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Agricultural Horses And Food Distribution

Volume 65: debated on Saturday 8 August 1914

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I beg to ask the Under-Secretary of State for War a question of which I have given him private notice namely, whether he is aware that the Remount officers are still commandeering all the farmers' horses in places where the harvest has only just begun, and whether in the interests of the food supply of the country he can see his way to prevent this in the future and to restore horses already taken until the harvest is gathered in?

I have received no notice of this question, but it is one exercising the War Office very considerably. I made a few observations on it either yesterday or the day before. It is very distressing to me to learn the information which the hon. Gentleman has brought before the notice of the House. I should have thought that probably it might have been a mistake, because our orders have been so explicit, and it is a great disappointment to hear what the hon. Member says. I, of course, will make inquiries, but the orders have been that horses engaged in the distribution of food and in harvesting operations shall not be taken to a greater extent than 50 per cent., and, if possible, to a smaller extent than that. I am sure that the House realises that for the mobilisation of the Army we must have horses. We do not want to interfere with the distribution of food or the gathering in of the harvest if possible, and every consideration will be given to farmers and those who are engaged in reaping the crops.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an interview to my informant, who, if he is not now, will, I expect, be in the House in a few minutes, in order that he may get the facts?

Certainly. In response to the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford, I interviewed a gentleman yesterday who came in a state of anxiety because he had had half of his horses commandeered. I at once placed myself in communication with the Remount Department, and asked them to reduce the number of horses taken from that firm. Their prompt reply was, "Of course we will do so, if you say it is necessary, but at the same time we may have to come back and say the number of horses for the Army is not sufficient, and in that case we shall have to have more." I think the House will agree that would be worse than in the other case. Therefore, I make an appeal to all those interested in this question to ask those with whom they are in correspondence to cooperate as far as possible with the Remount Department.

May I supplement what my right hon. Friend has said with regard to the distribution of foodstuffs? We have been in communication with the authorities at the Board of Trade, and we have had the very willing co-operation of other firms in other businesses whose requirements in regard to horses and motor lorries are not so pressing. I need not mention them here, but they have shown very public-spirited attention to the distribution of food, which I hope will be copied by all those who at the present time can spare their motor vehicles or horses for this purpose.

The millers and other food distributors who had communicated with the right hon. Gentleman are anxious that as far as possible they should be released from the demand for their horses and motor lorries.

The hon. Member is now making a statement, and he is only entitled to ask questions.

May I ask if the Government are taking any steps for the more equal distribution of Government contracts with a view to lessening the inevitable amount of unemployment which will otherwise arise in manufacturing districts?

This matter has been brought to my notice. I have given instructions to the Government Contract Department, where it is possible, to make as wide a distribution as possible of the orders. They inform me it is essential that the Government requirements should be met, and the Contracts Department will naturally deal with firms that can meet the demands of the War Office. But, subject to that, there will be, of course, no objection to increasing the number of firms employed by the War Office.

Suppose a firm has an enormous contract and is working night and day. Could there not be some arrangement by which it could sub-let the work to one of the firms closing down?

I should certainly agree it is undesirable that overtime should be worked when a lot of people are out of work.

I should like to ask a question which is suggested by an answer given by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade who talked about motor cars, and the aid that owners of motor cars could give to the Government. As an individual owner of a motor car I have received no suggestion of any need on the part of the Government. I need not say I should at once comply with it. Other owners must be in the same position, and if the Government will let owners of private motor cars know exactly what is wanted I am confident they will do their best to give what help they can.

I am very glad to hear the statement of the right hon. Gentleman. Our communications so far have been with the largo distributing firms whose trade for the moment must of necessity be interfered with. I thought this was a very suitable occasion for private owners to assist the bakers for instance in the distribution of bread in the morning. By so doing they would be adding enormously to the convenience of the householders who, in many parts of the country, cannot themselves collect the bread they require. They might also in their own particular districts get into communication with the millers to ascertain if they can aid in securing better distribution. We are sending out public notices which we hope will come into the hands of all motor car owners in the United Kingdom.

Will the Under-Secretary of State for War consider, if he has not already done so, what assistance can be rendered in this matter by the manufacturers of motor cars? I gather from the correspondence I have-received that some of them have as yet had no communication from the War Office. I think they may be able to help.

I have not the actual facts by me. It is quite true that we have had a very large number of offers from individuals, from societies, and from so big a corporation as the Automobile Club, for the loan of motor cars. If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me, I will send him the exact particulars. I am afraid I cannot give them without notice.