§ The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Thomas Williams)
With the permission of the House I beg to make the following statement: Members of the W.L.A. who 1685 joined before the end of the war in Europe undertook to serve for the period of the war, and must now be regarded as having fulfilled that undertaking. I propose, therefore, to introduce arrangements whereby these members of the W.L.A. may be allowed to claim their release, if they so desire, over a period beginningon 1st December, 1945. I need hardly say that the loss of a considerable number of members of the W.L.A. during the coming months would cause very great difficulties for the farmers for whom they are working, and have a damaging effect on food production. The world food situation is still critical and the shortage of labour on our farms, particularly for dairy work in which so many members of the W.L.A. are employed is very acute and, in spite of the return of members of the Forces, is not likely to improve during 1946. I appeal, therefore, to members of the W.L.A. even if they qualify for release, to remain on the land for at least another year, and longer if possible.
There will, however, be a number of members who for good reasons will now, wish to claim the release to which they are entitled. In order to give farmers a reasonable opportunity to find substitutes for those who feel they must leave, releases will be spread over a period of four months. Those members with four years' service will be entitled to claim release in December, 1945, and those with three years' service but less than four in January, 1946. The remainder of those who undertook to serve for the period of the war will be allowed to claim release in February and March, 1946, those aged 30and over being released first and the balance according to length of service. This scheme will not affect members who have joined the Land Army since the end of the war in Europe and have undertaken to serve for a period of two years. Many members of the W.L.A., whom I am asking to stay on the land, have been working away from their homes on arduous work with very short holidays for several years now. They urgently need a period of rest and recuperation if they are to continue to give of their best for a further period. I accordingly propose that all members of the W.L.A. who have already served for two years or more, and who are prepared to undertake to serve for a further year, shall receive a holiday with pay at the State's expense. Members of the W.L.A. will 1686 receive a week's holiday if they have completed two years' service, with an extra three days for every additional year of service. These holidays will have to be taken by arrangement with the employer, but I am sure that employers will co-operate in allowing their W.L.A. employees to have this well-earned rest in return for their pledge to remain on the land for a further year. Women released from the W.L.A. will be subject to any general labour controls applicable to other women of the same age, but I understand that no woman who has been away from home for three years or more would be required to undertake work which involved her leaving home again.
Perhaps I may add that members of the W.L.A. who decide to remain on the land in response to my appeal, and new recruits, can be assured that their services will be urgently needed for another three years if they wish to remain. It is my intention that the W.L.A. organisation should remain in being to look after their interests for as long as it is required and the number of members justifies it. My right, hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is in agreement with these proposals and will adopt similar arrangements for the W.L.A. in Scotland.
§ Mr. Turton
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether members of the Women's Land Army will obtain civilian clothing on release?
§ Mr. Williams
I suppose they will, on release, obtain civilian clothes on similar conditions to those who left earlier.
§ Mr. Stephen
Can the Minister say why women in this Land Army are being treated differently from other workers on the land?
§ Mr. Williams
Those with whom this announcement is concerned are largely women who have served many miles away from their homes. Hence the suggestion of providing them with a holiday at the State's expense if they are willing to give another year's effort.
§ Mr. Stephen
Will the Minister explain why they are not being treated the same as the women in the other Services, and receiving gratuities?
§ Mr. Evelyn Walkden
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the Government, whatever previous Governments 1687 decided, will now take the opportunity, as an inducement to these women to stay on, of giving them a clothing allowance like the women now being discharged from the other Services?
§ Major Niall Macpherson
As the age plus service scheme is now being applied to the Women's Land Army cannot the gratuity system also be applied?
§ Mr. Lipson
Will the right hon. Gentleman not be a little more generous in the matter of holidays, as these particular proposals are quite clearly on the mean side?
§ Sir T. Moore
Does the Minister realise that the Government must make the conditions of service and release more attractive if they wish to avoid this difficulty? Is not one week's leave after two years' service perfectly fantastic?
§ Mr. Williams
Perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman will bear in mind that the special week's leave suggested in this statement is in addition to any other holidays that they may have had.
§ Mr. Scollan
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the majority of these workers are being driven out of the service by the miserable conditions imposed?