HC Deb 27 November 1912 vol 44 cc1444-54

I rise to call the attention of the House to the action of the Home Secretary in regard to the appointment of Inspectors of pit ponies under the Coal Mines (Regulation) Act. When the Bill was going through Committee stringent regulations were inserted for the purpose of preventing possible cruelty to these animals and ensuring they should receive kind and humane treatment, but on Report it was found the provisions for inspection for the purpose of enforcing those regulations were entirely inadequate. Regulations, however good, unless there are provisions for enforcing them are mere waste paper. It was found during the course of the Debate, and I think to the surprise of many of us, that the Government had no intention whatever of appointing any Inspectors, their idea being to accept the services of Inspectors to be nominated and paid by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The House definitely rejected that suggestion and insisted—the appeals came from all quarters of the House—and I think rightly insisted, that the duty of inspection should be discharged by Government Inspectors paid by the Government and responsible to the Government. The Home Secretary resisted the proposal for some time, but eventually gave in to the general feeling of the House, and the result was that Clause 109 of the Bill as amended read thus:—

"The Secretary of State shall appoint fit persons to be special persons for examining into the care of horses and other animals used in mines and enforcing the provisions of the Act relating thereto."

There are two points to which I want to call attention. The first is the great and unexplained delay in appointing any Inspectors at all, and the second is the totally inadequate provision of Inspectors to ensure efficient inspection. Let me take the question of delay first. The Bill passed into law on the 16th December last year, but its operation was suspended until the 1st July to give time to bring the Act into operation. One would have expected that by the 1st July the Home Secretary would have been in a position to appoint the Inspectors which the House had insisted on being appointed. Nothing of the kind! No Inspectors were appointed by the 1st July to carry out this regulation, and to this day not a single Inspector has been appointed for the purpose of carrying out the express wishes of the House. The Home Secretary, in answer to a question yesterday, made an excuse for this. He said there were a large number of applicants for the posts. They were referred to the Board of Mines to examine and he had not got the recommendations of that body. That is, I venture to say, absolutely no excuse at all. I am informed that the list of applications was closed by July 1st. Five months have elapsed since the Act came into operation, yet the Home Secretary has appointed no Inspector though he has several times told us he hoped to be able to do so shortly. I hope he will, but I fancy that unless his energies had been stirred into activity by frequent questions an even longer and more deplorable delay would have occurred.

That is not the only point. An even more serious question to my mind is the totally inadequate number of Inspectors for the work to be done. The regulations are stringent and rightly so, and in order to see that these regulations are enforced the Inspector would not only have to visit the stables where the ponies are kept, but they would have to pass through miles of underground workings and they would have to examine the reports of the horse-keepers. It is possible to imagine what number of Inspectors would be required when I tell the House that according to the latest official return there are no fewer than 3,325 coal mines in the United Kingdom, and there are to be six Inspectors and no more! I have calculated that to secure one annual inspection of each mine each of the six Inspectors will have to inspect more than two mines a day. There is I believe to be but one Inspector for the whole of Scotland, and experts tell me that the number of Inspectors proposed is grossly and ludicrously inadequate, and it will make these regulations so carefully drawn up a perfect sham unless there are more persons appointed to see that they are carried out. The Home Secretary said yesterday in his defence that it was announced by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury in the course of the Debate that there would be six horse Inspectors appointed, and that that was approved by Parliament at the time. I turned to the Debate to see what justification there was for that statement. I find that during the Debate the Financial Secretary, while resisting the appointment of Government Inspectors and while endeavouring to justify the employment of Inspectors nominated and paid by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said this:— I have a communication from the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. George Greenwood) in which he says that the Society feel themselves competent, if this Clause goes through, to begin with to provide one Inspector for each of the divisions. So that the suggestion for providing six Inspectors for the United Kingdom was not for providing six Government Inspectors at all; it was a suggestion from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals that to begin with they would be willing to provide and pay for six Inspectors. On that occasion the House definitely rejected the suggestion of employing private Inspectors, and insisted upon having an adequate number of Government Inspectors. When the Home Secretary was compelled to adopt the views of the House and appoint Government Inspectors, not a single syllable was said as to any limitation of the number of Government Inspectors to be appointed. On the contrary the Home Secretary clearly represented to the House that the number would hi adequate to perform the duties. I moved an Amendment shortly afterwards to the effect that there should be a periodical inspection at least once in every three months of every horse in the mines. What was the answer of the Home Secretary? He said:— I quite agree with the arguments of the hon. Member that the inspection should be more frequently."— He deprecated any hard and fast rule, and went on to say:— I think the hon. and learned Member may rely with confidence, now that we shall have Inspectors who will be Government, servants, that these Inspectors will perform their duties and will have nothing else to do but to inspect. I said that if the right hon. Gentleman would give an assurance that there would be proper periodic inspection in the case of these special Inspectors, I would accept his assurance and withdraw the Amendment, and I withdrew it. The result is this, the Home Secretary agreed to appoint Government Inspectors, and to a proper periodic inspection, and not a word was said limiting the number of Government Inspectors to be appointed, yet now, when we complain of the totally inadequate number, we are referred to some proposal of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to appoint six Inspectors to deal with the matter.


How many do you want?


We want enough for proper inspection, and we are quite satisfied that six is not enough. I appeal to the Home Secretary to carry out the expressed wishes of the House, wishes expressed strongly in the course of the Debates and in Committee upstairs, and to see that there is a proper number of Inspectors to carry out these regulations. If he adheres to his view, all I can say is that there is a grave danger that the expressed views of this House on that Bill may be totally disregarded, and that the regulations which were carefully and anxiously framed for the protection of these unfortunate animals that are working in the mines will become absolutely nugatory.


The hon. and learned Gentleman has always taken a very great interest in the question of ponies in pits, and I quite sympathise with his natural anxiety upon the fact that the Inspectors, whose appointment was promised have not already been appointed. I do not therefore make any complaint of the fact of his raising the question now, but I think I am entitled to say, so far as I can pit my memory against his that his statement of what occurred on the Report stage of the Coal Mines Bill is in truth and substance a travesty of the facts. The history of the case is this. The Royal Commissioners not in their first or second, but in their third Report made recommendations with regard to pit ponies which were embodied in the Bill. It is part of the duty of the ordinary Inspectors, of whom of course there are large numbers, to inspect the ponies and to report any case in which they are not well treated. In the Committee there was an arrangement made by which the ordinary Inspectors of mines should be assisted in carrying out the work by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, who were prepared to place in each district a special Inspector whose whole time should be engaged in assisting the ordinary Inspectors in that branch of their work. That was accepted in Committee as a matter of arrangement between all the parties.

When the Bill came to the House on Report the question was raised, not upon the number of the Inspectors nor upon the capacity of the men who would be employed by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, but upon the question who should pay for these Inspectors, and whether they should be appointed by the Home Office or whether they should be borrowed by the Home Office from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Upon the question of numbers the point was made perfectly clear that it was proposed at the time to make use of the services of one Inspector lent to the Home Office by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals—one Inspector in each district—and that appears quite clearly in the quotation from my right hon. Friend's answer, in which he says that the Society reporting to the House told my hon. Friend (Mr. G. Greenwood) that they were competent if the Clause went through, to begin with, to provide one Inspector for each of the divisions. There are six divisions into which the country is divided at present. In the second Debate later on I said: Through the intervention of my hon. Friend (Mr. G. Greenwood) and of the Society, we are able to give the assurance to the House, that without involving a new charge on the Exchequer an Inspector will be appointed in each district. There is a direct limitation of the number to be appointed to six. The hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Butcher) spoke almost immediately after me in the same Debate, and he said not one word about numbers, but he made a long speech directed solely to the point as to whether these Inspectors should be paid for by the State or by the Society. The victory which he and his friends won was not against the Home Office, not, against my right hon. Friend and myself here, on the question whether we had power to make payment under the Financial Resolution passed in Committee, but the victory was that we agreed that these Inspectors should be public servants.


There was not a word said in the subsequent Debate about six or any other number.


The discussion at the time was as to whether this arrangement with the society should be put aside as regards the question of payment. The House said that it was against the dignity of the public service that we should not pay the servants we employ, and we agreed to pay them. The hon. Member says there never was a, word said about the number being six. The hon. Member himself and the hon. Baronet opposite never raised the slighest objection to the number of six, and I would be exceeding the warrant I received from Parliament if, to begin with, I appointed more than six. So much for the number. I think I have satisfied hon. Members that we have carried out the intention of Parliament. As to the delay, no one deplores it more than I do. A promise was made by my right hon. Friend that in future appointments of mines inspectors the appointments should be made not by a Committee of Selection at the Home Office, but by a Board for Mining Examinations which was to be established. We did not find it in existence when the Act was passed. We had, first of all, to set up the Board for Mining Examinations. We had to constitute the Board and make the rules under which it should work. We had to make arrangements for the appointment of these Inspectors. All these proceedings took a certain amount of time.

Eventually, when we were in a position to receive applications we had no less than 600 applications for these posts. It will be in the recollection of the House that among the charges which have been made against the Government is that they have made certain appointments without careful examination. In this case we had 600 candidates from whom we had to select six individuals. The first examination of the recommendations and qualifications of the candidates resulted in a reduction of the number to 240. A second scrutiny reduced the total to fifty-one candidates who were then each interviewed locally by arrangement with the District Inspectors of mines. On the reports thus obtained the candidates were further reduced, and a sub-committee of the Board has been appointed to interview a number of the candidates locally. That involves visits to the different local centres. These candidates are mainly poor men, and, as it would be unfair to name a particular day on which they were to come to London, members of the Board have gone down to certain local centres to interview them on the spot. There has been no avoidable delay whatever. When it is remembered that the whole machinery of the Board of Examination itself had to be set up, and that we had to deal with such a large number as 600 candidates, it is a most unfair charge to make against the Home Office or the Board that they have delayed in interviewing and testing the candidates. I am now in-informed that they will complete the whole of the work next month, and I hope then to be in a position on their recommendations to make the appointments.


I agree with the right hon. Gentleman as to the general view of the House when the matter was last before it. I do not think he will find any record in the Debate that the Government were limited to any particular number, but undoubtedly the general view was that about a half-dozen would be appointed when the Government had power to carry the matter into effect. I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman that it does seem a very long time in view of the strong expressions of opinion in the House at the time as to the appointment of Inspectors. No doubt it has been necessary to set up a special board, as the right hon. Gentleman has had to bear in mind possible criticism in regard to these as well as other appointments, but the strong sentiment of the House at the time was—against the view of the Government—that these Inspectors should be Government Inspectors, controlled by the Government, and appointed as speedily as possible. There is really more feeling about this matter than the Government are possibly able to appreciate, and there is the feeling that it is absurd to leave it to any outside organisation. The Government have rightly adopted a view in accordance with the general sense of the House, and I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will not lose a single moment in having these Inspectors appointed. I would like to know does it require a special Resolution for these appointments? It was stated by the Financial Secretary that one might be necessary. Has the right hon. Gentleman financial resources at present to pay the Inspectors?


I have now financial resources, because this year they have been put on the Home Office Estimates, which came into operation and became effective after the 1st of April.


When will the first inspection be made?


Immediately after the Inspectors are appointed—I hope next month.


The chief desire of the House was to have Inspectors appointed by the Government and not by a private society. One of the reasons actuating me in making the request was because I thought that the Government would be able to appoint a sufficient number of Inspectors, which would be more than six, as everybody looks on that number as insufficient. A small society like the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals could not appoint more than a very small number. If the right hon. Gentleman will look at the last part of the Debate he will see that it was the intention of the House that a larger number of Inspectors should be appointed, and I think he will find he said that if the matter was left to the Government they would do it in an efficient manner. Everybody admits that six Inspectors are not enough.


All the Inspectors will do this work.


To the best of my recollection we thought that these other Inspectors were not fitted to do the work. You want to have some knowledge of horses which these other Inspectors do not possess. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will see that it is the desire of the House that there should be a sufficient number of Inspectors appointed and appointed quickly.


As the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has been mentioned, I may state that it was their offer to appoint a certain number of Inspectors; but I would like to make quite clear what their position really was. Their position all along was that they urged the Government to appoint Inspectors. They said that if the Government could not see their way to appoint Inspectors at any rate up to the number of six, one for each district, they would get nothing done. I quite agree that it was never said on behalf of the Government that they would appoint more than six; it was understood, I think, that would be the number to begin with. I do think, however, that it has been pretty clearly shown that six will be an inadequate number, and I hope that as time goes on the Government will see their way to increase the number, seeing what a large number of mines there are. I perfectly agree that nothing was said in the Debate to pledge the Government to appoint more than six. I hope in future the Government will see their way to double the number.


I thought when the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) rose it would be in his usual capacity of custodian of the public purse, and I was rather astonished to hear him ask for an exaggerated number of appointments. I should have thought that the mine owners and men would be expected to see that the present Inspectors do their duty effectively. No hon. Member opposite has the courage to say how many Inspectors he wants, and hon. Gentlemen are always upbraiding the Government for multiplying officials. Except the hon. Baronet, who does not go to by elections, they go through the country blaming the Radical Government for appointing so many officials. I have no faith in the multiplication of officials, not even on this question of putting down cruelty to pit ponies, and that object can be accomplished by a full determination on the part of the masters and men to see that the present Inspectors effectively perform their duties, and to ask for more Inspectors is simply a sign of degeneration on the part of the community.

Adjourned accordingly at Seventeen Minutes before Twelve o'Clock.