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Potato Harvesting (School Children)

Volume 409: debated on Tuesday 10 April 1945

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is aware of the resentment caused in Scotland by the circular from his Department recommending the deportation of infants from the schools in Scotland, to places outside their towns, villages and counties, for the purpose of harvesting the potato crop in, the autumn of this year; and if he will withdraw this circular.

No circular of the kind mentioned has been issued. I assume that the hon. Member refers to the recent request to certain education authorities to invite children over 12 years of age to volunteer to help with potato lifting in some of the main growing areas where the labour available locally is insufficient to secure the crop. I have no evidence whatever that this request has given rise to resentment. On the contrary, at meetings with representatives of the, authorities concerned and of the teaching profession, general assurances of support for the scheme were freely forthcoming. In view of the vital importance of the potato crop in what will be a year of particular stringency, it is certainly not possible to dispense with the assistance asked for.

Is my right hon. Friend not aware that the circular has been taken as a recommendation, and to mean that, specifically, 2,000 school children are to be sent from Ayrshire to Fife and Dumfries for the purpose of collecting these potatoes; is he further aware fhat the Ayrshire Education Committee has refused, and does not that show that there is resentment? Will he undertake now to withdraw this circular, which is causing resentment among people in Scotland?

So far as I am aware, the only council that has declined to come into the scheme is Ayrshire. The others have agreed.

Instead of the Secretary of State advising that children should be sent to do this work, will he not consult with the Ministry of Labour, in view of the redundancy which is occurring in industry, and ask for volunteers from industry to help in this work?

Yes, Sir; that has been done, and it is a prior consideration to this scheme.

Will the right hon. Gentleman agree that, in view of the fact that it is the poorer children who are to be sent to work, and that the weather in October and November is very wet, he should see that they are properly equipped with boots and waterproofs?

I cannot give precise details, but I believe that welfare arrangements such as my hon. Friend has indicated are being carefully examined in consultation with the teachers.

But has my right hon. Friend considered inviting some of the children from the public schools to assist in this work? [HON. MEMBERS: "They are doing so."] Will my right hon. Friend tell me how many children are being sent from these schools? What is the proportion?

I can give no precise figures, but every possible volunteer—they are all volunteers—over 12 years of age has been invited.

Owing to the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Motion for the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.