HC Deb 01 February 1918 vol 101 cc1930-2
12. Sir J. D. REES

asked the Minister of National Service whether his attention has been called to the waste of labour entailed by breaking up Highland crofts for the cultivation of corn for which the land is unfit, and of the loss to the Army resulting from the grant of exemptions from military service to able-bodied young men on the ground that they are required for agriculture in the innumerable cases in which older men can equally well perform all the functions required; whether he is aware of cases in which farmers have dismissed their hands above military age and obtained exemption for their sons as indispensable to take their places, and whether, if young men must be retained for agriculture, they will be sent to work where they can work with the best results?


The question of the fitness of land for corn production is one for the Board of Agriculture. There are two quite distinct ways in which men of military age employed in agriculture are retained in civil life. A large number have been granted exemption by the tribunals. Others hold vouchers of protection issued by the agricultural executive committees in England and Wales and by the Board of Agriculture in Scotland, under an arrangement made last July, on the direction of the Cabinet, after consideration of the whole question of the man-power employed in Great Britain, whether of military age or not. Such vouchers are issued only to men certified to be whole-time employed on farms on farm work and to be engaged on work of national importance, and to have been engaged on such work on the 1st June, 1917. The instruction issued to carry this arrangement into operation embodied a provision to the effect that if an agricultural executive committee considered that a man was employed on a farm on which there was an excess of labour, they should specify another farm where labour was required, to which the man should move within three weeks, and that, if he did not do so, he was not to be entitled to a voucher. This provision was intended to meet the last point raised in the question. I am not aware that there have been dismissals of the kind indicated by my hon. Friend, and the increased demand for agricultural labour consequent upon the increased area brought under cultivation is likely to prevent such cases occurring.

Sir J. D. REES

My question is based on cases which have come under my personal notice, and is it not time that the illusion that you have only to scratch a croft or a deer forest to turn it into corn was dispelled, and is not that fiction at the root of a great many of the errors made by the Government in dealing with this particular question?


I think my hon. Friend appreciates that that part of the question is referred to the Board of Agriculture, and has nothing whatever to do with the Department of National Service.


Is it not the fact that the Army and Navy have taken nearly the whole of the Highlands, and that has, led to these clearances?


I do not think so.