ROWNTREE, Arnold Stephenson
28th November 1872 to 21st May 1951
Rowntree was a director of the Rowntree company and served for eight years as Liberal MP for York.
Rowntree was born in York on 28 November 1872, the nephew of Joseph Rowntree and first cousin of Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree. He was like them a Quaker. He was educated at Bootham School, an independent Quaker school in York before joining the family firm. He married Mary Harvey in 1907.
Rowntree was elected Liberal MP for York in 1910. He was opposed to the First World War, and joined the anti-war campaign group the Union of Democratic Control, founded in 1914 by Charles Trevelyan, Norman Angell, Ramsay MacDonald and others. Under heavy pressure from the Liberal Party, which supported the war, Rowntree finally left the group, but his opposition to war continued. He was a strong supporter of conscientious objectors. He lost his seat in the 1918 general election, possibly as a result of his anti-war stance, but he continued as president of the York Liberal Association.
As well as his role at the Rowntree company, Arnold Rowntree was also a founder member of the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, serving as a director from 1904-51 and chairman from 1925-38. Further afield, he was a director of the North of England Newspaper Company, and president of the Educational Centres Association. Rowntree died in York on 21 May 1951.
As well as giving the opening address at two of the early conferences, Rowntree also presented a couple of papers of his own. The best, and probably most indicative of his own philosophy, is ‘Industry as a service’, in 1924. He argued that industrial unrest was a disease, but one that could be cured. In his view, the remedy was simple: earnings sufficient to support workers in a reasonable standard of comfort, reasonable hours of work, a reasonable share with the employer in determining the conditions of work, and an interest by workers in the prosperity of the company that employs them.
He also called for a greater spirit of understanding and cooperation, between workers and employers but also between business and politics. Businesses needed the cooperation of statesmen, he argued:
We must not go away from this Conference thinking that all will be right if things are left to the business man, and that the politician has no place. In the early days of the industrial revolution things were largely left to the business man, with certain unfortunate results…we must realise the absolute necessity of calling in the statesmen. Just now the main reason for the abnormal depression of industry is the loss of so much of our export trade. That is the result of the war. and of an unwise peace — a peace that over and over again contravened the advice of financial and economic experts, and was dictated very largely by other considerations. The business man cannot right the situation by himself. That is the task of statesmen, and the statesmen should be conscious of the considered view of the community. We must have wise international arrangements: we must have right understanding between nation and nation: we must have satisfactory expenditure of public finds: adequate methods of internal and external communication: wise methods of holding the land: a wise system of taxation: and an enlightened local government and administration. In all these matters we must appeal to the statesmen, and must recognise that their efficient cooperation is essential to the industrial welfare of the country.
Who Was Who.