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Adventures in Agriculture

by Harold Pollins

Originally published in Oxford Menorah Magazine, issue 223, December 2017, page 32.

Like most people I am an urbanite but I have an interest in agriculture. Admittedly, as a child in Leytonstone, our back garden was a heap, a few flowers grew and some grass, but nothing more. This changed when the war came and we grew some vegetables, mainly lettuce as I recall. Otherwise my interest was theoretical, imbued by Habonim, and the idea of kibbutz life. I mentioned in an article in Menorah in 2012, entitled ‘Farm Working’, that at the start of the war, when evacuated, we helped to pick potatoes as the agricultural workers had already been mobilised, being in the Territorial Army. And also when we used to stay at night, in the latter part of the blitz, on a farm in Ongar, Essex, I used to help, during the day, by hoeing, and by driving a horse and cart from a field to the farm, helping with the harvest, and, unsuccessfully, trying to hand-milk a cow.

But after that, many years later, in the 1970s I got in involved again with agriculture. The Labour Government passed legislation aiming to deal with tied cottages whereby an agricultural worker lived in accommodation provided by the farmer. Nothing wrong in that but there arose problems when the worker left his employment, or retired. If the farmer wanted to take possession of the cottage it had often been the case that the family was evicted, to some distress. The new legislation aimed to deal with it by arranging that the farmer could apply to the local authority to re-house the worker. The facts of the case would be dealt with by an Agricultural Dwelling House Advisory Committee. A committee would be established for each case, and consisted of three people: a representative from each of the National Farmers’ Union and of the trade union, and an appointed, independent chairman. Somehow I was appointed to the panel of independent chairmen. My memory is vague on this but I think that the Principal of Ruskin College, where I was teaching, was a neighbour of the civil servant who was looking for people to become chairmen and the Principal, I’m sure, recommended me.

Each ADHAC would listen to the evidence provided by the farmer and the worker and would make a recommendation to the local authority – that the worker should be re-housed, and if so with what degree of urgency, or not re-housed. It was then up to the local council to decide what to do.

I was involved with the organisation for almost 30 years. Organisationally the ADHACs were part of the local Agricultural Wages Committee, usually for a combination of several counties. Thus it began as for Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire. Despite the title, it had nothing to do with the settlement of agricultural wages, which were negotiated nationally, but it did have certain duties. One was to decide the wages of a worker who for physical or mental reasons operated at less than 100%. A farmer and a trade unionist would be deputed to investigate and make a recommendation of the amount to be paid. And the Committee also supervised the provision of technical education for workers. One of the appointed chairmen was appointed as chairman of the AWC and he ran the annual meeting of farmers, trade unionists and chairmen. This was partly a social occasion, with a buffet lunch provided by the ministry, but it was a legal requirement, with minutes of the meeting going to the ministry.

I eventually became chairman of the Agricultural Wages Committee when it had changed its structure. As the number of agricultural workers declined so the areas were amalgamated so that eventually my title included the whole of southern England, including the Isle of Wight. There was one anxiety near the start of the system when the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher introduced sales of council houses as it was thought this would reduce their availability. But as far as I know this did not happen. Not unexpectedly the ADHAC system was abolished in December 2013 by the Conservative-Liberal Democratic coalition government as it cut back on government spending.

I was also later involved in another agricultural activity, in the 1980s. Up till then dairy farmers were encouraged to produce more milk but that resulted in its over-production and a new system was introduced which in effect cut down each dairy farm’s output. But while there was a standard reduction for all farms, exceptions were made for those which had, for example, recently invested in new and expensive apparatus. A committee was established for each part of the country, consisting of a number of retired dairy farmers and an independent chairman to investigate such cases. Guess what. I was the independent chairman for Oxfordshire. We met every day for about a month, deliberating on the evidence given to us and we made recommendations which were based on a formula given to us. It was rather mechanical work, almost mathematical. For some reason I got a letter of thanks for my work when it was completed

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