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Miners’ Awards

Volume 476: debated on Thursday 22 May 2008

2. If he will consider the merits of providing an award for those miners who worked in the mines during the second world war equivalent to a Bevin Boys badge; and if he will make a statement. (206979)

The Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform
(Mr. John Hutton)

The purpose of the Bevin Boys badge is to recognise those who, through conscription, served in the pits during the war. Miners who were already employed in the pits made an enormous contribution to our successful war effort, but were not conscripted, as their role was that of a reserved occupation. On that basis, we have no plans to introduce such an award.

I understand my right hon. Friend’s reply, but does he agree that wars are won first by the heroism of our troops and our service people, but also on the home front? The Government have clearly acknowledged that in awarding the Bevin badge to people conscripted into the mines. However, many people already in the mines were prevented from joining the services as they might have wanted because they were in a reserved occupation. As a consequence, there is an anomaly. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the men who worked alongside the Bevin boys but have not been recognised regard the situation as an anomaly? Will he or one of his ministerial team meet us to discuss the matter further?

I agree very strongly with what my hon. Friend has said. We were successful in that titanic conflict because the whole resources of the nation were mobilised to defeat the fascist enemy that we were confronting. The miners in the pits made an heroic contribution to the success of that overall war effort and no one should question that. I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend and others who represent mining constituencies to discuss that important issue further.

I am delighted that the Secretary of State has said that he will meet a delegation. He has just recognised the importance of the miners during the war, so why is there so much intransigence from the Government about giving proper recognition to those miners? We know that they played a valuable role. If everybody had left the mines to join the armed forces, the whole country would have ground to a halt. What is holding the Government back from giving proper recognition to the miners?

I do not accept that this is intransigence on the part of the Government and it should be borne in mind that since the second world war all Governments—Conservative as well as Labour—have taken the same view. There are obvious practical difficulties, of which I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware, including—we should not underestimate this—the issue of accurate records to confirm employment in the pre-nationalised mining industry. As I said, I am happy to have discussions, and if there is a way forward, we should find one.

I thank my right hon. Friend for agreeing to meet a delegation and I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) will invite me along. May I remind hon. Members that 5,000 miners gave their lives and 20,000 lost their lungs during that war? My constituent Mr. Abe Moffatt, son of Alex Moffatt, was one of hundreds who tried to get into the armed forces, including the RAF, but could not get in and were dragged back to work in the pits. I believe that their contribution should be recognised in some fashion or other.

As I said, I do not think any Member would be wise to call into question the record of service and sacrifice of our miners in the second world war. I am certainly not doing that; as I have said, they made an heroic contribution. I can only repeat what I said earlier: I am very happy to have further discussions with Members on both sides of the House.

I find myself in a very embarrassing position, because my father was a Bevin boy, as he happened to be the right age at the call-up time and was sent to the mines in his home village. He of course worked alongside many others who did not have the opportunity to be called Bevin boys. That is why I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) for raising the issue. It is an embarrassment to me that my father should be entitled to the badge when so many others in his village and my constituency who did exactly the same work have not been recognised.

My hon. Friend has made a very powerful point, which we need to reflect on. I hope that there is consensus in the House about the importance of recognising the service of the Bevin boys. I had the great privilege of attending the reception in No. 10 Downing street when the Prime Minister made the presentation of the badges to the Bevin boys. There was no question but that there were men in that room who had made history. They decided the outcome of a huge conflict and we have all benefited from that successful outcome. If there is a way forward, we should try to find it; and we should do so in a way that is consistent with the service given not just by the miners, but by those in other reserved occupations, too.