§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON rose to ask the Earl of Derby, as Director-General of Recruiting, whether he is in a position to make any statement regarding the number of exemptions given by Local Tribunals to attested single men.
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, the fact that the noble Earl is, I understand, now in a position to make some statement to your Lordships on the effect of the action of the Tribunals upon the recruiting which he has set on foot makes it unnecessary for me to detain your Lordships for more than a moment. But I would just say this. You will recollect that when the recent Bill was passing through this House very grave doubts were expressed from many parts of the House as to its sufficiency and whether with its restricted scope it would produce the number of recruits which were asked for by the noble and gallant Field-Marshal opposite (Lord 268 Kitchener). Apart from that, the exemptions which were put in the Bill were of so broad a character that it appeared absolutely certain that the number of recruits would be largely governed by the spirit in which the exemption clauses were interpreted by the Tribunals.
§ Grave rumours have reached us as to the extent to which exemptions are being granted, and I hold in my hand a letter addressed to me by a member of Your Lordships' House who would have been present but is still incapacitated by wounds received in the field. He mentions that in the case of two Tribunals north of the Tweed, 86 applications for exemption came before one and 75 before the other. Out of the 86, 70 exemptions were given; and out of the 75, 63 exemptions were given—all agricultural. It is quite obvious that if the Act is going to be interpreted in that spirit throughout the country it will practically become of no effect. I am far from suggesting that there is any conspiracy on the part of any person to abrogate the Act as passed by Parliament, but there does seem to be a want of organisation in making it clear on what lines the Act ought to be worked in order to produce the proper number of recruits; and if the noble Earl in his answer should bear out either the figures of which I have given one instance or the general statements which have reached us through the Press, I am quite certain that your Lordships will feel that a strong case exists for the Government to take up the matter boldly if they desire the wish of the whole country and of Parliament to be carried out.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
My Lords, I look back some years and remember probably the happiest days of my life when I was a subordinate of my noble friend at the War Office, and nobody recognises more than I do what he did for the Army. Recognising that, I feel that the Question he has put is not like so many Questions that have been put in another place with a view to embarrass the War Office. I am therefore delighted to give him such an answer as I can. I am afraid it will extend beyond the usual scope of an answer, and I cannot think it will be wholly satisfactory. It is impossible to give any actual figures, and for a reason which I will endeavour to explain. To give figures that would be of any use, you ought to take the number of men attested 269 in a class and then see how many in that class you have obtained for actual service. Until all the class has been dealt with and all the appeals decided upon in the Local Tribunals, in the Intermediate Tribunal, and again in the Central Tribunal, it is impossible to get accurate figures; and to give any other figures at the present moment would be extremely misleading.
There have been criticisms, and my noble friend mentioned just now a letter in which apparently there was a criticism of the action of the Local Tribunals. I think that any criticism of the Local Tribunals is unjust. The Advisory Committees in the first place are doing extraordinarily good work. They are all gentlemen who are ready without reward of any sort or kind to give an enormous amount of their time to the consideration of these cases. I saw one gentleman only a few hours ago who sat for eight hours, going through these cases, in order to advise the military representative as to what action he should take before the Local Tribunal. The Local Tribunals, again, are doing their work most satisfactorily. Of course, there will occasionally be Tribunals which are perhaps not up to the level of others. There must be, of course, where there are so many Tribunals, cases where there has been a want of uniformity in the decisions. But everything that can be done by the War Office to secure uniformity is being done.
And if I might tell the House the way in which this uniformity is being secured, it will be a sufficient answer to a letter written by Sir Charles Welby which appeared in The Times yesterday. He evidently is under a complete misapprehension as to certain steps that we have taken. The War Office have appointed some Staff captains, men with knowledge of the world, who know what is required, and men on whose judgment we can thoroughly rely. Sir Charles Welby refers to them and says we are going to create a lot of officials who are not required, and he adds—May I urge that better cause should be shown before the War Office proceeds to create and pay some hundreds of sham captains to do work for which they can be in no way qualified?They are not sham captains. These are all officers who are unable to do more active work and who have undertaken this particular and most useful work for the War Office. The "hundreds of sham captains" that he says are to be spread all over the kingdom consist, as a matter of fact, of 270 ten only for the whole of the United Kingdom. By means of these officers we hope to secure uniformity between the decisions of the various Tribunals. The Courts of appeal will be another way of rectifying mistakes that may have been made, and I am in hopes that when the final decisions are arrived at it will be found that uniformity of decision is so great that nobody will have any cause for complaint.
I do not think that the Tribunals are lax in their way of granting rejections. In my humble opinion they are giving a fair number of exemptions, but I only refer to those exemptions which I may say they give of themselves on their own consideration. I am not referring to those which are forced upon them, so to speak, by the action of various Departments of the State. The Tribunals as a rule are just Tribunals; as a rule they have in front of them the object we would wish them to have, and that is to secure all the men that we legitimately can expect for the Army. There are cases undoubtedly in which this has not been done, certainly in some agricultural districts. There is no doubt that while the agricultural population in some parts of the country has done extraordinarily well, there are other parts where it has done extraordinarily badly. It is very what I must call "patchy."
There is another misapprehension that exists which I should like to correct, and in correcting it I hope to be able to justify what I have said with regard to the necessity for carefully watching agricultural exemptions. The Central Tribunal has been good enough to supply me with the following information: Statements have been made in the Press that the Central Tribunal has had before it 16,000 cases. It has also been stated in some quarters that these were claims from men actually attested under the Group system. This is a misapprehension. More than one-half of the cases were from men claiming to be engaged in starred occupations but who had not been starred and who made application to be treated as if they were starred. Under the old instructions, chiefly at the instance of the Board of Agriculture, such an application could be made whether a man had come forward for the Army or not. A considerable number of men made such application without having attested. Out of the total number of cases of this kind decided by the Central Tribunal over 90 per cent. are connected with the 271 agricultural interest, and in about one-half of such cases decided by the Local Tribunals the indications are that the men in question were related to the farmer. My noble friend the President of the Board of Agriculture and myself have had some correspondence on this subject, and I feel certain that he will do alt he possibly can to help us to secure the men whom we may legitimately expect from the agricultural industry.
I am not afraid of the exemptions which the Tribunals will give of their own free will. What I am afraid of—I made some deductions for it in my Report on the subject of recruiting, and I mentioned again my fears when the Military Service Bill was before the House—is the number of exemptions that will be secured because men are able to claim that they have some protection given to them. I am afraid because men are starred. I am afraid of the number of badged men, of men in reserved occupations, of the conscientious objectors, and incidentally of the action of Sir John Simon. I am very much alarmed at what I will call official exemptions. I do not know whether your Lordships have seen the list, but I have it here. It is long, closely printed, and it gives not only individuals but there are whole trades exempted from service with His Majesty's Forces. Something is being done undoubtedly with regard to this matter. The issue of badges, which was conducted at one time in the most indiscriminate manner, is now being carefully organised under the direction of the Badge Department of the Ministry of Munitions. In every case the badges are now being brought in and verified, and if they are legitimately obtained they are accompanied with a certificate. The various Departments—not before it was wanted—are now revising their list of badges with a view, if possible, to reducing them. I should like to point out to these Departments, when they are reducing, that it is no use taking away badges from men who are over military age. The only thing they ought to have in view if they can reduce the number of badged mend is to reduce those who are of serviceable age, and preferably those who are single. The Board of Trade has lately made a proposal to reduce, not any large number of the reserved occupations as occupations, but to take out from the occupations certain individual classes. It is a step in the 272 right direction, and I appeal to my noble friend the President of the Board of Agriculture to do the same in his Department. He has not yet seen his way to do it, but I am hopeful that he will meet us as far as he possibly can.
All these steps are to a certain extent in the right direction, but they are not nearly enough, and the Government must be prepared to take far stronger measures if we are going to get anything at all like the number of men that we anticipated we should get and which it is necessary we should get. We have got to go most carefully into the question of what are called the indispensable men. There are very few men who are indispensable. When you get at the present moment, as you do in so many of these Tribunals, employers claiming a man as indispensable for a big industry, and you find he is paid only 18 s. a week—well, indispensable men are not obtained at that price, and one wonders whether it is not some relation who has been conveniently put into a starred occupation. Now what is happening? There is no doubt whatever that men are going into these various occupations although quite unsuited to them in many cases, simply with a view to avoiding service. What the Government have to do is to take such steps as will get these men out of these industries, fill their places with women or with men returned from the Front or with men who are medically unfit, and let us have the strong, healthy, single young men for service with the Colours.
I do not believe in criticising unless you can yourself put forward some definite proposals. I am going to put forward my proposals. I admit that they are drastic. I admit that they will probably want some modification. At the same time I sincerely hope that the Government will accept them as a basis for a new arrangement for dealing with starred, badged men, and reserved occupations. These are my two proposals. (1) No single man who has not attained the age of thirty-one should be allowed to plead for exemption on the ground that he is starred, badged, or in a reserved occupation. (2) In the case of all other single men and all married men, their plea to be considered as starred or in a reserved occupation should not be entertained unless they have held their present post, or one of a similar character with another firm, previous to August 15. If that is done we shall get the men whom 273 we require. You must, of course, give to these men the same right to appeal on personal grounds that you give to any other men, but I would take away from them the right to appeal on the ground that they are starred, badged, or in reserved occupations. This, of course, cannot apply to skilled workers in munition works. Munition works at the present moment undoubtedly absorb more of these men whom I want to get than any other department, and there is no doubt that this is giving rise to a great deal of friction. I recognise, however, that munitions must stand on a different footing from anything else. Munitions we must have, and I know of my own knowledge that Mr. Lloyd George, the Minister for Munitions, is doing all that he possibly can to help us to get men released for service with the Colours and to replace them, as I have suggested they should be replaced generally in other occupations, by women and by men medically unfit. I know it is said that there may be labour difficulties, difficulties with the trade unions, but I would suggest to these leaders of labour unions—what, indeed, I have noticed in the newspapers they are seeing for themselves—that if you allow these men who are escaping from service to creep into and get a hold in these industries it will mean that they will remain in them, and that when the men at the Front come back they will find themselves deprived of their occupations by those who have staved behind. I see that in one particular union in Scotland this has been recognised. Therefore if trade union leaders generally would recognise this and help to place women in these various industries they would be doing a good service not only to the State, but also to their members who are serving abroad.
I implore the Government to take a very strong line in regard to this exemption question. They must have recognised by this time that when they do take a strong line they have practically the whole country at their back. The passing of the Military Service Act was probably the greatest revolution that has taken place in this country, but it was passed with the almost unanimous consent of the House of Commons and still more of the country. But you are allowing your strength to be whittled away by a small body of men in the House of Commons who are endeavouring to take advantage of everything they can to prevent you from 274 getting men. I venture to say that if you judged them by their actions you would say they would rather lose the war than win it. I have a very profound contempt for these gentlemen—I believe most people have—but it would require the freer air of a public platform to enable one to say exactly what one thinks about them. I would like to mention one matter in which they are agitating—the question of exempting those men who have been medically rejected subsequent to August 14. The difficulties that are being put in the way of the War Office when that Department tries to ascertain whether a man has been legitimately rejected on medical grounds are making our work there extremely difficult. The necessity for some such proof I think I can best show your Lordships when I tell you that at the present moment many of these rejection forms have practically nothing upon them except the word "rejected" written across them, no signature, nothing to show the cause of rejection. That is what this small body of men would like to force the War Office to accept as legitimate proof that the men have been exempted. I can further point out to your Lordships how necessary it is to go carefully into this matter by telling you that we had a report that in one district these spurious—they are really nothing but that—these spurious rejection forms are fetching anything from £2 to £3 apiece.
These persons are a small and insignificant body in themselves, but there is one Member who leads them, though I hope he does not entirely associate himself with all that they do. I refer, needless to say, to Sir John Simon, and I cannot resist saying how deeply I regret that his great influence should be used, as it is undoubtedly being used—he, perhaps, did not mean that it should be so—as a incentive to people in the country to do what they can to defeat the Military Service Act. I have been accused by some of these gentlemen of having tricked and trapped the Prime Minister into giving the pledge that he did give. That is untrue, but most complimentary in a sense, because I wish I could flatter myself that I am clever enough to trap so clever a man as the present Prime Minister. No; the man who trapped the Prime Minister was Sir John Simon when he remained in the Cabinet—a War Cabinet, as the noble Earl mentioned just now—with no intention apparently of ever being ready to take the responsibility 275 which the whole of that Cabinet must have felt might at some time be imposed upon them—namely, that of imposing compulsory service on this country. He was ready to stay in the Government and bring in what is known as the Military Service (No. 1) Act, a measure to compel, men who had served to go on serving. He was ready to do that; he was ready to institute and did institute the rules and regulations under which passports were not to be issued to eligible men of serviceable age, but when it came actually to the point of making eligible men serve, Sir John Simon became a conscientious objector.
I deprecate very much the publication in the Press of some of the cases of conscientious objectors. I think it very often provides an excuse for somebody to become a conscientious objector who has not hitherto thought of it. But there is one conscientious objector who must appeal to one's sense of humour, and who is so like Sir John Simon that, with your Lordships' permission, I will quote the case. It is that of a home service Territorial; such a man now, if he is a single man and of the right age, has to undertake foreign service. This particular man enlisted in a home battalion of the Territorial Force. He declined to go on general service, and appealed to the Tribunal. They said, "Why will you not take on this general service?" "Because," he replied, "I have a conscientious objection to killing a man." "But," said the astonished Tribunal, "if when you were defending the coast the Germans had landed, what would you have done?" Straight came the answer, "I should have gone to my commanding officer and have asked to be at once transferred to a non-combatant branch." That is exactly what Sir John Simon did. He was a home service man until it came to doing real service which he was capable of doing, and that was supporting the Government. He asked for exemption and he has got his exemption. I should not have mentioned it but for this fact—and it is a fact that, if I may say so, is considerably commented on in the country—that in the speech which Sir John Simon made when he left the Government, pointing to his late colleagues, he said that, though he had gone, there were members still left whose opinions could not be distinguished from his own. That must give one some cause for alarm. If they still have conscientious objections 276 may I suggest to them that they should take the course prescribed by the Bill, and should apply to their local tribunals—their constituencies—for exemption from further service? They will get it, and the military officers will make no appeal.
But what is the effect of all this? What is the effect of all these exemption? What is the effect of these attempts to find even more loopholes than the Act provides? It is to establish a feeling of unrest among those married men who have attested, have joined, and who recognise, and rightly recognise, that the effect of these exemptions is that they will be called up for service long before they expected, and long before the War office had ever anticipated, that they would. I cannot go with those married men to the same extent that some would wish to go—namely, that the pledge made by the Prime Minister has not been kept. It has been kept. It has been kept in the letter, and now I am asking the Government to take such steps as will make it kept in the spirit as well. But this agitation is not prejudicing the patriotism of the married men. That patriotism is, I think, best illustrated by the statement that although since the beginning of the year it has been an open secret that no married men would be compelled to join, vet no fewer than 130,000 married men have voluntarily attested, and no fewer than 4,500 attested yesterday afternoon. I must say I sympathise with them, and I wish to do all that I possibly can to represent their case as fairly to the Government as possible, and to secure the Government's co-operation with the War Office to help them in what, after all, is a difficult position.
May I be allowed here to digress, and make what I am afraid is rather an irrelevant statement? There have been some articles in the newspapers—and I have received a great many letters—in which the suggestion is made that I am leaving the War Office for another task, and in that way neglecting the married men's interests, which I ought not to do, in view of my having been the mouthpiece, so to speak, of the Prime Minister in his pledge. In the first place, of course nothing would induce me to run away from any difficulty that existed, and if I thought that by remaining at the War Office twenty-four hours out of the twenty-four I could better advance their cause I would certainly do 277 so. There is no intention on my part of leaving my post at the War Office as long as my noble and gallant friend the Secretary of State wishes me to stay there. My work there of necessity becomes very much less than it was, and it was only with his permission, and with the permission of two other gentlemen—the Adjutant-General, and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Mr. Tennant)—that I undertook the other work in addition. I feel that if I can do anything to relieve the Parliamentary under-Secretary of the extraordinary burden of work that has been placed upon him—a burden which I think few realise—I should willingly do so. I hope he will not think it impertinent on my part if I say that all those who in the War Office come in contact with him cannot speak too highly of the tact, and, above all, the patience with which he is upholding the work of the War Office in the House of Commons.
I again must go into a more irrelevant statement. I know that the next accusation that will be made—if it be an accusation—is that I cannot possibly undertake what work I have at the War Office and at the same time undertake the other work connected with the Air Service. If only those who would accuse me of that—of trying to do more than one possibly can—would realise my position with regard to the Air Service, which is very different indeed from what they assert, they would know that it is perfectly possible to undertake the two. There are talks of an Air Minister, and I am stated to be responsible for the air defence of the United Kingdom. I have nothing whatever to do with an Air Minister. I am chairman of a Committee, and I am glad to say that I have nothing whatever to do with the defence of the United Kingdom against aircraft. I wish to emphasise that, because one newspaper said—and it has been repeated by others and also by one distinguished man in Parliamentary life—that what was required was that the Air Service should have at its head for the defence of this kingdom against aircraft a man who, if anything went wrong, could be hanged. My sense of self-preservation makes me emphasise the fact that I have nothing whatever to do with the defence of this country against aircraft.
I must apologise for keeping your Lordships so long. I have endeavoured to put before the Government the very serious 278 position that we are in with regard to the provision of men. It is not a question of the administration of an Office or of any individual in the Office. It must be a question of a policy to be decided by the whole Government. The Government must take this matter into immediate consideration. On their action must depend, not the success of the scheme, but, far more than that, the provision of men, without which the Empire might fall. I am not despondent in the least as to getting the men. I believe we shall get them. But time is the most important element, and therefore I do hope that His Majesty's Government will do all that they can to facilitate the releasing of men for service. Do not let them hesitate; do not let them wait; do not let them have another outspoken colleague who will get up and say with regard to recruiting what one colleague has said with regard to other matters—"Too late! Too late!"
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
My Lords, I think I shall best assist this debate if I deal at once, before any other noble Lord speaks, with the aspect of the case to which the noble Earl has drawn such pointed attention—the exemptions in agriculture. The general case will be dealt with later by my noble friend Lord Lansdowne. We have had many debates in this House on finance, on contraband, and now on recruiting. I am afraid that the public gets in one respect a false impression from these debates. The public thinks that we are discussing a series of very interesting but disconnected and separate subjects, but that is not true. In reality we are always discussing only one subject—the conduct of the war. All these questions dovetail into one another and are interdependent to a degree that no one can imagine unless it has been his duty to deal with the problem. Take the questions of financial stability and of the food of the people. There is no use in ensuring the financial stability of the country or the food of its people if we cannot supply an Army large enough to turn the scale towards victory in the war. On the other hand, it is equally true that there is no use in having a large Army if the country is not able to finance the whole Allied cause or if there is any danger of insufficiency in the food supply of the people.
I should like to say a good deal about the question of food supply but I am at 279 a disadvantage, because I cannot speak to my noble friend opposite or to this House or to the public without speaking also to our enemies, and therefore I am obliged to hold my tongue. But I do say this, and I say it with a great sense of responsibility and with absolute conviction—that every month the war goes on the more important becomes the question of the food produced in the United Kingdom. I foresaw so far as I could the importance of this question, and therefore I went to my noble friend Lord Kitchener many months ago, soon after I had the honour of becoming Minister for Agriculture and before the National Registration Bill was introduced, and pointed out to him the danger that would arise if certain skilled men in agriculture were recruited for the Army. Lord Kitchener was convinced by my arguments and agreed, while he could not refuse to take a man belonging to these skilled classes if he wished to join the Army, that he would instruct the recruiting officers not to solicit these men to join the Army. I announced that fact, with Lord Kitchener's consent, publicly in August. Therefore when the National Register was compiled it is quite true that the farmers knew that I had agreed with Lord Kitchener that certain classes of skilled agricultural labour were indispensable to agriculture and should not, if possible, be recruited. No hint was given to farmers that these men would be starred. The star came afterwards. But the wise farmer was careful to see that the men who did belong to these classes described themselves as such in the Register; and also I am afraid it is true that there were cases in some districts—fairly numerous cases—where farmers took precautions for the inclusion under these headings of men who did not really belong to these classes. But I am quite sure that if Lord Kitchener had not so met me in this matter last summer an absolute catastrophe would have occurred to agriculture, and at the present moment the food supply of the people would be in a very different position from what I believe and hope it is.
When Lord Derby undertook the duties which he has fulfilled to our great admiration, he and I had often to discuss this question together. He, of course, was contending for the size of the Army; I was contending for the safeguarding of agriculture. We generally arranged our 280 differences, though I do not think I have ever convinced him that too many men have not been reserved to agriculture. Only yesterday he came to me, as he has stated to-day, and asked me to agree to strike off the starred list a certain class of men. I felt quite unable to agree to his proposal.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
No; I beg the noble Earl's pardon; that is quite right—unmarried men under thirty years of age belonging to a certain class.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
I was not able to agree to my noble friend's proposal. The class is not a large one, but in my opinion there is no more important class among all those who have been starred. I will tell your Lordships what the class is, because I do not think my noble friend would wish that there should be any mystery in the matter—it is the foreman class. In my judgment there is no man on a farm more important than the foreman. Not only is he the man through whom the organisation of the labour proceeds, but he is probably the one man on the farm who can turn his hand to any one of the skilled occupations if the necessity arose. He can be cowman, farmer, shepherd; indeed, he can do and is doing everything in many cases; he is "jack of all trades" in all the most important farm operations at the present moment. Therefore although it has been always a matter of great regret to me ever to say "No" to my noble friend, I did not feel that I could say "Yes" to that proposition. I believed the consequences to agriculture would be very serious, whereas the number of men that the Army would gain would be proportionately small.
I have spoken on this subject in the country at a great many meetings, and I should like to repeat to your Lordships what I have said to the farmers and what I shall say again. I say to the farmers that upon them is laid the grave responsibility of producing all the food they possibly can from their farms during this time of war. That is their war job, and it is just as much a responsibility in their 281 case as fighting is in the case of others of their fellow-countrymen. To the extent to which, through unwillingness to adapt themselves to new conditions or to laziness or to selfishness, they fail in producing the greatest possible amount of food they can, to that extent they are allies of the Germans. And I say to them also that it is incumbent upon them to do that with the retention on their farms of the smallest possible number of men of military age who either come under the Military Service Act or would be willing of their own accord to join the Army. It is the absolute duty of the farmer, if he wishes to be regarded in the future as a patriotic man who did his duty in this time, to do all he can to find substitutes for men of military age, be those substitutes older men, be they men who are unfit for military duty, or be they women; and my Department are doing all we possibly can to show the women of the land that although they may not need to work—indeed, many of them are better off now than they have ever been before—yet there is just as much a call to them to work on the land to-day in order to release the men to fight as there has been to their men folk to go into the Fleet or into the Army.
I would say a word particularly about farmers' families, to which my noble friend referred. I hope the farmers will not think for one single moment that I make any accusation against them as a class. Far from it. Noble Lords know well that a more patriotic class does not exist. But unless all the information that has reached me is wrong, and I do not think it is, there are districts in the country in which some farmers have deliberately tried to shield their sons from the obligation of military service.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
I am not alluding to the cases, of which I know several personally, where all the labourers have gone from a farm and the farmer and his sons are working the whole farm as labourers. In that case the sons are to be counted as labourers, and they are indispensable. I am alluding to the cases where the farm is, I will not say fully equipped with labour—no farm is fully equipped with labour now—but where it has its fair proportion of male or female labour, and in addition the farmer has tried to make it appear that his sons are 282 indispensable as shepherds, or as stockmen, or as carters, and where he has arranged that part of those duties should fall upon them in order to strengthen their case for exemption before the Tribunal. I have no wish to shelter those farmers' sons. It is just as much their duty to take up arms at the present moment as it has been the duty of agricultural labourers or the duty of our sons, and I know that the farmers of England will agree with me. They have no wish that any special privilege or degree of exemption should attach to the families of farmers. Therefore I have told my noble friend, and I repeat it here, that I am willing and anxious that ever case of a reserved or starred man which appears to the officers appointed by my noble friend to be doubtful should be tested before the Tribunal. If a man has been improperly starred, let that be shown before the Tribunal; or if he has been properly starred but his services are no longer indispensable for the national welfare, let that be shown before the Tribunal, and let that man be released for service in the Army.
I would go further. There is no absolute finality in these matters. I am quite prepared to agree with my noble friend opposite that there should be an authority in the Government to revise from time to time the lists of reserved occupations and starred classes, provided that I am permitted to speak for my own Department in each case and that if I feel that I cannot concur I should be allowed to make my case and be heard. While, as I think I have shown, I am as anxious as a Minister can be to assist my noble and gallant friend the Secretary of State for War to get all the men that he can into the ranks, I feel my own responsibility very heavily. My noble friend has truly said that munitions are as important as the Army; but it can also be said that the food of the people is just as important as munitions or the Army. Therefore I cannot always accede to the suggestions which my noble friend makes to me.
But I would add the weight of my testimony to what my noble friend said to the married men. Do not let them be beguiled by the insidious suggestions made to them from one quarter or another that the promise made to them by the Prime Minister is being broken in this matter of exemption. I can say most honestly and conscientiously before my fellow- 283 countrymen as before this House that I have never stood up for an agricultural exemption that I did not believe to be absolutely essential to the national welfare, and having by the help of my noble friend secured those exemptions I have ever since been endeavouring so far as I possibly could to secure substitutes for the men, or some of them, who have been exempted, and I shall continue that practice. But it is quite inevitable that some unmarried men of military age must be kept upon the land. It is not possible for agriculture to part with all the unmarried men of military age, and it would be a wholly false reading of the Prime Minister's pledge and of the real facts of the problem of the conduct of the war if the married men believed that in no circumstances should an unmarried man be kept in one of these excepted classes.
THE EARL OF DESART
My Lords, I do not rise for the purpose of making any comment on the extremely interesting if somewhat disquieting speech made by my noble friend Lord Derby. I want to deal with another point on which I hope the Government may be able—though I am very much afraid they will not—to take some steps to prevent that which I think is a very considerable evil which has arisen out of the action of the Tribunals regarding exemptions. I should like to say this about my noble friend, Lord Derby's speech, that it struck me—as I think it struck most noble Lords in this House—that in what he said he added to the debt which the country owes him for his great services in the interest of the State at a moment of extreme crisis. The only point I want to make is whether it is not desirable that somewhat less publicity should be given in the daily Press to individual cases of applications for exemption and their consequences. I do not know how it strikes the public in this country, but it does produce abroad a sort of general impression, which I believe to be absolutely remote from the truth, that the large proportion of single men are desirous of avoiding the service which they are asked to perform at the moment of their country's peril and need. That it is misleading is exactly what makes the evil all the greater.
I have been very much impressed with this, because I had occasion to spend last week in Paris, and when I read the London 284 papers there and saw the accounts of the proceedings before the Tribunals and the reasons—some good, some indifferent, some bad—that were given for exemption, I recalled that I was among people whose sons had necessarily but ungrudgingly been sent to the service of their country, and among employers who had necessarily but ungrudgingly parted with the men who were essential to their trades, and had accepted this as a matter of course with cheerfulness and with patriotism and without grumbling, and I really hoped that those Frenchmen did not read the English newspapers. I looked anxiously at the French newspapers and was relieved to find that these cases were not reported there. Not that I think that comes to very much, because all the more educated Frenchmen now watch with great care what is passing in this country. I find that they have the deepest admiration for the response which voluntary enlistment met with, and they have been somewhat surprised that when the Government appealed for Parliamentary sanction to limited compulsory service there was a section, he it a small section, which passionately opposed even that measure for the defence of the country in its extreme need; and I think they are looking with still greater surprise at the number of cases in which on more or less sufficient, often on less sufficient, grounds men are applying for and obtaining exemption.
By this system of reporting at length—two or three columns sometimes—all these applications there is put in the limelight every bad case, if I may call them bad cases, and we have no record day by day of the numbers who have loyally met the Government and come forward willingly to perform the service which is called from them. I do not know whether it is possible in any way to check this great publicity. I know it is very difficult, but I honestly think it is a very serious thing. I am sure it affects our reputation abroad, and I do think it is deplorable that the Press should lend itself to advertising our weaknesses while we do not have any opportunity of recording that of which we may well be proud.
This is not, I fear, the only case in which the Press has produced false impressions abroad. I have been spoken to more than once on the subject by people closely 285 connected with public affairs and living in neutral countries. They have commented in very strong terms on the harm which our Press has done to us in neutral countries. From other foreigners who are in sympathy with us I have heard the same; and while appreciating the difficulty of dealing with a matter of this kind, I do think it is one which ought to be considered. If by appeal or by any method some limit could be placed on the reporting of these cases or some corrective record given to show the good side as well as the questionable side, I am sure it would be of great service and prevent our losing reputation in allied and neutral countries. At a time like the present, this is a matter which seems to me of enormous importance.
My Lords, I should like to refer in a few words to the extremely emphatic conclusion, as I understood it, that came from my noble friend the President of the Board of Agriculture. I understood him to insist that it was absolutely essential to keep a certain number of unmarried men on the land. If I am wrong, I will sit down at once. That is what I understood him to say. Well, I have a good deal to do with agriculture. I have had to farm for a good many years a large number of acres, all arable land, and I do not hesitate to say with great respect that I disagree with the noble Earl absolutely. So far as agriculture is concerned, I cannot see where the difficulty of the young married man doing the unmarried man's work arises. I dare say there may be difficulty in getting the married men, but when my noble friend says that it is absolutely essential that a certain number of unmarried men should be kept upon the land, so far as what I know of agriculture is concerned in the part of the country with which I am acquainted I absolutely disagree with him, and I am extremely sorry to hear such a statement come from the Government.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, I may, perhaps, be allowed to express my entire sympathy with what was said by my noble friend Lord Desart in regard to the regrettable effect produced by the publication of the details connected with some of the applications for exemption, but whether it is possible, as he would like us to do, to impose a limit upon publicity of that kind is another matter. Of one thing I am sure, and that 286 is that there would be great suspicion if we were to suggest for a moment that these proceedings should be heard in camera. I speak only from a not very distinct recollection, but I am under the impression that during the course of the discussion on this question great importance was attached to the publicity of the proceedings before the Tribunals.
THE EARL OF DESART
I did not suggest anything so drastic as that. In the first instance at any rate, perhaps some kind of appeal might have a measure of success. I was not advocating the hearing of the cases in private, but I depreciate the reporting of the cases at length.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I have no doubt that what has been said by the noble Earl will have its effect out of doors. I can only express my entire agreement with him, although I do not see any way of giving effect to his proposal. But I think it is quite fair to anticipate that when the novelty of these proceedings has passed away and when the practice of the Courts becomes more established than it is at present, we may look forward to a cessation of these publications to which my noble friend so much objects.
Lord Selborne, in the course of the speech to which your Lordships have just listened, went, I think, a considerable way towards meeting the criticisms of lay noble friend Lord Derby.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Therefore I do not propose to follow him in much of what he said. The fact is we all of us really want the same thing. Nobody will be found to say here or anywhere else, I hope, that it is only the Army which matters. Nobody again, I hope, will be found to say that the importance of our industries is so great that we must safeguard them no matter at what cost to the Army. We have to steer an even course between those two extremes. The action of His Majesty's Government throughout all these transactions has been one long effort to adjust these difficulties in a manner fair and reasonable and just to both sides. We had to do this—I am sure my noble friend will admit it—under very great difficulties.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
This was one of the many cases where we were inevitably unprepared. As we all know, nobody ever looked forward to the kind of military effort which this country has made during this war, and therefore nobody could have anticipated a state of things which would impose so serious an inroad upon our industrial resources. Your Lordships will remember that it was not until the month of August last year that the National Register was called into existence, when we were for the first time supplied with a means of taking stock of our industrial resources. It has from the first been evident to all concerned that some measure of protection for the industrial occupations of this country was inevitable. There has been a series of endeavours to do this. The first was that which my noble friend Lord Selborne described just now, when he, in consultation with the Secretary of State for War, framed the list of agricultural operations which were to be given the protection of a star. Then we had the badging of the men employed in the munition works. Then came the lists of reserved occupations. I know my noble friend feels rather keenly upon the subject of these lists, and I am not surprised. They followed one another at no great distance, and they contain what appears to be a most portentous list of protected occupations. Those lists were framed by a Committee which was assisted by experts who were thorough masters of the subject, and I think I may say this in defence of the great number of occupations which it was found necessary to include in these lists—that the lists were made long, not with the object of increasing the number of men who were to be included within them, but because unless the occupations were divided and sub-divided the lists would be wanting in precision and might consequently have been applied to protect people who were in fact not entitled to protection.
It is upon these lists that the Tribunals depend, and my noble friend is evidently dismayed at the result of the cases which have been hitherto before them, and I agree with him that, unless I am quite misinformed, the number of men who pass through without exemption is alarmingly small. But I ask my noble friend to remember this. I think it was 288 inevitable that the result of the earlier groups should be disappointing, and for this reason. The younger men, naturally knowing what was in the wind and what the prospects were of some measure of compulsion, enlisted in great numbers. The men who did not enlist but who remained in the groups were probably in a great many cases men who were pretty sure that when they had to come eventually before the Tribunals they would be able to show that they had sufficient reason to claim exemption. Another explanation which, I think, helps a little to reassure us is one that was suggested by my noble friend himself. We do not yet know what the effect of the proceedings on appeal will be, and I am inclined to hope that in a great many of these cases the decisions of the Central Court may be such as to have a very steadying effect upon appeals in future.
I think my noble friend made out with great force a case for a careful scrutiny of these proceedings, and I am glad to be able to assure him that this scrutiny not only will take place but is taking place at the present moment. There is already sitting at the Board of Trade an inter-Departmental Committee whose business it is to go very carefully through the lists of reserved occupations; and it was announced only last night in the House of Commons that steps had been taken not only to revise the list of starred and badged men but materially to reduce the number of reserved occupations. That is, at any rate, a step which I think will commend itself to my noble friend. But I quite agree that this is a matter which requires constant and most careful watching—watching in two directions. In the first place, to see that no occupations are allowed to remain in the reserved lists unless there is an absolutely conclusive case to show that they ought to remain there; and, in the next place, there is the necessity of watching very carefully the case of individual men. As to that, my noble friend Lord Selborne has said emphatically that in the case of the industry with which he is specially connected—and the same may be said of other industries—we are most anxious that every case should be thoroughly gone into so that if protection has been improperly given to any man, if he has got into the starred list improperly, if he has been included in a reserved occupation im- 289 properly, means may be found to deprive him of the immunity which he has thus obtained.
I heard with great satisfaction what was said by my noble friend in regard to the Tribunals, because really everything turns upon these bodies; and I may say that, so far as my information extends, I have every reason to believe that both the Local Tribunals and the Central Tribunal—so ably presided over by a member of this House, Lord Sydenham—are doing their work well and successfully. And I certainly will not leave out in the compliment which I venture to pay these Tribunals a word of commendation for the Advisory Committees which we owe to a great extent to the initiative of my noble friend, and which are doing invaluable work in sifting these cases before they come to the Courts and deciding what cases should be carried further and what cases can, with general advantage, be dropped. I prefer to accept the account given of the Tribunals by my noble friend Lord Derby than that which was given at the beginning of this discussion by my noble friend Lord Midleton. Lord Midleton told us that he had heard serious complaints at the spirit in which the Tribunals administered the Act. It is quite possible that you may find here a Tribunal with bias in one direction and there another Tribunal with a contrary bias, but I believe these Courts really are doing their work with absolute conscientiousness, and that all that is wanted is the steadying effect which will certainly be produced when a sufficient number of cases have been dealt with on appeal, and when consequently the interpretation of the Act is more firmly established than it is at present.
I would like to say one word upon the question of the interpretation of the Act. My noble friend rather took exception to the manner in which some men were allowed to claim that they were indispensable and should therefore be protected. All I can say is that the Instructions which have been issued to the Tribunals are drafted in such a way as to leave no excuse to the Tribunal if it does not interpret the Act with sufficient strictness. Let me read to the House one sentence in the most recent Instructions. This is the Instruction given to the Tribunals as to the manner in which they are to deal with the man who 290 claims that he is indispensable and that he ought to be allowed to remain in civil employment—In deciding cases in this class, Local Tribunals should take into account not only whether the service is such as ministers to the national interests at the present moment, but also whether it is in the national interest that the particular man should continue in civil employment, and whether, even if the services which he renders are essential, they cannot be performed by available men not of military age or otherwise not fit for military service, or by women.That really, if I may say so, is a very stiff Instruction, and makes it the business of the Tribunal to go very thoroughly indeed into the question whether the man before them is really indispensable in the truest sense of the word.
As I mentioned the question of substitution, to which my noble friend also referred, let me say this. I am a thorough believer in the policy of substitution. I think we should use every effort to persuade employers to substitute married men for unmarried men with the object of releasing the latter whenever it is possible to do so. I am not sure that my noble friend Lord Harris quite understood Lord Selborne when he suggested that he (Lord Selborne) was absolutely bent upon keeping a certain number of unmarried men in the farmer's service. What I think my noble friend had in his mind was the case of the foreman. It is not because the man is a single man that he should remain, but because he is a foreman; and whether he is a single man or a married man my noble friend pleads that he is a man who ought to be kept upon the farm because his services are essential.
Then there is the other question, which to my mind is all-important—the question of the substitution of the labour of women for that of men. This is a matter to which we have given a great deal of attention. I am glad to say that there is a steady increase, though not a very large one, in the number of women employed. My noble friend knows that there is a good deal of prejudice to be overcome in this matter, and it is not very easy to overcome it. In fact, I am pretty well convinced that in many cases we shall never overcome the prejudice unless it is made clear to the employer that he is going to lose his men, and therefore will have, whether he likes it or not, to find women to replace them.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
But I venture to plead that if this change is to take place it must be gradually effected, and that it would be grossly unjust to deprive the employer of a great number of men on the assumption that he was able to fill their places within the next few days by an equivalent number of women. To show how much can probably be done in this direction, I may, perhaps, be allowed to say that I have lately seen figures which show that there are at this moment 1,600,000 women in this country who are returned as experienced in industry, but who at this moment are not employed. That shows what a large field there is open for this most important change.
I listened with great interest to the two specific suggestions made by my noble friend. The first was that no single man who has not attained the age of thirty-one should be allowed to remain in a reserved occupation. My noble friend himself saw quite clearly that this was not a rule which could be indiscriminately enforced, because I think he said that in the case of munitions it would be impossible to do it.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
If my noble friend will admit that these things are to be done gradually, I will travel a great length with him. But what I suggest to him is that you could not, either in munitions work or in many other industries, suddenly withdraw the whole of the reserved or starred men who happened to be below a certain limit of age. I think the same kind of argument applies to my noble friend's other suggestion, which was, if I remember rightly, that no man should be allowed to remain in a reserved occupation unless he was in that occupation before August 15 last. There again I admit, in considering whether a man was indispensable or not, that it would be very fair to urge that as he had been recruited for his occupation only a few months ago he could hardly be considered indispensable. But that, too, seems to me to be a rule which it would be very difficult to apply indiscriminately and all of a sudden.
292 I should like before I sit down to assure my noble friend that this question is engaging our very earnest attention. We quite realise its great importance. Almost immediately there will be an important conference between the heads of the Departments mainly concerned, and all these criticisms shall be taken into account, and all these suggestions duly weighed. We, at any rate, are quite determined that the effect of the efforts which we are making shall not be whittled away by vexatious or useless restrictions.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
My Lords, I thank the noble Marquess sincerely for saying that he will take my proposals into consideration. I would like, at the risk of repetition, to say one or two things on his speech. Do not let us flatter ourselves that it is only the earlier groups that will be disappointing. Do not let us flatter ourselves that in the present circumstances the effect of appeals, even if the majority went in our favour, would be altogether satisfactory. Do not let us think that what I may call the small proposal made by the Board of Trade for a certain reduction in the number of reserved occupations is likely to give us the men we want. The thing has to be done on a much bigger scale, and I hope that the Government as a whole will decide that it shall be done on a bigger scale. Lord Selborne spoke of the particular case in which he had not been able to meet the request, not made by me in the first instance, but made through me by the Committee that sits at the Board of Trade, for dealing with these cases. They asked that Lord Selborne should agree that single men under thirty in certain occupations should be released. Lord Selborne refused. If I may say so, it seems to me that two of the speeches made to-night should cause the Government to inquire very carefully into the question of agricultural exemptions. Here is Lord Selborne, the theoretical head of the Board of Agriculture, saying that single men under thirty years of age engaged in certain agricultural occupations cannot be released; and here is Lord Harris, a practical farmer, who says that no single men of any sort or kind need be kept on a farm.
§ House adjourned during pleasure.
§ House resumed.