On many occasions I have listened to tripe and nonsense being spoken in this House, but I have never heard anything like the speeches which were made by the farmer Deputies to-night. Why not make up their minds whether they are in favour of the Bill or against it? I feel that the proper course would be to impeach the Minister, almost, for wasting time and money bringing in this Bill. As far as I can gather from those who have spoken on behalf of the farmers, the Bill is quite unnecessary; what it is proposed to set out is already given; the Bill is completely unjustified, and it would not be a good thing to try to intrude on the loving farmer and farm labourer with any type of statutory control or anything that would prevent the tender-hearted farmer from looking after his farm labourers. Even the farmer Deputies themselves cannot make up their minds on what exactly they want. It is interesting that, although all of them said so in their speeches, they are going to vote for the measure. Only one Deputy actually commended the Minister for dealing with this matter by statute—Deputy Cogan. He then felt that he had a very facile argument to make a further plea for farmers. But the attitude of the rest of the Deputies who claimed to speak for the farmers has been very simple. They say that so far as farm labourers are concerned the best friend of the farm labourer is the farmer; that on every occasion, whenever it is possible, the farmers increase the wages, reduce the hours, give them days off in the year—they even give them time off to go to race-meetings. I noticed one gap. They did not say that the farmers actually give a week's holidays with pay to their labourers. As far as I can see, judging by the speeches of these Deputies, whatever the farm labourer asks from the farmer will be granted, just merely for the asking. Is that not codology?
There are two particular points involved. Nobody in this House—certainly no one who represents the city constituencies and who speaks on behalf of industrial workers—has a feeling of unfriendliness or antagonism towards the farmers or towards agriculture. But it is about time that the farmers realised that not merely must they try and avoid a sense of antagonism but that they must try and cultivate friendship, and we do not do that by being dishonest with each other. We who come from the cities have never posed in this House as being experts in agriculture. On the whole, I think we have refrained from interfering in a debate where the technical aspects of agriculture were being discussed. We have not taken an arbitrary attitude towards the matters raised by the farmers in regard to prices and conditions although everybody is aware that any improvement in farm prices must ultimately be met by the consumer.
We left it to those whom we thought were competent to judge to try and decide the matter. Everybody knows that it is almost impossible to get two farmer Deputies to agree upon any single matter connected with agriculture, whether it be the technical aspect of agriculture, prices, the type of agriculture this country is engaged in or even the treatment of labourers.
Deputy Lehane and Deputy Allen say that in fact there is no need for legislation to deal with the conditions of farm labourers. Yet Deputy Allen is a member of a Party which, because of the conditions in which they found the farm labourers some years ago, had to impose by statute a floor under the wages of the agricultural labourers. Nevertheless he says there is no need for this measure and that if the farmers are left to themselves they will provide as decent wages as agriculture can provide for the farm labourers.
He says that they will provide holidays and that they will raise their standard of living side by side with that of their own.
I venture to say that there is not one person here who wishes to deny to farmers an opportunity of raising their standard of life. The sooner the farmers themselves and their spokesmen realise that, the more progress we can make. Sometimes men and women have to be driven forward and shaken out of themselves. It is not the first time that an effort made by a wage earner to try and improve his conditions—to try and obtain protection for himself—has been the spur that has driven his employer forward to try and claim what he also, as a human being, is entitled to. I do not claim to represent and to speak for farm labourers although I have had some slight association with their organisation, but when they seek to improve their conditions they do so, not in a sense of antagonism towards farmers, but in the belief that as human beings they have certain elementary rights, and that they would be only too glad if there could be this friendship and understanding that is claimed to exist to-day. It may exist between individual farmers and men. It may exist, possibly, in some restricted areas in the country. However, everybody knows from actual experience over the years—and let us not go back ten or 15 years but over the last half century—that any improvement that has been made in the conditions of farm labourers as a class has been made because of the pressure exercised by these farm labourers themselves and by the general influence of the raising of the general standard in the country.
Go through any farming district where you have a number of farms.
Go into any farming district where you have the bigger and the smaller farms and where, as Deputy Cogan says, you may see one farmer driving around in a luxurious motor car and another farmer trudging along the road. Do you find that the prosperity of the gentleman who is driving around in his car is represented by the difference in wages which he pays as compared with the wages paid by the poorer farmer? Does the well-to-do farmer recognise the value given to him by his farm labourers and out of his prosperity give them something above the minimum wage? We are told repeatedly that that is the case. It has never been borne out in practice yet and I have listened to farmers discussing the matter with farm labourers across the conference table on many occasions.
So far, the farmer Deputies who have spoken on this measure have been completely dishonest in the matter. On the one hand, they say they are voting for the measure, voting to impose a statutory obligation on farmers, and at the same time they explain that it is completely unnecessary to impose any obligation on the farmers at all in this matter. Deputy Cogan says that the statutory regulation of this matter would not have come about as between the farmer and the labourer but for what he calls the "big organisation". It is a very good thing for a lot of people in this country that the big organisation came into the country. Deputy Cogan, of course, was referring to the trade union movement. I have, on occasion, listened to spokesmen of trade unions speaking to farmers across the conference table and expressing the view that if the farmers themselves were not prepared to move forward in a progressive manner and deal, as Deputy Cogan has said, as a collective body with the problems of the industry, with the object of trying to provide for the producers in that industry a higher standard of living, then the farm labourers or the organisation would put pressure on them that would make it impossible for them to avoid a decision and would press them forward whether they liked it or not.
One of the questions to which we must have regard in this measure is that not only is it of benefit to the farm labourers but it can also be a benefit to the great mass of the poorer type of farmers who, as Deputy Cogan says, labour in the same way as the worker and possibly do not enjoy any higher standard of living. The very attempt by the wage earner to improve his conditions must have a very beneficial effect on the conditions of the general mass of the people engaged in agriculture. From that point of view, this Bill should be welcomed by the farmers because it is something that will, in a general way, apart from other advantages, tend to bring about a new outlook among farmers themselves.
Deputy Cogan has also stated that the farm labourer is no more a slave than members of the farmer's own family and that the farmer has passed through a period when he had to contend with very bad conditions. Everybody is aware that farmers have gone through times that we hope they will never see again. All of us would be only too glad to assist and co-operate with them in seeing that those times do not return but we should face the actual position that we know does exist, not only in relation to agriculture but in regard to industry as a whole. I said I have very little experience of agriculture but I have a great deal of experience of employers and I have yet to learn of any occasion where any group of employers of their own volition, without pressure of any kind, out of the increased prosperity that might come from time to time in their business, voluntarily and without pressure, came to their workers and said: "Look here, we have had a better year this year than last year and we think it is only right that you should share in the increased profit." Whether we like it or not, that is not the position. It is because that attitude of mind is not merely peculiar to problems in industry and commerce but is also an attitude to be found amongst farmers —for which I blame neither the farmer nor the industrialist, because it is a product of the system under which we all work—that we have to exert pressure to improve conditions and improve wages, to shorten hours and to provide holidays, and where we have to deal with an industry like agriculture, in which the workers are dispersed all over the country, we are obliged to have recourse to the power of legislation to try to effect what is effected in industry by organisation.
I think the Minister is to be commended on this Bill. While I have criticised the Farmer Deputies for some of the arguments they put forward in regard to the atmosphere in which the Bill has been introduced and the feeling that it is not altogether essential, I think we should give credit to them to the extent that they are prepared to support the passage of the Bill through the Legislature. At the same time, having agreed in principle that we should deal with wages in agriculture by statute—putting a floor under wages, as Deputy Cogan said—we should recognise that conditions in agriculture make somewhat similar regulations necessary when we come to deal with holidays. Quite clearly, whatever we do provide is not being related to the conditions of the most prosperous farmer, in the same way as when we were dealing with wages, the scales of wages were related to the capacity of the poorer farmer.
If we provide a minimum of a week's holidays, those farmers who are in a more prosperous condition than the average farmer may, out of a feeling of goodwill towards their workers, give more than a week, but at least, we will have put in this floor for farm labourers as Deputy Cogan said. I hope that the farmer himself will also see that he takes the same relief from work as we are proposing to provide by legislation for his farm labourer. Very often a man has to be taught a sense of independence, to realise that he is not some kind of beast to work from dark to dawn and that he should have at least as much respect for himself and his workers as he has for the animals on his farm. A man can easily lose that sense of proper understanding and sometimes we may have to restore it to him. I think that in that respect this Bill will be beneficial in bringing about an improvement in the general standard of life in the country.
There are one or two points in the Bill itself to which I should like to make some reference. First of all, I think it is a pity that the Minister in drafting the Bill did not keep somewhat closer to the framework set out in the Holidays (Employees) Act, because it will be found later when the Bill becomes law, that that particular type of drafting would be much easier to apply and would be open to less misunderstandings and difficulties. However, he has departed from it and we must merely follow his example.
We should bear in mind that the object of the Bill is to give holidays, not additional pay, and therefore I think that whatever amendments may be introduced on the Committee Stage in order to try to ensure that the holidays will be taken and that as much preference or option will be taken away from both the farmer and the labourer as possible, they should be sympathetically considered by the Minister. I have had experience of dealing with industrial workers whose sole concern was not to receive the holiday break from work to which they were entitled but to go on working, drawing holiday pay and drawing an additional week's wages for the week they should have been on holiday. It would be most regrettable if we left ourselves open to the same type of abuse in regard to the farm labourer.
I can understand the difficulty in regard to fixing a holiday period. It is true that we have them fixed in regard to industry, but they were fixed by trade union agreement and not laid down in any statute and the attempt to reconcile the holiday period with the legal obligation to give holidays on the termination of 12 months' service seems to create a contradiction it would be almost impossible to solve.