T Edmund Harvey MP for Leeds West 4.1.1875 – 3.5.1955
Information supplied as a Find Out More Sheet at the Courage, Conscience and Creativity Exhibition, Leeds City Museum, June to December 2016.
When Ted Harvey went to France with the War Victims Relief Committee (known as War Vics) there was a problem completing his French ID card. A different hand wrote in the space for place of birth ‘member du Parlement Anglais’. The original writer squeezed in ‘Leeds’ nearby, and his profession was given as ‘member de la societe des amis’. He was indeed a Member of Parliament and a member of the The Religious Society of Friends and gave his best to both throughout World War 1.
In 1914 Ted Harvey, a lifelong Quaker, was an MP, sitting as a Liberal for Leeds West. On August 3 1914, just before the war started he ‘caught the ear of the House’ with an impassioned speech for a positive view of the Germans. With his brother in law and fellow MP Arnold Rowntree he was already working on setting up the Friends Ambulance Unit, which was seen by some absolutist COs as compromising with the army.
He also travelled in Europe organising the Friends War Victims Relief Service which had no military connections but helped people and places ravaged by the war. ‘The Friend’ of October 6 1916 has a double page spread headed ‘Peace Service of the Society of Friends’. On the left hand side are reports of recent FAU work including a paragraph about the activities of Ted Harvey: ‘ we all appreciated his kindly feeling and advice and inspiration’. On the right hand side his travels with the War Vics are recorded.
In Parliament his role was often behind the scenes. When the Military Service Act was to be introduced in 1916 he lobbied for the inclusion of ‘work of national importance’ as an alternative for Conscientious Objectors. He then served on the Pelham Committee, the Board of Trade group set up to decide what counted as ‘work of national importance’. This included agriculture, factory work (probably involved in the war effort) or service in humanitarian organizations. Harvey’s political path in WW1 brought criticism from many sides. His patient attention to Conscientious Objectors from all denominations who were struggling with this system was much appreciated, though some Quakers criticised him for working too closely with the military system.
He was not re-elected in Leeds at the end of the war, though many years later served as an MP for the Combined Universities as an ‘independent progressive’ and supported proportional representation.
For the rest of his life his home remained in Leeds and he was a respected figure among Quakers both locally and nationally. After the war he was a leading figure as Quakers struggled to work out how a just society can achieve equality and fairness for everyone, as they are trying to do again in the 21st century.
Sources: photographs from the collections of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)