HC Deb 01 April 1946 vol 421 cc821-3
51. Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore

asked the Minister of Agriculture the total strength of the W.L.A. on 31st December last; the total strength to date; and the numbers who have volunteered for extended service.

The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Thomas Williams)

The total strength of the W.L.A. was, on 31st December last 45,763, and on 18th. March, 33,236. With regard to the last part of the Question, the position on 28th February was that, of the members who had joined before the end of the war in Europe, 5,347 had volunteered for a further year's service, and 15,974 had indicated their intention to remain on the land for a time without giving a definite undertaking. 8,002 had enrolled since the end of the war in Europe and have signed the usual undertaking to serve for two years.

Sir T. Moore

In view of the figures the right hon. Gentleman has just given, and in view of the demonstration yesterday by these hardly used young women, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he has any plans for transforming this fine body of young women into a happy, contented and enthusiastic body of women?

Mr. Williams

I have to reply to two other Questions on the same subject.

52. Mr. De Ia Bère

asked the Minister of Agriculture if he will now consider granting members of the W.L.A. 45 days' paid leave on discharge on medical grounds instead of the present one week's notice for dismissal on account of illness

Mr. T. Williams

No, Sir. Members of the Women's Land Army are in the same position as agricultural workers in being employed on a weekly contract of service, which may be determined by either party at one week's notice, and they draw National Health Insurance benefit under the usual conditions. Moreover, the W.L.A. Benevolent Fund is available to assist cases of hardship.

Mr. De la Bère

The right hon. Gentleman cannot be suggesting that girls who do their work properly should be dependent upon some voluntary benevolent fund? Surely, that would be one of the greatest insults ever offered to this fine body of willing workers?

53. Mr. De la Bère

asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he will consider making ex-members of the W.L.A. eligible under the Government's resettlement grants scheme and confer on them reinstatement rights in civil employment.

57. Mr. Butcher

asked the Minister of Agriculture if, in view of the inequalities existing between members of the W.L.A., W.R.N.S., A.T.S. and W.A.A.F., he proposes to improve the conditions offered to volunteers in the W.L.A. whom it is hoped to attract during the forthcoming campaign.

Mr. T. Williams

After careful and sympathetic consideration, the Government decided that it was not possible to reverse the decision of their predecessors with regard to gratuities and other benefits for the Women's Land Army. I should remind hon. Members that the Government have made a grant of£150,000 to the W.L.A. Benevolent Fund. Members of the W.L.A. are entitled to a free issue of certain items of clothing, four free travelling vouchers to their homes each year, and they are not under any form of military discipline.

Mr. De la Bère

Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that it is about time he faced the facts and abandoned this form of wordy incoherence?

Mr. R. S. Hudson

In view of the figures the right hon. Gentleman read out a little earlier and the very unsatisfactory figures for recruiting that he gave a short while ago, does not he feel that he must do something to remedy these longstanding grievances?

Mr. Williams

The grievances may be long-standing but my right hon. Friend knows full well why the decision was taken by the last Government, and when he himself had to make that announcement to the House he did not feel any happier than I do now.

Mr. Hudson

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that circumstances are completely different today?

Mr. Osborne

Will the Minister consider giving these girls a wage more comparable with the rates paid in industry, whereby he will get more women on the land?

Mr. Williams

Members of the Women's Land Army are paid the trade union rate for the job.

Mr. Osborne

It is not good enough.

Mr. Thomas Macpherson

Are arrangements being made for a contingent of the Women's Land Army to take part in the forthcoming Victory Parade?

Mr. Williams

I believe that that is so.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson

Will they wear the clothes given them by the Government?