§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Munro.]
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
I desire to raise the question of the earnings of juveniles under 18. Naturally, during the war our chief attention must be concentrated on matters appertaining to the conduct of the war, but I think the House will agree with me when I say that we must not be blind to what is happening on the home front, particularly when some of the action taken there may in itself be prejudicial to certain aspects of the war effort and may have consequences which will be felt long after the war. I therefore make no apology for drawing attention to the earnings of juveniles of 14, 15, 16 and 17.
On 4th December I put a Question to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour asking for information as to the amount of those earnings, and in his reply he referred me to the publication of the result of an investigation which had taken place in July, 1941. The figures resulting from this investigation showed that the earnings of juveniles average 50s. 5d. per week. Now average figures are apt to be deceptive in that they do not tell the whole story and sometimes conceal the particular piece of information that one requires. I suggest that that applies to the statement giving the average earnings of juveniles, for this reason. These juveniles include a certain number of apprentices. Nobody would suggest that the earnings of apprentices are too high. They include a large number of juveniles in the distributive trades, and I do not think there is any evidence to justify the statement that there are excessive earnings by juveniles in these trades. When one takes these two factors into consideration it is obvious that when you are left with 307 an average earning of 50s. 5d. a week, there must be a certain number—whether a considerable number or not perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will tell the House—who are earning more than 50s. 5d. a week. The average itself is pretty high in the light of the considerations I have put forward, and I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies, will tell us whether his Ministry has information as to the exact number of juveniles who are earning weekly wages in excess of the average of 50s. 5d., how many juveniles come into this category and to what heights these earnings amount.
We know from the Press that there are some juveniles who have, unfortunately, broken the law and have had to be brought before juvenile courts. Some of them are earning £5, £6 and even £ per week. We know that this matter is causing grave concern to all who have to do with youth, leaders of clubs, magistrates, and other well-intentioned persons who have no political interest in the matter, but who take a vital interest in the welfare of the youth of this country and who see in these excessive earnings a danger to these young people. I submit that these excessive earnings are bad for the juveniles themselves, because they create in their minds a wrong sense of values and because the fact that at present a certain number of them have these excessive sums to spend, and to control the spending of, exposes them to dangers and temptations to which young people ought not to be exposed. We know that there are undesirable people who are taking advantage of this fact and leading these young people into very bad social conduct. These things also have an effect on the adult, too. What does an agricultural labourer, whose wages have now been raised to £3 a week, after a great fight, think when he hears that there are juveniles under 17 who are earning anything from to £6 or £7 a week? When one urges people not to spend their money but to lend it to the Government, they draw attention to facts of this kind and suggest that there is a considerable waste of public money, that the money which they are careful to save is not properly expended by the Government in permitting things of this kind to happen.
I would point out that matters of this kind, the excessive earnings of juveniles— 308 and particularly when the juveniles earning these large sums break the law and come into the courts—make very good copy for the newspapers, and therefore, considerable prominence is given to these cases, and it may be that an importance is attached to them which is not altogether justified. But I suggest that we cannot ignore the psychological influence of certain things. There is no doubt that the psychological effect of these excessive earnings is in many ways injurious to our war effort. It tends to make the adults dissatisfied with their earnings. It also means that the serving man has a glaring contrast between what he receives and what a juvenile receives. Many of these juveniles earn these high sums in unskilled occupations, and when they inform their companions who are training themselves for some trade, and are not immediately earning so much, how much they are able to earn in unskilled occupations, it must be a source of temptation to others to follow their example.
§ Mr. Lipson
My purpose to-day is to draw attention to an evil and to find out from the Minister whether he can give us any information as to the extent of it and what steps he proposes to take to deal with it. If my hon. Friend wishes to have a case, perhaps he will allow me to quote this one. This case was reported in the "Cheltenham Echo" about a fortnight ago:'I earn about £6. and £7 a week,' a 15 year old boy stated at the Liverpool Juvenile Court to-day.The Chairman: Are you a gold-digger?The Boy: No, a labourer.The Clerk: Have you made any provision for your Income Tax?The boy replied that he had not.The Minister of Labour has already recognised, by an action he has taken, that some check must be placed on the excessive earnings of juveniles.
§ Mr. Lipson
The answer to that question is that I do not know. It has no relevance to the argument I am raising, as the hon. Member will realise if he allows me to develop my argument. The Minister has recognised that these excessive earnings ought to be checked. He has taken steps, 309 through the Ministry of Works and Buildings, to impose some control over the earnings of juveniles, so tar as they are engaged under contracts for which the Ministry are responsible. He has laid it down Mat boys of 15 should earn 40 per cent, of a man's wage; boys of 16 should earn 50 per cent.; boys of 17, 75 per cent., and boys of 18 should receive the full 100 per cent. I submit that this does not deal entirely with the problem. I feel it is necessary that some action should be taken to make it impossible for juveniles below 18 having control of this excessive spending power. I suggest for the Government's consideration that the Minister should definitely take power to control, by way of deferred pay, all earnings of juveniles below 18 which are above a certain amount, and, on the analogy of the Income Tax payments, such amounts should be credited to them for after the war. I suggest that something should be done on these lines. Arrangements could be made whereby, in the event of an emergency, and subject to proper safeguards, the money could be made available. I believe it to be undesirable that these boys should have the control of this money now, and, while I see there are objections to putting a ceiling on their earnings, I see no objection to taking control in the form of deferred pay for earnings above a certain amount.
§ Mr. Lipson
That is for the Minister to decide. I do not think that it is my job to go into details of that kind. I ask the Minister to recognise that this is an evil which, if it is not controlled, may become a canker in the body politic. I suggest that it is his duty to find out the extent of the evil and to come forward with a constructive proposal to deal with it. I myself have made one proposal. If the right hon. Gentleman refuses it, I hope he will say why. I hope we shall not be faced with a pure negative but shall be given some alternative way of dealing with the evil. I think it is in the interests of the juveniles, and of the State also, that action should be taken without delay.
§ Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)
I think the hon. Member has served a useful purpose in raising this issue, about which there has been a great deal of publicity in the Press. My own general feeling is that it is a far larger problem 310 than the question of wages. It is a problem of the proper supervision of adolescents. The Government have recognised their responsibility in that direction, I am glad to say, by legislation requiring the registration of all young people from 16 10, to 18. It is not merely a war-time problem but is part of a post-war problem. We had the same question in the last war. War is bad for young persons. Their parents are largely away on war service, and the children get out of control. There is a shortage of labour, and, inevitably, employers have to employ young persons instead of adults on many jobs. We all agree that a young person doing a man's job should be paid a man's rate of wages. I do not think that can be gainsaid, but it inevitably arises out of the war. That does not say that the Government have not a great responsibility. The Board of Education particularly ought to be thinking well ahead of the whole question. I hope the Government's policy will not end with registration. I think the right place for a child up to 16 is at school and not in the factory, but that will only be possible after the war. We had only got as far as the principle of the age of 15, and that with exemptions, before the war.
There is no doubt that this is a very real and burning question. There is very considerable discontent in rural areas. Agricultural labourers are guaranteed a minimum wage of £3 but that is a maximum. The agricultural labourer is tied to his job. He cannot leave it and compete in the market with young persons, who are in many cases earning high wages, not because employers want to pay them, but because it is the market rate and no adults are available. I know cases in rural areas where there is a demand for lorries, and young persons of 17 are driving them and earning £7 a week. Their fathers, uncles and brothers are earning only £3. You can understand the discontent that is caused, and obviously in a rural area is a lot for a young person doing a comparatively unskilled job. My view is that the real remedy is for the Government to assume responsibility for the care and well-being of all persons from 14 to 16 and not merely to interfere with their wage-earning power but to provide them with facilities for continuation schools and social centres, and carry out the principle embodied in the Fisher Act of continued education and learning, instead of stop- 311 ping their education when they leave school at 14.
§ Sir William Wayland (Canterbury)
The danger that I can see is after the war. These boys will then be thrown back on their own financial level. They will be getting probably about one-quarter or one-fifth of what they are getting now. After the war a man will not be satisfied with getting £1 a week where he is now getting £4, £5 or £6. My opinion is that the Government ought to have controlled all wages from the beginning of the war as agricultural wages are controlled. Why are they controlled? The right hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) said it was because the agricultural labourer cannot move from his job, but that is not the case. It is considered that an agricultural labourer is worthy of £3 a week, and as a farmer I agree. There is, however, a scale of wages laid down for agriculture from the lad of 14 upwards. If that had been done for wages throughout the country as soon as the war started, we should have avoided two dangers—these excessive wages for youngsters and inflation. Unless we are careful the inflation will become worse than it is at the present time.
One of the worst features of the war, as we see in the courts and in the country, is the excessively ridiculous wages which lads receive. They should be controlled, and it is in the interest of the country that control should come about as soon as possible. I do not say that part of the excessive wages should be taken as Income Tax or put aside until after the war, but I say that youngsters should not be allowed to earn excessive wages. It is a question of supply and demand. They have only come about in munitions industries. We do not find them in the general run of trade, in the distributive trades or ordinary manufacturing. If you ask an ordinary manufacturer what he pays a lad, he will not tell you £4, £5 or £6 a week; he will say that the lad is probably getting 50 per cent. more than he would have got before the war. If you inquire at a munitions factory, you are told that high wages are paid because it is Government work and that it does not matter what the cost is; it is paid for on a basis which allows the employers to obtain a profit and the workers to be paid excessive wages. I hope that something 312 will be done by the Government to avoid this double danger, not only during the war, but after the war particularly.
§ Lieutenant Butcher (Holland-with-Boston)
My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) has put the House in his debt for raising this question. While no one will dispute the argument that if a lad can earn adult's wages he is entitled to them, I feel that excessive wages paid to young people create most unfavourable comparisons. They are not paid to people, who, in the main, are engaged on work of first-class importance. The people who are engaged on that work are agricultural workers, miners, railway men, Post Office servants and so on. Their wages have been increased, as the recent return circulated by the Ministry of Labour shows, by about 30 per cent. The unsatisfactory feature is that a man who has great skill and responsibility, such as an engine driver, receives wages which compare unsatisfactorily, taking all the circumstances into account, with the wages of a man employee in an unskilled capacity by a public works contractor. An unfortunate comparison is also made between the earnings of these young people and young people who are tied to their existing work by an order of the Ministry of Labour made under the Essential Work Order. The difficulty of reconciling the wages paid to these young people on the one hand a ad to responsible men doing important jobs of real war-time value makes me feel how important it is that this Matter should be put right as early as possible.
§ Mr. Rhys Davies (Westhoughton)
Has the hon. and gallant Member forgotten that the largest number of young people employed in any single industry are in the distributive trades, and that the wages for those young people have not risen as high as those he has menationed for some other occupations?
§ Lieutenant Butcher
That is exactly the case I am making. What is desired is that the wages of the whole community shall keep in step. We have rightly taken advantage of the war to make the wages of the agricultural workers more comparable with those of other skilled workers, but no one can suggest that a man who is tied to the land, even with the advantages of the minimum wage and the advantages that piece work can bring, but 313 with the disadvantage of not being allowed to change his employment, is in a very satisfactory position as compared with the position of these others, and there is grave uneasiness and discontent over the disparity in the rewards which skill brings to a man and the wages that are paid to these boys. There is also the disparity in spending power to be taken into consideration. These young people are, no doubt, doing a good job—I make no complaint on that score—but even though purchases are restricted by means of rationing and the coupon system, the fact remains that a young person may have £4 or £5 a week to spend on his own personal wants or to accumulate in savings while his elder brothers may be in the Services and have wives who have the responsibility of Maintaining a home and keening themselves and their children on Quite small allowances, allowances which there has been an agitation in this House to increase. I am sure that my hon. Friend who represents the Ministry of Labour is aware that things must be got into their proper proportions. I do not think this is a big problem at the present time. I think that the position has been exaggerated. One case of a lad earning £5 a week at the age of 15 hits the newspapers; the large numbers of boys who are earning wages more appropriate to their age and their work is news for nobody. It is however, that the few exceptional cases should he brought to the attention of the Ministry in good time, and I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to tell us that steps are to be taken in the matter.
§ Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)
I think the hon. and gallant Member for Boston-with-Holland (Lieutenant Butcher) has hit the nail on the head properly. There are one or two of these cases in the country. The Press gets hold of them and then Members of Parliament who are not over-desirous that people should have a rattling good wage bring the matter to this House. I am quite satisfied from the way the question has been raised, from the different angles in the House, that the motive is to keep wages down. [Interruption.] It is not "So much nonsense." You take your medicine.
§ Sir P. Harris
It is not a case of taking medicine. It is not true. The hon. Member is making charges against those of us who have not been speaking and without any justification.
§ Mr. Griffiths
There has been plenty of justification now for some six weeks or two months, and I am not going to sit down under it in this House. I am standing up for the man who is producing. The country is asking for production and more production, and these workers go out and give production. In a sense they leave their flesh and blood in the munition factories. Some of them are working 60 or 70 hours a week and some up to 84 hours a week, and because they earn a sum which, shall I say, is a little over and above the average for the country, then Members come here and throw up their hands in holy horror and say "This thing must be stopped."
§ Mr. Griffiths
I am not disputing the case put by the hon. and gallant Member for Holland-with-Boston. Listen to what the hon. Member for Canterbury (Sir W. Wayland) has just said. I have just taken a note of it. He said, "We are looking to after the war." I want us to finish the war before we consider after the war, and we shall not finish the war if we start pulling the men to pieces who are giving us the production. Some of the lads of 17 years of age are 10 or 12 stone in weight. They can, in a sense, lift a truck. They are put on piece-work; they produce the stuff. The Minister of Labour said he was bothering about production. Is that not what we are all bothering about? Have we not been squealing because we had not sufficient production for our needs in France and in Malaya and because there is not sufficient production all round? Then, when people are producing, Members get up in this House and say that those people must not have the money.
I want to give a personal case. When I was 17 years of age I went to work in the pit, with my father and brother, and I was put upon piece-work. The manager did not say, "Look here, George, you're only 17, and your father is 45; you ought not to take home more money than your father and brother." We produced the goods, and I say that these lads of 17 are producing the goods now. It has been said that the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) has done the House and the country a service in raising this matter to-day; I am not sure whether that is so. Most of these lads did not leave school at 11 or 12 years 315 of age as we did, but went to secondary schools. The elementary school standard is higher to-day than it was when I went to school. They are intelligent, and you had better leave this matter alone.
The hon. Member for Canterbury hit the point when he said, "If you give these people high wages now, how are we to manage them after the war?" If the trade unions made the conditions and price lists by agreement with the employers of labour or the Government, the lads who are producing the goods have a right to the money. You do not give them £ or so a week if they are not producing. The lads who are getting £.4., £5 or £6 a week on a day wage are working all the hours that God sends. They have a certain figure, which may be 10d. or 1s. an hour, and they have to work all the hours they can. No doubt the Minister, who is sitting very quiet there, will be able to prove that the people who are getting the money are working the long hours. The hon. Member for Cheltenham suggested that, if the lads are earning these wages, some of it should be put away for them, over and above the Income Tax, by way of deferred payment. I wonder whether he would like his salary deferred, if he has nothing but his salary coming in? The cost of living is going up.. I believe that the hon. and gallant Member for Holland-with-Boston suggested that these lads have nobody to keep but themselves. I am not quite sure of that. They have to help keep the family, and there is a possibility that their father or older brother may be away, so that they may be tipping up their money instead of spending it.
§ Lieutenant Butcher
My hon. Friend will agree that surely provision for the support of the family of a serving soldier, when he is away, should not be left to the question of whether the young boy is employed at these right rates, or rather at the rates which the Minister under the Essential Work Order has agreed are reasonable.
§ Mr. Griffiths
It is not what should be; it is what is. Nobody has pleaded harder than my hon. and gallant Friend that Service payments should be higher than they are. The facts are that the lads working on munitions have to help keep the homes going. It is no use taking an isolated case. I have stated that we want 316 production. I will not touch upon agricultural wages; I only want to say that the hon. Member for Canterbury was wrong when he said that £3 a week was the maximum. Three pounds is not the maximum.
§ Mr. Griffiths
So far as the employing class is concerned, it is as low as they are allowed to go. It is a minimum wage, and if a man is exceptionally skilled, the farmer can pay him £4 or £5 a week if he likes.
§ Sir W. Wayland
May I inform my hon. Friend that no industry has shown a higher percentage of bankruptcies in recent years than agriculture?
§ Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)
Would the hon. Member say that in regard to dairy farming in the last few years?
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
I do not say that the farmer should not have a fair return. I agree that he should. There are, however, farmers who are doing well, and farmers who need not keep down to the minimum wage. They could pay higher if they chose. I only wanted to correct the hon. Member for Canterbury and point out that it is not a maximum wage, although I agree with my hon. Friend that it becomes the maximum. They make it the maximum. Nobody knows that better than the miners. We know something about minimum and maximum, but nevertheless it is still the minimum on the Statute Book. I do not wish to prolong the Debate. There are others who desire to speak, but in my own mind I am sure that the people who are continually talking about high wages are not desirous that wages should be high. They desire that they should be as low as they possibly can be. When wages are low production 317 is low. If there is an opportunity for a man to earn a good wage, he will produce the goods. If a lad is on piece-work and can turn the stuff out and earn his £10 or £12 a week, he is doing the country a good turn and is helping to win the war.
§ Mr. Lindsay (Kilmarnock)
I want to bring the House back to the original speech of my hon. Friend. I understood that this Debate referred to juvenile delinquency.
§ Mr. Lindsay
Perhaps I may be allowed to make my own speech. The Debate began on the possible connection between high wages and juvenile delinquency. I rise to ask one particular question. My hon. Friend who has just spoken has talked a great deal of the time about hours. In fact, what he said was, "They are working the hours; why should they not get the money?" I would like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to tackle the problem of hours rather than the problem of money, because I believe that if the problem of hours was tackled, the problem of money would tend to look after itself.
§ Mr. Lindsay
Yes, agreed, but the hon. Member did not go on to make the point which I thought he was going to make. This is a crying scandal at the present time. I am not concerned at the moment with the problem of money. I think it has been grossly exaggerated in the Press. It is difficult to get information. I asked a group of boys the other night. They work in an aircraft factory, and their reply was a typical one: "That is a secret we must not tell you." That was their particular way of putting it asked the same group of boys whether they had got their football team going. They were to have been playing matches before Christmas "on Sundays, the only time they can play football. Their reply was, Sundays we lie in bed; we are tired out." That is three miles from here. All I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary is, first of all, whether he has established any connection between delinquency and high 318 wages, because in my experience the peak age for delinquency is between 12 and 13 years. That is the whole problem in London now. The relation of high wages and delinquency has come out in one or two startling cases.
Are we going to allow precisely the same things as happened between 1914 and 1918? When the Youth Committee was started the whole point was to try and prevent what happened between 1914 and 1918. We have not been overtaken so much by delinquency as by a complete breakdown of any system of juvenile control. That is perfectly clear. I asked the same group of boys—I wish my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. R. J. Taylor) who seemed to think, because I was speaking after his hon. Friend, I was attacking him, would note this—why some of them did not join the A.T.C. This is a rougher type of boy, who has got out of the habit of even wanting to do a bit of mathematics and navigation in the evening. They said, in reply to me, "Too much like work Junior commandos for us, with a tommy gun." That boy comes in so tired in the evening that he cannot get down even to the more exciting work in the A.T.C. I say that it will make nonsense of the Government's registration scheme unless they control hours. I believe there ought to be a charter of hours for the under 18's during the war. I believe that if such a charter is laid down, this question of wages will begin to settle itself. I spoke in Scotland on Saturday morning to a man who is a turner, who complained that it was very unfair—
§ It being the hour appointed for the interruption of Business, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Major Dugaale.]
§ Mr. Lindsay
He said, "It is very unfair; I am going to be moved from an aircraft factory back to the mines. I was getting £3 18s. as a turner at the pit: I am now getting £6 18s. as a turner in the aircraft factory. This is more interesting work. I have bought worth of tools. Why should I go back to the pit? Can you help me?" This shows chaos in regard to wages. I have been a believer in trade unionism all my political days. It is not a question of breaking down trade 319 unionism, or of breaking down wages. But there is no answer to that man. Those are the two figures which he gave me, and which I verified. That is the position with adults. With boys, there is an even greater chaos. I do not profess to understand these questions of wages, but if you laid down a charter to provide that boys should not be working, as they are in London at present, for 55 and 62 hours a week, things would be much better. It is impossible in such circumstances to have a proper apprenticeship. Why should a boy apprentice himself when he can, work—and, indeed, overwork—in this way? Even after working all those hours, boys are joining the Home Guard, and, in many cases putting their ages down falsely as 16 in order to do it. This will break down their morale and physique. How are you going to fill up your new registration schemes for boys between 16 and TR? The circular issued by the Board of Education the other day said that it would be understood that some boys between the ages of 16 and 18 would not be able to take advantage of the facilities provided owing to their long hours—the circular did not say "long"—of work. I appeal to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour. I know that he has great knowledge, as a result of his previous experience on local authorities. I appeal to him to ask the President of the Board of Education—who I am sorry is not here to-day—and the Home Secretary for a charter dealing with hours of labour for youths. If he will do that, he will be doing a good service to the youth of this country, he will be solving the problem of these haphazard cases of high wages, which come before the courts, and he will be doing something for the future of youth in this country.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Tomlinson)
At the risk of being thought pedantic, I would suggest that what we have listened to again to-day is a series of generalisations from a few particular cases. When this question of juvenile wages has been raised, I have gone out into the country to see whether I could find examples. In my own constituency, in spite of the fact that I have advertised, I have not been able to find a single case of a youth receiving what could be regarded as an unreasonable wage. I am not suggesting 320 that I would either agree or disagree with what other hon. Members regard as abnormal wages. I have a great deal of sympathy with the suggestion just made by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Lindsay). It seems to me that the evil of the high wage lies, not in the amount of money, but rather in the excessive hours which that high wage represents, and the possible physical effect on the growing youth. But consideration has to be given to the fact that many a boy of 16 or 17 is almost equal in physique to any man. Contractors who may be called sinners in this respect have seen the potential labour power of this type of individual and utilised it. I am strengthened by the suggestion made on every side that these cases, when they have appeared in the Press, are so enhanced in value that we are entitled to think that they are general rather than isolated cases.
It has apparently bee a assumed that little or no attempt was made to regulate the wages of young people. Of the 2,000,000 young people who are in insurable employment in this country, the wages of 1,350,000 are covered by agreements between employers and trade unions. That means that nearly 70 per cent. of the young people are covered by agreements. It may be that there are some employers who are not members of their organisation and as a consequence engage young people outside these agreements, and it may be that some of these are the cases which appear from time to time either in the police court or in the Press. But we are constantly endeavouring to bring the wages and conditions of young people under agreements, and wherever there is a lack of organisation we are endeavouring to set up machinery in order that these problems may be discussed between employers and workers.
Since the question was raised in the first instance, when it was agreed that, if there was a case against any particular section of employers, it vas perhaps the large contractor, an agreement has been entered into in the building industry which should tend to level out the anomalies which may have arisen in that particular trade. I do not want to be drawn into a discussion of the wages policy or lack of wages policy of the Government, but I would warn the House against making comparisons even with regard to the wages of young people. It has been suggested on every hand that wherever a youth is doing 321 the job, he should receive the money. The basis of all our agreements in operation since the beginning of the war has been the rate for the job. That is the reason for the anomaly about which my hon. Friend spoke, but it is the only way in which you can regularise the position. Therefore, even though it may have effects that we do not want among our own people, I repeat that, if a young person is sent to do a man's job, he is entitled to the man's wage. We at any rate must be prepared to face that situation.
§ Mr. Lipson
When these agreements were made with the contractors by which juveniles only receive a percentage of the earnings of the men on the job?
§ Mr. Tomlinson
Yes, it is for that reason that we are attempting to regularise the jobs upon which young people should be engaged. Therefore, implicit in the agreement is the understanding that young people should be used to do young people's jobs and not men's jobs.
My hon. Friend complained about the average earnings of juveniles in July. He said that averages could be misleading. I agree, but they are not nearly so misleading as the incidental anonymous reports which appear from time to time in newspapers. But at the least the averages which were given relating to the earnings of juveniles in July, 1941, were of a representative character. They referred to close on 500,000 juveniles. My hon. Friend made play with the fact that in the distributive trades earnings were not high and, therefore, tended to bring down the average and that apprentices would be included. It is perfectly true that the number of apprentices in the metal, engineering and shipbuilding industries are referred to in these averages, but it may surprise him to know that the distributive trades are not taken into account. These do not refer to the distributive trades at all. So the poor wages in the distributive trades referred to could not have been used to bring down the general average.
When he quoted 50s. 5d. per week as the average earnings of boys and youths from 14 to 21, that was only the average earnings in the building and contracting industry, and it was shillings per week more than that in any other. I submit that if we consider the average earnings of youths between 14 and 21, counting in 322 the earnings and bonuses paid for overtime, etc., and dealing with a representative number of young people in half-a-dozen, different trades in this country, with regulations governing the payment of wages and hours between employer and employee, covering 1,350,000 out of 2,000,000 people, we shall begin to see this problem in its right perspective. I suggest that the new agreement entered into by the building industry at the request of the Minister has done something really constructive towards meeting any anomally in this direction.
§ Mr. Tomlinson
Yes, Sir. The question of linking up this problem with that of delinquency has been adequately dealt with by my hon. Friend opposite. If there has been an increase—and everybody knows that there has—it is most marked in the years prior to the children earning anything at all, and I think it is doing a disservice, rather than a service, to deal with this problem by attempting to link it up with something which may be the outcome of the war but which, I am convinced, is not a real contributing factor at this stage to the position that has arisen. In my younger days it was always suggested that juvenile delinquency grew because young people were kept short of money and, therefore, did things they ought not to do because they were seeking to obtain something with which to meet their requirements. It was said that because they did not have two halfpennies to rub together they went out and broke the law. Now it is suggested that because they have one-pound notes to rub together they are also in danger of breaking the law.
In my judgment we have to look to wartime conditions in other directions for the increase in juvenile delinquency—lack of, parental control and lack of control in schools as a consequence of the war, the black-out and the generally changed conditions which have taken place. Somebody said that war was no good for young people. War is no good to anybody from the moral standpoint, and you cannot expect children to grow good morally in a world which is going to the bad in order to save itself. I say that because it seems to me that by attempting to fasten these things on to something which has nothing 323 to do with them, one is doing a disservice and not a service to young people.
When it is suggested that something should be done, may I say that I think the Government, by their new registration scheme whereby the young people between these respective ages can be brought to the knowledge of the people whose business it is to assist them, have taken a step which can, and I believe will, lead to a great improvement in this direction. When the registration scheme has been put into operation and these young people have been brought to the notice of the education authorities and the people in the areas who are anxious to assist in this direction, I believe it will be possible to do more in that way than by any restrictive measures which it has been suggested should be taken by the Department which I have the honour to serve. I think that if we can lead them along right lines, it is much the best way of dealing with the problem.
I do not suggest there is not a problem, although I believe it has been overstated and that more has been attributed to it than could reasonably and properly be so attributed. I believe that the Ministry of Labour, by attempting to analyse the position, by seeking to get agreements relating to hours and to wages, by working in conjunction with the Board of Education in making the best of the Government's registration scheme, and seeking to bring these young people into their right relationship with the community—and it may be utilising some of the money, if need be, which they are earning, and which they have not been earning previously—are dealing with the problem in the right way. If these things can be linked up with real leadership, it may be that some of the boys who find their way into the police courts will have an opportunity of using those very faculties which are taking them into the police courts at the moment in leadership for the benefit of the boys themselves. I hope it will not be felt that the Minister and the Department have been unmindful of this problem. We are anxious that it should not be overstated, but at the same time we are anxious that it should be felt that we have done what we can to see that the young people are used to the best advantage both of themselves and the community.
§ Sir Irving Albery (Gravesend)
I very much regretted the last words of the Parliamentary Secretary, when he rather indicated that he believes the Government and the Ministry have done all that can reasonably be done to tackle this problem. One has to face the fact that, owing to male and female labour above a certain age being conscripted for the national purpose, there is at the present time, and there will continue to be, an artificial call upon juvenile labour. It is not only a question of those who are being paid too much; it is also, in many directions, a question of those who are being paid too little. I have had many letters from constituents, sometimes the parents of the young people, complaining that the young persons were engaged, not at pounds a week, but at shillings a week, that they had had better employment offered to them elsewhere, employment which they would have preferred, which their parents considered held better prospects for the future, but which they were not allowed to take because, under the Ministry's Order, they had to stay where they were at their present low wages. Most of the speeches to which we have listened have been on the question of too high wages. There can be no getting away from the fact that, conditions being what they are, there are many cases where young people are employed at too low wages and the Government, through the Ministry, are forcing them to remain in such employment although they could earn more elsewhere, probably with greater advantage to themselves not only at present but also as regards their training in the future. I intervene only because I am disappointed at the concluding remarks of the Minister. This is a real problem and the Government and the Ministry have to tackle it; it is no good their trying to ride off with the idea that anything they have done up to the present is a proper solution of the problem.
§ Mr. Tomlinson
With the permission of the House, may I, in reply to the hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir I. Albery), say that the problem about which he has spoken is an entirely different problem altogether from the one with which I have been dealing.
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.