The Pelham Committee was the informal, but widely used, name for the Committee on Work of National Importance (the original chair was THW Pelham, a senior civil servant). It was set up by the Board of Trade on 28 March 1916 to advise local Military Service Tribunals "as to what service of national importance an applicant for exemption on the ground of conscientious objection should undertake". The need for such advice had been raised in a Commons debate on 22 March 1916, when implementation was discussed of one form of the provision in the Military Service Act for conscientious objectors - "exemption ... conditional on the applicant being engaged in some work which in the opinion of the tribunal dealing with the case is work of national importance". On 14 April 1916 the Committee issued a preliminary list of occupations deemed to be of national importance; the list was gradually expanded, and the Committee remained available for consultation on individual cases throughout the conscription period. However, the Committee's advice and recommendations had no statutory force, and there was no obligation for any local or appeal tribunal even to consult the Committee. Despite this drawback, some 4000 COs came within the purview of the Committee, and for these COs, necessarily prepared to undertake civilian work under civilian control as an alternative to military service, there was general satisfaction with the Committee.


Edmund Harvey (1875-1955), a Quaker and pacifist MP, played a leading role in drafting the clause in the Act dealing with work of national importance for relevant conscientious objectors, and was a member of the Pelham Committee from its inception, assuming the chair after the death of Pelham. He also tirelessly raised issues in Parliament concerning conscientious objectors.