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Wages And Prices

Volume 480: debated on Thursday 16 November 1950

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62.

asked the Minister of Agriculture if he will make a statement as to the reply he has made or proposes to make to the National Farmers' Union request that the recent increased wage awards for agricultural workers shall be forthwith met by the consumer in higher price levels for farm products.

After consultation with the leaders of the National Farmers' Union the Government have decided to defer, until the annual review in February next, the question of any adjustments of prices either of crops to be harvested in 1951 or for livestock and livestock products, on the understanding (i) that prices of the 1951 crops will then be revised in order to meet the increased costs of production arising from the recent increase in the minimum agricultural wage in England and Wales and the prospective increase in Northern Ireland in accordance with the procedure agreed between the Government and the Farmers' Unions in November, 1946, for the conduct of special reviews; (ii) that when prices of livestock and livestock products for the year commencing 1st April, 1951, have been fixed in the normal way, there will (for that year only) be added to such prices the equivalent of the increased wage costs of such products during the period from mid-November to 31st March next.

In reaching this decision the Government have had regard to a number of factors, including the period in the farming price year when the wages increase takes effect, the rejection by the Scottish Agricultural Wages Board of an application for an increase in the agricultural minimum wage in that country, and the desirability of avoiding any increase, at this stage of the financial year, in the provision made in the national accounts for the cost of guaranteeing the prices fixed in March last.

I am glad to say that the National Farmers' Union, with a commendable recognition of the adverse effect of any price changes at this time on the general economic position, have accepted this decision.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us are glad that on this particular matter the Government and the industry itself have placed the needs of the consumers first, and will this not serve an admirable precedent for discussion in February?

My hon. Friends will naturally want to consider the Minister's statement very carefully, but may I ask two questions: Can the House infer from what the right hon. Gentleman has said, first, that the principle of the special price review has been maintained in its entirety; and second, that the present difficulties, which my hon. Friends realise, will not be taken as a precedent for postponing the application of the special price review until the next annual price review?

It is perfectly true that the present price review arrangements remain intact, but intimation has already been given that negotiations will be entered into with the possibility of a review of the arrangements of 1946, which do not necessarily satisfy present-day requirements.

And this is not to be taken as a precedent for postponing any special price review in the future?

Certainly not. As I have intimated to the hon. Baronet, negotiations will take place on how to avoid conflicts in the future on special reviews.