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Youths (Underground Work)

Volume 388: debated on Thursday 8 April 1943

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asked the Minister of Labour whether he is aware that Samuel Naylor, of South Hetton, Durham, whose age is 18 years, was ordered by the National Service Officer to work below ground; that the boy has expressed a horror of working underground, preferring to join the Navy or do anything rather than obey the instructions issued to him; that, in view of his refusal, he was sentenced to three months imprisonment; and whether, in view of all the circumstances, he will instruct the National Service officer in this and similar cases to use greater discretion before seeking to force anyone to engage in work underground to which they have a strong objection?

Mr. Naylor, whose age according to my information is 19 years, appealed against a direction to work underground given at the request of the Ministry of Fuel and Power, and the Appeal Board upheld the direction. In view of the grounds he gave for his refusal a special medical examination was arranged, as a result of which he was pronounced fit for underground work. There is no basis for suggesting that the National Service officer did not exercise proper discretion. In view, however, of the peculiar difficulty which cases of this type sometimes present, I am considering with my right hon. Friend whether any further precautions are practicable.

While I am exceedingly obliged to my right hon. Friend for the latter part of his reply, may I ask him whether it is possible to make it retrospective in this case? Further, does he recognise that this young man—whether he is 18 or 19 is beside the point—has decided that in no circumstances will he work underground and that he prefers to join the Navy or work in any other occupation, however dangerous? He has been sentenced to three months' imprisonment, which has made him a criminal, and the State is deprived of his services for a considerable time. I am quite sure my right hon. Friend is not happy about that, and I would ask him to look into the matter.

I ought to explain that in such cases I am really the agent of the Ministry of Fuel and Power, but I will go into the matter with the Minister.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that while we regret and deprecate boys being sent to prison, we also regret that after an Order has been made, which they are determined not to comply with by not going down a mine, they walk about doing nothing?

Will the Minister see that the process is reversed, so that those who object to going into the Forces should have the opportunity of going underground?

We give an opportunity now to young men to go underground as an alternative to joining the Forces. A large number of men have exercised that option and in that way have assisted in keeping up man-power in the pits.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that boys outside the mining industry have two opportunities, either of joining the Forces or going down the mines? Why not give the same opportunity to boys working on the surface? Many of these boys are psychologically unfit for work underground.

I can only ask my hon. Friend to read his own speeches on manpower, which he has made in this House.