§ Mr. GEORGE BARKER
My story is not quite so sensational as the story which we have had from the Home Secretary, but it is a very sad story. I wish to bring to the notice of the Secretary for the Mines Department the condition of the mining areas of Monmouthshire. I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for coming here to hear my statement. There is a colliery known as the Blaina, which belongs to the Ebbw Vale Company, and employs about 1,500 men. It is the only means of employment in that particular area. The area is one of the most unfortunate areas with regard to employment in the whole country. Now, the owners of this colliery have given their men notice that they propose 1565 to close it. As a result, the inhabitants of the district have been filled with apprehension, and the whole community is threatened with disaster. The pit is a modern one. It has been sunk within the last five years. It is equipped with the very best appliances and machinery, and one wonders why this company has selected this particular colliery for closing down. The company owns about 20 collieries, yet they propose to close this one colliery upon which a whole community depend for their livelihood. My purpose in raising the question is to ask the Secretary for Mines to use his influence to try to avert the closing of this colliery. I suggest to him that the company should share their trade with all the collieries they own. To select one colliery, and that the only colliery in a district, for closing down, is to ruin absolutely the whole of that community. In the district there are many business men who have had to close their shops, and there are many others who are on the point of ruin.
I wish also to draw attention to another colliery which is being closed by the same company at Abercarn. This colliery, like the Blaina colliery, employs about 1,500 men and boys. It is an old colliery in one sense, but in another sense it is a new colliery. Within the last seven or eight years this company sunk a new shaft and equipped it with the latest modern machinery. The closing of this colliery will have something like the same effect upon this district as the closing of the pit in the Blaina district. Let me say a word in reference to Abertillery, which is a town with a population of about 30,000. A large amount of unemployment exists in this area. The colliery there, which usually employs about 800 men and boys, has been equipped with modern machinery, but it has never been worked since it was re-equipped. The policy adopted by companies of closing collieries for long periods is most disastrous for the people dependent upon them, and the suffering which arises from the present depression in the coal mining industry is accentuated by selecting particular collieries for closing down.
I do not want to deal with controversial questions like nationalisation, but I would suggest that companies should share their trade with all their collieries. It is most unfair to select 1566 particular collieries for closing down. It brings terrible misery on the people who are affected, and it can be obviated. There is no reason why a company owning all these pits cannot share their trade among the pits and give everyone a chance of earning something during these terrible times. I strongly appeal to the Secretary for Mines to use his influence in this direction. The condition of this area is terrible in the extreme. It has been described by the Minister of Health as the worst area in the country. The rates are 27s. in the £, and the assessments have been increased 40 per cent. since 1914. There are large numbers of boys and youths in this area who have not worked since they left school. I hope the Secretary for Mines will give his special attention to this question, and do something to mitigate the misery which exists in these particular areas.
§ The SECRETARY for MINES (Colonel Lane Fox)
The hon. Member who has raised this question need have no doubt at all that he will have the sympathy of everyone when he describes the conditions existing in these areas. No one who knows anything about mining districts and what happens when a pit closes, the one source of the industry and wealth and prosperity of the little community, can doubt the real tragedy it is, and no one can contemplate anything of this sort without feeling the deepest and fullest sympathy. With regard to the first colliery the hon. Member mentioned, he only gave me notice of the subject a short time ago, and I have had no opportunity of getting any information about it. However, I will make inquiries into that matter. As regards the other two cases, I have received information about them in the ordinary way, and, in both cases, the reason given for the closing of the pits was want of trade. I am afraid I have no power to make a colliery company open its pits if it does not pay them to do so, and the fact remains that it is obviously more economical to work a certain number of pits full-time rather than a larger number of pits short time. If a colliery company feels that it can do better by working a smaller number of its pits during this time of depression, I am afraid it will be somewhat difficult for me to say anything which will induce them to change their decision. In each 1567 case we are informed that they hope it is only a temporary closing. I hope things will improve in the near future and that the closing of these pits is only for a temporary period. No owner of a pit would deliberately close it out of wickedness—
§ Colonel LANE FOX
The greatest safeguard against pits being unnecessarily closed is the heavy loss which that would entail. That is, in my opinion, a very effective safeguard. I need hardly say that any influence I can bring to persuade colliery owners to keep their pits open shall be used in that direction, but I consider that it is absolutely unnecessary for me to do so. The average colliery owner knows the great loss and distress which is caused to the community by the closing of a pit, and also the loss which is entailed on the company, and on that account they are strongly opposed
§ to any unnecessary closing of a pit. I am sorry I cannot say more than this at the moment, but the hon. Member only gave me a very short notice that he intended to raise this matter. That is about all I can say at the moment.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time, put, and agreed to."
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Commander Eyres Monsell.]