HC Deb 16 March 1927 vol 203 cc2022-4

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prohibit the employment of young persons at night below ground in coal mines; and for other purposes connected therewith. The young persons referred to in this Bill are boys under the age of 16 years. At present they come under the Eight Hours Act, and there is no contravention of the law so long as they are not below ground more than eight hours during every consecutive 24 hours. I should explain that the winding-time is in addition to the eight hours. The average winding-time is 40 minutes, so that every person is below ground 8 hours 40 minutes. I do not want hon. Members opposite to think that on this occasion I am attempting to get through the Eight Hours Act. I am leaving that for about 1929, when I hope it will be dealt with very effectually. The point I want to deal with is the shifts for boys. At most mines three shifts are worked, the morning, the afternoon, and the night; at almost every mine two shifts are worked, the morning and the night. The night turn commences somewhere about 9 o'clock. To get down in time the lads go on at half-past 8. The shift ceases at 5 o'clock in the morning, and the boy gets to the surface about half-past 5, goes home, has a wash and some food, and then goes to bed. He gets up in the afternoon and joins his companions at football or cricket, or, if he is of a studious turn of mind, he may occupy himself with schooling, When 7.30 comes he has to prepare himself for work, and at half-past 8 he starts to go down the mine. I want hon. Members to imagine youths at the age of 16 working through the night. I have worked on the night shift, and even as an adult I know how difficult it is to resist the call of sleep, and one can imagine what it must be in the case of a boy. I am asking the House to consider this matter from that point of view.

At the present time there are 25,000 boys under the age-of 16 working underground, in fact there are more than that, for those figures were given in December last, when there were only 900,000 miners at work, and as the number of miners has risen to over 1,000,000 there would be more than 25,000 dads working underground. I do not want it to be thought that a large majority of the boys are working on the night shift, they are not, because many mine managers view this matter in the same light as myself, that is, that it is morally wrong and economically, unsound to work boys on night shifts; but there are some managers who do work them on the night shifts, and it is to prevent those managers taking advantage of the youths that we are introducing this Bill. Even now boys at mines are prevented from working at the surface between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. and I cannot understand why that prohibition has not been extended to boys below ground. It may be argued that below ground it is always night, and so it is, but that does not do away with natural tendencies, and a boy will want to sleep during the night time.

On Friday last I was an interested listener to a Debate on a Bill to prevent the teaching of sedition to young children and the Mover of the Second Reading said, in a calm and reasoned speech, "We want to protect the young mind; while it is in a pliable state we do not want this kind of teaching to get hold of it." I say that, equally, the young life ought to be protected in the matter of working hours. The Bill to which I refer secured unanimous support from the other side of the House, and I would ask that on this occasion the same support be given to this Measure. In the course of Friday's Debate the Home Secretary said, "What I am trying to prevent does not apply to my children, it applies to the children of the working classes." This Bill does not deal with the children of the wealthier classes, but with the children of the poorer classes; but, for all that, I think that even on the other side of the House there is a generous feeling for the young people of the country, and it is in that hope that I confidently ask the House to give support to the First Reading of this Bill.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Tinker, Mr. Parkinson, Mr. Robert Richardson, Mr. Greenall, Mr. Batey, Mr. Sutton, Lieut.-Colonel Watts-Morgan, and Mr. Barker.