HL Deb 12 April 1916 vol 21 cc675-97

LORD ST. AUDRIES rose to call attention to the proposed new Regulations referred to in the Board of Agriculture Circular of March 25, dealing with the exemption of certain classes of agricultural labour from military service, and to move to resolve, "That in the opinion of this House these Regulations will injuriously affect the food production of the country."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, my object in raising this question is to facilitate the home production of food in this country, and I have raised it on the Board of Agriculture Circular rather than on the very voluminous Circulars issued by the Local Government Board because the Circular issued by the noble Earl opposite puts the matter concisely. We must all admit that the four things necessary to win the war are men, munitions, money, and food; and admittedly of all four the question of men is the most important. At the same time we have to feed those men and to help to feed the civil population at home. I recollect that when the question of a minimum price for corn was raised last year one of the reasons which the noble Earl opposite gave for not adopting that course was that the Government had the submarine peril well in hand. I am not going any further into that question at this moment, because I do not want to tread upon anything like dangerous ground. But there were two other questions having an important bearing on the supply of food—the question of freightage and the question of tonnage. I do not believe that at that time the Government had either of those questions very much in their mind. At all events both those questions have since come urgently to the front, and I say, in view of the significance of the question of freightage and the question of tonnage, the importance of maintaining our home production of food is just as great now as it was twelve months ago.

Let me briefly describe what has occurred in regard to this question of home food. When the war broke out the farmers were asked by the then Minister for Agriculture to grow all the corn and to produce all the food they could, and they loyally and heartily responded to that call. Last autumn the present President of the Board of Agriculture repeated that appeal. He addressed large meetings of agriculturists all over the country, urging upon them the enormous importance of cultivating their farms very highly and, if possible, increasing the area under the plough; and I think he will admit that the farmers did their best to respond to that appeal. If I read the noble Earl's speech at Ipswich yesterday aright, he maintains the same attitude now, and urges farmers to cultivate all the land and grow all they can. When the noble Earl made those speeches last August and September, he announced to farmers that he had arranged with the War Office to make certain concessions. The concessions were that men in certain employments—cowmen, carters, shepherds, and others—should not be canvassed under the National Registration Act, and that even if they offered themselves for enlistment the recruiting officers had orders not to attest them.

That was a very valuable concession. Unfortunately it was vitiated by two things. One was that the starring was done extremely badly, through no fault of the Board of Agriculture. I can only speak for my own district, the West of England. The starring as it was done in Bristol was deplorable. Many men were starred who ought not to have been, and many were not starred who ought to have been. The result was that when the Local Tribunals were set up, farmers appealed in respect of men who should have been starred, and the men were starred by the Tribunals. Then I think I am right in saving that starring was abolished. But in the meantime a great many men who were indispensable but who were not starred had attested, and they attested under the widespread but apparently erroneous belief that unless they attested they could not appeal. Those men or their employers then appealed to the Local Tribunal, and the latter gave them temporary exemptions. If I may say so, I think the Local Tribunals did their work exceedingly well. I speak with some experience, as I happen to be chairman of the Recruiting Committee, chairman of the Advisory Committee, chairman of the War Agricultural Committee, and representative of the Board of Agriculture on the County Appeal Tribunal. Of course, no one man ought to occupy all those positions, because the interests conflict, but I am sorry to say there is nobody else in my county available, as all are otherwise employed. At any rate, the fact that I hold these positions gave me valuable experience of the was, in which the Local Tribunals did their work, and I repeat that on the whole it was done very well.

Having secured these decisions, the farmers shaved their policy accordingly. They thought then, early in the spring, that everything was now settled, and that, grievously though they had suffered through the loss of men, they could carry on their cultivation. They hoped they would be able to produce, if not more than, at all events as much as they produced before. Then came these new Regulations, and I quote from the Board of Agriculture Circular because, as I say, it is much simpler than the pile of documents which I have received from the Local Government Board. Paragraph 4 of this Circular says— In view of the evidence which has reached His Majesty's Government that in certain cases the number of men of military age who are being retained on the land is greater than is absolutely essential if full use is made of the services of older men, women, and other sources of labour, they have come to the conclusien that some modification of the existing arrangements is necessary, and that agriculture, in common with other national industries, must submit to a revision of the list of certified occupations. I confess I should very much like to see the evidence referred to, that in certain cases the number of men of military age who are being retained on the land is greater than is absolutely necessary. My experience and the experience of toy friends whom I have consulted on this point is to the contrary. I know of no case where the labour on the land is greater than is absolutely essential. In fact, the evidence I have is all the other way. It shows that it is with the greatest difficulty that farmers can cultivate their hind with the present depleted amount of labour. What I suggest is that if there are districts in which there is a surplus of labour the reason is that the Local Tribunals did not do their duty properly, and it seems to me to be very bad policy to draw a hard-and-fast line over tire whole of the country simply because a liew Tribunals have failed in their duty.

Then I come to paragraph 5 of the Board of Agriculture Circular, the paragraph which deals with farm bailiffs under thirty years of age and all other unmarried men under twenty-five years of age. The case of unmarried men on the laud is one which sounds very reasonable taken in a way, but what is not understood sometimes is that the reason why unmarred men are employed on the land is that married men cannot be obtained. About a month or six weeks ago Lord Harris, speaking in this House, said that married men could do all the work that unmarried men could do on a farm. That is perfectly true, hut you cannot find cottages for married Further than that, there are not enough married men available to take the place of the unmarried men. As regards farm bailiffs under thirty years of age, I know many cases in which their removal would not only entail hardship but would involve land going out of cultivation. Take the case of a widow or a farmer who is past work. The son under thirty years of age is not only acting as bailiff but working with his coat off all day much harder than an ordinary labourer. If that man is taken away, the farm cannot be cultivated. Not only is there no one left to look after the farm, but you take away the best man. As I read the Local Government Board list, the provision as to unmarried men under twenty-five years of age does not affect the shopherd, but it does affect the cowman and the carter. I know scores of cases in the West of England where farms of from 150 to 250 acres are now being worked by the farmer, who is over military age, and one young man who is as often as not under twenty-five years of age. If you take that young man away, the farm, or at all events a great part of it, will go out of cultivation, and I assure your Lordships that older labour cannot be procured in rural districts. Moreover, there are a great many things on a farm of that kind which a man can do but which a woman cannot possibly do.

I turn to paragraph 6 of the Circular, the paragraph which says— It has also been decided that no single man of military age shall continue to be regarded as engaged in a certified occupation unless he held his present post, or one of similar character with another employer, previous to August 15, 1915. In passing, I should like to ask whether the same measure is to be applied to the conscientious objector. Is the conscientious objector not to be exempted unless he held the same or similar views on August 15, 1915? Unless this is so, I think you are treating him much more favourably than you are the agricultural labourer. I take it that the reason for August 15 being fixed is to catch those men who went into munition factories and works of a similar kind deliberately to avoid military service. If the date is taken with the object of rounding up all those men who went into these factories to avoid military service, then I most thoroughly and heartily agree with it. But does any sane man believe that anybody became a ploughman or a cowman or a shepherd in order to avoid military service? I am, of course, aware that there were certain cases, not a great many, in which farmers' sons were improperly described on the National Register as cowmen and ploughmen who were not so, and there were certain appeals made by farmers in respect of their sons before the Local Tribunals. But my experience is that in those cases the Local Tribunals threshed out all the facts carefully and did not give these men exemption. I say it cannot be proved that any man became a cowman, a ploughman, or a shepherd to avoid military service. The facts are all the other way.

Ever since the war broke out a great number of men have left farms to join mule depots, remount depots, and the Army Service Corps; and only last autumn there was an attempt made in the West of England to recruit men over military age from agricultural labour to load military stores at a high rate of wage. I brought this case before the noble Earl opposite, who took it to the War Office and got the practice stopped. I only quote that to show the way in which the best men have been taken from the farms. My point is that the case of agriculture is exactly the opposite to the case of munition and other factories. In the case of munition works you are now, under these Regulations, taking away from those factories men who have gone in there to swell the quite unprecedented number of men who were there before; but in the case of agriculture you are dealing with an industry which, so far from being swollen in numbers, has been most heavily depleted. Therefore, while you may quite fairly take away men from munition factories, it is quite another thing to take away more men from the already depleted industry of agriculture.

There are many cases where, since August 15, farmers have promoted the old agricultural labourers and trained them to plough, to look after cattle, and so on. After six or seven months those men are now efficient labourers, and they have been exempted by the Local Tribunals as such, most of them, I admit, only temporarily for two, three, four, or six months. But under these new Regulations all those men, in spite of the trouble which the farmers have taken to train them, will be automatically removed from their service on May I and sent into the Army. At least, that is how I read the Regulations. I do not know what the particular virtue is in the date of May 1. I suppose somebody has told the War Office that all agricultural operations in this country practically cease on May 1, because I observe that this mine date is taken with regard to soldiers who are lent to farmers; they must go back to the Army on May 1. There is no virtue that I can see about May 1, for agriculture goes on the whole year round. I am sorry to trouble your Lordships with all these agricultural details, but I cannot help it, because the War Office seem to me to know very little about them; and I am bound to say that the military representatives whom I have met—charming men as they are, most of them, nine out of ten being solicitors in khaki—seem to know even less about agriculture than do the War Office.

My point is that these hard-and-fast Regulations cannot be carried out with regard to a business like agriculture, which varies in every county and in every district. What we want, of course, is to keep the most important men on the farm, and that depends on the farm. On a dairy farm the cowman is the most important man, on a sheep farm the shepherd is the most important man, and on every farm, whatever it may be, the carter is always an important man. I will take what is, perhaps, the more ordinary case in this country, that of a mixed farm of moderate size. My opinion—and I have stated it before the County Appeal Tribunal—is that on a mixed farm of moderate size the fanner, if he is an able-bodied man, ought, with the help of a boy, to do without shepherd or cowman, and in my part of the world at all events the great bulk of these farmers do. You will hardly find a man farming up to 250 acres who is not doing either the work of cowman or shepherd himself. But there is one job the farmer cannot do. He cannot be carter, and for this reason. If the farmer starts to plough, he has to plough all the day. Moreover; if he goes six or seven miles to the station with a load, he is away most of the day, and when the farmer's eyes are off the farm the work suffers and the food production suffers. Therefore carter's work is work which the farmer cannot do, and this makes the carter an indispensable man on the farm. The number of carters depends upon the number of horses. The number of horses, again, depends upon the amount of arable rand, and whether it is heavy or light land. Therefore if von wish to produce the greatest amount of food, you have first to start with the number of horses required; then you have to calculate the number of carters required; and I say that of all men on the farm the carter is the most indispensable. He is at it all the year round. He does not stop on May I, or on any other date. All the year round he is engaged in ploughing, tilling, cutting hay, taking food into the town, and in other ways. The carter's work is work which cannot be undertaken by old men or by women. Very few men over 10, if they have not been accustomed to horses, can take on this work. Very few of them can lift the heavy leads at stations or help to pitch hay into wagons unless they are used to it; and as for women, I do not believe one in 500 can plough, notwith standing that you see interesting pictures in the Daily Mail of women doing this work. Of course, those photographs are easily obtained. And when it comes to lifting heavy weights and doing all this heavy agricultural work, even if a woman could do it, I submit that no woman ought to be allowed to do it. I repeat, therefore, that of all men on the farm the carter is indispensable, for without him the farmer is helpless. If a farmer is deprived of his carter, there is only one thing he can do. He must sell his live stock as quickly as he can—the one thing he is asked not to do—and cultivate the remainder of his holding to the best of his ability, and that means producing less food all round.

I make three suggestions. I suggest, first of all, that the date of August 15 should not apply to agriculture. If you are going to enforce that rule, the fair date to take is the date of the First Beading of the Military Service Act. Any farmer who, seeing compulsory service for single men staring him in the face, chose to take the risk of engaging single men after that date did it at his own risk. But if before then the farmer chose to promote a labourer and train him and make him efficient, it is extremely hard that he should lose that man now. I also suggest that all bona fide carters should. be eligible for exemption at the discretion of the Local Tribunal. I further suggest that farm bailiffs under 30 years of age should also. be eligible for exemption at the discretion of the Local Tribunal. We have every reason to trust the Local Tribunals, and I think we might leave that to them.

I have not been arguing on behalf of the farmer. I know people say that farmers have had a very good time. That is not the point. The point is not whether any one man or any one class has had a good or a bad time. The point is how to maintain the national production of homegrown food. In my opinion, these Regulations will press very differently in different districts. It is, of course, for the Government to say to which they attach most importance, men or food. They cannot take men away from agriculture and at the same time expect to get the same amount of food as they are getting now. My contention is that the small number of men Whom under these Regulations you would get from agriculture compared With other industries is out of all proportion to the great loss of food to the nation which would ensue. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That, in the opinion of this House, the proposed new Regulations referred to in the Board of Agriculture Circular of 25th March, dealing with the exemption of certain classes of agricultural labour from military service, will injuriously affect the food production of the country.—(Lord St. Audries.)


My Lords, not only do I make no complaint of the speech which my noble friend has just delivered, but I am greatly obliged to him for bringing this subject before your Lordships, because it will be of real public advantage if, as the result of our debate, the public understand rather more than they do at present the difficulties of the problem to which my noble friend has called attention, and the reasons for the anxiety which I have constantly expressed and which I express again to-day. My noble friend dwelt on the importance of maintaining our output of home-grown food. I am in most cordial agreement with him, and I will refer to that aspect of the case presently. He gave a completely accurate account of the phases through which this adjustment of the needs of the Army and of the needs of agriculture has passed, and then he dwelt on the great importance of certain skilled classes of agricultural labour. Again I am in complete agreement with him, and shall express that more fully later. Then my noble friend formulated certain definite suggestions.

We have been and are in a more difficult position in the adjustment of our civil industries with the needs of the fighting Services than any other great nation engaged in this war. For this reason. We have never thought out the organisation of the nation for a great war. We have only very limited means of compulsion. As you know, our powers of compulsion apply to a limited class of single men; whereas the great Continental nations, practically speaking, have complete command of their male population and can order them to do that service for which each man is apparently most fitted. We cannot doubt that in Germany, for instance, every man, and I expect every woman, is set by the Government to do that work which the Government think he or she can best do for the State at the present moment. We have no such power; and we were rather slow in realising how great a problem was this adjustment of the needs of the fighting Services and of our national industries. We have to keep up the Navy and the Army to the fullest possible size which we can afford consistently with the fulfilment of certain other conditions. We must keep certain essential national industries going, and going in full efficiency. I naturally put agriculture as the first of these, but others will occur to your Lordships, such as the railway service, the coal mines, the mercantile marine. In addition we must keep up our export trade so as to reduce our difficulties in the matter of foreign exchange to the smallest proportion consistently with the crisis in which we find ourselves. All this constitutes a very complicated and difficult problem.

At the beginning of the war recruiting for the Army was done without regard to the difficulties of this problem. Men flocked to the Colours in their patriotism, leaving services in which they could not be replaced to take a place in the ranks which might have been equally well filled by somebody else; and I do not hesitate to say that in my opinion a check on this misplaced patriotism was not put soon enough by the Government. When I came into office the real danger of a national catastrophe to agriculture was very speedily borne in upon me, and, as my noble friend lies reminded the House, I went to Lord Kitchener, and he met me in a very sympathetic and complete manner. The noble Lord complained that the arrangements which I then made with Lord Kitchener had not been final, but that there had been adjustments from time to time. Much as I agree with the general views expressed by my noble friend I do not think that is a fair criticism. There could not have been a final adjustment in the month of July last year. As time went on it was the duty of agriculture, as of all other industries, so far as it possibly could, to substitute labour which could not serve in the Army for labour which could; and anxious as I am about the condition of agriculture at the present moment, I do not say that this process is yet finally completed.

But a very difficult task has been imposed upon me, for which I ask the sympathy of your Lordships. There can be no member of your Lordships' House more anxious than a am that every man who can possibly be spared from agriculture should go and fight in the ranks of the Army. At the same time it has been my duty to stand up for agriculture, and if I did not do that nobody else would. It was not the business of Lord Kitchener to stand up for agriculture; it was his business to stand up for the Army. But in standing up for what I believe to be the essential minimum for the continuation of agriculture in this country during the war, I have always endeavoured to see the other side and have never encouraged farmers to keep on their land men who were not indispensable for its cultivation. If in this House and elsewhere I have taken the strongest line I could in defence of agriculture and for the retention of the men I thought necessary, I can assure your Lordships that I have never met the farmers without. telling them that their first duty as patriotic Englishmen was to cultivate the land with the least possible retention of labour that could be spared to the Army.

Now why did the Government come to the decision which the noble Lord has criticised, and the purport of which is embodied in the Circular to which he referred? Let me remind your Lordships with what classes of labour the Circular deals. It deals with certain specific though important classes. It deals with unmarried foremen under thirty, with other agriculttral labourers except shepherds unmarried under twenty-five, and with single men of military age who were not engaged in a certified occupation before August 15 last. I will explain what the effect of the revision is, because I do not think my noble friend quite understands it. It is not exactly as he thinks, if I accurately apprehended his meaning Up to this time those men have been in what has been called a certified occupation. It has always been open to the representative of the War Office to challenge those men before the Tribunal, and to challenge them on one of two grounds—either that the man in question was not, as a fact, engaged in the occupation in respect of which he was certified; or, although so engaged, was not indispensable for the working of the farm. I have always maintained that it was quite right that the War Office should have that power of challenge. The effect was that the man passed unchallenged unless the representative of the War Office challenged him before the Tribunal. Evidence was brought before the War Office and the Committee appointed by the Government under the presidency of my right hon. friend the President of the Local Government Board which deals with these matters of certified occupations which convinced those bodies that in certain parts of the country there were a number of men included in these categories who were not, as a matter of fact, indispensable for the working of the farms. Personally I do not say that I had knowledge of those cases; but then, of course, I am the last person whom the farmer would inform of the fact that he had more labour than was really necessary for the cultivation of his land. I do not think it is in the least wonderful that I did not get that information when the War Office did, just as the War Office do not get the information that I get of the cases of farms stripped bare of labour. But evidence was brought which convinced the Government that there was a case for further examination and revision.


The noble Earl will admit that this was the fault of the Local Tribunals or of the military representatives.


I presume that is so. The effect of the decision of the Government is this—that now, instead of the military representative having to go to the Tribunal and say "This man is not indispensable on the farm," the farmer has to go to the Tribunal and say "This man is indispensable on the farm." That is what the Government intend by their decision. They have done that because they have the same confidence in the Tribunals as a whole as has my noble friend opposite. It seemed inconceivable to the Government, if the man were really indispensable and the farmer made his case properly, that the Tribunal would not exempt him. And in order to take all the precaution I possibly can that the case of the farmer shall be properly presented, I have exercised a power which I possessed but had not previously exercised; that is, I have appointed a representative of the Board of Agriculture to watch the case for agriculture before every Local Tribunal, and not only before the Appeal Tribunals as I had done before. I want noble Lords to understand—and I hope they will try and make the farmers understand—that the Government have not decided that these men are not indispensable and are therefore to be taken for the Army, but that the farmer must go before the Tribunal and show that the man is, as a matter of fact, indispensable for the working of the farm; and if he shows that, it is the confident belief of the Government that the Tribunal will at once give that man exemption. That, at any rate, is our intention.

Let me say a word about the Tribunals. My noble friend has given the Tribunals a warm testimonial, and it is the opinion of my right hon. friend the President of the Local Government Board, who is in a better position to judge than anybody else, that this good opinion is well deserved. He is strongly of opinion that, taken as a whole, the Tribunals have done their work well; but it follows necessarily from the fact that there are many of these Tribunals that the view they take of their duties is not always the same, and undoubtedly there has been what appears to be an inconsistency of decision in different parts of the country. Mr. Walter Long has warned me seriously, and I think very wisely, that unless you have heard a case argued before the Tribunal you cannot really form a fair judgment as to the wisdom of the decision arrived at, and that you cannot take the accounts that appear in the Press as affording a fair opportunity of a correct judgment. Therefore what, I am going to read to your Lordships is read entirely subject to the reservations enjoined upon me by my right hon. friend. I shall not mention the Tribunal, or give the names of the parties involved; but I want to give two or three instances of decisions to show why my anxiety is very grave, and also to show that some of these decisions are apparently inexplicable if the Tribunals really understand that agriculture is a fundamental national necessity and that the policy of the Government in respect of agriculture is such as I have always stated it to be, and as, I shall remind your Lordships presently, the Prime Minister stated it to be in the House of Commons not long ago.

Here is the first case. A farm of 210 acres; rent, £520; lease, ten years to run; ordinary staff, eight men of whom five have already enlisted. The farmer has two married brothers with families; one is a farmer who farms 1,000 acres himself, the other is a mercantile man who knows nothing of farming. The Advisory Committee raised no objection to exemption being granted to the farmer himself, but the military representative objected but stated no reason; the Appeal Tribunal refused exemption, and also refused leave to appeal. So there is a farm without a farmer and with a lease of ten years to run.

Here is another case. A farm of 115 acres, 70 acres arable; stock, 26 cattle, 30 sheep, and eight horses. Strength of labour now on the farm—father, aged 55; one son (ploughman) aged 23, exempted by the Local Tribunal; one son (stockman) aged 20. The last-named was refused exemption by the Appeal Tribunal, which agreed that the man was in a reserved occupation and necessary to the working of the farm, but as the tenant had two sons they decided that one must go.

Another case. A farm of 145 acres, all except three arable; stock, five horses and three cows. Since the beginning of the war three men have gone on munitions work. Neither of the remaining two attested, but applied for exemption on the ground that they were indispensable. The application of one of these, the horseman, was refused by the Local Tribunal, whose decision was confirmed by the Appeal Tribunal. Result—staff left on farm, one man and one small boy.

I will now give you the last instance. A farm of 620 acres, and sheep pasture on the fells; 100 acres arable, and 110 acres under hay; stock, 12 ponies, four horses, 75 pedigree cattle, and 820 sheep. Before the war the farmer generally worked with three men all the year round and four during the summer and autumn, and employed casual labour also occasionally. Two of the men enlisted early in the war; of the remaining two, the shepherd has been granted exemption until June 30, but the application of the cowman and horseman (one man doing the work of both) has been refused by the Local Tribunal, whose decision has been confirmed by the Appeal Tribunal; this man joins the Army on April 4. Net result—the farmer has a wife and daughter, and a niece, but after June 30, unless the application for renewal of exemption to the shepherd is granted, the farmer will be the only man left on the farm.

What I feel is that if the Central Appeal Tribunal could give some principles of guidance to the Local Tribunals and the Appeal Tribunals all this difficulty would be avoided, except that unfortunately the mischief has been done. I fear irretrievably in some cases, because the Local Appeal Tribunal have refused permission to appeal in cases where it seems to me they ought to have allowed it. It is only fair that I should say that if you were to talk to Lord Kitchener or to Lord Derby you would be told that there are other Tribunals which have shown undue favouritism towards farmers and have granted exemption in a wholesale way. I have no wish to defend that practice if it exists; but those are not the cases that are brought to my attention. But it seems to me that there, again, the guidance of the Central Tribunal would be of great importance, though of course two wrongs do not make a right. It is no help to the farm that is left derelict that a farm in another county or in another part of the same county should be left with an undue proportion of labour. The real national need is for the Tribunal in all cases to strike the best balance that it can. The Tribunal is not there only to recruit for the Army, or only to maintain agriculture; it is there to strike the best; balance it can between the national needs when they conflict at the present time. Everybody can see that this is the case in connection with munitions work, or railways, or shipping, or coal mining; hut it really is quite extraordinary how large a proportion of the people of this country have lost the sense of the importance of our home agriculture to the existence of the nation. They seem to think that the food of the people comes down "like manna out of heaven." But it does not. it either is produced in the United Kingdom or has to be brought in ships from some other land. If it is brought in ships from some other land it means an increase of the difficulties of our foreign exchange; it means the occupation of tonnage space for food that is urgently wanted for munitions or for other purposes. Therefore it is impossible to exaggerate the importance in this time of war that our own land should produce the maximum amount of food that it can for the people, and that we should be as little dependent on foreign imports as possible.

And that is why the Prime Minister in the House of Commons, in answer to a question, used these words. I wish to repeat them in order to give them wider publicity than they have yet had. The Prime Minister said— It is true that it will be necessary in the national interest to review the exemptions granted to certain classed of agricultural workers, but it must not be supposed that in taking this action the Government have failed to realise the importance of maintaining the highest possible output of home-grown food supply, which remains a national object of a most essential nature. We should deprecate the removal from work on the land of labour which is really essential and irreplaceable for this purpose. I wish nothing better than that those words should be before every Tribunal in the country. If they have those words before them and the sense of the needs of the Army, then I am sure they will do their best to strike that balance to which I have already referred. But it is not striking a just balance if a farm is left without a farmer, a flock without a shepherd, or a team without a ploughman; nor is it possible to work a farm if the foreman round whom the whole work of the farm way centre, and who may be working, as my noble friend said, for a widow, is taken away; nor, in the case of a great dairy herd, is it possible to remove the head stockman and expect the work of the farm to be continued as it was heretofore. In any of those cases, however excellent may be the intention of the Tribunals, I venture to say that if they refuse exemption they are misinterpreting the true national interest.


My Lords, it might perhaps interest the House and be germane to this discussion if I said a few words as regards the work of the Central Appeal Tribunal which has been sitting for now nearly four months. I should like to assure the noble Lord who raised this question that my colleagues and I most fully realise the vital importance of maintaining the output of our home-grown food crops. We regard it as a paramount consideration that in no case should so many men be withdrawn from a farm as to run the risk of that farm falling out of cultivation or of the stock-raising being checked. We have already settled about 8,000 cases in all, the greater number of which are agricultural appeals. I hope—and I think it is the case—that no farm has gone out of cultivation or will run that risk as a result of any decision of our Tribunal.

I should like to say a word as to our procedure in agricultural cases. It is this. When an appeal conies to us we at once send the decision of the lower Tribunal to the appellant and give him five days in order to make any further representation of his case which he may desire, and we are always ready to consider such fresh representation. We also supply a form on which he can give the whole details about his farm—the acreage, what the crops are, the amount of amble, the number of ploughs, horses, cows in milk, chickens, pigs, and livestock generally. He fills this up and also states the labour he has now, what it was before the war, and what each man is doing. With that information before us we have great help in arriving at decisions. But, more than that, in every case we have the opinion of an assessor from the Board of Agriculture or from the Scottish Board, and the Scottish Board in sonic cases sends down to the place and causes a personal inquiry to be made. I need hardly say that to opinions like those we always attach the utmost respect. But in cases which are close to the borderland it may sometimes happen that we have been more liberal than the assessor and occasionally a little less liberal. While we try to avoid throwing too great stress on the tanner, on the other hand we do expect him to show a little more adaptability now than lie often does in times of peace.


Hear, hear.


And we expect him to make every effort to procure the labour of older men or of women on his land. In order to help him we frequently grant from one to three months delay so as to tide him over his spring ploughing and sowing and lambing season. And I would remind your Lordships that at the end of that period it is open to the farmer to appeal again if he finds he cannot get on with the labour that is left to him.

The whole machinery of these Tribunals is new, and in starting it there have naturally been difficulties. Applicants, and in some cases even Local Tribunals, have failed to interpret quite correctly the rather complicated instructions which have been supplied. It has followed, therefore, that some applications have been wrongly made or not properly put forward. But we are most anxious that every man shall have a full and fair opportunity of presenting his case, and we have never dismissed an appeal on technical grounds. Sometimes it has been necessary to make quite special arrangements to secure this object, arrangements which have thrown a considerable amount of work and correspondence on our staff. As the noble Earl has said, there has been marked difference in the judgments given by Tribunals in different parts of the country. That we could not fail to observe. But I think that the instructions are now better understood, and that the machine will work with greater regularity in the coming months.

Meanwhile I endorse what the noble Lord has said. As a rule the agricultural Tribunals have, I think, done their work very well indeed. I hope that the District Appeal Tribunals will in future always send in the reasons for their decisions. Such a verdict as "Appeal dismissed" does not suffice for our purpose, and it has been sometimes necessary for us to send the papers back for further information, thus involving delay. We have received 92 cases from District Appeal Tribunals under the Military Service Act and the new Instructions relating to voluntarily attested men. As your Lordships are aware, these Tribunals have the power to refuse an appeal, and in some cases to which the noble Earl referred I think he said they had refused appeals. But in order to secure uniformity we are anxious that every case in which any question of principle is involved or in which some special and exceptional features exist will be allowed to proceed to our Tribunal. The decisions of our Tribunal are now to be communicated to the District Appeal Tribunals, and in that way greater uniformity of judgment will arise before long.

The noble Lord referred to a point which we have also come across in our experience. Owing to the attraction of high wages or, in some cases, I am afraid, to the hope of getting exemption, there has been a considerable drift of agriculturists into munition factories. This has resulted, in the neighbourhoods of these great munition works, in farmers making special complaints of shortage of labour; and women who could in a month or two learn to milk and to be generally useful about a farm are not to be found, because they have taken refuge in munition works. If the Government would take steps to remove agriculturists who have taken a recent fancy to munition work it would help the farmers. It does seem to me that a carter or a ploughman is lost in a munition works when his services are very much needed on the land.

In such a great system of Tribunals covering the whole of the country it is impossible that there will not be some cases of unequal treatment. And we must remember that, even in criminal cases, we have not got absolute consistency of sentences. The noble Lord wished that we should lay down principles for the Tribunals below us. It is very difficult to do that, because the cases differ so much. But the practice of our decisions going to these Tribunals will help very much to establish uniform standards. We do not find it possible to standardise all agricultural cases, because the factors are so many and various. Each case must receive consideration entirely on its own merits. But groups of cases come up of a like kind, and one's experience grows greatly. I hope, therefore, that the decisions of the Local Tribunals, as they get to learn what the decisions of the Central Appeal Tribunal are, will tend to become more and more uniform. Besides the information to which I have referred and the assistance we have received from the Board of Agriculture, we have also rough scales showing the amount of labour recuired for work on a farm, and although those scales cannot be applied absolutely, because they do not fit all circumstances exactly, yet they are a guide to us in arriving at a decision. Still at best there must remain some cases which seem to involve hardship. I am afraid this is quite inevitable, because, after all, we are all liable to err. But I do hope that your Lordships will believe that the Central Appeal Tribunal are doing their best, and that we are earnestly striving to reconcile the urgent needs of the Army with the maintenance of the vitally important industries of the land.


My Lords, before this debate closes I am anxious to be allowed to say one or two words on the Motion of my noble friend opposite. He and I are both connected with the County of Somerset. I do not say anything about that, as I do not wish to place any matters on a personal ground. The whole of this debate appears to me to show the absolute impossibility of deciding these questions on the floor of this House. I thoroughly sympathise with my noble friend at the head of the Board of Agriculture. What we should like to have laid down are the principles and instructions, and not be compelled to go into these minute details. Otherwise what is the good of the Advisory Committees and all the rest of it? We should get general instructions. The Board of Agriculture is exceedingly open to anything that we say; but it is not right to take up the time of this House with a discussion as to whether on a particular farm there is a carter or two too many. The place where that should be discussed is before the Local Tribunals and the Advisory Committee who instruct the recruiting officers. That is the way we work in the county of Berkshire, and we have got on most harmoniously. We had a difficulty in one case, and what did we do? We reported a mayor for the decisions which he, with the local clerk sitting beside him, was giving, when we found that all their friends were exempted in shoals. But that, of course, was an exceptional case.

What we want is a bigger view on this question. We ought to lay down principles and stick to them. What I very strongly object to, if he will pardon my saying so, in the excellent and interesting speech of my noble friend opposite is his recommendation that there should be a change in the day. For heaven's sake do not let us have that. The worst thing you could possibly do would be to alter what we call "the day of reckoning." If you do that you will never end the confusion. To my mind the present system is working very much better than the last. I think the revised list of reserved occupations is a great improvement. What we call in our part of the country "the bible according to Long" is becoming much more understood and intelligible to the local mind, and I find much less difficulty with my two Committees since we have had to deal with it. Of course I may be wrong, and my noble friend may be right; but I do say that the Local Tribunal is the place to decide this, and that the time of Parliament should not be occupied in the consideration of such a question.


My Lords, I quite agree with my noble friend who has just sat down that this is not a place to decide principles in connection with this subject. But certainly it is the place to discuss them, and I think we are under a great obligation to my noble friend opposite for having brought the question before the House this afternoon. Everybody who is acquainted with my noble friend knows that all his life he has "played the game." But listening to his speech I could not help thinking that he was proceeding on the assumption that everybody else was doing the same, because he told us that he was unaware of any case in which the labour at present on the land was greater than was necessary. I speak with great diffidence on this subject, because I am in the same difficulty as was my noble friend beside me (Lord Haversham). We speak from the experience in just that part of the country in which we live. We have not the universal knowledge which is possessed by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, and we naturally cannot speak with wide authority. But personally I can hardly agree with my noble friend opposite when he says that there is no case in which there is greater labour on the land than is necessary. That surely cannot be said to apply all over England.

Just before I came down to the House a gentleman who speaks with some authority told me that if Local Tribunals and military representatives would give effect to the policy indicated in paragraph I of the official list of certified occupations no difficulty would have arisen. In some parts of England I do not think much difficulty has arisen. In the part of the Midland counties that I know best, and in Berkshire as well, I do not think there is very much difficulty. I can say that I have not on the whole of my estate a farmer's son who is single who has not joined the Colours; there is not an unmarried man left. But I do not say that this can be said all over. England. I am speaking with great diffidence, because I do not know except from hearsay and what I read in the newspapers. But I am told that in some cases too many exemptions have been made. Now, if it is the case that too many exemptions have been made in any parts of England, that, of course, will have to stop. With great respect I put it to the noble Lord opposite whether he did not rather overstate his case when he told us about the Regulations having an injurious effect on food production. Is that really so? My noble friend produced three remedies. He said that all carters ought to be exempt, and he told us how valuable a carter is on a farm. Everybody who knows about agriculture will entirely agree with the noble Lord there. You must have a man to every team of horses, no matter whether it is two-horse, three-horse, or four-horse land, as it is in the Eastern counties—naturally you must have a man for each team. As regards the bailiffs, I think my noble friend recommended that they also should be exempted. And then there was his suggestion as to a change in the day, a suggestion strongly objected to by my noble friend Lord Haversham. I do not think that those remedies, any of them, are very drastic, but after all they are remedies which ought to be considered by the Tribunals.

I was pleased to hear the convincing speech of the noble Bail the President of the Board of Agriculture. He told us, and I think almost everybody agrees, that the Tribunals, speaking generally, take a sensible view. As far as my limited experience goes, I think the Tribunals around my part of the country have taken a very sensible view of the matter. And then the noble Earl said what he has always said from the beginning of this terrible war—namely, that it was an absolute necessity that the agricultural interests should produce the maximum amount of food for the people. Though not quite relevant to this discussion, perhaps I might be permitted in this connection to offer my sincere congratulations to the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture with regard to the scheme for putting soldiers on the land. It is a great idea, and every one will wish him success in his experiment. I am sorry that Lord Svdenham has left the House, but he certainly gave us a very interesting account of the Central Appeal Tribunal. If it was only that it produced that speech, the bringing of this matter before the House by my noble friend opposite would be well repaid. The Central Tribunal seems to be worked an practical and statesmanlike lines, and I am sure the speech of Lord Sydenham Avill have a very reassuring effect on the country at large. What would the ordinary man, the man in the gallery, say after listening to this debate? I think he would say that while the Army ought to and must have every man that is not indispensable, vet the greatest care must be taken in the national interest to see that nothing is done to cripple the great industry on which so much depends and in which so much money has been invested. I congratulate my noble friend opposite on having brought the subject before the House, because it has afforded the noble Earl below me the opportunity of making a statement which is very reassuring, and which, I hope, will have a beneficial effect On the great interest which he so worthily represents.


My noble friend who has just spoken rather misunderstood me. I did not say that there were no cases where there was excess of labour, but that where there were such cases it was the fault of the Local Tribunal. I am much obliged to the noble Earl for the reply which he has given me. With regard to these men— what I call the "fifteenth of August men" and the bailiffs under thirty—are they to have a right of appeal to the Tribunal or not?


Yes. The farmer must each case go to the Tribunal. It is the belief of the Government that where the farmer can make his case good that a man of the class in question is indispensable the Tribunal will at once exempt him.


Under the Local Government Board's Circular the man does not belong to a certified occupation if he joined since August 15.


My noble friend does not, I think, sufficiently realise that there are two classes of case. There is the case of a man who can show that he is included in a certified occupation and that he has a right to be in that certified occupation and to claim protection in respect of it. The other is the case of a man who may not technically be within the scope of the certified occupation but who can show that he is indispensable to his employer. The employee of a farmer, although he may not be any longer within a certified occupation, can have the opportunity of showing that he is indispensable and therefore entitled to be exempted.


I am obliged to the noble Marquess. In those circumstances I ask permission to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.