By Lord Risby
A little bit of post-war British history has disappeared into the ether with the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board in the House of Lords. Labour has never felt comfortable with the countryside, and has not the faintest idea as to how current farming practices are carried out. This was blindingly apparent as the proposal was debated. In 1948, a considerable number of wages boards were introduced. Gradually, they have been abolished, as they no longer served any purpose. The only one to remain was the Agricultural Wages Board, which set a minimum wage structure and various pay gradations on a higher scale. What was truly remarkable about the legislative proceedings in the House of Lords dealing with this proposed abolition was the sheer passion which its proposed removal provoked in Labour peers.
Since 1948, farming has changed beyond recognition. There is much greater stability in farming today with world food prices improving for producers and with technology having changed dramatically. Very sophisticated and expensive equipment is now being used, requiring wholly different skill sets from before. Many engaged in farming had come to regard the Agricultural Wages Board as wholly irrelevant, but were irritated by the inevitable mounting bureaucracy that surrounded it. It is true that seasonal picking is labour intensive, and poly tunnels have extended the overall picking season, but farm work patterns have become considerably more flexible. Many farmers simply nowadays bring in high technology machinery on hire for ploughing, ditching and harvesting. The overall number of farm workers has shrunk considerably. Over the years, we have also seen significant diversification by farmers, providing specialised farm shops, or cottages for holiday accommodation. Farm workers now frequently multi-task and are happy to do so, but the system has demanded differential pay scales for each of these tasks.