HC Deb 29 March 1949 vol 463 cc1090-9

6.15 p.m.

Sir T. Dugdale

I beg to move, in page 6, line 35, to leave out "by other persons."

The object of this Amendment is to elicit a little further information from the Minister as to the purposes of Clause 8 and as to the progress made in training men for agricultural occupations. During the Committee stage it was brought out that under this Clause there is a sum of roughly £300,000 a year which can be used for this purpose. The Minister explained that the reason for inserting the provision in this Bill was to provide facilities—similar to those provided for ex-Service men—for people other than ex-Service men; in other words, to extend the scope to giving training outside the agricultural industry in the countryside in the hope that the people concerned might eventually settle down in the countryside.

I am sure the House would be interested to know exactly what progress has been made and what is in the mind of the Minister in regard to the operation of this Clause. We are not in any way opposed to the principle of these trainees in the countryside, but we feel that unless the scheme is very well organised, there is a chance of great wastage both of time and public money. In the first instance, how many of these trainees have, up to now, been taken on in a particular hostel? Are they people who have come out of neighbouring cities, and are they centred in hostels about the country or sent to individual farms? Can the Minister inform the House what percentage of these people, after completing their period of training, have actually remained in the agricultural industry and found permanent employment in agriculture with a view to making the work their career?

I think the House will also be interested to know from what particular section of the population these trainees are drawn. Are they people who are at present out of work, or are they, for the most part, people who are attracted to the countryside and desire facilities to train in agriculture? Finally, is any particular set of regulations laid down as to the period during which they are given training in the countryside, and what is the cost per head of this training which will fall on public funds?

Mr. Hurd

I beg to second the Amendment.

We have no quarrel at all with providing training facilties for men outside agriculture, indeed, outside the villages altogether, and to their coming into agriculture. In our view, it is vital that we should have a two-way flow between town and country and country and town. Therefore, we are wholeheartedly in support of the idea of this Clause. I wish to ask the Minister how, in the light of the experience of his Ministry since the war in training men coming out of the Services, he considers the training covered by this Clause can best be given. Personally, I should not like to see the men kept in gangs, or even in groups, all the time they were training because that may develop in them the gang mentality which is something we are trying to get away from in agriculture.

We want to see young men from the towns coming into agriculture, taking jobs on individual farms and becoming established as regular farm workers on those farms or, if they wish to move on to another farm, doing so—in other words, having a regular attachment to the industry and not merely being floating gang labour, a good deal of which we have had in agriculture in recent years. I ask the Minister if he will bear that in mind. It may be done more easily if these men are trained under the auspices of somebody like the Y.M.C.A. who have young boys from the towns. I have had two on my farm; one was a success and the other was not. It may be easier if they are sponsored by some organisation such as that, rather than by the officers of the county agricultural executive committee. I want the Minister to tell us what he considers to be the best way of training these men to make regular farm workers.

Mr. Tolley (Kidderminster)

I find it difficult to understand the attitude adopted by hon. Members opposite. As I see it, this is another step, and a much needed step, in the right direction of producing those who, after receiving training, will be needed in the tremendous increase in the service which, I believe, will be apparent in the immediate future. We want this service to be one in which those engaged in it are most highly skilled. Why leave out the phrase "by other persons"? Do we not want to increase the scope and the possibilities of giving education and training to people who take up various aspects of agriculture, and this aspect in particular? I ask hon. Members opposite not to press this to a Division because of the need which might exist in the immediate future when there might perhaps be lacking in this service men of skill and knowledge who will be badly needed. The Minister gave an assurance upstairs in connection with this—

Sir T. Dugdale

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but really he has not listened to a word said on this side of the House. The whole purpose of this Amendment is to get more detailed information, because we believe the scheme is such an important one and the House has not had an opportunity of being given information by the Government.

Mr. Tolley

As I read the words in the Amendment put down by hon. Members opposite, they distinctly say—and this is what hon. Members require should happen—"leave out 'by other persons'." Yet I am challenged with not having listened to the Debate so far. The words will just make nonsense.

Captain Crookshank (Gainsborough)

That is often the case when they are not related to the Statute.

Mr. Tolley

Very often, I agree, from that side of the House. It appears to me that there was no need at all for the Opposition to put this Amendment down. In other words, this is only time-wasting.

Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)

I think the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Tolley) for some reason or other—I cannot imagine what—is not being quite fair to my hon. Friends. These words do not make very much difference either way, but a very convenient way of trying to obtain some elucidation, is to put down an Amendment to see whether the words should be left in the Clause or not. So far as I understand, that is the only purpose of this Amendment, and there is no doubt whatever that the Clause needs elucidation.

I ask the Minister to make the Clause clear, because what is envisaged in it, in my submission, means one of three things. First, the Minister is extending the work which already has been going on for quite a while but which can be carried very much further—in other words, the work which is being done by the farm institutes and the county councils. It is possible that that is what is meant. Secondly, he has in mind something to implement the Education Act, 1944, in regard to further training after school. If that is so, no doubt he will be doing what he proposes to do here—whatever it may be—in conjunction with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Education, and, indeed, one hopes that that may be so. On the other hand, the Minister may have a third possibility in mind, which might be a sort of compromise between the two schemes to which I have referred or a dovetailing of them. Let him make it quite plain which of those three things is meant. It is possible that the Bill means all three, but let us know

There is a reference in the Clause to the Treasury and to what is always, I believe, even now, the difficult task of obtaining Treasury sanction. Can the Minister tell us what sort of sums he knows the Treasury are likely to be able to approve within the first 12 months after the passing of this Bill? Without some kind of indication as to the sums involved, to the nearest £50,000, shall we say, it is very difficult to envisage whether the Minister, through this Clause, is merely embarking upon something very small or is embarking upon something very big, as should be done.

There is no doubt that if the high hopes held by hon. Members on all sides of the House for the future of British farming are to be realised, very much training will be necessary. It will not be sufficient—and here I differ slightly from my hon. Friends—merely for a young man to be attached for a period of practical training on a farm. In many cases that is highly desirable, but if the degree of scientific and mechanised farming which is to be aimed at is to be achieved, then I think something in the nature of at least elementary mechanical and scientific training will be needed as well. I think that can be given only at an organised establishment. The Minister, no doubt, has some views upon this matter and we should be interested to hear them.

Colonel Gomne-Duncan (Perth and Kinross, Perth)

In asking the Minister for information on this Clause, I should like to know whether it is a fact—and I presume it is—that a considerable number of these establishments have been established up and down the country. If so, I might, perhaps, very briefly give a note upon what has happened to one of these camps in my own constituency, very nearly next door to myself. On 8th February the Secretary of State for Scotland was asked what were: …the maximum, minimum and present number of inmates in the camp for agricultural workers at Forgandenny, Perthshire; what, since inception, are the equivalent numbers of staff to look after them; and what, since inception, has been the average number of inmates regularly employed on agricultural work outside the camp."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th February, 1949; Vol. 461, c. 186.] That is exactly the type of information which we are hoping to get as a result of moving this Amendment. The figures in this case—and I hope that the Minister, in his reply, can give some happier figures—were that the maximum at any time in that camp since the inception, which was in February, 1948, was only 25. I understand that these boys or young men were drawn from the city of Dundee. No doubt other camps in other parts of the country hope to tap the cities and to attract young men from the cities to agricultural work. The minimum number in the camp at any time was only four and the maximum number of hostel staff employed at any one time was six. At one time there were six staff and four people to be looked after. The average number of agricultural workers hired out to farmers to date—and this is a very important point—was only between eight and nine.

The fact is that that camp, which was well thought-out, and a good little camp, and which had good officials to run it—the man in charge and his staff were good, I think—did not produce what was wanted by the farmers in the countryside. There is no doubt that, with one or two exceptions, the cases of most of those boys must be regarded as complete failures. We all hope to see more people back on the land, and we all hope to see this type of people finding a livelihood on the land, and a way of life in which they can grow up and in which they can do well, but the result of the work in this camp is most depressing. I hope the Minister will be able to give us some figures for some other parts of the country that will be brighter than those for this place.

6.30 p.m.

The reason the farmers were disappointed is not that they did not want the labour, for they wanted it very much, but that this camp had previously had German prisoners of war, who were first-class labourers on the land, and the farmers were hoping to obtain from the new scheme people to take the places of the German prisoners. Unfortunately, the results were not satisfactory. It is no good making any bones about it. There was complete failure in that camp, and it was very irksome to the farmers, to say the least of it, to be compelled to pay the wages for these people and to get such very poor results in work from them. In saying this, I am not saying anything against the staff. I think it is of great importance that we should know what has been the result of these schemes. Have they been a success? Have they been a partial success? Or have they been a failure?

Mr. Vane (Westmorland)

If the right hon. Gentleman is thinking of where these men are to live, I suggest they should not live in hostels and hutted camps, because though there may be more accommodation there, I am sure they are not good places for the trainees. Exceptions apart, I think there are a number of men living in them who will not be the best influence on these new entrants into the industry. I would ask him to bear in mind the districts in England where the living-in system still persists, such as the North-West. It is probably a good one. By that system we put two men together to live with a farmer's family. The system is slowly passing out, but for this purpose I suggest that it is excellent. The trainee can live on the farm and learn part of his job there, and get all the extra tuition from the county farming institute. I am sure that if we build up on the intimate family foundation such as that, instead of an hostel life, it will be much better—so far as the domestic service is concerned, of which we heard strange stories earlier today.

Mr. T. Williams

I hope to be able to clarify the mind of the hon. and gallant Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale) and the minds of other hon. Members at the same time.

Captain Crookshank

And that of the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Tolley) most of all.

Mr. Williams

The words "other persons" in the Clause simply mean that the Minister may either himself provide for training or he can make provision to assist other persons who are carrying on training. In other words, what we had in mind was to continue to do what we had been doing previously, by assisting the Y.M.C.A., who give short periods of training, largely to young lads from urban areas. They have received an Exchequer grant towards the cost. That is exactly what "other persons" means. The approximate cost for each boy trained for agriculture by the Y.M.C.A. is about £20 per annum. We are aiming at something like 1,000 urban boys per annum, assuming that the Y.M.C.A. can cope with that number, and the figures at the moment are running at between 600 and 800 at any time.

I was asked a question about the ex-Service men and that kind of training. That is clearly outside the scope of the Bill. If it is of any interest to hon. Members, however, I can say we have trained 5,000 ex-Service men and women for work on the land, and they are now, I hope, really making good. The hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) asked me about the cost. Had I any idea in mind, he asked. It is clear to me that the hon. Member could not have read the Financial Memorandum fronting the original Bill, for had he done so he would have seen that our estimated expenditure on this service was of the order of £300,000 per annum.

There can be two forms of training. A boy—an urban boy—desiring a rural life can be placed with an approved farmer for a few months, then be engaged permanently by some other farmer, if not retained by the first. Or the boys can be trained by the Y.M.C.A. For adult labour it is not our intention—and it never was our intention—to use hostels. It is our intention to arrange with approved farmers, selected largely by the county agricultural executive committees, the placing of trainees, and we accept responsibility for most of the wages for three months, six months, nine months, until at the end of one year we regard the trainee as a fully trained person. I hope no hostel will be necessary for training of that kind. There will be that intimate, family understanding between the farmer doing the training and the trainee, and we are hoping that because of that intimacy we shall recruit a large number of persons who are anxious for a life on the land.

There remains one other question, that asked me by the hon. and gallant Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan), who spoke about hostels or a hostel in Scotland. Prisoner of war labour or gang labour does not come within the four corners of Clause 8 of the Bill. It is a totally different undertaking altogether from training men from urban areas for a rural life in the manner I have described by sending them to approved farmers, or through the agency of the Y.M.C.A. I hope that the hon. and gallant Member for Richmond will see exactly what these words mean, and will not press his Amendment.

Mr. Baldwin (Leominster)

I am sorry I did not catch your eye, Sir, before the Minister spoke, because I wanted to ask him one question. Are the trainees who come into the industry subject to direction compulsorily to remain in the industry? I am one of those who think that it is quite wrong that a man should be compelled to stay in agriculture if he would rather go to some other work.

Mr. T. Williams

Before the hon. Gentleman proceeds with his directions or suggestions of directions, I think I ought to tell him that there is no intention to direct anybody here.

Mr. Baldwin

What I am trying to get at is this. Can they be compelled to remain in the industry once they come in? Can they be compelled by a control of engagement order, for instance? I think the Minister ought to take the matter up with the Minister of Labour, because this compelling of lads to remain in the, industry if they wish to leave it will stop others from coming along for training. I agree with what has been said from both sides of the House, that we want more people in the industry, and that we also want more of the old, skilled craftsmen. The one thing we are losing from the industry today is the skill of that kind of man, who knows how to do the job and to do it properly. I hope that, when the Minister advises the county committees about where these trainees should be put, he will go a little farther and see that they go not only to competent farmers, but to farms where there are old, skilled craftsmen still left. I think it is well worth while paying those skilled men a certain bonus for the trouble they have to take in teaching other men their jobs.

Captain Crookshank

Can the Minister clear up that point?

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Thomas Fraser)

It is out of Order.

Captain Crookshank

It is not for the hon. Gentleman to tell me whether it is out of Order or not. I know that he knows a great many things, but I prefer to rely upon your directions in this matter, Mr. Speaker.

The point which the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) was making was related to helping the potential training of men and women—because I imagine that girls come into this as well—for work on the land. The position which my hon. Friend was trying to get cleared up concerned what the Minister of Labour called the other night, if I may hark back to another Debate, the "ring fence." In agriculture as in mining, there is a ring fence and those in this industry are allowed to move from one farmer's employ to another, but they may not leave the industry as a whole.

The point is at what stage, if any, does a trainee jump over the fence or into the ring? If he is to be accounted as within the scope of the Control of Engagement Order, and within the ring from the moment he starts his training, it is quite possible that that may be a deterrent, because after a short period of training he may decide that it is not the kind of life he wants. It would probably be better if there were no dubiety about it, and that the ring should not be considered as entered until after a training period. So far, we have not heard about this, one way or another. The House will be grateful to my hon. Friend for having raised the point. I am merely following it up in order to get some reply from the Minister. If he has to consult his right hon. Friend, perhaps he will take some other occasion of allowing us to raise this matter again, such as by giving a reply to an agreed question.

Mr. T. Williams

I can only reply with the leave of the House. The answer is that no person will be tied to the industry while he is passing through a course of training. We may take a number of young men who want to live in rural Britain and become agricultural workers, and it may be that after several months it is found that their physical qualities are not up to it. We certainly should not attempt to hold them within the confines of the industry in that case. I cannot imagine anyone being held in the industry until he is completely trained.

Amendment negatived.