HC Deb 23 November 1911 vol 31 cc1403-8

(1) If at any time representation is made to the Secretary of State by an inspector or otherwise that any person holding a certificate of competency under this Act is by reason of incompetency or gross negligence or misconduct in the capacity of manager or under-manager of a mine unfit to continue to hold a certificate of competency, or has been convicted of an offence against this Act or any enactment repealed by this Act, the Secretary of State may, if he thinks fit, cause inquiry to be made into the conduct of that person, and with respect to every such inquiry the following provisions shall have effect:—

  1. (a) The inquiry shall be public, and shall be held at such place as the Secretary of State may appoint by such county court judge, metropolitan police magistrate, stipendiary magistrate, or other person or persons (hereinafter in this Section referred to as the Court) as may be directed by the Secretary of State, and either alone or with the assistance of any assessor or assessors named by the Secretary of State:
  2. (b) The Secretary of State shall, before the commencement of the inquiry, furnish to the person into whose conduct inquiry is made a statement of the case on which the inquiry is instituted:
  3. (c) The person into whose conduct inquiry is made may attend the inquiry by himself, his counsel, solicitor, or agent, and may, if he thinks fit, be sworn and examined as an ordinary witness in the case:
  4. (d) The Court shall, on the conclusion of the inquiry, send to the Secretary of State a report containing a full statement of the case, and the 1404 opinion of the Court thereon, and such report of, or extracts from, the evidence as the Court may think fit:
  5. (e) The Court shall have power to cancel or suspend the certificate of the person into whose conduct inquiry is made, if it finds that he is by reason of incompetency, gross negligence, or misconduct, or of his having been convicted of an offence against this Act or any enactment repealed by this Act, unfit to continue to hold a certificate of competency:
  6. (f) The Court may require the person into whose conduct inquiry is made to deliver up his certificate. The Court shall hold a certificate so delivered until the conclusion of the investigation, and shall then either restore, cancel, or suspend the certificate according to its judgment on the case:
  7. (g) The Court shall have, for the purpose of the inquiry, all the powers of a court of summary jurisdiction when acting as a Court in hearing informations for offences against this Act, and all the powers of an inspector under this Act, and in addition the following powers:—
    1. (i) power by summons signed by the Court, to require the attendance of all such persons as it thinks fit to summon and examine for the purpose of the inquiry, and for that purpose to require answers or returns to such inquiries as the Court thinks fit to make;
    2. (ii) power to require the production of all books, papers, and documents which the Court considers important for the purpose of the inquiry:
  8. (h) A person attending as a witness before the Court shall be allowed such expenses as would be allowed to a witness attending on subpœna before a court of record; and in case of dispute as to the amount to be allowed, the same shall be referred by the Court to a master of the Supreme Court, who, on request signed by the Court, shall ascertain and certify the proper amount of such expenses.

(2) If any person without reasonable excuse (proof whereof shall lie on him) fails to comply with any summons or requisition of the Court, or impedes the Court in the execution of its duty, he shall be guilty of an offence against this Act, and a person who is guilty of any such offence shall, in addition to any other fine to which he is liable under this Act, be liable to a fine not exceeding one pound for every day during which the offence continues.

(3) The Court may make such order as it thinks fit respecting the costs and expenses of the inquiry, and such order shall, on the application of any party entitled to the benefit thereof, be enforced by any Court of summary jurisdiction as if such costs and expenses were a fine imposed by that Court.

(4) The Secretary of State may, if he thinks fit, pay to the person or persons constituting the Court, including any assessors, such remuneration as he may with the consent of the Treasury determine.


I beg to move, in Subsection (1), to leave out the words "or otherwise" ["made to the Secretary of State by an inspector or otherwise"].

I move this Amendment in order to ask what reason there is for the word "otherwise" being in this Clause. The Clause says who shall make representations to the Home Secretary as to any misconduct on the part of the managers. If the words "or otherwise" mean that some person other than the inspector will be able to make a complaint to the Home Secretary, then I think it is out of the question. The inspector is the proper and the only person to make complaints. I cannot conceive power being given to any workman in the mine, who may be an adversary of the manager or of the under-manager, to go about and make complaints. If it is to be possible for any person, no matter what his position or qualification, to make charges against the manager, then the position of the manager will not be a very comfortable one. He will be constantly fearing almost any person in the mine may make charges against him. It will weaken his position and cause him great anxiety. Then, I understand, in certain cases of the manager being brought before the Court for misconduct he has no power of appeal. The inspector can get his information from all sources, and there is no doubt he should be the only person to make representations to the Home Secretary. I sincerely hope what I have said will appeal to the Under-Secretary, and that he will see his way to delete the words "or otherwise."


I beg to second the Amendment.


These words are in the Act of 1870, and it is for the hon. Member to show they work harm in practice rather than for us to amend the law. They merely allow representations to be made to the Home Office or to the inspector for a preliminary inquiry. No harm can result from that. There is no need for the Home Office to order an inquiry unless it thinks it necessary. This has been in operation ever since 1870, and no injustice has arisen, and we do not see why, under those conditions, we should weaken the position of the inspector and of the Home Office.


I hope the Government will stand by this Clause. An inspector can only visit a mine once in six or twelve months, and, if these words were struck out, it would prevent the men in the mine making representations, and the provision for examination would become a farce. If an examination of a mine takes place by practical workmen, and they see it is not managed as it ought to be, they must have someone to make representations. We look upon this as an important matter. The inspector is kept away from the colliery for long periods, owing to the great work he has to perform, and we ought to have power to make representations to him, and call his attention to any dereliction of duty


That is exactly the point. The whole of these representations should come through the inspector.


I hope the Under-Secretary will reconsider his decision on this point. The fact that the words have been law for thirty years is no argument for opposing this Amendment. My hon. Friend said very clearly he wanted all the representations to come through the inspector, but, according to the Bill, anyone can make representations, and they need not come through the inspector at all.


If the Amendment were carried, no complaint could be made, even if there was something dangerous in the mine, except through the inspector. The inspector might be careless, or he might be very busy over other things, and put the communication aside and delay the matter for a long time You would delay matters by having first representations to the inspector. He might forward them or not. If he forwarded them, you would then have to wait for the decision of the Home Office. In some cases the complaint might never get to the Home Office at all. I think it is much more reasonable the men should have the right of complaining direct to the Home Office. The Home Office is perfectly able to judge whether a complaint is well founded or not. It has worked well in the past, and I do not think there is the least occasion for this Amendment.

Viscount WOLMER

I hope my hon. Friend will not persist in this Amendment. We are here to protect the lives of those working in our mines, and it seems to me the more reasonable inquiries, apart from vexatious inquiries, that can possibly be made the better. These words have stood for the last thirty years, and have not been abused, and I do not see what good can be brought about by altering them.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause," put, and agreed to.


I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), after the word "under-manager" ["gross negligence or misconduct in the capacity of manager or under-manager of a mine"], to insert the words "deputy, fireman, or examiner."

The object of the Amendment is to afford protection to deputies and firemen of the same character and quality which is afforded to managers and under-managers. The duties imposed upon firemen and deputies by Clause 15 are of a responsible and onerous character. They are bound to be holders of a certificate to show they have had a certain amount of experience and they are obliged to submit to an examination as to their physical condition. There are many other precautions taken before a person can be appointed a fireman. Although I do not for one moment suggest the grievance is frequent, the deputies and firemen, feel they ought to be protected against capricious dismissal by the manager.


I beg to second the Amendment.


I have had considerable discussion with some of the hon. Member's friends and the representatives of the firemen and deputies from various parts of the country with regard to this matter, and I think I shall be able to assure him there is no necessity for this Amendment. In fact, the Amendment would not read in the Bill. There is no provision requiring firemen and deputies to obtain certificates as to experience at all. The certificate of competency under Clause 11 is a very simple one: it provides that the manager shall have had five years' experience before he can take a post of this kind, and that he can see gas and hear adequately. It has nothing whatever to do with mine management. It is a certificate of efficiency in certain directions. I explained that fully to the deputations, and they told me at the end that they were satisfied with my explanation. I hope, under the circumstances, my hon. and learned Friend will not press the Amendment.


May I point out that by Clause 15 the position is that a person shall not after the first day of January, 1913, be qualified to be appointed as fireman or examiner or deputy unless he is twenty-five years of age or is the holder of a first or second class certificate of competency. I wish to especially impress that last provision upon the House. I do not desire to press the Amendment unless it be the wish of my hon. Friends around me. I know that the hon. Gentleman who represents the Government has given great consideration to the representations made to him, and all I ask him to consider is whether there should not be the fuller protection afforded by my Amendment against powers that may be exercised capriciously.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Firemen, Examiners, and Deputies.