HC Deb 17 December 1943 vol 395 cc1836-60

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. James Stuart.)

Lieut.-Colonel Lancaster (Fylde)

I desire to draw the attention of hon. Members to the position created by the impending call-up of young men to the mines and to consider some of the problems with which that confronts us and what we may expect by way of increased production and how we may turn this matter to our advantage. Many hon. Members may have been somewhat puzzled by the Minister of Labour's recent announcement of the decision to call-up these young men. Not that this had not been foreshadowed some months ago, since when the number of optants presenting themselves has fallen a good deal below expectation, but because that original announcement had been sandwiched between two accounts in this House of coal production by the Minister of Fuel and Power so optimistic that they may have thought that the danger was past. Hon. Members will remember that the Prime Minister spoke in somewhat similar vein.

I am sorry my right hon. and gallant Friend is not here to-day, but I feel I must say that he seems to have a reluctance to face facts. There is no question that output has been falling, and falling rapidly. On the occasion of his report almost two months ago to this House, I drew attention to the fact that ever since the formation of the Ministry of Fuel and Power output had been falling quarter by quarter and that the decline was gathering momentum. When my right hon. and gallant Friend wound up on that occasion he repeated his contention that, based on the figures of output per man-shift, this tendency had been arrested since shortly after the formation of his Ministry. That argument, of course, bore no relevance to what I had said. It was based on the inaccurate comparison with the preceding quarters and not with the relevant period of the preceding year. What, in fact, I did say was completely accurate, although more recent figures would appear to show that the estimate I then formed of the decline for this year of 6,500,000 tons was too conservative, and the drop appears likely to exceed a figure amounting to about 8,000,000 tons. Members may also have drawn a similar conclusion from the figure which my right hon. and gallant Friend produced as the contribution of the industry towards closing the gap last year, a figure of 5,200,000 tons. It is only more recently that we discovered that this figure was based on an estimated drop in production of 10,000,000 tons on the previous year, despite a somewhat larger personnel available. In point of fact, the real loss of output for the first year since the formation of the Ministry of Fuel and Power amounted to about 10,000,000 tons.

I think it necessary to refer to these figures as being the background of the reason for the calling-up of these young men, and it seems to me that it has yet another relevance, Owing to the right hon. and gallant Gentlemen's reluctance to face up to the actuality of the position, action has to be taken. We have to recognise that it is going to occur in a very precipitate manner. That fact seems to me to ignore that planning is a principle and essential of this industry. It is, moreover, fair to say that the industry is exceedingly well able to plan, and indeed there is the fullest machinery for dealing with any situation of this sort. It is all the more to be deplored that, in the face of this Obvious decline in output, an earlier decision was not reached to enable the industry to make arrangements for the reception of this large number of young men. However equitable the method of recruitment by ballot may be, it completely ignores all the data which has been collected ever since the beginning of the war by the Service Departments in regard to the placing of man-power, and the various psychological tests. It follows that these recruits to the industry will be a cross-section of the young men who in the normal course present themselves to the Ministry of Labour's military recruiting boards for registration for the Forces, and there will be no opportunity of determining in advance their particular qualifications. I shall allude to this later in my speech.

It seems to me that at this stage we must make two decisions. The medical examinations by the district medical boards will have to be very much more searching than those made at present for recruits for the Armed Forces. So far as South Wales in particular is concerned, it will be necessary to have an examination of the lungs. Whereas the present examination for entrants into the Forces is very thorough, considerable laxity is allowed, on the reasonable expectation that military life will tend to eradicate or improve any minor deficiency. Good food, regular hours, fresh air, hard work and exercise do in time work wonders. But in the case of these young men there will be no safety margin of this nature. Within a month or so of presenting themselves, they will be going underground, and there will be little or no opportunity of bringing about an improvement in their medical condition. The work is very arduous, and if they are not fit, they are going to be an increasing source of worry, on the score of safety, to an already overworked management.

Mr. Bowles (Nuneaton)

Do the miners now working all have a medical examination before they are taken on?

Lieut.-Colonel Lancaster

I was going to deal with that later. Yes, colliery managements are most careful in accepting these young men, and the optants.

Mr. Sloan (Ayrshire, South)

Where does this take place?

Lieut.-Colonel Lancaster

I am coming to that aspect later. The fact remains that a much more searching examination will be required than that which takes place at present. If, as a result of some physical disability, or even of some temperamental disability, these men are subsequently found to be unsuitable for a mining career, they should be boarded out by the same medical board, thus obviating the friction caused by this having to be undertaken by the local medical practitioner. Adequate machinery must be installed to get rid at the earliest possible moment of such young men as are found to be unsuitable. I have no reason to suppose that these young men will not be good physical specimens, but we must recognise that they will not in general have had the physical development which a boy who has gone down the pit and has spent some years at the pit bottom and on the haulage will have attained at the age of 18. I have certain suggestions to make in regard to the training of these young men.

Mr. R. J. Taylor (Morpeth)

Could the House be told something about the examinations of boys going into the pit, because I feel that we are being misled? Could the hon. and gallant Gentleman tell us where the examinations are held at present?

Lieut.-Colonel Lancaster

By the medical practitioners in the district.

Mr. Taylor


Lieut.-Colonel Lancaster

Certainly in the Midlands area. I was going to make certain suggestions, based on experience we have had with the optants in recent months, in regard to the training of these young men. It is necessary to get them producing coal at the earliest possible moment. A great many pits have already reached saturation in up-grading, and these young men, therefore, should get on to the coal face at the earliest possible moment consistent with safety. I am going to make suggestions in regard to roughly 50 per cent. of these entrants. We have found that about 50 per cent., by reason of better physique, adaptability, and even education, are capable of being trained in the minimum period. I suggest, against the period recommended by the Minister of Fuel and Power, that after an initial month, either at a training centre or at a colliery which has adequate training facilities these young men should go underground, thus saving a fortnight, and that the next two months should be spent in progressive training at the pitbottom, on haulage, on back repairs, and on the handling of tubs at loading points. The fourth and fifth month should be spent at a training face under individual supervision, followed by seven months of work at a normal working face under adequate supervision. By this means we contend that it is possible to get a young man into full production at the end of 12 months. In regard to the remaining 50 per cent., we shall have to have a somewhat more extended period of training—an additional three months before they go on to a training place and an additional two months before they get on to the normal working place. In their case it will be a matter of 18 months before they get on to full production.

Mr. Woodburn (Stirling and Clackmannan, Eastern)

On what basis is the calculation? Has any scheme been tried to any great extent?

Lieutenant-Colonel Lancaster

These are suggestions based on experience recently obtained with regard to optants who we consider will be a fair analogy to the present young men presenting themselves under this scheme. I have gone into these figures fully because it is desirable to point out that it will take at least 12 months before 50 per cent. of these young men come into full production and 18 months before the remainder do. This is important as emphasizing the necessity for moving in this matter as quickly as we can. A matter of two weeks with regard to these numbers represents in fact about 1,000,000 tons of output, and if we are to turn this to good account, we need to move as quickly as is consistent with reasonable safety precautions.

There is yet another aspect. Of these remaining 50 per cent., we found that about 15 per cent. are not capable of being trained as miners, and it will therefore be necessary that 35,000 men will need to be allocated to the industry if we are actually to obtain 30,000 coal-face workers. Working on these figures, and based on the assumption that we shall have a sufficiency of men to train these young entrants and that these men will be arriving in reasonably equal proportions between January and the end of April, I calculate that we can expect an addition of about 7,000,000 tons for the year 1944 and about 20,000,000 tons for the following year. This figure has no regard to normal wastage in the industry. It is confined solely to the scheme, and it is based on the present national coalface figure of 55 cwts. per man-shift and has regard both to diminution in output by the men who will be supervising this work and a progressive increase in output by the new entrants.

There is one other aspect of the matter which must be looked into at this stage. Section 73 of the Coal Mines Act, 1911, will seem to require some modification if we are not to be involved in having an unreasonable number of men supervising this work at the end of the two periods I mentioned—the year in one case and the 18 months in the other case. At the same time, there must be a good many administrative arrangements made to coincide with the entry of these young men into the industry. Billeting arrangements will require to be made before the individual man is posted to a pit, and it is suggested that arrangements are made for the payment of his first week's billeting money at the end of that first week. It is desirable that this billeting should not be done indiscriminately. If we are to give a reasonable impression to these young men, many of whom will be completely strange to their new life, a good deal of time, trouble and planning must be undertaken. I suggest that this becomes the responsibility of one particular individual, and a further suggestion is that these men should be directed to work as near to that part of the country where they live as is possible.

I want once again to emphasise that this figure of 7,000,000 tons which I have mentioned has no regard to normal wastage in the industry, and it may well be that at the end of this first period, say, at the end of April, we shall have to continue these processes, and it is very important that all the experience which should be gained in this first period should be turned to good account if we have to continue these processes. This event imposes further responsibility on the industry. Surely the advent of these young men, who represent the cream of their generation, presents us with a golden opportunity. I suggest that the occasion has now arrived to Dress ahead with the recommendations of the Forster Report. Cannot we initiate arrangements whereby a young man entering this industry can be reasonably assured not only of a livelihood, but of prospects of advancement? We have in front of us now an opportunity of so setting our house in order that some of these young men may find that they have a reasonable bent for this type of work and will remain on after the period of their calling-up is completed. Obviously a great many of them will not, but surely we should do what we can to encourage as many as wish to remain and take up their livelihood in this manner. I would like to remind hon. Members that these young men, who would otherwise be going into the Services, should have every opportunity of continuing their education, by lectures, by discussions and by the means of literature such as is produced by the Service Departments. Surely we should not penalise these young men because they are going into the mining industry. There should be some literature available for them; indeed, there should be opportunities for their continuing not only ordinary education but for obtaining an insight into the economics and technical requirements of this industry which should fit them for a career in it as the years go on. Therefore, I think that the educational side of their prospects must receive full attention.

I would like to refer once again to a matter I have already raised twice in this House, namely, that the Government should consider once again the possibility of some form of guarantee in regard to post-war employment. It would be a great fallacy if these young men, or even hon. Members, came to the conclusion that the age of coal is on the decline. In point of fact between 1913 and the commencement of this war, apart from this nation, the output of coal in the world increased over 100 million tons. Strangely enough, man-power and entrants into our own industry were constant between 1932 and 1939. As I say, the age of coal is by no means over, and it seems to me that great good might come out of this experiment. We are to get into this industry a great many boys from differing backgrounds. The young miner can learn a river of life which at present flows past his narrow mountain valleys, maybe in the learning of it he will find some of his prejudices being swept away. The young man from the other world will learn for the first time that a great many of his fellow men have to fight for their livelihood in dark and arduous circumstances, year in and year out, doing it cheerfully and with a courage that those of us who have fought with them take so much for granted.

In a speech a week ago which my right hon. and Gallant Friend the Postmaster-General truly described as one of the most striking orations of this long Parliament, my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) pleaded for a common approach to our problems based on idealism, confidence and comradeship by which he said: "I meant faith, I meant hope, I meant charity." I would like to take this occasion to make a similar appeal. We are on the threshold of a great cyclical advance in methods and machinery in connection with the winning of coal. Rapid and spectacular advances are being made not only in underground machinery but in the form and construction of shafts, winding arrangements, and surface plants. We are making great strides in the use of coal, both as a raw material and in its derivatives, and also in the field of plastics and synthetic materials. Surely on the spur of this necessity, of which this call-up is but a symptom, we can go forward in a common effort to turn it to advantage so that once again this great industry may take pride of place in our economy and may well become the foundation on which we shall build the new world we all so much desire.

Mr. Leslie (Sedgefield)

I wish to raise in this Debate the serious urgency of a case of a young lad who to-day is working on the coal face. He and four others, some months ago, volunteered to join the Royal Air Force. The others have been told that they must remain in the mines, but this lad has been informed that he must report to the Royal Air Force on Sunday. I have sent particulars of the case to the Minister of Fuel and Power in the hope that he will take it up at once with the R.A.F. and ask that the lad should remain where he is. This is a serious matter. Here is a lad working and producing coal, and now he is asked at this time to join the R.A.F. because he happened to volunteer some months ago. Surely he is doing work of national importance while he is at the coal face and ought not to be called upon to join the R.A.F. at the present time. I hope the lad will be kept where he is at the moment.

Mr. Molson (The High Peak)

I would like to follow on the lines of the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fylde (Lieut.-Colonel Lancaster) and to suggest that in this decision which the Ministry of Labour has taken there is a great opportunity to start on new lines in recruitment for the coalmining industry. It has, I think, been widely regarded as somewhat unreasonable and illogical that in the last war and in the first few years of this war, while Parliament was prepared to conscript men for the Forces, the same principles were not to apply to industry. I was very pleased to see that as soon as this announcement was made Mr. Ebby Edwards said that he welcomed this new departure and that he gave every indication that the Miners' Federation were willing to co-operate in making it a great success. I had a certain uneasiness at the time when the Minister of Labour was directing surface workers to go underground. Although I thought that in October he gave a perfectly logical justification of the course of action he had taken, some of my friends and I felt that a certain class in the community were being discriminated against and that those who lived in the coalmining areas were being subjected to a form of direction which did not apply everywhere. The reason why the right hon. Gentleman has been successful in his mobilisation of the man-power and woman-power of the country is that not only has he been extremely just and fair in the methods that he has adopted, but it has generally been recognised throughout the country that his methods have been just and fair. I therefore feel that, in widening the terms of conscription for the mines, he has followed on the same lines that he had laid down and that what might have become an increasing cause of irritation and friction in the coalmines will now have been done away with. I feel, like my hon. and gallant Friend, that one of the causes of the friction and trouble which have so long existed in the coalfields has been the feeling which I know so well among the miners that they are a class apart and are not in all respects an integral part of the ordinary community. I hope and believe that, as the result of this compulsory recruitment of men from outside the coal-mining areas, that spirit of exclusiveness will be broken down.

I have an uneasy feeling that the Government are still continuing to make the same error that they have made ever since 1940 and are even now under-estimating what is going to be our need of coal before the war is finally won, above all at the time when large areas of Europe have been liberated. It is an extraordinary thing that the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) ever since he resigned from office has been drawing attention to the warning that he gave his colleagues in the Government that, unless far more drastic steps were taken than were taken while he was in office, we should be confronted with an acute shortage of coal. These so-called coal budgets which the Minister of Fuel and Power periodically produces are based upon estimates in which he produces an anticipated gap and afterwards, even though the production of coal may have declined, finds the gap less than he had anticipated and congratulates himself on his obviously mistaken estimate. When we look ahead we find that apparently no calculation has been made at all of what will be the requirements of the liberated areas when they are liberated. Already at present, when we have only re-occupied the Southern part of Italy, and the least industrial part of that country, we are obliged to ask the United States to come to our assistance in providing the Mediterranean with coal. I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power to consider what will be the man-power required in our coalmines if we are to bring any relief to countries like Norway and Denmark when they are liberated. I feel that nothing could be more helpful to the prestige of this country and nothing could be of greater value to our industry in the future than that at the end of the long period of oppression it should be possible for us to send coal in large and adequate quantities not only for the comfort of the civilian population of the liberated areas—

Mr. Speaker

I cannot, of course, rule the hon. Member out of Order for dealing with the wide subject of the coal supplies of the world, but this Debate was chosen by me merely to draw attention to the call-up of young men only and not on the world position of the coal industry, on which no reply could possibly be given to-day.

Mr. Molson

It is, of course, the case that on the Motion for the Adjournment a reasonably wide liberty of discussion is allowed. At the same time I should always, naturally, respond to any appeal that you, Sir, made, and, if it is your wish that the Debate should be very narrowly limited to this particular method of calling up young men for the industry, I naturally should not wish in any way to go outside the subject you wish me to cover. I would only say before resuming my seat that this is an illustration of the difficulty one has in bringing home to the Ministry of Fuel and Power the extremely grave position in which this country has now been for the last three years, and there is not the slightest indication that the Minister of Fuel and Power has yet taken the steps which will be necessary to bring to an end this humiliating position where the greatest coal exporting country in the world before the war is moving from month to month from one coal crisis to another. I hope the Minister of Labour will bear this aspect of the question in mind when administering, with his usual fairness and skill, the mobilisation of additional men for the coalmining industry.

Mr. Sloan (South Ayrshire)

We have had an interesting speech from the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Fylde (Lieut.-Colonel Lancaster) in regard to the question of the requirement of boys for the industry. He painted a rather gloomy picture, and we are pleased to have his support, because we have been doing this job for many long years without very much assistance from people outside the industry. I am happy to know that the situation is becoming much better known. I was intrigued by the hon. and gallant Gentleman's statement that before youths enter the mines to-day they have to undergo medical examination, I think he indicated, of a rather drastic nature. I wondered what was the type of examination to be imposed upon these new recruits. I have lived in a mining village since the day I was born, and that was not yesterday, and I have never known of any medical examination of any kind to which youths, were put before going down the pit. I agree, however, that there ought to be a medical examination and that before any youths enter a pit they should be thoroughly examined to find out their medical category. That is as necessary for work in the mines as it is for the Army. If this new scheme has the virtue of introducing such a system, miners all over the country will be pleased.

The necessity for recruits to the industry is undoubted. There is no argument about that. Man-power has been dissipated. It has been brought out in Debates in this House that at the one end there is a wastage of 25,000 or 30,000 men and at the other end, owing to the lack of entrants, the new workers number only 10,000 or 12,000. One can understand that if such a process continued the man-power of the industry would be depleted in a very short time. The Minister of Labour has attempted to secure recruits by compulsion for all industries. I have always been opposed to compulsion in industry as I have to military compulsion. I have always looked with alarm upon the drastic methods that have been taken to send people all over the country and especially to transport girls from Scotland to England. We are now to have a sort of reverse process, and youths are to be transported from England to Scotland. We are to have 30,000 recruits, and the Minister has given them the benefit of the doubt and says they will get 7,000,000 tons of coal. That will depend partly on the type of recruit, partly on their reception in the coalfield, partly on their treatment by the owners, and to a large extent on their treatment by their fellow workers. I have no doubt, however, that wherever these lads come from they will be received kindly in the coalmining areas. They will be received courteously in the villages, they will get the best lodgings that can be obtained, and they will be treated kindly by their fellow workers underground. I know of no class of people who would treat these boys more generously than the miners.

I am concerned about the repercussions when they go down. My right hon. Friend has stated emphatically that they will receive the rate for the job. He ought to appeal to the coalowners to pay the present boys in the industry the rate for the job. That is where we will have some difficulty in the near future, In mining the owners want to play off two things. They want to play off, first, age and then skill or adaptability. They say that when a youth reaches adult age and does an adult's job he will receive an adult's wage. It is a triumvirate—adult age, adult job, adult wage. The Parliamentary Secretary knows that boys are retained in pits longer than they should be because their adaptability and skill do not enable them to get an adult job, and as long as they remain in a boy's or youth's job the owners say that they are not doing an adult's job and, therefore, should not get an adult's wage. This will give us serious difficulty at the beginning. I do not know how the trade unions will get over it, or how the coalowners intend to meet it, but it will be a serious difficulty from the beginning. It is obvious that 30,000 recruits will be quite insufficient to do anything like restore the loss of output. Output is going down and becoming progressively worse. Not only is the output per man-shift over the coalfield being reduced, but, through some circumstance, output at the coalface per man-shift is also on the down grade. The youths entering the pits will not be able to restore that balance unless by the good-will of the workmen and the managements put together.

I do not think that it will require 12 or 18 months to make youths useful in the pit. I do not think it will require all this gradual working forward from the training school to the pit-head, from the pithead to the transport, working them in bit by bit until they arrive at the coal face. In the days before mechanisation, when a youth went into the pit he went straight to the coal face with his father. He rarely worked his way up or down as the case may be. He went straight to the coal face with his father, who looked after him and trained him to do his job year after year until he became a skilled miner. The idea in these days seems to be that a man must be from 18 up to 25 years of age before he gets to the coal face. That is all wrong. Where a batch of men are working on a conveyor belt it would be the simplest thing in the world to place some of these recruits among the men, provided the strippers at the coal face were to undergo no loss because of it. If that were done, there would be an augmentation of the coal-face men, so that it would be possible to send more coal from the coal face.

This is an opportunity to say to the Government that this question of training should have been tackled long ago. I do not believe that coalmining will ever be a nice, clean, tidy job. It cannot be. The nature of the work is against it. You cannot go into the bowels of the earth and work at the coal face and have a clean and tidy job. Neither do I think that mechanisation will make things very much better, because at no stage has the advance in mechanisation brought any improvement to the miner. It may have benefited the coalowners, the bankers, the people who have invested their money in coalmining, but there has been no material benefit to the coal face miners. We are led to believe that when we have these American power cutters in operation it is not miners that will be required but skilled mechanics. I read with amusement the advertisements of the splendid opportunities that are to be found in coalmining, how instead of taking down the pit picks and shovels you will put on a set of overalls, take a screw key and turn on the machinery and that will produce the coal. That may be all right in the pages of "Punch." It is a matter for laughter in the coalfields, where the men are doing the work. Take 1,000 men in any colliery, and I question whether there will be 20 mechanics among them; and still we advertise for youths to go into the mining industry because of the splendid opportunities they will find there. It is nonsense. Coalmining ought to be made more attractive than it is. It can never be really attractive; a mine can never be a convalescent home. Coalmining can never be a job like a civil servant's, where you look out of the windows. It will never be a job for which there will be much competition. Still, we know that it can be made a great deal more attractive than it is, and if this is the first step in that direction, then we shall welcome this scheme; but if nothing else comes of this Debate, two at least of the speeches made here to-day will have brought home to the public what the job of coalmining really is. These youths may be missionaries. When they have come into mining and seen what it is like they will be able, like the Queen of Sheba, to say "The half has not been told me; the half of the misery has never yet received the light of day."

Finally, I should like to ask why the Forster Report is kept in cold storage, why it has been laid aside and, even after 15 months, nobody has ever heard much about this? Is it the intention that it should not come before us and that its provisions are not to be put into operation? Effect has been given to only one miserable little bit concerning the optimum pay, which is not worth the trouble which has been taken over it, and the main scheme has been left in cold storage. I think the miners will not object strongly to the Government's scheme. The Miners' Federation have accepted it. Recruits will be treated kindly, we shall do our best for them, and I do hope that out of this scheme will grow a much wider and better scheme of training and education for our people in the mining industry.

Mr. Colegate (The Wrekin)

I welcome, as do other people, the Government's effort to attend to this very serious problem of recruitment of labour for the mining industry, but I am bound to say that I think it has come rather late, in fact very late, in the day. From many sides a warning has been given to the Government which ought to have been attended to before now, in order that an adequate scheme could have been prepared. The scheme before us is possibly adequate in the circumstances in which we find ourselves, but I for one—and I may be in a minority of one—do not accept the method of balloting for industry as an ideal one. The trend in modern industry in the matter of recruitment has been to try to develop a technique of finding suitable persons for particular jobs, and I cannot think that had this problem been tackled earlier we could not have found, under a compulsory scheme, a better method than the blind chance of the ballot. Possibly in the circumstances in which we find ourselves it is now inevitable, but I feel that the vast amount of work which has been done on the psychology of industry, the vast amount of work being done in industry after industry to find out the most scientific manner of recruiting people for industry, should not be abandoned and that we should not go back to a device which was popular under Greek democracy but which we have abandoned in every other department of our national life.

Having said that, I should like to add that this scheme is welcomed by, I think, everybody in the mining industry, and, as the hon. Member for South Aryshire (Mr. Sloan) said, I feel that all in the industry will do their best to make the scheme a success and to give a fair chance to these new recruits. I know miners very well. I have often had meals with them, and a more kind hearted and more sporting body of men it would be impossible to find, and we may be certain that these recruits will be treated with every reasonable consideration. With that, I am sure, every one in the industry will agree. But there is one thing in connection with this matter which ought to be said and said quite clearly, and that is that it is as unwise as it is untrue to exaggerate the conditions in the industry. A statement was made by an hon. Member on the benches opposite yesterday that the mining industry was the dirtiest and filthiest industry in the country, and the information was added by somebody that it was equally the most dangerous. Frankly, I think that is not true. There are great dangers in the mining industry, and we must make every effort, as efforts are already being made, daily, weekly and monthly, to improve conditions as far as danger is concerned. But, at the present time, to speak of the mining industry as the most dangerous industry, when you think of what men in the Mercantile Marine have to go through, not merely in discomfort but in casualties—

Mr. Sloan

That is war-time.

Mr. Colegate

We are speaking of wartime. That is exactly what I am talking about. This is a war-time scheme. I ask hon. Members to bear that in mind, and I would say to the mothers and the other relations of boys who may be ballotted into this industry, that they can take at any rate some little comfort from thinking that the chances of survival of those boys in this industry is far higher than they would be in any of His Majesty's Services or in a service like the Mercantile Marine. Everybody has some knowledge of what the casualties in the Mercantile Marine must be, and everybody must have some idea of what are the conditions of life in the Mercantile Marine. Knowing what the circumstances are, it is not too much to ask any individual in this country to serve in the mines and to take his place in an essential service, and it is very unfair to exaggerate the conditions under which such people will have to work. Those of us who have some knowledge of the subject know that the conditions have enormously improved in the last generation. As regards housing, for instance, I think we can say to-day that those who are concerned with the industry now build garden cities where their grandfathers built what we to-day call slums. It is well known what a difference has been made to the industry by the introduction of pit-head baths. Men can come out of the pit and go into the pit-head baths and leave their working clothes behind and change into their day clothes—

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member will recollect that I asked hon. Members to confine their remarks to the particular question of recruitment to the mines, not to discuss the general conditions in coal mines.

Mr. Colegate

I should have thought that nothing could be more relevant to the question of recruiting people to the mines, than the conditions under which they will have to work in the mines, especially when these conditions have been presented to the country in a way which many of us think grossly exaggerated. However, I leave that point and would merely say that if these new recruits, who have been called missionaries, are received in the industry as I believe they will be received, then I think they will be able to do a good piece of work in more ways than one. A very interesting article appeared in the "News Chronicle" a little while ago, written by a Quaker—I imagine he may have been a conscientious objector—who has been working in the pits. It was extremely valuable to have a fresh mind brought to bear on these problems by someone who had had no connection whatever with the industry previously. The writer of the article was apparently someone who had been asked to do some form of national work, and had gone into the mines for that purpose, and he had some interesting suggestions to make which I think are worthy of consideration.

I believe that these new recruits when they go down into the pits will accomplish two things. First, they will bring to the pit a fresh view, a fresh outlook, which may do a great deal of good. Secondly, when they come back from the pits they will be able to tell us things and to give us suggestions and to change the emphasis on many points, and that, I believe, will be immensely valuable to all parties in the industry, especially if they will approach these problems without fixed preconceptions. There is no industry which suffers more from fixed preconceptions and prejudices than the mining industry, and if this new recruiting scheme will help all concerned to approach these matters in a new and fresh light, then I believe it will not only achieve the object of getting more coal, but will do far more—it will help us to get a new spirit in the mining industry which will be an advantage to all concerned in it.

Mr. R. J. Taylor (Morpeth)

I quite agree with the last speaker that this scheme will bring a new outlook to the mining industry, and I should say that there will be some very pertinent observations on the part of these young men when they have spent some time in the mines. But if they have the same experience as we who are lifelong miners, their observations will not take them very far, nor will much attention be paid to them. That has been one of the outstanding causes of trouble in the industry. Speaking of the industry by and large, I think it is true to say that one of the central causes of trouble has arisen from the fact that the men have been treated by the industry as a thing apart. It is true that now we have a new system in operation with regard to consultations, through output committees, but it is the general experience in the industry that only a small percentage of the pit production committees are doing the work which we expected them to do. However, I do not want to go into that subject now and I realise that we are discussing only the question of new entrants.

As is the case with nearly everything else that ever happens in this country, we are taking this step in an extremity. I can understand that the owners and managers of pits welcome this proposal, because they expect, by means of it, to get recruits into the industry that they would not otherwise get. I endorse what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan) that these new entrants will receive the best of treatment as far as our lads and the people in our villages can give it to them. I know that as far as the North of England is concerned soldiers have always spoken in the highest possible terms of the way in which they were received in our villages and I believe these new entrants in the mining industry will have the same experience. But I ask hon. Members to mark that there is great danger here for the future of the industry. It has been said that this step marks a new method of entry into the industry. The hon. and gallant Gentleman, who made such a very interesting and thoughtful speech opening the Debate, spoke of the care that would have to be taken in relation to these entrants. I think he referred to two medical examinations, certainly to a very searching medical examination of those entrants into the pits, an examination even more searching than that which is applied to entrants into the Army. A man going into the Army may have some physical defect but as a result of the training and the fresh air this may be removed, whereas the very opposite would possibly apply in the case of those going into the pits, on account of the conditions which prevail underground.

I wish to say something else on that subject. In my experience I have never known of boys from our mining villages being medically examined before going into the pits. I have never known such examinations in my own district; others can speak for themselves. This is a wartime Measure and if it means that we are to have medical examinations of the boys from our mining villages who are recruited into the industry, then we welcome these examinations. The entrants will be a good deal fewer, if you are going to have that searching examination and the same medical certificate as for the new entrants.

I think we may get some good over this. We have been suffering from a lack of coal-face workers. Many men have been called back to do datal work and many of them have been elderly men. In a short while we ought to be able to have an influx of datal workers, which would obviate having to draw men back from the pit. On the question of coal production, I notice in to-day's newspapers a report about miners being idle in the Doncaster district because of a shortage of wagons. I link that with a Question which was asked here yesterday, and from which it appeared that 50,000 tons approximately have been lost in November, 1943. Why do we not remedy an obvious thing of that description? We could be getting coal production. From another angle we welcome these proposals. My right hon. Friend has hit upon a very happy solution. In the North, in our coalfield, we are very familiar with this method, and if we have disputes we settle them by the ballot. Not everybody may be satisfied with the result, but at least they know that they have had a fair crack of the whip, and there can be no animosity against anybody.

While I am sure that the young men who go into our industry will bring new ideas, I feel confident that they will take some back, too. One of the matters from which we have smarted, and one of the reasons for the lack of understanding in the industry, has been that many people are far removed from it and have no idea of the conditions. The only thing they know is when there is an increase in the price of coal, because, they think, the wicked miners are claiming more wages or have gone on strike again. I feel sure that at least a few of the young men who come in may stay, or when they get back into their own avocations they will be able to disseminate a proper understanding of the industry such as did not exist before. We shall then be able to do for the industry what the nation has always considered essential, that is, to take it out of the ambit of politics and take charge and control of it by nationalisation.

The Minister of Labour (Mr. Ernest Bevin)

First of all, may I express the thanks of the Government at the way in which everybody has been wholeheartedly willing to co-operate in making this scheme a success? I never doubted that these lads would have no difficulty at all in the mining villages and that there would be a welcome for them, because they will not be competing with the miners after the war. One great thing which I have had in mind all through the war is to avoid the situation which arose at the end of the last war, when too many people were left in the mining areas with nothing to do.

Mr. Malson

There is not much danger of that happening again.

Mr. Bevin

Do not be too sure. We may have to conscript people for the mines to-day, but before the war is over the same situation might arise as in the last war, and people will be going to these districts without conscription. I say that very advisedly. There were mines which, without any regulation or control, were regarded during the last war as a desirable alternative to the very much worse fate that awaited a good many people. I am sure that with this orderly way there will be a welcome and that the scheme can be turned to good account. We were asked about the Forster Report. This Report and its implementation are in the hands of the Minister of Fuel and Power. The matter has been before the industry, and one of the troubles of myself and of the Government with this industry is that in adopting proposals for change it is a bit too slow. If something is put up, there is protracted discussion, which is too long. These proposals ought to have been adopted and implemented, and I can only say to the House that I undertake to take it up with my right hon. and gallant Friend, who is not here at present, and also with my colleagues in the Cabinet. I really believe that this valuable Report ought to have been adopted with alacrity and ought to have been in operation by now. I am willing to see where the stumbling block may be. I do not know where it is.

A further question which has been raised concerns education for these lads and giving them similar treatment to that which is to be given to the men in the Services. We are going rather further than that and will not limit it to these boys. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power, the President of the Board of Education and myself have had consultations and have appointed an Inter-Departmental Committee to examine and make provision for educational classes, technical, scientific or cultural, not only for these boys, but for their comrades in the mining villages as well. I do not want to segregate these boys as having special facilities in the educational field as against the boys who are already there. While we shall ask for the co-operation of those mining educational institutions, which are available, we are anxious that the local authorities and the education authorities shall play their part in this work so as to keep it on the broadest possible basis with the widest possible facilities, so that the opportunities for the lads will not be cramped or destroyed.

My right hon. friend asked, and I thank him for his speech, that we should look ahead. The Government are looking ahead, and it is no secret to say that the Government cannot leave the coal industry where it is after the war. I do not know what final solution in organisation and the rest will emerge, but we cannot leave the coal industry as it is and expect it to survive. I see that my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power has just come in, and I think I speak for him and for everyone else who has ever considered this job. Take a lad who goes into the coal-pit: as long as the coal industry stops at the pit-head in all its conception, you will never get the broader idea of progress and promotion and of satisfactory wage systems. I hope I have examined it objectively as an old trade unionist who has had to deal with these things. The whole wage system in this industry limits the possibility of expansion, development and science, the opening to heavy chemicals, and to other branches. It limits everything to a narrow sphere. Plastics and all the rest were mentioned.

Take a boy coming from the university that I direct to the mines as a result of the ballot. He goes to the mine, and he sees there are possibilities, but the industry stops at the pit-head. Every device and financial arrangement is encouraged to form subsidiaries and so on and on, and the boy, therefore, says, "Yes, I stayed in the technical school, but where does it lead me? To the pit-head, to a cul-de-sac, and there I stop as long as I remain in this industry." Therefore, I suggest that when hon. Members ask the Government to look at this on a broader and more expansive basis, I might ask them not to raise the question of nationalisation or as to what form of management there should be. When I first met the late Lord Leverhulme in conference, if I may draw this illustration, soap was a prime product. To-day it is practically a by-product, and the people in that great combine have had the benefit of the constant evolution and scientific development, and I want to develop the by-product side of coal so that I can attract into the industry this mental capacity so that it can expand. If it takes its raw materials and sees a chance of development, let the results of its brains and ability come back to where the hardest work is and make the job better all round.

That is my conception of the education that has got to be introduced into this industry. As the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde (Lieut.-Colonel Lancaster) said, we want to know where we are in this matter after the war. No one wants 10 know that more than the Government, from the point of view of settled conditions. I know that all of us—and again I am not giving away any secret—are ready to examine anything which will give to the miner a sense of security, a decent standard of wages and a proper organisation of his industry, provided we can get the industry so organised on the commercial, on the management and on the scientific side, that it can expand in order to earn its income and to maintain the people in it under decent conditions.

The raising of this issue to-day has meant the approach to the problem—I think almost for the first time since I have been in this House and almost for the first time, I believe, for many years— without bitterness and without recrimination across the Floor. I think that is very welcome. Let it not be said that we are segregating the workmen from the management. In this industry, as in every other industry, you have some very brilliant people on the managerial side. You have also, on the workmen's side, people with legitimate ambitions. But is there the same opportunity far development in the coal industry as exists in the more modernised industries? If there is not, show me a Communist, show me a so-called Red, or anybody else of that kind in this country with our temperament, and I will take you back to the beginning of frustration and thwarted ambition in his earlier days.

We devised this scheme of selecting these lads because we thought it was fair. I have been asked, "Why have you not brought more men back?" I did not bring more men back because I believe young men are needed in this industry. It is a little hard to say to a man who has been driven out of the industry, who has learnt a new trade and has built a new home, "Go back." I do not see why the newer generation should not undertake the job, a generation which is not fixed and which is not settled. It is a very hard job to go back 15 years and make people break up their homes in order to go back to an industry which discarded them. It is not a pleasant job at all. I had to do it, but I feel much happier in doing this than I did in doing that at the time I had to do it. I will tell hon. Members why. Somehow, in my very bones, I believe I am doing something for the industry as well as safe-guarding the output at the moment, and I think it is coming, after all, at an opportune moment when a changed mental outlook and a change in our conception of national life is on the way. I think the time is just coming when we ought to take advantage of it.

I welcome very much the acceptance of the idea of the medical examination. I can say to the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. R. J. Taylor) that no one knows more than I do of the dangers involved in it. This medical examination must be a Governmental examination. One of the great things about medical examinations is to carry them out in such a way that the person examined, if there is a slight defect, is not depressed and does not feel that the world is at an end for him because he has not passed some physical examination. The employer should not know the result of the examination. It should be a matter between the Board, the State and the person concerned. It should be perfectly impartial, but I think it would be quite wrong, if it is discovered that there is a proneness to lung trouble, to let a boy go into the pit. That would be just asking for it. It would be better to put such a lad into another job rather than into the pit. I am subject to correction by those who are experts, because I have one great advantage over many of my labour colleagues: I am not an expert at anything, and that has helped me no end in trying to settle problems. Sometimes if you are trying to settle problems you are handicapped by being an expert. In any case I have never pretended to be one. Looking at it, therefore, in the light of what has gone on in the last 20 or 30 years, it has always struck me that there has not been quite enough research in the mining industry as to what really ought to be looked for when there is a medical examination. If you exclude the hangs and things of that kind, you have not got very much to go on in the case of silicosis and the rest.

I think the starting medical examination, if handled correctly, can probably help the industry, not to check the numbers, but I think the mother or father would feel much happier if they knew that it was not endangering the health of their boy through putting him into a particular industry. We find that in the chemical trades there are certain processes which, if you let people with certain tendencies go into them, mean ill-health, and, what is worse, a great economic loss, because you have trained those people for no purpose at all, just as would be the case if persons were wrongly put into the Services. I do not want to regiment this thing, but I think it will mean a stepping-up of medical science and medical knowledge as a result of bringing them into close contact, In the case of persons going into the Services, one is looking in the examination for certain physical reactions. Obviously there has to be protection in the case of those going into particular types of jobs and in certain districts that are affected against certain other re actions that do not arise in connection with going into the Services.

This compulsion as it is to be applied now is after all a straightforward compulsion. Like the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan), I do not like compulsion, but there is no one more than him and his kind who have suffered all their lives and have not known it, because they have been compelled to go there or the alternative was not a medical board or even a hardship committee—it was a purely economic one. I do not know what hon. Members of this House think, but there are two things I have never liked, and I hope to see them both abolished. One is the idea at the back of the employer's mind that he gets his way because of his power to use the economic weapon over another. I do not think it is good for him to have that in his mind. I do not think it gets a right response from the personnel employed. Those great businesses and public authorities which have developed rights of appeal and examination and all the rest of it and have cut discharges and sickness and hiring and firing right down to the minimum are the people who have got the best discipline in their industry. On the other hand, I have never liked the fact that my choice in life has been limited by the alternative probably of poverty for myself or poverty for my family. I do not think that is giving the best chance.

I do not know whether we may not be moving forward to a not undemocratic principle of proper selection, proper opportunity, proper examination, and whether out of it we shall not make our industrial life not only more prosperous but more contented and its development more assured. At all events the outcome of this war does demonstrate the fact that everybody has to alter his or her pre-1939 conceptions in dealing with these persons, and of handling man-power and in handling these problems in the future. I can only conclude by saying that we regard this as an experiment. We will exercise the greatest possible care. We will try to learn out of this as we have done in connection with the Services and in industry. We have compiled an enormous amount of information to guide our successors, and I hope to guide this House, to achieve a better civilisation than we have hitherto known.