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Women's Land Army

Volume 409: debated on Tuesday 10 April 1945

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45.

asked the Prime Minister whether he has considered the further representations made to him about the W.L.A.; and with what result.

51.

asked the Prime Minister whether representations made on behalf of the W.L.A. for recognition on demobilisation have been considered; and if he can make a statement on the matter.

I regret that I cannot add to the statement which I made on behalf of His Majesty's Government on 8th March.

Has my right hon. Friend noticed that the Minister of Agriculture has been putting out urgent appeals for more workers on the land, and has he further noticed that 135 Members of the House, including Members of nearly all parties, have put down their names to Notices of Motion asking that there should be better treatment of these women?

The request for more woman labour, which is very necessary on the land, should be accompanied by conditions governing the future and not necessarily by gratuities or rewards which have relation to the past. With regard to the 135 Members who have put down their names on this question, nothing would be easier and, if I were so base, nothing more tempting, than to offer large and unconsidered concessions at the public expense.

Are we to take it from the right hon. Gentleman's answer that further representations on behalf of the Women's Land Army will be useless?

Further representations in respect of the special war-time gratuity must be considered to have fallen into that sphere of decisions which have already been taken.

In view of the disappointment which will be felt at the right hon. Gentleman's answer and in view of the fact that over 100 Members have put their names to Motions on the Order.Paper, will the right hon. Gentleman favourably consider giving us an opportunity to debate the question in the near future?

Questions about the Business of the House must be addressed to my right hon. Friend.

Will the Prime Minister consider, if he cannot give a gratuity, some other form of recognition of the magnificent work of these women?

I have looked around very carefully for something that would be suitable and would not open too wide a door, but one must be very careful, in a Parliament which is in its closing phase, not to embark on a competition for winning popularity, for any party, without due regard to the public and financial consequences.

When the right hon. Gentleman speaks of guarantees for these women who have been working on the land as a reason why he cannot meet their other claims for gratuities and the like, what guarantees does he refer to?

Surely the right hon. Gentleman did indicate that in the absence of gratuities there were certain other favourable conditions open to these women. Can he say what they are?

Certainly I cannot at the moment, but the principle of division is that the Women's Land Army fall into the general industrial sphere. That is the position we have taken up. We may be wrong, but we have taken it up. One hundred Members have put down their names to a statement that we are wrong, but probably we have a majority which thinks we are right. I do not know. But naturally the future is a separate topic from the past. In the future, if women are needed on the land the necessary attraction must be offered to secure their supply.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us feel deeply and sincerely that the decision has been taken on a false basis and that the parallel between women in industry in general and the Women's Land Army is not a true parallel? Will my right hon. Friend consent to receive a deputation or at any rate to allow some discussion on tile matter?

I am sure people do feel deeply and sincerely about it, but also there are those who have laid on them the heavy duty of endeavouring to keep the public finances in a certain state.