Potato Lifting (Child Labour)

Oral Answers to Questions — Scotland – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th May 1950.

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Photo of Mr James Carmichael Mr James Carmichael , Glasgow Bridgeton 12:00 am, 9th May 1950

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland the number of school children he expects to be employed in this year's potato lifting in Scotland; the average age of the children; the number of school hours which will be lost by each child; and when he hopes to discontinue this form of child labour.

Mr. McNeil:

As the answer is necessarily lengthy and involves figures, I propose with permission to circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Photo of Mr James Carmichael Mr James Carmichael , Glasgow Bridgeton

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether his mind is set in the direction of stopping, and whether he will consider the possibility of stopping, children of school age from going out harvesting in school time every year?

Mr. McNeil:

I assure my hon. Friend that I do feel concerned at the interruption of normal education by such methods as this. That is quite distinct from the anxiety I share to get city children into the country. However, while I share my hon. Friend's general concern, I must in all honesty say that I cannot hold out hopes to him for the immediate—or anything like the immediate—future.

Photo of Mr William Snadden Mr William Snadden , Kinross and West Perthshire

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the greatly increased acreage of potatoes in Scotland cannot be harvested without the help of these children?

Mr. McNeil:

I am quite aware of that and quite concerned.

Following is the reply:

About 50,000–55,000 school children will be required to assist in lifting the Scottish potato crop this year. They will be distributed approximately as follows:

School children
Local children38,000
Billeted children4,000
Children transported daily from towns8,000

The average age of the children will be about 14 years. Over one-quarter will lose no school time, since they will be employed during school holidays; the rest will lose periods varying widely from a few days to about three weeks, with a prescribed normal maximum of 80 hours of school time.

In the light of the report of the Harvest Labour Committee, a copy of which I am sending my hon. Friend, it is clear that assistance from school children will be needed on a substantial scale for at least some years to come.