§ Mr. BATEY
I beg to move, "That this House do now adjourn."
I move the Adjournment of the House in order to draw attention to a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, the failure of the Government to prosecute certain coal owners for breaches of the Mines Eight Hours Act by the continuous employment underground of a boy on three occasions for more than 16 hours per day. I put a question to the Secretary for Mines to-day on this subject, and not only was I amazed at the reply, but the whole of the Members on these benches were amazed. The first intimation that I gave to the Minister of this particular case, so far as my memory 1071 serves me, was four or five weeks ago, when I received the complaint. I did not receive a reply, and not having received a reply I put down a question for to-day, and received an answer. May I refresh the memory of the House by reading the question and the reply? The question was in these terms:To ask the Secretary for Mines, if he has received any complaint that boys under 16 years of age have been kept down the pits in Durham for 16 hours per day; whether he has inquired into the complaint; and can he give the result of his inquiries.The answer given by the Minister was as follows:Yes, Sir. A complaint of this kind was recently sent to me by the hon. Member, and I have had it investigated. It was found that on three occasions during January and February a boy had been kept to work the second shift on account of the absence of other boys through illness. The management considered that the circumstances constituted an emergency which made it lawful for them to take this course, but, consequent on representations made to them by my Department, they have agreed not to adopt this method of meeting the difficulty in future.When the Minister was pressed as to whether he proposed to take any action against the coal owners for a breach of the Mines Act, he told us very clearly and distinctly that, seeing that they had promised not to repeat the offence in future he did not intend to prosecute the owners. Might I point out to the Minister so far as his reply is concerned that the excuse of the employers that they had to keep this boy on double shift because of the illness of other boys, is no excuse. Those who are acquainted with coal mines know that if on the second shift boys do not turn up for work, there is an abundance of others who can do the work and who can be employed.
One thing which this House definitely intended when it passed the Eight Hours Act was that boys should not be kept underground more than eight hours per day. This complaint refers to the Tursdale Colliery, in the County of Durham. The complaint came to me that a boy—in the question I stated that he is under 16 years of age—15 years of age, went down the pit at four o'clock in the morning and did not come out of the pit until a quarter past eight that night. That is not all the story, because after the boy had worked in the pit from four in the morning until 1072 a quarter past eight in the evening, he was at work again at four o'clock next morning. It is a very serious state of affairs for a boy of 15 years of age to work such long hours, especially when we remember that there are so many accidents amongst boys in the coal pits. A question was put to the present Secretary for Mines by the hon. Member for Walls-end (Miss Bondfield) on the 13th March, and I would like to refresh the memory of the Minister in regard to that question and the answer. The hon. Member for Wallsend asked for the number of boys employed in the coal mines between the ages of 14 and 16, and the number of fatal and non-fatal accidents respectively occurring in this age group in the year 1927. The answer was:The total number of boys of this age killed during 1927 was 37 and the total number seriously injured, 264. I regret that the particulars of the number less seriously injured during 1927 are not yet available, but during 1925, when 51,700 boys were employed, the total number of seriously injured and less seriously injured was about 9,200."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th March, 1928; col. 170.75, Vol. 214.]That is a very sad state of affairs, but can we wonder at such a heavy list of boys being killed and injured when we have boys of 15 years of age, mere children, sent down the coal pit at 4 o'clock in the morning and kept down until 8.15 p.m., and going back to work at 4 o'clock next morning? I would like to call attention to a Clause in the Coal Mines Regulation Act, 1908, which puts very clearly and distinctly what the House of Commons had in mind when it passed the Eight Hours Act. Clause 1 says:Subject to the provisions of this Act, a workman shall not be below ground in a mine for the purpose of his work and of going to and from his work for more than eight hours during any consecutive 24 hours.Clause 7 says:If a workman is below ground for a longer period during any consecutive 24 hours than the time fixed by this Act, lie shall be deemed to have been below ground in contravention of this Act, unless the contrary is proved.We complain that the Minister refuses to prosecute the employers in this case. We believe that the answer of the Minister simply means that there is one law for the employer and another law 1073 for the workman. The Minister must have fresh in his mind the fact that hundreds of our men were not only prosecuted during 1926 but sent to prison for the most trivial reasons. One of my own local secretaries in my division, because he was a local official and out on a march during the dispute was sent to prison for a month's hard labour. That was the only crime he had committed. There ought not to be one law for the employer and another law for the worker. If this boy of 15 years of age had committeed a breach of the Act, if he had had, for instance, a match in his pocket and it had been found upon him, he would have been taken to Court and fined. When that happens in the case of a workman then, surely, when the employers are guilty they ought not to escape. The impression made on our minds is that since 1926 the employers consider that they have the Government behind them and that they can treat these Acts of Parliament as mere scraps of paper.
One of the common complaints in our colliery districts is that there are other Acts of Parliament which the employers are continually breaking, especially the Minimum Wage Act. One hears innumerable complaints that the employers are continually breaking the Minimum Wage Act. The trouble with us is that your men dare not complain. They are in a different position from the position which they occupied in 1926. If before 1926 an employer broke an Act of Parliament, whether it was the Mines Act or the Minimum Wage Act, our men would complain and feel secure in making the complaint, but to-day they dare not do it. To make a complaint to-day simply means losing their employment. The complaint with respect to this particular boy came to me from a man who dared not give his name, and I dared not allow the man's writing to be seen, lest he should be detected, in which case it would have meant his dismissal. There is great need for the Government to protect our men, and when there is a clear breach of the Mines Act, as in this case, they ought not to hesitate to prosecute the employer.
I believe that eight hours a day is too long for a boy to be down a pit. [An HON. MEMBER: "Or to work above ground!"] Above ground, boys cannot 1074 start work until six o'clock in the morning, but they can be sent underground, as in this case, at four o'clock in the morning. I started work down the pit the first day after I was 12 years years of age, and my recollections of those years make me very enthusiastic in my support of boys and my claim that they should work as few hours as possible underground. Now that the Government have taken the step, with which we disagree, of saving that boys shall work eight hours, we do think that they should protect those boys and say that they shall not be called upon to work 16 hours, day and night. It is in order to call attention to the fact that the Secretary for Mines does not intend to prosecute the employers that I move the Motion.
§ Mr. WHITELEY
I beg to second the Motion.
The protection of the lads in the mines ought to be the concern of every one in this House. When the Secretary for Mines gave his reply to a question today, I think it was a surprise to everyone, at least on this side of the House, and I should think to many of the Minister's supporters on the other side of the House. Particularly is it essential that the miners and boys working underground should have the special protection of the Mines Department at this time. We have not to-day the same facilities for protecting our men and lads as we had in days past. There is among the coalowners, in spite of what is said on the other side from time to time, a spirit of animosity and venom. There is in the minds of the coalowners a determination to get their full pound of flesh and to prevent us from having the facilities for taking care of our people that we have enjoyed in the past. In days past we had the opportunity of appointing men of our own to go on to the pit bank and to watch the men who were descending to see the time that they were descending, and to check the times when they ascended.
To-day we have not those facilities. The employers are using all the power they have to divide us into two sections. They are trying to break the powers of the Miners' Federation, and to give all assistance possible to other kinds of organisations which have not the same understanding of our people, in order that our people may be victimised even more than they are to-day. It is because 1075 of this lack of understanding, this lack of the provision of the necessary facilities to assist our men and boys, that we are asking the Minister to consider carefully the Acts of Parliament governing the mines of the country, and to see that if the owners will not allow us to have the inspection that we used to have, the Government inspectors face the responsibility that they ought to face in connection with the working life of the men and lads. It cannot be said that sickness can be brought into the category of "emergency." As a matter of fact, there is sickness in all kinds of occupations, but there is no employer to-day who would consider that the sickness of a lad justified him in using that as an emergency in order to extend or double the shift of another lad who was working in the same factory or mine.
The Act of Parliament provides for cases of emergency. If there is an unusual or very big fall that has to be moved in order to make the working places ready for the next shift, of course men are called upon by the manager, as that is an emergency. Men can be called upon to work longer time to remove that fall, or if there is any breakage in the mines in connection with the haulage of tubs, if the way is torn up by accident—all those things are provided for in the Act of Parliament as cases of emergency, and the manager has the power to call upon men to work additional time in order to get these things rectified, so that the colliery can go on working. But never in our history have we heard of a case of sickness being called an emergency. Therefore, we say definitely that Section 7 of the Coal Mines Regulation Act ought to have been put into operation by the Minister when his attention was called to this particular case. Clause 7 says:A person guilty of an offence under this, Act, for which a special penalty is not provided, shall, in respect of each offence, he liable, on summary conviction, if he is the owner, agent, or manager of the mine, to a fine not exceeding £2, and in any other case to a fine not exceeding 10s.As my hon. Friend has said, if a workman commits any offence under the Coal Mines Regulation Act or the Eight Hours Act, he has no option; he has to "go through it." If strong action is not taken in this particular case this kind of 1076 thing will spread. It is quite possible that it may be spreading already, because we have not the same facilities for checking as we had previously. The time has come when the Minister should make himself a really useful Member of the Government by compelling the coal-owners of the country to face their responsibilities, by seeing that this kind of thing cannot occur again in future, and that the victimisation under which our people are suffering to-day is not allowed to extend. If the Secretary for Mines will do that, he will do a service to the country.
§ The SECRETARY for MINES (Commodore Douglas King)
In the first place let me say that I was very grateful indeed to the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) for bringing this case to my attention, as he did in a letter on 17th February. I thanked him for it at the time, and I only regret now that he has to complain that he has not received a personal reply, following my investigation. I explained to him that it was the first information we had, and I instigated inquiries straight away. Those inquiries have taken a considerable time. After the first report from the inspector a period of a fortnight or more was allowed to elapse, and a second inspection was then made. Therefore, before the matter could be taken up by my Department and with the owners, a considerable time passed. But I do apologise to the hon. Gentleman that I have not been able up to now to send him a written reply to his letter. I would like to read a part of the Act which both of the hon. Members who have spoken have so far omitted. It is agreed that the Coal Mines Regulation Act of 1908 lays it down that, subject to the provisions of the Act, a workman shall not be below ground for more than eight hours during any consecutive 24 hours. That is in Section I. But Sub-section (2) of that Section says:No contravention of the foregoing provisions shall he deemed to take place in the case of a workman working in a shift if the period between the times at which the last workman in the shift leaves the surface and the first workman in the shift returns to the surface does not exceed eight hours; nor shall any contravention of the foregoing provisions be deemed to take place in the case of any workman who is below ground for the purpose of rendering assistance in the event of accident … or for dealing with any emergency or work uncompleted through unforeseen circumstances which re- 1077 quires to be dealt with without interruption in order to avoid serious interference with ordinary work in the mine or in any district of the mine.Those are the words of Sub-section (2) of Section 1, under which the owners consider that they were exempted from the provisions of that Act. With regard to the case itself, I understand, not of course that this is the same boy who was employed on three different occasions, but that there were three separate occasions on which a boy was kept over from one shift to another owing to the sickness of boys coming on and the inability to continue the work of the mine unless some additional assistance was brought in. As far as I am concerned at the Ministry I am certainly going to see that these Regulations are carried out strictly—most certainly. I will even go so far as to say that I regret, from the humanitarian standpoint, that boys work below ground at all; but as we find the industry at the present time we know that it is a long-standing custom for boys to go down the pits quite early, and that, sometimes under their fathers or brothers, they work below until they become miners. So long as that custom exists, and so long as boys are allowed to go down pits, I believe they will go down; but I agree that it is most essential that the welfare of those boys should be looked after as far as is possible. That is done by His Majesty's Inspectors of Mines when they go round to the pits.
Perhaps I can best explain the position that was taken by the owners by reading the report which was sent in reply to the Chief Inspector's letter. Within two days of receiving the hon. Member's letter one of the Inspectors of Mines visited the pit and went into the whole question. That was followed by other inspections. The Chief Inspector wrote to the owners and took up the case with them, and asked for their explanation. He received a reply from the owners on 2nd March. With their reply the owners sent a copy of their mine manager's report on the occurrence, and I think it will be to the convenience of the House if I read the following extract:In the case of N. Fortune, one of the boys. A number of men and boys were off work in the pit through illness, and no one was available to do the work without keeping the boy in question. It was imperative to get the coal off the coal cutting face so as not to interfere with roof control. 1078 Failure to clean up probably meant actual danger to the next shift coming in. It may be mentioned that the back over-man was driving at the same time, so that the emergency was real.It will be seen from that that the back overman had to be driving at the same time to get the coal clear.
§ Commodore KING
I hope hon. Members will listen to me. I am trying to put the case clearly and I am not trying to hide anything. The Report goes on:In the case of the other two buys who worked an auxiliary haulage winch in the fore and back shift, again so many other employés were absent through sickness that no one else was available, and the alternative to keeping the boys back would have been to lay the district idle. Again there appears to be an emergency.That is the reply of the owners to the question put to them by the Inspector of Mines. They claim that under the Exemption Section of the Act that I have read, they were legally entitled to keep those boys back for the purposes of an emergency.
§ Mr. HARDIE
Under those circumstances was there no one employed at the coal face who would have done the duty of the boy?
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Commodore KING
No, Sir. From the Report that I have read there was apparently no one else available, as even the back over-man was doing work which was not his work in the ordinary way. That being so, it seems clear that there was no one else available to do that particular work. I think it is quite clear that there were not sufficient men available. The wording of the Act is not very closely drawn, and I cannot help thinking that the owners may have had some excuse for thinking that such a state, where they could not clear the coal away from the face and where the work in that district would otherwise have stopped, came under the exemption which provides for dealing with "work uncompleted through unforeseen circumstances which requires to be dealt with without interruption in order to avoid serious interference with ordinary work in the mine or in any district of the mine." I am not suggesting for one minute that that is the legal interpretation of that Section. All that I am saying is, that I consider, 1079 speaking without any prejudice, that there was an excuse anyhow, for that view being taken. Our inspector did not agree with that view, and, after considerable discussion with the owners, he managed to convince them that his view was right and obtained a promise from them that in the future they would most certainly not deal with a similar situation by keeping boys back. I should like also to mention, as the hon. Member's Motion is a sort of censure on me for not prosecuting, that I have, naturally, to take a certain amount of advice and guidance from those who directly deal with these matters. I should like to read to the House an extract from the report of the Senior Inspector who inspected the mine and who also communicated with and spoke to the owners. He said:I came to the conclusion that they"—that is the manager and agent—held the view quite honestly that on the dates mentioned, because of the particular circumstances in the district in question a real emergency existed and that in keeping the boys for a double shift they were not contravening the provisions of the Eight Hours Act.He suggests that there were some grounds for that belief and goes on to say:The district is an isolated one. Old pillars are being extracted longwall, the coal being undercut by machine, and experience has shown that any failure to maintain the regular cycle of operations on the faces results in dangerous conditions.Holding that view, and having obtained the promise of the owners that they would waive their view altogether and the definite promise that they would not do it again, it did not strike the Department in the first place, and it does not strike me now, that it is really a suitable case for prosecution. I will tell the hon. Member why. There are certain duties laid upon the Department of Mines and upon the Secretary for Mines to see that the Acts are carried out. I think hon. Members will agree that it is no good whatever for a Department light-heartedly to take up prosecutions which might fail when they came before the Court. This would he a legal question, the owners claiming that they were exempt in a state of emergency. It is as likely as not, in a case of this kind, that the decision would have gone 1080 against the Minister in favour of the owners. [Interruption.] Hon. Members have really no right to say what decision would have been given. There was a grave doubt as to which way a decision would be given. When we had already accomplished what was desired, that was to see that the offence would not be repeated, if offence it be, when we had already ensured that it should not again take place, I did not think that it was a proper case in which to take proceedings against the owners.
§ Mr. WHITELEY
Can we have the decision of the Chief Inspector after he had had these communications?
§ Commodore KING
He concurred. I take the responsibility for it. I am not speaking for the Chief Inspector or for the Department; I am stating my own view in regard to the decision to which I have come. With regard to the suggestion made in the two speeches which we have heard and which was also mentioned at Question Time to-day, that there is one law for the owners and another for the employés, it may interest the House to hear how the position actually stood during the year 1927 with regard to prosecutions taken by the Mines Department against owners, agents, managers, and under-managers. There were 176 charges made by the Mines Department against these people. From those 176 charges we obtained 142 convictions; 16 cases were withdrawn; and 18 cases were dismissed by the Courts. It certainly shows that the Department is hardly lax in dealing with the coalowners when one realises that those 176 prosecutions were taken against a body representing perhaps less than 7,000 people. That is certainly a fairly heavy percentage, and, I think, shows that my Department is not overlooking offences as they come along.
There is another side of the picture. It was put to me to-day that my Department would not hesitate to prosecute a miner whereas it refused to prosecute an owner. I have made inquiries, and, as far as I can gather, certainly over three years back, not a single working miner has been prosecuted by my Department. [Interruption.] I am not saying anything unfair. I am merely stating that an accusation was brought against, my Department. These prosecutions were 1081 taken by my Department against mine-owners, managers and so on, but no prosecution, as far as I can gather, has been taken by my Department against a working miner during the past few years, the reason being that prosecutions of miners who commit offences in the mines are mostly taken by the owners. [Interruption.] I am only drawing the distinction, because at Question Time to-day it was my Department which was accused. I think hon. Members know quite well that in the ordinary course of events the owners are expected to take disciplinary action against people who offend against Mines Regulations and so on. It is more especially for the Mines Department to see that the mine-owners and those immediately liable under them are kept up to the mark and that they keep within the Act. The total prosecutions taken by mine-owners—I have stated that out of less than 7,000 owners, managers, etc., there were 176 prosecutions—in respect of nearly 1,000,000 mine workers last year numbered about 800. Hon. Members will realise that the proportion of prosecutions is nothing like as great as it is in regard to the mine-owners—I think it is nearly 140 to one as against the mine-owners.
§ Commodore KING
Hon. Members, in dealing with these questions, are a little unfair sometimes, and therefore, I am trying to put what I think is a true picture. Out of these 800 charges which the mine-owners had to bring against the miners, 218 were in respect of contraventions relating to matches and smoking. All hon. Members connected with the mining industry will admit that these are very serious offences indeed. One hundred and forty-three of the prosecutions were for carrying timber, tools, etc., in the cage while ascending. Hon. Members opposite know that that is strictly against the rules and is one of the ways in which removals from the mines are prevented. I only mention these figures in order to defend my Department against the accusation made to-day that they are overlooking offences by the owners and are very hard on the miners.
I can assure hon. Members opposite that as regards all these questions I in- 1082 tend to deal with them as firmly as I possibly can. I believe that firmness is necessary, but at no time do I intend to be vindictive or unfair either to owners or to workmen. I am independent and have to take a fair-minded view of the whole thing, and it is left to my discretion to say in these different cases whether I consider that a particular case is a proper one for prosecution or not. Not wishing to be vindictive, and as there was a doubt as to the legal position in this case, and as we had already received the definite assurance that these boys would not be kept on over other shifts in future, I considered that it was not necessary to prosecute and that we had already achieved our object.
§ Mr. LUNN
The latter part of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's speech was very interesting but it was beside the mark and away from the case that has been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey). He has raised the case of a boy who was called upon to work not on one occasion, but on several occasions for 16 hours a day.
§ Mr. LUNN
One can understand a first offender being treated as a first offender, but when an offence happens on a number of occasions one cannot understand the expression of the hon. and gallant Gentleman that he intends to carry out these Regulations as strictly as possible. If those people who have been guilty of the robbery in Hatton Garden are first offenders, if this is the first time that they have ever stolen anything, I suppose he would agree that the law should excuse them because they have never been convicted of such a thing before. That is really what the hon. and gallant Gentleman has said from that Box to-night; that because this colliery have carried out this particular thing with regard to a boy they should not be prosecuted. But they have carried it out on many occasions! They have broken the Act on many occasions.
I do not think there is any excuse whatever, even at this moment, for passing over the question of a prosecution. I know that His Majesty's inspector went to the colliery office, and, of course, 1083 we know, as many miners know, what the position is when His Majesty's inspector sometimes goes to the colliery office. We do not know what was said in the colliery office, but we do know from the hon. and gallant Gentleman that he secured a promise that it should not happen again. They have violated the law on several occasions, but because he has secured a promise that it shall not happen again the Minister is not going to prosecute. This sort of thing would not happen in the ordinary affairs of life. I am going to say, as one who went to work in the pit at 12 years of age and who has no pleasant memories of my boyhood life in the pit—the worst part of a boy's life is when he has to work in the pit—that I would have no mercy on employers—and I am as gentle as most people—who kept a boy down a pit for more than 16 hours in one day. I do not think that the Mines Department ought to be doing what they are doing to-night and defending employers who are violating the Act and who have so little humanity in them that they have a boy under 16 years of age for more than 16 hours underground on several occasions. This sort of thing cannot be justified in any respectable company in the world, and as it is breaking the law I appeal to the hon. and gallant Gentleman to put the law into operation.
§ Commodore KING
I am sure the hon. Member does not wish to be unfair. He has repeated several times that the owners were breaking the law. There is no proof of the rupture of the law. That is what I have said. They claimed that they were within the law, and there being that doubt I think they are entitled to it.
§ Mr. LUNN
The law says that a boy shall not work underground for more than eight hours, except under certain conditions. The Courts should decide that point. It is not for the hon. and gallant Gentleman to say what is the law, any more than it is for me, and it is not for him to come and repeat parrot like the answers which the employers have told him to give. His Department should inquire into these things more thoroughly than it does. There is another point in connection with this matter. I do not know whether this boy was a pony 1084 driver or not, it is not said. Let us take it that he was a pony driver, then the pit pony was working 16 hours as well. That is a matter which might also be inquired into. One of the first speeches I made in this House was in defence of pit ponies, and it is important for us to know how long the pit pony was worked. I think it is Mr. Bernard Shaw who says, "Ladies and gentlemen may have friends in their kennels but not in their kitchens." There is no doubt that bon. Members in all parts of the House have friends who cannot speak to them in human fashion, and no one wants to see dumb animals treated unfairly and unwisely. If hon. Members opposite have no consideration for the wellbeing of the human individual—they have been ready to vote for any sort of treatment for the men and the boys working in the industry—I think they should have some consideration for the animals engaged in the industry. I suggest that this is a matter which the hon. and gallant Gentleman should watch very closely and upon which he should make some inquiry. I hope he is going to reverse his decision and make an example of the employers on this occasion. They may not be the only people who are doing it. I hope that even this Government will take steps to stop boys and animals being treated in this way by employers.
§ Mr. LAWSON
The answer of the hon. and gallant Member, in effect, was this, that the manager of the colliery admitted that on three occasions he had employed this boy longer than he ought to have done, but he claimed that it was a case of emergency and the hon. and gallant Gentleman says that there was a doubt as to what would have happened if the matter had gone into Court. I say that there is no emergency which can justify a boy of 15 years of age being kept at work for 16 hours a day, and I do not think there is any doubt as to the course the Secretary for Mines should have taken in a case where the offence has been repeated three times. In the Mines Act there is nothing which would lead any manager to believe that a boy could be employed in this way in any ease of emergency. I remember reading the discussions which took place at the time when the Act was passed, and the only emergency in the minds of hon. Members was an accident of a particular kind 1085 which might render it necessary for longer hours to be worked. There was nothing of that on this occasion; and what makes the situation worse is that in every colliery in this county, as in most counties, there are large groups of boys of this age who cannot get work. The work which was done by this boy of 15 years of age could have been undertaken by some other boy or miner. The hon. and gallant Member says that one of the chief officers was actually working at this time. All I can say is that any other boy or miner could have done the simple work that was being done by this boy, and in any case there was no emergency which could be justified in any Court for employing a boy for 16 hours.
The hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) pointed out that men and boys hesitated to take on work in these circumstances, and I can assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that during the past year there have been complaints on the part of men and boys with regard to a loosening of the regulations, but they dare not lay their complaints in the proper way. That is the situation in the mines to-day. I have heard the men say that they dare not insist upon the application of the legal minimum wage. That is a very serious situation for any industry, but it is the position in the mining industry to-day; and if the Government does not protect men and boys by insisting on the regulations being carried out there is very little hope for them under present conditions. When we compare the hours worked in the coal mines here with the hours worked in other countries we are told that they work the same hours, or less than we do, on paper but that they do not carry out the regulations which govern the industry. Here is an instance of a boy 15 years of age working 16 hours in the mines. The manager admits that he did so on three occasions. If the law of this country is broken to this extent we cannot point the finger of scorn at other countries who do not carry out their laws and regulations. I hope we have heard the last on that subject.
We do not want to be vicious in regard to the managers of collieries, but when it comes to boys of this age working these long hours the House should insist that the Secretary for Mines should see that those who are responsible are carrying 1086 out the law or take proper steps to bring them to the Court and have them dealt with in a proper way. That is our point of view. If many Members of this House had, as boys, worked a double shift in the mines, as some of us have done; if they had worked even 10 or 12 hours in the mine, then, I am sure this House on all sides would insist upon the Secretary for Mines seeing that these regulations were carried out. They would insist upon the Mines Department taking this manager into Court so that he might he dealt with in the proper way, instead of allowing him to ride off on the excuse of an emergency. The Secretary for Mines and those advising him should carry out the law in this case, as it would have been carried out, had the case been one against a mineworker.
§ Mr. R. RICHARDSON
I heard with amazement the Secretary for Mines making out a case for these owners. I am sure that the colliery manager has played upon the fact that the hon. and gallant Gentleman does not know anything about the matter. It is too much to ask us to accept a story such as has been told to the Secretary for Mines. We merely laugh it to scorn. To say that a pit is going to be thrown idle because a boy of 15 years of age is not kept at work in this way is absurd. All that these people have to do was to call in another man and nothing of consequence would have occurred. We know too much of the sort of thing that is going on. We know of the things that are being done with impunity in our mines by those who, on the slightest opportunity would take a miner or a boy before a court of justice for the smallest offence. I wish to tell the Secretary for Mines that he must not rely on stories like this. Many of us here who have had 40 years' experience of the mining industry can tell him something different. As some of my hon. Friends have been pointing out, the miners at the present time need protection. Thanks to the Government the miners to-day are in the position of being "down and out" and cannot take their own part. Men are forced into the position of having to walk the streets without work for no crime at all. They are simply told they are surplus.
That is what is happening in the mining areas, and if the miners have not 1087 the protection of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's Department then bad as their state is to-day, it is going to be worse in the future. At the present time the situation in many places is such that no mine-worker dare say anything at all in the way of complaint. The man or boy knows only too well that if he mentions a complaint his work will be taken from him. There was another point mentioned by the Secretary for Mines which was of vastly more importance even than the question of the boys being kept for 16 hours. To take away a man who is presumably responsible for the safety of the pit, and to put him to do a boy's work and to leave everything else to take care of itself, is a very serious matter. Some of us who have been miners know how these things happen and I have seen a young boy taken into Court and sentenced to a month's imprisonment for doing things which others had done only the day before. In the present state of things, if the hon. Gentleman will not take steps to protect the miners, what is going to happen to them when they are at the mercy of vindictive people who can do all these things? There are people in this House who assume that the coal-owner is an ordinary employer of labour but my experience has been to the contrary. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) has said that he does not want to be vicious but the position that is being disclosed here makes me more vicious than I have ever felt in my life.
I ask the hon. Gentleman to do something for those who are compelled to live under such awful circumstances as we find in our mining districts. Let him do his duty and see to it that the miner is protected. He is the only man who can do so. The miners cannot protect themselves, because the Government have dragged them down and placed them in a position where they can scarcely call their souls their own. If the hon. Gentleman is going to leave them at the mercy of these people, they will be dragged down still further. The Government have done their best to cripple the miners' power by the Trade Unions Act and in other ways, but if the law is to be broken with impunity by the colliery owners, then the Minister will have more 1088 deaths and more accidents to record when the next Report of his Department is presented to this House. The Government have left our men without the power or the means of defending their own rights. It the Government do not protect the men against this kind of thing, then the day will come when they will regret that they did not take some action. I plead with the Secretary for Mines to do the right thing by these men. I plead with him to do his duty in this case and to let us have the matter tested in a Court in the proper way, and to have it laid down that a mere boy of this kind is not to be kept at work in a pit for 16 hours.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
I direct the attention of the Secretary for Mines to three important statements which he has made. First, on the question of emergency he has suggested that a Section of the Act has been drawn loosely and can be interpreted so as to imply that on this occasion an emergency had arisen, justifying the company in keeping this 15-year-old boy employed for 16 hours continuously. As the last speaker has truly said, nobody would ever dare to assert to people with practical experience that there could be such a thing as an emergency necessitating the retention of a boy of that age for 16 hours in the pit. We know the explanation because in days gone by we have suffered in similar circumstances. The reason why a boy of that age is kept in a pit for a double-shift is simply because they are too mean to employ an older person whose wages would be a shilling or two more than the boy's wages. By no stretch of the imagination, and by the exercise of no amount of charity, can the hon. and gallant Gentleman in this case credit the colliery company, or even his own inspectors, with attempting to meet the position fairly when they argue that this can be honestly interpreted as a case of emergency.
If the colliery agent were absent for a day the pit would not cease work. If the manager or one of the officials happened to be away the pit would not cease work. The hon. and gallant Gentleman and his inspectors must know that all over the country there is absenteeism at every colliery due to minor accidents and illnesses. Unless colliery companies made adequate arrangements to cope with these difficulties day by day, 1089 this sort of alleged emergency would occur every day, and the retention of boys for long hours would continue. It is true the hon. and gallant Gentleman says that this particular company will not offend again, but what guarantee is there that any one of the other 3,000 companies will not offend similarly? The hon. and gallant Gentleman tells us that the proof that the Mines Department are fair as between employés and others is the fact that, last year, owners were prosecuted in 176 cases, but that out of a million miners there were only 800 prosecutions. That goes to prove nothing at all. The only persons who can summons either an agent, manager, or under-manager is one of His Majesty's inspectors. They are the only people who can institute proceedings, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman, if he had any practical knowledge of mining operations, would know that it is the duty of the colliery officials to prosecute any miner who happens to offend against the law. It is not the duty of the inspector of mines to do that at all. If a miner broke the law, and an inspector discovered it, he would intimate to the colliery officials that proceedings had to be instituted.
Merely to say that His Majesty's inspectors have not prosecuted any miners, but had instituted proceedings in 176 cases against officials, in no way proves that the Mines Department are interpreting their duties fairly and squarely, or that officials and miners are receiving even-handed justice. As a practical miner who commenced to work in the pit at 11 years of age, and has had at least 18 years' experience down below, I know something of what takes place. Luckily, I am not so long removed from the pits but that I know what takes place to-day. While there may have been only 800 prosecutions of miners in 1927, in all probability there would have been tens of thousands of mine workers who committed indiscretions and who were fined by the colliery officials from 5s. to £2, and threatened that, unless they accepted the fine, they would be dismissed from their work with the resultant loss of wages and independence. Therefore, the mere figure of 800 prosecutions is in no way indicative of what happens to the mine workers throughout the country. This case, at all events, justifies those people, beyond the 1090 four walls of this House, who believe that the, law is not administered as impartially as it might be as between the owners of collieries and the people who work therein.
I do not remember the date when the hon. and gallant Gentleman was appointed to his present office, but within very recent weeks I had occasion to write to the Mines Department because of a complaint that had reached me from a colliery not 10,000 miles from my home, where the ponies were roofing to such an extent that they were rubbing their backs absolutely bare. No workman in that colliery dare lodge a complaint; they would have been deprived of their wages. The horse was made to suffer because the men dare not lodge a complaint. I had to lodge a complaint to the Mines Department, who in turn sent the complaint back to His Majesty's Inspectors, who went to the colliery and insisted on the cause of the trouble being instantly removed. It was removed, to the credit of the Mines Department, when they got to know, but not before the driver of a pony which had been roofing, and which had been made so sore that it dashed off and broke its own neck, had been dismissed for not preventing the horse killing itself, and because he would not bear a fine of anything up to £10 for the loss of the horse. He applied for unemployment pay, and was refused because of a report sent by the colliery company, and yet, when the Mines Department received the report, their inspectors acted upon it so that the cause of the trouble was removed, but no prosecution of the colliery company took place. They were merely permitted to kill this horse, as it were, and dismiss the driver, and yet the only thing that happened when His Majesty's Inspector brought it to their notice was that they corrected their error. These things are common knowledge to most of the men who sit on these benches, who have had practical experience in mines. That is a very recent ease. I recall, not so very long ago, the case of a fatal accident at a colliery—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain FitzRoy)
This is not the occasion for a general indictment of the management of mines; that is an entirely different question from that for which the Adjournment was asked and given.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I was merely attempting to illustrate the general feeling that the Coal Mines Acts are not applied quite as impartially as they ought to be, and that there are cases on record, which are constantly brought to our notice, where men for mere indiscretions are prosecuted, heavily fined, sometimes dismissed from their work, and tyrannised in various ways; while, on the other hand, where the loss of human life takes place, the law is not carried out to the extent that some people think it ought to be. I was merely illustrating that point. I am content to say that, so far as this particular case is concerned, I in no way doubt the statement made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman when he argues that it may have been that there was a state of emergency at this colliery; but I am bound to confess that no hon. Member, who has had any practical knowledge of the working of coal mines at all, would dare make a statement of that description. I would further tell the hon. and gallant Gentleman that, unless he can acquaint himself with the practical side of mining life, he is going to have some very difficult times in this House. There are so many people here who have lived their lives round coal pits, who have not only a practical, but a technical knowledge, of coal mines, that, unless answers are given to questions or replies to discussions based—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I would remind the hon. Member that the Debate is only on the one point in regard to the boy.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
With all respect, I am suggesting that the reply given by the hon. and gallant Gentleman to the case that has been submitted is not consistent with the knowledge of any person who has had a close acquaintance with the working of mines. I leave it at that, and merely tell the hon. and gallant Gentleman that this was no case of emergency, and that if the offence or indiscretion had been committed by a workman, there would have been no shadow of doubt as to what would have taken place. He would have been prosecuted. We have no desire to be vicious, but we do want to see the law administered fairly and squarely and impartially as between men and employers.
§ Mr. WESTWOOD
The case submitted by the Secretary for Mines for taking no action is about the weakest which has ever been stated to this House. He has stated as evidence of its being a case of emergency that the back shift over-man was actually doing work on that particular night. But surely that is no evidence. The back shift over-man was merely one of the running charges in connection with that particular shift. With my practical knowledge of mining I know that if they had desired to get someone who was 19, 20, or 22 years of age and could have got him at the same wage as the boy of 16 there would not have been this trouble. It has merely been a ease of trying to save Is., 2s., or 2s. 6d. on the shift. I am interested in safeguarding the lives of our boys in the mines and preventing accidents happening to them, and I have heard what other hon. Members have said about their experiences. My own experience has been worse than that of almost any other Member in the House. I wanted nine days of being 16 years of age when I was carried home on a stretcher, and lay there for 13 weeks. I was off work 11 months. Therefore, I have a vivid memory of working underground before I was 16 years of age, and I think it is a crime on the part of any Department of the State which has power to take action to safeguard the lives of our boys if it fails to do so. To employ a boy for 16 hours is not to give him a chance of escaping accidents; indeed, it is creating the possibility of accidents. It is participating in a crime to allow boys to be employed in our mines for 16 hours at a time. The chief reason given by the Secretary for Mines for taking no action was that he wanted to prove that he was not vindictive against the owners. At any rate, he said that he was trying to be unbiassed in the exercise of his powers of administration. Despite the fact that on three occasions boys under 16 years had been employed in the mine for 16 hours, the Minister was satisfied with the owners' promise that they would not do the same thing again, and says he took no action because he wanted to show that he was not vindictive. Are we to have it suggested that one of his colleagues in the Ministry, the Home Secretary, allows his Department to be vindictive because there is a prosecution if 1093 any one is handed a glass of intoxicating liquor only two minutes after closing hours?
§ Mr. WESTWOOD
I was submitting this case by way of illustration. I want to show that there would be no question of vindictiveness if the Secretary for Mines had ordered a prosecution in this case. Anyone selling a packet of cigarettes after hours is brought before the Courts, but when a manager of a coal mine, in order to save 2s., employs a boy for 16 hours, though it would have been quite possible for him to employ an adult, no proceedings are taken. Again I have a vivid recollection of my own experience. I well remember a mine manager coming to me when I was only 15 and saying, "Westwood, how old are you?" I said, "Fifteen—past." Oh, he said, "You ought to have said" Sixteen, past, and you would have got a double shift." He wanted me to tell a lie for the purpose of having a chance of working a double shift. Action ought to be taken against those who break the law. We are told that in this ease managers were not quite sure and the Ministry were not quite sure whether there had been a breach of the Coal Mines Act, but where they are not sure then, in the interests of safety, and the lives of our boys, they ought to take action. There ought to be a prosecution in this particular case. It is not a question of vindictiveness, but of seeing that the lives of our boys are saved, and I trust the Secretary for Mines will admit, I will not say that he has made a mistake, but that he has been wrongly advised in this connection. We feel that action ought to be taken because this is not the only case in which the Coal Mines Act is being broken. We are sure it is being broken every day of the week, but our men fearing victimisation, will not stand up for their rights. I submit that the Minister ought to agree to institute a prosecution in this particular case, so as to prove to us and to the outside world that the Mines Department are prepared to safeguard the lives of our boys and not to allow boys to be employed for 16 hours.
§ Mr. TINKER
After listening to the speeches of the Mover and the Seconder of the Motion, I felt that the first thing the Minister would do would be to advance the emergency Section. Even if the employer did have it in his mind that he could keep the lad on because another lad did not turn up, it is no excuse for keeping him on during the whole of the shift. He could have retained the boy for a short time until he had got someone else to take the place of the boy who did not turn up. The fact of his keeping the boy on for the whole of the shift tells me that the manager had no idea of trying to carry out the Eight Hours Act. Because of the extent to which this thing has gone on, the Minister ought to have taken a case to Court in order to get the question settled once and for all. In the minds of the employers there is a feeling that they can use these emergency powers on any and every occasion, and I am sorry to say that the inspectors of mines have assisted employers to form that opinion.
When the Seven Hours Act was passed, I say without hesitation that the inspectors of mines thought seven hours was too short a period, and in scores of cases which, on my own information, were notified to inspectors in not one did they prosecute. They warned employers, who promised not to do it again, but there was never any prosecution. But if they thought the seven hours' day too short, when the eight hours' day came into operation I did expect that the mine inspectors would at once see that the law was carried out in its entirety. Even if they did not think seven hours was long enough, surely eight hours is long enough, and that Regulation ought to be rigidly carried out. The Secretary for Mines is new to his position, but he must not leave himself entirely in the hands of the mine inspectors because there has been far too much of this kind of thing in the past. I hope the hon. and gallant Member will examine this question impartially, and if he feels that something ought to be done I hope he will not let the office dictate to him. I know if the lead given by the Mines Department is followed, there will be very few prosecutions in cases of this kind. I am glad that this matter has been brought forward on the Floor of the House, because 1095 it will show mine managers and inspectors what we intend to do.
This question cannot stop where it is now. Probably the Secretary for Mines will not take any further action in this case, but when the next case comes up, there should be no doubt as to what he ought to do. He should let the Courts decide these cases. We are demanding a more strict enforcement of the Mines Act. That Act is on the Statute Book, and somebody should see that the mine-owners fufil their duty, and this kind of thing ought not to be carried any further. I am glad that the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) has brought this case forward in the House of Commons for the purpose of preventing this kind of thing happening again in the future.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
The Secretary for Mines dwelt for a long time on the point that he was not biased in favour of the employers. I put certain supplementary questions on this question earlier in the afternoon, and after hearing the hon. Gentleman's answers, I have nothing to withdraw. I believe the Mines Department has taken the employers' point of view, and has not even given up defending the employers in this House.
Of course, I do not expect that any good will be done in this particular case, but the Debate we have had will do two things. First of all, it will put a little heart into the men employed in the coalfields, who will see that somebody is taking notice of their grievances; and, secondly, this Debate will be a warning to those who are breaking the law and to the inspectors, because it will show that we are insisting upon the law being carried out, and that inspection should take place from day to day. The speech made by the Secretary for Mines can be divided into two parts. The first part consisted of an apology for the employers, and the second was an attempt to show that the Mines Department was neutral in regard to these matters. I propose to examine both those points. The first part of the speech consisted of an apology for the employers. It is no good the Secretary for Mines coming here and stating that he is neutral. We did believe that the Government was neutral in 1925, and the Prime Minister was looked upon at that time as neutral in these matters, and hon. Members went about the country 1096 talking about the simple, honest Prime Minister. We accepted the man at his face value, but we have been done once and we cannot stand it twice. After proposing to increase the hours of miners from seven hours to eight hours, the representative of the Mines Department cannot come here and talk about neutrality in these matters, and it is time that humbug and nonsense of that kind was stopped. The Secretary for Mines has read two or three documents sent to him by one of his inspectors and from the owners. The owners' case is that these boys worked on three different occasions for 16 hours. It is admitted that the Act of Parliament says they should only work eight hours, but the Secretary for Mines hangs on to a Clause which makes an exception in the case of sickness and emergency, and under those circumstances it is claimed that a person can be worked for more than the regular hours. I do not believe that mine inspectors are empowered to overlook a thing like that. I know that there is a kind of hidden belief that if a man is an official, his word is to be taken like the laws of the Medes and the Persians.
The point put in this connection by the last speaker has not been met, but assuming that there was an emergency and a difficulty occurred, it did not justify the working of these boys for 16 hours per day. The Secretary for Mines says that this is an isolated colliery, and we are asked to deal with this as an isolated case. The representative of the Mines Department does not say how far this colliery is from a place where another man could have been got to fill the vacancy. I am told that there is a district close at hand where a man could have been obtained to fill the vacancy. In districts like these there are frequently motor bicycles near the colliery, and a place that is usually a 20-minutes' walk can be reached in a very few minutes on a motor bicycle.
Assuming that there was an emergency and admitting there was sickness, it was quite easy within half-an-hour to notify a man in the neighbouring village that there was a shift vacant. In a village near to this colliery there were many unemployed men signing on at the Labour Exchange, and this work would have meant to them a day without receiving unemployment benefit. Instead of that course being taken, the Secretary for 1097 Mines comes here and defends the action of the employers who on three different occasions worked these boys for 16 hours a day without attempting to bring any other men to take their places.
The Secretary for Mines says there was reasonable doubt in the employers mind, but I should like to know who was consulted by the inspector. Did he consult the boys? Were they asked a single question? Were the victims ever asked a question by the inspector of mines? The boys were not consulted, and the men who worked with the boys were not consulted. I would like to know if the union officials were consulted. The only persons whom this neutral department and the neutral Government representative consulted seems to have been the employers, and of course the criminals are bound to make any excuse. The Secretary for Mines consulted the criminals but he never consulted the boys, and so far as I know he does not say that he consulted the check-weigher. The employers were consulted. We are told that an inspector was sent down and he consulted the person who committed the offence, but the person consulted says that he did not commit the offence and we believe him. We are asked to say that that is the action of a neutral Minister.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman sought to correct my hon. Friend the Member for Rothwell (Mr. Lunn) when he said that the law was being broken. The hon. and gallant Gentleman was quite indignant, and said that there had been no breaking of the law, but that there was a doubt as to whether the law was broken or not. Surely, that is all the more reason for undertaking a prosecution. Take the hon. and gallant Gentleman's own words. He says that the Act was not drawn so tightly as it might have been, or, at least, as some people thought it should have been; it leaves a doubt. That is one of the very reasons why a prosecution should have been undertaken, not the third time but the first time, in order to get a case decided in the Courts, so that the miners, the boys and the owners would know exactly where the law stood. Further, if that case had gone against the miners, it would have been the duty of the House of Commons to take immediate steps to put that right. What is the position now? This is vague. We cannot come here and 1098 ask for an amendment of the law, because we do not know whether the law says that this is a crime or not. The hon. and gallant Gentleman refuses to undertake a prosecution, because he wants the law to remain vague. When some of my hon. Friends on this side occupied seats on the Front Government Bench at the time of the Campbell case, the hon. and gallant Gentleman and his friends nearly went wrong in their minds because an ex-soldier, who had not committed any offence like this, was let off. They demanded all sorts of inquiries. Here, however, when their friends are in the dock, when their friends are deliberately committing an inhuman crime, we are asked to believe that the thing was not seriously meant at all.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman quoted his figures. He says that so many men were prosecuted for carrying matches to the danger of their fellows. He says that that is dangerous, and everyone admits that it is; no one denies it. But is it any more dangerous than this crime of working a boy of 15 for 16 hours, presumably using the ordinary miner's lamp? You see hon. Members here sleeping after eight hours in an atmosphere like this—eight hours less than the time for which these boys of 15, growing boys, were down a pit with an atmosphere 50 times worse than this, bad as this is. Fancy a boy at the end of 14 hours, and, indeed, more than that, because there is the time occupied in going to his work—possibly 15 or 16 hours, with a miner's lamp, and every temptation for a lad of that age. I never worked in a pit, but it was bad enough in the old days to leave home at five in the morning in order to start work at six, and for growing boys, apprentices, to have to stand on their feet at the bench till about five o'clock at night. Think of the danger to which the employment of these boys in the pit exposed their fellows, and yet the hon. and gallant Gentleman talks about the dangers of people carrying matches, as if this other offence were not far more dangerous. I am told that these boys are even responsible for machinery that is worked in the pits. Imagine that—boys of that age, after all that time down the pit. Then we are told that really no offence was committed, and that we must be satisfied with a guarantee that it will not be done 1099 again, and are asked to believe that there is no difference in the administration of the law.
I remember a case with a colleague of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's, the Secretary of State for Scotland, at the end of last Session. My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham) had a case where some boys of about the same age started to steal some coal from a bin outside the pit. It was the first time they had ever been in trouble, and we came down to this House to ask that their sentence should be reduced from the three months which was imposed. The Secretary of State said, "No; the law must be administered; we must carry out the law with its utmost rigor." That was a case in which poor boys were concerned. This time it is rich mine-owners, and, therefore, they are to be exempt. I say that the case which has been raised to-night is an indefensible case, a shocking case, and that a Minister should never have undertaken the task of defending it. The hon. and gallant Gentleman admitted right at the outset that even to work a boy for eight hours was against a great deal of the laws of humanity, and that from a humanitarian point of view it was hard to defend, but he comes down here to defend working a boy for 16 hours. He ought to have been ashamed of the task that was set him, and no decent man should have taken the job of defending a Government that would allow that to go on. It is said that we must not be vindictive towards the owner. I would not be vindictive towards him, but I would see the law carried out and put into full force against him, for a person who would commit a crime like that deserves an even stricter and harsher law than has hitherto been passed to punish him.
§ Mr. POTTS
I want to say, in the first place, that the new Minister has started very badly so far as the management of mines is concerned. I speak from experience of these matters. In my time I have had the privilege, or the opportunity, of meeting mining inspectors in many cases in connection with our mines, and I know of cases where they have refused to take proceedings. In my time I have had to go to Doncaster myself and see the chief inspector of the York- 1100 shire district, submitting to him what evidence I could, and have obtained convictions in prosecutions which have taken place against colliery companies and managers. How does the hon. and gallant Gentleman know what would be the result of a prosecution in this case? Was not the Coal Mines Act passed for the purpose of ensuring safety in our mines, and how can we amend the Act unless we know its weakness in regard to various conditions in the mines? This is one of the very cases in which there should have been a prosecution. The hon. and gallant Gentleman alleges that there might not have been a conviction, but this is a case in which, if the law is not clear, it ought to be made clear.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman said that he was going to deal strictly and justly with both sides, but he cannot do that so far as prosecution is concerned, because the jurisdiction of his inspectors is only on one side. If, as has been already said, a workman commits any offence, he is in the hands of the management, and, as has also been said by an hon. Member on this side, there is no telling how many offences have been convicted. I can corroborate the statement that has been made that hundreds of cases happen in the year in our mines in which no conviction takes place, which are compromised by the payment of money, sometimes to hospitals or other kinds of charities, and they are allowed to go free under those conditions. The Coal Mines Act needs remedying if that sort of thing can go on, and if an offence is committed on either side a prosecution ought to be undertaken in the interests of the safety of the men. If this boy had been killed on the third shift the Minister would be in a very serious position. Fortunately he was not killed or injured. Here is a case where the Minister admits a doubt as to getting a. conviction if action had been taken. I have no doubt at all in my mind that a conviction would have been obtained. But assuming that he did not succeed in getting a conviction, it is worth taking the trouble with a view to amending the Act to make it safe for humanity in the mines. Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman bring in a short Bill to amend this Section so that there shall be no doubt in the future?
§ Mr. POTTS
It is new legislation I agree, but the thing is of such importance that I thought I should be allowed in the interests of humanity and the safety of life to put it. The point has been put and I hope the Minister will consider what I have said. If we have no amending legislation in the near future it will be up to us to take the necessary steps to bring in an amending Bill.
§ Mr. PALING
I think most Members on this side who know anything about coal mines were pretty sure in their own minds what would be the defence made by the coalowners concerned in this case. In every case that has come to my notice ever since this Clause was put into the Act about working over eight hours a day, whether it has been the subject of a prosecution or not, the defence by the coalowner has been that it was a question of emergency. It has been the boast of these people for years that they could drive a coach-and-four through the emergency Clause. They have used it from that point of view and they have broken it scores, hundreds and thousands of times. When they have been faced with it they always ride off on this question of emergency. I was hoping the Secretary for Mines would have known this and, having such a glaring case in front of him, would not have been persuaded by such a, weak and flimsy excuse, because that is what it amounts to. He knows, or should know, as every coal miner and every coalowner knows, that the word "emergency" was never intended to be used in that way. It was intended to be used in cases where something had occurred and a gang of men was necessary to keep the pit going, whereby a good many men might have lost shifts, and particularly in cases where ventilation was impeded and gas might accumulate.
Let us look a little closer at this and see what it really means. It appears to me, and I think to most of us on this side, that the trouble was not that they could not get someone else on the shift that was just going on to do the lad's work, but that they would have had to get a higher paid worker than the lad of 1102 15. Maybe he got half a crown per shift and they would have had to pay another man 4s. 6d., 5s., or even 6s. or 6s. 6d. I guarantee that if the Secretary for Mines cares to sift this business to the bottom he will find that was the real reason why the lad was kept on. I should like to have been present when the coal mines inspector interviewed the coalowners and heard what he said to them in private when they told him it was a question of emergency. The very fact that be reported as he did is proof positive that he did not think it was an emergency case, and I warrant he told them a lot more than has been read out in his Report. I wish we could get the whole business relating to it. It is too flimsy an excuse. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman is going to take his duties seriously he has got to treat these cases much more seriously than he has done up to the present, and when he gets a case as outstanding as this it is his duty to prosecute, if it is only to prevent other people doing the same thing in the future. It has been done too often in the past and, if he is determined to stop it, he has got to take more vigorous action than he has ever taken in the past.
There is another question I should like to raise apart from the humanitarian point of view. I remember the question that the hon. Member for Wallsend (Miss Bondfield) asked a week or two ago about the number of accidents occurring to boys between 14 and 16 and when the figures were given a gasp of astonishment went through the whole House. There were 37 fatal and 264 serious accidents, and the number of less serious accidents could not he given. Serious accidents are those in which there is the loss of a limb or an eye or a fractured skull, which often results in death. In face of that, with a glaring case like this in front of him, the hon. and gallant Gentleman refuses to touch the people who have so flagrantly broken the law. If he wants to reduce that terrible toll of accidents to boys it is in this direction that he has got to act. I was in Doncaster Infirmary a week or two ago. On one side of me was a collier with a broken leg and on the other side a boy of 16 who had been run over by a tram. What position would a boy be in after being in the wretched atmosphere of the pit for that length of time, through loss of energy and physical 1103 fatigue, to take care of himself? If the hon. and gallant Gentleman knows anything about mines and the haulage roads and the work the boys have to do, he must know they have to use every ounce of energy they have and have every nerve fixed on their work and to be alive to the utmost extent in order to take care of themselves and to prevent accidents happening. When boys are kept in a, pit this length of time the manager is guilty of a criminal offence. We shall be having these accidents going up by leaps and bounds if this kind of thing is to be allowed.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman complains because it has been suggested that there is one law for the coalowner and one for the miner. He suggests that while he occupies his office he is going to carry out his duties without fear or favour. I hope it is true, but I have not been very much assured in that respect up to the present. He has been in his position a very short time, and perhaps he has a lot to learn yet. If he can prove to us, after he has had a little more experience and has got thorough knowledge, that he is going to do it, so much the better, but he has got something to live down, not only on the part of his Department hut on the part of his Government. We have a very keen recollection of what has been done in the last two years in regard to the miners and the mineowners and when we charge them with being a mineowners' Government it is because we remember what has been done in these last two years. The hon. Member has got that to face, and, in view of that, I think he will admit that he has got to watch this Question very carefully or we shall be on his toes every time, and we shall make no apology for doing so. I want him to remember that we are suffering under a sense of resentment and indignation at the treatment which has been meted out to us by his Government, and that it is up to him to be as keen as it is humanly possible for the Secretary of Mines to be in watching the interests of our people.
Reference was made to the number of prosecutions—176 out of about 7,000 people. He says it is a pretty high average. Maybe it is, but it does not meet every prosecution that ought to 1104 have been taken against them by a long way. As the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) said, when talking about 800 prosecutions against men out of 1,000,000, there are probably thousands and thousands of fines inflicted on these people and the figures are not comparable. In any event, he must remember that our people are not in the position to prosecute as the Minister of Mines is. They dare not complain in a good many cases where they ought, for the sake of their own lives and welfare, because of the tyranny which would be exercised against them if they dared do it, and because they would lose their jobs. The right hon. Gentleman's Department is subject to no such conditions. He can afford to be impartial and to act when it is necessary, knowing he will suffer from no such tyranny. Having these things in view, I hope in the future if any similar case crops up he will not hesitate to prosecute these people immediately, in the interests of the safety and welfare of the whole mining community.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I do not know very much about coal mines. I have not had the misfortune to work in a coal mine, but I know something about boys, for I have boys of my own. It is from that point of view that I approach this question. I approach it as a father and as a member of the working classes hearing of one of his class being treated in this brutal and unnatural fashion in which the colliery owners are now treating my class. Then there is the Secretary for Mines, like all the great men who have occupied that Bench since this Government came into office, who have come there with a great reputation, from the Prime Minister downwards, and whose reputations have gone by the board. It is evident that here is another reputation going by the board. There is the reputation of the present Secretary for Mines. It is a terrible price that a man will pay to get into the Government, a sacrifice, that it should be more to any man than anything else, becauseWho steals my purse steals trash,But he that filches from me my good name,Robs me of that which not enriches him,And makes me poor indeed.The last Secretary for Mines left those Benches with his reputation gone. The 1105 present Secretary for Mines is evidently going to walk in the same path, because there is no denying that he is taking an animal view such as those represented on those Benches have taken right down the ages ever since there were coal mines. This animal view is responsible for the hellish conditions in the mines. The animal view of the ruling classes of this country is responsible. [An HON. MEMBER: "Sit down!"] I will not sit down because an hon. Member says so. Do not you say that or I will put you down.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I would point out to the hon. Member that we are on the Adjournment Motion, and he should keep more strictly to the subject.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I am keeping very strictly to the point, and it will take a better to put me off the point. I am dealing here with the case which has been brought before this House in the most respectable and honourable fashion that a case could be brought. It was brought here when you, Captain FitzRoy, were not in the House, but I was, at Question time, and it was as a result of the offhand manner in which the Minister dealt with the question that we decided that it should be raised on the Adjournment, and we got the Adjournment from Mr. Speaker. Those are the circumstances which we are discussing here to-day, and at the moment I am putting my point of view. I hold that I have every right to put it, and I am going to put it, and you can do what you like with me afterwards.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I am confining myself to the point. I am pointing out that the Secretary for Mines has got an animal view in dealing with this, and I am showing that it is because of that animal point of view that I will put a direct question to him. How many times has he or his Department prosecuted the mine owners for abusing boys? How many times have the coal owners prosecuted boys for abusing ponies? There is more interest in them because they are ponies and private property, but no interest is taken in the boys. In the same way that animal point of view pervaded that Front Bench when it was suggested that here was a great industry where the Welsh miners work—this is part and parcel of this 1106 question—and the individual who spoke for the Government yesterday suggested that the people who were right up against it through no fault of their own, should send round the hat and beg, so that they should be reduced to beggars.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
You say I am straining the point. I agree, but this is a point that is value for straining.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
Oh, I see. I was trying to modify your language, and accommodate it to my point of view. [Interruption.] Hon. Members opposite are not able to pick me up. I spoke about the animal point of view, and, of course, animals cannot understand a Scotsman. My point is this, against the whole of this idea, this complex of mind that is in charge of affairs in this country, that it is all right that the boys of my class should he working 16 hours a day, working like galley ayes, under most unnatural conditions. I was only once down a mine in my life, and I would not work down a mine for all the gold in Christendom, and as far as the present Government are concerned—[Interruption]—I believe those individuals who are interfering with me, if they had to work in a mine, would go and make a hole in the Thames first.
Think what it means. Here are boys, 15 to 16 years of age, working away down in the bowels of the earth, far away from everything that is pleasant, working at work that is brutalising. If it were not that they were reared by heroes—the greatest heroes of unwritten story are their mothers—they would become completely brutalised because of the hellish work which they have to do in order to carry on this great Empire of ours. If every boy in Britain had to be subjected to this I could understand it, and I would not be standing here to-day doing my uttermost to trounce the ruling class at the moment, to try and whip 1107 them and make them squirm for the way they have put it on to my class. If every boy, if the boys of the Government at the moment, had to go and work down the pits, do you tell me that this would be allowed to go on? They would hang the employer who would dare do that to their boys. What do they do to their boys? They send them away to Eton, to Cambridge, to Harrow, to Oxford. I have seen them, boys who never work.They toil not, neither do they spin:And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.[Laughter]—Hon. Members laugh, but a man may smile and smile, and be a villain all the while. It is that type who have never worked, that type who have been reared to enjoy life, who know what it is to be out in the blessed sunshine, paddling in a boat, that type who have the best that this country can give them, making them physically and mentally fit, while my class are condemned to live a hellish life in the bowels of the earth. My class have to work under those hellish conditions, working these damnably long hours, under a system that is crushing the very best that is in them, in order that these other individuals can get so much, all the good things of life. Then we have to send our lassies to go and be servants and wash them and school them and keep their houses in order—
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
Yes, Sir. Here you have a poor boy. Think what it means—16 hours on end. His mate happens not to turn up. A hundred and one things can happen. Probably his mate has been overworked, and he has not been able to come out, and because of that fact here is a little fellow, a manly little boy, somebody's darling—[Interruption]—as much a darling as any of your boys—[An HON. MEMBER: "Speak up!"]—I can speak up, and I can come and hit you on the ear as well as speak up. This
§ little lad, a better boy than anything that is produced—[Interruption].
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I have told the hon. Member so often to keep to the point that, unless he will do so, I shall have to ask him to resume his seat.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I have told the hon. Member so often to keep to the point that I cannot keep on telling him any more, and I must tell him to resume his seat.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I have a point to make, a point of Order. My point of Order is this, that while I have been speaking I have been interrupted, and it is your duty, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, as well as keeping me in order, to see that I am not interfered with by those individuals who are entirely out of sympathy with the topic that is being discussed to-night, who do not give a damn for the working class—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"] Here you have the miners in the country who are up against it, who are absolutely stabbed in this House. and the Government are doing nothing whatever to try and remedy that terrible state of affairs. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I do not want to have to take stern measures with the hon. Member, but, if he persists in disregarding my ruling, I shall have to do so.
§ Question put, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 111; Noes, 179.1111
|Division No. 60.]||AYES.||[9.44 p.m.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fite, West)||Barr, J.||Brown, James (Ayr and Bute)|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Batey, Joseph||Buchanan, G.|
|Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro')||Bondfield, Margaret||Cape, Thomas|
|Ammon, Charles George||Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Charleton, H. C.|
|Baker, J. (Wolverhampton, Bilston)||Briant, Frank||Cluse, W. S.|
|Baker, Walter||Bromley, J.||Connolly, M.|
|Barnes, A.||Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Dalton, Hugh|
|Davies Ellis (Denbigh, Denbigh)||Lawson, John James||Sitch, Charles H.|
|Day, Harry||Lee, F.||Smillie, Robert|
|Dennison, R.||Lindley, F. W.||Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)|
|Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univer.)||Livingstone, A. M.||Smith, Rennie (Penistone)|
|Fenby, T. D.||Lowth. T.||Snell. Harry|
|George, Rt. Hon. David Lloyd||Lunn, William||Stamford, T. W.|
|Gillett, George M.||Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)||Stephen, Campbell|
|Gosling. Harry||Malone, C. L'Estrange (N'thampton)||Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)|
|Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Coins)||Montague, Frederick||Strauss, E. A.|
|Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Morris. R. H.||Sullivan, Joseph|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Sutton, J. E.|
|Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Murnin, H,||Thomas, Sir Robert John (Anglesey)|
|Groves, T.||Haylor, T. E.||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Hall, G. H. (Mtrthyr Tydvll)||Oliver. George Harold||Tomlinson, R. P.|
|Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland)||Owen, Major G.||Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.|
|Hardle, George D.||Palin, John Henry||Viant, S. P.|
|Hayday, Arthur||Paling. W.||Wallhead, Richard C.|
|Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley)||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.||Watson, W. M. (Dunfermilne)|
|Henderson, T. (Glasgow)||Potts, John S.||Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)|
|Hirst, W. (Bradford, South)||Richardson, R. (Houghfon-le-Spring)||Wellock, Wilfred|
|Hore-Bellsha, Leslie||Riley, Ben||Westwood, J.|
|Hutchison, Sir Robert (Montrose)||Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O.(W.Bromwich)||Wheatley, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Johnston. Thomas (Dundee)||Rose, Frank H.||Wiggins, William Martin|
|Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Runciman, Hilda (Cornwall,St.Ives)||Williams, C. P. (Denbigh, Wrexham)|
|Jones, Morgan (Caerphitly)||Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter||Williams, T. (York. Don Valley)|
|Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)||Saklatvala, Shapurji||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Kelly, W. T.||Salter, Dr. Alfred||Windsor, Walter|
|Kennedy, T.||Scrymgeour, E.||Wright, W.|
|Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M.||Scurr, John|
|Kirkwood, D.||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury),||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—|
|Lansbury, George||Sinclair, Major Sir A. (Caithness)||Mr. Hayes and Mr. Whiteley.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Ellis, R. G.||McDonnell, Colonel Hon. Angus|
|Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T.||Fairfax, Captain J. G.||Maclntyre, I.|
|Albery, Irving James||Fermoy, Lord||McLean, Major A|
|Alexander, E. E. (Leyton)||Ford, Sir P. J.||Macmillan. Captain H.|
|Alexander, Sir Wm. (Glasgow, Cent'l)||Forrest. W.||Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm|
|Allen, J. Sandeman (L'pool, W.Derby)||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francle E.||Macqulsten, F. A.|
|Applin, Colonel R. V. K.||Gadle, Lieut-Col. Anthony||MacRobert, Alexander M.|
|Apsley, Lord||Ganzonl, Sir John||Margesson, Captain D.|
|Astbury, Lieut.-Commander F. W.||Gauit, Lieut -Col. Andrew Hamilton||Marriott, Sir J. A. R.|
|Atkinson, C,||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Meller, R. J.|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Goff. Sir Park||Milne, J. S. Wardlaw-|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.)||Morrison, H. (Wilts. Salisbury)|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Greene. W. P. Crawford||Morrison-Bell, Sir Arthur Clive|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F.E.(Bristol,N.)||Murchison, Sir Kenneth|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon||Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E.||Nail, Colonel Sir Joseph|
|Blundell, F. N.||Gunston. Captain D. W.||Neville, Sir Reginald J.|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Hamilton, Sir George||Nicholson, Col. Rt.Hn.W.G.(Ptrsf'ld.)|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Hunnon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Oakley, T.|
|Bowyer, Captain G. E. W.||Harland, A.||Pennefather, Sir John|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Major Sir A. B.||Harrison, G. J. C.||Penny, Frederick George|
|Braithwaite, Major A. N.||Harvey, G. (Lambeth, Kennington)||Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)|
|Brassey, Sir Leonard||Haslam, Henry C.||Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)|
|Briggs, J. Harold||Henderson. Capt. R.R. (Oxf'd,Henley)||Pilcher, G,|
|Brittain, Sir Harry||Henderson, Lieut.-Col. Sir Vivian||Price, Major C. W. M.|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Heneage. Lieut.-Col. Arthur P.||Raine, Sir Walter|
|Brooke, Brigadier-General C. R. I||Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J.||Ramsden, E.|
|Broun-Lindsay, Major H.||Hills, Major John Walter||Rawson, Sir Cooper|
|Brown. Col. D. C. (N'th'I'd., Hexham)||Holt, Capt. H. P.||Rees. Sir Beddoe|
|Buchan, John||Hope, Capt. A. O. J. (Warw'k, Nun.)||Remer, J. R.|
|Buckingham, Sir H.||Hope, Sir Harry (Fortar)||Rhys, Hon. C. A. U.|
|Campbell, E. T.||Hopkins. J. W. W.||Rice, Sir Frederick|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Hopkinson. Sir A. (Eng. Universitles)||Richardson. Sir p. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y)|
|Cassels, J. D.||Howard-Bury, Colonel C. K.||Roberts, E. H. G. (Flint)|
|Cautley, Sir Henry S.||Hume, Sir G. H.||Ruggles-Briss, Lieut.-Colonel E. A.|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N.( Ladywood)||Huntingfield, Lord||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Charteris, Brigadier-General J.||James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert||Rye, F. G.|
|Christie, J. A.||Kennedy, A. R. (Preston)||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||King, Commodore Henry Douglas||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Couper, J. B.||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Sanders, Sir Robert A.|
|Craig, Sir Ernest (Chester, Crewe)||Lamb, J. Q.||Sanderson, Sir Frank|
|Crookshank, Cpt.H.(Llndsey,Gainsbro)||Lister, Cunliffe-, Rt. Hon, Sir Philip||Sandon, Lord|
|Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. (Hertford)||Loder, J. de V.||Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.|
|Davidson. Major-General Sir J. H.||Long, Major Eric||Shaw, R. G. (Yorks, W.R., Sowerby)|
|Davies, Maj, Geo. F.(Somerset,Yeovil)||Looker, Herbert William||Shaw, Lt.-Col. A. D. Mcl. (Renfrew, W)|
|Davies. Sir Thomas (Clrencester)||Lougher, Lewis||Shepperson, E. W.|
|Davies, Dr. Vernon||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere||Skelton, A. N.|
|Dlxey, A. C.||Luce. Major-Gen Sir Richard Harman||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Eden, Captain Anthony||MacAndrew, Major Charles Glan||Smithers, Waldron|
|Edmondson, Major A. J.||Macdonald. Sir Murdoch (Inverness)||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Elliot, Major Walter E.||Macdonald, R. (Glasgow, Catheart)||Stanley, Lieut.-Colonel Rt. Hon. G. F.|
|Storry-Deans. R.||Vaughan-Moroan, Col. K. P.||Windsor-Clive, Lleut.-Colonel George|
|Stott, Lieut.-Colonel W. H.||Wallace, Captain D. E.||Withers, John James|
|Streatfeild, Captaln S. R.||Ward, Lt.-Col.A.L. (Kingston-on-Hutt)||Womersley, W. J.|
|Styles, Captain H. Walter||Warrender, Sir Victor||Woodcock. Colonel H. C.|
|Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser||Watson, Rt, Hon. W. (Carlisle)||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Sugden, Sir Wilfrid||Watts, Dr. T.||Wragg, Herbert|
|Tasker, R. Inigo.||Wayland, Sir William A.||Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.|
|Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)||Williams, A. M. (Cornwall, Northern)|
|Tinne, J. A.||Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—|
|Tltchfield, Maior the Marquess of||Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)||Major Cope and Captain Viscount|
|Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement||Wilson, R. R. (Stafford, Lichfield)||Curzon|
Bill read the Third time, and passed.