§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Ness Edwards)
With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the future of labour controls in the coalmining industry. After consultation with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power, who has been in touch with the employers' and workers' organisations concerned, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour has informed them that the Essential Work (Coalmining Industry) Order, 1943, will be revoked with effect from 1st September next. In view of the present position in regard to coal supplies, however, the Government do not consider that they would be justified in dispensing with all forms of labour control in the coalmining industry, and it has accordingly been decided to amend the Control of Engagement Orders, 1945 and 1946, so as to apply to men aged 18 to 50 (inclusive) in the coalmining industry. In appropriate cases this control will be enforced, where necessary, by the issue of directions under Defence Regulation 58A.
The general effect of these changes will be that from 1st September, 1946, workers will be free to leave employment at a particular colliery and colliery employers will be free to discharge workers. Those who leave or who are discharged from a particular colliery will be at liberty to find for themselves employment at other collieries and such undertakings will be free from any restriction upon the engagement of labour. Men between the ages of 18 and 50 (inclusive) whose 44 normal employment is employment in the coalmining industry or whose current unemployment books bear the industry letters S.A. will not, however, be free to take employment outside the industry otherwise than through a local office of the Ministry of Labour.
The new provision will be operated with the object of conserving the labour force of the coalmining industry. Every effort will be made by the officers of the two Departments concerned to overcome by persuasive means the objections of men who do not wish to remain in the coalmining industry and to induce them to accept suitable openings in it. It is hoped that it will be necessary to resort to compulsory measures only in very exceptional cases.
As has already been announced, ballottees, optants, and volunteers who entered the coal mines as an alternative to compulsory military service will not be held in the mines beyond the date when they will become eligible for release in accordance with the age and length of service formula applicable to Class A release from the Army. Men without previous coalmining experience who volunteered for coalmining employment and were specially released from His Majesty's Forces before the end of the war in Europe will not be held compulsorily in the industry beyond a period of six months after the date on which they would have been eligible for demobilisation in Class A had they remained in the Forces. In the case of men with previous coalmining experience who were directed back to the industry following registration under the Registration for Employment Order, the new control will be operated in such a way as to permit of the gradual release of those men who wish to leave the coalmining industry. Special consideration will also be given to the cases of new entrants to the industry, so that no one need be deterred from giving the industry a fair trial by the fear that he will be compulsorily held in it against his will.