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Unemployment Insurance

Volume 245: debated on Wednesday 19 November 1930

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I beg to move,

"That, in the opinion of this House, unemployment insurance should be extended to include agricultural workers."
It must be a temptation to every new Member speaking in this House for the first time to follow the example of the late Lord Balfour, and to speak during the dinner hour on a dull subject. However, the London County Council Bill robbed me of the dinner hour, and I could not waste my Motion on any subject that was not of urgent importance. In speaking for the first time, I can say at least that, as was said by an old writer:
"There was one excellency that was within my reach; it was brevity, and I determined to obtain it."
Brevity will not hurt my cause. As was said by Steele,
"When a man has no desire but to speak plain truth, he may say a good deal in a very narrow compass."
My two reasons for the choice of my subject are as follows. In the first place, I represent a purely agricultural constituency; and, in the second place, I come from that constituency with a mandate—a very recent mandate; and I am perfectly certain that other Members who have been in agricultural constituencies in the last few months will agree with me that this is a matter of the most urgent importance. There are two questions that will be asked at once. The first is: Is there enough unemployment to justify this measure At the moment, as all agricultural Members know, there is not a great deal of unemployment, because it is of a seasonal nature in agriculture; but when the roots have been lifted will he the time when agricultural unemployment begins. It was had enough last winter to justify such a measure, and I am afraid that it will be as bad or worse this winter. There have been a great many prophets, who have not been making things very cheerful for the agricultural labourer in my own and other constituencies. A Noble Lord from my constituency, speaking in another place, said that after Christmas thousands of agricultural workers will be out of work; and during my recent election campaign another prophet, who was resident for the time being in my constituency, said that, if his advice was not followed, 9,000 agricultural labourers in Norfolk alone would be out of work this winter. The Noble Lord to whom I referred has, however, chosen to leave the East Coast for the East Indies, so he will not be here to see whether he proves to be a true or an untrue prophet. Personally, I prefer resident prophets.

The second question that will be asked is: Are the agricultural labourers themselves in favour of this Motion? There was a time when they could think of nothing but the cost, but now they are certainly united in demanding that this Measure shall be passed, particularly since the debate in January of this year, when the right hon. Lady the Minister of Labour said:
"We must try and find a financial basis which will not merely make a possible scheme, but which will he in the competence of the agricultural labourer to pay."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th January, 1930; col. 1139, Vol. 234.]
A low contribution, and I say this vehemently, is essential. An agricultural labourer out of his small wage is not able to pay a large contribution. Recently in this House the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) referred to the meagre wages of agricultural labourers, and one reason why agricultural unemployment insurance is necessary is that the agricultural labourer cannot save. There is no stocking in the modern agricultural labourer's home. He cannot save for a rainy day, because it is raining all the time, or, anyhow, there is a Scotch mist all the time, as Members from North of the Tweed would say.

The Noble Lord who represents Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) supplemented the remark I mentioned just now by saying:
"We believe that the maintenance and stabilisation of agricultural prices at a figure at which the farmers can earn a livelihood and the farm labourers maintain their present wages…are the only hope for agriculture in this emergency."
If the only hope of their new agricultural policy is to be that wages are maintained at the present level, there is certainly not much hope in the future, if the opposite party is in power, of the labourer being able to do without unemployment insurance. There is nothing between the agricultural labourer this winter and destitution but the Poor Law. In the villages, the fact that the agricultural labourer is debarred from insurance causes a certain amount of jealousy. He is working side by side, for instance, with the carpenter, who is fully insured. A father may be in the position of having to depend more or less on charity, while his son is fully insured. There were very hard cases last winter in my constituency. There is one particularly hard case that arises, and that is of a man who works in a sugar-beet factory. He does not pay his 30 contributions, because the factory only works for a few months, and he gets no benefit whatever. There are also men who have been working in road gangs under the county council and have made a certain number of contributions. They are now out of work, not having paid sufficient contributions to entitle them to benefit.

Not only is it a danger to the men to let them go on in this way but it is a danger to the industry, because the men are leaving the land in large numbers. The disease which even in Joseph Arch's day was called "man rot" is setting in, and one of the chief reasons why young men will not stay on the land is that they have an inferiority complex owing to the fact that they are treated unlike other workers in having no unemployment insurance. Attempts have been made to keep them on the land, very laudable attempts, attempts that are called "brightening the villages," but a man cannot very well enjoy dancing on the village green and cannot laugh at the sallies of Falstaff on the platform of the village hall if the prospect of unemployment, and no provision for it, lies like a shadow across his home. Agricultural labourers ask for security before gaiety.

When the agricultural labourers have left the land in large numbers, sooner or later will come a boom in agriculture, because a depression cannot go on for ever. Agriculture is much courted at the moment. She has at least four suitors. One is crusading vigorously on her behalf, offering to give her an England flowing with Canadian milk and New Zealand honey. When the labourers have gone, people will realise, what many living in urban districts do not realise to-day, that this is a skilled profession. Anyone who has spent a week-end in a farmhouse will find, if they try laying a hedge, thatching or ploughing, that they cannot compete with a skilled man at the job, and they will come back to their town dwelling with a deeper respect for the agricultural labourer in their heart. We must take in time Goldsmith's warning given very many years ago in the "Deserted Village."
"A bold peasantry, their country's pride, When once destroyed, can never be supplied."
Hon. Members may say I am unduly optimistic, that no boom can ever come and that the sky is as brass, but I see in the policy put forward from these benches a cloud, perhaps no bigger at present than a man's hand, which will mean that rain will fall on the parched soil.

The chief argument used against this Measure is that the industry cannot stand it. It is the last straw that breaks the camel's back. But legislation is being brought in for the purpose of strengthening the camel before the last straw is put on. Another argument is that the country cannot stand it. The Leader of the Opposition said the other day that the nation cannot afford to finance schemes not productive of return. I claim that this is a scheme which, from the point of view of every party, is productive of return, because anything that brings health and efficiency to our second largest industry must be looked upon as productive. After all, health is wealth, and
"gold that buys health can never be misspent."
It was left for this generation to find out the tremendous effect of worry upon health. Worry and fear undermine health, and the labourer cannot be at his best when he lives a life constantly overshadowed by fear and worry. There is not only the labourer himself to consider, but his wife and children, and the worry that comes to the mother and the children, and the unborn children, is all very much undermining the health of the nation. A case occurred the other day in my constituency—I hope no case like it will ever occur again-in which a man worried so much over the possibility of unemployment that now his reason is clouded, and he is in an asylum. He will never follow the plough again.

Such cases must not be allowed to occur, but I am afraid at present many agricultural labourers are in a position in which their worries are so great that their reason may be in danger. I cannot imagine a worse case than that of an agricultural labourer in a tied cottage, with wife and children, who knows that if he loses his job he loses his home and who has made no provision for the future. Christmas is not so very far off. It is sad to think that at what is a festive season to many of us the agricultural labourer is going through his greatest period of worry. Last Christmas, at a time when one hopes for just a little more in the cupboard, many boys of 18 and 19 were coming home unemployed asking their parents for a crust. Poverty is the only load which is the heavier the more loved ones there are to assist in supporting it. I was very glad to see the Minister of Labour in the debate earlier this year said she realised the difficulties of the task but that difficulties were there to be surmounted. We hope to hear to-night that this subject is receiving serious attention. One thing I wish to say emphatically, and that is that any legislation that gives extra security and prosperity to the farmer must always go hand in hand with measures to secure corresponding security for the labourer. I feel that this Measure is one of these. I look confidently to the Labour party to make the agricultural worker a man of
"cheerful yesterdays and confident tomorrows."

I beg to second the Motion.

It falls to my lot to have the honour of very sincerely congratulating the Noble Lady upon a most excellent, cogent and moving speech. I am sure that the House will wish to hear more from her along the lines so ably indicated to-night. I do not know whether I shall be in order, but one cannot help recalling that as far back as 1823 a Fowell Buxton, a member of an earlier branch of the same family, moved for the first time, in a hostile House, a Motion dealing with the abolition of slavery, which, although defeated, in a few short years, in 1833, enabled him to see the emancipation of slaves in the British Dominions, which he described as the main object of his life. It is not, I think, out of keeping with this occasion that I respectfully suggest, as a representative from the county of Norfolk, and remembering the words that the late Minister of Agriculture did in this House for many years, that the one outstanding occasion for which his name will remain in the memory of this House and the cottages of the agricultural workers was the bringing in of the Agricultural Wages Act for the benefit of that class which has too often been forgotten. I again congratulate the Noble Lady on the fact that her first speech in this House should be one on behalf of the lowest, the bottom dog in the social scale of this country under the existing system. She is opening out a new vista, and on this occasion we hope that the result may be to place the agricultural worker in a position, and on terms of definite equality with his fellow-workers in the cities and the industrial centres in relation to Unemployment Insurance.

10.0 p.m.

We welcome the fact that the present Government—this House has already endorsed it on an earlier occasion—have endorsed the principle which the Motion seeks to advance. Such being the case, we look forward with confidence that at the earliest possible moment this House may seek to give practical effect to what, after all, is a measure of justice, fair-play and reasonable provision for men who have too long been denied the opportunities which others have enjoyed. I think it was Samuel Johnson, writing as far back as 1756, who said:
"Agriculture is the spring which sets the whole machine of commerce in motion. and the sail cannot he spread without the assistance of the plough."
And he goes on to say:
"Though the farmer and the farm worker are of such utility to the State, we find them in general too much disregarded among the politer kind of people in the present age."
That was in 1756. I think that if Samuel Johnson could have come into this House during this Session he would have discovered a Government which is giving agriculture a far better recognition than it has had at least since the War in relation to this and other problems. And because the Motion, so ably moved by the Noble Lady, puts the necessary completion to the position thus far developed) from the standpoint of the farm worker, I must express my surprise that my hon. Friends on the other side of the House, especially the agricultural Members who know the hard-pressed condition—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where are they?" and "There are five of them!"] I do not wish to criticise the Members who are here. Perhaps the absence of hon. Members means that they have not the face to come and try to stop this very reasonable demand. Do I gather that the presence of our Friends here is rather to bless and not to curse? I hope that that may be the position, because cannot believe that 'the Conservative mind in this House which has had agricultural experience and knows rural conditions can feel that it is either wise statesmanship or patriotic to raise one little barrier against this simple act of justice to the farm worker. The provision is so necessary. It is the one barrier against his application to the public assistance committee which is repugnant to a self-respecting agricultural worker. The seasonal occupation and the later rotation of crops, arising partly from the introduction of sugar-beet and partly from the unremunerative price of cereals and other causes, which it is not my duty to enter upon at this stage, have caused, during recent years, especially during the last two years, a terrible amount of unemployment, especially in East Anglia. I shall never forget the look of indignation of agricultural workers who had been employed all their lives when told that they were expected to apply for parish relief. It seemed altogether alien to their conception of justice, and I think it is alien to the highest conception of justice in this honourable House. We must find a more satisfactory way. Our people are not asking for charity; they are asking for justice. The agricultural worker is not prepared to make as large a contribution as the city worker is enabled to make by reason of his larger wage, but he is willing to pay his share in keeping with the small wage which he at present receives. Speaking individually as a small tenant farmer, I am sure that the employer is willing to pay his share, having regard to the position in which the industry is placed. I am going to appeal to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, if it is possible for such a scheme to be launched, to remember that while we ask for a smaller contribution from the worker and the employer in agriculture than is asked from others, the need of the agricultural worker is equal to that of the worker in the city. Therefore, the State will wish, I hope, to make the same standard of contribution towards assisting these deserving people.

This Motion asks for one further step towards economic freedom for farm workers. In the last century, as my hon. Friends know, the Liberal party made no mean contribution to the great cause of political freedom. I think that the challenge to the new party on this side of the House is to seek to secure real economic freedom. This is one step in that direction. I think it was as far back as 1875 that John Bright, speaking in this House, quoted these words:
"The landless labourer, hopeless, toils and strives,
And tastes no portion of the Fruit he hives."
I want to suggest that, long ago as that may seem, there is still a great deal of truth in the quotation in present day conditions in regard to this industry, which has been too long forgotten in this House, in regard to its value to the State, and in regard to the contribution these people are willing to make towards the prosperity of the State. In passing this Motion we shall give the Government renewed encouragement to launch this simple remedy against unemployment. Later, we hope to make unemployment impossible by the various Acts arising from our Bills now under consideration, of which we hope that this Motion will form one part. We shall endeavour to strengthen the industrial and human position of those who have done so much in the past centuries for the welfare of this old country, and at long last we shall crown the efforts of men like Joseph Arch, Sir George Edwards and others who have made their contribution. I suppose that I am not in order, but I cannot refrain from saying how glad I am to see my old friend, Sir George, within this building listening to appeals on behalf of the farm workers. I thank the House for the courtesy with which it has listened to this appeal, and I appeal to my hon. Friends opposite to give the agricultural worker a fair chance in order that he may stand on equal terms with the workers in other industries.

I beg to move to leave out from the word "That to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words:

"inasmuch as His Majesty's Government have announced their intention to appoint a Royal Commission to investigate the question of unemployment insurance, this House is of opinion that the question of the extension of unemployment insurance to agricultural labourers should be referred to the aforesaid Royal Commission."
When a maiden speech is made by the Mover of a Motion it is the custom for the first Opposition speaker who moves an Amendment to pay a tribute to the hon. Member who has made the maiden speech. The speech of the Noble Lady was delivered with intense sincerity and charm. When a son succeeds a father, one finds it easy to talk about heredity, but when a wife succeeds her husband there is perhaps no adjective that occurs to one. In this case I would like to say one word about a rhyme which I remember in the old days, which ran:
"No Noel for North Norfolk."
I am sure that we are glad to have a Noel again in this House. When we first read the Motion which the Noble Lady has moved it occurred to us that it was a demand that the agricultural labourer should bolster up a bankrupt scheme of unemployment insurance, but I understand from the Mover and Seconder of the Resolution that that is not entirely their intention. Whatever they may say, that will be the result, and I think the House is entitled in these circumstances to turn to the history of unemployment insurance so far as it affects agricultural workers. In 1921 a Committee sat on this subject. We have to remember that in 1921 the conditions were very different from the conditions prevailing to-day, and we may be sure that the conclusions arrived at by that Committee are not altogether justified at the present time. Their conclusions against such insurance were (1) on the ground of general opposition by employers and workers in agriculture under the general provisions of the Unemployment Insurance Act, 1920. Another reason was that there was no evidence that a special scheme under the Act or a voluntary scheme outside the Act would be acceptable. A third reason which they advanced was that the incidence of unemployment was insufficient to enable such a scheme to be prepared.

In 1925, another Committee was set up under what we might call rather more modern conditions. They went very carefully into the scheme and they estimated that 1 per cent. of regular workers, and 5 per cent. of casual workers might claim benefit in the course of the year, and that the average duration of unemployment would be in the case of the regular workers four weeks, and in the case of the casual workers 10 weeks. It is clear, whatever the Mover and Seconder of the Motion have said, that the people who are keenest on being included in an unemployment insurance scheme are the casual workers and those whose occupation in agriculture is only semipermanent. Of the others, the foremen and permanent workers, their desire to remain outside a scheme has been very severly shaken during the present year because they have seen alongside themselves people who are out of work and who are in some cases getting more money than they get. But that is only a temporary phase. The Committee said that if the scheme started on the calculation of an annual liability of £250,000 it would provide for a greater degree of unemployment than appeared to exist. They further said that if the whole of the 800,000 agricultural workers were insurable, a weekly payment of 6d. in respect of each of them would give an annual revenue of approximately £1,000,000. That would show on the whole a considerable profit on the scheme. The suggestion made by the Committee was that 3d. should be paid by the State and l½d. by the employer and 1½d. by the worker.

The Committee took the case of a farm of 250 acres employing 10 regular workers, which is rather in excess of the number employed at the present time on such an acreage. That would involve a charge of £3 a year, or rather less than 3d. per acre. No scheme of unemployment insurance for agricultural workers has been recommended unanimously. There has only been a majority of one for the recommendation that there should be an unemployment insurance scheme for agricultural workers. I think that the scheme of 1925 should be reviewed in the light of present circumstances, for which this Government are responsible, and for that reason, along with several of my hon. Friends, I have suggested that it should he referred to the Royal Commission that is now sitting.

I now come to consider the attitude of the farmers towards this scheme. Naturally they know that any additional burden on agriculture will be very grievous and hard at the present time. I have received a very interesting letter from a farmer in which he says:
"We have still much of the old feeling of companionship for our men and find work for them, not always profitably to ourselves throughout the whole year. If there were an unemployment fund we should then have no scruples in discharging any of them for a long or abort time;"—
If this scheme is put into operation there is a danger of an increase in un-employment—
"either when work was slack or more often when we had difficulty in finding the cash to pay them. When a good many men are out of work then the Government may realise that agriculture is really in a bad way; so long as the farmer alone suffers, and not his men, nobody in authority cares."
That is a criticism which the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Labour should bear in mind. No more drastic criticism has been uttered than that passed by the Noble Lady in moving, this Motion. She said that there is nothing between the agricultural labourer this winter but destitution or the poor law. What a comment on agricultural affairs as administered by the present Government. If there was a little bit of ginger in the Government they would say that the difficulties are there to be surmounted; and I hope they will find the means to surmount them. And what is going to happen to the smallholders under this proposal? I hope the Minister of Labour will tell us. At the present time there are glaring instances of injustice and inequality. Small traders, or employers in a small way, who are almost as badly off as those who are receiving unemployment benefit are not able to come into the scheme. What is going to happen to the smallholder, especially in view of the Bill which has been promised by the Government? Are they to be allowed to come in? And what about their wives and families who work for them for no wages? That is an aspect of the matter which should be considered by a Royal Commission. For these and other reasons I am proposing that this matter should be reviewed by a Royal Commission. It will enable the Government to consider their position afresh with new information at their disposal. I do not know whether they are going to accept my proposal. If they do, well and good they do not, what sort of a scheme are they going to propose Are they going to leave the agricultural labourer to the mercy of the poor law or are they going to have a special scheme of their own? There is only one way of dealing with this matter and that is for a Royal Commission to inquire into it.

I beg to second the Amendment.

I should like to add my congratulations to the Noble Lady the Member for Norfolk North (Lady Noel-Buxton) on her maiden speech. I was interested in one remark which she made, and that was that it was the last straw which broke the camel's back and she said that the policy of the present administration was to strengthen the back of the camel. I take it that that is an acknowledgment that the policy of the present Government is to strengthen the back of the camel in order to place additional burdens on the back of the agricultural camel. That may be taken as a fair indication of the policy of His Majesty's Government towards the great industry in which I know the Noble Lady is so vitally interested. The policy rather should he to relieve the burdens on the back of the camel of agriculture and enable it to proceed in the way it should go. In the distressed areas, where unemployment exists, this scheme we believe will be regarded by the farmers and farm workers as a last straw, which in the present condition of the industry will break the back of the agricultural camel. I come from a district which realises the gravity of the situation this winter as regards unemployment. At the same time, even though I acknowledge almost every word that the Noble Lady has said about the situation, yet I think that the course suggested in the Amendment is a very much saner course than that proposed in the Motion. I was very glad to notice, in passing, that the Noble Lady suggested a low contribution in any scheme. We all realise that it would be impossible for the agricultural worker to afford as high a contribution as that which the industrial worker pays.

There is one point I wish to deal with before giving reasons for supporting the Amendment. The Noble Lady said that the industry was united in a demand for unemployment insurance. I challenge that statement, because I do not think it represents the facts. In the Recess I went round all the agricultural villages in my constituency. It is an arable district, and I dare say that I have as many of such villages in the district as any hon. Member. I raised this question purposely at every meeting. A decision was taken in an informal way on each occasion, and the voting of the agricultural workers was approximately half for and half against insurance. I would warn the Noble Lady against believing that the unions in agriculture represent the agricultural workers. It is a well known fact that they do not, and that the great majority of agricultural workers are in fact outside the unions, although the opinions of the unions have had so much attention paid to them by the Labour party.

It is only fair to the many thousands of agricultural workers outside the unions to say that they do not agree with the recommendations of the unions. I believe it to be the case that the majority of farm workers are not in favour of a scheme of unemployment insurance at the present time. That is not to say that I personally have not great sympathy with the idea, if it could be worked out in a practical way, and if we are to hear from the Government that they have no scheme to put the farming industry on its feet. We have always said, on this side of the House, that the best way to cure unemployment in agriculture is to make farming pay. We believe that the scheme which we have outlined for the arable districts is much more likely to take away the dread of unemployment than the suggestion to apply the same remedies in the country as in the towns.

The scheme which we have outlined repeatedly, to give a guaranteed price for British wheat. I am convinced, from knowledge of the arable districts, that such a scheme would. be much more effective than anything proposed by the Government, which the Noble Lady said has only had the effect of strengthening the back of the camel to take further burdens instead of removing some of those burdens. Unemployment exists almost entirely or largely in the arable districts. Until we adopt a policy for saving our own agriculturists by guaranteeing them a fixed price for their produce, we can have no diminution of unemployment in the arable districts. I could pursue this subject indefinitely, as regards policy. There is the question of a tax on imported foreign barley which would also help the arable districts and particularly that district in which I am interested could pursue the subject in relation to oats and the whole range of agricultural products. As I have explained to the agricultural workers who sent me to this House, I believe that we have a practical policy for-every single one of these agricultural commodities and but for the fact that time is limited and other hon. Members wish to speak upon this important point, I could detain the House longer in dealing with it.

I desire, however, to give certain reasons why I consider it best that this subject should be put before a Royal Commission as suggested in thé Amendment. First there is the question of the relationship between town and country. I believe that the Noble Lady is right in saying that certain anomalies arise as between workers in the town and those in the country. An agricultural worker who is unemployed may for a time drift into employment which has unemployment insurance. Then a difficult position arises if he wishes to return to the land. We know the difficulty which employers have when they send to the towns for men to work at seasonal agricultural employment. The men reply that while they remain in town employment, they have unemployment insurance, but if they go into the countryside they submit to the danger of being deprived of it. Anomalies undoubtedly exist and there are matters which should be considered by a body like a Royal Commission, so that we may receive technical advice upon the difficulties and upon the best method of removing them.

Reference has also been made to the question of whether or not the farmers would turn men off if a scheme were introduced. I have heard it said that if an unemployment insurance scheme were brought in to deal with the labour emergency in the coming winter, it would result in a great number of men being turned out of work. The men consider that they and their families would be less well off under a State-regulated scheme than in submitting, as they do at present, in the old tradition of agriculture, to the generous treatment of their masters. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh but in no industry in England are there such amicable relations between master and men as in agriculture. [Laughter.] An hon. Member continues to laugh but it only shows that he has not been in touch with the masters and men in the amble districts during the present great depression. The farmer has often been compared to the sailor on his ship. He has to face emergencies and sudden eventualities and on those occasions he is on closer terms with his men, and is more loth to turn them off, than would be the case if they were part and parcel of a big industrial machine where there is no personal relationship. Instead of smiling at a remark of that sort those who know the agricultural districts take a pride in the fact that there is, so to speak, a family relationship between master arid men in agriculture. We believe that if industrial legislation is introduced into the countryside we shall lose a great deal of that personal relationship to which we attach enormous importance and which is so much a pan of the philosophy of the country side.

The third reason why there should be further technical consideration of any such scheme is the fact that physical difficulties would arise in administration, in regard to distances and so forth. In the town you have your Employment Exchanges in a central position, which can easily be got at. I have talked this question over night After night with agricultural workers in my own district, and we have come to the conclusion that it would need very expert advice to get a satisfactory agreement as to how this scheme should be administered with the least physical difficulty to the unemployed workers themselves. Distances in the country places are very great, and greater in certain parts of England than in others; and in any great scheme such as this there will be great difficulties of administration which could best be decided by a Royal Commission.

I think the reasons given are sufficient to justify us on this side in asking for an expert body to consider this scheme. I have always had a great deal of sympathy with men who say that they definitely want it, but I have always found that when the difficulties were put up to them they came round to the point of view of those many other men who are in sure and certain employment, and that it is only the casuals who are likely to be out of work. A farm has to be run by certain hands. We have heard in discussions of agricultural depression in this House that the depression is not so obvious because the farms have to be kept going and cannot be shut down, like a factory. Therefore, they have to have their bare minimum of men working on them. We have already got down to that bare minimum of men in almost every district, and we believe it will be difficult to turn off more men now. Therefore, we believe the danger is not so great, although we are fully alive to the horrible nature of the danger should this policy be adopted.

We would ask the right hon. Lady to submit this question to the Royal Commission, with all the advice that can be brought to bear, so that the farm workers of this country, if they are to have such a scheme, shall have the benefit of a scheme which does not have the danger, in the words of the right hon. Lady herself, of bringing in the healthy lives to make up for the lives that are not so healthy. That was a phrase which she used some time ago with reference to the insurance of farm Workers. We wish the farm workers to have the matter investigated in the best manner possible, and then they will be satisfied whatever decision is come to.

I should like also to add my word of congratulation on the maiden speech of the Noble Lady the Member for North Norfolk (Lady Noel-Buxton), in which she showed us that we have secured an addition to the debating power of this House and, what, is equally and perhaps more important, a very ardent and firm advocate and a specialist on agricultural questions with a knowledge of agricultural conditions.

I think the Movers of the Motion may congratulate themselves upon the debate so far, because although hon. Members opposite have moved an Amendment that the question should be referred to a Royal Commission, they have not in fact shown any very great enthusiasm about opposing the idea of the unemployment insurance of agricultural labourers. As a matter of fact, the last speaker went very far over the line in agreeing with us that something of the kind really ought to be done. The position that I take up has been made perfectly clear to this House on more than one occasion. I very cordially wish to support the principle contained in the Motion, and I am rather sorry that hon. Members opposite are moving an Amendment, because it would have been very interesting to have a further discussion alone upon the principle of the extension of unemployment insurance to agricultural workers, without any other issue being raised. But, of course, I shall not oppose the Amendment, because agriculture must be one of the questions which it will be proper for the Royal Commission on Unemployment Insurance to consider.

The history of the development of opinion on this question is very interesting and was referred to by the hon. and gallant Member for Louth (Lieut.-Colonel IIeneage). It is within the recollection of this House that prior to 1920, when the Acts were extended, we could get no support from any quarter for the inclusion of agriculture within the scope of the Acts, and even the first Rew Committee reported that they -could get no support for agricultural workers. By 1925 there was a very distinct change of opinion in the country, and in the Pew Committee of 1025, the majority definitely came down on the side of a scheme, although they conditioned it by a request that it should be a special scheme apart and separate from the Ministry of Labour, but under the Ministry of Agriculture, in terms which further consideration showed to be impracticable. In 1930, a Motion was carried in this House in favour of the extension of insurance to agricultural labourers by 185 votes to 82.

What is the cause of the change of opinion? It is due to changes that are taking place in methods of agriculture. I will take one illustration, that of sugarbeet. May I give the House some figures which I secured from the Ministry of Agriculture quite recently? The British Sugar (Subsidy) Act was passed in 1925. Before that, in 1924, the acreage of sugar-beet under cultivation was 22,414. In 1930, the estimated acreage was 320,000. The sugar-beet industry is a seasonal trade, and, whereas in 1924 there were 2,630 seasonal casual labourers employed on farms, there were estimated to be 28,000 in 1929. So that the change that has taken place in those areas where sugar-beet has been introduced has been all in the direction of shaking the security of the agricultural labourer in regard to all the year round employment. It is largely because of that feeling of uncertainty about the continuity of tenure that public opinion has changed an this question.

At the beginning of this year, when the House passed that Resolution, I followed up the question by starting discussions, and when discussions began with organised groups of workers connected with agriculture, there were great difficulties in coming to grips with the details of the scheme. These discussions have continued, and only yesterday I received an important deputation representing not merely Norfolk, but a large proportion of the agricultural counties in this country, which had by discussion come to the conclusion that it was not a reasonable thing to ask to be excepted from the general framework of insurance, but that within that framework some scheme should be evolved which would come to their relief. It has been urged that there are a large number of workers in agriculture who even now, in spite of the changed conditions, have security of tenure. I admit that, and I think my hon. Friends admit it; but so there are in the industrial world, where we have already compulsory unemployment insurance. A large number of persons who are paying into unemployment insurance are in permanent employment, but they are covered against any risk that may occur to them, just as most hon. Members in this House are insured against fire. They go on paying their fire insurance, but they thank God that no fire happens. We must regard the principle of unemployment insurance in the same way. The workers are insured against a possible risk, and who is brave enough, or has foresight enough, or is knowledgeable enough, to be able to say that the agricultural labourers, who are to-day in security, will be equally in security five years hence?

With the coming of mechanical power applied to agriculture, as it is already being applied to industry, processes may change, and these changes may result in a great accentuation of intermittent work in agriculture, as it has resulted in intermittent work in other industries. Therefore, I am not at all surprised to find this progressive demand growing throughout the whole of the country amongst a group of workers who only as lately as 1920 were opposed altogether to coming into insurance. It is a mark of the rapidity of the changes which are taking place in connection with all the processes of production, whether in agriculture or industry. It is quite true that there are obstacles to be overcome, but I am glad to be able to say that some of the obstacles which seemed insurmountable when we began our discussion at the beginning of the year have, in fact, been overcome; and just as we have overcome those, it is possible that by continued discussions—discussions which will be continued with eagerness so far as I am concerned—we shall be able, with expert and technical advice on the various difficulties that may occur, ultimately to bring agricultural labourers within the scheme of unemployment insurance.

I am very glad that the right hon. Lady has accepted the Amendment which has been moved from this side of the House. It is quite clear from what she has told us that she is not to-night in a position to give us sufficient information to justify us in forming an opinion as to whether, in view or actuarial possibilities, it is advisable that agricultural labourers should be brought into unemployment insurance. Undoubtedly there is a great division of opinion amongst agricultural workers, and I do not think it is possible for us to commit ourselves without details of what is actually possible. It is a matter which can only be decided after careful inquiry by a Government Department or by committees which have all the actuarial information and all the resources of a State Department at their disposal. When the right hon. Lady is able to give us that information, she can rest assured that we on this side of the House will give very sympathetic consideration to any scheme brought forward which is within the power of the agricultural labourer's finances and which can be framed to secure him from the consequences of unemployment without undue burden. Until we know that such a scheme is possible it would not be honest to our constituents to commit ourselves to what can only be a generality. I am glad the right hon. Lady is going into this matter thoroughly, and that she agrees with the reasonableness of our attitude.

As the representative of a. constituency where one-third of the people are workers on the land I am unable to agree with the last speaker in congratulating the Minister of Labour on the decision to accept this Amendment. I regret that what apparently has been decided is that this matter should be postponed. I believe the postponement of this matter is a very serious danger. Royal Commissions are a favourite expedient for not doing anything, and so far as I have been able to study this question I am of the opinion that already the Government are in possession of sufficient information to enable them to bring before the House a tentative scheme, a special scheme for agricultural insurance of an experimental character which would at any rate justify the Labour party in the pledges which it has given—pledges which are now becoming popular on the Liberal benches—in favour of the principle of agricultural insurance and show that we mean at the earliest possible moment to implement those promises.

I think, rightly or wrongly, that when the Government approach a problem of this kind they ought at any rate to-have a little more faith than they sometimes display. I am beginning to be told by my friends that the only really progressive people in this House are those who sit on the Liberal benches, and my friends also tell me that the Liberals seem prepared to go even further than the Labour Government. I think we ought to test those professions, and I would say to the Government, "let us find out whether those professions of support for a full-blooded policy have any substance in them or not." In every quarter of the House, I think there is sufficient support for an immediate scheme to insure agricultural workers against the risk of unemployment to warrant us in expecting a far bolder declaration than we have had from the Minister of Labour.

I am sorry that almost the first suggestion made by the right hon. Lady seemed to be that she was not taking up any hostile attitude towards this proposal for postponement. Never before has there been such grave risk of men losing their jobs on the land than we shall have to face during the coming months of the present winter. I know of men who, up to the present, have always been able to get a job, who are now in danger of losing their employment. Farmers tell me that they are dismissing men whom they have employed for years, and, that being so, surely this is not the time for postponing or delaying taking action in this matter. Any reexamination of this question simply means going over the same ground that has been gone over so many times. I associate myself with those who urge the immediacy of this problem, and I congratulate them upon taking that view. I am sure that the general feeling of the Members of this House is not hostile to the introduction of a Bill dealing with this question. I was amused, if not amazed, by the way in which the Mover and Seconder of this Resolution dealt with this subject. Certainly, it was not on the merits of the speeches from the Opposition that the hon. Lady accepted this Motion. Speeches of less merit have scarcely ever been heard in this House, for the speakers contradicted each other. One of them, for example the hon. and gallant Member for Louth (Lieut.-Colonel Heneage), was afraid that a scheme for insuring agricultural labourers was being introduced in order to bolster up a bankrupt scheme of general unemployment insurance.

I made it quite clear when reading the terms of the Amendment that that was the obvious inference to be drawn from it.

The hon. Member has not really denied the suggestion I made. I suggest again that he wished to make us believe that the expedient which is now suggested would have the effect of bolstering up the general insurance scheme. He went on to give us some figures which showed that this scheme would not really affect the general insurance scheme at all, because on his own suggestion it would show a profit, and there would be a balance as a result. That being so, how can it be suggested that this is a scheme to put a new burden on the agricultural industry? The Seconder of this Amendment went on to suggest that there was going to be another burden put on the back of the camel. It is always dangerous to use metaphors either in this House or anywhere else, because almost immediately he went on to show that there was to be no real burden put on this industry. He agreed that two opposite things were going to happen. First of all he said that as the result of insurance for unemployment being extended to the agricultural industry there would be a disposition on the part of the farmers to show no scruples in getting rid of their men, and he went on to tell us that already the amount of labour had been reduced to the very barest minimum, and that, in fact, there was no superfluous labour which could be got rid of, because the farms must go on, and the bone had already been picked, with the result that there was no margin to be displaced. A I followed the hon. Gentleman, I could see there was no need for anybody on this side to reply to him, because he had destroyed the case which he had built up.

I want to give, very briefly, the reasons why I think this question should not be postponed, and that an immediate treatment of the subject is called for. There is a strong prima facie case already made out for the extension of insurance to agriculture. No stronger or better case could be made out for it if you had half a dozen Royal Commissions. There has been, as was acknowledged by the Minister of Labour herself, an increasing demand on the part of the industry itself that this reform should be brought about. We have to remember the moral claim of the agricultural labourer. He is a consumer and a taxpayer, and by that fact is already contributing his quota to the insurance of men in far better economic circumstances than he is himself, and yet he is denied, and finds delayed, the possibility of entering into similar benefit himself.

I noticed that the Seconder of the Amendment spoke about the family relationship that exists between master and man, the care that the employers in this Kingdom have for the life and welfare and wages and well-being of the men whom they employ. Yes, but I do not find those masters associating with those labourers when they go to the Poor Law or find themselves in the workhouse. That, unhappily, is the fate of many of those who labour on the land to-day, and, the sooner we remove the possibility of that stigma upon the workers in the countryside, the better will be the credit of this House. I think I am expressing the feeling of many Members when I say that there is a feeling of great disappointment at the speech which has been delivered. The sympathy which has been expressed from the Front Bench and from all quarters of the House is, I believe, as sincere as it is general, but I am reminded of some lines which show that mere sympathy with an idea is not necessarily the end that is called for when such a problem as this is being discussed:
"I know the right, and I approve it, too;
Condemn the wrong, and yet the wrong pursue."
We feel that the wrong step is being taken—a step which will cause grave disappointment to many of those who have been looking to the Government to take a strong and safe line on this question—by the suggestion of postponement and delay, and even now I go so far as to beg the Minister of Labour to speed up in every way that she possibly can the inquiry to which she has agreed, and to see that this reproach, which exists against every party in this House for its neglect of this deserving industry, is removed as speedily as possible, and that we do justice, as we ought to do, to the workers on the land.

rose in her place and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.

The Noble Lady is entitled, not only to the congratulations, but to the sympathy of the house, firstly because the time for the discussion of this Motion has been so short, and, secondly, that the Minister should have accepted the Amendment. I do not wish to stand between the House and its decision, but I do want to dissociate myself from any idea of a Royal Commission on unemployment insurance. I could not sit quiet without making my protest against the appointment of a Royal Commission at all, and I do that now, although I am very sorely tempted to take up the dangerous challenge of the hon. Member opposite.

rose in her place and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.

I am quite sure that the speech of the right hon. Lady was heard with great surprise on this side of the House, in view of the vote that was taken earlier this year whereby the present Parliament affirmed its belief in the principle of unemployment insurance for agricultural workers. [HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"] A great deal of sympathy with the agricultural worker has been expressed—

rose in her place and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.

One is reminded of the old saying that sympathy without help is like mustard without beef. The agricultural labourer is entitled to this recognition—[HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"]

rose in her place and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."

Question put, "That the Question be now put."

The House divided Ayes, 159; Noes, 18.

Division No. 11.]


[11.0 p.m.

Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West)Hirst, G. H. (York W. R. Wentworth)Potts, John S.
Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)Hirst, W. (Bradford, South)Price, M. P.
Alpass, J. H.Hoffman, P. C.Quibell, D. J. K.
Arnott, JohnHopkin, DanielRamsay, T. B. Wilson
Aske, Sir RobertHorrabin, J. F.Raynes, W. R.
Barr, JamesHudson, James H. (Huddersfield)Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)
Batey, JosephJohnston, ThomasRiley, Ben (Dewsbury)
Bellamy, AlbertJones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)Ritson, J.
Bennett, William (Battersea, South)Jowett, Rt. Hon. F. W.Rosbotham, D. S. T.
Benson, G.Kelly, W. T.Salter, Dr. Alfred
Bentham, Dr. EthelKennedy, ThomasSanders, W. S.
Bowen, J. W.Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M.Sawyer, G. F.
Brothers, M.Kinley, J.Scrymgeour, E.
Brown, Ernest (Leith)Kirkwood, D.Scurr, John
Brown, Rt. Hon. J. (South Ayrshire)Lathan, G.Sexton, James
Buchanan, G.Law, Albert (Bolton)Shepherd, Arthur Lewis
Burgess, F. G.Law, A. (Rossendale)Sherwood, G. H.
Burgin, Dr. E. L.Lawrence, SusanShield, George William
Buxton, C. R. (Yorks. W. R. Elland)Lawrie. Hugh Hartley (Stalybridge)Shillaker, J. F.
Cameron, A. G.Lee, Frank (Derby, N.E.)Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)
Carter, W. (St. Pancras, S.W.)Lewis, T. (Southampton)Simmons, C. J.
Clarke, J. S.Lindley, Fred W.Sinkinson, George
Cocks, Frederick SeymourLloyd. C. EllisSitch, Charles H.
Daggar, GeorgeLogan, David GilbertSmith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)
Dalton, HughLongden, F.Smith, Frank (Nuneaton)
Dukes, C.Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)Smith, Rennie (Penistone)
Ede, James ChuterMcElwee, A.Smith, Tom (Pontefract)
Edge, Sir WilliamMcEntee, V. L.Smith, W. R. (Norwich)
Edmunds, J. E.McKinlay, A.Stamford, Thomas W.
Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)Stephen, Campbell
Elmley, ViscountMalone, C. L'Estrange (N'thampton)Sutton, J. E.
Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton)Mansfield, W.Thurtle, Ernest
Gibbins, JosephMarcus, M.Tillett, Ben
Gibson, H. M. (Lance, Mossley)Markham, S. F.Tinker, John Joseph
Glassey, A. E.Marshall, FredToole, Joseph
Gossling, A. G.Mathers, GeorgeTurner, B.
Gould, F.Messer, FredWalkden, A. G.
Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)Morgan, Dr. H. B.Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)
Gray, MilnerMorris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)Wellock, Wilfred
Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Colne)Mosley, Lady C. (Stoke-on-Trent)Welsh. James C. (Coatbridge)
Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)Mosley, Sir Oswald (Smethwick)Westwood, Joseph
Grundy, Thomas W.Muggeridge, H. T.Whiteley, Wilfrid (Birm., Ladywood)
Hall, F. (York, W.R., Normanton)Murnin, HughWhiteley, William (Blaydon)
Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)Noel-Buxton, Baroness (Norfolk, N.)Wilkinson, Ellen C.
Harbord, A.Oldfield, J. R.Williams, David (Swansea, East)
Hastings, Dr. SomervilleOliver, George Harold (Ilkeston)Williams, Dr. J. H. (Lianelly)
Haycock, A. W.Oliver, P. M. (Man., Blackley)Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)
Hayday, ArthurOwen, H. F. (Hereford)Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
Hayes, John HenryPalin, John HenryWilson, J. (Oldham)
Henderson, Right Hon. A. (Burnley)Paling, willfridWilson, R. J. (Jarrow)
Henderson, Arthur, Junr.(Cardiff, S.)Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)Winterton, G. E. (Leicester, Loughb'gh)
Henderson, Thomas (Glasgow)Peters, Dr. Sidney John
Henderson, W. W. (Middx., Enfield)Phillips, Dr. MarlonTELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Herriotts, JPicton-Turbervill, EdithMr. McShane and Mr. W. B. Taylor


Bevan, S. J. (Holborn)Llewellin, Major J. J.Titchfield, Major the Marquess of
Bourne, Captain Robert CroftMonsell, Eyres, Corn. Rt. Hon. Sir B.Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. Lambert
Briscoe, Richard GeorgeMuirhead, A. J.Warrender, Sir Victor
Campbell, E. T.Roberts, Sir Samuel (Ecclesall)Womersley, W. J.
Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E.Sandeman, Sir N. Stewart
Hanbury, C.Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam)TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)Thomson, Sir F.Lieut.-Colonel Heneage and Mr.

Question put accordingly, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

Division No. 12.]


[11.10 p.m.

Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)Benson, G.Burgin, Dr. E. L.
Alpass, J. H.Bentham, Dr. EthelBuxton, C. R. (Yorks, W. R. Elland)
Arnott, JohnBowen, J. W.Cameron, A. G.
Aske, Sir RobertBrothers, M.Carter, W. (St. Pancras. S.W.)
Barr, JamesBrown, Ernest (Leith)Clarke, J. S.
Batey, JosephBrown, Rt. Hon. J. (South Ayrshire)Cocks, Frederick Seymour
Bellamy, AlbertBuchanan, G.Daggar, George
Bennett, William (Battersea, South)Burgess, F. G.Dalton, Hugh

The House divided: Ayes, 156; Noes, 19.

Dukes, C.Lawrie, Hugh Hartley (Stalybridge)Salter, Dr. Alfred
Ede, James ChuterLee, Frank (Derby, N.E.)Sanders, W. S.
Edge, Sir WilliamLewis, T. (Southampton)Sawyer, G. F.
Edmunds, J. E.Lindley, Fred W.Scrymgeour, E.
Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)Lloyd, C. EllisScurr, John
Elmley, ViscountLogan, David GilbertSexton, James
Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton)Longden, F.Shepherd, Arthur Lewis
Gibbins, JosephMacdonald, Gordon (Ince)Sherwood, G. H.
Gibson, H. M. (Lancs, Mossley)McElwee, A.Shield, George William
Glassey, A. E.McEntee, V. L.Shillaker, J. F.
Gossling, A. G.McKinlay, A.Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)
Gould, F.Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)Simmons, C. J.
Graham D. M. (Lanark. Hamilton)Malone, C. L'Estrange (N'thampton)Sinkinson, George
Gray, MilnerMansfield, W.Sitch, Charles H.
Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)Marcus, M.Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)
Groves, Thomas E.Markham, S. F.Smith, Frank (Nuneaton)
Grundy, Thomas W.Marshall, FredSmith, Rennie (Penistone)
Hall, F. (York, W.R., Normanton)Mathers, GeorgeSmith, Tom (Pontefract)
Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvll)Messer, FredSmith. W. R. (Norwich)
Harbord, A.Morgan, Dr. H. B.Stamford, Thomas W.
Hastings, Dr. SomervilleMorris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)Stephen, Campbell
Haycock, A. W.Mosley, Lady C. (Stoke-on-Trent)Sutton, J. E.
Hayday, ArthurMosley. Sir Oswald (Smethwick)Thurtle, Ernest
Hayes, John HenryMuggeridge, H. T.Tillett, Ben
Henderson, Arthur, Junr. (Cardiff, S)Murnin, HughTinker, John Joseph
Henderson, Thomas (Glasgow)Noel-Buxton, Baroness (Norfolk, N.)Toole, Joseph
Henderson, W. W. (Middx., Enfield)Oldfield, J. RTurner, B.
Herriotts, J.Oliver, George Harold (Ilkeston)Walkden, A. G.
Hirst, G. H. (York W. R. Wentworth)Oliver. P. M. (Man., Blackley)Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)
Hirst, W. (Bradford, South)Owen, H. F. (Hereford)Wellock, Wilfred
Hoffman, P. C.Palin, John Henry.Welsh, James (Paisley)
Hopkin, DanielPaling, WilfridWestwood, Joseph
Horrabin, J. F.Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)Whiteley, Wilfrid (Birm., Ladywood)
Hudson, James H. (Huddersfield)Peters. Dr, Sidney JohnWhiteley, William (Blaydon)
Johnston, ThomasPhillips, Dr. MarionWilkinson, Ellen C.
Jones. T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)Picton-Turbervill, EdithWilliams, David (Swansea, East)
Jowett, Rt. Hon. F. W.Potts, John S.Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)
Kelly, W. T.Price, M. P.Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)
Kennedy, ThomasQuibell, D. J. K.Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
Kenworthy. Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M.Ramsay. T. B. WilsonWilson, J. (Oldham)
Kinley. J.Raynes, W. R.Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)
Kirkwood, D.Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)Winterton, G. E. (Leicester, Loughb'gh)
Lathan, G.Riley, Ben (Dewsbury)
Law, Albert (Bolton)Ritson, J.TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Law, A. (Rossendale)Rosbotham, D. S. T.Mr. McShane and Mr. W. B. Taylor.


Bevan, S. J. (Holborn)Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. Sir B.Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. Lambert
Bourne, Captain Robert CroftMuirhead, A. J.Warrender, Sir Victor
Briscoe, Richard GeorgeRoberts, Sir Samuel (Ecclesall)Womersley, W. J.
Campbell, E. T.Sandeman, Sir N. Stewart
Guinness Rt. Hon. Walter ESmith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam)TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Hanbury, C.Thomson, Sir F.Lieut.-Colonel Heneage and Mr.
Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney. N.)Titchfield, Major the Marquess ofButler.
Llewellin, Major J. J.Todd, Capt. A. J.

Main Question again proposed.

It being after Eleven of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.