Who was Ernest Bevin, the man responisble for diverting nearly 48,000 military conscripts to work in the coal industry?
Ernest Bevin (9 March 1881 – 14 April 1951)
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Statement by Minister of Labour and
in the House of Commons
on Thursday, 2 December 1943
Compulsory recruitment of men for coalmining
My Right Hon, Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power announced in the House on 12th October that it would be necessary to call up men for the coalmines in the same way as they are called up for the Armed Forces. A scheme for the selection of men for this purpose has now been worked out and will begin to operate shortly.
The selection will be made from men born on or after 1st January, 1918, who would otherwise be called up for the Armed Forces and are placed in medical grade I or grade II if their disability is foot defects only. My object has been to devise a scheme that will be recognised as fair and which would not place the duty upon the officials of my Department of selecting according to merit or suitability. I therefore propose to resort to the most impartial method of all, that of the ballot.
A draw will be made from time to time of one or more of the figures from 0 to 9 and those men whose National Service Registration Certificate numbers happen to end with the figure or figures thus drawn by ballot will be transferred to coalmining. In the interests of fairness as between individuals the exclusion from the ballot will be limited to three classes of men only who I think it will be obvious must be kept for the other duties; they are (1) men accepted for flying duties in the RAF or Fleet Air Arm: (2) men accepted as artificers in submarines, and (3) men in a short list of highly skilled occupations who are called up only for certain service trades and are not even accepted as volunteers for coalmining.
I propose to make arrangements for special medical examination of any man who claims that there are medical reasons why he is not fit for coalmining before he is sent to a Training Centre. Arrangements will also be made for men to be medically examined again at a later stage with special reference to their fitness for underground work, and so far as possible this will be done at the Training Centre before they are finally posted to a colliery. Individuals whose call up to the Forces would be postponed on the grounds of exceptional hardship will not be transferred to coalmining.
Men selected for coalmining work who have had no previous experience of the industry will be give four weeks preliminary training both in classes and in actual underground practice at special Training Centres organised for the purpose by my Department in consultation with the Ministry of Fuel and Power. On completion of the training at the Training Centre they will be directed to working collieries for employment where (subject to special conditions in South Wales) they will be given further training for a fortnight before being employed on work below ground and for a period of at least four weeks after starting regular underground work they will come under the personal supervision of an experienced miner. There will be similar supervision for a sufficient time whenever they change from one class of work to another. Except in South Wales they will not go to work at the coal face until they have had at least four months underground experience. During the period of surface training they will be paid not less than the surface worker’s rate. The men selected will be given an opportunity of stating a preference for a particular coal field, and an endeavour will be made to post men in accordance with their expressed preference, but it is impossible to guarantee this as a number of considerations must be kept in mind in posting men, such as the kind of coal produced, the productivity of the pit, and the availability of living accommodation. The Ministry of Fuel and Power will decide to what pits the men are to be directed.
In conclusion I want to say that the Government would not have resorted to this scheme of compulsion had it not been for the most urgent national necessity. There is no form of service which at this stage of the war is in greater need of young active recruits. Those who are chosen for transfer to coalmining will be doing their war service in a form that is as important as any, and I am sure that they will do their best to make a success of it.