HL Deb 24 February 1916 vol 21 cc186-9

LORD STRACHIE rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether the registration cards of women registered under the National Register of last year can be made available for Women's War Service County Committees.

The noble Lord said: As your Lordships are aware, owing to the great scarcity of labour in agricultural districts the Presidents of the Board of Agriculture and the Local Government Board have said how desirable it would be if women could be found all over the country to take the places of the men who have gone to the Front. In certain districts it has been easy to do that, but in other districts with which the noble Lord is acquainted as well as myself—namely, in the West of England—there has been great difficulty in getting the registers made and finding women ready to come forward and undertake the agricultural work in the place of their husbands and brothers. My suggestion, which I hope the noble Lord will realise has some force in it, is that the cards of women who under the National Registration Act had to make a return exactly in the same way as men saying whether or not they were willing to undertake any war service should be made available for the purposes of the Women's War Service County Committees, which I believe the Government recognise. Through the Local Government Board or the Board of Trade the National Register cards, as far as men were concerned, were put at the disposal of the chairman of the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee in every constituency in the country for the purpose of canvassing recruits under the Derby scheme. My suggestion to the Local Government Board is that in the same way women's cards, under proper restrictions, should be made available for the purpose of making a register of women who are prepared to offer their services upon the land to make good the present great scarcity of labour.


My Lords, the question to which the noble Lord has called attention this afternoon is one in which your Lordships are all deeply interested. The President of the Board of Agriculture has by every means in his power notified to the people of the country the extreme necessity of supplementing by women's labour the great losses that agricultural labour has sustained by the men having gone to the Front. On January 19 last the Board of Agriculture issued a circular to the War Agricultural Committees which have been set up in each county under the auspices of the Board showing the arrangements made, by which canvassers acting under the recognised local committees can obtain, on application to the local Labour Exchanges, information of the names and addresses on the National Register of women who have stated their willingness to undertake agricultural work, and the Board believe that this arrangement will give to the local committees all the information they need. The President of the Board of Agriculture will be in his place in a moment, and I have no doubt that if my noble friend wishes to address to him any question relating to the Board the noble Earl will be ready to answer it. General access to the National Register I am afraid cannot be granted. I may point out that when the Bill for the drawing up of the National Register was in Parliament great emphasis was laid on the fact that the information supplied would be treated as confidential and only employed for official purposes; and under Section 13 of the National Registration Act it is expressly laid down that the communication without lawful authority of any information acquired in the compilation of the Register is forbidden. A large amount of information is given on the registration form which would have no value for the War Service County Committees, and in view of the provision to which I have referred it is not possible to give free access to the National Register cards to the representatives of the various voluntary committees which the war has brought into being. At the same time I am sure that the Local Government Board in conjunction with the Board of Agriculture will be only too anxious to meet the wishes of the noble Lord and others interested in the matter and supply any information they legitimately can in regard to women's willingness to work on the land.


Now that the President of the Board of Agriculture is in his place perhaps he might support the application that I have made to my noble friend Lord Hylton, who I do not think quite understood me. I quite realise that these cards are confidential. But so were the cards that were filled up and returned by the men; yet those cards were put into the hands of the voluntary committees. I myself, as chairman of a Parliamentary Recruiting Committee, had the whole of those cards affecting my district placed in my hands; and I am asking the Local Government Board to do nothing more in the case of women than has been done in regard to men in the case of the Parliamentary Recruiting Committees. It is surely as important to get recruits for the land as it is to get recruits for the Army. As I say, I am only asking that the same treatment as has been given to the Parliamentary Recruiting Committees should be meted out to the Women's War Service County Committees with regard to women. For the life of me I cannot see what possible objection there can be to that course; on the contrary, there must be the greatest possible advantage, because on the cards it is stated whether the women are willing to undertake work as well as what work they are willing to undertake. It would be a great advantage that we should know what women are ready to work, and if we knew that there would be a great saving of time in the matter.


My Lords, the question about which the noble Lord has spoken has been very carefully considered, not only by my Office, but by the Local Government Board and by my noble friend behind me, who has done so much to co-ordinate the different departments in respect of the use of the National Register. As the noble Lord knows, the National Register was confidential and its use was only put at the discretion of certain Departments for obvious public purposes. The purpose that the noble Lord has in his mind is an obvious public purpose, and I certainly understood that those who are responsible in this matter had agreed that the lists of what I may call potential women workers on the land—women who, in reply to the question what their profession was or to what war service they could turn, had entered "agriculture" —should be put at the disposal of the War Agricultural Committees and of t he Women's Committees that are now working under them. That, I think, is what the noble Lord wants.




If he will be good enough to write me a private note to the Board of Agriculture I shall be able to put the whole thing right, because I do not think there is any difference of opinion between the Departments on this particular point.