§ Whereupon Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 13th February, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ Mr. ROCH
I wish to take this opportunity to call the attention of the representative of the Ministry of National Service to the way in which agricultural labour is being called up in the county of Pembroke under the new combing-out which is taking place. First of all, the hon. Member is, of course, aware that the combing-out in question has mainly affected the men of eighteen to twenty- 2495 three who are at work on the farms, and he is also aware that, as the effect of the administrative Orders which now exist, none of these men are able to appeal to the Appeal Committee unless they have the sanction and permission of the war agricultural committee. In this case I am told that the war agricultural committee took very great pains indeed, not with the object of exempting men, but really to try and see how many men they could get for the Ministry of National Service, having due regard to the interests of the farmers in the locality, and, after considerable pains, they made the recommendation as to the men who were entitled to appeal. It was unfortunate in the case of the Appeal Committee that there were three members of that committee who were also members of the war agricultural committee, and I think most unfortunately the Local Government Board, for which my hon. Friend, of course, is not responsible, issued a decree that those members who were members of the war agricultural committee and also the Appeal Committee should not sit on the appeals at all. The history of these appointments is this: when the original Appeal Committee was formed there were not a sufficient number of representatives of agriculture placed upon it. I went to some trouble in the matter, and ultimately, by taking advantage of an adjournment on a night such as this, I was able to induce the President of the Local Government Board, in the interests of agriculture and of fair representation, to allow those three representatives of agriculture to be added; but, under the decree of the Local Government Board, the farmers in this county have been denied the right of having their special representatives on the Appeal Committee at all. I think it most unfortunate, because the war agricultural committee sit in no way as a judicial body, and in no way pass judgment, and, after great pains, gave a recommendation that these men should have a hearing. I think it was most unfortunate that they were not able to sit on the Appeal Committee, so as to give their knowledge and experience of agriculture in helping the Appeal Committee to come to a wise decision. That is 'a special reason, upon which I lay very great emphasis, why I ask my hon. Friend to see if he can take any steps to deal with the difficulty that has arisen.
2496 The second point I would like to make is this. I am informed that the quota of men which it was suggested should be raised from agriculture was 30,000 for this year, and I am told, as the result of the comb-out, that that quota has been exceeded by between 3,000 and 4,000 men, so that the recent requirements laid down by his Department have been exceeded in the sparsely populated counties in which the main industry is agriculture. There is one point which I do not think the National Service Ministry have recognised in this drastic comb-out. The effect of their administration has been that there has been a rigid comb-out of all the men between eighteen and twenty-three on the farms, and that has worked in the most ludicrously unfair way as between different farmers. In some cases the farmers have been left with the whole of their available labour. In other cases the whole of the labour has been taken away, and that is not the fault of the farmer. It so happens that some farms on well-managed estates have ample cottage accommodation, and are, therefore, able to house the older married men and get their labour, whereas a lot of the small farms have no accommodation whatever, and they are precluded from getting the older men who are married, and are, therefore, practically tied down to the labour of young men between eighteen and twenty-three. I have had scores of cases put before me, and I am not selecting isolated ones. I will give just two typical cases put before me during the past week. Here is a farm of just under 200 acres. It has 70 acres under the plough, of which 25 acres are additional, ordered by the war agricultural committee to be broken up in view of national necessity. The man who farms it is a widower. He had three hands beside himself, two being under twenty-three and one an older man. Both those have been taken, and he is left with this farm of 200 acres, 70 being under the plough, with seventy cattle and between forty and fifty ewes and lambs, and only one man beside himself who is able to look after the farm. I would put it to the hon. Gentleman, who represents an agricultural constituency himself, that that farm cannot be carried on with that labour.
I will give a worse case still. It is again a typical one of several put before me. Here is a farm of just under 150 acres, 55 of which are arable and 30 of which have been ordered to be ploughed 2497 up this year. The way in which men have been called up leaves this man without any labour of any kind on his farm. He is left to handle that farm entirely by himself, and he has, in addition to the 60 acres of arable land, thirty-eight cattle, sixty sheep, and fourteen horses, many of which are young ones, which it is necessary to break for purposes connected with the Army, and there is literally no one on the farm except himself and wife, and his father and mother, the father being aged eighty-five and the mother seventy-one. Those, as I have said, are typical cases which have arisen. I can assure my hon. Friend that there is a great amount of feeling in the locality that the farmers are not being fairly treated. They have been asked to alter their whole course of agriculture. They have been asked to plough up additional acres—in a very drastic way in some cases; far beyond what, in many cases, I think it was wise to do. We had all kinds of assurances when we were asked to carry out this ploughing that fair consideration should be given to their claims for that labour necessary to reap the fruits of the earth. I can assure my hon. Friend there is a very, very great feeling of unrest and disquietude at the way they have been treated. My hon. Friend knows that farmers are not men who are readily got to public meetings. I am told, however, that in a not very large town a meeting of very nearly 1,000 of them were called, and that those assembled gave very strong expression to the views which they held at the way they have been treated. I think I can say that they will consider, in the way I have presented their case, that I have been most unduly mealy-mouthed.
These are the main points. It is not my wish to prevent the Ministry of National Service getting the men which we all appreciate are vitally necessary. What we want them to do is to get the men in the wisest and the best way, and in a way which will not interfere with things which, under contingencies which may arise this year, may be almost more vitally necessary to this country than even the raising of a few thousand men from the agricultural districts. I will make a suggestion to my hon. Friend that I think will meet the case. I have been down in the locality myself, and so far as I can ascertain the War Agricultural Executive Committee really dealt most fairly and equitably with the cases 2498 they recommended for the right of appeal. I believe their recommendations would have been a fair solution in the interests of the Ministry represented by my hon. Friend and of the agricultural interests which also arc involved. I would ask him in the cases whore these recommendations have been made by the war agricultural committee to reconsider those cases himself, or through a representative. At all events, I do beg of him to delay the calling up of these men who have been so recommended until the harvest is over. The harvest is coming, and it is a most vital thing to keep the good temper, good humour, and good spirits of the farmer in view of his great exertions and of the anxious times which lie before him. That is my first suggestion—to cancel the notices calling up these young men until, at all events, the harvest. That will, I think I can assure him, only mean a few hundred men in an industry which has already exceeded by several thousands the quota which he reasonably thought he could require from it. I make this further suggestion, let him, in selecting these men, not fix the age rigidly at from eighteen to twenty-three, let him fix it at, say, from eighteen to thirty-one, and then get the wider selection. This will be far fairer as between the different farms, and it will get you the men required with far less dislocation of industry, and, I believe, with the good-will of the farmers; in a way also which, I think, will not be detrimental to the interests which my hon. Friend represents here.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of NATIONAL SERVICE (Mr. Beck)
I should like to thank my hon. Friend for the extremely mode rate and clear way in which he has brought this matter forward. As the House knows, the Ministry of National Service works on decentralised lines—that is to say, our activities are controlled by eleven regional officers, who look after what is necessary to be done in their particular areas. It has not been possible, in the short time since I received notice of this matter, to look into the particular case of Pembrokeshire very fully. But I can inform my hon. Friend that not only have I heard his speech, but I will read it again to look over the points which he has brought forward, so as to see that they are most carefully investigated. Perhaps the House will allow me for a very few moments to 2499 explain the methods by which this agricultural quota is obtained, not only in Pembrokeshire, but throughout the country. First of all, I would make this point, that this quota is obtained by agreement with the Board of Agriculture, and really through the machinery chosen by the Board of Agriculture. I do not, of course, for a moment wish to pretend that the Board of Agriculture joyously saw men taken off the land, but they were convinced when the great emergency came, that it was necessary for us to obtain some more Grade I men from agriculture. Therefore, a quota was agreed upon of 30,000 young men, Grade 1, for England and Wales, and 5,500 for Scotland. The quota in Pembrokeshire is 375. How do we obtain these men? First of all we obtain them by what is called the "clean-cut policy." This clean-cut policy is, roughly speaking, applied almost ruthlessly throughout to the young men of the country, except to those in shipyards, coal-mines, and port labour. This is what happens in agriculture. These young men, though their compeers really lose all their rights except a very narrow personal appeal to the tribunal, these young men from agriculture, from eighteen to twenty-three, first of all are allowed to proceed to the war agricultural committee, which has the fullest local knowledge of the circumstances, and they can ask that committee to allow them to go to the County Appeal Tribunal. That right is not possessed by any other class of young men of this age, and these young men are of Grade 1. In Wales out of 5,071 young men who are affected by the Proclamation, I find that 4,011 have been granted leave to go to the County Appeal Tribunal. Having obtained this class of young men, from eighteen to twenty-three, if the quota is complete, if, say, in Pembrokeshire you get all the young men you want, then Pembrokeshire is finished with so far as agriculture is concerned, and the rest engaged in agriculture can be absolutely protected by the County Agricultural Committee. If, however, you do not get a sufficient number of young men by the clean-cut method we come to the second men from which the remainder of the quota is to be obtained. We turn to Grade 1 men up to the age of thirty-one. The war agricultural committees were asked to prepare lists of such men by 12th June. The men who appear in such 2500 a list—and they have been warned if they are in Grade 1 and under thirty-one—that they are likely to appear there—may go first of all to the local tribunal and then to the Appeal Tribunal, and appeal on every ground except that of occupation. They cannot appeal as agricultural labourers. They may, however, appeal as persons suffering hardship, or on conscientions grounds; on every ground except occupational. The quotas have to be obtained by 30th June. I do not wish for a moment to say that I minimise in the least degree the difficulties of farmers under the conditions outlined by my hon. Friend, but really, in view of the great emergency in which this country now finds itself, in view of the vital necessity in the armed forces for these young grade men, I do not think agriculture can consider it is unfairly treated. Agriculture has no more vigilant guardian than the Board of Agriculture, and I maintain that as compared with other young men the young men in agricultural pursuits have exceptional opportunities for putting any particular hardship which may affect them as individuals. These are all Grade 1 men under thirty-one, in many cases they would be much younger, and I cannot really hold out any hope that we can depart from the most elaborate arrangements and bargainings which are represented by the machinery which I have tried to explain. I cannot agree with my hon. Friend that it can in any sense be called a severe comb-out. In Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire there are 4,300 men under thirty-one years of age, and under the quota system 875 will be obtained. I agree that they are all Grade 1 men, whereas the 4,300 are of all grades, but, leaving out entirely all the men over thirty-one, of the men under thirty-one only one in five will be taken by the quota system in these two counties in Wales.
As my hon. Friend has reminded me, and I do not want reminding, I have the honour to sit for an agricultural constituency, and nobody realises more fully than I do, or more fully than the Ministry which I have the honour to represent, that the farmers are working under very considerable difficulty, but so are other people, and I think we can safely appeal to the patriotism of farmers to help us to obtain this quota by the most easy and smooth methods. As regards Wales, I dare say the conditions are 2501 difficult in regard to small farms, but Wales has made extraordinarily small use so far of the trained women. Wales herself trained a number of agricultural women and could not absorb them, and those women who were trained in Wales for Welsh agriculture have actually had to be sent into England in order that their services may be utilised.
§ Mr. BECK
At any rate, there have been quite a number of cases in Wales, but I do not insist upon that point. I want to appeal to the Welsh farmers to do their utmost to realise that there is a crisis. They know quite well that in regard to military service we protected agriculture for two years, and it is only when the emergency caused by the state of affairs in France arose that this extra quota was asked for from agriculture. The hardships are undoubtedly great, but we must support our Armies in the field. I am afraid the delay my hon. Friend asks for, which we should like to give, cannot be granted. I may say that we had no intention of drawing these men from agriculture until this crisis arose in France, but if there is anything that is vital it is that we should get the largest possible number of these Grade I men under thirty-one as soon' as we possibly can.
An hon. Member mentioned harvesting. I have the authority of the President of the Board of Agriculture for saying that he believes the arrangements the Ministry of National Service and the Board of Agriculture have been able to make will place an adequate, if not an ample, supply of labour at the disposal of farmers for the harvest time. I can assure the farmers of this country that the most earnest consideration is being given to this question, which is absolutely vital to our security, and that every conceivable means of reinforcing agricultural labour on the land during the harvesting period is being 2502 adopted. We believe we can rely upon the patriotism of farmers, in spite of the many annoyances to which they arc put, and I hope the farmers will believe me when I say that there is no question more earnestly being considered and more elaborately worked out than the provision of ample harvest labour for the coming harvest.
§ Mr. HINDS
I did not know that my hon. Friend the Member for Pembrokeshire (Mr. Roch) was bringing up this question to-night, but I wish to say a word or two with regard to the adjoining county of Carmarthenshire. My hon. Friend has referred to a large meeting of farmers representing Welsh counties, in which they passed a resolution of protest in regard to this question. I want to support the contention that more time should be given to these men to adjust themselves to these new circumstances. The Parliamentary Secretary has just told us that there were 4,300called up under this Order, and out of those 4,011 obtained the authority of the war agricultural committees to appeal.
§ Mr. HINDS
I was present at the first meeting, at which so many of these men were present, and it was held just after the day of the great offensive, and the men composing those tribunals were impressed with the news in the papers. I do not want to keep the men of twenty-three back if we can get labour to take their place. The farmers have been promised that if they put their proper quota of land under the plough labour will be forthcoming to see the harvest gathered in. Here we are to-day in June. I made a request the other day that a representative of these men should be received by the Ministry of National Service and that representative went on Monday last and he got his answer to the effect that these men would be given a certain time up to the 20th June before they would be called up. I asked a question in the House in order to get the matter in black and white, and in this House the representative of the Ministry of National Service turned his representative down in his answer.
§ Mr. BECK
I really do not think the hon. Member ought to say that. I asked the official concerned, and he said they had some difficulty at arriving at an 2503 understanding, but he did not make such a promise, and there is some misunderstanding. I know his views on other questions and he could not have given such an undertaking because it is contrary to our own policy.
§ Mr. HINDS
That is what the deputation understood, but, if they were wrong. then I am sorry. Wales is a very different place to other parts of the country because it is so hilly, and you must take all these matters into consideration when you are deciding a matter of this kind. My hon. Friend has referred to a combination for getting women to help on the land. We cannot get women to help on the land, because we have not proper accommodation for them on the land.
There are other circumstances which the Department ought to take into view. We do not want to keep these A1 men of twenty-three on the land if we can get other people in their places, but the harvest commences next week, when we shall be getting in the hay. It is all very well to keep promising that men will be forthcoming; we want something to-day. We want an assurance given to these men who have put their land under the plough and have done it loyally. It may be said that my county, as well as Pembrokeshire, has done its best. We know that the military situation is very serious, and that men must be got. In 1914 and 1915 men went out from the farms voluntarily to help the military machine in different parts of the world. To-day the men on the farms are reduced to the very lowest ebb. Labour was very short before the War. We could not then get enough labour to carry on the farms properly. We are near to a big industrial district which offers high wages. We have munition works and collieries near to us which take the men from the farms. There are many cases in which injustice has been done, and some cases in which the farmer has been taken and the labourer left. We get many letters of complaint of great hardship, and all we ask is that these farmers shall be given a little time to adjust themselves to circumstances. I think it is a most reasonable thing to ask, but the Department say, "No; these men must come up by the 12th under the Proclamation." The thing is so sudden that they are not prepared, and hence the disquietude that there is all over the country. I hope, even after what the Parliamentary 2504 Secretary has said, that he will once more reconsider the matter and grant a little time to these men to adjust their circumstances, giving them some assurance, not in a month's time but now, that labour will be forthcoming to get in their harvest.
§ 9 0 P.M
§ Sir J. SPEAR
I am sorry that I was engaged writing letters and did not hear the early part of the speech of the hon. Member (Mr. Beck), but the question under discussion was so important that I must make a few remarks. I hope to show him that if agriculturists represent to the Government the danger of removing so many men from agriculture it is not from any lack of patriotism on the part of the farmers. Indeed, the way in which farmers have revolutionised their system in response to the Government's appeal to grow more food is strong evidence that they are loyal in doing all that can be done to win this War, and we know that food is a very potent element towards winning the War. We do recognise, after what has happened in France, the great necessity of taking all available men possible to reinforce the Army, but last night we were debating the fact that the Government had destroyed 100 acres of corn in order to obtain land absolutely necessary for the due equipment of Army requisites, and if strong feeling was shown as it was shown last night at the destruction of that corn, surely we who are growing corn all over the country would be lacking in our duty if we did not impress upon the Government the necessity of making full provision for harvesting the corn which to an enormously increased extent is being grown. I would appeal to the hon. Member to do all that he can to co-operate with the farmers in their endeavour to safeguard and secure the crops for the food of the people. I know that the difficulty is great. I am aware that there are cases in which every man has been taken from the farm. I put a case before my hon. Friend to-day which I hope he has received. It was a case from near Tavistock, in which a man, occupying some thirty acres and having a considerable head of cattle, has been called up, and in which no one has been left on the farm. I know another case in which a man had to sell the whole of his stock a fortnight ago because he had no one to leave. He was of military age and was called up. That is a very serious step 2505 to take. There is another case in the parish of Bere Ferris in which a young farmer, the only one on the farm, is being taken. I would appeal to the hon. Gentleman that an order should be issued to tribunals that in no case should a farm be left without a horseman. There are plenty of cases I know in which the only available horseman on the farm has been taken. That is an extremely serious step, and I do think that directions should be issued to the tribunals pointing out that except under dire circumstances no farm should be left without a manager or a horseman. I think the tribunals would respect that representation from the Government. I know how difficult it is for members of the Government to over-ride the decisions of tribunals. It is a very delicate matter. A large number of men have given extremely valuable services on the tribunals, and I admit that it would be disconcerting and unjust unthinkingly to over-ride their decisions, but cases do occur in which the public has a right to appeal to the Government and in which the Government can make representations that would correct mistakes. I brought to my hon. Friend's notice this week a case in which a young man was called up, and after he was called up his mother was taken ill and had to have an operation, and his younger brother of fifteen was injured by the horses running away. The farmer was in very ill-health, and I appealed to my hon. Friend that it was a case in which representations should be made to the Army authorities. No one asserts that the tribunal made a mistake, but circumstances have happened since the man was called up which have made it a cruel thing that he should be taken away and the farm neglected.
§ Sir J. SPEAR
I know that he was allowed to go to the tribunal on appeal, but I am speaking of what has occurred since the tribunal's decision. When these occurrences take place after the decision of the tribunals we have a right to come to the Government and ask them to intervene. That is in no way disrespectful to the tribunal and prevents an injustice feeing done. I have had a letter from one district to-day which says,I forward this specific and typical case of a 300 acres farm with 100 acres of corn, 14 acres of roots, 11 horses, about 60 cattle, 12 milking cows, and nearly 200 sheep, with a young master 2506 only left in charge. The only other help available is an invalid father of seventy-two, suffering from heart disease, and a discharged brother staying with them receiving 16s. 6d. disablement allowance.In that case it is impossible that the crops on the farm can be safeguarded in the interests of the public. I heard with pleasure the assurance that men will be provided for harvesting purposes, but I do not know where they are coming from. That is not my business. I know that when quite recently a person spoke to me on the matter I told him that he must apply for soldiers, and he said, "I have. There is none to be got." That is a very serious position to be in with harvest close upon us and men being taken away to this extent. So far as we can ascertain, there are no men available to take their places. While farmers are prepared to do their duty they ask that extremely careful discrimination shall be exercised with regard to the men who are taken. I am sure that farmers will do their very best. They have done it all along. If it had not been for their courage patriotism, and perseverance during thirty years' depression, we should be in a very serious state to-day through the lack of food. The farmers are anxious to do all they can, but they want the Government to show a keen appreciation of the difficulties of the situation, and to leave them as many men as they possibly can, consistent with the number required to win the War. There are cases occurring which require consideration. Where I live in Devonshire there is a dairy farmer who has had two sons taken. The second was taken only a fortnight ago. The farmer is ill. I have made an appeal that this young man might be allowed to come home for a month or six weeks during his father's illness. The Army would not suffer if it met a special case of that kind. It is to the Government we have to look for considerate treatment in such cases. The farmer wants his boy back for about a month until the hay harvest is over. It ought to be in the power of the Government to meet such a reasonable request.
§ Sir J. SPEAR
I will give the hon. Gentleman full particulars. The boy is in England. He only joined up a fortnight ago. His father was ill when he went away, but, of course, he had to respond 2507 to the call. Many such cases as that occur. We simply ask that the Government should deal with them in a considerate spirit. The Army will not suffer by it. It will encourage agriculturists very much to know that the Government sympathise with them in the difficulties which have arisen through no fault of their own, difficulties they are combating with courage and patriotism. It is necessary that no farm should be left without a head, except in a very few cases, indeed, should a farm be left without a horseman. With the head on the farm, a capable horseman, women's help, and soldiers' help, when it comes, we shall be able to carry on. Even if soldier help is available it is of very little use compared with that of the trained agricultural labourer. A great deal has been said about farmers' sons holding back. I do not wish to shield farmers' sons any more than the sons of other people, but; 2508 they have a practical knowledge of farming, they know the nature of the farm, and if farmers have held on to them it has not been through lack of patriotism, but with the conviction that they were best suited to accomplish the purpose which we all ought to have in view, namely, increasing the food supply. The only complaint I have to make of the Parliamentary Secretary, who is always very courteous, is that he is too sensitive to interfere with the decisions of the tribunals. Tribunals make mistakes, and cases occur where circumstances change after a tribunal has given its decision. We claim that we have a right to go to the hon. Member and ask that he should intervene in those cases and see justice done.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Fourteen minutes after Nine o'clock till Monday next. pursuant to the Order of the House of the 13th February.