HL Deb 01 October 1942 vol 124 cc517-20

THE EARL OF MANSFIELD also had the following question on the Paper: To ask His Majesty's Government, whether they are aware that the harvesting of crops is being endangered in various areas by the temporary removal on manoeuvres of troops hitherto engaged in assisting with harvest operations, for whom no substitute labour can be found; and whether they will forthwith investigate the position.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I must apologize for the very short notice which I have given my noble friend Lord Croft of this question, but the matter only came before me very recently. It is a very urgent matter as affecting the harvest, particularly in Central Scotland. We have had, both last year and this, a great deal of very valuable assistance from soldiers. We have had active cooperation from nearly all units stationed in the different areas. This help, which has been absolutely essential in view of the greatly increased acreage under crops and this year especially because of the very bountiful harvest, is now quite indispensable. Unfortunately, for certain reasons which are not clear to the layman, the military authorities have seen fit to send various units bucketing up and down the length and breadth of the country during the period of the harvest. They have been moved at very short notice thereby gravely affecting the speed of the gathering in of the crops. Now this year the hay harvest has run into the corn harvest and the corn harvest has run into the potato harvest. The acreage under potatoes is now some thousands greater than it was before. Our position is going to be very difficult indeed unless we can secure an adequate supply of soldier labour.

Though it may be deemed necessary by the authorities, it does seem a great waste, not only of time, but also of petrol, tyres, etc., to have these troop movements by road all over the country when there is so much hill and moorland available for military training. One has known not merely of battalions but of brigades, and occasionally even of divisions, being sent long distances. I would like the War Office to get into touch with the Ministry of Agriculture in this country, if that is necessary, and certainly with the Department in Scotland, about this matter and take steps to see if units, which have been assisting in the harvest, may be kept in those areas and may be made available for work now so as to ensure that the potato crops are safely gathered in. It would seem that this scheme for giving assistance to farmers is not entirely known to many officers commanding units. In my own area I know that when certain commanding officers were approached they professed to know nothing of the scheme. I must say, though, that they did not seem unwilling to help. I do not, of course, ask for an answer now—that would be unreasonable. But I hope that the noble Lord will bring the position as soon as possible to the notice of the Department.


My Lords, in answer to my noble friend, I most certainly will bring what he has said before the Department, and I thank him for the very reasonable way in which he has made that request. I should like to tell him that so far no complaint has come to the War Office about the arrangements made for the loan of soldiers to assist in the harvesting of crops. This is the first occasion on which we have heard any criticism at all. It was agreed between the Ministries that Army Council Instruction 1655/42 should be published, in which it is stated, in paragraph 2 (c), that the loan of soldiers to assist farmers in harvesting or other agricultural work will be subject to urgent operational training requirements, and that personnel will be made available for loan only on a day-to-day basis from units in the vicinity of the farm. Although the facts were not before me, and it does not alter my determination to look into the whole matter, it may be that owing to the length of the harvest, as explained by my noble friend, there may have been units on the spot which could not, in the opinion of the military authorities concerned, have been retained there for any length of time. I do not know whether that is the answer, and I shall certainly make inquiries.

With regard to the other point, I have had no notice of any formation which has been training in any particular part of Scotland, and I cannot give my noble friend the reason for which he asks, beyond saying that we are taking steps as far as possible to train units in every possible area of the country, so that in case of military operations in the future they will be familiar with the topography.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord very much for his reply. Some of the troop movements to which I have referred have been going on since the beginning of August, and therefore it cannot be held that the mere prolongation of the harvest has led to the taking away of the troops; it happened early in the harvest as well as later.