HC Deb 05 December 1939 vol 355 cc435-6
43. Mr. Henderson Stewart

asked the Secretary of State for War how many men, giving their civilian vocation as that of agricultural workers, are at present serving in the Army; how many applications have been received for the release of such men on the grounds of the greater need for their services on the land; how many such applications have been granted; what is the total number of agricultural workers likely to be released within the next two months; and, in view of the serious shortage of labour on farms and the need of greatly increased home food supplies, what is his policy in this matter?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

The figure asked for in the first part of the question is not available. Applications for the release of agricultural workers are referred to the Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of Agriculture for Scotland before they are considered by the War Office, and, up to date, 149 indefinite and 360 temporary releases have been granted, representing nearly all the cases passed to the War Office. I cannot give an estimate for the next two months. Recognition of the importance of agriculture is shown by the reservation of most agricultural workers in the Schedule of Reserved Occupations at the low age of 21, and by the fact that working parties of soldiers have been provided for harvest work since the beginning of the war, and that this arrangement is to continue until the end of December.

Mr. Stewart

While recognising the generosity of that statement, does not my right hon. Friend recall that there are at present thousands of agricultural worker who joined up as Territorials and whose services are urgently needed on the land to-day? Cannot he give some assurance that he is well aware of the urgency of this matter?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

As they are reserved at the age of 21, I do not see how the entry of agricultural labourers into the Army in such numbers as my hon. Friend suggests can be the case.