In replying to the hon. and gallant Member for Brighton (Lieut.-Colonel Marlowe) on 11th October, I promised to make a general statement about the position of young men called up compulsorily to the mines. While dealing primarily with those young men who were selected by the ballot for employment in coal-mining in place of being called up for H.M. Forces, I propose to refer briefly to the optants and volunteers.
As has already been announced, the coalmining ballotees will be given release from coalmining on the basis of age and length of service which is applicable to Class A release from the Army. They will be able, on release, to take advantage of the facilities for resettlement, including training, assistance in connection with interrupted apprenticeships and further education. They will have the same priority as is accorded to ex-Servicemen for admission to training courses. They will also be afforded an opportunity of choosing their own employment free from labour control, but, having taken this opportunity, will thereafter be subject to the same labour controls as may apply at that time to other civilians in comparable circumstances. They will not be entitled to gratuity or a period of paid furlough. A certain number—it is only a small proportion—of the ballotces have been, or will be, discharged from coalmining and called up for H.M. Forces. The majority of these are young men who have been released from coalmining for medical reasons such as defective vision or claustrophobia, but are quite fit for service in some branch of H.M. Forces. In calculating the release group of the men called up for military service, the period of training and the period of employment in coalmining will be counted for the purpose of Class A release.
There is another small category of ballotees, namely, those who have been released from coalmining, mainly for medical reasons, and have not been fit to be called up for H.M. Forces. They will be given the same facilities for resettlement as men discharged from H.M. Forces, and will also be given an opportunity of choosing whatever occupation or employment they desire, but, having taken this opportunity, will thereafter be subject to the same labour controls as other civilians in comparable circumstances.
I now come to the optants and the volunteers. The optants are those men who, at the time of their call up, took the option of going into coalmining as an alternative to service in His Majesty's Forces. To remove a misapprehension which was evident in the speech on the Adjournment by the hon. and gallant Member for Brighton, I should make clear that these optants have never been in His Majesty's Forces. There are also the volunteers who, in this context, are those who, before their actual call up, volunteered for coalmining in anticipation of their call up for His Majesty's Forces. They also have never been in His Majesty's Forces. (There are, of course, other men who volunteered for the coalmines to whom this statement does not refer. I will make a separate statement in the near future about the position of men released from His Majesty's Forces for employment in the coalmining and other industries). All that I have said above as regards release from coal-mining for the ballotees applies equally to the optants and volunteers. The only point in which I propose to make a difference between the ballotees on the one hand, and the optants and volunteers on the other, is that, in the case of those optants and volunteers who are discharged from coalmining, whether for medical or other reasons, and are thereupon called up for His Majesty's Forces, the period of coalmining training and employment will not be counted in calculating their release group for Class A, any more than it would be so counted in the case of the regular miner who entered the industry voluntarily and was subsequently discharged from coalmining in, say, 1941, and called up for His Majesty's Forces. It is necessary to draw the line somewhere, and I think a distinction can fairly be made before the ballotees who are required to enter coalmining against their will, having declined to exercise the option to undertake coalmining, and those men who opted or volunteered to go into the mines in the exercise of their own choice as an alternative to military service.
For the ballotees we are going farther than for any other class of persons in treating industrial work under civilian terms of employment and conditions of life, as the equivalent of service in His Majesty's Forces. This is right as these young men were directed into coalmining without regard to their own wishes, while many of them would doubtless have preferred service in the Forces. They have often been told that service in the coalmines is as essential as service in the Forces.