HC Deb 07 July 1955 vol 543 cc1272-3
1. Mr. Hale

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he proposes to take to stop the diminution of agricultural labour supply which has taken place over the last four years.

8. Mr. C. Hughes

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he is taking to halt the continued drift of agricultural workers from the land.

14. Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food by how much the number of agricultural workers has fallen during the past three years; and what steps he is taking to remedy the shortage.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. D. Heathcoat Amory)

I would refer the hon. Members to the reply which I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, Central (Sir F. Medlicott) on 20th June. The number of regular farm workers in England and Wales fell from 554,000 in June, 1951, to 505,000 in June, 1954.

Mr. Hale

Does not the right hon. Gentleman regard this as a serious state of affairs, and does he not think that some attention should be given to agriculture north of the Sahara? Should he not bear in mind the necessity for maintaining employment in this vital British industry?

Mr. Amory

I think it is a most important question, but it is a matter that we must keep in perspective. We must remember that during the time that the total of manpower has been falling—it has been falling over a considerable number of years—net output has been steadily increasing. The whole policy of the present Government is aimed at ensuring a strong and productive agricultural industry capable of holding its own in competition.

Mr. Hughes

Does the Minister not agree that many more men would go on to the land and stay on the land if there were better prospects for them to have farms of their own? Could he say what steps the Government are taking to enable farm workers to have some prospects of obtaining smallholdings or farms of their own?

Mr. Amory

I agree that that is a most important aspect of the problem, but I am afraid it is not one that I can answer in reply to a Question like this. It is something of which I hope we shall always take account when we have an agricultural debate. The hon. Gentleman knows the provisions that are made already for smallholdings.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that we are heading for disaster unless at some time or other this drift from the land is checked? As an immediate contribution to the solution of this problem, would the right hon. Gentleman press for the complete exemption from National Service of all farm workers, putting them on the same basis as the Merchant Navy?

Mr. Amory

That last aspect of the matter should be addressed to my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Labour, because that is his responsibility. On the general question of the drift from the land, I would remind the hon. and gallant Gentleman that the year in which the drift was greatest was 1950–51.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

Would my right hon. Friend not agree that it was Socialist legislation which militated so much against the farmer getting his own farm, under the provisions of the 1947 Act?