HC Deb 26 October 1954 vol 531 cc1737-9
16. Mr. Carmichael

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland the number of school children who were engaged on potato harvesting this year from Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Dundee, respectively; and the number from each authority who were from senior secondary schools and fee-paying schools, respectively.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

The harvesting of the potato crop is not yet complete. The latest information is that 1,544 Glasgow children went from junior secondary schools, 108 from senior secondary schools and none from fee-paying schools. Seven hundred and thirty-nine Edinburgh children went from junior secondary schools, 46 from senior secondary schools and 537 from fee-paying schools. Three thousand, three hundred and seventy-two Dundee children went from junior secondary schools, 430 from senior secondary schools and four from fee-paying schools.

Mr. Carmichael

About two years ago the Minister indicated that steps were being taken to abolish potato harvesting by children from the big towns. Can the hon. Gentleman say what progress has been made? He will understand from the figures he has given today that the great majority of children who take part in potato harvesting are those whose education will stop at 15 years of age. It is a very serious handicap to put these children to potato harvesting.

Mr. Stewart

No child goes unless it volunteers to go, or its parents volunteer for it to go, so there is no compulsion about the matter. Secondly, I would point out that the numbers of children used in the potato fields have steadily fallen in recent years, and look like continuing to fall.

Mr. Woodburn

Can the hon. Member say what progress has been made in finding a harvesting machine capable of dealing with Scottish soils, because this whole question hinges on the invention of such a machine?

Mr. Stewart

I have been into this question very carefully, and I am sorry to say that we have not found such a machine. Some machines are very good for soil without stones, but the universal machine has not yet been discovered.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

Is my hon. Friend aware that the happiness and good health of these children as a result of this excellent work, have to be seen to be believed?

Mr. Ross

Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that these junior schools are those causing most problems educationally, and that it is most unfair for this kind of school to have its pupils raided annually for this purpose? Can he tell us how long on an average those children are away from school, because I believe that in some cases there has been an extension for yet another three weeks?

Mr. Stewart

It is difficult to give average figures. Some are away much less, some a week, some a fortnight. In Perth and Angus, on account of the exceptionally bad weather, the local authorities have, I think generously, extended the period of exemption. In the circumstances, I am afraid that we cannot do anything but use the labour of the children for the time being.

Mr. Bence

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in the Soviet Union I myself saw a potato harvesting machine which harvests potatoes efficiently in all kinds of soil? Is he really telling us that our technicians and engineers are incapable of producing such a machine? If this labour is very cheap, I can understand why certain people are not interested in an expensive machine, but do not let the hon. Gentleman try to tell us that such a machine cannot be devised, because I have seen one.

Mr. Stewart

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it is not a matter of expense. The best technicians of our country are examining this problem but have not yet found a machine. If the hon. Gentleman has information about a Soviet machine, it is his duty to let us know all about it.