HC Deb 08 April 1927 vol 204 cc2511-3

Order for Second Beading read.


I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

This is a Bill which is intended to repeal the Eight Hours Act of last year. I am placed to-day in a very much similar position to that I was in last year with the Workmen's Compensation Bill, in that I am called upon in the last few minutes of the sitting, which does not give me or the House much opportunity for the dicussion of this important question. But I may say that, in my opinion, of all the crimes of the Government, and they are many, there is not one which I look upon with such concern as I did the passing of the Eight Hours Act of last year. It was never asked for by the people. There was no desire for it by the public. There was not a single mine-worker who desired to see Parliament extend his working day. It was only the coalowners who desired it, and as the Government were the servants of the coalowners all through the lock-out, they naturally passed the Act. I may say to the Government and to the House that they will never be forgiven for the passing of that Act, and it will never be for gotten by the mining industry. If we cannot get it repealed to-day, we shall keep alive the agitation for all time, every day, every week and every month until this House sees fit to remove the Act from the Statute Book.

The lives of miners are as important as the lives of any other section of the community. When that Act was passed we knew it was likely that more men and boys would be killed. In answer to questions the Secretary for Mines has given us facts sufficient to justify that contention. He has told us that during the working of the Eight Hours Act, from 1910 to 1918, inclusive, 1,407 men and boys were killed every year, and that during the period of the Seven Hours Act, from 1920 to 1925, rather more than 1,100 men and boys were killed each year. That shows that 260 lives were saved every year as a result of the passing of the Seven Hours Act. We feel that Parliament ought never to have taken a step which means that on every working day an additional man or boy is likely to be killed; and knowing that, and having such concern for the safety of our men and boys, we feel that at the earliest possible moment this Act should be repealed. Not only were lives saved, but during the five years when the Seven Hours Act was operating there were 500 fewer serious non-fatal accidents every year.

No Britisher who loves his country desires to sec it lagging behind the other countries of the world; and seeing that the Samuel Commission reported that if we increased the hours to eight a day our men would be working from half an hour to an hour longer than the miners of any other European country, I feel certain that the people of this country would wish the Government to repeal this Act. In view of their action in introducing a Bill for the abolition of trade unions I have not much hope of their repentance. In my last word, just on the stroke of the hour, I promise them that if they are not prepared to retract their steps there is no hope for them in mining areas, and that what happened to the Prime Minister at Cwm under very distressing conditions, under the shadow of a great bereavement, will happen with ten times more effect if he visits any other mining area. The feeling of the miners is bitter on this question and it will continue bitter and that is why we say we will use every means in our power to see that the Act is removed from the Statute Book. I have sufficient faith to believe that Parliament will do it, that it is here where the hopes of the miners should be. Even in the new non-political union, every miner is as strongly in favour of the repeal of the Act as are other miners.

It being Four of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.