HC Deb 03 February 1948 vol 446 cc1616-8
12. Mr. Gooch

asked the Minister of Labour the number of farm workers registered as unemployed at the most recent convenient date; and what steps he is taking to get those who are unemployed back on the farms.

Mr. Isaacs

The number of men unemployed and registered for employment as farm workers in Great Britain at 8th December was 2,173. This is less than half of one per cent. The extent to which local offices of my Department are able to assist, the return of these men to farm work is necessarily limited by the extent to which farmers notify their vacancies. In conjunction with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, I am taking all possible steps to encourage farmers to let us know their requirements, but it must be remembered that farmers are free to engage labour and workers are free to accept agricultural employment other than through a local office of my Department. Agricultural executive committees are taking every opportunity in co-operation with my Department to provide work for unemployed agricultural workers but, at this period of the year, those opportunities are naturally limited.

Mr. Gooch

Does the Minister realise that many farmworkers who are out of work do not register at the exchanges; does he not agree that the existence of rural unemployment at the present time, on the eve of what we hope will be a great food production campaign, is rather disturbing; and will he tell those farmers who show a preference for foreign workers that unemployed British farm workers are to be used on British farms?

Mr. Isaacs

I am not quite sure if I followed the hon. Gentleman's three points, but this industry has not yet used the employment exchanges to the same extent as other industries. However, the use is growing and steps have been taken to encourage farmers and farm workers to go to the exchanges. As far as foreign labour is concerned, farmers are told quite definitely that they will not be allowed to employ any when British workers are available to take the jobs.

Sir Ralph Glyn

In connection with the Minister's consultation with the Minister of Agriculture, will he consider the housing problem, which is one of the chief reasons in certain places why there is not more labour?

Mr. Isaacs

That is so, and that matter has been under consideration. Some steps are being taken towards its alleviation.

Mr. Osborne

Is not the fact that less than half of one per cent of the farm workers are unemployed good evidence that farmers are doing their duty by the farm workers?

Mr. Isaacs

That, again, is a matter of opinion. I do not think we could say that the farm workers are any less reasonable in this matter than any other class of workers. I may add that this is the time of the year when there is not the greatest amount of work available on the farms.