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Women's Land Army

Volume 414: debated on Monday 15 October 1945

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55.

asked the Minister of Agriculture if, in view of the great decrease in the number of A.T.S. personnel employed on gun-sites and other operational duties, he will arrange, with the other Departments concerned, for suitable clothing from Army stocks, especially oilskins, rubber-boots and greatcoats, to be issued at public expense to members of the W.L.A. to meet a deficiency of winter clothing.

An oilskin and a greatcoat are part of the standard uniform issue for members of the Women's Land Army, and ample supplies are already available. Rubber boots are issued to all members who are engaged on particularly wet farm and market garden operations. This year the Land Army has been successful in obtaining supplies of surplus A.R.P. rubber boots of heavy agricultural type, in numbers sufficient to cover all winter requirements.

64.

asked the Minister of Agriculture what changes of policy he has decided on in regard to the treatment of the W.L.A. in respect of release, gratuities and conditions of service generally.

61.

asked the Minister of Agriculture what concessions he proposes to make to maintain an adequate number of recruits for the W.L.A. and to compensate for the refusal to grant gratuities to its members.

76.

asked the Minister of Agriculture if he has reconsidered awarding a gratuity to members of the W.L.A., seeing that the refusal to furnish a gratuity to these workers has resulted in many leaving their employment to the disadvantage of the farmers.

81.

asked the Minister of Agriculture what are the plans for the demobilisation of members of the W.L.A. who were enlisted for three years or the duration of the war, and who have now served three years and desire to be released.

86.

asked the Minister of Agriculture if he will state the conditions on which members of the W.L.A. may be granted release.

I hope to be able to make a statement about the release of members of the W.L.A. in the very near future. As regards gratuities, I would refer the hon. Members to the reply I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Central Cardiff (Mr. G. Thomas) on 23rd August. As most of the members of the W.L.A. are in the employment of private farmers, it would not be practicable to interfere with the wages orders made by the Agricultural Wages Board which apply to all women workers on the land. I am afraid the clothing situation would not allow us to add to the outfit of the W.L.A. at the present time. It has, however, been agreed that members of the W.L.A. shall in future be entitled to four free travel warrants a year instead of two.

While not thanking my right hon. Friend for that reply, which is completely inadequate to meet the demands put forward by the Women's Land Army in their charter, may I ask him, since he occupies the supremely important position of Minister, whether it is not time that adequate justice was done to these splendid young women who have been treated as the Cinderellas of the women's forces?

The hon. and gallant Member will be aware that I am repeating the action in regard to these gallant women that was performed by my predecessor.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a great number of members of the Women's Land Army have left the land because of their disgust at the way they have been treated by the Minister?

I think that the numbers of women who have left the Women's Land Army on account of gratuities can be exaggerated. We all expected that at the end of hostilities there would be a decline in the numbers of the Women's Land Army, since they were recruited only for the duration of the war.

Does my right hon. Friend realise that his decision will cause great disappointment to large numbers of the Women's Land Army, who un- doubtedly voted for his party in the belief that it was going to reverse the policy?

I would not be surprised if there was annoyance on the part of the Women's Land Army at the decision already taken by myself, which is slightly better than that taken by the previous Government.

With regard to Question 81, will the Minister realise that this is a particular case where delay is causing grave dislocation in agriculture, for these women were engaged for three years, their time is up, and they want to be discharged, not with ignominy but with gratitude?

My hon. Friend can be assured that a statement will be made very shortly regarding the release of the members of the Women's Land Army.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his answer is thoroughly unsatisfactory?