loaf was not a controversy which was raised by the Tory Party.
§ LORD QUIBELL
The poor agricultural labourer was the victim of the big loaf and little loaf, and whichever side he voted for he lost all the time. But that particular political plaything, I hope, has now vanished for good. I want to see prosperity in our countryside. I was brought up in the country, and as a little lad, ten years of age, I was taken from school and set to work on a farm. I know what it is to work on a farm for nine pence a day. My generation never got more than 15s. a week, and I remember when some men used to get only 12s. 6d. a week. Those are the sort of conditions which obtained in little villages in my own county of Lincolnshire. Do you think that the men in those places do not want to get on to a better economic footing? Of course they do.
Take the matter of cottages. I have given a picture in a little book which I published of the cottage where I lived as a boy. There was only one bedroom which had to be used by members of both sexes. 457 All of us, grandfather, grandmother and all the rest, slept in that one apartment. There was no water supply at the cottage. We had to cart water from a distance of a quarter of a mile. Many cottages still lack water. Despite these conditions we were invited to vote yellow or blue, as the case might be, but however we did vote we were in fact voting green all the time, because those for whom we voted never attempted to alter the conditions under which we had to live.
I agree that the agricultural labourer should have a wage equal to that of any other man of similar status in this country. We are providing for cheap cottages, cheap insurance and cheap other things. What is the principle on which we are dealing with the agricultural worker? Is he always to be the bottom dog, and is he always to have things "on the cheap" because his wages are always going to be the last to be dealt with? I want, the wages of these workers to be equal to those of other workers so that they may have a standard of independence and discharge their responsibilities in the same way as any other workers.
Now with regard to food. This class of worker should certainly have the food which is needed for men engaged on such labour. I think that the improvement which is suggested should be carried out. An attempt was made in my own county by what was called I think a "pie scheme" to give him extra food. The effort was organized by well-intentioned people who wanted to see the agricultural worker given extra nourishment. I can assure your Lordships that if I lived on some farms they would not ration me as easily as they ration some of the lads there. I have my own ideas about that. But I must tell you that they are not as badly off for food as you may think they are. We do not teach our grandmothers how to suck eggs in Lincolnshire.
So far as farm buildings are concerned, may I say that it is quite erroneous to think you can only spend £10 if you can find a builder to do work which you wish to have done? In this matter, I am talking about something that is within my personal knowledge. I have tried to modernize one of those filthy places, of which mention has been made, and I did modernize it. I had no trouble, because. I went right away to the county war 458 agricultural executive committee and got a proper permit. I should like the Minister of Agriculture to look at that permit and take it as a model. The place of which I am speaking was a filthy tumbledown old place—as indeed so many of them are. A great many of them cannot now be repaired because of the shortage of labour. The landlords have the money now but they cannot get the materials and the labour. Before, when the work should have been done they had not got the money, and I do not blame them for the fact that it was not done; I blame successive Governments in this country who have neglected their duties, and I would if I had the power, insist that these buildings should be brought up to date as described by Lord Beaverbrook.
In the maiden speech which I made in this House I said that if I had the choice between drinking a glass of milk, produced under the conditions in which milk is produced on many of our dairy farms, or of drinking a glass of beer I should have the glass of beer every time. I reiterate that, in view of the conditions in which milk is produced in this country. Again I am not speaking without personal experience. I have been round scores of farms and I can assure those of your Lordships who are unaware of these conditions that you would hardly believe in what terrible places we are producing milk which, after all, is the finest and the most important of foods. I join in urging the Government to take steps to bring the buildings up to modern standards and to give, if possible, extra food to the agricultural labourers—difficult though that is, I know. I further join in urging the building of more cottages in the rural areas. All these things urgently need to be done, and I sincerely hope that the speeches delivered here to-day will not be lost on the Government.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ LORD PERRY
My Lords, I think the noble Lord who introduced this Motion must be very flattered by the enthusiasm with which it has been received by the noble Lord who has just sat down. I think, however, that no useful purpose is to be served by overstating a case. As I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Beaver-brook, it certainly seemed to me—if he will permit me to say so—that he was very much overstating his case. He was asked something about the increase of wealth 459 during the war. I want to ask the noble Lord if I may some question on that statement of his about "no war-time increase." I believe he distinctly said that, or, sitting behind him as I do, perhaps I did not hear him correctly.
§ LORD BEAVERBROOK
I said no wartime increase in agricultural output—no increase in production. Production before the war and production now are the same in volume though not the same in money value.
§ LORD PERRY
I ask your Lordships to take particular note of that because I am going to take it up with Lord Beaver-brook and to ask him where he gets his figures. His statement is altogether contrary to anything said by the Minister of Agriculture or by any other of the authorities during the war period. The noble Lord spoke of wages. He quoted the minimum wage for agricultural workers and compared it with the average wage paid in other industries.
§ LORD PERRY
Then I did not hear the noble Lord correctly. I must read the report of his speech in Hansard to-morrow. I made notes at the time, and I took it down that he said, "the average wage for miners, engineers and other industries," whereas of course—
§ LORD PERRY
The minimum wage for miners then, because theirs is the only industry except agriculture which has got a minimum wage.
§ LORD PERRY
Agriculture has a minimum wage and I would call your Lordships' attention to this difference. The agricultural worker, almost exclusively, has a week's tenure of office. You cannot as in other industries discharge him at an hour's notice. You have to be fair and employ him for the whole week and pay him for the week. Then think of the other advantages which he enjoys. He lives on top of his work. As a rule he has not got to spend money in bus fares, or to waste time in getting to and from work. All those things have to be taken into account. 460 As I say I consider that the noble Lord has overstated his case. The agricultural worker with a wage of 70s, a week, living in the conditions which the noble Lord enumerated—plus many which he omitted to enumerate—is actually receiving as much consideration to-day for the work he does as any other tradesman in the country.
That is a broad statement, I know, of course. I know that you can pick out instances generally speaking of a man at 70 shillings per week living on top of his work, paying little rent, having a garden, and having chickens and pigs. He is well off and I should be very pleased to see our urban workers as well off as our rural workers to-day. But I agree with the noble Lord who has just sat down that he has only had that wage for a very little time and he only had it at the instance of the Government which gave him it and virtually locked the stable door after the horse was gone. Wages were put up from the disgracefully low level prevailing only ten or twelve years ago to double, almost overnight. I have not very much sympathy with any Government which does that. I have had a little bit of difficulty, because I am a practical farmer myself, at finding the ordinary frugal housewife who in my district (which is Essex) was having to bring up a family on 32s. 6d, a week, being suddenly given 70s, a week. Our working classes are not educated to have such manna from heaven. It should have been given them in a sensible manner (I did not mean that as a pun) but in a sensible mode so that they can learn the value of money. I myself have done a great deal to teach workers the value of money. I think they are very well paid now. I am criticizing the noble Lord on his case only in respect of wages. In regard to amenities I certainly agree with everything he has said. I think he was a little enthusiastic, as I think the noble Lord opposite was.
§ LORD PERRY
There are many cottages which are quite good, and they are not always as bad as the noble Lord portrayed. That I know because I own very many of them myself. But the disgrace of taking amenities like electricity and water right over the fields past the very doors of the farm and rural workers 461 in order to serve urban industry is one, I think, which should be stopped and can very readily be stopped. We could have electric power all through our countryside with very little delay if we insisted that the big power companies who own the grids put in a reducing station so that the electricity was available. But no, it is carried right past their doors. It is the same thing with water, particularly in Wales. The water comes down from the Welsh hills or the Westmoreland hills, right past the workers' doors in order to serve the urban districts. That is something I think the Government could deal with almost tomorrow and so improve the amenities of the agricultural worker.
There is one thing I should like to tell the noble Lord who moved this Motion, and I ask him to believe me when I say it, and that is that having studied this agricultural problem for a good many years I do not think—I have every reason to think otherwise—that the exodus from the land has been caused owing to smallness of wages. To some extent a man would emigrate to a town because wages were higher there, but generally speaking it has been because of the lack of amenities in the rural districts and that is the question that should be tackled. It could be tackled; it is not a great big problem of building thousands of houses. They can get electricity and water and improve cottages very quickly. I am in entire sympathy with the Motion. I have sat here all the afternoon and I am keeping your Lordships here late at night but I sympathize with everything which has been said except that I venture the opinion that I think it was a pity to overstate the case. If you do that, the first time it is criticized the case becomes deflated. I venture to make these remarks and I hope the noble Lord who moved the Motion will please excuse my seeming impertinence in checking up on his figures.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
My Lords, I had not meant to intervene in this debate and I assure you that what I want to say can be said in a very few moments. For that reason I am not going to follow any of the previous speeches, but simply to present to you one or two points I wish to snake. No one has mentioned what scorns to me to be the kernel of this pro- 462 blem. I do not think anyone wants to disagree with a great deal of what the noble Lords, Lord Beaverbrook and Lord Quibell, have said with regard to the wage level and conditions in the country. I will not go into that now, but I want to assert with all the strength at my command that if to-morrow the Central Wages Board were to meet and to recommend that the wages were to go up by ten shillings or twenty shillings, within a month every county council in the country would have met and put up the wages of their roadmen by another five shillings or ten shillings above that. There would then come an application from the quarrying industry for a corresponding rise, from railwaymen in the country, the sugar beet industry and from the workers who deal with the flax I help to look after, and it would gradually spread.
Unless something is done to meet that question of the spiral and unless the Government, as the National Farmers' Union said the other day, are prepared to face the issue of a national wage policy, no rise in agricultural wages at the moment is going to affect the relative status—and that is one of the points we are interested in today—of the agricultural worker in relation to other industries. I want to stress that point to noble Lords sitting on these Benches. There are only a few points on which I would venture to express disagreement with the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook. I know what a lifelong friend he is of the agricultural industry and he would be the very last to say or do anything which would be of harm to the industry, but he suggested in Ins remarks that the farmer generally was enjoying enormous profits at the moment and could easily, presumably without increasing prices, pay largely increased wages. We all know perfectly well that the large farmer with plenty of capital and land, plenty of money to put into labour-saving implements and to conduct his work on a large scale, is making profits and he made good profits during the war.
The national price policy during the war was that prices should be high in order that crops could be grown on land on which, at ordinary economic prices, those crops could not be grown. It was equally a national policy to allow big profits to be made by the big farmers, and to take those profits back in the form of Excess Profits Tax, In- 463 come-Tax and Super-Tax. But the vast majority of the farmers in this country are not large farmers. They have not got a great deal of capital, and I assert that the smaller man to-day—perhaps employing only two or three men—is not making large profits. I think a great injustice would be done to those who to-day are struggling not only to make a living, but to make their contribution to the national well-being and to the food supplies of this country, if it went out that the farming community as a whole was making enormous profits.
The other point on which I venture to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, is his statement that there was no increased production during the war. I have not the figures in my pocket, but they have been given to us repeatedly, not only by the last Minister of Agriculture, but by the present Minister, and by Lord Woolton and other Ministers of Food. Those figures show that the increase in production during the war was in the nature of 70 per cent. The noble Lord mentioned a certain figure with regard to stock. We all know that production of stock went down. We all know that what he said with regard to the milk situation is perfectly right, but in the bulky food that absorbed the maximum of shipping there was an enormous increase. If the noble Lord will be good enough to look back to the time when he was in the Cabinet, he will find from his Cabinet papers that, in tae saving of shipping space, the agricultural industry did a great service to the well-being, safety and security of this country.
§ 7.33 p.m.
VISCOUNT ST. DAVIDS
My Lords, we have heard a great deal from the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, and much more from my noble friend Lord Quibell, about the state into which agriculture has descended as the result of long neglect. Those two speakers have been accused by others of overstating their case. I do not know about other parts of the country, but I would like your Lordships to take a look at my own part of Wales—Pembrokeshire. Let us take the state of repair of agricultural cottages in Pembrokeshire. The position there is that more than half of the agricultural cottages which existed fifty years ago are now completely uninhabitable and almost unrepairable. It 464 is true to say that a large proportion of them are actually reduced to being foundations, almost under the turf. There are not even walls left. The number of agricultural workers who have left agriculture in Pembrokeshire must be enormous. If all those cottages were once inhabited, as presumably they were, then it must be true to say that over one-half of the workers have left that trade and gone elsewhere.
In my own home village, over three streets have vanished, leaving a single village street. There are many men and women still alive who can remember when that village was twice the size it is now, and who can point out numberless places round the village where houses once stood. On old survey maps there are lots of little clusters of gardens marked which once contained cottages, but do net contain them any longer. The present state of affairs is no sudden "blitz." It is the result of neglect, not only by the Conservatives who were in power the major part of the time, but also by the Liberals. They have gone marching about waving banners of Protection and Free Trade, and whichever one they put in force—and they tried them alternately—the agricultural labourer and the farmer were just as badly off. They were both wrong, and nobody will now deny it.
What are we to do to remedy this? I suggest that we do something about improving the life in the countryside. The noble Lord, Lord Quibell, has told you of the cottage in which he and his family lived when he was a boy. I can assure noble Lords that the majority of cottages in Pembrokeshire which are still inhabited are like that now. There is no water, and if there is a well within one hundred yards or so the people are lucky. Sanitation, of course, is carried out as best it can be done. There is no sanitation inside the cottages. As to cooking facilities, there are fine large fireplaces in which the people burn mainly home-made fuel. They can cook very well, but the facilities are not modern. I do not know where the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, gets the idea that electricity has much to do with agriculture. There is no electricity in agriculture in Pembrokeshire, and it is high time there was some.
VISCOUNT ST. DAVIDS
I think that one of the reasons why the noble Lord and his friends on that side of the House are sitting there is because they neglected to supply electricity and water to the country districts all the time they were in power. They had a long time in which to carry out the small improvements suggested by some people, but they did not do it. That may explain quite a lot of things, including the results of some elections. Then there is another point which makes a difference. The bus service in my part of Pembrokeshire used to consist of a bus which went to the market town twice a week. There was no chance of the farmer going in to do anything else in the way of shopping or to go to a cinema. We did not get a decent bus service until the Americans established an aerodrome near by. We have got it still; they left it behind. But these things ought to have been done years ago. There has been a great neglect of every sort of facility which would make the farmer's and the farm labourer's lives happy—an enormous neglect—and these things must be brought in as soon as they possibly can.
VISCOUNT ST. DAVIDS
Yes, it is a wonderful chance for this Government. They were in this Government's election policy, and I am sure they will be carried out. We are carrying out our promises. As for Lord Beaverbrook's suggestion for improving matters, he suggested that His Majesty's Government, this country's Executive, should put a pistol at the head of an independent tribunal, and that the way to improve matters was to get this independent tribunal to say, "We did not mean our decision; We must reverse it; we meant the other thing." It would be the worst possible thing that could be done, not only for agriculture, but for every trade in the country as a whole to set up a Wages Board, leave it to come to its own judicial decision, and then for the Executive to put a pistol at its head and say, "Now then, say the opposite." That is to bring the entire machinery for negotiating wages crashing down on the heads of all the workers in the country. It is true we must do something for agriculture. I wish the noble Lords on the other side of the House had thought of doing something a long time ago, but, since they have not, it has got to be done 466 by this Government, and I think that the best thing they can do is to carry out their election promises.
Once we have got these facilities in the country there will be no reason for everybody to flock to the town. As everybody knows, the countryside is a far better place in which to live. A great many of our evacuees have found that out, and they are not returning; they have discovered the beauties of the countryside, the wholesomeness of the life, and they are not going back. If the present Government will do what they have promised at the Election, instal the amenities that are needed to put the rural dweller and farmer in contact with town life, provide proper bus services and communications, and provide decent houses, then we will see a change in agriculture.
§ 7.43 p.m.
My Lords, Lord Beaverbrook's Motion is very sound, but it does not tackle the immediate problem of more food for the people in Great Britain. It is too late to increase materially the cereal crops for the 1946 harvest. During the war we ploughed up the most suitable old pastures, and ploughing further fields now will not produce the goods this summer. The only sure crop I know not affected by wire worm is linseed, which is a most valuable addition to the balanced ration for winter feeding of live stock. To get food, what the country needs is better co-ordination between the Ministry of Food, the Ministry of Agriculture., and also the Ministry of Health, so that we can plan ahead. What the farmer needs is a clearly defined policy as to whether he is to produce cereals or live stock. After six years of siege rations the nutrition experts say we need more proteins. Therefore encourage the production of live stock. I suggest that a subsidy in the form of an acreage grant for wheat is uneconomical. It puts a premium on bad farming. Pay by results. I suggest a subsidy of about 10s. per quarter on wheat over the present price and in proportion a quarter age grant on other corn crops used for live stock feeding. The land sown this spring should be for feeding our live stock. Let us use all the foreign exchange we can muster for the 467 importation of wheat. Live stock will not only provide our protein food, but they will replace the fertility in the land which was skimmed during the war under Government orders. But live stock needs labour and to get labour we need cottages. Better cottages, better labour. Reestablish and enlarge the grants in the Rural Workers Housing Act, 1926. Encourage the private building of cottages on the farms, so that we have got our men to look after our live stock on the spot, and the farmer and his men will produce what is wanted.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON)
My Lords, I think we are all very much indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, for raising this Motion to-day and giving us an extremely eloquent speech reviewing a subject which must be in everybody's minds. I cannot say I completely agree with all his statements, but one cannot help sympathizing with a lot of what he brought forward in his Motion. The noble Lord, Lord Winster, reminded me that when he was fighting an election in Basingstoke some years ago he saw written on a cottage wall there, "Vote for the Tory Candidate and Prosperity." Well Basingstoke has returned a Tory candidate for something like sixty-six consecutive years, and the question is, "Who has had the prosperity?" One must say that the Conservative Party must take a lot of the blame for the conditions which we find and which the noble Lord has described so extremely clearly and eloquently to-day.
I can assure him of one thing, and that is that this Government do fully realize the seriousness of the situation, both with regard to the labour on the land and to the necessity of building up our production of food, in this very real crisis and emergency. Where they disagree with the noble Lord is with regard to the means of doing, it, particularly in his suggestion, which is in his Motion on the Order Paper, about the advisability of making representations to the Central Agricultural Wages Board as to the desirability of an immediate increase in wage rates to agricultural workers. On the contrary, His Majesty's Government 468 believe that there are very strong reasons indeed for not intervening. It has been suggested I think outside this House, and also in the noble Lord's speech, that following the decision of the Agricultural Wages Board, which refused the demand for an increase above the minimum of 70s, a week, the Government should approach the Board and ask them to reverse their decision and suggest that the minimum wage might be put up. Well, my Lords, I think it will be clear to this House that this would be interfering, and it is a policy which the Government could never stand for, to interfere with the wage-fixing machinery in any industry if they can possibly help it.
Particularly in the case of agriculture where there is a statutory authority, where Parliament has actually delegated powers to this Central Wages Board, it would be highly improper for the Government to infringe in any way on those powers and to dictate to that Board what they should do or what they should decide was the just thing in the circumstances. As your Lordships know, under the Agricultural Wages Act a statutory Central Board exists with this duty of determining the minimum wage, taking into account all the relevant circumstances and the economic conditions which exist, and my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture has no right to interfere in those decisions and certainly has no intention of doing so. I think the fact also ought to be emphasized that this Wages Board is the result of a long struggle on the part of the different workers in the industry and the unions to bring about this machinery, and it would be extremely unwise, in the present circumstances, or possibly in any circumstances, to do away with it, as one would have to do in order to reverse this decision.
In view of the statutory position it would be obviously inappropriate for me either to comment on or to criticize the decisions of the Wages Board. At the same time, I do think we ought to make it quite clear what the facts are. The facts should be recognized. While it is true that this application to the Board for an increase in the minimum wage to ninety shillings, which is what was asked for, has been turned down, yet there are other provisional awards which were suggested and which are of no small value to 469 the worker. For instance, the Board proposed that the hours in respect of which the minimum wage is payable should be reduced to 48 a week all the year round. They proposed also that there should be a considerable increase in overtime and that minimum wages for women workers should be increased. Those are the considerable concessions which have been suggested. And I should like to remind your Lordships that this is concerned with the minimum wage and that there is nothing to stop the farmer paying a very much higher wage. In many parts of the country those higher rates are being paid; there are men who are getting very considerably more than the minimum.
The Board made another very important suggestion, and that was that the different parties in the industry should get together and try to work out a scheme of grading of wages for the different skills and the different experience of the workers. I would like to agree very much with Lord Nunburnholme and others who said that the agricultural worker is an extremely skilled worker. He obviously is. At the same time I think it has perhaps been a disadvantage to the agricultural industry that there has been no "ladder" of advancement; that there has not been any recognized gradual scaling up of wages according to the increase of skill or the increase of experience to which the worker can look forward. His Majesty's Government earnestly hope that the industry on both sides will come and discuss this and reach some scheme which will please both parties. That, I think, is as much as I can say in regard to wages.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
Was the noble Earl going to be good enough to answer my point on the national wages policy? It is a matter to which I think we all attach some importance.
§ TETE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
The national wages policy is obviously an extremely big matter. I should like to point out to the noble Earl that it would be impossible to have any national wages policy, as I think he will recognize, without taking in practically every industry in the country, and it is such a far-reaching suggestion that obviously I could not give an opinion upon it on this Motion. 470 It is a very far-reaching suggestion indeed.
May I turn for a moment to the other part of the noble Lord's Motion which deals with houses, rural cottages, repair and maintenance? Again we have had very eloquent descriptions from the noble Lord, Lord Quibell, the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, and others, of the conditions in which some houses are, and we have had from the noble Lord, Lord Perry, who is perhaps a shining example of the owner of cottages, the other picture—that some cottages are very good indeed. We get a balanced picture, but I think taking it all round, we would all agree with the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, that the rural houses are in an extremely bad condition. There is no question of disagreement there.
Now what is the provision of the Government in this respect? The Government's policy is that owing to the extreme shortage of materials and the extreme shortage of labour, it is more valuable first to give priority to building new houses and then repairing houses which are not habitable, and filially to come down to improving actual cottages that are being lived in. Not that, for a moment, it is suggested that many of the cottages do not want improving; they obviously do; but in regard to the immediate urgency we want to get the greatest amount of living space for the greatest number of people. Therefore the Government take the line of putting what supplies and labour are available into new houses and afterwards building up uninhabitable houses in order to house the population.
I see the noble Lord, Lord Rennell, has gone, but I would have liked to call his attention to the very generous housing subsidy which the Government have announced for rural cottages and of which they hope the local authorities will take full advantage. As to the repair and maintenance work on farm buildings, including farm workers' cottages in Great Britain, this position, which is very serious—we agree there—has been fully discussed among the Ministry of Works, the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. There is, as we all know, a terrible shortage of building trade and other workers—that really is what is holding us up—and in order to 471 help this position it has been agreed to include in the special allocation of Class B releases for the building and civil engineering industries provision for the release of 4,000 experienced craftsmen from the Services to undertake such work in connexion with agricultural building. Out of the releases given to the building and civil engineering industries, 4,000 will be put aside for this job of repair and maintenance of farm buildings and workers' cottages. Where the release of general craftsmen under the block arrangements might not provide men of particular crafts required in certain cases, a limited number of men of special experience and ability will be nominated for release within the total allocation. It has also been agreed by the Ministry of Labour that within this general total allocation mentioned above, men who have been previously employed in estate and agricultural building work, including maintenance; should normally be allowed to return to their previous employers or placed on similar work. These are all concessions to try and meet the situation.
The Ministry of Works Regional Officers will co-operate in these arrangements in conjunction with the agricultural committees as is necessary. I should also like to point out to the noble Lord, Lord Rennell, that the Ministry of Works' powers to license building work in excess of £10 have now devolved upon local authorities, who have complete freedom of action in granting licences for essential repairs to all dwellings, including farm workers' cottages. That, I think, is an important point, which the noble Lord will take to heart when he reads the Report. I pass from this difficult question of houses to the other and last point in the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook's, Motion, that of food. With regard to the rations of the agricultural worker, it is the general policy of His Majesty's Government that they should try to give equal rations all round, that the whole population should have a decent ration rather than that different rations should be given to different sections of the community. It is recognized that in comparison with the urban worker the agricultural labourer is in many respects not quite so well off. That is quite true, owing to the nature of his job and to having no works canteens and so forth. However, there are other considerations 472 which I should like to call to the attention of the noble Lord and other noble Lords in this House. It is quite true that he misses his canteens, but, on the other hand, he has certain opportunities to augment his domestic rations other than by obtaining meals near or at his work. To compensate for this disparity, the Ministry of Food has made general concessions for agricultural workers, so that this disparity can be alleviated a little. For example, the agricultural worker does receive an extra cheese ration. Pie schemes have been devised and are being carried out in, anyway, 5,000 villages, perhaps more; meat pies are being supplied so that the worker can get them for his lunch, which all helps the mid-day meal. In addition there is the fact that the average worker on the land does have a chance either to rear domestic poultry or to join local pig clubs. That is an additional help.
Finally, of course, farmers can obtain additional allowances of food for providing meals and hot drinks for workers, particularly during the busy periods on the farm, such as harvest and so forth. I have, as a matter of fact, consulted my right honourable friend, the Minister of Food, about this, but I am afraid it is not possible to go beyond these arrangements. The food position, as you will all appreciate, is extremely urgent and difficult, but I am sure the noble Lord will appreciate that point. Not only that, but if we do allow an increase for the agricultural worker, we would at once be faced with the problem of all other workers in heavy industries; they would all demand increases, and the position would become extremely complicated and difficult to work out fairly between them.
I think noble Lords on all sides of the House will agree on the great importance of these matters raised by Lord Beaver-brook, the effect of wages, housing and food rationing. They do contribute to the amenities of agricultural life and to the nourishment of the workers to a great extent. There are also questions of water supply and electricity supply. They are very much in the Government's mind, but I hope noble Lords will appreciate the tremendous limitations and difficulties with which we are faced in getting these schemes under way. As I have said, there is a tremendous shortage in materials and a tremendous shortage in labour. As regards wages, I hope I 473 have convinced the noble Lord that there is really nothing the Government can do upon the lines he has suggested, but I do assure the House that the Government will do everything in its power to mitigate these effects and to restore as soon as possible conditions conducive to full production.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ LORD BEAVERBROOK
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Parliamentary Secretary for the admirable way in which he has replied. I want to refer to two points, one of which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Perry. If he tried to part with one of his industrial workers without a week's notice he would have some trouble. He was comparing the advantages of the farm worker, who has a week's notice, with those of the industrial worker. If my noble friend Lord Perry is under the impression that he can get rid of his industrial worker without a week's notice, he will find he is in real difficulties.
§ LORD PERRY
The noble Lord will forgive my interrupting him, but throughout industry a man can be discharged at one hour's notice. I am not referring to the application of the Essential Work Order, which is a war measure. In general practice, right through industry generally, a man is engaged by the hour, and is discharged or discharges himself at one hour's notice.
§ LORD BEAVERBROOK
If I can persuade my noble friend to come with me to some of the agricultural districts he will see agricultural cottages which will convince him that he is one of the model farmers of the community. It is well known everywhere that he is such a very fine farmer that he treats his employees wonderfully well, and I regret to hear him putting impediments in the way of efforts to persuade, induce, or compel other employers to treat their employees as well as Lord Perry does his. I was delighted to hear this attack on the Tories, and to hear some of the ex-Tories on the Bench opposite cheering the attack on them. My noble friend Earl De la Warr made an estimate of seventy per cent. increase in agricultural production. I never heard 474 that estimate before, and I am surprised that he should give credence to it.
§ LORD BEAVERBROOK
It is a figure you have got which is quite fictitious. We know quite well what the figure means, it means increase in proteins; it does not mean increase in production at all. The figure has been given again and again, but it is quite preposterous. The highest figure I have ever heard from anyone in authority and in a position to make an estimate was twenty-one per cent., and that was an estimate made in reply to an estimate by me of ten per cent. I saw the estimate of one of the statisticians from the Ministry of Agriculture in a speech made a few days ago—thirty per cent. That is the highest estimate I have ever heard. I am sure that the noble Earl, the Parliamentary Secretary, will not be prepared to stand by that estimate of seventy per cent. because it relates to proteins.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
I do not want to interrupt, but that estimate was given by the Minister of Agriculture in the last Government at a time when the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, was then a colleague of his. I cannot say anything more.
§ LORD BEAVERBROOK
I am sure it was given by the Minister, but with the qualification that it was the production of proteins.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I am interested to hear this. I am not responsible for any of these figures, but I think that the seventy per cent. increase in production was the estimate given by Mr. Hudson.
§ LORD ADDISON
I do not think there was a qualification, and I was rather surprised there was not. I believe that was the figure he gave without qualification.
§ LORD BEAVERBROOK
I regret to tell you that inquiry, adumbration, discussion and dispute will result in you all coming to the conclusion that 10 per cent. is the outside figure. Well, the fall in milk production has created a situation which has got to be taken into account. The decline in the number of beasts, the reduction in the numbers of sheep and pigs, have to be reckoned with. Do you know that pigs now number something like 1,800,000, as against a previous figure of 3,550,000? Hens are down in number till there are only 18,000,000 of them left in this country—or perhaps the figure is 34,000,000, I cannot remember. Every form of live stock is down.
§ LORD BEAVERBROOK
I do not deny that shipping was saved. There was an immense saving in shipping. But that has got nothing to do with the production from the soil. However, I must not go on.
The noble Earl has referred to Basingstoke. May I assure him that I am not putting up a defence of the Tory Party in this matter? They never defend my conduct. But I am at variance with the Parliamentary Secretary on one subject—and that is the responsibility of the Government to intervene in this wages situation. In 1940, Mr. Hudson intervened in the wages situation and directed the county committees to reconsider their wage scales. As a result, if I remember aright, a wage of 48s, was fixed in 1940. I am, of course, speaking only from memory.
§ LORD BEAVERBROOK
Yes, I agree that the circumstances were different. A statutory power rests with the Minister not with the Central Board. May I make my point? I beg noble Lords to interrupt me as often as they desire, and I will sit down every time. But I assure the Parliamentary Secretary, that I want to make my point. The Act which establishes the Central Wages Board does not deprive the Minister of the right to refer back again wage findings with which he is not 476 satisfied. The Minister is deprived of the right by Defence Regulation. That Defence Regulation transfers or rather deprives the Minister of the benefit of Sections 5 and 6 of the 1924 Act, which gave him authority to refer back, and that Regulation expires on February 25 next. It has not been renewed so far. Therefore, on February 25 next you have the power to ensure that you can, if you wish, refer back the question of wages. Now I hope that you will not seek to escape the responsibility by passing another Defence Regulation. I hope that you will stand up to it. You ought to do so; it is your duty, and I am greatly anxious that you should do so.
Then there is a further point. You promised the workers—you did indeed the whole lot of you—who voted Labour that you would give immediate increases in wages. Surely you will not deny that. The Labour Party's Speaker's Handbook for 1945 on page 66 dealing with the Union's claim—that is the claim of the National Union of Agricultural Workers—states:The Union's claim for a weekly minimum wage equal to that of the town worker is abundantly justified.What does that mean? You invited all voters in the country to put their voting papers in the box for you in the belief that you would give to the agricultural workers wages equal to those of the town workers. And you have, told us to-day—the noble Earl the Parliamentary Secretary has told us—that the town worker has better wages and better conditions. Fulfil that Election pledge.
Further, may I say this to the Parliamentary Secretary? That struggle of the workers was not designed to deprive the Minister of the right to refer back a decision to the Committee. That was not their purpose. Their purpose was to have established a national wage. I was very much in favour of it. But neither the workers, nor I, nor anybody else who supported it wanted to deprive the Minister of the right to refer a decision back. That was done for the purpose of protecting the Minister, and the wall of protection falls down on February 25.
Now I must be brief I know, but the Parliamentary Secretary has said that there is no benefit in reducing working time to 48 hours. He knows that industry has a forty-eight hours' working 477 week practically everywhere else. Where does it not? I suggest that there are very few such places. He spoke of higher rates paid to certain agricultural workers. I have made a case concerning that already to-day. There are higher rates, it is true, for cowmen, horsemen, shepherds and others, but you will remember my telling you that the Central Wages Board, the independent members of it, expressed a finding, only on January 2 last, that of the extra pay in such cases one-sixth was for skill and five-sixths was for overtime. Do you want me to produce a document in connexion with this matter? It will only take a little longer. I thought that Lord Keynes might be here and so I brought the document. Then the Parliamentary Secretary has spoken of the agricultural worker who has the opportunity to grow vegetables in his garden or to keep pigs. So has every other worker. Surely there are allotments everywhere. Why should the agricultural worker be asked to give up something, to give up some of the rightful pay for his services, because he goes out and works at night, or in the evenings, on his own behalf? It is a monstrous proposition. Now, I come to the happiest duty which I have had to perform in this debate. That is to say how joyously I withdraw my Motion because of what the Parliamentary Secretary said about the release of 4,000 men for repair and maintenance. We are to have 4,000, I understand.
§ LORD BEAVERBROOK
That is just splendid. More than that, the little builders in agricultural areas throughout the country who repair cottages and cowsheds are to have employees returned to them. That is great news. And the licence system—is that now thrown over so far as agriculture is concerned?
§ LORD BEAVERBROOK
This is grand news. I am delighted to hear it, and I want to say that I shall go away from this House rejoicing at the very considerable concessions that have been made. I am under the impression that a wage concession will have to be made pretty soon. It is not far off, I think. Now I want to close with one last word 478 about Viscount St. Davids. He is under the impression that when I spoke about electricity I was complaining about lack of electricity in the farming industry. As a general proposition, the farming industry has a wonderful supply of electricity. All the big milk establishments, for example, are operated on electricity. I know of the hardships that are experienced by the agricultural workers because of the lack of electricity in their homes—there is need for it, in that way, almost everywhere. But when I spoke before of electricity I was not speaking of the agricultural workers, I was explaining that for electricity, which is one of the essential advantages which the farmer enjoys, he pays with some of the £600,000,000 which he gets for the sale of his products. I pointed out that he has been receiving £300,000,000 more than he received before the war, but he has yet been paying no more for electricity than he did before the war. And the use of electricity by the farmer is a very important item in his bill.
VISCOUNT ST. DAVIDS
May I tell the noble Lord that it is not merely a matter of electricity for the labourer. There is not even electricity in the farms in Pembrokeshire.
§ LORD BEAVERBROOK
All the big herds that are milked with machines have to have electricity. Otherwise I do not see how they can milk. But my point was that the farmer does not have to pay more for his electricity than he paid before the war, whereas he has got twice as much for his produce as he received before the war. The case was not against the farmer, but the farmer can afford to pay the additional wage, not perhaps the wage asked for by the worker, but a substantial addition on seventy shillings. Now I withdraw my Motion with grateful thanks to the Under-Secretary not only for the manner in which my Motion has been handled, but for the deportment of the Under-Secretary which, if I may say so, was a fine Parliamentary performance, and I offer my thanks for this concession. I beg leave of the House to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned at twenty-two minutes past eight o'clock.