26 April 2013

The drawn out abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) in England and Wales is completed. Let me recap the wretched story.

The abolition was in the Tory 2010 election manifesto; it was not in the Libdem manifesto or in the coalition agreement; nevertheless the Libdems agreed to abolition. The earlier Tory Libdem attempt to abolish it in the Public Bodies Bill having been thwarted by Labour ministers in the Welsh government, the AWB was abolished in a late amendment to the unrelated Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill. The Commons agreed the abolition in this Bill without a specific vote on the AWB (Hansard 16 April 2013 column 210 onwards).

A month earlier, in the Lords on 6 March 2013, Labour amendment 83a, which kept a reformed AWB, was lost by 192-163 votes. All the Libdem members of the Lords associated with Cornwall who recorded a vote, Judith Jolly, Robin Teverson, and Paul Tyler, voted against the amendment and thus for abolition (Lords Hansard 6 March 2013 column 1554 onwards, vote at column 1575).

The Labour members of the Lords associated with Cornwall who recorded a vote, Tony Berkeley and Brenda Dean, were among the 163 who voted for amendment 83a to keep a reformed AWB. Paul Myners, another Labour member associated with Cornwall, robustly opposed abolition in Lords Grand Committee 16 January 2013: see here.

The other day in a last throw the Commons debated a Labour motion which said abolition would “reduce living standards and impoverish rural workers” and called on the government to keep the AWB (Hansard 24 April 2013 column 924). At the end of that debate only two Libdem MPs, Andrew George and John Thurso, supported the Labour motion against abolition. Dan Rogerson, Libdem MP for North Cornwall voted against the motion; no vote is recorded for Stephen Gilbert.

George has been consistent in his support of the AWB; the Libdem party in parliament, since going into coalition, has been consistent in its support for abolition. In 2011 George voted in the Commons against abolition and Stephen Gilbert and Dan Rogerson, Libdem MPs for Cornwall, voted for abolition: see Hansard 25 October 2011.

All four Libdem MPs for Cornwall at the time signed EDM 892 of 5 July 2000 which called for the retention of the AWB: Colin Breed, Andrew George, Matthew Taylor, and Paul Tyler (and Candy Atherton, then Cornwall’s only Labour MP).