First World War Project

The Place of Rural Children during the 1st World War.

Essentially, we followed a number of reports that focused on education for children of 12+ years of age and their farm employment to fill the gap left by so many agricultural workers serving in the armed forces.

Alongside this topic, there was widespread discussion surrounding the eviction of wives and their families when the head of (rural) households joined the armed forces. This related to the idea of "tied" cottages.

East Kent Farmer's Club – Children for Farm Work

Dover Express [also Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate & Cheriton Herald – 23rd] on 22nd January 1915
Mr. A.W. Wood was on Saturday elected to succeed Mr. William Harvey in the chairmanship of the Canterbury Farmers' club and East Kent Chamber of Agriculture. The new vice-Chairmen are Mr. Daniel Brice and Mr. George Mount, the well-known rosarian. Who was last year Mayor of Canterbury. The name of Mr. H.G. Chambers, from the Maidstone district, was added to the roll of members.
......... An interesting debate took place on the question whether facilities should be given for boys of twelve years and upwards to work on farms during the war, which is one of the subjects to be considered at the next meeting of the Central Chamber. Mr. Allington Collard considered that in many cases it would be most useful if permission were given. So many of the younger men had been called up to the Colours that there was undoubtedly a shortage of labour, and with the present prices of food, etc., the money earned would be very useful to the families of labouring people.
Mr. J.D. Maxted advocated that similar facilities should be asked for in the case of girls, whose services in hop training and fruit picking were, if anything, more useful than those of the boys. Their schooling would only be interfered with during the period of the war.
Mr. Alfred Amos did not think that the children's schooling should be interrupted. He had, however, for several years employed the boys on Saturdays.

Children on Farms

Reported in South Eastern Gazette on 2nd February 1915
The deficiency of labour for farming purposes was considered at a meeting of the Council of the Central and Associated Chambers of Agriculture, held at the Surveyors' institution on Tuesday. The Business Committee presented a report stating that a letter had been received from the board of Agriculture, in which it was intimated that the Board were satisfied that the deficiency of farm labour had become very serious in certain districts, if not throughout the country generally, and that the time had arrived when farmers must take concerted action to deal with the situation, if they were to carry on their business with profit to themselves and in the interests of the nation. The Board suggested the formation of a committee in each country.
Pending discussion at the next meeting the report was formally received.
The Education Committee reported their opinion that boys of 12 years of age employed solely on farms might be exempted from school attendance during the war, but that they should afterwards return to school at the earliest possible period. The committee hoped that the boys exempted might be enabled at some subsequent period to attend continuation classes or agricultural or other suitable schools.
Lord Channing, who moved the adoption of the report, said he did not see why the boys of England should not be called upon to take their share of public duty in the present crisis. The report would dispose of any idea that they wished to cut short the educational life of the rural child in order to get cheap labour for the farms.
Mr. Wood, speaking as a representative of Kent farmers, urged that girls as well as boys should be included in the recommendation of the committee for school exemption. In hop districts girls were as useful as boys.
The Chairman, Captain Bathurst, M.P., supported the suggestion. Not many years ago our young women did admirable work in milking cows. They could not take up any more patriotic task at present.
A letter was read from the Board of Education stating that they had no power to give any general directions overriding the ordinary law with regard to school attendance, but that the local education authority was under no obligation to take proceedings for non-attendance if they were satisfied that there was a reasonable excuse.
The report was adopted with the substitution of the ward "children" for "boys."
A report of the Dairy Products Committee was adopted expressing the opinion that, with the present and increasing price of feeding stuffs, milk sold under contract was, in many cases, being produced at a loss.

Child Labour in War Time - The Shortage of Adult Labour in Agricultural Districts - Discussion at Tunbridge Wells Farmers' Club

Kent & Sussex Courier [Common topic of concern across Kent] of 19th February 1915
At the weekly meeting of the Tunbridge Wells Farmers' Club on Friday evening (Mr. G.E. Davison presiding), there was an interesting discussion on the question of the employment of boys on farms during war time, owing to the shortage of adult labour, which has resulted from enlistment. The discussion arose out of the report of the recent meeting of the Central Chamber of Agriculture.
Commenting on the report, Mr. PARRIS said there was no doubt that the question of shortage of labour was one that would become increasingly difficult as the war went on. He pointed out that even if local education authorities were disposed to exempt boys of 12 years of age from attendance at school in order that they might go to work on farms, it was questionable whether it could done under the existing law. Of course, he went on, there were faddists who were entirely opposed to children being taken away from school at 12 years of age and put to work, but they did not realise that we were passing through a very great crisis, in which any kind of labour on farms would be of great use to the community. It would be a great benefit to girls in the future if they could be taught milking and other light duties on farms and so replace men's labour. It was not a question of the farmers getting cheap labour, but of getting any labour at all.
Mr. O.T. CORKE was strongly averse to the use of child labour as suggested. He thought children of 12 would be of very little use on farms. The age between 12 and 14 was when a child learned most. The children would suffer for the rest of their lives if this step in the wrong direction were taken.
Mr. E. LE MAY said one would think they were suggesting that the employment of child labour should be a permanent affair. They were suggesting it as much in the interest of the children themselves as of the people as a whole. The community must be supplied with food. At present we were able to keep the avenues of our food supply open, but did not know how long that would be so. The first duty of every country was to provide food for its people. The country would have to make greater sacrifices before the war was over than the children were being asked to make now. If farmers said that the labour of children over 12 years of age would be useful they must have it. He pointed out that there was no suggestion that a boy of 12 should be compelled to work on a farm. E would only do so if fit and willing.
Mr. G. DAVISON, senr., endorsed these remarks, and said much useful light work might be done on farms by lads of 12 or 13 years of age. The food of the nation was the first consideration.
Mr. W.T. TEMPLER said that while he agreed that the food supply must be maintained, he was in sympathy with Mr. Corke's opinion that the children's education should not be interfered with. In view of the unexampled crisis, he thought some arrangement might be made whereby children might work on farms without their education being materially neglected. No doubt the interests of the children needed carefully safeguarding.
Mr. E. LE MAY moved the following resolution: "In view of the fact that the production of food is the first consideration in the crisis in the affairs of the country, and on account of the shortage of labour in agricultural districts, children of 12 years of age and upwards should be excused attendance at school if they can be employed on the land."
Mr. A. COSHAM seconded, and also suggested that women might do more work on the land.
Mr. R.W. DENYER said he was extremely surprised that at a time like the present the Tunbridge Wells Farmers' Club should devote their attention to such a small matter. It was in truth a "childish" question. There were much more important matters to be dealt with, and the question of child labour on farms was not worth of that Club. They were proposing to take away the best part of a child's life, and there was no reason for doing so.
The resolution was carried with some dissentients.

Kent Education Committee. Children and Farm Work. Interesting Discussion

South Eastern Gazette of 23rd 1915

At the monthly meeting of the Kent Education Committee held at the Sessions House yesterday (Monday), Mr. W. Berry (chairman) presiding the Elementary Education sub-Committee reported that they had before them in December past a resolution from the Sevenoaks Branch of the National Farmer's Union, requesting that children should be granted exemption from school attendance after their twelfth birthday for employment for agricultural purposes during the period of the war. The Committee then informed the applicants that, while sympathising with the object in view they could not see their way to adopt the proposal. Similar requests or suggestions have been received from other quarters. In the case of the Hoo Guardians the following letter had been received:-
The Guardians of this Union beg to thank you for your letter of the 19th inst., in reply to their request that that boys might be allowed to leave school at the age of twelve years. They hope, however, that the matter may be reconsidered. They think that the committee, in declining to act as desired, scarcely seem to appreciate the serious position of matters. The potato planting season is coming on, and the women who have usually done the work appear to be in such good circumstances through payments derived from the State that they do not now care to work.
The Sub-Committee, while they earnestly deprecate the withdrawal from school of children under fourteen years of age, otherwise than in accordance with the by-laws, feel that the demand for child labour cannot but increase, and that the matter is one which calls for the early attention of the Committee. So far as they have discussed the matter the sub-committee are of opinion that no relaxation in the enforcement of the by-laws in order to allow of the extended employment of children should be made before the approach of summer, and that if any be then made it should be accompanied with a condition that any child released for employment must work only under the supervision of its parent or some other approved guardian.


The Chairman moved the adoption of the report.
Lord Northbourne said the report was a little inconclusive in that it made no reference to remarks which the Chairman himself made, which led them to believe that he was not unfavourable to some relaxation of the rules. The question of labour in some parts of the county was an extremely serious one, and if, as they were all agreed, it was a matter of national importance that at this time the soil should be cultivated to its utmost he saw no alternative but to employ In the near future, children who were old enough and sufficiently strong to perform small agricultural operations. He moved:
"That it is desirable in the present crisis to offer, under certain circumstances, facilities for the employment of children between the ages of 12 and 14 in agricultural operation, and that the Elementary Education Sub-Committee be requested to report to this Committee what modification, if any, of the existing by-laws can be made to give effect to this change."
Mr. Tapp enquired if this was an amendment to the Committee's report, but Lord Northbourne said he did not intend it to be. He considered it was a matter of urgency, an he would, if necessary, move that the Standing Orders be suspended.
Mr. Tapp: I have never heard of anyone moving the suspension of the Standing Orders to discuss a matter like this.
The Chairman intimated that he would be prepared to accept the motion as an amendment.
Lord Northbourne: Very well, I will move it as such.
Mr. Tapp thought that the difficulty which was being experienced in getting agricultural labourers was not due to any actual dearth, but to the miserably low wages which they were being paid. There was at present a considerable amount of employment in the large industrial towns, and labourers were leaving the country and going to those places, where they could earn more. He (the speaker) would rather see Lord Northbourne compelled to till the ground that allow a child of tender age to perform any work of that description (laughter).
Miss Wigan: I have seen Lord Northbourne plant a tree, and he did it in a very workmanlike manner (renewed laughter).
Continuing, Mr. Tapp said that already children had too few opportunities in the matter of education. Now an attempt was to be made to exploit their labour because the capitalist class declined to introduce better conditions in respect of adult labour.
Mr. Lawrence Mitchell remarked that, no matter what wages were paid, they could not get the labour. Personally, he did not believe in the humbugging talk that a boy could not be employed at 14 years of age. He pitchforked out of the City of London at the age of 14; and he did not know what would have become of him if he had remained at school until he was 18 or 19. They talked about be patriotic, but were they going to allow the widows, those sons had gone to the war, to starve? He would willingly support the amendment of it was made to apply also to urban districts.
Mr Watts urged that if children were taken away from school they would never have an opportunity afterwards of retrieving the ground which they would have lost so far as their education was concerned. He would rather see the women do light agricultural work than the children.
Mr. Cobbett Barker said he was not a hidebound theorist on the question of the employment of children. The time might come when both women and children would have to do more than they were doing at present.
Mr. Plumptre thought there was a certain number of boys who would be much better kept at school, but there were a great many who could be usefully employed on farms without any material loss to themselves.
Sir Mark Collett was in favour of the stronger physically developed boy being allowed to leave school for two summers prior to his reaching the school age, on condition that he put in the two winters at school afterwards.
After further discussion the amendment was negative on the casting vote of the Chairman.
The Sub-committee's report was then adopted.

Boy Labour on Farms. Education Board and Local Authorities.

South Eastern Gazette, p2, of 23rd February 1915

A White Paper issued by the Board of Education shows the extent of the movement in rural areas for the exemption from school of boys below leaving age, in order that they may be put to work on the land and remedy the shortage of labour caused by the war. The Board has been in communication with the County Councils or Education Authorities in Cambridgeshire, Derbyshire, Kent, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Somerset, Staffordshire, West Sussex, and Pontypridd.
In some cases the local authorities ask for relaxation of the by-laws to enable boys of 12 and 13 to be exempted from school. In other cases they complain that when boys stay away and the authority prosecutes the parents the magistrates refuse to hear evidence and dismiss the summonses. The position taken up by the Board of Education is that there is no reason for any change in the law, and that exemption from school should be an exception rather than the rule. The local Education Authority is not bound to summon parents for non-attendance of boys, and the Board suggest that in individual and exceptional cases absence should be acquiesced in. The Board offer no remedy for the dismissal of summonses by Magistrates.
The general attitude of the Board may be gathered from their reply to a request from the Derbyshire Education Committee that boys over 12 years of age should be exempted, even if they had not passed the fifth standard, on the ground of the dearth of farm labour. The Board state:-

"The only reason alleged for an alteration in the by-laws is that there exists in some places a dearth of farm labour, and that the services of boys of 12 would be very useful." It appears to the Board that this is a proposition that might have been, and probably was, true on many occasions before the war, and quite irrespective of the war, and it does not appear to afford any sufficient justification for a proposal to interrupt the education of children at the age of 12, which have not even passed the fifth standard ......
"Before deciding not to enforce attendance in a particular case, the Board consider that the authority should satisfy themselves that there is a pressing need in the public interest of agricultural labour, that that need cannot be supplied either by utilising the services of children who are already exempt from school attendance or by employing adult labour, and that the child selected for employment is a child who can be permitted to leave school with the least possible prejudice to his educational interests."

The Board hope that Magistrates will not refuse to go into the merits of summonses for non-attendance.

Borough Education Committee. Irregular Attendance at Schools. A Serious Position.

Reported in the Kent & Sussex Courier on 26th February 1917

Archdeacon A.T. Scott presided at the monthly meeting of the Borough Education Committee, which was held at the Town Hall on Monday afternoon [22nd February].


The School attendance Sub-Committee reported on investigations made into the question of the irregular attendance of children at some of the local elementary schools. The School Medical Officer reported to the Sub-Committee that he had examined 1,060 children during the past year, and that 1.9 per cent of this number had been excluded from school. The Sub-Committee expressed the opinion that these figures were very satisfactory. The return of average attendance presented by the Town Clerk (Mr. W.C. Cripps) showed percentages varying from 82.6 to 86.7 from December 18th to January 22nd. Warnings were issued to 34 parents.
Alderman H. ELWIG enquired what were the reasons for the irregular attendance of children?
Councillor J.G. PASSINGHAM, Chairman of the Sub-Committee, replied that medical men had given certificates, and the Sub-Committee could not over-ride what was done in that respect. Although he hoped the impression was wrong, the Sub-Committee feared that the Magistrates did not entirely support them with reference to the fines inflicted for non-attendance at school. It was ridiculous for the Sub-Committee to spend a lot of time going thoroughly into the cases, and then, when the matter came before the Magistrates, the cases were adjourned for a month, or the fines, if any, were imposed, were not enforced. He was hoping that something could be done by the Education Committee to give the School Attendance Sub-Committee more power for dealing with cases of irregular attendance, which had a very prejudicial effect on the Government grant. Up to last August the attendance was very good, over 90 per cent. He could not say if the war had had any effect on it.
Alderman H. ELWIG said the matter was s serious one. He had been told that the children sent home under medical orders had a considerable bearing on the decrease.
Mrs. G. ABBOTT said some of the cases of non-attendance were due to children being sent home on account of uncleanliness. That ought to be speedily remedied. She suggested a memorial to the Borough Magistrates asking them to support the Education Committee.
The TOWN CLERK said his experience was the magistrates were very hard on local authorities who tried to press cases. The tendency of the present day was not to punish anybody for anything (laughter). The only people treated badly were those who obeyed the law.
The CHAIRMAN: Can't we do something by means of a little moral pressure on parents?
Councillor PASSINGHAM: We want the fines for non-attendance enforced.
The matter then dropped. THE FEEDING OF SCHOOL CHILDREN. The Tunbridge Wells Workers' War Emergency committee wrote asking the Committee to exercise their powers to feed hungry school children in the town. They were given to understand some time ago that there was no need for this action, but children were being fed at the present time by private charity, so obviously the need existed. Moreover, the private charity was in need of funds.
Alderman ELWIG said it was only recently reported that there were no cases of underfed school children.
Mrs. ABBOTT: That was three or four months ago. Since then the rise in the prices of provisions and coal has entirely changed the position.
Alderman ELWIG pointed out that there was no lack of employment in the town.
Mrs ABBOTT: But wages have not risen. She moved that another return be asked for from the head teachers and the Distress Committees, in order to ascertain if the need now existed.
Councillor Colonel HUNTER seconded.
The proposition was lost by six votes to four.


ELEMENTARY EDUCATION. "The Committee, in December last, had before them a resolution from the Sevenoaks Branch of the National Farmers' Union requesting that children should be granted exemption from school attendances after their twelfth birthday for employment for agricultural purposes during the period of the war, and the Committee then informed the applicants that, while sympathising with the object in view, they could not see their way to adopt the proposal. Similar requests or suggestions had been received from other quarters. The Hoo Board of Guardians hoped that the matter might be reconsidered. "They think that the Committee, in declining to act as desired, scarcely seem to appreciate the serious position of matters. The potato planting season is coming on, and the women who have usually done the work appear to be in such good circumstance through payments derived from the State that they do not now care to work." Upon this the Sub-Committee remarked that while they earnestly deprecated the withdrawal from school of children under fourteen years of age otherwise than in accordance with the bye-laws, they felt that the demand for child labour could not but increase, and that the matter was one which called for the early attention of the Committee. So far as they had discussed the matter the Sub-Committee were of opinion that no relaxation in the enforcement of the bye-laws in order to allow of the extended employment of children should be made before the approach of summer, and that if any be then made it should be accompanied with a condition that any child released from employment must work only under the supervision of its parents or some other approved guardian.
The report having been moved for adoption by Mr. BERRY, Lord NORTHBOURNE initiated a discussion with reference to the shortage of agricultural labour and the necessity of relaxing the bye-laws in order to enable children of from12 to 14 years of age being released for light farm work. His Lordship proposed an amendment for a reference back to the Sub-Committee to consider and report what facilities could be given in this direction in the present crisis, and Mr. H. PAYNE seconded.
Messrs. TAPP and H.T. WATTS raised very strong protests against anything being done which would allow of child labour, and the former pointed out that the Committee had no power to alter the bye-law.
Upon being put to the vote there were nine for and nine against, and by the casting vote of the Chairman the amendment was negative, at the same time it being stated that the matter would come before the Sub-Committee.
The report was then confirmed."

------------------ [IN THE SAME EDITION]

TONBRIDGE PETTY SESSIONS. TUESDAY [23rd February 1917].- Before Mr. C.W. Powell (Chairman), Alderman F.E. East, Mr. W. Baldwin, Mr. A.F.W. Johnson, Mr. A.J. Isard, Mr. G. Paine and Mr. F.D. Draper.
ABSENT FROM SCHOOL. Frederick Twiner, Bickley Cottages, Tonbridge, George Tanfield, 128, St. Mary's-road, Tonbridge; and Jonathan Ridge, Lodge Oak Lane, Tonbridge, were summoned for failing to send their children to school regularly.
Mr. W.Swale, School Attendance Officer, stated the facts of the cases.
Mr. Tanfield stated that he was not aware his boy was staying away until the officer informed him of the fact.
The Bench made orders for attendance in each case.

England not in Downright Earnest Over the War.- Boys on Farms - Unreal and Ridiculous.

Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald of 6th March 1917
"The Times" on Friday preached a lesson to Englishmen which they badly needed. There is abundant evidence, remarked the leader writer, that we as yet only realise in part what we are "in for." Our troops, new and old realise it. Many of those at home who are not privileged to wear a uniform realise it; but we are afraid that many more do not. Certainly the nation, as a whole, does not realise that it is at war, as the French nation does. The French make no pretence of behaving as if they were at peace; they are in bitter earnest, and have no time to play. But what are we doing: What, for instance, has the house of Commons, which represents the nation so far as popular election can make it representative, been doing in the last few days? It has been wrangling over trifles – whether boys shall be allowed to work in the fields, what are the precise details of a Government contract for buying timber, and things of that kind. We do not deny a certain importance to these subjects, but it is a peace importance. In the actual circumstance in which we stand, to make a solemn fuss, spiced with rancour and ill-will, about this contract, reveals a lack of proportion which would not be possible to men in downright earnest about the war. They would brush such matters aside. Our politicians seem to think that everything ought to go on as usual, and that peace standards must be maintained in war. The question of boys on farms is typical. In France the harvest was got by women and children, as the British officer tells us; and we know it was so got in Germany. Both countries depend mainly on these forces for their coming harvest; but when it is proposed here to let selected boys of twelve and thirteen go and help the men – who would in most cases be their own fathers – if they can get the approval of the local education authority, a cry of horror is raised. The language and the arguments used show that what people are thinking of is not the actual situation and the merits of the case, but the maintenance of sound educational principle. All this is unreal and, in the circumstances, ridiculous.

[Note: An illustration of the belief in some quarters that the dwelling on bye-laws and other 'barriers' was a matter of pettifogging. 'Turn a blind eye to the letter of the law.']

A later attempt to make it possible to employ 12-year old boys was proposed by the Kent Education Committee.....

Children for Farm Work. Kent Education Committee's Proposal.

Dover Express of 26th March 1917

At the meeting of the Kent Education Committee on Monday the Elementary Education Sub-Committee reported that they had considered further the question of the employment, during the present exceptional state of affairs, of children who had not obtained exemption from attendance at school under the Committee's by-laws. They recommended that children of not less than twelve years of age should be allowed to be absent from school during the period commencing on the 1st May 1915, and ending on the 30th September following, provided that certain regulations were complied with in each case. These regulations included the following:-

1.- The parent shall present an application or a form to be prescribed by the Committee, and signed by himself, for the release of the child from attendance at school, stating the nature of employment, and undertaking that child shall be employed only under the immediate supervision of the parent or some other guardian to be approved by the Committee, or the Local School Attendance Committee, and only in wok that is suitable to its age and physical condition.
2.- The parent shall, for the purpose of this application, obtain, at his own expense, and present with the application, a certificate from a duly qualifies medical man that the child is physically fit to undertake the proposed employment, and shall also at his own expense produce, if required, a birth certificate or other satisfactory evidence of the age of the child.
3.-Absence from school shall not be allowed under these regulations for any employment that is not of an agricultural character.
Alderman Marsham moved that the recommendation of the Sub-Committee be referred back. The matter, he explained, was still under consideration.

Miss Wigan seconded, and the motion was agreed to, power being given to the Committee to act.

Children as Farm Labourers.

Evening Despatch of 17th April 1915

Exemptions Granted from School in Rural areas. THE WAGE QUESTION.

A White Paper was issued last night giving a summary of the answers returned to Board of Education circulars sent to local education authorities on the subject of excused school attendance, and the wages earned by the children so excused, for the period 1914 to 1915.
In the 80 county areas from which replies to the questions have been received, states the report, it does not appear that the exemptions had been confined to particular districts, except in so far as this results from the fact that exemptions have been confined to agricultural employment. In 18 counties the exemptions have been confined to agricultural employment, and in 12 the exemption have covered other industries. The figures themselves show that 89 per cent. of the exemptions have covered other industries. The figures themselves show that 89 per cent. of the exemptions in the county areas have been for agricultural employment.


In 19 cases it is stated that exemptions have only been given where the employer has lost workpeople by enlistment, and in other counties the exemptions have been confined to cases where the father or brother of the employed child has enlisted.
The wages vary considerably below a maximum of 7s. a week, and the following reply given by one county may be regarded as fairly typical:

Two at 0s.
One at 5s. 6d.
Nine at 5s.
Five at 4s. 6d.
Six at 4s.
One at 3s. and meals.
One at 9s. and meals.
One lodged and boarded, no pay.
Three at nil (working for parents).


In the twenty-three urban areas from which replies to the questions have been received it does not appear that the exemptions have in any case been confined to any particular area. In only two cases have the exemptions been confined to cases where the employer has lost workpeople by enlistment. Generally in urban areas the information furnished appears to show that there has been no great variation from the usual practice in the matter.
There is even more variation in the scale of wages in urban areas than in county areas, but 6s. a week seems to be an average wage. There are, however, exceptional cases, such as that of Salisbury, where it is stated that a few lads are known to be earning 20s. a week and upwards, while the bulk of those exempted earn wages varying from 10s. to 7s. a week.


At a national conference on the subject of war service for women, held under the auspices of the War Emergency Workers' National Committee in Westminster yesterday, Miss Mary MacArthur presiding, a resolution was passed declaring it imperative in the interest of the highest patriotism that no emergency action should be allowed unnecessarily to depress the standard of living of the worker or of working conditions.
The conference urged among other things that any woman registering for war service should immediately join an appropriate trade union in the trade for which she is volunteering service, that men's trade unions now excluding women should be requested to admit them as members, that a woman doing the same work as a man should receive the same rate of pay, that in no case should any woman be drafted from the war register to employment at less than an adequate living wage, and that in any staff readjustments after the war priority of employment should be given to workmen whose places had been filled by women.
In a speech Miss MacArthur deprecated women being used as instruments to force economic conscription upon men. A national form of conscription would be much better than that. No woman worthy of the name would wish to be used to force men to the front.

House of Lords Debate: Agriculture and the Army

Reported House of Lords Debate 24th November 1915 vol 20 cc447-84 447

§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH rose "to call attention to the recruitment of agricultural labour and to the grave issues of policy arising therefrom." The noble Duke said: My Lords, the Notice which stands in my name on the Paper has been put down by me because I am anxious to ascertain from the Government whether they can give the House any information with regard to the labour problems connected with the first industry of the country. Noble Lords have, I am sure, read from time to time the advice which the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture (Lord Selborne) has given to the country as to the best manner in which we can increase the total of the food supplies at home. The noble Earl has recommended various and specific remedies. I do not quarrel with those remedies; I think that many of them would be very valuable and useful, but it is not my province this evening to go into a discussion of the merits of those remedies. The country knows well that agriculture is our first industry. The sum total of the takings of that industry amounts to about £150,000,000; the expenses amount to £145,000,000; the profits, therefore, in round figures, are £5,000,000. Your Lordships will observe that in normal times—that is to say, before the war and with the countryside by no means over-populated—the natural agricultural profits were indeed slender.
§ What I want to ask this evening is this, What will be the effect upon our food supplies if this slender labour force is removed from the soil of England? As I understand, it is the intention of His Majesty's Government to take labourers from the soil between the ages of 19 and 40, except those who are in the exempted classes. That supposes that some 60,000 labourers will be removed, and the effect will be that the total of the food supplies of this country expressed in terms of money will be reduced by at least one-tenth. As I reminded your Lordships, the aggregate amount in terms of money of food produced here is £150,000,000. A tenth of that is £15,000,000, and if you divide 60,000 into £15,000,000 you find that the answer is, on an average, £250 a labourer; that is to say, the capacity of each labourer for contributing to our food supply amounts to £250. The Prime Minister told us a few weeks ago that the cost to the nation of equipping and training a recruit amounted to £250 a year. If you add those two figures together, you arrive at a total of £500 a year as the cost to the community of each agricultural recruit. Without precise information my figures are, of course, somewhat conjectural, and I hope the noble Earl will not hold me too closely to them. But the point is this, that they are illustrative of the immense cost to the nation of the recruiting of certain classes of labour.
§ I do not quarrel with the Government for taking these men. They alone know whether they are justified. But they must not be blind to the cost to the nation of their recruitment. I am rather inclined to think—the noble Earl will correct me later on if I am wrong—that an artisan in industrialism is not capable of producing so much wealth as the agricultural labourer; and we have to bear in mind the fact that whereas the agricultural labourer is concerned in producing the prime necessaries of life for the nation, many an artisan is employed in industries such as sham jewellery, postcards, and pianos, which I do not think any noble Lord will claim are essential for the well-being of the community in war time. There is one other point of an economic character, which is this - that the law of diminishing returns must operate far more vigorously on the agricultural community, a community which before the war was considerably depleted, than it would upon other industries which are better equipped with labour and which can supplement the absence of labour by some kind of mechanical process. My point is that the exact figures regarding agriculture can be worked out statistically and should be in the possession of every Minister of the Crown before a final decision is arrived at on these particular points.
§ Your Lordships should consider what will be the state of affairs if these men are taken without any warning to the country of the cost. Next year in all probability the crops will not be so good. Instead of an abundant amount of cereals, a great deal of squitch, weeds, docks, and other filth will be harvested. An outcry will be raised of the inadequacy of the home supplies, and I am profoundly apprehensive that the noble Earl may find himself in a similar position to other Ministers when the nation discovered that there was a shortage of shells and small arm ammunition. It is in the hope of averting that possible crisis that I have thought it my duty to bring this matter to-night before the notice of my fellow-countrymen, feeling sure that the good sense of the nation will decide on the best possible manner of dealing with it. We all know that Lord Derby must have his recruits. He is in the position of having to make two ends meet. Yes; but it is not easy for Lord Selborne to come to his aid by promising to burn the candle at both ends.
§ How can we solve this problem? These men are leaving the soil in some six or eight weeks time. The winter crops are alone planted. Has the noble Earl thought of any alternative labour? He has at times on the public platform spoken of the importance of employing female labour and of the steps he has taken to co-ordinate and organise female labour for the soil. I will tell the noble Earl a secret. I believe that I have commandeered and earmarked for my own personal use all the available female labour which is to be got now at the Central Bureau under the jurisdiction of the Board of Agriculture and the Board of Trade. Why has not the noble Earl taken steps to develop and to enlarge on a wider basis this particular organisation? What I venture to think he has to do, and what I believe the country will insist that he shall do, is that he shall organise female labour for agriculture, and that when it has been properly co-ordinated and organised it shall be given a definite national status. Let woman realise this fact, that if she is prepared to offer her services for the purpose of developing the produce of the soil she is helping to win the war just as much as those men whose duty it is to go into the trenches.
§ I trust that no one will seek now to put us off with that hackneyed phrase that our food supplies next year can easily come from foreign countries to supplement, and if necessary supplant deficiencies in, the home market. No man can possibly forecast the duration of this war; no man can accurately forecast the exact condition of the balance of our trade; no man can foretell the amount of shipping that we shall have available twelve months hence to transport food supplies from foreign countries for home consumption. And since you are unable to forecast any one of these factors in our national economy, I think it would be a matter of criminal neglect - I use the phrase advisedly - if His Majesty's Ministers attempt to dismiss this issue with the usual official phrase which noble Lords know so well in this House, that the matter is "under the consideration of His Majesty's Ministers." That is all I have to say to-night with regard to the specific case of agriculture.
§ But the case of agriculture does not stand alone. Every branch of industry is feeling the shortage of labour; it is destined to feel it a great deal more, and is wondering how on earth it can carry on. This condition of affairs naturally results from the adoption of the policy of mobilising every available man. The case of agriculture illustrates well how this policy is carried out. The noble Earl (Lord Selborne) has secured the exemption of certain classes of rural labour. But the concession has been made to him by the Secretary of State for War. The Secretary of State for War has not come to the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture and asked, "How many labourers can you spare?" The noble Earl has gone to the Secretary of State for War and said, "Spare me some labourers for that industry over which I preside." That is what I mean by saying that we have adopted the policy of mobilising every available man. I trust that no noble Lord in this House will think that I in any way desire to criticise that policy. I cannot criticise it because I, together with every other member of this House, and, indeed, every other citizen, do not know the facts which led to its adoption.
§ Traditionally, our strength in past years has lain in naval power and in money power but not in man power. If you turn to the references of a hundred years ago during the great Napoleonic wars you will see constant allusion to "Pitt and his moneybags." The enemy to-day do not allude to Asquith and Grey and their moneybags; the enemy allude to the Armies of the Secretary of State for War, just in the same way as they allude to the Armies raised by the Government of France and the Armies raised by the Government of Russia. We have gradually abandoned the old point of view, and we are converting ourselves into a great military Power as that term is understood in the Continental sense. This change was never announced in so many words. I think the first explicit reference to it was made by the Secretary of State for the Colonies in the House of Commons last week. We seem to have drifted into a new situation. The present recruiting campaign rests on the doctrine of equality of sacrifice. I admit, if economic activity is to give way to the raising of Armies millions strong, that this sacrifice should be borne equally by all branches of industry not indispensable. By all means militarise England if you think in your judgment that that is the way to win the war. But think out and tabulate exactly what you are prepared to do, what you are prepared to accomplish in the way of military power, of naval power, and of financial power. Let the Allies know the extent of our capacity. Tell them that money power and sea power can be combined, but that money power and man power cannot. I sincerely trust that the War Council favoured by the Prime Minister will come into being, and that it will decide the form which our contribution shall take. Then we shall know where we stand, and we can accurately forecast our further and future commitments.
§ If I may sum up my point, I would do it in this way. In a memorable speech which the Prime Minister made some months ago he said, "We will fight to the last man and with the last shilling." To that we are all agreed. But what I confess I do not understand, what I believe the country itself does not understand, is this. On which part of the phrase is the emphasis laid? The last man and the last shilling! Yes. But is the last man to fight, or is the last man to earn the last shilling? Let that answer be given not by the twenty-two members of the Cabinet, not even by the Cabinet of five which controls the destinies of the country, but let it be given after mature consideration and prolonged deliberation by the members of the Allied War Council sitting in Paris.
§ At any rate, we can say this, that whether military power is to be sacrificed to industry or whether, as is far more probable, industrial power is to be sacrificed to militarism, the strain is too great to allow of any available energy being dissipated. The question, therefore, which I should like to ask this evening is this—Are we making the best use of the best men in view of the gravity of the situation? I think it is almost a commonplace that a vast deal of energy is at present unemployed. Men of military age go into the Army, but scope is yet to be found for an immense amount of other labour which is still available for the country's service. I will not attempt to pass in review a catalogue of national energies which are at present unutilised, but I think I may bring my point home by asking whether the full talents of the members of this House are being used. How often have we heard it said that an expert is to be found on every subject among members of the House of Lords. This is a time of great diplomatic strain, involving, for all we know, special missions. This House is rich in men of ripe diplomatic experience, noble Lords like Lord Rosebery, Lord Cromer, Lord Bryce, Lord Esher, Lord Sydenham, men whose names are honoured throughout the Empire. This is also a time of great financial stress and stringency. I think it is notorious that the labours of the Committee of Economy are practically suspended because the Chancellor of the Exchequer is too busy to preside over its destinies. Why do you not call to your service men of ripe financial experience, like Lord Milner, Lord St. Aldwyn, Lord St. Davids? The Minister of Munitions some months ago reminded us of the importance of coal as an economic factor in time of war. There are a great number of noble Lords in this House who are perfectly familiar with all the difficulties and with all the problems associated with the coal industry. Take yet one other matter—the continual friction which has existed between the Executive Government and that vehicle of public opinion the Press, at a time when harmony between governors and governed is so essential. The complaint is that the Press Censor does not understand the Press and even at times has shown hostility towards it. There are three noble Lords in this House whose journalistic experience is absolutely comprehensive—Lord Morley, Lord Northcliffe, and Lord Burnham. Surely the collective wisdom of these noble Lords should not have been ignored in an attempt to solve the critical and recurring problem of the position of the Press in time of war. I will not venture to offer any more illustrations of my point, but I appeal to the Government not to forget to draw on that, great reservoir of gratuitous service in so many and in such varied fields which the members of this House can place at their disposal.
§ I fear that, my remarks have somewhat broadened out on to general lines. And now that I have raised the issue of war policy I would like, before I sit down, to bring to the notice of the House three matters upon which I feel very strongly. I think it shames the moral sense of citizens that; the State should continue to derive revenue from the funds of those whose names have figured on the Roll of Honour. I know that concessions have been made, but the action of the State in taking money from descendants of those who have given their lives on the field of battle cannot be contemplated without a blush. Officers of the Army serve their King; they give their lives; but the State comes along and takes a portion of their possessions—they become, therefore, the serfs of the State. Officers of the Army should not be treated as serfs of the State. Speaking for myself, there is no additional burden of taxation that I would not willingly bear, even if it involved living in a cottage during the period of the war and for five or ten years afterwards, in order to keep my country's name free from that reproach. My second point is this. An end should be made to the recruiting of boys. Officially it is not allowed, but in practice, when a youth is Well grown and appears inure or less of a man, he is taken and no questions are asked. I know of a case in Flanders where a youth received severe military punishment as the result of a military indiscretion owing to the absence of sleep. One generation must not call upon another generation to fight its battles.
§ My last point is this, and it is in connection with the remarks that have been made this afternoon by Lord St. Davids. It has been to me and to many other people a matter of profound regret that attacks have been made on Sir John French. That General, whose indomitable cheerfulness bore the burden of the retreat from Mons, requires no justification in the eyes of history, and he should require no justification from his contemporaries. Let no noble Lord think that anybody has come to me and prompted me to defend Sir John French, but it is only right that I should tell my fellow-countrymen that which I know. During the first year of the war it was my fortune to have been assigned duties which took me to every part of the line along the British front. My duties brought me into contact—I do not say into close relationship, but into contact—with Sir John French, with his immediate subordinates, and with the Generals of the Allied Armies on our flank. I have had now some twenty-three years service as an officer in the Territorial Force, and my activities have not been confined purely to this Continent; I have had some knowledge of men and affairs, and I can tell your Lordships this, that the idle gossip repeated here in London of what goes on at the British Headquarters is utterly groundless. Any member of Parliament, or, indeed, any citizen who had an opportunity of associating with General Macready and General Robertson, stern and unbending officers, would quickly appreciate that their activities utterly preclude the possibility of any irregularities. The qualities of Sir John French have endeared him not only to his own subordinates, but also to the commanders of the Armies of France. Sir John French is a fighting man with the heart and the energy of a schoolboy. Any attacks made on him tend not only to weaken the Alliance but also to diminish that discipline the maintenance of which is so essential to the well-being of the British Expeditionary Force.
§ The other day I heard a distinguished scholar of ripe experience in a speech at a public meeting deplore the state of the nation, and he gave it as his opinion that since the men of his generation had brought the country to such a pass he thought it would be no bad thing if he and they went into the trenches and sent the younger generation home to preside over the destinies of the country. I am bound to say I think that was a very extravagant statement. The opportunities that I may have of making speeches in your Lordships' House in the future may be few and far between. I should like, therefore, to take this occasion of saying that I myself have confidence in the older statesmen who are entrusted with the Executive Government. But let them ponder that the world as we have known it has crumbled around us, that all things do not come to those who wait, but that strength and its effective employment are the qualities which the nation now demands. In the realm of agriculture Ministers possess a fertile field for the full exercise of their limitless authority.
My Lords, the noble Duke will pardon me if I observe that he has rambled rather far from his Notice on the Paper, even according to the custom of your Lordships' House. He has touched on the topic of the Press Censorship, of the Death Duties, of the utilisation of the services of members of your Lordships' House, and of the recruiting of boys, and he has referred to Sir John French and the Headquarters Staff in France. The noble Duke will not think me wanting in courtesy if I do not follow him into all those absorbing topics. The subject on the Paper is a very real and serious one, and I should like to address my remarks to it. I should not, however, like the noble Duke's mention of Sir John French to pass without associating myself in the fullest way with his tribute of confidence and admiration, and I was glad to hear what the noble Duke, from his personal knowledge, said as to the effect of that idle gossip to which many people are much too prone at the present moment.
The noble Duke did touch upon a very big subject which I think is strictly germane to the matter which he raised. He asked with what weapons is this war going to be fought—with the Navy and with finance, and he asked, Is it going to be fought with an immense Army too? He reminded us that in the great wars of the times of Pitt and Castlereagh we assisted the cause for which we fought mainly with cur Fleets and with the subsidies which we gave to our Allies, and he seemed to me to doubt whether we were right at the present moment in going further than we had done in those days. He did not actually say so, but the purport of his criticism was, Are you really wise to try and raise an Army of the size which has been raised? I doubt if there is any other member of your Lordships' House who questions that if we are to play cur full part in this war and save Europe from the domination which Germany would inflict upon her we are bound, in addition to the work of our Fleet and to the assistance of our subsidies, to put into the field the largest Army which this country can afford. At any rate, that is the opinion of His Majesty's Government.
But the problem at once becomes a very complex one. We have to support the Fleet; we have to find the money for our own purposes and for the assistance of our Allies, and if you add to that the creation of a great Army there does come the point for us as for all other nations, though the problem never presents itself quite the same to each country. The balance has to be struck, and this question of the recruiting of men is an illustration of the difficulties of striking that balance. We have to find men for the Fleet. We must find men to maintain the industries of this country so that the country can pay its way and support our Allies, but we must also get the greatest possible number of men for the Army consistent with the stability of our financial system. That is the problem which confronts His Majesty's Government, and a very difficult problem it is.
For the support of our financial system we are bound to manufacture the greatest amount of produce which we can within the United Kingdom. We have to make ourselves as self-supporting as is possible. We have also to find the means wherewith to pay for those products which we import from foreign countries. I do not think the noble Duke dealt quite fairly with the question of the food produced in this country. Unfortunately, as I think, we are and have been for a great many years dependent to a large degree on the produce of foreign lands, and nothing that we could possibly do, no possible expedient, could make this country wholly self-supporting in the matter of food during the course of the war. I have expressed outside the House, and I express here, my personal opinion that after this war the statesmen of all Parties will have to consider how we can wisely and effectively make the country more self-supporting in the matter of food than it has been in recent years. But that is not the present problem. The present problem is, while admitting that the whole of the food our people require cannot be produced in this country, to produce the greatest amount of food that we can - a greater, not less, amount than was produced before the war in times of peace.
One of the first things I did when I had the honour of becoming President of the Board of Agriculture was to appoint a very strong Committee, of which my noble friend Lord Milner was kind enough to take the chair, to assist me in this matter. That Committee made many important and valuable recommendations; the most important and striking of all was one to guarantee 15s. a quarter for wheat for four years to the farmer. I have spoken at length on this subject not only in the country but in a speech which I made here in London in August, and I do not propose to inflict upon your Lordships a repetition of that speech. All I want to say about that recommendation is that the arguments in favour of it were very strong, but it seemed to the Government, on the consideration of all the arguments, that the balance of argument was against the guarantee, and that is why the guarantee was not offered; and froth that moment it became my duty to do all I could to organise agriculture in the country so as to produce the greatest possible amount of foodstuff without the assistance of a guarantee.
The noble Duke has expressed his belief that less food will be produced in the coming year than in normal times. I am not prepared to accept that opinion. Nobody knows better than I do the immense difficulties with which the farmers are confronted. I foresaw them; I warned them of them; but I also believe that they are capable of rising to great emergencies, and in circumstances of unparalleled difficulty I believe they are capable of performing what may almost be called the impossible. I shall be immensely surprised if, when the statistics for the year 1916 are drawn up, we do not find that the farmers of the United Kingdom have risen to the occasion, and that they have, at a great sacrifice of their leisure, of their prejudices, of all their customs, been able to make a great contribution to the nation's strength by an increased supply of food. To assist them I adopted one of the other recommendations of Lord Milner's Committee, and have, with the assistance of the county councils, established in every county a War Agricultural Committee to assist, and where occasion offers to advise, the farmer, with local committees in every rural district, or every urban district which contains a fair proportion of agricultural land. I have so often explained the necessity and the object, of these committees in speeches in the country that I shall not attempt to repeat to-night what I have already said.
I pass at once to the whole root of the problem, and that is the question of labour. In the same speech in which I informed the farmers of England that the Government were not able to offer them a guaranteed price for their wheat, I warned them that there was going to be a great drain on the labour of the country, including agricultural labour, for the needs of the Army, and I gave that warning at a time when farmers had not really begun seriously to feel the pinch. To the best of my ability, with the assistance of my colleagues at the Board of Agriculture, I surveyed the problem to see how it could be organised so as to meet the difficulty, and the conclusion we came to was that the essential thing was to preserve for the farmer, if we could, the more skilled forms of agricultural labour. It is in my opinion a great misdescription to talk of the agricultural labourer as an unskilled man; his is really a highly skilled trade, but there are varieties of skill in it. We felt that if we could preserve for the farmer the men without whom the farm could not be worked - that is, the men who look after the horses; the men who look after the cattle; the men who look after the sheep; the men who thatch, or who drive the steam plough; the blacksmiths who are essential for the work on the farm, and kindred employments of that kind - we should have done a great deal for him, and that then the War Office would be entitled to go to him and say "We will take the greatest number we can of the fit men of military age who do not belong to those classes," leaving the farmers to fill up the places with substitutes, even if those substitutes were not the kind of labour which the farmers were accustomed to use. I will come to those substitutes presently.
As the result of important negotiations with the War Office, when the National Register was compiled these classes of men were starred, and I confess quite frankly that my original arrangement with Lord Kitchener was that a starred man should neither be solicited for recruitment nor accepted for the Army if he offered himself. That was our original agreement, though always with the reservation, of course, that if a man was quite determined to become a soldier and absolutely refused to continue in agriculture there was no power to prevent him ceasing to be an agricultural labourer and becoming a soldier. We did not star the farmer, because no employers of labour were starred. Rightly or wrongly it seemed to us self-evident that an essential industry could not be continued or exist if its manager was withdrawn, and we trusted that where there was more than one farmer concerned with the management of a farm their sense of honour, as in the case of all other employers in a similar position, would lead them to decide which was to go and fight and which was to stay and manage the farm. That was the reason why farmers, in common with all other employers, were not starred. Had the starring been well done there would have been an end of the business, but. I am sorry to say that in some cases it was done with a carelessness that is quite indescribable.
Can the noble Earl tell us who the authorities were who did the starring?
The starring was done by two authorities, by representatives of the rural or urban district council or borough council which made the register and the head offices of the recruiting area. Of course, it would be untrue to say that the starring was badly done everywhere; that would be a gross and unfair exaggeration. But the starring was done with such criminal carelessness in so many places that a new arrangement had to be made. I, on the one hand, was able to prove that many men who ought to have been starred had not been starred, and Lord Derby, on behalf of the Secretary of State for War, was able to prove on the other hand that a great many men had been starred who had no right to be starred. Therefore we both devised a machinery which would enable us to get behind the starring. It is for that reason - of course, the case occurred in other industries too - that a local tribunal has been established in every rural or urban district council area, to which tribunal an appeal can be made. If the recruiting officer thinks that a man ought not to have been starred he can bring, the case before this tribunal. If the employer of the man or the man himself thinks he ought to have been starred lie can bring that case before the local tribunal. An appeal - I am giving your Lordships only a rough outline, because I should only confuse you if I went into the multifarious details of the arrangement - an appeal is provided for in certain cases to a central tribunal in London presided over by my noble friend Lord Sydenham; and I think I am entitled to say that it is my noble friend's intention, if public convenience requires it, that that tribunal will through certain of its members sit locally in places out of London. Therefore a tribunal exists to which the War Office can appeal against illegitimate starring, and to which the farming community can appeal in the case of omission to star.
But I am sorry to say that there are starred men who have been actually enlisted into the Army. That has happened either because the zeal of the recruiting officer was so great that he neglected his plain instructions, or because the starred man purposely concealed the fact that he was starred. But in those cases the War Office have undertaken to do all they possibly can to get the men back from the Army into agricultural employment. I should add, in the case of a man whom the local tribunal decides ought to have been starred, that if the recruiting authority agrees the man is treated as starred at once, or if the tribunal, on appeal, settles that he ought to have been starred he will be treated as a starred man at once. And while these questions are pending before the tribunals are got to work the War Office has agreed I that wherever possible men who offer themselves for the Army and who belong to these classes shall not, after attestation, be sent to join a regiment or depôt, but shall be passed at once into the reserve in their proper group. The effect of this is that they will be given by the military authorities a khaki armlet, which will show that they are not shirkers and slackers; that to many men will be a great personal satisfaction, and so long as they continue to be indispensable to the nation by doing the same work as they are doing now they will not be called upon to serve.
We have gone even a little further than that. I have described to your Lordships in the most general terms what has been done in the case of the starred man who has been improperly enlisted and what is to be done with the case of the man who ought to have been starred. But there is a third class. There is the man who, although he ought not to have been starred according to the definition under which starring was done, is really necessary for the work of the farm. The cases of those men, if they have been passed into the reserve, may be the subject of examination by the local tribunal, and they can be put back ten groups at a time in their place in the reserve and each time they come up the question can be reconsidered, so that at any rate for a long period, sometimes perhaps altogether, those men also will be preserved for the services of agriculture. Therefore I think your Lordships will admit, that having been confronted with a very complicated and difficult problem owing to the unfortunate manner in which the starring was done, we have contrived as simple a machinery as is possible for adjusting the difficulties. I should like to say that Lord Kitchener, Lord Derby, and myself would have been able to do nothing in this matter had it not been for the immense assistance that we have derived from Lord Lansdowne and from the President of the Local Government Board.
I pass from the question of starred labour or labour that ought to have been starred to the question of the substitution of other forms of labour. The noble Duke, I rather gathered from his speech, thinks that the main difficulty is to find the other forms of labour. I do not say that is not a difficulty. But in my opinion a greater difficulty is to get the farmer to try other forms of labour. We all know our farmer. We all have close personal friends among the farmer class. They are difficult people to move from their rooted habits, and one of my great reasons for embracing Lord Milner's suggestion for the establishment of these local committees in all the counties was my knowledge that you could get at the farmer much better through those who knew him and whom he trusted in his own locality than you could from any central Office in London. I might issue leaflets from the Board of Agriculture by the mile or make speeches by the hour, but a very small proportion of the farmers would ever read the leaflets or listen to my speeches. The way to get at them is through their neighbours whom they know and the county authorities whom they trust, and it is through those bodies that I hope to induce them to turn before it is too late to these other possibilities of labour which up to now many of them have refused to consider.
Take the question of women. I have appealed to the women of England in this matter exactly in the spirit in which the noble Duke spoke. I have asked them to make this their war work. I have told them that if they take the places of their husbands, their brothers, and their sons who are in the trenches or in the Fleet they will be doing in their sphere just as much for the victory of this country as their men folk are doing in their spheres. I am quite sure that this is the only way in which to reach them. By far the most valuable women for this purpose are the women of the land. You may have splendid patriotism in the town, but the townswoman when she goes to the country has to learn, whereas the countrywoman knows already a great deal of what has to be done and in many cases knows it all. But the countrywoman at the present moment is the woman who least needs to go to work from the point of view of her family wants, because owing to allotments, allowances, and billeting money and the generous treatment which the country has meted out to her, she never was better off in her life. Therefore it is no use the farmer going to her and saying "I offer you good wages to work on my land." She says "Thank you; I am better off than I have ever been before, and I do not need to earn any more money." Therefore you can only get at her by putting this to her as a patriotic duty, and the person to put it to her is not the Minister sitting in an office in London but the women with whom she lives, the women of other classes whom she knows. Those are the women whose duty it is to go to her and put the ease in its true light, and I need not say that it is incumbent on the farmer to pay her a full, fair wage.
In addition to the utilisation of these women there are the other women - the patriotic volunteers from urban communities or coming from a class not accustomed to work on the land. We have to make the farmer - and your Lordships in your own counties can help me a great deal here - understand that these women can be of great use to him. They would have to be trained, but the period of training need not be very lengthy; and it has to be done in each county. That is where I differ from the noble Duke. He spoke as if the whole of this training ought to be done in a centre in London. I say, No; each county ought to have its own training centre and find its own volunteers for the purpose, and if they cannot find enough volunteers let them come to us at the Board of Agriculture and we through the Labour Exchange will find volunteers to send down, but each county ought to be self-sufficing and self-sufficient in this matter. Indeed, I go so far as this. I think that each county ought to organise a canvass of the women of the county so as to get the utmost possible number of recruits for this essential war service.
Before I sit down I should like to give, as briefly as I can, some instances of the successful use of women and of the manner in which they can be trained. No county has done better in this way than the county of Cornwall. Other counties have done well, but the county of Cornwall has organised the agricultural education of women for work on the land in this manner in a highly successful way, and I wish other counties would copy its example. I need scarcely say that they can get all particulars from the Board of Agriculture. Here are some actual individual cases. A dairy farmer with 100 cows and seventy young stock formerly employed eight men and one dairymaid. Three of the men enlisted. Four young ladies - mind you, not young women of the soil, but young ladies of independent means from the town - were engaged, and a cottage provided. Within three weeks each one of the four was milking her proper proportion of the total number of cows, though none had lived on a farm before. The farmer says they I work as well as trained men. The result is that the farmer has one more milker on the farm than he had before the war, and he is increasing the number of his cows accordingly. Another case is that of a farmer with an arable farm and dairy farm. He lost fourteen men who enlisted, and has engaged five women. He finds that they do the work well and he is looking for two more, whom he means to train to hold the plough handle. Another case is that of a dairy farmer in Berkshire, who now employs five women on a farm with two hundred cows. He started with two women, and found them so successful that he has increased the number. Then may I say that the noble Duke who introduced this subject to your Lordships' notice to-day has himself given a fine example. He has taken from the Labour Exchange here in London all the women who were suitable, and were at that time on the books, and I have seen a letter from one of them in which the writer says that they are very happy and very well locked after.
There are, of course, other means by which the labour problem can be met. I hope it is generally known that the restrictions which prevent old-age pensioners from earning more than a certain amount of wages are now wholly suspended, and that if an old-age pensioner is capable of doing full work he can receive full wages and not forfeit his pension. Again there is the question of the utilisation of children. As an ex-chairman of an education committee of a county council I know that local education authorities very naturally and properly feel that this war should interfere as little as possible with the education of the children. But again it is a question of the balance of important considerations; and both as President of the Board of Agriculture and as an ex-chairman of an education committee I am quite clear that it is more important at the present moment that all the children who are physically strong enough to do it and willing to do it should be allowed to go out to work on the land than that they should continue in the schools. I would remind your Lordships that this matter does not rest with the Board of Education. It rests with the local education authorities in each county, so that it is in the hands of the county councils and not of the Government in London.
Then there is the question of soldier labour. Lord Kitchener has met me very generously in regard to that whenever I have been to him. In the hay harvest and the corn harvest mere than 10,000 soldiers were used, and a great many more could have been used if the farmers had been quicker in realising their opportunity and in making us of the machinery provided for them. The War Office insisted that they should go to the Labour Exchanges to get the soldiers. That was Lord Kitchener's condition. Well, the farmers are not accustomed to go to the Labour Exchanges, and I think that condition mere than anything else prevented many farmers from taking advantage of this offer. But now that they have their War Agricultural Committee they need not trouble about going to the Labour Exchange. They can merely tell the War Agricultural Committees what their requirements are, and those committees will arrange through the Labour Exchanges and it can be done easier en a large than on a small scale. Instead of a hundred farmers writing up to the Labour Exchange and saying what they want, the County War Agricultural Committee will know what the whole county requires if the farmers tell them in time, and will be able to make their requisition on the Labour Exchange and the Labour Exchange on the military authority. A proper organisation exists which I hope, when the next harvest comes, will make available a much larger supply of soldier labour.
There is also a question about which I am able to make no statement to-night, but which I can say is being very carefully considered by the Government - indeed, it was mentioned by the Prime Minister himself in the House of Commons - namely, whether there are not large numbers of soldiers in the Army at home who are convalescent and temporarily unfit for foreign service, or fit only for home service, who could profitably be employed on the land or in some industrial occupation. I am rather hopeful that we may get a large supply of labour for all our industries from that source. My information, of course, may be erroneous. There may not be as many of these men as I have been told there are. If there are not, that means so many more men available for foreign service. If, on the other hand, there are a large number of these men not available for foreign service, then when the proper organised defence of this land has been provided for I cannot help thinking that the more of these men who are passed into civil life the better. Lastly there is the use at times of emergency of unskilled volunteers from the towns. I do not mean the kind of man you get from the Labour Exchanges. Practically there are no unemployed men for the Labour Exchanges to find now for use in any industry. But there are a great number of men unfit for military service who in their holidays are prepared, as their war service, to go and work on the farms, and there have been several occasions where this has been done with great Success.
In conclusion I will tell your Lordships this case, which I have mentioned elsewhere but which is very significant. Some time in July a report came to the Board of Agriculture that in a very rich part of the country there was a whole group of farms from which all the recruitable labour had gone, where the crops were good and the corn nearly and the farmers saw no chance of harvesting at all. I sent down one of our must efficient and experienced officers from the Board of Agriculture, and he reported that it was quite true that. the district was nearly denuded of labour; and he added that the farmers seemed extraordinarily helpless and unable to devise methods of meeting the occasion. We did what we could to help them. We communicated with the Labour Exchanges and with the Lord Lieutenant, and put every agency that we could think of to work to deal with this case. And in September I received a letter from one of the farmers to say that whereas when he had written to me in July he thought his harvest lust and his case hopeless, with the assistance of fine weather he now had more than one hundred ricks of corn, which shows that he was not a small farmer but a big farmer, and the whole of this harvest was got in by the kind of labour that no farmer is accustomed to employ in normal times. They were not agricultural labourers brought from elsewhere; such did not exist. They were exactly that kind of improvised labour which exists in the country to-day. That is why I believe, with the example of men like the noble Duke and with the assistance of the organisation which has been established in every county, that farmers will rise triumphant over their difficulties and that the next harvest will be a larger and not a smaller one.
My Lords, I want to say one or two words on the interesting speech which has been made by the noble Earl. On the broader question there is probably no more difficult problem at the present time than to maintain what he called the stability of our industries and also to mobilise all the men required for recruiting purposes. If I might slightly alter what was said by the noble Duke upon that point I would make this suggestion, that we do not want to consider whether we shall end by mobilising the last man or spending the last shilling but that we should so adjust this complex question that if we did ever come to that condition we should mobilise our last man and spend our last Shilling at the same time. I do not think there is any more complex proposition at the present moment than this of reconciling the necessary conditions of an industrial country with the requirements of recruiting, which at any rate in my opinion hold the foremost position as regards any reconciliation between these two questions.
Every one who has followed the question will have noticed during the current year the very large extent to which our imports have increased and our exports have diminished. I think everybody must feel in war times that a very large increase of imports as compared with an increasing decrease in our exports is exactly the contrary of what we desire to bring about if we possibly can prevent it. The large figure by which our imports have increased and our exports have decreased has been referred to in a previous debate, and bearing in mind the great disparity in the figures I think all your Lordships will feel that when we have got to the condition at which we have now arrived - it is not a question of the future but of the present there is no more difficult or complex question before the Ministry of the day than to maintain the stability of our industrial position at the same time that we mobilise the large number of recruits that are wanted to maintain our Army abroad. To my mind that is a far more complex question than what we are often discussing - compulsion or non-compulsion. In some respects I doubt whether that would make much difference one way or the other. But if our resources are to be carefully conserved we must endeavour in all our recruiting schemes, whatever the claims may be, to do what we can under some system or other to preserve our skilled men who are necessary for the stability of the industrial conditions of this country.
Speaking as an agriculturist I think all agriculturists feel the duty they owe to the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture for the care he has taken during a time of great pressure and great anxiety. I am not in the least a pessimist as regards agriculture in this country. I think the noble Duke went rather too far in that direction when he suggested that the output next year, particularly of our cereal crops, would probably be less than it is in the current year. Conditions vary in different parts of the country, but speaking for the district with which I am familiar I think there is no sign whatever that next year there will be that falling off which is anticipated by the noble Duke. Of course, we always have to bear in mind that we are very much dependent on weather conditions; but assume that the weather conditions are the same for the crop of 1916 as they were for the crop of 1915 I can answer for my own district that there is a probability that we shall do better. Perhaps we have been more careful and energetic, but if fair conditions of weather are maintained in 1916 we shall do better, I think, than we did in 1915.
I agree with the noble Earl that the problem is one of labour. But if the question of substituted labour is approached in the way that the noble Earl has considered it, I do not believe there will be any serious difficulty in the future. I do not want to give what I may call my own experience, but the experience of my district. What do you start with? A very large number of agricultural labourers are far above the age when they could be recruited, and many of those are the most skilled amongst agricultural labourers. In my own case although every one of recruitable age has gone, in substance all the skilled men are left, because all the skilled men are above the age at which they are of any value for recruiting purposes. Let me take the second point referred to by the noble Earl. There is really no difficulty whatever in the substitution of women for a very large number of purposes for which we want agricultural labour. All of us who have travelled abroad know that a large amount of the agricultural labour there is admirably and ably done by women just as well as men could do it. But we have to face this difficulty. In our agricultural districts, at any rate in the South, woman labour has practically been given up of recent years. I can recollect very well when a considerable amount of woman labour was employed on farms in my district, but now in substance none is employed. I welcome very much the suggestion made by the noble Earl that in order to popularise the employment of women, and in order in certain cases to educate them for the labour for which you desire to use them, it is all-important that we should have these local committees and this local persuasion. However, I do not take his view entirely of the difficulty of moving the farmer. I know - and I am sure the noble Earl will not mind my saying it - that a leaflet from the Board of Agriculture or a speech from the Head of the Department has very little effect upon the farmer and the fanning interest. But if we are given local committees formed of men whom the farmers know, men from their own districts, and if the committee set to work to bring into proper disciplinary use the labour of women, an enormous amount can be done to preserve the labour we want in the industry of agriculture while at the same time allowing every available man of the right age to go and serve his country.
There is another point with which I should like to deal. Apart from what the local education authority may do, it seems to me really a criminal want of perspective under existing conditions to keep boys in rural schools at an age when they might be utilised for agricultural labour. Let me give your Lordships an illustration. In a district that I know the schools this spring were shut owing to an outbreak of illness. The boys not affected by the illness could have been used on the farms. One elderly man could look after from fifteen to twenty boys, and that number of boys would be of admirable service for the purposes of farm work in the summer and spring times; you do not want them in winter, at any rate not in my locality. So that if the noble Earl will proceed on the right lines of developing the employment of women and at the same time use his influence with the local education authorities to allow boys who are capable of agricultural labour to be used for that purpose under the exceptional conditions of the present day, I do not believe that in a large number of districts there will be any want of agricultural labour.
I suggest to my noble friend that he can do much more with his own county council than I can.
I was on my county council for over twenty years, but I have dropped out of it owing to other claims. But apart from that, this is a great national question; it is a question of the country's food-supply; it is a question of preserving our agricultural industry - as the noble Duke has said, the greatest industry in our country - and I do not think it ought to be dependent on the will of particular local education authorities. In a case of this kind we ought to have national recognition of the necessity of using boys during the period of tie war in order to preserve our agricultural industry. I will put this to the noble Earl. Suppose a particular local education authority take the opposite view. Suppose they put education beyond every other consideration. Is it fair that in that particular district the industry of agriculture should be handicapped as against the industry of agriculture in neighbouring districts?
I believe the whole thing depends on prosecution for non-attendance. The responsibility for prosecution for non-attendance is by Statute placed on the local education authority, and without an alteration in the law it could not be placed upon any other authority, nor could they be excused from the exercise of their discretion. What really makes local education authorities less willing to let these children go than they ought to be is this. The more children who do not attend school the less grant they get from the Imperial funds, and they cannot get out of the habit of thinking of their rates and not of the national position.
I agree with every word the noble Earl has said. Anybody who is cognisant of the working of the educational system in this country must agree with him; but it is because questions of rates and other questions of parochial and local kinds may influence the particular local education authority that I desire that this should be put on a national basis. Legislation may be necessary, but if we were all agreed - and I understand the noble Earl takes the same view - that this is a national question and that under the present emergency the larger consideration is the preservation of the agricultural industry, then there would be no difficulty whatever of obtaining the results we desire under a general national system. If the Government will do that, then in my opinion our agricultural industry will not be affected in any way although every single man is taken who is available for recruiting. I do not believe in these complaints of agriculturists. I believe the difficulty would be solved if at particular times you allowed them to use this substituted labour which is ready to their hands and which is equally as valuable as the labour of men for many purposes - namely, the labour of boys who are attending our rural schools.
Of all our industries the one which ought to suffer least in these matters of substituted labour, properly dealt with, is the industry of agriculture. I believe that every farm in this country could be adequately and properly manned by the old people, who are the skilled people, and by a proper substitution of women and boys. In England we must all regard the food supply and the position of agriculture as of vital moment and importance. I only seek to urge again on the noble Earl that as regards these substituted methods of labour he will do all he can - and I am sure he will - in order that agriculture may not be affected at the same time that the districts send what are the best recruits to our Army - our younger agricultural labourers.
My Lords, I do not propose to go into the vexed question of boy labour, but I should like to ask my noble friend opposite whether I understood him correctly. He is an advocate of boy labour, I understand?
And he proposes to take children peremptorily away from school for the purpose of working on the farms?
A year younger.
He also proposes in certain circumstances to put these young boys under the charge of a farm labourer, and to work them on the old system of gangs?
That is a practical and convenient way of utilising labour of that kind. I am talking now from actual experience of utilising labour in that way as a convenient method of employment.
The practical way that the noble Lord suggests is taking boys—boys of fourteen or fifteen, I think he said?
And putting them under a farm labourer and working them in a gang?
I would really suggest to my noble friend that he is an advocate of boy labour. I cannot conceive a more certain way of wrecking his proposal than to let that idea get about. I hope the noble Lord will qualify it in some sort of way, or I am afraid his words will be very much misunderstood. In what he does propose he is going the very best way to wreck what he honestly believes is a just and proper proposal.
Might I say one word in explanation. If the noble Marquess takes that view, I think he must have misunderstood my meaning. What I was dealing with was an illustration of my own farm, I say it quite frankly. You must have a man with the boys. I am sure the boys are treated admirably in every way. It is not a question of gang labour at all; but when you put boys into a field to work you must have a man with them. It is not a question of gang labour or anything like it.
Might I ask the noble Lord how he would propose to put that recommendation of his into force? Does he propose that it should be by some system, or modified system, of compulsion to be exercised or put into force by the Board of Agriculture?
I did not suppose that he did for a single moment. Then it must be a case of an arrangement with the parent; that is all he is asking?
That is a purely local and domestic affair; it does not require any Parliamentary assistance to bring that about, either as an experiment or as an actual result. But I am perfectly certain that if the idea once got abroad, say in the particular district which he knows so well and with which I am also fully acquainted, that there was to be any pressure-
No; no pressure.
If any pressure of any kind were to be exercised in this direction there would be not only a local but a national disturbance. However calmly and philosophically we might regard the suggestion here, I am afraid that in another place it would give rise to outbursts of rather a vehement, character. I am glad that my noble friend does not mean anything very serious.
Certainly not.
It is probably something that has come into his head recently, and he has given but little consideration to it. When he is subjected to a little cross-examination it appears a nebulous conception that will not fructify. I should like to say a word about the suggestion that was made by Lord Selborne as to the advisability of getting if possible on the soil women who are living and have lived in what I may call the atmosphere of the soil. Obviously those who have been connected with agricultural neighbourhoods are more liable quickly and surely to pick up the technique, if I may use that term, of the business than those who come from towns. But the noble Earl is himself aware of the difficulty which has arisen from the liberality of the separation allowances. I have referred more than once to that, and I will take this opportunity of referring to it once more. I need not go into the details of the abundance and the superabundance of these allowances as affecting certain classes, and of quite the opposite as regards other classes. As I explained the other day, in the case of the wife of one man the allowance is excessively generous, and as regards the wife of another man the amount is miserably inadequate. I think we are entitled to deal with the cases where the allowance is excessively generous, and for which there is absolutely no justification whatever.
It has been urged in support of the war separation allowance arrangement - I was going to say under which we suffer - at least once urged by the noble Marquess Lord Crewe, and I am not quite sure whether Lord Lansdowne did not endorse it, that inasmuch as it was the outcome of a recommendation of a strong Committee it must in effect be right. I have had some experience in my Parliamentary career of what are called strong Committees. They have generally made the greatest blunders of any Committees, notably the Committee appointed to inquire into the South African Raid. It was a strong Committee; everybody of great eminence was on it. We know the dismal failure that followed its appointment. It did not probe the very sore it was established to probe. The particular Committee which gave birth to these excessively liberal allowances was a strong Committee. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was in the chair—this was before the days of the Coalition Government—and the Committee comprised Mr. Austen Chamberlain, an ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer; Mr. Bonar Law, the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons; Mr. T. P. O'Connor, the representative of the Irish Party; and Mr. Barnes, the representative of the Labour Party. We who have been in politics know what that sort of Committee means. Had you asked three men of common sense, men of no political predilections and with tm constituency interest to serve, to come along and draw up a scheme, they never would have committed the fatal blunder of according to the wife of an agricultural labourer when the husband went to the war an income double what the family enjoyed when the man was at home. I am perfectly certain that this Committee were not actuated by any political motives, but I venture to suggest that they all took leave of their senses at the moment when they brought in that recommendation. I have said on a previous occasion what I know was a very unpopular and hazardous thing to say if one wanted to avoid being assailed, but I am going to say it again, and I hope one day the Government will recognise the equity and justice of my suggestion. It is that they should allow no family to enjoy a greater income than they enjoyed when the man was at home and at work. For an agricultural labourer or any other labourer who was earning £1 a week to go away to the war and find his family suddenly coming into an income of 30s. or 35s. a week was monstrous, and if the Government had the courage to reconsider the scale they never could continue it. I know it is difficult, and I am not overlooking the difficulty; but in view of the necessity of safeguarding our resources I hope even yet that the Government will not turn a blind eye to the situation.
Lord Selborne referred to a class of men who had been indicated by the Prime Minister in another place as men who might usefully be retired from the Colours - at least that is what I understood him to suggest - and sent back to civil employment. I do not know whether other noble Lords have had the same experience in their localities as I have had in mine, but I know several men who have joined, I think it is called, the National Reserve. I think they were members of the National Reserve before the war broke out, and have been called up. They are not going abroad; that is no part of their bargain. I do not suggest that they would not go abroad, but their age is such that they are not likely to be called upon to go abroad. But they are in the National Reserve, and are being well fed and well clothed, and are generally having a comfortable time. I am not suggesting that they are shirking; they do what is imposed upon them, but that is not very heavy and onerous. I submit that there are swarms of these men who might be taken off the pay-sheets of the nation and restored to civil employment, and I hope that point will be carefully considered. I know several of these men. I do not like to say the particular neighbourhood, but they turn up in church about every third Sunday; they come from Winchester and places rather remote, and seem to have money enough to travel home and be about the village Saturday night and Sunday. That is all at the expense of the nation. If money did not count, if we could command it to our service like the air we breathe, of course it would not matter, but the great difficulty that will confront us in the future is going to be the financial situation, and I am glad that the noble Earl endorsed the suggestion that was made in another place that in that direction there may be not only relief to agriculture but, I hope, to the national purse.
My Lords, we are all indebted to the noble Duke for having raised this question in your Lordships' House, because it has certainly elicited a full and valuable statement from the noble Earl opposite. And I am sure that the agricultural community generally will acknowledge that they owe a great deal to the efforts which the noble Earl has made to provide extra labour for the much-suffering sons of the soil. I think from another point of view that the noble Duke was justified in bringing forward this question, because it is quite clear, on the very frank admissions of the noble Earl, that great mistakes had been made in the method of starring men. No wonder people observing these things in their own localities were much annoyed and disgusted with the situation, and perhaps greater outcry was caused than would have been the case had the whole matter been explained to them. I am sure the statement of the noble Earl this afternoon has put that right.
As to the question of substitutes, the noble Earl detailed to us the efforts he has made in suggesting substitutes for the agricultural labourer. He very fairly stated that every one connected with work on a farm is skilled. I would like to ask him whether, in spite of the fact that he is doing what he can to get these substitutes, and in spite of the fact that he recited an interesting instance of a number of women who can milk a certain number of cows—
They were doing ten apiece, which I believe is a standard rate.
I think they must naturally have been women of the plough or women of the cow if they could have done that. The noble Duke reminds me that the standard rate is rather higher than the noble Earl has stated. But it is obvious that the substitutes cannot be equal in the long run to the real agricultural labourer trained on the soil. Therefore, in view of the necessity of our food supply, I hope the noble Earl will take a strong stand against these most necessary of all men being taken for war purposes, except in the last resort. I am bound to say I did not think that the noble Earl gave such a high testimony to the farmer as from my small experience I should have been inclined to do. I confess I have been surprised and pleased by the extent to which the farmers have modelled themselves to the new circumstances and have done their best to utilise a great deal of this new labour, a large proportion of which was of course not very efficient. The noble Earl felt certain that the farmers of this country would rise to the occasion and would do their best. They have risen to the occasion and have done their best in a great number of cases. It is common knowledge - certainly it is within my experience, and no doubt within that of other noble Lords - that the farmers themselves have done an immense amount of personal work during the past year, work which they would not have done in ordinary circumstances and which you would hardly have expected them to do. We must fill up the lack of labour partly by substitutes, but certainly in the agricultural world the labour has largely been filled up by the extra work which the farmers have done themselves.
Hear, hear.
In fact they have trained labour from all sorts of quite unexpected sources. Perhaps I may give one instance of my own experience. I was watching men making up a stack of wheat—I was not helping myself, though perhaps I ought to have been. On the top of this stack was an elderly gentleman who with great energy was fitting the stooks into their places. When he came down I asked him who he was, and he told me he was a retired draper from London. He had been for 35 years a draper, had retired to the country, and now he was spending his declining years as an agricultural labourer on the top of a wheat stack. I think that is a remarkable tribute to the possibility of getting labour from other sources.
There are two suggestions which I would venture to offer to the noble Earl. He spoke of the way in which soldiers had been used at harvest-time to supplement ordinary labour; he told us also that the farmers did not like—and very naturally—to get their labour from central organisations. The ideal thing for them, and what they would like best, would be to get from the local regiment the men who had joined from their farm, as they know what those men can do. The existing forces in this country should have been made use of to a sufficient extent, not only at harvest but at other times, say winter and spring sowings. There are a large number of troops in this country - I could put my hand on some - who have done a great deal of training. Troops, like others, if they get too much training, become stale, and they even go back in their training unless some change is effected. Of course, certain troops must be kept on the coast and so on. But is it not possible to draft off a certain number of these men to work on the farms at these particular periods - they are longing to do it - not only at harvest-time, bat at these other periods when there is a great deal of work to be done beyond what is perhaps the ordinary daily work of the farm?
I do not know whether the noble Earl has urged upon townspeople, for instance, the necessity of eating more vegetables. That is a matter of which I have some personal experience, because I happen to own some land in one of the two great agricultural market districts in this country. It has surprised me very much, when I have heard difficulties about the price of meat, to see on going round these market gardens this year thousands of tons of vegetable marrows and of french beans lying rotting on the ground. I have asked the men why they do not sell these in the great markets, London or Sheffield, and they have told me that there is no price to be got for these admirable vegetables. No doubt your Lordships frequently eat Brussels sprouts, vegetable marrows, and French beans. I think amongst his subsidiary duties the noble Earl would do a great service - perhaps I ought not to ask it myself, because I may be called an interested party - if he would impress upon townspeople and others the necessity of making use of what resources they have by buying, at a price which is absurd and negligible, these magnificent vegetables which I am sure have a very high and useful dietary value.
My Lords, I feel somewhat diffident at venturing to offer a solution of this great agriculture problem, which has been so ably presented to the House by the noble Duke. At the same time I think there is a great deal to be said for female labour if proper encouragement were given in that direction. The suggestion of the noble Earl that county committees should be organized so as to encourage the patriotism of the women who live in the country districts is a very good one, and I believe that a great field of useful labour might thereby be opened up. I have not the slightest doubt that these women are fully qualified in many cases to execute the work which they would be set to do, and I feel certain that they would be glad, in spite of all that has been said as to the large amount of income they are now receiving, to augment their incomes in such a way, it always being understood that they were acting in a patriotic manner towards their country. The question of agricultural labour is bound to become more and more serious as the war goes on and men are taken, as they will rightly be taken, for the purpose of augmenting our fighting forces. If the problem reaches the point at which you cannot find any agricultural labour, then it might be considered whether we could not make use of the enormous number of prisoners of war in this country. No doubt the farmers would much prefer to have people of their own nationality, but rather than that the country should face starvation such a suggestion, if it is practicable, might be worthy of consideration by His Majesty's Government. Of course it must be left to the Government to decide whether the employment of prisoners of war for agricultural purposes—this course has been resorted to in other countries—could or could not be made use of.
My Lords, my noble friend behind me has dealt so fully with this important question that I do not feel called upon to say more than a very few words in continuation of this debate. The problem which we have been discussing is a tremendous problem, and the agricultural portion of it is, of course, only a fragment of the whole. One is sometimes inclined to doubt whether when we embarked upon this great war we really all of us realised its consequences upon the industries of this country. We passed insensibly from the position of a country which was content to maintain a comparatively small Expeditionary Force to the position of a country which has begun to talk of its armed men, not in thousands or even in hundreds of thousands, but in millions, and I think it is a question whether all of those who applauded that great change of policy fully realised what an immense dislocation of industry was bound to follow from its adoption.
I can well understand the solicitude with which my noble friend the Duke of Marlborough regards the consequences of this war in so far as they affect agriculture. It is the basic industry, the one industry the collapse of which we could none of us for a moment allow ourselves to contemplate. My noble friend is therefore, I think, within his rights when he calls attention to the manner in which what he described as the comparatively slender forces engaged in agriculture are being removed from the soil. We have at any rate realised the urgency, and we have endeavoured to the best of our abilities to protect the industry of agriculture from an excessive depletion. The noble Duke drew a rather misleading picture of my noble friend behind me (Lord Selborne) when he represented him as going to the Secretary of State for War with his hat in his hand and craving from him as a kind of favour the exemption of a handful of the men employed in agriculture. I have been behind the scenes in these matters, and I am able to bear testimony to the fact that the agriculturists of this country could not have a more stalwart champion, or I may say a more successful one, than my noble friend behind me. We know that one of the results of his efforts has been the compilation of the starred lists of which we have heard so much during this debate.
The noble Viscount on the Back Bench (Lord Peel) a few moments ago dwelt, and I think he was fully entitled to do so, upon the suspicion with which these lists have been regarded in many parts of the country, and one is bound to admit that in many districts and to a great extent the lists have proved untrustworthy. But I think your Lordships should not leave out of sight the fact that they were compiled under very great difficulties, and I think those who took part in their compilation—the recruiting officers and the representatives of the different local bodies—deserve our thanks for the pains which they bestowed upon a task which obviously was a somewhat difficult one. At any rate, we hope as time goes on to be able to remedy the imperfections of those lists. They require alteration in two directions. Beyond all doubt there are many men who ought to be on the starred lists and who have not been starred. On the other hand, there are many who have found their way on to the lists who really had no business to be included in them. It is not difficult to conceive the circumstances under which these mistakes occurred in starring the men's cards regard was had to the man's description of himself when his name was added to the National Register, and undoubtedly some men in registering themselves took care to give themselves a description which entitled them to be starred, while others, not perhaps so astute or so well advised, although they might have established a very fair claim to exemption, did not take advantage of the opportunity and allowed themselves to be returned simply as agricultural labourers. I have known within my own knowledge many cases of that kind. Those inequalities will no doubt be corrected.
Then there is the further most important safety-valve to which my noble friend behind me referred, the safety-valve which is provided by the arrangement under which in any occupation a man who can show that he is really indispensable to his employer may obtain a certain amount of protection by having his name included in a group which will not be called upon immediately, but which stands some way down upon the list. The procedure to be followed has been described in the instructions which have lately been issued for the guidance of the local tribunals which are to be set up all over the country. It has to be shown that the man is indispensable, and it is explained that his employer must show not only that the man is individually indispensable but that every effort has been made to obtain a substitute for hint, that the maintenance of the business is of national importance, and also that the employer has given reasonable facilities for the enlistment of every roan in his employment. With those reservations I believe this arrangement should be found a very valuable and useful safeguard.
A good deal was said by Lord Parmoor in regard to the question of the substitution of other forms of labour for the labour of the men who are enlisted. That is, I believe, a point of immense importance. It is a very difficult. point, because particularly in regard to the employment of women there is a considerable amount of reluctance to be overcome both on the part of the women themselves and on the part of the employers.
Hear, hear.
The reluctance of the women may, I dare say, if the question is properly treated, gradually be overcome. With regard to the reluctance of the employers, I feel bound to say that I believe by far the most effectual way of overcoming it will be that we should not show ourselves too easygoing in the matter of exemptions. If you allow the employer to keep too many of his hands he certainly will not bestir himself much in order to obtain women to take their places.
I agree with a great deal that was said by the noble Lord behind me (Lord Devonport) as to the effect of excessive separation allowances. He has appealed to us, not for the first time, to do something to correct this abuse where it exists; but I would venture to put it to the noble Lord that when a man has joined the Army having before him as an inducement the promise of a separation allowance of a certain amount for his wife, it is a very serious thing to turn round upon him afterwards and say that the terms are to be revised to his disadvantage.
Might I say that I am perfectly conscious of that fact. But there are millions of men still being recruited, and I suggest that possibly you might modify the allowances in relation to them. It is a very serious obligation on the State.
I am glad that the noble Lord recognises to that extent, at any rate, the force of the argument. Something was said by the noble and learned Lord (Lord Parmoor) as to the further employment of boys. That is an experiment we should all of us like to see tried, but the question of the relaxation of the regulations which prevail has been left, and I venture to think rightly left, to the local education authorities. At any rate, it seems to me pretty obvious that it would be impossible to make a radical change in this direction without further legislation, and the noble and learned Lord, who knows the other House better than I do, will realise how extremely difficult it would be at a moment like this to obtain the legislation which would be required. But so far as these things can be done by voluntary agency and without pressure, I believe we should all of us like to see encouragement given to the employment of boys upon the land.
There is only one other observation which I will venture to make. It is important that we should be under no misapprehension as to the extent to which agriculture is being depleted by recruiting. We have lately endeavoured to classify all the principal industries and occupations, and to obtain by means of the National Register some idea of the number of persons employed in each occupation. I find that the number of persons between the ages of fifteen and sixty-five who are employed in the industry of agriculture is 990,000. I think I am right in saying that the number of men who have been starred or who will probably come under the reserved occupations is about 123,000. Then of the men employed in agriculture 585,000 are not of military age. So that there will remain left to agriculture, in round numbers, 708,000 men who will not be interfered with in any way. I will not add more. But I am sure I may say for my noble friend behind me that he will leave no stone unturned in order to secure for the important industry for which he is responsible the fullest amount of protection to which it is entitled.

Wage-Earning Children

Kent Messenger of 8th January 1916.
The Committee on Wage-Earning Children, in their annual report, state there is no excuse for exempting children from school until those over school age and all available female labour has been utilised, and at present there is no proof that this has been done, or that with re-organisation the need for child labour would still exist. They point out that many adults who offered their services for harvesting in the summer holidays were not called on; nor were the soldiers used to any great extent, presumably on account of the wages that had to be paid.

Vicar of Teynham - "The War and the Countryside"

Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald of 5th February 1916
The Rev. W.A. Purton, Vicar of Teynham, gave the address last Sunday afternoon at the men's service at Faversham Parish Church, his topic being "The War and the Countryside. Dealing with some effects of the War in the rural districts, he said that one of the most regrettable things the war had brought was the interruption of education caused by the exemption of children from school in order that they might work in the fields.
He was not in a position to say how far the calls of agricultural labour rendered this necessary. No doubt the Kent Education Committee have it anxious thought, but in any case it was a sad consequence of the war. he also referred to the fact that in some cases young married women with few children, whose lives were centred on their husband;s now that they had gone did not trouble to get up in the morning and tidy up in the evening, and strayed to the nearest public house in order to forget their cares and occupy their minds. What sort of a home would the husband find when he came back and what sort of a wife? It was strange how war solved some problems. More had been done to promote temperance in general than had ever been advocated by legislation before, and acquiesced in readily and even cheerfully, but with these lonely wives a new difficulty had been produced. Still in the country these, cases were few. Alluding to the effect war had upon the heart of a nation the preacher said he must confess to a feeling of mild surprise that the weekly intercession services held so largely in the country had not been better attended. He did not complain of it, because no doubt there were explanations, and they were known to the Almighty. He did find however, that there was a very great revival and in many cases quite a new creation of interest in deep religious questions. he believed there was less trusting in the material and a deeper understanding of the importance of the spiritual. These things were of insuperable value to the national life, and he thought they were alive in our midst.

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