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Volume 360: debated on Thursday 9 May 1940

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asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he has any statement to make as to the steps the Government propose to take to make available adequate and suitable labour to enable farmers to carry out the war-time programme of food production?

Steps have been taken by the Government to retain as many as possible of the existing skilled workers on the land, and also to obtain other labour for agriculture. On the first of these points, the low age of reservation fixed for most agricultural occupations and the arrangements for postponement of calling up have had the effect, for the time being, of reducing to small proportions the number of agricultural workers taken into the armed Forces. As regards additional labour, a number of schemes have been prepared, some of which are already in operation. They include the recruitment of a Women's Land Army of regular workers, the organisation of gangs, and the encouragement of older boys who are leaving school to go into agriculture until they reach military age. Further proposals to assist in relieving the labour shortage are under active consideration.

Is my right hon. and gallant Friend aware that this is a very urgent matter, and that much more must be done if the farming schemes and the obligations that farmers have been asked to undertake are to be carried out?

I fully realise the urgency. We are trying to work such schemes in conjunction with the military authorities. Every step that we can take is taken.

Are we to take it that public works contractors are instructed not to engage skilled agricultural workers; and, if so, are steps taken to see that the skilled agricultural worker is not penalised in any other way?

Are steps being taken to protect the skilled agricultural worker, who is called upon to make a financial sacrifice?

Are the Government taking all the active steps that could be taken?