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Agricultural Wages (Regulation) (Scotland) Bill

Volume 116: debated on Tuesday 21 May 1940

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Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.

4.25 p.m.

My Lords, the Bill which I will ask your Lordships to read a second time is a corollary of legislation of 1937 dealing with the question of agricultural wages in Scotland. This is not, strictly speaking, a war measure; it is a development of a process which has been going on in Scotland some little time, but a development due in part to war conditions. Your Lordships will probably remember that the Act of 1937 established eleven agricultural wages committees which had power to fix minimum rates of wages. Power was given to the Secretary of State for Scotland to direct that any decision at which the committees arrived should be considered, but he had no further power, and the power of direction contained in Section 6 was never in fact used. The Act did not give the Central Board power to review local committees' decisions. It was thought that local conditions were best known to the local committees, and that they could best be left to look after the interests of the agricultural workers within their districts. But local conditions have now perhaps taken a secondary place in this matter, in a day when subsidies, grants, and fixed prices on a national basis tend to emphasize national considerations and facts. It has been thought desirable to do what this proposes—namely, to give the Board the last word in the matter.

Therefore, if this Bill passes, the Board will be in a position to intervene and, subject to an opportunity which will be given to the committee to reconsider and justify their decision, the Board will have the last voice. Of course the Board will be in a position to take notice of local conditions, both in the particular district affected and also in other districts. I hope your Lordships will think that this is an advance upon the Act of 1937. I am happy to tell your Lordships that farmers and workers have been consulted through their proper bodies, and, though I cannot say that the Bill represents all that either party might desire, it at any rate represents the largest common measure of agreement between the bodies representative of the farmers and the farm workers. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a .—( Viscount Caldecote.)

4.28 p.m.

My Lords, it will be within your Lordships' recollection that, when the comparable English Bill was before this House, I invited the Government to empower the Central Board to define what the wages related to. At that time I was not successful in persuading the Government to take that course. Of course I am not speaking now, I understand, as a member of the Opposition, but I am representing what I am quite sure is a good point, and I hope that now that many of my friends have joined His Majesty's Government we may perhaps have a little more influence in persuading them to take that point of view. The point is very simple. The Central Board can prescribe a minimum wage and can overrule the local committees. The suggestion I made—and I am quite sure it is a sound suggestion—is that the Central Board should have power to take into account the hours that are to be worked for those wages. Unless they can prescribe a working week, they will be prescribing wages so to say, in vacuo. When a farmer is paying a certain amount of money to a workman, it is perfectly logical that he should be informed what he is going to get for it—namely, how many hours of work. As I read this, the Central Board will not have power to prescribe, we will say, a standard working week in terms of hours. I am quite sure that that necessity will arise within twelve months of the establishment of the Board. It will necessarily arise the first time that the question has to be decided. Therefore I hope that the noble Viscount will himself be good enough to give consideration to this simple point, and perhaps be able to accept some form of Amendment in the Committee stage.

The noble Lord's point will certainly receive consideration. I think I remember his making the suggestion on a former occasion. I will see that it has the consideration which it no doubt deserves as coming from the noble Lord.

On Question, Bill read 2a , and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.