HC Deb 25 June 1953 vol 516 cc2206-22

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. Studholme.]

9.33 p.m.

Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

I should like to begin by thanking the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture for being here tonight, and to make clear to other hon. Members straight away that if all the aspects of this case which I am about to raise were to be dealt with in full there ought to be at least three other Ministers on the Front Bench. The proceedings of the House are such, however, that only one can be brought forward at one time, and, clearly, the case which I am raising, although it does raise wider issues, is, first of all, the concern of the Ministry of Labour and National Service, then of the War Office, and. finally, of the Ministry of Agriculture.

I am rather sorry for my hon. Friend on the Front Bench in that he has to hear a somewhat wearisome story, a good deal of which he knows already, but which other people do not, and which concerns Ministries other than his own. If I were a superstitious person, I suppose I should feel that I should not get very far with this case in that the first time I made contact with it was on Friday, 13th June, 1952. It has certainly been a most unfortunate case for those affected by it, and I think that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will agree that it has been most unfortunate for the people most directly concerned.

This case concerns a young man named Gerald Bliss, one of the three sons of Mrs. Bliss, who lives at Beechwood Farm, Christchurch, in my constituency. The husband of Mrs. Bliss died in 1949, and just before that time they had started a stock rearing enterprise on their 250 acre farm. It began in a very humble way, but very rapidly increased. One of the reasons for its rapid increase was the fact that Gerald Bliss, the young man we are discussing tonight, is one of those all too rare young men these days who have a natural aptitude for stock rearing. He made an outstanding success of the enterprise, with the result that, whereas in 1949 the family had only 12 cows and six bullocks, by 1952 they had 60 head of cattle, five horses and 20 pigs on the farm.

Early in 1952, Gerald Bliss registered for National Service, and an application for his deferment was at once lodged. That application was turned down as early as March, and on 22nd March the County Secretary of the National Farmers' Union wrote to the chairman of the deferment panel pointing out the achievement of Gerald Bliss in the matter of stock rearing on the farm. In the letter from the County Secretary of the National Farmers' Union it was stated: If the Ministry of Labour can find a man who will do the work that Gerald Bliss is doing, then we do not hesitate to withdraw opposition to his call-up. The original refusal to grant deferment was based on reports submitted by an officer of the Wisbech Employment Exchange. That officer had recently come from Cambridge and did not know very much about the problems which confront anyone farming in the Fens. These isolated Fenland farms are very different from the type of farms to be found in the county which you, Mr. Speaker, know so well, where a good deal of dairying and sheep farming is carried on, and where there are rolling hills. In the Fens, the farms are sometimes very isolated and there is only a bus service two or three times a week, probably no water and no electricity and very often only a soft road leading to the farm instead of proper access.

This officer of the Wisbech Employment Exchange visited the farm at a time when Mrs. Bliss was away, fetching her daughter from school. He spent some time with a man whom I shall refer to throughout as "Mr. X" for reasons which I think will become apparent as I proceed. He was in charge of the work on the farm, although he had experience of general farmwork.

Mrs. Bliss returned at 3.30 in the afternoon and she gave the officer a cup of tea. That officer asked her no questions whatsoever, and he left 20 minutes later. That was the officer who was responsible for reporting to the Ministry of Labour as to the desirability or otherwise of deferring the call-up of Mr. Bliss. His report, therefore, can only have been based on what he had heard from Mr. X.

As a result of a talk that I had with Mrs. Bliss on 13th June last year, I wrote to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Labour, and he replied at the end of June that he had had another investigation made but could not support the application for deferment. This second investigation demands a little attention. It was conducted by the then labour officer of the Isle of Ely Agricultural Executive Committee, and he was accompanied on his inspection by none other than the very same officer from the Wisbech Employment Exchange who had visited the farm on the earlier occasion; in other words, the very man whose report was so questionable had been sent by the Ministry of Labour to the farm, with the alternative of either confirming his earlier report or of condemning himself out of his own mouth. It is not very surprising that he decided to stand by his own earlier decision.

What exactly the labour officer of the executive committee reported I do not know, but I have reason to believe that he was in tune with local opinion far more than was the Wisbech Employment Exchange officer, and, certainly, all local opinion seems to point in the direction that Gerald Bliss ought not to have been called up.

I must ask my hon. Friend one very important question. Did the report of the Isle of Ely Agricultural Executive Committee labour officer indicate that Gerald Bliss ought or ought not to be called up? I want by hon. Friend to be very particular before he answers that question and to make quite certain before he does that he has seen the actual report. It is important that he should actually see that report. The officer concerned is no longer with the Isle of Ely A.E.C. I hope that we shall get that answer, and that if my hon. Friend has not seen the report himself he will make it his business, after this debate, to have it for his own examination, and that he will let me know the outcome.

The Wisbech labour officer, on his second visit, refused again to discuss the matter with Mrs. Bliss and again resorted to Mr. X's cottage for about 30 minutes. I must here say a word about Mr. X. He is a very ardent trade unionist and he is an officer of the local branch of the union. One member of the agricultural advisory deferment panel is the organising secretary of that union. Unfortunately, the relationship between Beechwood Farm and the union has not always been very happy in the past, especially in the days of the late Mr. Bliss. I know very little about this particular matter, but from what I have been able to find out it seems that there has been an element of vindictiveness, for which I think these two officers are to some extent responsible.

In the June reply from the Ministry of Labour I was informed that another man had been taken on. This man stayed a very short time. He was not a stock man, nor was he suited even to the arable work of the farm. In August last year Mr. Gerald Bliss was called up, and the understanding was—I believe that was contained in the report of the Wisbech labour officer—that Mr. X would be there to take over the work which Mr. Gerald Bliss had been doing in looking after the stock.

I made another appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour in the meantime without effect. But hardly had Gerald Bliss been called up before Mr. X handed in his notice. It has been discovered since that before Gerald Bliss was called up Mr. X had indicated to the foreman of the farm at which he now works that as soon as Gerald Bliss had gone he would hand in his notice. He did not disclose that to the labour officer, or to the two labour officers on the second visit.

As a result of his handing in his notice it became necessary for the Army to give Gunner Bliss, as he had now become, harvest leave that year. Incidentally, to add to the chain of misfortunes, the Army sent him on call-up to the 5th Training Battalion, R.A.S.C. The commanding officer there showed more sense than anyone else in this case by giving him three weeks' leave and then extending it to one month, owing to the fact that Gerald Bliss ought to have been posted to the 68th Regiment Royal Artillery, to which he was later transferred.

On 15th September I wrote to the Under-Secretary of State for War. Here I should like to say how much we all regret his very serious illness and wish him a quick recovery. He has played a material part in my efforts to get Gerald Bliss released, and I am certainly grateful to him for his assistance. I am very sorry that he is not here for the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture to consult. I wrote to the Under-Secretary to say that Mr. X had now handed in his notice and would be leaving on 10th October. I enclosed copies of all the correspondence that I had with the Ministry of Labour prior to the call-up of Gerald Bliss. I am afraid that the War Office then lost the whole lot. They wrote to me to say so. The result was that in the second week of October my unfortunate secretary had to re-type all the correspondence and forward another copy to the War Office.

On 22nd October, the Under-Secretary of State for War replied that though Mr. X had left Mrs. Bliss's employment it was felt that she could make the necessary arrangements to tide her over the period of Gerald Bliss's call-up. I got into touch with Mrs. Bliss again and wrote to the Under-Secretary of State enclosing a letter from Mrs. Bliss from which I now quote. She said: I would gladly have acted on the advice you give me,"— the advice I gave her was that she should seek help from the labour exchange and from the agricultural executive committee to see what alternative labour could be found. She went on— but the A.E.C's labour pool in this area ceased to function two years ago. The manager of the labour exchange in this district circulated my need in the area but without success. Moreover, I advertised in the local papers and yet no yardman is available. "Yardman" is the term used in this district for the man in charge of the stockyard on a stock farm. I do not know whether that is a term used throughout England. Mrs. Bliss added: I would get agricultural workers but it is a yardman I need. At present I have no man on this farm who can milk a cow or who has any knowledge of feeding stock. In November I learned of the matter which I have already mentioned—Mr. X's prior intention to leave as soon as Gerald Bliss was called up. As soon as I learned that I told the Under-Secretary of State for War. On 10th November I was told that the view of the War Office was that under Mrs. Bliss's supervision the work of the employees could be so arranged as to avoid any substantial reduction in the farm's productivity, and that although some activities might have to be curtailed the business would not fail.

On 13th December, I received a heartrending appeal for further action on behalf of Mrs. Bliss from the rector of Christchurch, whom I know is the sort of person who would not say anything which he did not fervently believe. I have met him on many occasions. I should like to quote three sentences from his letter: I buried his father three years ago and since then the farm of 250 acres has been carried on by the wife with the assistance of her two sons aged 19 and 22 and another son aged 15 years. The land work has been hard enough but the tending of the cattle has been beyond her power although she goes out late each night to see they are safe. She has reared all the cattle they now possess. Although there are now empty boxes and stalls ready to receive more she dare not embark upon others as she has no one to attend to them. On the 30th January of this year the Under-Secretary of State for War wrote to me saying that after checking up with the Ministry of Labour he was satisfied that it was still possible for Mrs. Bliss to carry on until she could replace her yardman, and that it was by no means impossible for her to find another man. He went on to say that two men had been offered by the Wisbech Employment Exchange but she had refused them. On 16th February Mrs. Bliss wrote me a long letter. I must quote a part of it because I think it will give my hon. Friend some idea of the sort of men she was being offered. She says: I advertised in four papers, both under a box number and in my own name, and only one yardman applied. On 17th September, my daughter went to the Domestic Science Training College in Leicester, so we were fully occupied both on the 16th and 17th. Upon arriving home from Leicester, late in the evening of the 17th, we found Gerald"— that is, her son— packing for Oswestry. That is where he was stationed— We managed to go that night to Coates to see the man who had applied as yardman under the box number, but very unfortunately he had let himself the day before. He said to me "— this is important in the light of something which might be said elsewhere— Are you Mrs. Bliss? I'm sorry I let myself yesterday, because they give your farm a good name. I was then shown round the house and given a cup of tea. I could tell by their manner, that they were both good, working people. After sorting out over a dozen labour applicants, I hired one, asking him if he would feed the beast until I obtained a yardman. It then materialised that his wife was very dissatisfied with the cottage and that man and his wife left after five weeks. The Wisbech Labour Exchange then offered me a yardman. I rang the farmer whose name they gave me, for references…. Her description of this man I dare not repeat in the House. Mrs. Bliss then rang the employment exchange and asked them, in fairness to her, to ring up the farmer and ask him themselves. Twice that man wrote to us and asked when we were going to fetch him, as the Labour Exchange said that we required him. The second yardman they offered me, which was on 5th November, certainly had had nine months' full employment, jail. He had been jailed for larceny, and had just been released. What a suitable man!! That gives some idea of the sort of men Mrs. Bliss was being offered. She is one of those who believes in doing the job properly and seeing that her men do the job properly. She has been asked to take men who are not trained to do the jobs she wants them to do. She has been offered men from as far away as Ipswich and Hornchurch, men with no experience of life in the Fens. Anybody living in the Fens for a week will know that it is unique, and that it takes a little time to settle down there. I have experienced that. I moved there in 1946, and perhaps in 25 years' time I shall be accepted as a local.

I sent the letter from which I have quoted to the Under-Secretary of State for War in toto, and on 11th March he asked me to go to the War Office to discuss the whole matter. We did this at length, and the Under-Secretary finally said that although he was not very hope- ful of success he would be prepared, personally, to try to persuade the authorities to release Gerald Bliss if I could obtain the backing of the Ministry of Agriculture.

I wrote on 12th March this year to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture setting out in detail the whole story up to that date, and on 5th May my hon. Friend asked me to discuss the matter with him. We had a long talk, and I came away from that discussion with the firm impression that if I could provide him with the name of the person to whom Mr. X had disclosed that as soon as Gerald Bliss was called up Mr. X would leave the farm the Ministry of Agriculture would investigate and be prepared to support the case for the release of Gerald Bliss.

I at once asked Mrs. Bliss for the name of that person. She gave it me. I passed it on to my hon. Friend on 13th May. Over three weeks elapsed, and on 9th June my hon. Friend wrote stating he had carefully considered the case and that the fact that Mr. X had misled the labour officers did not mean that Gerald Bliss had been wrongfully called up. He maintained also that the necessary compassionate grounds to obtain release were not present in this case. When I received that letter I exploded.

I sought this Adjournment from then onwards, and I made it clear to my hon. Friend that if I was lucky in the Ballot for the Adjournment I should include one particular sentence in my speech, and that I am proposing to do now. I wrote him: I give clear warning here and now that if I am lucky in the Ballot one of the things I shall say is that despite the fact that I personally got the assurance of the War Office that if the Ministry of Agriculture were prepared to say Gerald Bliss ought to go back on the farm they would be prepared to consider favourably granting Bliss' release, the Ministry of Agriculture have sat nearly a month on my letter of 13th May to you, having entirely disregarded the War Office's readiness to help, and have failed to contact the person whose name you yourself asked me for on the understanding that he could provide the one piece of evidence you required to support the case. The whole thing is slightly unsatisfactory, to put it mildly. I realise, of course, as I said earlier, that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture is by no means the Minister most accountable in this matter. However, I do say that so far as the Ministry of Agri- culture is concerned there were two times when they could have been more helpful than they have been. One was when Gerald Bliss first applied for deferment, when they could have backed the application more strongly than they did. The second was when I thought I had got the War Office to be more ready than they often are in these cases favourably to consider taking action to help, and the Ministry of Agriculture failed to support the case.

My complaint is that the Ministry of Agriculture failed to produce that backing as a result, as usual, of bureaucracy, it being so zealous and static over non-statutory powers. The rules of deferment are non-statutory rules. They have never been laid before this House. We have never had a series of regulations to pass upon them. They are completely arbitrary powers, and Ministers are just as much in the hands of the people running them, in the hands of the people owning those powers, as are any of the back benchers in the House. I say that it is really intolerable that a system should become so rigid that no flexibility can be allowed even in cases such as this I have outlined.

Britain has every reason to be proud of people like Mrs. Bliss. She is one of those people who will not be defeated. She has carried on, trying to keep the farm going. I will tell the House what the result of this ruthless bureaucracy against that farm has been. Whereas, in the winter of 1951, Mrs. Bliss had 57 head of cattle and in the following April supplied the market with 35 beasts, 11 of which were of super special standard, in the winter of 1952 the head of cattle had fallen to 33, and in April of this year seven fat bullocks only were ready for market—

It being Ten o'clock the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. Redmayne.]

Major Legge-Bourke

Only seven fat bullocks were ready for market, three of which were of super special standard. Today, Mrs. Bliss has 51 head, of which 17 are calves. They were being looked after by the youngest son, aged about 16, and another boy, aged about 15, and Mrs. Bliss has now had to dismiss the boy for reasons which I certainly do not propose to disclose in this debate. As a result, she will now have to sell the calves, leaving her with only 34 head.

Arable farming in the Fens has for far too long been starved of one of the most vital things to the fertility of our soil, good farmyard manure. In the old days few Fen farms had not a few beasts mainly for that purpose. Here we have a farm which started on a policy, long before the Ministry started asking for it after the war, of trying to do some stock rearing on a businesslike basis, and all that happens is that every possible obstruction is put in Mrs. Bliss's way.

The rules about deferment are that unless a business, be it a farm or anything else, is threatened with complete cessation, no man, once he has been called up, can be released on grounds of compassion. In this case the rule requires reconsideration. Why should a family which has tried so hard to respond to the call so often uttered by Ministers of Agriculture of both the Conservative and the Labour Parties be put into a position where it is punished? I know from my experience how the Army likes driving the willing horse, but I see no reason why it should claim the right not only to keep the willing horse to drive but, at the same time, to drive a widowed mother to the point of exhaustion simply because she is British enough to refuse to be defeated.

10.3 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)

Perhaps I might briefly recapitulate the history of the case to make sure that we have the facts right. One of the dates given by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) was incorrect. The original application for deferment was made in October, 1951. At that time Mr. Gerald Bliss described himself as being self-employed and said that he and his brother were running the farm together. I think these facts are relevant because part of my hon. and gallant Friend's argument has been to show that the consideration given to the original application for deferment was not all that it might have been.

On 19th December, 1951, the agricultural executive committee report was submitted to the Agricultural Advisory Panel of the Ministry of Labour and National Service. After considering that report, the advisory panel decided to adjourn in order to get further information. They were particularly concerned at that time because they found that the return made by the applicant—National Service No. 308—showed a number of employees different from that shown in the A.E.C. report. Therefore, they adjourned, and they met again on 24th January, 1952, when they gave further consideration to the whole problem.

They were so concerned about the case that they decided that they ought to have the personal report of the convenor of the panel, who was then instructed by the panel to go and investigate the conditions of work of the individual workers on the farm. The convenor proceeded to do that, and on 11th March, 1952, the panel received his report, and after a very lengthy consideration they finally decided that there were not grounds for deferring Gerald Bliss. Apparently, in their considerations—I feel that this is fair as showing that they gave very careful consideration; and I would remind my hon. and gallant Friend that the panel consists of two representatives of the employers, the fanners, and two representatives of the workers, so that it is fairly balanced—they were concerned to find that Venny, one of the principal workers on the farm, was described at that stage as a toolman on the application made by Gerald Bliss for his deferment, whereas he turned out to be a stockman.

That naturally had confused the issue for them in the first place. However, they considered the whole picture in the light of the personal report of their convenor and reached the conclusion that, although Gerald Bliss was undoubtedly doing work as an assistant stockman, nevertheless there were not grounds on which they could recommend deferment. They did agree to defer the call-up until May, when the cattle were out on grass.

They received later, in March, 1952, a letter from the Ely County Branch of the N.F.U. making further intervention on behalf of Gerald Bliss, pointing out that it would be impossible to rearrange the workers' duties and that there would be a fall in production. Therefore, they instructed that there should be a further inspection of the farm, and on this occasion the inspection was made jointly by the convenor of the panel, Mr. Challis. who had gone before, and the labour officer of the A.E.C., Mr. Bloy, to whom my hon. and gallant Friend has referred.

None of this is strictly relevant to what I can do in this case, but I am going over these points in order to satisfy my hon. and gallant Friend that fair consideration was given at the time. I have satisfied myself that the report made by the A.E.C. labour officer was substantially and materially the same as the report made by the convenor of the panel, Mr. Challis. The point I should like to put to my hon. and gallant Friend is that it is not the job of the officer who is making a report to make a recommendation as to whether a man should be retained on the farm or not, or whether he should be deferred or not. The job of the officer is to go to the farm to collect the material for his report to the panel, and it is the job of the panel to assess these facts and to decide whether there is a case for deferment.

The panel decided unanimously that there was no case for deferment. The result was that Gerald Bliss was finally called up on 21st August, and he joined in early September. It may help my hon. and gallant Friend, who I feel is under a considerable misapprehension as to how both the statutes and the Regulations deal with this matter, if I remind him what the Regulations were at that time in 1951.

The deferment arrangements in regard to a full-time stockman who was working with cattle or sheep in exceptional circumstances were that he could be deferred provided that he satisfied the following conditions. First, that his departure would result in a substantial loss of production; second, that no rearrangement of the existing staff could work or was possible; third, that there was no prospect of alternative labour; fourth, that if he was called up the result would be a substantial reduction of cattle or sheep; and, fifth, that the reduction would be unavoidable even at the expense of some loss of output in other directions. It is quite obvious that at that time in 1951 it was only in very exceptional cases that deferment was being given for stockmen.

Mr. Kenneth Thompson (Liverpool, Walton)

How far had these conditions changed by August, 1952?

Mr. Nugent

The conditions had changed in August, 1952, although that would not be relevant to this case, but I will certainly give my hon. Friend the information for which he asks. They had changed to the extent that stockmen included pigmen. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture had recognised the necessity to extend the definition of what a stockman was in this connection. It is perhaps of further interest to mention that we recognised the need to widen this definition further and that at the end of last year we did so by including the part-time stockmen as well. Indeed, if the application of Mr. Gerald Bliss were made today because he had become liable for call-up now, his case would be considered against very different standards, which were not set up then.

Those I have already mentioned were broadly, the conditions and circumstances that led to his call-up for the Army. The question put by my hon. and gallant Friend, and the charge he has made against myself and my Department, is that we have failed to give the support that we ought to have done to Mr. Bliss's application now for release from the Army. There are only two grounds on which a man can be released from the Forces. One is wrongful call-up and the other is on compassionate grounds. Again I think there has been some confusion in the mind of my hon. and gallant Friend as to what those conditions are.

The conditions applying to wrongful call-up are, of course, the responsibility of the Minister of Labour, and are as follows. A man cannot be said to be wrongfully called up unless he is a man to whom the provisions of the National Service Acts do not apply; that is to say, he is perhaps over 26 years old, or not a British subject ordinarily resident in Great Britain, or he is a minister of religion or is in some other special category—for instance, that he is a lunatic or blind or something like that. None of those reasons apply in this instance and therefore there is no case of wrongful call-up.

The deferment Regulations are an administrative arrangement in order to defer certain classes of workers, but everybody in that particular age group is liable by statute to call-up. So it did not matter what evidence or what stories we could have brought forward in support, we could never establish a case for wrongful call-up, and I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend understands that now.

Major Legge-Bourke

I am clear about that. I am saying that he was wrongfully refused deferment.

Mr. Nugent

If my hon. and gallant Friend is saying that this man was wrongfully refused deferment, that is something which cannot possibly be re-opened now. That was considered initially 18 to 21 months ago and finally settled well over a year ago. It was fundamentally a matter for the Minister of Labour. In regard to the charge which my hon. and gallant Friend has now made, that we have failed to give the necessary support, I want to get it clear that whatever support we could have given, we could never have supported a case for wrongful call-up.

The other possible ground for release is compassionate grounds. To establish a case for the Secretary of State for War to consider it is necessary to show that the absence of the man is causing the family business, whether it is agriculture or any other business, actually to collapse. Those are the only grounds in this connection on which the Secretary of State for War can consider release on compassionate grounds. My hon. and gallant Friend is not at issue with me that the farm is carrying on. I recognise just as much as he does that there is a loss of production but it is impossible to say that the farm is on the point of collapse. It is clear once again, therefore, that there is no evidence which I could have brought forward that could have supported a case for release on compassionate grounds.

It is perfectly clear that there is no evidence that I could have brought forward which could have supported the case on which my hon. and gallant Friend could have succeeded with the Secretary of State. I do hope that if nothing else is achieved in this debate my hon. and gallant Friend will understand at the end of it what are the limits of the statutes and Regulations in this connection. They have to be clear and understood by everyone throughout the land. If they could be extended quite obviously no one would understand them at all.

As I see it, and I have checked it over very carefully, the general conduct of this case has been, I should say, fair and proper throughout. I recognise the possible cross-currents of personal animosities on this point, but I am satisfied, despite all those animosities, that the actual consideration of the case for deferment originally was fairly done.

I think it right to say that that is something I could do nothing about now not could my hon. and gallant Friend. All we could consider now is whether it is possible for this young man to be released from the Services, and of course the answer is that there is absolutely nothing to support that case. My hon. and gallant Friend had a copy of the letter I received from the Secretary of State for War which makes perfectly plain the only possible ground on which this could be considered. I am certain that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for War could only have had that in mind when talking to my hon. and gallant Friend.

Much as I admire the strength of his sympathy and pertinacity in following up the case, I feel that my hon. and gallant Friend has not shown the same understanding in bringing his charge against my Department. It could not possibly be supported by the facts which are clear for all to see.

The only consolation I could give my hon. and gallant Friend is that in this particular picture the Minister of Agriculture has recognised the need to extend the definition of stockman in this connection, particularly to meet cases of this kind. I had some part in seeing that this was extended to part-time stockmen. I spent the greater part of the Recess last year travelling around in the autumn, particularly in the Eastern counties. I was certainly convinced of the necessity to extend the definition to cover part-time stockmen if we were to keep stock on these farms. Therefore, today a man in these circumstances would have a very much better prospect of being deferred. We should avoid the loss of livestock which undoubtedly that farm has suffered.

So far as my personal sympathy is concerned. I can sympathise with Mrs. Bliss and I can understand the difficulty she has. on a remote farm, in engaging labour. The difficulty would be considerable. But there is nothing I can do about that. There is the law and the Regulations, and all I can do is to try to interpret them fairly. Whilst I sympathise with the difficulties on the Bliss farm and with Mrs. Bliss personally in her parting from her son for the time being, the facts of this case, as I have explained them to the House, could not possibly bear the charge which my hon. and gallant Friend has made against my Department, and I hope he will withdraw it.

10.20 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Thompson (Liverpool, Walton)

I do not want to get mixed up in the complications about Gerald Bliss any more than I must to remain in order. I speak as a townsman with little knowledge of the happenings in the isolated country district to which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) referred, but I am sure that when the Regulations were framed and interpreted in the early stages, no doubt by well-informed and sympathetic officers, it was never intended that a woman who ran a farm should be put to the very severe test, if I may use the description, that her business must be in a condition of complete collapse, with all we would assume to accompany it in heartbreak, perhaps in the physical ruin of the woman and in the break-up of her home and the neglect of other children, before the sympathetic aspects of the processes of deferment came into operation. That seems to be subjecting our national life to a severe distortion for one purpose.

Mr. Nugent

Does my hon. Friend realise that the Regulations governing deferment have nothing whatever to do with compassionate release, which is completely independent of the deferment Regulations?

Mr. Thompson

This all begins way back in 1951 and, as I understand, I am not involving my hon. Friend in what happened at that stage. I am concerned with the Regulations from which this sorry story has sprung. It seems to me that that is where the hub of the problem lies. When we consider it with the bigger question of where the balance of advantage lies to the country, between deferring this man and such as he and gaining or losing so many head of cattle, it seems to me that these Regulations need to be constantly under review.

I am delighted to learn from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary that that process is taking place, and if, through what my hon. and gallant Friend has achieved tonight, this process is spurred on and speeded up, with a little more enlightenment at the heart of affairs, then my hon. and gallant Friend has done a good job, not only for the case the details of which he has presented tonight, but for the whole of the industrial, commercial and business life of this country, which is all involved in the same question. I am very grateful to him, and I am sure that the House is grateful to him, for the way in which, and the courage with which, he has pursued this case and presented it tonight.

Major Legge-Bourke

The Parliamentary Secretary suggested that I had made a charge against his Department and that I should withdraw it.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hopkin Morris)

The hon. and gallant Gentleman cannot speak again, except by leave of the House.

Major Legge-Bourke

May I have the leave of the House? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] My hon. Friend seemed to have found in my remarks far more of a personal attack on him and his Department than I intended. I had hoped to make it clear that what I disliked most of all was the bureaucracy, which concerned nobody except those who had power vested in them. Neither the Minister nor back bench Members can control the rules which the bureaucrats have made for themselves. That is what I was attacking. It was not a personal attack on my hon. Friend.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-Four Minutes past Ten o'clock.