HC Deb 23 March 1944 vol 398 cc1014-6
5. Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore

asked the Minister of Labour whether in view of the recent court cases in which young men who sought service in the Armed Forces preferred prison to work in the coalmines, he will reconsider his declared policy on this question.

Mr. Bevin

I can only provide the labour required for the coalmines by sending to them a proportion of the young men reaching military age. Practically all those selected by ballot would prefer service in the Armed Forces, but have loyally accepted their direction to the mines; a mere handful have refused to comply and, in fairness to the others, I could not give them freedom to follow their own choice.

Sir T. Moore

Would my right hon. Friend not give special consideration, or make a special concession, to those young men or boys, who have devoted all their adolescent life to equipping themselves to fight for the country rather than to work for it?

Mr. R. J. Taylor

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are thousands in the mines now, who would prefer the Services?

Mr. Foster

Is my right hon. Friend not aware that this plan of sending youths into the mines at 18 years of age will never succeed, because you can never make them into miners by that process?

Mr. Bevin

I have three supplementary questions. In reply to the first, I can only repeat that I cannot make exceptions here, any more than I can make exceptions when I have to take people who have trained for the Navy and divert them to the Army or to some other function in the Services. In regard to the other questions, unless I take steps to put younger men in the mines, as I am doing, the age distribution, due as a result of the ageing of the people in the mines, will get entirely out of gear. I must feed the mining labour force with these younger men for the duration of the war.

Mr. Shinwell

While my right hon. Friend appears to have adopted the correct procedure generally, as to making no exceptions, does he not realise that recent events have shown that there are some pathological cases where exceptional treatment may be required? Will he not exercise discretion in such cases?

Mr. Bevin

That is done, even to the extent of allowing a psychiatrist to come in sometimes.

Mr. George Griffiths

Is the Minister aware that the majority of what are termed in the mining areas the "Bevin boys" swear that they will not stop in the pits a day longer than they are bound to do?

Mr. Bevin

I dare say my hon. Friend swore a lot of things when he was 18, but did not carry them out.

7. Sir John Mellor

asked the Minister of Labour whether, when directing to work in coalmines young men who have volunteered for the Armed Forces, he will try to give effect to any preference they may express for work in a colliery where discipline has been good.

Mr. Bevin

I have consulted my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power who is responsible for the allocation of the young men to particular collieries. His officers are always prepared to take account of an expressed preference for a particular colliery provided that labour is required underground at the colliery in question, and other circumstances make it practicable.

13. Mr. Astor

asked the Minister of Labour under what conditions trained cadets in the Cadet Corps, Sea Cadets and A.T.C., respectively, are exempted from the mine ballot.

Mr. Bevin

As I stated in the House on 2nd December last, the only exceptions from the coalmining ballot are: (1) men accepted for flying duties in the R.A.F. or Fleet Air Arm; (2) men accepted as artificers in submarines; (3) men in a short list of highly skilled occupations who are called up only for certain service trades and are not even accepted as volunteers for coalmining. Cadets as such are not excluded from the ballot.

Mr. Astor

Is the Minister sure that Army cadets have equal opportunities of going into the Services, with those who have been in the A.T.C. or Sea Cadet Corps?

Mr. Bevin

Yes, Sir. They are all treated alike, but it depends upon whether they come into the special categories.

15. Mr. James Griffiths

asked the Minister of Labour the number of youths admitted to the training centres; the number who have already commenced work at the coal mines; and if he can give these particulars for the various areas.

Mr. Bevin

I am having this information collected and will, if I may, arrange for it to be circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT.