HC Deb 15 March 1948 vol 448 cc1690-2
45. Mr. Driberg

asked the Prime Minister if he is aware that many thousands more than the 18,000 German prisoners of war whom it is proposed to retain have volunteered to remain in Britain as civilian agricultural workers; and if, in view of the continuing shortage of agricultural workers forecast in the Economic Survey for 1948, and the fact that the rural housing shortage cannot be fully dealt with in the immediate future, he will cause the Minister of Agriculture, the Minister of Labour, and the Secretary of State for War to make arrangements to retain a larger proportion of these volunteers, while safeguarding the rights and conditions of employment of British agricultural workers.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Attlee)

The Ministers concerned are looking into the possibilities of extending the civilianisation scheme to include additional Germans who are already employed whole-time by individual farmers and who could not at present be suitably replaced. It is not intended, however, to retain still more Germans for employment by agricultural executive committees.

Mr. Driberg

So long as the employment and housing of British farmworkers are safeguarded, is it not unwise and inhumane deliberately to send away thousands of good workers who were settling down here quite congenially, especially as many of them have no homes to go to?

The Prime Minister

That is just the point. One has to have regard to the amount of accommodation available. In any case, it is not desirable to extend committee labour further than has already been contemplated.

Wing-Commander Millington

How soon can a statement be made about the investigation, particularly as, in Essex, a very large number of prisoners of war want to stay in agriculture and that a very large number of farmers who can find no alternative British labour, are anxious to give them a home and would like to have them back?

The Prime Minister

I am afraid I cannot say when the proposed statement will be made. Perhaps the hon. Member will put the question down.

Mr. Emrys Roberts

Is the Prime Minister aware that a large number of prisoners want to stay in this country and would be quite prepared to stay in their hostels after civilianisation and until accommodation was available? What is the objection to that?

The Prime Minister

These detailed questions had better be put on the Paper for the Minister of Agriculture.

Mr. Driberg

In view of the great importance of this matter, and the continuing shortage of agricultural workers, as shown in the Economic Survey, will my right hon. Friend consider at least defer- ring the repatriations which are now pending while the matter is re-investigated?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir.

Mr. Skeffington-Lodge

Is it not much more sensible to keep here the men who are trained in our methods of agriculture than to try to replace them by Poles and others who have to be completely trained, which training takes a long time and may not be so satisfactory?

Hon. Members