asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence whether, in view of the increasing need for more miners, he will consider releasing from Her Majesty's Forces all miners with not less than six months' experience underground.
For the reasons I gave on 5th March in reply to a Question by the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough), I regret it is not possible to accept the hon. Member's proposal.
That reply was not very helpful either. Would the Minister not agree that a willing miner who is prepared to dig 300 tons of coal in a year is more valuable to the national economy than an unwilling soldier? Is he aware, further, that almost every week hon. Members on this side of the House are getting letters from men in the Forces who are able and willing to come back into the pits and dig that coal?
As the hon. Member is aware, there has been no change of policy under the present Government. He will appreciate that most of the men in question have had considerable service. Many are non-commissioned officers and they are very fine soldiers. We have to balance these two things against each other, and it is not our view that it would be to the national advantage to carry out the hon. Member's suggestion.
Would the Minister agree that where a man is a private and has been a private for some years and is obviously an unwilling soldier—and I have sent a letter to the Secretary of State for War which bears that out—if those facts are obvious will not the Government provide facilities whereby such a man would be able to come out and serve in the mines?
I do not think it is possible to make separate arrangements for noncommissioned officers and privates. Many have volunteered for certain engagements. One cannot say that because a man has been promoted he may not break his engagement, and because he has not been promoted he may.
Would the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the scheme which was in operation last summer for a short time did not apply to men then serving in Korea or the Far East, and will he consider re-opening the scheme, if only on this limited basis, for men who were serving in the Far East and were not allowed to apply but who are now repatriated?
That is another Question. Perhaps the hon. Member would put it down on the Order Paper.