Oral Answers to Questions — Potato Crop, Scotland (Harvesting)

– in the House of Commons on 20th October 1942.

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Photo of Mr William Snadden Mr William Snadden , Kinross and Western

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he is aware that farmers in the Blair Atholl district are unable to secure the help of Italian prisoners of war for potato lifting, although there is a large camp in that neighbourhood, and in view of the great importance of this crop, will he take steps to have these prisoners made available immediately?

Photo of Mr Thomas Johnston Mr Thomas Johnston , Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire Western

I understand that help has now been given, and the Perthshire Agricultural Executive Committee are satisfied. As many of the prisoners as could be spared temporarily from the Ministry of Supply's work have been made available.

Photo of Mr William Snadden Mr William Snadden , Kinross and Western

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the County of Perth and elsewhere in Scotland thousands of tons of potatoes will be lost unless we do something to get the labour; and is he further aware that the arrangements with regard to Italian prisoners of war are considered to be unsatisfactory?

Photo of Mr Thomas Johnston Mr Thomas Johnston , Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire Western

No, Sir, my answer dealing with Perthshire says that agricultural executive committees are satisfied with the arrangements that have been made.

Photo of Mr William Snadden Mr William Snadden , Kinross and Western

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what arrangements have been made by his Department in regard to the employment of Italian prisoners of war during the potato harvest; and is he satisfied with the position in this respect?

Photo of Mr Thomas Johnston Mr Thomas Johnston , Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire Western

Arrangements have been made through agricultural executive committees whereby all possible prisoner of war labour in Scotland is being, and will continue to be, fully employed on essential operations during the harvesting period.

Photo of Mr William Snadden Mr William Snadden , Kinross and Western

Cannot the right hon. Gentleman do something to get into contact with the producers, as at present so many formalities have to be gone through? They have to go to the county committee, then somewhere else, and finally to the prisoners of war camp, and the potato harvest is over before the matter is dealt with.

Photo of Mr Thomas Johnston Mr Thomas Johnston , Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire Western

That is directly contrary to the information in my possession, and if the hon. Gentleman will see me afterwards about it, I will show him evidence to the effect that the agricultural executive committees are thoroughly satisfied with the arrangements that have been made.

Photo of Sir Thomas Hunter Sir Thomas Hunter , Perth

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he is aware of the concern expressed throughout Perthshire and neighbouring counties regarding the scarcity of labour to lift the potato crop which is in danger of being ruined by frost; that the exemption of schoolchildren is unsatisfactory; and whether he will consider the closing of schools for a fortnight or three weeks in order to overcome the objection of parents that children who volunteer to assist in potato gathering will be handicapped in their educational progress compared with those who continue to be taught?

Photo of Mr Thomas Johnston Mr Thomas Johnston , Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire Western

After inquiry, I am satisfied that the agricultural executive committees for the areas mentioned, acting in close co-operation with the respective education authorities and school management committees, have made and are making adequate arrangements for ensuring that the potato crops will be gathered in good time.

Photo of Sir Thomas Hunter Sir Thomas Hunter , Perth

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the County of Fife, where the agricultural executive asked for 300 senior children, 250 of them volunteered to go and help in the harvest, despite the advice of the headmaster that they should not do it and that education was much more important than the feeding of the children?

Photo of Mr Thomas Johnston Mr Thomas Johnston , Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire Western

My information is that in Perth County 45 per cent. of the whole crop has already been lifted, in Angus 50 per cent., and in Fife the agricultural executive committee are satisfied that, with the labour resources available now, the crop will be lifted at the appropriate time.

Photo of Sir Thomas Hunter Sir Thomas Hunter , Perth

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that no later than yesterday a number of very important producers of potatoes informed me that there are hundreds of acres in Perthshire which have not yet been touched, and that there is not a bit of labour in the district?

Photo of Mr William Snadden Mr William Snadden , Kinross and Western

What is the good of producing record crops if you cannot lift them?

Photo of Mr Thomas Johnston Mr Thomas Johnston , Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire Western

We have agricultural executive committees, composed very largely of skilled farmers, and if they give us information to the effect that they are satisfied that the arrangements already made are sufficient to enable the crops to be lifted, I am afraid we must take their advice.

Photo of Sir Thomas Hunter Sir Thomas Hunter , Perth

The right hon. Gentleman should come up to Perth and meet the farmers in the Perth market.