HC Deb 29 July 1946 vol 426 cc515-7
60. Mr. David Renton

asked the Minister of Agriculture why farmers are made to pay the same rates for prisoners of war who are under 21 years of age as for those who are over that age.

Mr. Collick

It is not practicable to fix charges for prisoner labour differing according to the age and qualifications of individual prisoners. I understand that the number of German prisoners under 21 is less than one per cent. of the total.

Mr. Renton

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the effect of making farmers pay the same for these men under 21 as is paid for those over 21 is that many German prisoners are being charged to the farmers at a higher rate than British workers of the same age? Is he aware, moreover, that many farmers estimate that at least one-eighth of the German prisoners working on farms are under 21?

Mr. Collick

As the original answer indicated, our information is that the total number of any such persons is less than one per cent of the whole, and we therefore take the view that, administratively, it would be exceedingly difficult to make any variation. Moreover, if one were to follow that course, there is the further point to be borne in mind that there are German prisoners who have special qualifications, and no additional charge is made for those additional qualifications.

61. Mr. Renton

asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is aware that the provision that farmers who employ prisoners of war for overtime work during the harvest must pay for their transport to and from work, will result in such farmers paying more for prisoner of war labour than they will be paying for British workers whose work is more valuable; and whether he will relieve farmers of the obligation to pay for such transport.

Mr. Collick

There is no general rule of the kind to which the hon. Member refers. Prisoners of war are normally transported to and from work by W.A.E.Cs. free of cost to the farmer, exceptionally in cases involving the provision of transport for a few men at irregular hours, the farmer makes arrangements for transport. I will gladly look into any particular case which the hon. Member cares to put to me.

Mr. Renton

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the further circumstances which are the subject of this Question provide another example of farmers being made to pay more for prisoners than for British labour? Will he give the matter his closest attention?

Mr. Walkden

Is it not also true to say that if the farmer does incur such expenditure, he charges it against the Income Tax reliefs, and thereby the Treasury pays, and not the farmer at all, in nine cases out of ten?

63. Major Wise

asked the Minister of Agriculture upon whose authority the Norfolk W.A.E.C. has been charging £4 13s. 1d. for unskilled German prisoner of war labour for chopping out and scoring sugar beet per acre in West Norfolk whereas the district rate for British labour is £3 18s. per acre; and, as such charge is above the rate for the job, if he will give instructions that refunds are to be made to those farmers who have already been overcharged by the W.A.E.C.

Mr. Collick

In the absence of agreements between the two sides of the industry in Norfolk as to piece-work rates for chopping out and scoring sugar beet, the W.A.E.C. has arranged for contract work for this operation to be done at a price which they estimate is the average of the rates ruling in the county. My information does not support the figure quoted by my hon. Friend as the district rate, but my right hon. Friend is going into the matter with the Committee and will communicate further with him.

64. Mr. Renton

asked the Minister of Agriculture what steps have been taken to improve the morale of, and to obtain better work from, German prisoners of war by explaining to them that their production efforts in this country will have a beneficial effect upon the food situation in Germany.

Mr. Collick

My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for War, with whom my right hon. Friend has been in consultation in this matter, has instructed the appropriate military authorities to impress on prisoners working in agriculture the paramount importance of the successful gathering of the harvest, in the interests of their own country as well as of ours. The Secretary of State for War, on 9th July, gave particulars of the measures that are being taken to provide incentives to better output from prisoners. These include payment for all hours worked, cigarette bonus scheme and improvements in food rations.

Mr. Wilson Harris

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the sub-committee of the Select Committee on Estimates which recently visited Germany has reported that the retention of German prisoners of war in this country is having a bad effect on German morale and retarding the recovery of their economy? Would it not be better to inform them that they will be sent home as soon as possible?

Lieut.-Commander Joynson-Hicks

Has the hon. Gentleman any evidence that the steps which are being taken are meeting with any success, because there is no evidence of it in Sussex, and if not, will he try something else?

Mr. Collick

I think, from reports which are coming in, there has been some success and improvement. I am afraid I am unable to give any definite reply to the question raised by the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Wilson Harris). I am familiar with the extract to which he refers.