I move that leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to make provision for regulating the wages of agricultural workers, and to provide for other matters connected with the matters aforesaid.
Agricultural Wages Bill, 1936—First Stage.
I object to leave being granted for the introduction of this Bill, and I do so for the purpose of eliciting information from the Minister for Agriculture, who I gather is the responsible Minister. I believe that every Party in this House accepts the principle that the standard of wages at present being paid to agricultural labourers is shamefully inadequate. I believe that every Party in this House desires to take effective measures to restore to the labouring men on the land of this country a wage sufficient to make it possible for them to pay the rent of a decent municipal house, and to maintain at a decent standard of living such a family as providence may send them. So far as we are concerned we resent an attempt on the part of the Government to hoodwink and deceive this section of the community by introducing a Bill the title of which would lead them to believe that effective steps were going to be taken by statute of this House to give the labouring man a decent wage, when in fact the Minister responsible for the introduction of this Bill knows that this Bill represents an attempt by the Government to achieve that classical impossibility, the squeezing of blood from a turnip or water from a stone.
My submission, Sir, is that before a Bill could be entertained in this House for the fixing of agricultural wages there first devolves upon this House a heavy responsibility to provide a pool of prosperity in the agricultural community adequate to finance a proper Agricultural Wages Bill. If we fix, under the terms of the proposed Bill, a minimum wage of 30/- a week for the agricultural labourer and require by statute the farmers of this country to pay that wage to every male employee they have, when those farmers themselves are not in receipt of 15/- a week, much less 30/-, we are simply legislating an impossibility. I well remember, Sir, how the unemployed of this country were seduced by false promises made by the present Government that if the present Government were allowed to take office in this country they would abolish unemployment. I know the bitter disillusion that came upon the unfortunate men who confidently looked forward to getting employment if they voted for Fianna Fáil. I say that the Minister for Finance, speaking in North Dublin —or at least one of his colleagues, although I believe it was the Minister for Finance—in the General Election of 1932, told the people then that they would all get jobs if they voted for his Party. The unemployed of this country know the bitter disillusionment with which they met. I now stigmatize as dishonest and shameful an attempt to perpetrate a similar confidence trick on the agricultural workers of this country, and I say that the introduction of a Bill here to provide a minimum wage for agricultural workers, by a Minister who is himself a Deputy for the County Wexford where he knows that the farmers of that county are, literally, physically unable to find the money to pay the wage that they want to pay to the men who are working for them—the introduction of a Bill of this kind by such a Minister is a shameless piece of hypocrisy.
I challenge the Minister to tell us now, how can the small farmers of this country, men with 50 or 60 acres of land, who would employ an agricultural labourer—because it has to be borne in mind that the residents in the congested areas do not employ agricultural labour; they do the work themselves or their families do it, and we are rather thinking in this Bill of the farmer with 50 or 60 acres who ordinarily employs men—if these men are engaged on the mixed agriculture which is their only hope for survival, how can they, under existing circumstances, extract money from that agriculture adequate to pay a living wage to the agricultural labourers of this country? Let the House bear in mind also that the very Minister, who puts down on this Order Paper a proposal to introduce a Bill to fix agricultural wages, has himself fixed the limit at 24/- a week, and his own colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance, has publicly proclaimed that he knows that if anyone went to get between a man and 24/- a week at the present time he would be torn to pieces by those of the labouring classes who are thirsting to get work at that price.
Does this House consider, as a permanent standard of living for the agricultural workers of this country, that 24/- a week is a satisfactory sum? Is there any Deputy of this House living on 24/- a week? Is it not shameless hypocrisy on the part of the Minister, who is himself responsible for precipitating a situation in this country in the agricultural districts whereunder the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance says that any person who stood between an agricultural labourer and 24/- a week would be torn to pieces—is it not shameless hypocrisy for that man to introduce a Bill for the regulation of agricultural wages? If it were to fix a maximum beyond which they might not hope to go so long as Fianna Fáil was in office, we could understand the purposes of this Bill; but if it is to provide for what most of the people in this House want to provide—a minimum below which no man will be asked to work—then I say that the Minister is deliberately destroying the means of paying that minimum wage on the one hand, while with the other he offers, hypocritically, to the labouring men of this country an agricultural wage in this Bill of which we will hear no more until November 4th.
I challenge the Minister now to get up and tell us, when he produces this Bill for our consideration, what maximum does he propose to fix and what wage does he think to be a living wage for the agricultural workers of this country? That is the first question. Having told us what that figure is, will he tell us where are the farmers of this country to get the money to pay that wage so long as he continues the imbecile wrangle which he is at present conducting with the British Government, which leaves him at one moment urging the people to stand fast while we fight this quarrel to a finish with the ancient enemy, and at the next moment saying to us that he is in friendly negotiation with that Government in order to get a larger outlet for the fat cattle whose throats he wanted to cut six months ago? Where are the farmers to get the minimum wage the Minister intends to fix? What is it going to be? When does he propose to fix it, and on what basis does he propose to make his calculation? Is it on the basis of the calculations he made when he introduced the beet sugar legislation, when he fixed the labour content of the production of beet sugar at either 21/- or 24/- a week—I do not remember which— because if it is, the labouring men of this country are entitled to know that the purpose of the introduction of this Bill is simply to fool them as the unemployed were fooled on the eve of the General Election of 1932. It would be better for him and the country if he would frankly tell them what he has in mind and what he means to do. I know that he has not got his Bill printed yet, but he knows what he is going to put in it. Let him tell us now what is the wage going to be; where are the farmers going to get it, and what market has he in mind in which they can sell their produce at such a price as will enable them to pay the living wage that every Party in this House is prepared to give to the agricultural labourers of this country.
The Minister to conclude.
The Minister rose.
Is the Minister concluding?
The Chair may allow a brief statement on either side when leave to introduce a Bill is opposed.
Are there only two sides in this House?
The Minister to conclude.
Could we ask the Minister a question, Sir?
Yes, a question may be asked.
I wonder if the Minister could say now what is the general line of the Bill and whether it would not be possible for the House to sit in order to pass the Bill, seeing that Deputy Dillon is now so enthusiastic for passing it?
May I ask the Minister a question?
Yes, the Deputy may ask a question.
I see that Deputy Dillon is now leaving. He evidently does not want the information he asked for.
Very well, then, I shall not leave.
Is it contemplated in this Bill to raise the industry of agriculture to the position it ought to occupy in this country, the premier position in this country, and will the Minister see that by this Bill the agricultural worker will get as good a wage and as good conditions as the worker gets in any other industry in this country? I ask that question with all sincerity, and I am one of the largest employers of agricultural labour in this country. If the Minister does not provide in this measure as good conditions for agricultural workers as any other manual workers are getting in this country, I can speak for one county the agricultural labourers of which I will lead against any nominee of the Government.
Dublin, where I licked you a couple of weeks ago.
Was the Deputy not beaten often enough in County Dublin?
I will beat the Minister or the Ministers in County Dublin, or in Wexford either.
The Deputy was beaten about five times in County Dublin and then he had to go into the city.
Because the Minister sold any independence he had to get a job.
Well, I got the job and the Deputy did not.
And damn badly you are working it.
It appears to be very difficult to get on with business here, if we are to listen to this political clap-trap on everything that comes up. One would imagine from Deputy Dillon that he was on a platform down in one of the constituencies. On every question that comes up, he goes in for this political stuff. He talks about shameless hypocrisy—such a thing to be accused of by such a man. He makes the usual speech he makes on the Milk Bill and every other Bill, and he is on the farmers' side and on the labourers' side.
Why not? Are their interests not identical?
Identity of interests, of course.
He talks of hoodwinking and deceiving. He is trying to hoodwink the farmer that he is going to prevent this Bill going through in present circumstances if he can, and to deceive the labourer into thinking that he has his good wishes for 30/- a week.
I have repeatedly said in the Minister's own constituency that our Party stands for an enforced minimum wage to agricultural labourers from farmers, if we get into office.
Yes, but you will not. The Deputy goes on with his hoodwinking and deceiving, and he is a past-master at it. On every question that comes up, whether it is a Milk Bill or anything else, he always tries to stand on both legs.
You do not want me to stand on one? God gave me two.
We remember that on the Milk Bill he voted against the Bill first in order to side with the consumers in Dublin, and then voted for it in order to side with the farmers in County Wicklow. He is going to follow the same practice with regard to this Bill. He is in favour of 30/- a week for the labourer, but in order to save himself with the farmers in Galway and Wexford, he is not in favour of it in present circumstances. Therefore, let the farmer support Fine Gael, because if he does there will be no Agricultural Wages Bill; but, on the other hand, let the labourer vote for Fine Gael, because if he does there will be an Agricultural Wages Bill.
If the farmer supports Fine Gael, there will be a profitable market for him and a minimum wage for the agricultural labourer. Any farmer who does not want that need not vote for Fine Gael. Can I make it any clearer?
Yes, but there is an "if."
What is the "if"?
What is the Deputy going to do in present circumstances? He does not say that.
I am going to put out Fianna Fáil and get in myself.
He goes to Wexford and says, "If you vote for us, we will make things right," but when the Bill comes before the Dáil, and when the Deputy is over where he is now, is he going to vote for or against it?
I want to know whether the Minister will tell me what minimum wage he proposes to provide under the Bill, and, secondly, how is he going to provide the money to enable the farmers to comply with the terms of the statute?
A very nice way of getting out of it. This Bill sets up an arbitration board composed of representatives of the farmers and of the labourers, and presided over by an independent chairman. They fix the wages. We are taking a chance and saying that whatever wage they fix we will abide by it. If the farmers remain as they are, we will abide by it, but the Deputy will not say whether he will vote for that Bill because it does not suit him.
Look at the minimum in motion No. 22.
The Deputy will not say yes or no, and his Party will not say yes or no.
I do not know what the Bill is. Tell us what it is.
I have told the Deputy quite clearly what it is. I have told him that there will be an arbitration board set up, composed of representatives of farmers and labourers, with an independent chairman appointed by me. They will fix the wage which will be enforceable.
Will the chairman alone form the quorum?
No. Deputy Belton ought not to try those tricks to get out of it. He knows well what the principle of the Bill is. It is a very simple principle, and the Deputy ought not to try those tricks to avoid answering the question whether he favours it or not.
Will the Minister guarantee as good wages as I am paying?
I guarantee to put in force any wages fixed by the board.
They are not paying half that wage in Wexford.
I guarantee to put whatever wage is fixed into force, and I want to know whether the Party opposite will support me. The Deputy is trying to evade the question.
Will the Minister answer the question I put to him?
I have answered the question and said that we will try to win these elections, and we will hold on to office and put a Bill into operation providing for a board of farmers' representatives and labourers' representatives, with an independent chairman appointed by me. That board will fix the wage and I will enforce that wage. I want to know will the Opposition support me in that?
What relation will that wage have to manual workers in other industries?
Whatever wage they fix.
Will you improve the price of agricultural produce?
How are you going to have a fixed wage then?
Will England still control our cattle trade?
Will the Deputy support the proposal?
Will we support a proposal for an arbitration board if the markets for agricultural produce are not to be improved?
We are not going to do anything in the way of a new scheme to improve them. They may improve naturally themselves. I want to know will the Deputy support the Bill?
If the Minister asks me whether we support a proposal to set up an arbitration board to fix agricultural wages, on the assumption that he is going to do nothing to provide a more profitable market for the farmers out of which they can pay a fair wage and can fix a fair wage for the agricultural labourer in this country, I say that we certainly will not vote for the Bill. If the Minister will provide a market where the farmer can get such a profit that we can require this board to fix a living wage for the agricultural labourer, we will support the Bill, and co-operate with the Minister in any way to make it effective in every county in the country.
That is all right now.
Why did the Deputy not do it for ten years?
The Division can be cancelled. We can be taken as being opposed to the Motion. There is no use having a Division.
You got cold feet.
Is it in order to withdraw?
It is not in order to rise when the Ceann Comhairle is on his feet.
How am I to get to know the decision? They are afraid of it now.
I am putting the question again—which is quite in order.
On a point of order. I was on my feet before you, Sir, finished. A Division was challenged and according to the Rules of Order provided for the House I submit the customary procedure is to wait until members have assembled and then, if you wish, to ask if the necessary number of Deputies demand a Division. I submit that the Question should be put to the House in that way.
We are quite prepared to divide now and we wish to be recorded as opposing the Bill in existing circumstances.
When will the Second Stage be taken?
A Division was challenged.
The Chair has declared the Question carried.
I was on my feet before you finished and I venture to ask you to quote a precedent for this.
The Chair is not bound to quote any precedent. The Deputy should sit down.
The Chair has put the Question and declared it carried.
As a result of Deputy Dillon's statement we demanded a Division.
We are entitled to a Division even if Deputy Dillon has got cold feet and has changed his mind.
Next item, the Milk (Regulation of Supply and Price) Bill.
Will you say why we cannot get a Division?
Number 9 on the Order Paper.
I insist that you give a ruling why you will not have a Division.
The Chair has decided that the Question was carried. That decision stands.
The Chair decided when a Division was called for.
The Chair decided that the Question was carried. There is only one method of challenging that ruling. Next item.
I respectfully submit that I protested against not having a Division in time.
You want to save Deputy Dillon from himself and his Party.
He wasted the whole evening making speeches and taking up the time of the House.
The Milk (Regulation of Supply and Price) Bill now.
Will you send for Deputy Dillon and let us go on with the business?
Keep him out.