I feel that it is almost improper to bring forward another subject after that great peroration, but we are now to consider a subject the origin of which is a Question by the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), who asked the Minister of Labour:
whether he is aware that the chairman of the local education committee recently stated that many of the 17-year-old Huddersfield boys who recently registered were working such long hours that they could not be recommended to join pre-Service units and that they suffered from exhaustion, mental and physical; and whether he will look into the matter?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th March, 1942; col. 1175, Vol. 378.]
My right hon. Friend naturally has not got the facts before him, but perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary to-day will be able to give us some information from Huddersfield. Then, when I further questioned the Minister of Labour, he made what was to me a somewhat surprising statement when I gave him some figures of long hours. He said that this was one of the reasons that the Cabinet agreed to the registration of boys and girls, and that it was the first time there had ever been an opportunity to find out how boys and girls were actually being treated. If that is so, it is not stated in any of the cards which the boys themselves fill up, and it is pure accident whether the interviewing committee finds out any of these details, for they are not under any obligation to do so themselves. I have been interviewing for many nights, and in my particular area we put on the back of the cards the exact number of hours which the boys are working, checking them up afterwards, and I later propose to give the House some of these figures.
I am very glad that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary is replying to this Debate, because I know of his great interest, as a recent chairman of the Association of Education Committees, in this subject, and of his very practical knowledge, especially of the cotton industry. I hope that he will be able to give me some reassuring answer and not the sort of answer we get from the Minister of Health, that sort of slick answer; I had one to-day about Maycrete huts. It does not do any good. I was not asking to catch him out, but because I happened to know the facts and wanted to know whether he intended to do anything about them. We are getting rather tired of such answers, both from him and his Parliamentary Secretary. In the Debate which was inaugurated by the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) recently, my hon. Friend sitting opposite agreed with remarks I made about hours. He said it seemed to him "that the evil of the high wage lay not in the amount of money, but rather in the excessive hours that that wage represented, and the possible physical effect on the growing youth." He did add in a qualifying phrase that consideration had to be given to the fact that many a boy of 16 and 17 was almost equal in physique to a man.
I do not intend to go into the question of the Potteries. That has been debated in the House of Lords. May I say—and I am a very strong supporter of trade unions, and have been all the time I have been in politics—that I was a little alarmed to read that some trade unionists said that it was not the business of the House of Lords to interfere in the matter? The House of Lords were not the only people who were aware of this increase in hours in the Potteries; questions have been asked here. I understand that it was a very exceptional situation, that certain girls were suddenly removed, and they had—although this excuse is often given in these matters—to fill up with juveniles.
Now we hear that the same thing is happening in the cotton industry. On this occasion the Minister of Labour said that he was satisfied that "war requirements of various kinds" made it necessary. I would like to know what war requirements of various kinds are, because it may be a different reason from the case in the Potteries. My hon. Friend was present in the negotiations, and as he has intimate experience of the cotton industry, no doubt he will be able to tell us more, and also be able to tell us how it was that the cotton industry lost so many people by the process of concentration and then could not get them back. I believe they wanted some 10,000. The employers apparently wanted to increase the hours by seven and a half a week, but the operatives would agree only to four hours, so that now we have 52 hours per week in the cotton industry—I am speaking about young people under 16–52 in the cotton industry and 53 hours in the pottery industry. What I want to know is, where are we going to stop? The hours are creeping up for the 14 to 16 group, from 44 to 52 and 53. The hours for those between 16 and 18 are creeping up from 48 to 54, 56, 58, 60, 70 and 75. I have got to be persuaded by my hon. Friend that these steps are vital to the war effort and are not resulting in physical and mental disability, and I have got to be persuaded that it is not gravely affecting the future physique of these boys. If he can prove that, I shall be quite satisfied.
But the chaos of hours between the ages of 14 and 18, and the absenteeism from school, which I may remind my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education is increasing, the weakening of the whole business of apprenticeship—these questions have been familiar to some of us for many years, but this is not the time to make them worse. I wish to try to prove to the House that we are running into a dangerous situation and that I think the time has arrived for a special inquiry into the whole question. I hope my hon. Friend will agree with that. I will give one or two quotations. This is from a man who has been looking at the interviews over the last few weeks:
The problem of long hours was found in the main war industries. A number of boys were working ten or more hours on four or five days a week. In many of these cases the effect on their physical and social development was greatly accentuated by the distances they had to travel to work.
When people have to work 50, 60, or 70 hours a week, it often becomes much longer when you add the hours they have to travel. You must picture a boy, in some cases, getting up at seven o'clock in the morning, and arriving back at home at eight at night.
Cases were quoted of boys leaving home at 7.15 in the morning and not returning until 8 at night, and the general impression gained was
that a high proportion of boys in these industries were being worn out at an important stage in their development by the prevailing industrial conditions.
That is from a man on the spot.
I would rather give the name of the places afterwards in each case. I want to tell my hon. Friend of a few cases that came to my notice last night: fitter's mate, 8 a.m.-7 p.m., shop assistant, 8.30 a.m.-6 p.m.; engineer, 8 a.m.-7 p.m.; stores assistant, 6.30 to 5; and a van guard, 8.30 to 6 p.m. This morning, quite gratuitously, because somebody had noticed that the question had been raised, I heard from another place where boys have been interviewed; of 78 who are not being sent to any of the youth organisations, in 59 cases it was because of the long hours of work. You cannot ask a young fellow to work do or more hours a week, and then to join the Air Training Corps for the defence of his country. The thing becomes absurd. I will give some more figures from a country district. There is an aircraft worker, doing 65 hours a week, with night shifts in alternate months. He had to give up night classes owing to long hours, although, as an apprentice, he should attend. Another averaged 67 hours a week. He was a member of the cadets, but had to resign owing to his long hours. Another worked for a precision tool company from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and eight hours Saturday and Sunday. Another, in an aircraft factory, worked 65 to 70 hours a week, including five nights per week overtime, and Saturday afternoons and usually Sundays. Another worked from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and most week-ends—probably medically unfit for the Services. Another, 62 hours a week at an aerodrome. He wants to join the R.A.F. Time after time, these boys have come to me and said, "Of course I want to join."
The craze now is the Naval Cadets. Last night I found no fewer than nine wanting to join. Actually there is no unit for them to join, but that is another story. Sheffield was mentioned the other day. I have not had time to go into this, but my hon. Friend, through his inspectorate, has the figures. The Minister said he would look into it. As far as I know, in Sheffield there are a number of boys working over 60 hours a week. It may be a much larger number; but these have not been investigated carefully, and I do not wish to quote them, except to say that it is probable that some of them are true. I know that in some cases the double hours on Sunday have been included in the figures. The actual cases that I have quoted I have been careful, of course, to check.
What is worrying me about all this is that we really do not know what is happening between the ages of 14 and 16. I am extremely glad that this 16–18 registration scheme has come in, and we have been trying for three months to have a Debate on it in this House. I know that Malaya and Singapore have knocked that on the head. It is not the fault of the Government that we have not had a Debate.
That is another question. The House does not seem to find much time to consider these questions which affect the growing generation. This morning I could not help contrasting the, almost, delight which the Minister for Home Security showed about closing up the "Daily Mirror" with his absolute refusal to do anything about fun fairs. He treated that as rather a joking matter. I spent a good deal of last week-end going round a dozen of these places, not far from here; and I have not any doubt that at those places I saw mentally defective boys and mentally defective girls. Obviously they were physically defective. I saw a great many other undesirable people. I rang up Mr. Henriques this morning to check up on his letter in the "Times," and I propose to go to see his court on Monday. His estimate was that 19 out of 20 cases of juvenile delinquency were associated with these places. I mention that only in passing, because here we have the future of Britain. We have heard much about blue prints and new orders, but the future of Britain is between the ages of 14 and 18, or else at school. There is no doubt that the generation growing up is going to suffer from the dislocation of the educational system.
I have often praised the results of evacuation when the people have stayed in the country, but there can be no doubt that, on balance, it has resulted in a most unfavourable situation as regards school children. Some 20,000 children have returned to London since Christmas. I had three boys last night who ought to have gone through with central school education up to the age of 15, but left at the age of 14, and they told me that they could never pick up again. You have that situation to deal with throughout the country. You have also something else. In one particular place at the present time 129 employers were warned, and, I think, 11 were summoned, for irregularities about boys working out of school hours. I mention that because it was quoted in one of the educational papers, the "Times Educational Supplement." All this means that, in addition to irregularities and dislocation in the educational system, there are irregularities and dislocation in regard to working hours for youths of 14 to 18. Do not let my hon. Friend think that I have just discovered this. I am not bringing this matter up solely because these cases have come out through registration. This is an old problem, but it has been made worse by the war. My hon. Friend has to prove that this is vital to the war effort. I want to make it clear that in many cases these boys said, "I had to go on with the job; it is part of the war." The Circular from the Board of Education precisely says that there will be a number of young people who will not be able to join because of their exceptional hours of work, and I am not sure that I agree that that clause should have been inserted, as it is to some extent condoning the situation. The boys themselves are placed in a very difficult position. They ask whether they can help the war effort most by the working 60 and 65 hours that I have mentioned or by joining a training corps? They ought to be doing something as a result of which they get into the fresh air and participate in some sort of recreation. I have one other series of cases but I will not quote them in detail, because they are exceptional and belong to London, but I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education to take note that in London, and especially in Central London, there are boys in very well-known clubs and hotels who are working all night and for 50 and 60 hours a week. Some effort ought to be made to arrange classes for them in the middle of the day, because I understand that, though the number of hours they work may be nominally 12 a day, they have three hours off in this period, and if something could be done for their physical recreation it would be a very great help.
The time has come to demand an inquiry into this growing tendency to increase hours. I cannot talk about the registration scheme to-day in detail, because that is a bigger question. We ask boys, and shortly we are going to ask girls, to join some pre-service training unit or else to take up the evening classes which they have not been able to attend. Experienced people in London with whom I have been in contact during the last 48 hours and who know what a boy looks like when he is tired, have no doubt about this matter. I will give one example from South London. I rang up such a person yesterday and asked him for his opinion about this question. I was told that they called a meeting of the social workers, teachers and others in the borough, and, said my friend, "I put to them the question, 'Have you in your interviews found that boys are coming in tired after long hours?'" There was laughter, and they then produced case after case from their own experience. I beg of my hon. Friend to consider these serious cases. There are two separate parts of this problem, one is the extension of four or five hours in the cotton and pottery trades which is done by Government Order; the other seems to be a flaunting of the Factory Acts, and in some cases I doubt whether any Act covers the period from 16 to 18. What has happened to the factory inspectorate since it moved over from the Home Office to the Ministry of Labour?
I know that they have a lot of extra work to do in connection with A.R.P. and so on, and I am one who welcomed the change to the Ministry of Labour and said that it was in closer harmony with the remainder of the work of the right hon. Gentleman, but is it working now? If so, how is it that every time a question like this comes up the Ministry of Labour has to say, "My attention has not been called to this, but I will look into it"? The inspectorate ought to be aware when a problem has grown to these dimensions. Is the inspectorate sufficiently strong to keep track of this growing evil? I hope to see a new generation of from 14 to 18 growing up with a greater sense of citizenship and with a finer physique than generations in the past. I have been staggered by the response of the young people, although it is absolutely voluntary. Last night 19 out of 20 turned up, and some of them came at 9 o'clock because they could not get away from work before. They demand to be allowed to help and to serve the country. They are only too anxious to improve their lot and also to do something in the service of their country; the least we can do is to give them the chance.
I had no intention of intervening in this Debate but I was so intensely interested in the speech of the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Lindsay) that I would like to detain the House for a few minutes in referring to it. It happens that my association with youth has been rather on different lines from those he has just described. It is my unfortunate experience to have to deal to a great extent with adolescent crime. I endorse every word that he has said with regard to the question of fun fairs. I have realised to the full the real danger there is in these places, not so much from the point of view of going there for innocent amusement, as from that of the absolute and utter waste of time and money by young people who are not old enough to resist the temptations to which they have to submit. I ventured to put a Supplementary Question to-day to the Home Secretary, and I sincerely trust that we shall succeed in getting him to strengthen the measures to be enforced with regard to these places, which are nothing more or less than a pest to society.
In my constituency I have a great deal to do with the question of juvenile labour. I do not think that the Parliamentary Secretary himself would attempt to justify the hours of labour that are being worked. I would go a step further than the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and ask in view of what is taking place in an industrial constituency like my own, whether these hours of labour are really necessary. I agree that at the end of a long day's work a youth is tired out in a way that he ought not to be, but my information in my own constituency is that these boys, who are anxious to help in the national effort, are only wasting their time and that of their employers. In my constituency and in the South West Lancashire area an enormous number of boys are employed not on productive or useful work, but as fitters' mates and are drawing really high wages for doing nothing more than brewing tea for their mates. The matter has been raised by those not of the same political views as myself, in the local borough council. We went into it carefully, and the figures that we discovered were simply amazing. The way to tackle this problem is to ensure that, if these long hours have to be worked, they should be worked only where useful work is produced. An enormous amount could be done if we could make it possible for these boys to be released for the purpose of attending their clubs and getting proper recreation, instead of doing what they are doing now, namely, wasting their time and that of their employers.
Idleness, of course, is a curse. Any one who can see what is going on now in regard to adolescent crime—I cannot speak of juvenile crime—knows the tragedy that has resulted to lads who have had their chance in the juvenile courts, have failed to take it and have then degenerated into crime for one reason or another but chiefly because they have not had proper training. We have a new generation coming on. Our generation did all it could for the country in the last war. The present generation is doing the same now. It is up to us to do all we can to help the rising generation and I agree with the hon. Member for Kilmarnock that the way to proceed is to do all we can to enable these lads, keen and active as they are, to help their country, to render useful service and at the same time, become better members of society.
There will certainly be gratitude at the raising of this question to-day by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Lindsay). Undoubtedly there is growing disquiet at the attitude which the Ministry of Labour has taken towards juvenile employment. I suggest that all would accept as one of the basic principles on which we are conducting this war, a determination to minimise the injury it will do to British youth. We even try, with some hopefulness, to extract from it what benefit can be extracted in certain directions. The Board of Education and the Ministry of Food, notably, have both acted on that principle and have endeavoured not only to preserve our youth from unnecessary injury, but even to take some advantage from existing conditions. But the Minister of Labour has not attempted to do this.
Well, I shall be glad to hear what case can be made out for the right hon. Gentleman. It seems to me that he has not adequately resisted the pressure which has been put upon him. I know what pressure is put in war-time on Government Departments to relax laws and regulations relating to youths. We had the same problem in the last war. A great deal of the pressure is entirely legitimate. Boys and girls want to give what help they can in the common war effort, and nobody desires to hinder them from this very legitimate and fine desire, in so far as it is compatible with their permanent welfare. Whenever there is a shortage of labour there has been the plea that the use of young persons is the easiest remedy. People at once fly to it as a solution of their difficulties. But while this is the easiest solution, it is also the experience of those who have had to deal with the problem, that Parliament and Ministries have only to stand firm and industry will always find some other method of overcoming their difficulties. It may mean a more difficult piece of organisation, but industry, as long as Parliament and Ministries stand firm, always discovers an alternative method.
Members will recollect their experience even before the last war. In 1914 we had a modest Measure which, among other things, sought to abolish "half-time" in the cotton industry and also that curious privilege enjoyed by glass factories of employing young persons at night. In each case there was strong opposition from the trades concerned. It was said on behalf of the cotton industry that they would incur considerable injury if "half-time" in the industry were abolished, and, as regards night work for young people in glass factories, I recollect that a deputation came here and said that this industry would be ruined if this old privilege, under an Act of the last century, were taken away from them. Well, within four years we had abolished those two systems by Act of Parliament and the industries have not suffered. Nowadays, anyone who contemplated "half-time" conditions, or night work by young persons in glass factories, would be living in the realm of a bad dream, the thing would be so remote and unreal.
I suggest that the Minister has only to stand firm and he will find that industry can get on quite well without these concessions. We should recollect that the existing law as regards young persons from 14 to 16, is that the normal maximum in factories is 44 hours. That we achieved in 1937 in this Parliament, after a very considerable battle. I know there are possible provisions for exceptional treatment in certain cases, but 44 hours is the normal maximum for persons under the age of 16. What justification was there, in the case of the Potteries, for going up to 53 hours? There, it was never alleged that the product was needed for the prosecution of the war. Production was, apparently, for the normal civilian industry and it probably would have been highly virtuous if consumption of the commodities so produced had been reduced. But, as I say, there was never an allegation that the product was needed for the prosecution of the war. In the cotton spinning industry there is something fantastic about the whole procedure. Here you have hours increased from 44 to 52. Only a short time ago the whole industry was almost compulsorily concentrated. Factories were put out of action because there was not enough to do and because it was desired to reduce production. Having done that, the Ministry then increase the hours of these children. It really does seem quite fantastic. If the Minister had taken a strong line the industry would have adopted some other course.
There is this further feature about special provision for long hours. It encourages a tendency to disregard the law all round. If people see that in certain work longer hours are permitted, they will almost inevitably take advantage of peculiar circumstances to add to the hours without any legal authority whatever. I think this will gradually tend to produce relaxation all round which will tend to break down the whole system of restriction of these children's hours of work. I ask especially, as did my hon. Friend opposite, that the inspectorate should be given every encouragement. If they see that the Minister is weak-kneed about it, if they see that he is apt to give way, it is very difficult for them to maintain the law or respect for the legal restrictions that have already been achieved. In the Home Office we had considerable experience of the extent of this, and I think both industry and those interested in the protection of childhood had immense confidence in that body; but I am bound to say that we feel less sure that the inspectorate is receiving adequate support from the Minister of Labour, less sure that it is receiving as good support as it used to receive from the Home Secretary. I ask the Ministry not to let down that great organisation, but to maintain it with the traditions it has built up after a great many years to protect children from doing excessive hours of work.
It was not my intention to intervene in this Debate. Indeed I did not know that it was to take place and I had not collected data which otherwise I would gladly have presented to the House. But I think I should fail in my duty to my constituents if I did not say a few words about the deplorable effect these long hours are having, not only on boys and girls in essential war industries, but boys and girls employed in industries that are not essential to the war effort, or only very slightly essential to it. My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Lindsay) has referred to this, but I think it is a matter which requires to be stressed. The position with regard to boys employed in public houses, hotels, and in many industries which are not really primarily essential to the war effort, is very serious. These children, many of them boys of only 14 or 15, are working as many as 12 or 14 hours a day from the time they leave home in the morning to the time they return home in the evening. I am convinced, as I think everybody who has had experience of young people is convinced, that this is most detrimental to their health, their physique, and still more, to what may conveniently be called their psychological and mental outlook. It is stultifying to those children at the present time, and it is having a very disastrous effect upon them.
There is another aspect of the matter to which I want briefly to refer. It is the class aspect. I am sorry to raise a question of this sort at the present time, because I think the less said about these matters the better, but I think it is disastrous for the future interests of this country that you should have one class of children who are being in some cases exploited, and at any rate, in a great number of cases, worked almost till they drop, and another class of children who are not liable to those war penalties and consequences, and who grow up in a comparatively sheltered condition till the time when they have to join the Services, whereas their brothers and sisters—mainly their brothers—are exposed to this very onerous tax upon their intelligence and their constitution.
I am afraid that in a good many of these cases the parents are, in some sense, a consenting party on account of the wages which the children are able to bring in. I think that in some cases, although not in all, the parents find themselves with no other alternative. There are a good many families in my division whose normal wage-earner, the head of the family, is at present serving in His Majesty's Forces, and the financial position of those families is such, living in a big town at the present time, with all the economic disabilities which life in a great town imposes, that it has become necessary in many instances for the children to bring in as large wages as possible to supplement the financial position of the family. Social workers, quite unconnected with any party organisation, are coming to me and saying how anxious they feel, on the one hand, about the economic position of many families whose normal wage-earners are in the Forces, and, on the other hand, about the condition of the young people who have been forced into industry, not only for that reason, but also for the purpose of the national war effort, to work these long hours.
I appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary, who, I know, has a great interest in these matters, to see, first, that a proper survey is made of the situation and that the Government and the House have some proper knowledge of the hours that are being worked by these young people; secondly, that the hours are strictly limited for boys and girls from 16 to 18, and that for children under 16 they are limited to a very much smaller number than is at present the case—for children under 16 have no business to work anything like 40 hours, and certainly not more than 40 hours, and it is a public scandal that it should be so; and thirdly, that he should survey the whole situation from the point of view of the war effort and see whether we cannot demonstrate to the world that we can win the war without the assistance of young children in the struggle. If my hon. Friend will do that, he will make a contribution to our country at the present time, and, more than that, make a great contribution to the welfare of these children, who will become in a very short time the adult citizens of this country, and who are now being steadily disabled, a disablement which may affect succeeding generations.
I think all hon. Members agree that the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Lindsay) has done a useful service in raising this important matter. Undoubtedly it is a retrograde step which the House is being asked to endorse. It was never thought, when the 44-hour week for juveniles was made the maximum under the Factory Act, that we should ever have to extend it to 52 hours. I want to ask one or two questions from the point of view of the cotton spinning industry. I am very sorry that this Order is to be applied to that industry. It has already been entitled to employ juveniles for 48 hours a week; the 44-hour week was extended to 48 hours, and therefore, that makes it all the more serious that it should be still further extended to 52 hours. I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary, who spent many years working in the cotton industry, whether there was no alternative to this Order. Has every other plan which would have enabled some alternative way to be found, been thoroughly explored? We must also have a definite assurance from my hon. Friend that this Order will apply only to the war period, and that after the war we shall go back to the old hours. Again, is not this Order largely due to the fact that the concentration was mismanaged, that too many mills were hurriedly closed and the men and women employed there were either sent to other work, such as munitions work, or were allowed to leave far too quickly, before the whole plan was worked out? This point has been raised before, but I think it is right to mention it again.
The cotton industry suddenly found itself, as it finds itself to-day, with insufficient employees to carry on, and one or two questions arise here. What has been the result of the urgent appeals made to women who have left the industry to return, and how many have returned and are now back in the industry? Is it thought likely that many more will be obtained in this way? What is being done for their children to enable them to be looked after in schools or other places? That is a vital point in encouraging women to return.
The greatest care must be taken of the health of these juveniles who are to work these extra hours. Anyone who has been in a cotton-spinning mill knows that it is certainly not the healthiest of places. The dust has been a source of ill-health to considerable numbers of operatives who have worked all their lives in the mills. To work in such an atmosphere is not conducive to the future health of these young people. Perhaps my hon. Friend can say how the extra hours are to be allocated over the week. Is it to be left to employees to arrange them in individual cases as they think best, or will some guidance be given? Will it be possible for these boys and girls to have a medical examination from time to time, to see whether they are fit to carry on the work, and will a certificate be granted so that they can return to their normal hours if they are found to be unfit?
Finally, I should like to ask why this Order, which was made on 5th February, was kept secret and was disclosed only at the beginning of this week? These are important questions, and I think some further information from the Parliamentary Secretary would be welcome.
I am very glad indeed that this matter has been raised, and that many hon. Members have addressed their attention to it. I am glad that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour is here, and also the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education. I should not be surprised if the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education is becoming a little apprehensive lest some of the arguments used to justify this extension of hours of labour for young people might not be brought to bear upon the children in our schools. Certainly, if it is alleged that the extension of hours of labour among young pottery workers and textile workers is necessary in the national interest and for war purposes, no great stretch of imagination is needed to argue that, in the same way, children at school should be released to be employed in the fields, the mines or factories. I am certain, however, that the Board of Education would resent and resist that, and would do their utmost to see that such a retrograde step was not taken no matter how powerful the arguments might be to show that it would be of some service in the war effort.
I hope that the Minister of Labour and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will approach this question not merely from the standpoint of what is necessary for the prosecution of the war, but will also bear in mind the effective conquest of the peace, which has to come after the war. After all, these young people who are working long hours to-day, in the textile and pottery and other industries, will be the citizens who will have to repair the damage now being inflicted upon us. In a few years hence they will be called upon to exercise their civic intelligence and responsibility, and that is why I feel most earnestly that among all the tragic aspects of this war—and they are almost innumerable—there is none more tragic than the effect of the war on young people between 14 and 19 years of age. That is why, in one sense, I could welcome the registration of youth, although I do not understand why it should not be comprehensive and apply from the moment the child left school, and why we have not yet been told more clearly the actual purpose of this registration. Meanwhile, in regard to these young people in the pottery and textile and other industries, what we are doing is to breed in their minds a certain mood of cynicism regarding the present and future.
Reference has been made to fun fairs. Now and again I have looked in at these rather gloomy casinos which are somewhat characteristic of British life, because, instead of being openly announced as gambling dens, they call themselves by the very dubious, ambiguous and misleading term of "fun fair." I should like to ban these miserable shows to our young people. I admit that they provide a certain stimulus but it is in the wrong direction. On the other hand, young people would not go there if they had not firmly focussed in their minds a false sense of values, often given them in these extraordinary places, and if there were inducements to them in other and better directions. That is why I hoped the purposes of the registration of youth would be effective, not merely from the pre-Service point of view, but for rightly building up the bodies, minds and spirits of these young people. To be perfectly frank, we know full well it has been largely a failure up to now. I believe that in many parts of London, certainly in my own part, less than 50 per cent. of those asked to attend interviews have actually turned up, and that of those who do turn up many are apparently indifferent. I can only assume that some of those who do not attend cannot find time to come. If we are to allow extensions of hours of labour and turn a blind eye to the breaking of the law, it may be that in the course of time, not merely in these two industries but in many other walks of life, young people will have extended hours imposed on them, and will be trained to expect those extended hours. In that case, whatever educational purpose there may be in the registration scheme will be completely nullified because of the lack of inducement available in the limited circumstances.
I share with many others apprehension at the increase in juvenile delinquency in many parts of the country. I believe it has doubled since the beginning of the war. This I trace to the same cause which leads some youths and maidens to haunt these disguised gambling dens. In other words, they become cynical. They are working long hours and, when they find time for recreation, they are completely disinclined to go in for healthy recreation. Either they have no opportunity or the inclination is not there. I worked in a factory for well over 60 hours a week as a youngster and many in the House have done the same thing. Throwing my mind back, I know that in spite of one's transitory desire, at the end of a long day's hard work the capacity to enter into a class, or to take up some healthy recreation has almost entirely gone.
From that standpoint, if we hope to win a worthy peace, if we desire the young people who will take our place in time to do so with greater eagerness, with untarnished vision and with greater ability than we have had to bring about a better world, it is surely worth our while to see that whatever else happens, we do not take wrongful advantage of the young people to-day. We must give them the amplest opportunity now to fulfil the duties we expect them to undertake tomorrow. From that standpoint alone, I hope most earnestly that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will indicate that he intends to take sympathetic and drastic action. I do not censure the Minister of Labour himself so much as those industrial bodies on the men's side and the employers' side who have pressed forward this extension of hours. I wish there had been more representatives of the trade unions and the employers' organisations here, to hear what we have to say. They could no doubt make a strong case, but they could build up no sound case at all on the ground that if we are thinking of the real purpose of the war, we must work young people longer hours to make the world a healthier and finer place for those who will follow us.
I appeal to the Minister to approach the matter from the standpoint of wanting to give the youth of to-day a chance to be a decent, healthy citizen to-morrow. Many of them will in due course be called up to join the Services, and some of them may not come back. We should, at least, say to the young people between 14 and 18, "Even under difficult circumstances we are going to do our very best for you. We cannot give you all you need, but we will do our best to guarantee that longer hours shall not be imposed upon you. We shall do our best to give you opportunities for mental and physical recreation, and in that way you will be able, when you join the Services, to have memories of a relatively fair and promising youth and you will emerge from those Services equipped in some measure with the power to make the world better than the world made by your fathers and mothers."
When I came to this Debate I was under the impression that we were to deal with one single aspect of the subject. I make no complaint because we have gone further afield, as it gives me the opportunity of expressing the Ministerial point of view with regard to actions which have been taken. It will be impossible to answer all the questions that have been asked as some of them deal with fundamental Government policy, nor could I in the allotted time deal with the question as to whether or not the concentration of industry in Lancashire has been carried out correctly, or could have been carried out otherwise, thus saving the necessity of increasing the hours of labour among young people. Neither I nor the Minister with whom I am working, would be prepared to take second place to anyone in the House in our desire to do the best that is possible for the young people of the country. I have spent far too much of my life seeking to improve those conditions, to be prepared to stay in a Government where the easy way out was taken at the expense of the children.
The first question raised was with regard to the Huddersfield education authority, and a statement regarding it which was quoted from the Press. It was a statement in general terms and, for that reason, before any inquiry could be made it was necessary to get a detailed statement. Although generalisations can be very effective from the point of view of speeches—I have used them myself on scores of occasions and shall probably do so again—from the standpoint of effective inquiry they are no use at all. We must have detailed information which can be checked, with regard to individuals and with regard to the cases that concern them. The Department got into touch with the Director of Education for Huddersfield. Inquiry has been made and, although the results are such as to cause us of necessity to make further inquiry, and, if need be, to take action in a certain direction, it does not lead to the view that one would have got by simply reading the Press report. The difficulty of checking the Director of Education's statement may be due, in some measure, to the fact that the boys themselves may have made statements which were perhaps not reliable. He further emphasises in his letter to the Department that he must not be regarded as making any charges against any of the firms concerned for whom these boys were working.
The boys and girls concerned were 250 of 17 years of age, and 58 of them were thought to be overworked. That is, roughly, 20 per cent. Only 40 are in employment which is regulated by the Factory Acts. It is difficult for the inspectors to go into details with regard to youngsters employed in industries which are not covered by the Acts for which they are responsible. It may be necessary to have some further organisation and ways and means for checking the figures concerning the young people of the country such as have been called for to-day. The question we have to face is whether we have the time to carry out such an inquiry in the midst of a war. If there were time to do that, there would have been no justification for agreeing to an extension of hours for young people in the cotton industry.
I could give them, but I think it will serve the purpose better if I show them to my hon. Friend afterwards. The average is very much less than we were led to imagine was the case. It would appear as if the same mistake had been made here as is often made, in assuming that the man-hours revealed by the wage-packets are the actual hours worked. When an individual is paid time-and-a-half, he has worked an hour and a half according to his wage packet, and when he is paid double time he has worked two hours according to his wage packet. It is the hours actually worked about which I am concerned.
I would emphasise the necessity for getting particulars and for those particulars being sufficient to enable us to find the individual concerned. The hon. Gentleman who raised this matter sent us some particulars. He told us in an interesting Supplementary Question that three out of six youths he had interviewed in connection with the registration of youths were working very long hours, and he gave the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister particulars of the cases as well as he could. One of the consequences of the information being only partial was that it took days on the part of a very busy inspector to discover one of the youths. Inspectors are just as busy now under the Ministry of Labour as they were under the Home Office, and even busier, because, although there is more work, we have not been able to increase the number of inspectors proportionately. It had been suggested that this youth was working 70 to 80 hours. When we found him eventually, not at the place where he was supposed to have been working, but at another place in another town, it was discovered that the actual hours worked were 55. I think 55 is too long, but there is a vast difference between 55 and something over 70. Therefore, I ask that we should be given information on which we can get down to the inquiries. If there is something illegal going on, I am certain that my right hon. Friend the Minister, under whom I am pleased to work, will be prepared to put it right immediately.
The question of the increase of the hours of young people employed has been raised. I wish that the House could get into the habit of distinguishing between juveniles and young people. That is not easy. It took me a few years to separate them in my mind. Often when young people are being spoken about it is juveniles that are being thought of, and vice versa The distinction is necessary. The only juveniles under 16 who have been given the onerous duty of working up to 52 hours a week are in the textile and pottery trades. I would remind the House that before the war began, and after these restrictions on hours had been introduced, both the textile trade and the pottery trade came to this House and got the Order extended in order that they might work 48 hours. They had convinced the House, and convinced those who were responsible for administering the Order, that they were entitled to work the children for 48 hours. [HON. MEMBERS: "Children?"] They are juveniles from 14 to 16 and they are young people between 16 and 18. I opposed that Order because I believed then, as I still believe, that it should have been possible so to reorganise the work that the extra production could have been got without that increase of hours. But that reorganisation would have been taking place in peace time. Are we in a position to say that now, in the midst of war, is the time to begin to disorganise, if you like, the whole trade in order to reorganise it?
An hon. Member asked whether it was essential that these young people should be allowed to work these hours. I will deal first with the cotton trade, because I know the cotton mills and I know the difference between a young person working the 48 hours which were allowed and the 52 which have been granted under this Order. It is a difference of four hours a week—four hours too many. I believe that 48 hours are too long for young people. But we are face to face with this position, that with the cotton trade organised as it is, with its machinery as it is to-day, those young people are just as valuable from the standpoint of production as are the elder people in the trade. In a spinning mill you might as well not have the older people working these hours, if you are not going to let the "doffer" work them, and the "doffer" is the young person.
The question which I have to ask and which the Minister has to ask is, What is necessary in the way of cotton for war purposes? We are down to war purposes, we have very much less than we require for the very purpose of fighting the war and meeting the requirements o of our people. The Minister has to decide whether or not it is more detrimental for these young people to work the extra four hours than for us to be short of cotton for the winning of the War. In the view of some people that may be putting it in an extravagant form. To me, the question is this: What is the position of these children under a 52-hour week, with the Ministry of Labour watching so that the hours can be reduced at the first opportunity—what is the difference between 52 hours a week and victory or the possibility of our coming under Hitler? That may not be the question and I may be wrong, but if it is not the question I have been fooled.
All the speeches we have had about austerity in living and the necessity of getting on with the job either mean something or mean nothing. Either we are in danger or we are not. If we are in danger, it seems to me that when we are considering the position of the cotton operative or the pottery operative the question has to be weighed in the light of what would be the position if this extension were refused. I am facing these questions as a realist, but at the same time as an idealist, being just as much concerned about these children in the cotton mills as any Member of this House. In peace-time conditions, I would have cut off my right hand rather than sign that, just as in peace I would have gone to any extent rather than be a party to the shedding of blood. When things become necessities, they have to be viewed in the light of necessities, and the desires of some of us—things that we desire mast ardently—have sometimes to be set aside.
It was suggested that the hours were creeping up from 48 to 60 or 70 in the textile and pottery trades. Those are the only two trades in which allowance has been made for an extension of hours. As I have already indicated, they were the only two trades which asked that the hours should be extended before the war began, because they were dependent to such an extent upon young people. Just as in the textile industry, we took the views of the leaders of the operatives on the trade union side as well as of the employers, and agreed to what had been agreed to between them, so, in the pottery industry, we did the same thing, but only after inquiry had been made and we were convinced that it was the only way out for the time being. My hon. Friend asked me whether, if we had concentrated the industry in a different way, we could have avoided utilising the services of these children in the cotton spinning industry. I believe we could, but when we concentrated the cotton industry we were working on information which gave us the impression that we might be in danger of being unable to employ even the 50 per cent. upon which we had concentrated. If we had lost the Battle of the Atlantic we should have stood, logically, in an unanswerable position.
I do not mind being put in the position where hon. Members can score debating points, because we happened to win the Battle of the Atlantic, and to have got more cotton across to this country than we dreamed it might be possible to get. The position has changed so often in the conditions of the war, and as regards the workers in the war, that we have been compelled to look at these things, time and time again, in the light of the changed situation. What is true of pottery and cotton is true of the whole of the industries in which we are engaged. I am told that one of the troubles of our young people is not only that they have to work long hours but that a long time is taken in travelling to and fro. That is true, but it applies not only to our young people. I do not like it to apply to them, but I like it even less in regard to our womenfolk. It is happening because of the way in which our industries have been built up and organised, and are having to be carried on for war purposes. It is said that many young people cannot join organisations because they are working long hours. That has been provided for. I wish I could feel that the majority of our young people were not joining organisations because they were working long hours; I should be a good deal easier in mind if I could think that that was the primary reason.
Exactly. I want to make the point that they did not join organisations in the past not because of hours or anything like that, but merely because the organisations did not exist. There were only evening classes, and the young people did not want to go there. What is wrong at the present moment is that they do want to join, but cannot because of the long hours.
I am not suggesting that there are not cases in which that is true, but I am pointing out that registration took place for the purpose of utilising our young people, or seeing if they could be utilised, among other things for doing something that would assist towards the war effort or using their leisure time to the best advantage. That was at the back of everybody's mind. The point I want the House to see is this: If the reason why many of our young people are not prepared to join was this, I should be very well satisfied. I believe that it is because of other tendencies that we are not getting the best out of our youth in some directions.
Yes, and it is a reason that is accepted. I would go further, and say that if they are working long hours and are engaged on Government work or work for the prosecution of the war, they are not expected to join these organisations. They are already doing the very work which we were asking that they should be utilised to do, and God forbid that a lad should be taken away from work and compelled to join. I was amazed at a suggestion which came to me recently that a lad who is working 12 hours a day and has three hours off in the middle of the day should be given some physical exercises in the middle of the day. It seems to me that he should be provided with a bed, if he cannot get home, rather than be given physical instruction. I want us to treat these young people as human beings, and I want us to treat them, at the same time, as human beings existing in the midst of war. Of course, war is not good for young folks, it is not good for old folks either. Of course, it will interfere with their habits; it has interfered with their habits. The last time I had to speak on this question it was because they were said to be earning too much money, and I am glad that this other aspect of it has come to the front, and that we are now concerned about their physical wellbeing.
In order that we might know exactly what is happening—and nobody wants to score debating points on these questions; at least I hope not—only within this last week we have been in touch with the Board of Education, and have asked particularly that we should be apprised of any cases in which it was found that boys or girls were being over-worked, in order that we might inquire into them. Many industries are not covered by the Factory Acts, and many of the long hours which have been referred to are covered by the local authority, so that administration is difficult. I know it would be better if we had Acts to cover them all and could deal with them in that way. But again I would ask: Have we time in the midst of a war to stop and devise the best ways and means of carrying out these things? I am all in favour of them, and I believe the Minister is in favour of them, but the question of priorities comes in here as in other things, and the first priority, to me at any rate, is the winning of the war. I am just as concerned about winning the peace as anybody else.
Somebody has suggested that the reason this was brought in was that the young people might be in amusement parks. The Minister of Labour has no responsibility for amusement parks unless there is somebody looking after them who can be called up, in which case I assure you we should be delighted to put them either into useful war work or the Services. It has also been suggested that the amusement parks were connected with the increase of adolescent crime. I should not be surprised if there was something in it. They may have been found to be associated in some way with the young people who might go wrong, but I do not think that if they are spending too much time in amusement parks, it can be attributed to the fact that they are working too long. If they are spending time in amusement parks, it cannot be because they are working all the hours God sends. Therefore, the answer to the argument of too long hours might be to open more amusement parks.
What I would like to say, and I say it because of what the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) said, is that winning the war is the first essential. I believe that everybody would subscribe to that. I would not like it to be thought that the Minister of Labour was prepared to put the bigger task of winning the war upon the young folk. I would not like it to be thought for a moment that he had agreed, or that our inspectors had ever suggested, that these extensions should take place until the case had been proved up to the hilt. Someone said that they could not connect the pottery trade and the war. Among other things, in order to fight the war we have had to open a good many canteens. If you can associate the canteens and the pottery trade, you can associate the pottery trade with the war. I do not want to be charged with having been responsible for a lack of the wherewithal to eat our meals, and the position has been sufficiently serious for it to be possible to reach a position of that kind. The same thing applies with regard to cotton.
One assurance I can give; I think it is the only assurance I need give and the only assurance you would ask for. Not only do we expect that the inspectors will do their duty to the best of their ability—they are always ready and willing to do it—but wherever information can be sup- plied, particularly detailed information, it helps, at any rate, to centralise the problem before it gets out of hand. In that sense any detailed particulars that are sent along would be and will be inquired into. Further, where it has been found necessary, for the time being, to extend hours in order that we might get production in that particular place at that particular time, the Minister, at the first opportunity, would remove the Order that has been given immediately the demand had been met.
I was asked a question with regard to what was the position in Lancashire. As my hon. Friend knows, I cannot answer all the questions with regard to concentration and the difficulties that have arisen as a consequence of it. I can say that the increase of these hours meant an increase of 6½ per cent. in the production of cotton yarn, which is in very short supply. I am not saying that this is entirely due to the young people, but I am saying that it would be a good deal less if they had not been allowed to work those hours. When the cotton yarn is made into bandages and other things essential to the war and the daily life of the people, I think we can be given credit for having looked at the subject from the standpoint of what is best for all. Do not forget it may be the fact that the children have been working in co-operation and in conjunction with their elders, which has been one of the reasons for bringing down the hours of the elders. I am sure that is true about the cotton industry.
About the pottery industry I cannot speak with any confidence. If, as a result of the changes now taking place, it is found possible to reduce the hours for the young people, or better still, do away with overtime by bringing into employment people from other sources, I am quite certain that the Minister will be the first person to rejoice because the Order can be revoked.