HC Deb 21 March 1940 vol 358 cc2122-3
70. Mr. Malcolm MacMillan

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many tractors he has sent, or is having sent, for free or cheap use among the crofters in the Western Isles, to assist them with spring land work and the subsidised ploughing-in schemes, in view of the absence on active service of large numbers of young crofters and other land workers?

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Colville)

A tractor outfit is being sent to Lewis to give assistance in ploughing at reasonable charges under the agricultural machinery scheme run by the District Agricultural Executive Committees in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture for Scotland.

71. Mr. MacMillan

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he will approach the Naval and Army authorities to secure the release from service of blacksmiths from the Western Isles, as much inconvenience is being caused by the absence of these men who are essential to local agriculture?

Mr. Colville

The hon. Member is aware of the arrangements made with the War Office for the release on agricultural grounds of a limited number of men in the Army whose return is considered essential in the national interest. Applications for the release of blacksmiths whether from the Western Isles or elsewhere in Scotland, are considered on their relative merits. As I informed him on 5th March, consultations are now taking place with the Service Departments with a view to meeting if possible the special difficulties of the Western Isles.

Mr. MacMillan

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that very soon the spring work ought to be under way, but that, as the negotiations with the War Office have been going on for a long time without any satisfactory conclusion, it seems possible that no spring work will be done at all this year?

Mr. Colville

The hon. Member will remember the great importance of these men to the Services as well. This is a difficult question, which has to be carefully considered.

Mr. MacMillan

In view of the fact that the contribution which the islands are making in men is relatively higher than that made by any other part of the British Empire, is it not fair to these people to ensure that their livelihood will be protected by allowing them to do the spring work and to maintain the agricultural output?

Mr. Colville

The hon. Member's Question relates to men in the Royal Navy as well as to men in the Army. These men are mostly Reservists, and are of very great importance to the Navy.

Mr. Kirkwood

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House anything definite that his Department has done to ease the situation that is behind these two Questions about the Western Isles?

Mr. Colville

Yes, Sir, but not, I am afraid, within the compass of Question and Answer. A great deal has been done to help the labour situation, where it has been possible to do so, by arrangement with the Service authorities.