HC Deb 18 March 1952 vol 497 cc2086-8
8. Mr. Gilbert Longden

asked the Minister of Labour if he will exempt from National Service all persons who work on the land.

Sir W. Monckton

No, Sir.

Mr. Longden

Will not my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the vital necessity of growing as much food as we can is being endangered by shortage of labour, especially in the Southern counties? As presumably agricultural labourers will be exempt in the event of an emergency, could he not do something to prevent their call-up now?

Sir W. Monckton

What I am asked in the Question is whether I will exempt all persons who work on the land. I could not exempt them if I wanted to, but it would not be right to defer them automatically in that manner. There are any number of other employments for which special cases can be made out. At present we are getting from the land no more than about 10,000 in the year out of a force which, taking farmers into account, amounts to something like 900,000. I do not feel I could do more at the moment.

13. Major Tufton Beamish

asked the Minister of Labour what categories of farm workers are eligible for consideration for deferment of call-up from National Service; and if he will now extend the definition so as to ensure that all farm workers who are liable for National Service have the right to apply for deferment.

Sir W. Monckton

Men employed on farms with not more than two regular whole-time male workers of 17 or over, in addition to a working principal or manager, and men on other farms employed substantially whole-time as fully experienced cowmen or shepherds. This definition is reviewed from time to time, but I could not, as at present advised, hold out any expectation that I could go as far as my hon. and gallant Friend suggests.

Major Beamish

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the dividing line between those who are eligible for consideration for deferment and those who are not appears to have no rhyme or reason about it at all, and that, unless he can amend the regulations, there is bound to be quite a lot of dislocation of agricultural production?

Sir W. Monckton

It is quite true to say that it is very difficult to draw a precise line logically, but it was hoped that the line that has been drawn would mean that the position would be safeguarded in cases where a young man's loss would be particularly felt because he was one of three or four men working on a holding full-time and regularly and could not easily be replaced. So the line was drawn where it is.

Captain J. A. L. Duncan

Would my right hon. and learned Friend consider the total deferment of agricultural workers for the next two months so that the spring work can all be done?

Sir W. Monckton

I think that there are difficulties about that, but I am prepared to consider my hon. and gallant Friend's suggestion. I cannot go further than that now.

Mr. Gerald Nabarro

Can my right hon. and learned Friend assure the House that the persons who are asked to serve on the deferment boards are indeed men and women who have a reasonable working knowledge of the agricultural industry and are not people who have never been in touch with it before?

Sir W. Monckton

I think that that does raise a quite different question. It is one which we constantly have in mind. I think I can say that in general, both in the past and now, steps have been taken to ensure that agricultural interests are represented adequately.

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