Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £137,124, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1936, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Mines Department of the Board of Trade."—[NOTE: £68,000 has been voted on account.]
§ 3.58 p.m.
The SECRETARY for MINES (Captain Crookshank)
It is a very agitating thing for a Minister to present the Estimates of his Department to the House for the first time, and if I should, in the later stages of my speech, exhibit signs of exhaustion of breath, perhaps I may apologise in advance. I have looked to see what my right hon. Friends and 1858 revered seniors, who opened their Estimates last week, had to say in their introductory remarks. The Minister of Health gave a review of 25 years of his Department, in and out of which he has been going ever since it started. The Home Secretary told of the advance which had taken place since first he took up that office 20 years ago. The President of the Board of Trade gave us a very admirable and encouraging review of the trade of the country over the last 12 months. If I limited myself to the five weeks exactly to a day in which I have occupied this office, my speech would be brief, and I do not think it would be interesting. It falls to me, therefore, to review a great deal of the work of my predecessor. I think we should all like to pay a tribute to the way in which he grappled with the questions of the Department. He has earned the gratitude of the mining industry as a whole for the work he put in there.
I do not propose to go too far back, because in this industry there are too many bygones that had better be bygones. There is also the point that it is difficult for me after so short a time, to see the wood for the trees. I admit that I have come across a great many snares, traps and pitfalls in the undergrowth already, but there are some clear-cut avenues through which on this hot afternoon we might take a walk, to inspect some of the trees. I may start by reminding the Committee of my statutory functions. The Act of 1920 established the Departmentfor the purpose of securing the most effective development and utilisation of the mineral resources of the United Kingdom, and the safety and welfare of those engaged in the mining industry,and, at the same time, it shouldundertake the collection, preparation and publication of information and statistics relating to the mining industry.That is what is laid down in the Act. Taking the last part first, I would like to point out what that work involves. There are 45 officers in my Department who spend their whole time in collecting and collating statistics both of the mining and quarrying industries in this country, and about similar industries in other parts of the world, work which has been particularly heavy in view of the negotiations for trade agreements. As a matter of fact, this House makes considerable claim on their time, because in 12 months no fewer 1859 than 130 very complicated statistical questions have been asked by hon. Members. I may say that we are only too glad to have the opportunity of answering questions of that kind.
I leave that subject, and turn to health and safety. With regard to health, I should like to start by removing a misapprehension under which the hon. Member for West Rhondda (Mr. John) is labouring. Speaking last week on the Home Office Vote he said:I find that there is no co-operation or co-ordination between the two Departments."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th July, 1935; col. 1004, Vol. 304.]That is, the Home Office and the Mines Department. I do not know if the hon. Member ever dabbles in trying to find the Derby winner. If he does not find it, it does not follow that it was not among the starters. If he wants examples of co-operation, I will give him two instances. First of all, the two Departments are trying to co-operate to get the best dust respirator which, of course, affects factories as well as mines; and secondly to ascertain the efficiency of a method of laying dust after shot firing which, again, concerns both Departments. If I may use the words of the King's Speech, "My relations with other Government Departments continue to be friendly." The fact that a number of the officers of the Mines Department dealing with health and safety questions came from the Home Office makes it very easy and congenial for them to keep in touch with their old colleagues. In this connection I have had to consider a number of problems.
Take, for example, silicosis, which, I suppose, is one of the most important of industrial diseases to-day. The Medical Research Council, under my right hon. Friend the Lord President, has a research committee which deals with causation and diagnosis. The Home Office comes in to deal with compensation problems and we come in with regard to prevention. If I may be allowed to make one personal reference on that point, it will be to say with what great satisfaction the right hon. Member for Pollok (Sir J. Gilmour), the late Home Secretary, and I were concerned in being able to extend, last October, the statutory scheme of compensation for silicosis to all mineworkers underground, and, a fact which may not be quite so well known, to extend it in 1860 March to cover all underground workers in the haematite ore mines. It may interest the hon. Member for Rhondda, West if I say that when I, on behalf of my right hon. Friend, received a deputation on that subject, I remember quite well the officials of the Mines Department were then present to assist me.
Coming to the prevention side, I will only say there is to-day one official of ours who spends his whole time on the problem, and we all know it is a very difficult and exacting one. It is a very baffling problem, particularly in South Wales, where it appears to be on the increase although there is no history of abnormal exposure to silica dust which, in the past, is supposed to have been the chief cause of its incidence. It requires a good deal of consideration, but, on the silicosis side, the Committee can rest assured that everything in the way of co-operation between the Departments concerned in the problem is really being done.
§ Mr. JOHN
The complaint I made with reference to the lack of co-ordination between the two Departments was as to its effect, which applies now to what the hon. and gallant Gentleman has said. My complaint was that where the medical board have certified that a man is suffering from silicosis, compensation is not paid until a great deal of time has elapsed for the Department to make an investigation as to how the man has contracted the disease. My point was that once a man had contracted the disease, and it was certified by the medical board, it was wrong for the man to have to wait for compensation until the Home Office or the Mines Department had made inquiries as to how he had contracted the disease.
I do not want to run away from the point. I merely say that the actual compensation part is no longer my business; it is a Home Office matter. But, so far as research is concerned, there is an inquiry by the committee of the Privy Council on which both Departments are represented.
With regard to the other principal industrial disease, nystagmus, it is a great relief to all of us to find the drop every year in the number of new cases. Between 1929 and 1933 the drop was no 1861 less than 40 per cent. I know perfectly well that there were fewer men employed, but not 40 per cent. fewer. The decrease in the average number of men employed underground was 19 per cent., and the drop in the number of cases, as I said, was 40 per cent. I do not say that is exactly the percentage, because there is a difference in time worked. But, even taking that into account, there is a big drop, and it is very satisfactory. That disease has been considered to be due largely to bad lighting and that brings me to the lighting regulations issued last year. First of all the workers at the coal face must have lamps with a certain minimum standard of lighting performance. Those new lamps were started in use on 1st September last, and a complete change-over has to take place by the end of 1936. That is so that it may be done in an orderly way. I think it is as well to say here and now that any delay in taking steps to make the change would not be accepted as an excuse after the statutory period has elapsed at the end of 1936.
Secondly, from last July the area in which mains lighting is permissible was extended, subject to certain safety precautions. Here I must express my disappointment that so little has been done. I am told that there are only 20 of the new areas so lit, and actually in three of the divisional inspectorate areas nothing has been done at all. I propose to pay considerable attention to that. The third regulation was with regard to white-washing. That has been very rapidly dealt with, and there has been very great improvement there. That of course will help to solve the nystagmus problem from the point of view of lighting, and also from the point of view of accidents, because it stands to reason that the better lit face must obviate the possibility of some accidents. Hon. Members may take it from their own experience. Coming home late at night they are less likely to bark their shins in a well lighted hall than if they have to strike a series of matches to take them to bed. Better lighting is of assistance, and I am glad that that part of the problem has been improved under the new regulations.
Lighting in that connection takes me to safety, the connecting link, of course, being the inspectorate. We have 111 1862 inspectors and 101 deal with mines under the Coal Mines Act. Last year there were 2,123 mines at work, and I believe the Committee would like to know the number of inspections. I do not want to give too many figures, but I know that these are generally interesting. The number of inspections underground was 17,566, and on the surface 5,601, while 1,301 mines, or over 60 per cent. of the total, were inspected throughout. I know that includes a number of small mines which are probably inspected throughout, when any inspection is made at all. Still, it is a pretty satisfactory figure. Of course, I had better say that the development of machine mining has meant that work has gone on when coal was not being drawn—a question in which the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) is interested. In three months ending 22nd June there were 189 underground inspections in the afternoon and 379 at night, representing 14 per cent. of the total number of underground inspections during that period. So much for inspection.
With regard to accidents, the past year has been marred of course by the terrible disaster at Gresford. This House has already expressed its sympathy with the bereaved at the time of the occurrence, and the nation as a whole has shown its sympathy by the amazing response which was made to the appeal for funds. Of course, the 265 casualties at that disaster has swollen the total of fatal accidents very much. The total for the year was 1,073, but if we exclude the Gresford disaster it was 808. The three-day accidents were 132,859. For the first six months of this year preliminary figures show that there were 399 fatal accidents, a reduction of five compared with the same period last year. That represents a rate of 3.6 per million tons of output, the basis of comparison which is used from year to year, and it is the lowest rate that we have had. One thing at which, coming new to this job, I have been shocked as much as at anything on reading the reports of the inspectors—I hope I shall not be misunderstood when I say this—is that so many of these accidents might have been avoided. Take scratches. A scratch might happen to any one of us. I might scratch my finger here on this Box and pay no attention to it, but, if septicaemia sets in, it may result in the loss of a limb, or even in death. We all 1863 know personally of cases of that kind which have nothing to do with the mining industry at all, but they do occur in that industry.
There is another group of accidents, where you have a momentary lack of concentration, or where, perhaps, one has done the job so often, however dangerous it may be, that one forgets that it is dangerous and something happens. I am not blaming anyone; I desire to make that quite clear; and I am not minimising the accidents which arise from the faults of other people; but I am saying that in all grades of accidents one sees perhaps, on looking back, that some might have been avoided if more care had been taken. I put it no higher than that. Any of my hon. and gallant Friends in this House will bear me out, from their own experience in the War, that time after time, when one was going down a trench, there would be a notice telling one to get on ones hands and knees, because it was dangerous; but a number of people would think that their name was not on the particular bullet that was coming, and that they might as well take the chance, because, if they did go on their hands and knees, they knew that, since there was a foot of water in the trench, they would certainly be uncomfortable for a long time. This is something against which I hope it may be possible to guard. I do not minimise other causes, but that is one group.
I now come back to the figure of 808 fatal accidents in mines, excluding Gresford, and 132,859 non-fatal accidents. In July of last year I spoke in this House about accidents from the point of view of the Home Office. The figures given in this year's report of the Chief Inspector of Factories—the figures for industrial accidents in factories and workshops—approximate in a very remarkable way to the figures of mining accidents. Last year the fatal industrial accidents were 785, which I compare with 808 for the mining industry; and the non-fatal accidents were 136,073, which I compare with just on 133,000 in the mines. I make that comparison for one purpose only, and that is to point out that the number of hands with whom the Chief Inspector of Factories is dealing in his report is just over 5,000,000, whereas the number of miners with whom our figures deal is somewhere in the region of 780,000 only. 1864 Does it not bring home to the Committee and to the country in a very vivid way the risks and dangers of the mining industry when we see that its accidents, both fatal and non-fatal are, comparatively, something like six times the number occurring in industrial life in factories and workshops? What can be done? Suppose that we start with propaganda. The Chief Inspector of Factories deals this year in his report with the enormous number of accidents that occur in factories to young persons coming into industry, and he says:The adult worker has become accustomed to his environment, and has—or ought to have—acquired habits of caution. The young entrant finds factory life an entirely new experience, and possesses, in addition, certain qualities of youth, such as bravado and curiosity, which render him essentially susceptible to accidents.He is talking about factories, but there is a great deal in what he says that applies to the mining industry. He goes on:It seems to me, therefore, that it is encumbent on us to give him an apprenticeship in safety just as in his productive work, and to see that he is not only warned, but forewarned, of the dangers inherent in all industrial life.The Factory Inspector goes on to suggest that the young entrant into industry might be shown the principal risks to be guarded against, that he might be supplied with copies of the safety rules, that a watch should be kept on him during his first year, and that steps should be taken to see that those who meet with many accidents are put on some other job. In the autumn of 1931, propaganda was started with regard to boys, and this is a matter to which my predecessor gave a great deal of publicity by making speeches up and down the country in conjunction with employers and representatives of the workers. That has spread tremendously. Last year there were no fewer than 261 centres, at which there attended 10,647 boys. Awards are made and certificates given to those who are most successful, and 5,500 of these boys received awards. That is preventive work which is really admirable, and I hope that everyone concerned will co-operate with us in seeing that it is continued. There is one black spot. I find that, in regard to South Wales, which has been particularly slow to get this work started, the Inspector's report for the Swansea district states that last October 11 centres were started, 1865 at five of which only 107 boys were enrolled, while at six the attendance was so small that the classes had to be discontinued. I appeal to hon. Members for Welsh constituencies, and also to employers of labour in South Wales, to assist me to see whether that cannot be improved upon.
From propaganda I turn to the question of avoidance of accidents. With regard to safety equipment, most of the time of one Divisional inspector and all the time of one Junior inspector is now devoted to work on that side. Then, there are the recent regulations which require that in every safety-lamp mine the management must provide sufficient fire-damp detectors of approved type. I want, however, to give a word of warning in this regard—that the provision of these detectors is not to be a substitute for the statutory examinations. It was not easy, as hon. Members who have followed this matter will know, to agree on the number of detectors which ought to be laid down in the regulations, but it was decided that some elasticity would be required. It was decided that the number should be one safety lamp or other approved detector for every eight men in long-wall workings, and one for every four men in other types of working. These regulations are to be tried for an experimental period of two years, and then it is intended to set up a committee to review their working. It is not, of course, the intention to constitute the committee now, but only when it will have become possible to see and report on the effect of these approved gas detectors, which will comprise, firstly, any approved type of flame safety lamp not fitted with internal relighters, and, secondly, approved automatic detectors such as the Ringrose. I repeat that these must not be regarded as substitutes for the statutory examination. If I may sum up this part of my statutory duties with regard to health and safety, I would say that research is being continued and inspection is being kept at the highest possible mark.
I turn now to my other function, of securing the most effective development and utilisation of the mineral resources of the United Kingdom, and this brings me to say a few words about the trade position. In 1933, the output of saleable coal was just over 207,000,000 tons. 1866 Last year that figure rose by 13,600,000 tons, an increase which so far as can be traced was almost entirely due to an increased demand in the home market. When I hear questions asked as to what has been the effect of the tariff policy on the coal-mining industry, and when I note that many people are prepared to say that it has had no effect at all, I would remind the Committee that it is precisely the increase of employment in protected industries that has caused this increased demand for coal, and not least in the iron and steel industry. I find that the increased demand in that industry was something like 4,000,000 tons last year. The iron and steel industry has certainly improved its production as a result of the tariff, and that, at any rate, is one form in which assistance to the mining industry has come from our protectionist policy. Of course, there have been great economies in the methods of using fuel in the iron and steel industry. I have seen some figures quoted in the Press which put the quantity of coal required for the increased production of iron and steel at far too high a figure. Much less coke is required for the production of pig iron than was the case 10 years ago, owing to improved technique, and the quantity of pig iron required for the production of one ton of steel has been halved. I estimate to-day that, unfortunately, only 1¾ ton of coal is required to make a ton of steel.
I know, and probably the figures I have seen were based on that estimate, but this is the estimate as closely as I can give it at present. That does not alter the fact that the improvement in home industry has led to an increased demand for coal. The reasons for the falling away in demand are well known. Among them are the increased use of petroleum products, both for industrial and for marine purposes, and the very large economies which have been made by big consumers of coal, like power stations, gas works, and iron and steel works; but for all that the output figures are interesting, and I am happy to say that this year's output to date is better than that of last year.
§ Mr. GEORGE HALL
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has dealt with the effect 1867 of tariffs as regards the home market; will he tell us about the loss in the export market?
I shall have something to say presently about the success of the trade agreements in obtaining what export trade there was to have, but I think that perhaps I had better make my points as I go along. As regards the improvement in output this year, the total production up to the 13th July was 122,597,900 tons. That is an increase, as compared with the corresponding period of last year, of 322,900 tons, which I think is very gratifying. Last year showed an increase of 13,600,000 tons over the previous year, and that increase is not only being kept up, but is being slightly enlarged, again owing to an increase in the home demand. This increase has been shared by all districts, but, of course, has not been shared by all in equal proportions. Northumberland and Durham show the highest percentage improvement, namely, 10.9 and 10.8 per cent. respectively; while South Wales had the lowest increase, namely, 2.4 per cent.
In the export trade last year, cargo shipments amounted to 39,600,000 tons—an increase of about 500,000 tons compared with the previous year. That is in exports of coal. If you work back into coal the total of the coal equivalent of coke and manufactured fuel, the total shipments, including foreign bunkers represent, in coal, 57,000,000 tons, which, as I indicated, is about 500,000 tons better than the previous year. As regards foreign markets, I think it is well to remember that we are dealing with three groups of countries—first, the group with which we have made or are negotiating trade agreements; secondly, the group of countries which have import quotas which are imposed by the Governments of those countries, and over which, therefore, we have no control, because it is for them to settle the quotas and they select whatever year is taken as the basis; and, thirdly, there is the small group of markets where there is free and unrestricted competition. The result of our negotiations is shown in this, that, if we deal with the export of coal and translate coke and manufactured fuels into their coal equivalents, in 1931 33.7 per 1868 cent. of our exports went to the countries with whom we now have agreements but did not have then, and last year that percentage had gone up to 43 and in tonnage by 3,000,000, whereas in the quota countries over which we have not got control, the drop was from 45 per cent. to 36 per cent. or, in tons, from 21,000,000 to 15,000,000. That is the answer to the question: What has been the value of trade agreements as a whole? They have not only held the markets in countries with which we have made agreements but they have allowed us to increase our exports to them.
The proceeds of coal commercially sold last year was 2d, less than in the previous year—13s. 4½d.—but, owing to the fall in the cost of production, the credit balance was 5d. On the employment side coal was won on 241 days on the average, the greatest number since 1930 and not far short of the number of days in that year. The number of wage earners on colliery books at the end of the year was down by 11,000, and during the first six months of this year the average has been 767,000 as compared with 783,400 in the corresponding period of last year—a drop again. Some consolation is to be found in the average cash earnings per worker in the year. The average per shift was 9s. 1¾d. and the total average cash earnings for the year was £115 11s. 6d., which was an increase of £5 on the year before, £6 on 1932, £4 on 1931 and about 30s. on 1930. If we are going to consider this sort of figure, I think it is only fair to mention the cost of living, which dropped between 1930 and 1934 from 58 per cent. to 41 per cent. There was an increase in cash earnings per annum of 1½ per cent. over 1930, and though there was a similar decrease per cent. in the average earnings per shift, there was a great drop in the average cost of living.
I have collected figures to show what has happened in competing countries with regard to that. Whereas we are within 1½ per cent. of the figures for 1930, in France the drop in earnings per shift is nearly 12 per cent., in Poland 20 per cent., in the Ruhr 20.5 per cent. and in Belgium 29.4 per cent. We can all draw our own conclusions with regard to that, but, at any rate, the miners' position here has been held in a way that it has not been in other countries. The only other point about foreign trade on which 1869 I want to say anything is that following up the Resolution of the World Economic Conference of 1933, where it was suggested that production should be organised on an international basis, some development has occurred in that coal-owners in this country have had discussions, and have reached an agreement, with their opposite numbers in Poland, and there are hopes that that development may be extended. Certainly the agreement has been received with great interest in a great deal of the foreign press.
Employment and earnings bring me to the question of overtime. By a great effort on the part of the Stationery Office we were able to let hon. Members have last night the report of the Scottish inquiry on overtime. I am most distressed at what I read in that report, and I intend to take the earliest opportunity of consulting both sides of the industry to see what it is possible to do about it. Of course, I recognise, as hon. Members opposite do, that there has to be a certain amount of elasticity, but that does not mean that it must be stretched from here to Lambeth Bridge. The report dealt with six weeks in October and November, and it said that certain managers had been warned by those who made the report that there must be an alteration. As soon as I got it I asked that inspection should be made again in the worst pits, and the information that I have now received is that there has already been, in the worst pits to which reference is made, a 50 per cent. improvement. That is something. It also mentions the keeping of registers. That is a matter in which the present state of affairs as reported there is not to continue.
I pass from that to the utilisation and development of mineral resources. Here I must say a word about Part I of the Act of 1930, because we have seen some changes during the last year. First of all, there were amendments made by the industry itself, the effect of which was to have not only output allocations but inland and export supply allocations in order to have greater elasticity. There were some difficulties with regard to the allocations to coastwise districts, but they were settled by going to arbitration. There has been some difficulty with regard to coal exports from the Humber which has been brought to my notice. 1870 I only propose now to say that on Monday the quota committee of the Midlands scheme met and increased the quota for July from 55 to 60 per cent., an increase of 51,000 tons, which is, as far as one knows, equal to, and very likely more than, what is likely to be required. I understand that the committee is to meet again next Monday to settle the August quota.
The other point on the Act is the co-ordination of minimum prices, a matter which, I am sure, everyone hopes will be pursued with the utmost energy. There have been changes to this effect that, if a complaint is made by an executive board about another executive board having done something or not done something, the Central Council can give directions non-compliance with which will entail penalties. As a matter of fact, there have not been any complaints yet, but that is one of the amendments that was made. A joint committee of the executive boards of Lancashire and Cheshire, North Staffordshire and North Wales, have gone ahead on this co-ordinating question. They have agreed on a delivered price at 100 railway stations for household coal. The same districts are now discussing the co-ordination of minimum prices for industrial and gas coal. Another group of districts is at present discussing minimum f.o.b. prices for export coal and bunkers, so that there is something doing, and it is important that it should be pursued energetically. The third, and perhaps the most important, point with regard to the Act is the Lancashire selling scheme which was passed without any Debate in this House. The effect of it is that the whole of the coal of that district is in future to be sold co-operatively and, with the reduction of expenses that that will involve, one hopes to see an improvement in the proceeds.
From the 1930 Act I pass to fuel treatment. This Government, of course, has done a great deal to foster that. There are two ways in which you can help it. Either you can make oil, especially foreign oil, less attractive by a duty or a tax, or you can increase the oil prodcts from coal here. There is a penny per gallon on imported heavy oils, there was the recent increase to 8d. per gallon on oil used for road transport purposes with a preference to home-produced oil, and there is the fact that, so far as this Parliament 1871 can do it, there is a 10 years' guaranteed preference for motor spirit, which has enabled, notably, Imperial Chemical Industries to go ahead with large-scale plans. The President of the Board of Trade told us something the other night about Billingham. It is now working, and, at full capacity, can produce 45,000,000 gallons of motor spirit a year, which is 3¾ per cent. of our total consumption, and it represents work for 1,900 miners as well as 1,000 men employed on the plant.
I cannot say offhand, but the point is that it is the equivalent of the work of 1,900 miners. Of course, there are other sources of supply. There are shale oil, coke oven, gas works and low-temperature carbonisation plants. They are now producing at the rate of 40,000,000 to 50,000,000 gallons a year, so that by the beginning of August I estimate that we shall be getting 60,000,000 gallons of motor spirit, and, when we have had a whole year of production at Billingham, that figure may be raised, even if no other plants are started, another 50 per cent. I think that is a matter on which the Government can be congratulated for having made it possible for the industry to go ahead. It is interesting to some Members who are connected with the Air Force to know that at present nine Royal Air Force stations and one flying school are using a mixed fuel, a large ingredient of which is this British petrol distilled from British coal. In 1933 there was only one squadron. That gives a measure of the increase.
Pulverised coal is also in greater use. There was a 12 per cent. increase compared with 1933. In coal cleaned the quantity was 87,500,000 tons, an increase of 10,000,000 tons. That represents a very high percentage of the coal which is suitable for cleaning. This shows that, although some people are very quick in criticising the leadership of the mining industry, the industry is fully alive to the importance of improving the mineral that it sells.
I said at the beginning that it was difficult to see the wood for the trees. I have taken the Committee down one or two well-worn paths. There is just one thing about which I want to say something 1872 because none of us knows whether it is going to be a path or not, and that is petroleum, which has been laid upon the Mines Department as the result of last year's Act. It may become a very busy Department in future. Under that Act regulations had to be laid before both Houses of Parliament, but in neither House was a word said about them. That is one of the greatest tributes that could possibly be paid to those who drafted the regulations, because here were officials having to produce a code of licensing on a subject of which there is no practical experience at all in this country as far as the Civil Service is concerned. That rather interests me, because in the last 12 months I was concerned at the Home Office in drafting regulations upon a subject very different from this—the regulations for the totalisator on greyhound racing tracks. I only mention it because there again was a topic entirely outside the purview of the officials who had to deal with it, and yet in both cases the regulations were passed and have gained praise from the industries concerned, and have been highly praised in the relevant technical Press. I say that to show what a great debt not only this House but the Committee owes to its Civil Service that it should be possible that this could be done. I would add, in passing, that I do not omit the debt that we all of us owe, and any hon. Member having anything to do with the mining industry must owe, to the staff of the Mines Department, because they are so closely in touch with hon. Members and, as I said earlier on with regard to statistics, are always ready to assist those who want information. I hope that that may long continue.
I will say this and no more about the petroleum regulations. I have had 43 applications so far, and the way is now clear to deal with them when the necessary investigations and negotiations have been completed, and all the documents are ready. They cover substantial areas of this country—I was surprised how substantial—and when the licences are granted I am required by the regulations to announce in the Gazette both the name of the licensee and the area for which he gets a licence, of which there are two kinds. One is a prospecting licence by which you are allowed to 1873 prospect over not less than eight and not more than 200 square miles, first of all for three years, and then it may be extended for two further years. Then you may get a mining licence, in respect of which the area, is to be not less than four and not more than 100 square miles, which is good, in the first instance, for 50 years, and can be renewed for a further 25 years. I think it is encouraging, when one hears so much gloomy talk, that there should be persons who are prepared to sink a great deal of money—it is by no means a cheap proposition to look for oil—in the hope that they may be able to start a new industry in this country. I expect that everybody in this House would wish them well; at any rate, that ought to follow by the way the Bill dealing with this topic was received last year. That is all I want to say about my statutory functions.
There are many other problems, and I know that in the next five hours I shall probably have more of them brought to my notice than have been brought in the last five weeks. I would like to close by saying this. What about the future? At my initiation into public life I was taught to be cautious, and I do not think that this is the moment to throw caution to the winds after five weeks' experience. The statement which I have submitted to the Committee to-day is merely the background of a painting which the Committee and I have to fill in. It has merely dealt with current affairs. I purposely did not delve too far into the past, and I certainly have not poked my nose too far into the future, and, indeed, in Committee of Supply I am debarred from doing that, because anything involving legislation is quickly ruled out of order. I am left with first principles. I will just put three, and perhaps the Committee will agree with me. First of all this industry is of fundamental importance to the country. We are all agreed about that. We are all agreed that it is a difficult and a dangerous calling; the figures which I have quoted prove that. And I think that we shall probably agree that it is not yet on an economically sound basis. Those are the ingredients of the paint which we have to mix to make the complete picture.
If I am asked to say something about the future, I will give the Committee the analogy not of the mining industry, but 1874 of life itself. It is one of the greatest gifts that an all-knowing Providence has bestowed on its creatures that they cannot pierce the veil between to-day and to-morrow. We do not know our future joys or our future sorrows, or the moment of our passing; if we did, life would be intolerable. But if we do not know the milestones along the road we have to travel, we do know what is the luggage that will serve us well on our journey. Whether our journey is in this House, whether it is in the service of the Crown, whether it is business, or industry, or commerce, whether it is in the mines under the ground, or on the land, whether we work with our hands, whether we are employers of labour, surely every person that travels knows that what will stand him in good stead is kindliness, toleration and good will. I am a newcomer to this job, and have to face problems which I have never considered before. I make no denial of it; it is obvious in one's public record. But I do say that just when the industry does not look too bright, and just when, as an occupation, it involves discomfort, hardship and danger, cannot I as a newcomer try to drive home to all sections that they should remind themselves of the value of co-operation between both sides, of trying to settle differences amicably on both sides, of more personal contact on both sides, facing up to one another's difficulties and putting the best construction and not the worst on what the other man does? I am convinced that that is worth trying. I know that it is difficult.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Mr. T. SMITH
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100.
I have known the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Secretary for Mines all my Parliamentary life, and I have always had a very good opinion of the way in which he used to put his case, especially when he sat on this side of the House during the lifetime of the Labour Government. The Committee will agree with me this afternoon that he has presented his case admirably. If I disagree with him profoundly on some of the things that he has said, I trust that we shall be able to discuss those differences in the hope that we may be able to secure some agreement later on. The hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to his predecessor, and, in the absence of the right hon. 1875 Gentleman I would say that, much as I have disagreed with him on politics generally and on matters in connection with the Mines Department, I have always had this opinion of the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Minister of Labour—he tried to understand his job, and he certainly has done a little for the benefit of the mining industry.
The Secretary for Mines went on to say that a good deal had been done with regard to health and safety, and he also mentioned the questions of silicosis and of miner's nystagmus and the lighting regulations which are related to it. May I say to him and to the Committee that those of us who have had experience of underground work appreciate the benefit of increased lighting underground. Those of us who used to spend our time underground with an oil safety lamp which very rarely maintained an illumination of .75 at the end of the shift view with a good deal of encouragement the newer kind of lamp which is now in use at some pits and which gives a greater illumination and makes for more congenial work underground and certainly lessens the danger of nystagmus. From that angle we have nothing about which to complain. We still think that there is room for a good deal of improvement but we appreciate what has been done in that direction.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman could not be expected to deal thoroughly with the question of safety underground and with the accidents which occurred during 1934. He very skilfully avoided examining the accident rate for 1934 when more than 1,070 people lost their lives. The Gresford disaster, of course, greatly increased the number, but we cannot pass over Gresford as easily as that. I propose to examine the fatal and serious accidents that occurred in the mines of this country during 1934. Last year when the right hon. Gentleman the present Minister of Labour presented the Estimates he boasted that the fatal accident total of 831 was the lowest in the history of the industry for many years. He forgot that the output was also the lowest for nearly 40 years, and that the time worked was the worst for many years. As against 831 in 1933, there were 1,084, according to the figures I have, or 1,070 odd, as stated by the hon. Gentleman, in 1934. Two main causes were responsible for the bulk of those accidents. 1876 Falls of ground were responsible for the killing of 448 people underground last year mainly at the coal face. We on these benches think that we are not making the progress that we ought to make in reducing the accident rate underground, and that, as far as accidents at the coal face go, if there were less speed and less rush at the coal face there is a possibility that that figure might be reduced.
Hon. Members who have not had experience of the mining industry may be unaware of the practice underground. Mechanisation is increasing with extraordinary rapidity, and the very moment that a pit turns over from hand-got coal to machine-mined and has to readjust prices, you get colliery companies offering 10½d. and 1s. per ton or slightly more, which means that men have to turn out eight and nine tons a shift of seven and a-half hour in order to make something like a reasonable day's wage. The hurry and scurry that takes place on these conveyor faces is responsible for many of the falls of ground at the coal face. I want the hon. and gallant Gentleman to pay some attention to the suggestions which will be made from this side of the House. We are not satisfied with the conditions on many conveyor faces. We think that the length of face is often far too great, that there ought to be better means of ingress and egress than is provided in many pits of which we know, and that if there were not so much rush work the accident figures could be reduced.
I recognise that the Gresford inquiry is incomplete and that one cannot very well go into certain things until the report is received by the Department and by this House, but there are certain things that need saying. We have been told for years in this House by spokesmen of the Government that the loss of life through explosions was only a small proportion compared with the whole. Indeed, the Mines Department went to a good deal of trouble in order to present Members of Parliament with diagrams showing the proportions of various kinds of accidents, in order to emphasise that explosions were responsible for less than 5 per cent. of the total accidents. The Gresford disaster gave the country a shock, and I think it will compel those excellent officials in the Mines Department to revise some of their opinions with regard to 1877 explosions. It should also compel the right hon. Gentleman the late Secretary for Mines to revise some of his opinions on explosions. I have a quotation from an article by him in the "Liberal National Review," which appeared a few days before the Gresford explosion. That article contained these statements:Explosions of such magnitude are a thing of the past, now that the practice of stone-dusting the underground roadways of mines to prevent the coal dust propagating an explosion is universal and enforced by law. Enforced by law, law based on the one hand on the discoveries of modern science, on the other hand on the accepted principles of the humanitarian control of industry, that is the key to the progress which for nearly a century now has raised British mining, the corner stone of the industrial greatness of this country, above that of any other country in the world in the matter of safeguarding its workers.There has been an opinion held among certain mining people that the day of big explosions has gone by, but Gresford is a reminder that that statement is not true. I cannot very well go into the whole of the evidence given in connection with the Gresford explosion, but the evidence, of which I have a full summary, shows quite clearly that most of the known factors likely to lead to an explosion were present for some time at Gresford before the tragedy occurred. I challenge contradiction on that point. There were long and tortuous airways ranging in the case of 20 and 61 district for a distance of no less than 5,000 yards. In another case the distance was 6,000 yards. Anyone who cares to peruse the map of the ventilating system at Gresford will agree with me that the ventilating system at that pit was far from perfect. When we get the report somebody will have something to say about it. At the Gresford pit there were electrical coal cutters, intensive mining, shot firing, about 200 shots per shift, flame lamps, and the presence of gas, which necessitated in some cases the use of compressed air pipes in order to remove it. Certainly, there were factors present likely to lead to an explosion. Evidence was given by a responsible colliery official that he would be satisfied if 25 per cent. of the air that went down the intake shaft found its way to the workmen at the coal face.
We have to revise our opinions with regard to explosions, and I should like to deal with one or two things that will 1878 have to be taken in hand if we intend to improve the situation. The first defence against explosion is good ventilation. That is admitted by all people who know anything about mining. You want good ventilation in order to prevent the accumulation of fire damp, and to make it reasonable for the men to work. Good ventilation demands good airways, not merely a good intake airway but a good return airway. We know from experience that there are return airways in some pits through which an ordinary man cannot crawl. We think the time has come when the inspectors should pay more attention to the question of ventilation than has been done during the past two or three years. They ought to insist on specific heights and widths of airways, both intake and return. A plentiful supply of good air is necessary in order to prevent an accumulation of gas. Hon. Members must not forget that when Parliament passed the Mines Act of 1911 it laid it down that when there was more than 2½ per cent. of gas in the atmosphere the workmen must be withdrawn. It is known that you cannot get an explosion until you have between five and six per cent. of gas present. We know that the regulation is not kept in all cases.
In order to have an explosion there must be two factors operating simultaneously, first, an accumulation of gas, and, secondly, means of ignition. If the Committee desire, and if the Secretary for Mines desires during his period of office, to reduce the accident rate we ought to see that the deputies or firemen are engaged exclusively carrying out their statutory duties. The deputies and firemen are the policemen of the pit. They have responsible duties to perform and they ought to be allowed to devote their whole time to carrying out their duties. What happens to-day? The deputy in many instances is not only the official responsible for carrying out the Act but he is almost a traffic manager. He has to devote a good deal of his time to output. I have known deputies who have had to combine their duties of carrying out the regulations of the Act with the task of getting good output and acting as shot firers as well. If I were to discuss the question of the State payment of deputies I should be out of order, because that would involve legislation, but we are entitled to say that the fireman or deputy 1879 should be allowed to devote his entire time to carrying out his statutory duties.
Now I come to the question of the means of ignition. Too much shot firing is taking place in our pits to-day. The Chief Inspector of Mines says:In 1934 there were 48,412,000 shots fired, with 363,216,000 ounces of explosives, in 240 working days.Too little attention is paid by some colliery managements to alternative ways of getting the coal down. We think that shot firers should have a definite number of shots to fire each shift. I have the reports of three or four inspectors to justify that statement. The Chief Inspector also said:Conditions vary from mine to mine and from seam to seam in the same mine. On that account it is not possible to lay down the time required by the shot firer to carry out the various provisions of the Explosives in Coal Mines Order prior to firing a shot.The divisional inspectors, who know their own districts better than anyone else should co-operate—we have heard something to-day about co-operation—and consult with the colliery management in determining the maximum number of shots that should be fired in the course of any shift by a single shot firer. Shot firing should be done deliberately. The man who has a shot to fire should have sufficient time to examine around the shot and see that everything necessary is done to prevent an accident. We know from experience that shot firers, like deputies, have too much work to do on occasion and have far too many shots to fire, and we ask the Secretary for Mines to apply his mind to this side of the question.
With regard to the regulations dealing with gas detection, hon. Members on this side have for a number of years been pressing successive Secretaries for Mines to bring in an Order making compulsory the use of gas detectors underground. We are to have a regulation from the 1st October. While I believe that regulation is necessary and will be a step forward, the Miners' Federation of Great Britain and many hon. Members on this side of the House are not quite satisfied with the terms of the Order. We believe that there should be some consultation between the workmen and the management as to the type of detector to be used underground. We think that the men who have to risk their lives in the pit 1880 ought at least to be consulted by the manager as to the best type of detector to be used in a particular seam. There is something to be said for that. The Miners' Federation believe that the time has come when there should be used underground an automatic detector, not as a substitute but as a supplement. However, they accept the new Regulation on the basis that it is better than the existing position. I would say to workmen, trade unions and colliery managements that for the next two years this Order is to operate. If it is worked fairly I think it will be a good thing and will make for safety. At the end of the two years when the Committee gets down to examine the evidence it may be possible either to improve the regulation or to bring in one that will be better, from an entirely different standpoint.
The Secretary for Mines referred to the inspectors. I regret, in view of what occurred at Gresford, that there is no mention in the Estimates of an increase in the number of His Majesty's inspectors of mines. He told us that there were 111 inspectors and that a certain number of pits were examined during 1934. I think he said that every pit in the country was inspected at least once during every 12 months. That is not sufficient. With only 111 inspectors and more than 2,000 pits it is obvious that the inspection cannot be as adequate as it should be. What does the divisional inspector for the North Midland division say in his report for 1933?During the year there were 184 mines at work in the division, and at each of these an underground inspection was made, while many of them received frequent inspections; in the course of the year 20 or more underground inspections were made at some of the large mines. Complete inspection, that is, inspection of the whole underground workings and surface arrangements, of 102 mines was made during the year. As I pointed out in my report for 1930, to make a detailed examination of a large mine may occupy an inspector every day for a fortnight.I submit that every mine in the country ought to be inspected at least once a quarter not once every 12 months, and I regret that there is no mention in the Estimates of an increase in the number of inspectors. If a further 10 inspectors were appointed at a cost of £5,000 per year and they succeeded in saving the lives of 20 or 30 individuals it would be worth all the money expended. However 1881 ever good the inspectors may be they cannot do the impossible. They cannot adequately inspect the mines when you remember that it is the inspector's duty to attend all coroners' inquests and do many other things. I think they do wonderfully good work in the circumstances, but there is a need for an increase in the number. There is one other point from the safety side to which I must refer—the question of stone dusting which has received the attention of the Department and the industry for many years. There is a feeling amongst eminent mining men that the regulation governing stone dusting ought to be revised. Instead of it being on a fifty-fifty basis the 50 per cent. should be the minimum, and in some schemes where the circumstances warrant it there ought to be more stone dusting done than is asked for in the regulation. There is what is termed the caking of stone dust, and on this point the divisional inspector for the Midlands and Southern District says:Though I have not met with any cases of stone dust caking, I should like to call attention again to the fact that certain dusts absorb moisture from the air and form a fairly hard crust. Dust which is caked in this manner is not easily raised into a cloud, and consequently is of little use in preventing the extension of an explosion should one occur. Tests should be made of the dust on ledges in the roads by blowing with the mouth, and if after it has been on the ledges for some weeks it cannot be easily raised by a sharp puff of the breath, it should be regarded as unsuitable for its purpose.I am pointing out that it is no use having stone dusting unless you use stone dust which is going to be effective. If you get certain underground conditions which causes that stone dust to cake you will have stone dust which is almost ineffective for the purpose for which it was placed there. I hope the Secretary for Mines will give some attention to this matter and that the Department will look over the regulation and if it needs improvement that they will not hesitate to amend it. We have heard many statements from the hon. and gallant Member about the position in the industry. He mentioned that for the six months and two weeks of this year there has been a slight increase in production. In answer to a question of mine a few days ago he said that for the six months ending 30th June the output for the year had been 111,116,000 tons. If he looks at the 1882 figures for 1934 he will find that it shows a reduction of nearly 850,000 tons. While there has been an increase of 17,000,000 tons over 1933 we have to remember the tragic situation in the coalfields. The Minister for Labour said yesterday that Ministers come and go but facts remain the same. They do, and, unfortunately, they are tragic from the point of view of the mine worker.
Let me give one or two figures. In 1924, that is 10 years ago, there were 1,248,224 wage-earners in the industry. In June, 1935, there were 757,100, or 491,124 fewer than in 1924, and 186,342 fewer than five years ago. That is a tragic situation. We heard a, good deal about the special areas yesterday, but this situation is tragic in every coalfield in the three countries, and will have to be faced and dealt with on lines which the Government have not yet touched. Look at it from the point of view of wages. There has been a decrease in the cost of living since 1920, but there has also been a big decrease in wages. Miners' wages to-day, on the average, are 28 per cent. more than they were in 1913, but the cost of living is more than 40 per cent. more.
§ Mr. SMITH
I am talking about the average, and I have the figures here and can show the hon. Member how I arrive at that figure. In 1920 the total wages paid in the mining industry was over £265,000,000. In 1930, 10 years later, they had fallen to £104,781,000, and in 1934 to £87,997,000. If you take the average wage in 1920 it was £4 6s. 11d. per week. In 1930 it had fallen to £2 3s. 10d., and in 1934, although there was an increased output of thirteen million tons as compared with 1933, the average wage was £2 4s. 5d. per week. On the other side, the individual output per man per shift has increased since 1920 from 55 to 60 per cent., while his average wage has fallen between 50 and 55 per cent. These are gross wages, and it must be remembered that stoppages have to be taken into account. On the 1883 average between 5 and 10 per cent. must be deducted from these wages for certain stoppages at the pit. I have the pay ticket of a man who last Saturday drew 38s. on his pay sheet, out of which he had to pay 3s. 4d. for stoppages at the pit, leaving him £1 14s. 8d. to take home. These are the kind of stoppages they have to pay: checkweigh and pick sharpening, 1s. 3d., national health insurance 9d., unemployment insurance 10d., hospital 3d., welfare 2d., and nursing association 1d. Therefore, the average wage which is shown in the statistics must be reduced by 5 to 10 per cent. if you are to arrive at the figure which the man actually takes home.
But there is another side to this question. There are tens of thousands of men in the coalfields who are going home with less than 35s. per week. The position of the day worker in every coalfield is a scandal. The position of the piece-worker is bad enough, but that of the day worker is even worse. They work four and five days per week. They are necessary to mines because you cannot have men winning coal unless you have men doing the repair work. These men are working for less than 8s. per day, despite the fact that there is a subsistence wage in operation. The wages in the mining industry to-day are an absolute scandal and should be remedied. The Miners' Federation Conference at Rhyl last week passed certain resolutions. They told the country the position of the mine workers, and what they intended to do. They intend to put forward an application for an increase of wages, and I am not surprised. The amount which they intend to put forward is not material to my argument. The position in the coalfield is tragic from the point of view of wages. The Secretary for Mines sent a letter to the conference last week which gave them cold comfort, and rather indicated that the Government intended to do nothing to deal with an application for an increase.
The point I want to put is this. The Minister finished his speech by asking for co-operation between all parties in the industry; he said let by-gones be by-gones. We are prepared to do that, but we cannot forget poverty. He appealed for co-operation between all those in the industry. I re-echo that appeal in this sense: What is the hon. and gallant 1884 Gentleman going to do to try to get a meeting between the two parties? What does he intend to do, to resume contact with the coalowners and the Miners' Federation? Why should he not try to arrange for a meeting between the two sides, or a tripartite conference at which he could put forward his plea for co-operation? The Miners' Federation are not seeking a strike. Believe me when I say that. We have had many strikes and lock-outs that we did not want, but the Federation are saying that those who work in the industry are entitled to more wages than they are getting to-day. They are desirous of having a meeting with the coalowners. I ask the Minister to tell us to-night what he is prepared to do to bring that meeting about, and to translate into action his appeal for co-operation. Is he prepared to interview the coalowners and to ask them to meet the Miners' Federation? Or is his appeal purely a sentimental one? The hon. and gallant Gentleman may or may not be Secretary for Mines very long, but at least he has that position now, and I ask him to do what he can to bring that meeting about.
I will put another point to him. The Federation have been meeting the Department during the past year and have been asking for certain things to be done. If the Federation were to say that they were prepared to accept the position of the National Board, what would be the attitude of the Department towards the Federation? At least the Federation are entitled to some definite reply on that point. Up to now the Department has contented itself with saying, "We are not prepared to do anything because we know the Federation do not believe in compulsory arbitration." But the miners have great faith in the National Board and want the right to put their case before it, because they know they have a good case. There is another thing that ought to be put. The Government some time ago told the House and the country that they were desirous of having conversations with employers of labour to secure a reduction in hours by agreement. I want to know why the mineowners were kept out of those conversations. Twenty-two meetings were arranged, but there was no mention of the mineowners. Did the Government not want to interfere with the coalowners? We have a right to an answer.
1885 The Federation are going to put forward their case for an increase of wages. Have they to wait until they threaten a strike before they can get a meeting? Should not time be taken by the forelock, and should not the Mines Department take the initiative? It has done so before. I happened to spend some time in 1924 in the Mines Department as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Mr. Shinwell, and again from 1929 to 1931. We were face to face with a demand. The Department took the initiative and called a conference of the two parties. I submit that the Secretary for Mines has the best chance now to do that. Let the two sides put their cards on the table and see whether they cannot get together on this question of improved wages.
The question of overtime has occupied a good deal of time in this House during the past two or three years. We have now got a report with regard to Scotland. It states what many of us knew, that there is far too much overtime being worked where machine mining is in operation. I was pleased to hear the Minister say that he would give this report consideration, and see what could be done. I am quite satisfied that the Department has not taken up a strong enough attitude on this question of overtime generally in the coalfields. When the 1908 Act was passed there was an emergency clause inserted. That Clause made provision for overtime working in certain circumstances, in the case of accidents. If a man was buried in a place it did not matter whether those working to rescue him stayed underground for eight or 18 hours. If there was rescue work to be done the men did it. If there was a fall in the main level and men had to be employed to remove the dirt, that was emergency work and there was no complaint. But it was never understood that ordinary coal-face working would be defined as emergency work. The wording of the Clause is: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.What is happening to-day is this: Men are told "You must not leave that face until you have cleared it for the machine to go on." Men have been kept in for eight, nine or 10 hours per shift. This overtime work is being construed by some managers as emergency work within 1886 the meaning of the Act, but the Act was never intended for that kind of work. When the Act was passed only 6 per cent. of coal was being got by machines. To-day more than44 per cent. is got by machines. Machine mining was almost unknown in 1908 and there was very little overtime done. If a deputy said: "I want that heading there for ventilation purposes," a man stopped for a couple of hours to do it. When he left work his name was entered in a book and he gave an explanation of where he had been. A colliery manager told me himself that since this Government had been in office there had not been the same "pep" shown on this overtime business. The inspectors have winked at it more during the lifetime of this Government than during the lifetime of any other Government. This question of overtime is not confined to Scotland. Overtime is being worked in more than one district. We ask the Minister to give the matter attention and to tell the mineowners that ordinary work on a machine face is not emergency work. If in spite of that warning they continue to work overtime, the Minister should take action against them.
In the mining industry there is a good deal of poverty, and in the mines there are far too many accidents. What we can do from this side of the House to co-operate with anyone in reducing the accident rate we shall do. We have always been prepared to do it. Often we have made suggestions which have not been accepted. I want the Secretary for Mines to believe me when I say that I appreciated his point of view when he talked about the men taking risks. Of course men take risks; they are compelled to do so. But all the accidents in the pit are not the men's fault. I have read the reports very carefully and I know what is said. It is usually said, "Well, they could have been avoided." Perhaps an accident could have been avoided, but it happened, and there are a good many things that need to be put right.
While the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) was Secretary for Mines he had something to say about initiating protective equipment. I have seen some of this equipment. Some of it is very good indeed, and I think a word of encouragement ought to be given to Major Hudspeth for the work he is doing. There is the cap with a cushion inside, which 1887 prevents injury in many cases. But how many are in actual use in the pits? There is the reinforced boot which has a very strong toe-cap, so that when anything falls on it the boot is not crushed. The latest type of boot is a very fine thing indeed. If the colliery owners are anxious to prevent these small injuries why do they not provide this kind of protective equipment to all men and lads who want it? The men in their poverty cannot buy everything that is put before them. These appliances are not extensively used because men cannot afford to buy them. It would be a good investment for the owner to make provision for an extended use of this safety equipment.
With regard to the classes for boys, I agree with what the Minister said as to their usefulness. Most of us have had the honour of attending the annual meetings and distributing the awards. I wonder how far these classes could be extended. It has been put to me that there is not the necessary finance for such extension. Would the Minister say in how many districts these safety classes are in operation and whether any complaints have been received by the Department that their activities have been limited on account of lack of money? I hope that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will have a happy time in his office in devoting himself to the complex matters that will come before him, and that next year we shall not only see a more prosperous industry from the workers' point of view but accident figures that are far lower than those of to-day.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Mr. ISAAC FOOT
The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) has given a speech which I am sure the whole Committee will feel expressed what was in the mind of us all so far as the new Minister is concerned. I would certainly like to join in the congratulations that have been given to the hon. and gallant Gentleman upon his appointment to this very important position, and I think that when he has finished his period of service at the institution which I still like to think is called Cromwell House, he will have learned three things, as all his predecessors have learned them. First of all, I think that at the end of his period of service the hon. and gallant Gentleman will feel marked gratitude towards those who assist him in the 1888 Department. He will have found there a body of civil servants who can hold their own with any similar body in the world. Next, he will have, I think, a high appreciation of those engaged in the industry generally, who are carrying on, in spite of the necessities and difficulties of modern times, because the blast of depression has struck upon that industry more than upon most others. I am sure the hon. and gallant Gentleman will have a profound admiration for the miners, especially when he has had the opportunity, which may have been denied to him in earlier years as it was denied to me, of seeing the miner at work. With that appreciation, there will be associated just a touch of humility.
I am not surprised that the hon. and gallant Gentleman should have paid his tribute to the assistance already received by him in the Department, and I think the whole Committee will agree upon the three propositions with which he concluded his speech, namely, that this industry is fundamental in its importance to the nation; that mining is a difficult and a dangerous calling, and that the industry is not yet upon an economically sound basis. It was when he had stated those propositions that the hon. and gallant Gentleman passed to to ask for kindness, toleration and good will, and it was perhaps a little difficult and against the grain for my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton to commence his speech, immediately afterwards, with a proposal for the reduction of the Minister's salary. Another thing which I think the Minister will learn from his experience in the Department is that the affairs of the miners are in very competent hands. I would like to express the regret which, I am sure, is felt by all at the loss of Mr. Peter Lee, who was for so long President of the Miners' Federation. He set a great example of moderation and devotion to the interests of his fellows during his long and honourable association with the federation. I would like also to take the opportunity of thanking the Labour Opposition for having had this Vote put down because a Session would be incomplete which did not afford an opportunity of discussing these questions, touching so closely the lives of so many of our people.
I propose to confine my attention mainly to two matters relating to safety, 1889 but before dealing with those, may I make a further reference to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton? He, of course, has special experience. Not only has he been engaged in the ordinary work of the industry, before being sent here by his fellows to represent them, but he has been at the Department itself and has a close acquaintance with its inner working. He knows something of the enthusiasm behind the demands which come from outside and the difficulties in the way of translating that enthusiasm into administrative practice. He was closely associated with certain proposals for securing the safety of his fellow-workers underground, and he and Mr. Shinwell were largely responsible for starting those safety conferences which I had the honour of continuing. The credit in the matter was entirely theirs, and I am sure that those conferences have had a useful effect in bringing the expert at the Department into immediate touch with the man who has to carry out the orders of the administration. The fact that they have been brought face to face in such a way that questions can be put and answered directly, instead of through the long and elaborate processes which often have to be adopted, has had an excellent effect among the many thousands of men who accepted the invitations, issued in the first instance by my predecessor in office.
May I make a further reference to what the hon. Member said on the subject of co-operation in regard to wages questions? He asked whether the Government, and the Minister in particular, were prepared to invite the coal owners to come into conference on the question of wages, and I shall be very much surprised if the Minister is not willing in that respect. I know that was the deliberate policy of the National Government when it was first formed. We were most anxious that upon the national board which dealt with these matters, there should be, not merely one or two independent owners, responsible only to themselves, but representatives of the Mining Association prepared to talk over with the men, face to face, questions affecting the conditions of the miners' livelihood. I hope that point will be dealt with later by the Minister, and I shall certainly be much surprised 1890 if there has been any "resiling"—I believe that is the word now in use, since the debates on the India Bill—if the Government have in any way resiled from the position taken up at that time.
I remember a speech upon this subject by the Noble Lord the Member for Down (Viscount Castlereagh) who is closely associated with this industry. I remember what he had to say, at a time when high controversial feeling was aroused, as to the wisdom of owners meeting men face to face in friendly co-operation to discuss wages and other conditions applicable to the industry. I believe if that invitation, emphasised by the Noble Lord and others in the debates of 1932, had been generally adopted there would not be such a strained position in the industry to-day. I associate myself unqualifiedly with the hon. Member for Normanton in his request that a matter of this kind should be dealt with, at any rate in the first instance, by conference between representatives of owners and representatives of miners. It is a monstrous thing that a question of this kind should have to be decided by ultimatums and threats and menaces. Further, I am sure that it will be agreed by every Member and by all who think on the subject at all, that the miner's wage to-day is deplorably low. As to the methods by which it can be raised, that is a subject for discussion and I expect to hear more of it to-night, but that it is deplorably low, especially having regard to the conditions of the work and the perils that work involves, is a proposition that will command general assent.
I now come to the two matters of safety with which I wish to deal. I suppose that the Minister has come to the same conclusion as others that the problem of safety in mines is not solely the problem of the big explosion. I am not sure that I followed the hon. Member for Normanton in his remarks upon that subject. I think it is still true that the real danger, the continuing danger, which involves so often death, disaster and maiming is associated with causes apart from explosions. No one, of course, could say that there should be any less inquiry into explosions or that any less emphasis should be laid upon the need for ventilation and every scientific appliance that can be used to prevent explosions, leading to such great tragedies as that which recently occurred at Gresford. Nevertheless, the figures show that the real 1891 calamity in the mines is not the calamity which touches the public imagination, when some great loss occurs like that of Gresford, involving, I think, 265 lives. The heart-breaking business is the weekly return of deaths. Anyone who has experience of the Mines Department knows that everybody working in that Department is concerned about the weekly return of deaths, sometimes getting up to figures of 18, 19 or 20 and also the weekly return of non-fatal accidents. I believe that every attention possible is concentrated upon bringing about a reduction of those figures. I would only point out to the Committee that, even with the outstanding calamity of Gresford, during the past year many more men lost their lives through falls alone than through other causes.
It is upon that point that I wish to deal with two practical matters. The first is the training of boys. In that work no one has assisted more than the hon. Member for Normanton. I think I saw it almost from its beginning and I believe I was the first to distribute badges in Yorkshire to boys who had completed their training. It was a wonderful sight to see those boys coming up for their badges and I think a great deal of importance ought to be attached to those badges and their presentation ought to be invested by the Minister with as much significance as possible. I hope that in the midst of a busy life he will find time, as often as possible, to present these prizes, giving them that added value which will arise from his presence and his remarks. This movement which was only in its beginning when I spoke from that Box has now so grown that 10,000 boys were enrolled in these classes in 1934.
There is, however, a remarkable difference between the figures in one locality and those in another, on which I should like some explanation. Why, for instance, should there be in the Northern division 63 centres with 3,266 boys enrolled, compared with only 14 centres in Swansea with 245 boys enrolled? It is difficult to understand why in the Yorkshire division there should be 64 centres and 2,413 boys enrolled and in Cardiff only 34 centres and 648 boys enrolled. The disparity is remarkable. I am sure, the boy in South Wales is just as keen on safety training as the boy in Yorkshire 1892 or the Northern division and I do not think a boy's aptitude for learning is any less because he happens to have been born in the Principality. I am sure that suggestion would be resented by some of my hon. Friends upon these benches. Why, then, does this difference exist? I know it depends largely upon the colliery officials who help in the teaching of the boys and also upon the co-operation of the local education authorities.
Now that we have had a few years experience of this healthy and wholesome work, my hope is that, wherever districts have fallen behind, more propaganda will be carried out and more attempts made to secure the co-operation of the local education authorities or other agencies who hitherto have been lagging behind in this work. We want to give the boys of South Wales the same opportunity as the boys of other areas. It is not only a question of teaching the boys methods of safety. I think it was John Stuart Mill who said that the main part of a man's education came from his daily occupation. It is a good thing for a boy who is employed in a pit to know more about his own occupation. I understand that in many of these classes the boys who have passed through and gained this modest diploma are not satisfied with that but are pressing on to the mining classes proper and not merely limiting themselves to the question of safety. In my opinion the work that has been done in the last few years and has already brought about such fruitful results is the very best manifestation of what I think is one of the finest movements in the country, and that is the Workers' Educational Association. My hon. Friend near me comes from Yorkshire, and I know that will have his very strong approval, because their records there are very encouraging.
Will you allow me now to pass to a subject that was dealt with only very briefly by the hon. Member who has just sat down, and that is the question of protective equipment? Just now when the matter was mentioned I thought I discerned a little laughter, but I hope that I was mistaken. I am quite sure the hon. Member who last spoke would not underrate the importance of that question, upon which I want to put a few facts before the Committee. When a 1893 disaster takes place such as that at Gresford, there is an outpouring of public sympathy and the most amazing response as far as material gifts are concerned, but when the one man is struck down in the ordinary course of his work, the bereavement comes just as closely and the blow falls just as heavily upon that home, and we need to get that sympathy which was poured out on the occasion of Gresford applied more generally to all these losses that are borne week by week and month by month. We shall then see the need of dealing not only with explosions, but with the injuries caused by falls, haulage, and so on.
I ask the indulgence of the Committee while I quote something that I said from that Box on the 3rd May, 1932:One day we shall have protective equipment in our mines. I have no doubt that one of my successors will make obligatory the use of helmets, gloves, safety boots, and goggles. I do not know why this has not been done before, but the British miner, so advanced in other ways, is often conservative in his customs."—[OFFICIAL REPORT 3rd May, 1932; col. 973, Vol. 265.]I remember that the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. D. Davies), who spoke afterwards, suggested that perhaps I did not know very much about underground conditions, which was quite true, and that in the heat of the mine to use a helmet was almost impracticable. That may be true, but I think that the prejudice which then existed is rapidly being overcome, and I do not know why it should not be that the helmet, which played a part in the panoply of war in the Middle Ages, should come back in our own generation. No international footballer would go on the field without his shinguards. No cricketer, I suppose, would go upon the field to take part in a first-class match without his pads and his gloves.
§ Mr. FOOT
When the experiment was instituted, in order to overcome the prejudice the line that was taken was that we went to the Miners' Welfare Fund and said, "Will you put the money to enable the helmets to be provided?" Then, 1894 through the assistance of Sir Henry Walker and Major Hudspeth, to whom a very merited tribute has been paid by my hon. Friend., hats were supplied in five pits in 1932. Each of these pits was provided with 50 hats at an inclusive cost of £250. In the following year there were further experiments, at a further cost of £250, and this money did not involve any special grant, but was found out of the revenue of the Miners' Welfare Fund. It was not a case, as we can see, for coercion or enforcement; it was a case for persuasion and example, and at that time, although that is only three years ago, and although only 50 hats were supplied in those five pits, and in the following year a similar number of hats were supplied in other collieries, I am very glad to know that that number of helmets has so increased that now the number in use in this country is 140,000. If we take the total number of miners in this country, given just now at something like 750,000, I think—
§ Mr. FOOT
—that number of 140,000 shows the appreciation of the collier himself. Even now it is remarkable hew you can have one colliery where practically all the men are fitted with the helmets and you can have another colliery where no one wears them. The reason for this should be found out. I think it is not very much good having publicity and advising the individual collier to use a helmet. It ought to be used altogether in the pit. No man likes to be thought to be peculiar, and the one man who provides himself with the equipment that science now suggests he ought to use, makes himself different from his fellows and hardly likes to incur the criticism. That is one of the difficulties. Another difficulty is expense. I think it is so important that the use of this protective equipment should be enlarged that no question of expense to the miner should stand in the way. I hope some suggestion can lie made in that respect, and certainly some contribution should be made by the owner at least, as he stands to gain a great deal, having regard to the very immense burden of compensation arising from accidents in the mines.
Taking not the figures relating to deaths, which were given by the hon. 1895 Member, but certain figures showing injuries to head, hand, eye, and foot, in 1933 there were 122,136 non-fatal accidents calling for compensation, and that number represented 57 per cent. of the total number of accidents in the mines. These were made up of 9,110 injuries to the head, 40,616 injuries to the hand, 5,868 injuries to the eye, and 13,895 injuries to the foot. The relevance of those figures is the use of protective apparatus. It was reckoned that in that year the cost to the industry in compensation for all accidents was about £2,125,000. That shows how serious is the economic factor. The injuries to the head in 1933 were 9,110, and in 1934 they were 9,544. I know the man-shifts were slightly higher, but in 1933 one out of every 72 underground workers received head injuries. Taking the hand injuries, the number in 1933 was 40,616, and that means that practically 1,000 colliers every week were injured in their hands.
§ Mr. FOOT
I am speaking only of injuries calling for compensation. That number of 40,616 had risen to 43,870 in 1934. Taking the eye injuries, they were 5,868 in 1933, and in 1934 they were 6,530. The injuries to the foot were 13,895 in 1933, and 14,854 in 1934. It is on those figures that I ask the Committee to consider what steps can be taken to reduce this area of suffering. If we can do it only in a small measure, I think it is right to invite the co-operation of the Committee. To those interested in this matter, may I recommend a report of a lecture that was given by Major Hudspeth, which will be found in the "Iron and Coal Trades Review" for 18th January of the present year? Major Hudspeth, under the inspiration and guidance, of course, of Sir Henry Walker, has laid the workers in the colliery districts, I think, under a heavy debt of obligation by his persistence in this matter. If he had been set aside by the opposition which he evoked at the beginning we should not have made this progress. When Major Hudspeth first put on the helmet, they were inclined to look upon it as being a performance for their entertainment. Views have changed since that time, and Major Hudspeth has now got some very remarkable results.
1896 We have tried this equipment for too short a period to be able to speak except with diffidence, and, therefore, we cannot get much information upon it, but will the Committee bear with me while I quote what Major Hudspeth says about the experience in America? He gives two illustrations to show what has happened in particular mines in America following upon the use of this equipment. For instance, a coal company employing about 1,600 men enforced the use of safety shoes and goggles, commencing January, 1930, and these are the results: In 1929 there were 396 eye accidents, and in 1932 there were 17. The days lost in respect of eye accidents in those years fell from 5,839 to 13. Taking the accidents to the foot, in the same mine in those years they fell from 184 to 5, and the days lost in respect of foot accidents fell from 1,129 to 54; and the reduction was progressive. That was where the equipment was made compulsory. The other illustration was where the equipment was not made compulsory, but in this mine the employees to the extent of 95 per cent. adopted the protective helmets, and let us see the effect upon the head injuries. In 1929 there wer 126 head injuries, and on the 30th June, 1932, they were down to 7, and the days lost in the same years had fallen from 693 to 26. Major Hudspeth gives quotation after quotation. He refers to a Scottish colliery where a man's life was absolutely saved by the use of his helmet, and he says "He was wearing one of the Cromwell hats," a name that ought to help in its development. I do not wish to occupy too much time, but if that information that Major Hudspeth put before the country responsibly in the early part of this year is borne out by what we find in this country, surely that is something that we ought to develop here in the interests not merely of the industry but most of all of the men themselves. With regard to publicity, one of the North Staffordshire collieries had a notice up depicting a beacon displaying the word "Stop" and a picture of the hat with the words:This hat saved your mate's life. A few shillings will replace a broken hat, but a broken head cannot be replaced.Perhaps the Minister who dwelt upon this in his speech will tell us of his interest in this matter, and what steps he thinks his Department will be able to take in 1897 the next 12 months to follow the excellent lead that has been given by Sir Henry Walker and Major Hudspeth. We have had brought home to us to-day, very simply, by the figures given by the Minister, the fact that the eye peril that exists in the industry is six times as great as that of ordinary industry. That and the weekly loss involving so many deaths and accidents, coupled as it is with such disasters as happen now and again, bring home to us our dependence upon the people who make our continued civilisation possible. The Minister said that it was the fundamental industry. The fact that it is the fundamental industry is the claim of the men who are engaged in it to fair consideration and proper treatment. Our ordinary amenities of life not only depend upon their efforts, but upon their facing peril, and I believe that the people of this country want a fair deal for the miners. They know very well, as they are reminded sometimes by great disasters and losses, that their coal is got at a great price. When these facts are brought home to us we are almost inclined to look upon coal as David looked upon the water that had been brought by his men in a time of great peril—Is not this the blood of the men that went in jeopardy of their lives?Throughout the country there is the desire that those who do this work and face this peril for the needs of our civilisation should receive the consideration to which they are entitled. I am only anxious that in the two matters that I have ventured to mention to the Committee some progress may be made in the next 12 months, so that an inroad may be made on the figures which are at present returned.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Mr. DICKIE
I should like to join with previous speakers in congratulating the Minister not only on his appointment, but on the lucidity with which he made his statement. I should also like to associate myself with the plea that has been made for closer co-operation and toleration between those engaged in the industry, because only in that way can it return to greater prosperity. In the Debate on the special areas yesterday, the position and the future prospects of the mining industry loomed very large. To-day we are discussing the industry itself. In the close association of these two subjects history is repeating itself, 1898 because it has been a curious feature of the present Parliament that every year about this period, whenever there has been discussion on the Mines Vote, there has been a discussion on the distressed areas. That is no mere coincidence, and on this occasion the association is closer than ever it was, because the problem of the mining industry is really the problem of the distressed areas. Until we can find a solution of the problem of the mining industry, we cannot hope for any solution of the problem of the distressed areas.
There are one or two points on which I should like to touch, and one or two questions which the Secretary said he expected he would be called upon to answer. Before I refer to them, however, I would like to make a reference to the observations of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) on the attitude of one or two of my colleagues and myself to the question of the Miners' Welfare Fund. He unwittingly did us some injustice, and I should like to remind him that I not only voted against the reduction of the Welfare Fund, but actually spoke against it. I should like to remind him also that one of the hon. Gentleman's own colleagues referred in complimentary terms to the attitude which I have taken on that matter, and to the speech which I made. I would also like to remind the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues that, as a result of the reduction in the Miners' Welfare Fund, I was compelled to withdraw a Bill that I had introduced for utilising a portion of the fund for giving pensions to aged miners. Having regard to these facts, I think that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale will probably think he was a little ungenerous in his criticism when he spoke about some of us trying to have it both ways, and that he will realise that some of us were just as gravely concerned as he or any of his colleagues were about what we honestly believed to be an unnecessary curtailment of the beneficent work of the Miners' Welfare Fund.
I would like to ask the Minister a question relating to the quota. It is whether there are in existence in all the districts arrangements for the pooling of the quotas and for the purchasing of quotas? It is possible for a grave injustice to be done to individual owners when no such arrangements exist. Towards 1899 the end of the quota period an owner may have almost exhausted his quota, and he may make inquiries in every direction and be unable to obtain another. Then he is faced with the position of either having to close his pit and throw his men out of work, or he has to face the possibility of a fine of 2s. 6d. per ton for every ton he produces. If he decides to work his mine he may find that there was, after all, in the district a quota which was available and which he ought to have had the right to purchase had a pooling arrangement been in existence. On top of that, having been fined for exceeding the quota by the heavy sum of 2s. 6d. per ton for keeping his men at work, he may find that the district, too, has exceeded its quota, but it may not have exceeded it by as much as the individual colliery. The owner is fined by the District Council the full amount, and the Central Council then proceeds to levy a lesser fine upon the district. The individual owner may then be faced with the situation of being fined more than the district, and the balance goes to the district committee, which is composed of his own competitors. I should be glad to learn that the Minister will consider that point and will tell me whether any means can be found of redressing the grievance.
I will turn to another matter on which I should like to have a little enlightenment. The Minister has referred to the fact that petrol comes within the jurisdiction of his Department. There is, however, another series of mines that come within that jurisdiction, namely, the metalliferous mines. On 17th May last year his predecessor introduced a small Measure to facilitate the working of these mines. He was very pleased with his little Measure; in fact, I remember that he almost blushed with pride as he introduced it. He commended it so very highly that even the Opposition did not oppose it, with the result that he got his little Bill in about 20 minutes. It passed its remaining stages unchallenged, received the Royal Assent, and was placed on the Statute Book under the name of the Mines (Working Facilities) Act. I would like to ask the Secretary for Mines what has happened to this delightful babe which was brought to us with such paternal pride by his predecessor. It is true that the late Minister 1900 for Mines was not the parent of the Bill. It came from another place and he adopted it, but he was as proud of it as if it had been his own, and he spoke of its birth as something which would have a most beneficent effect on the future of metalliferous mines. This is a matter of such importance that I hope the Committee will forgive me if I quote what the Minister for Mines said. After a reference to the genesis of the Coal Mines Act, 1923, he said:In the course of the working of that Act—a very successful working—it was discovered that there were certain difficulties with regard to coal. This was brought before the Government, and in 1926 an amending Act was passed extending the 1923 Act in three respects. In the first place, it extended it so that instead of only persons with an interest in the minerals having the right to make an application to the tribunal, which is the Railway and Canal Commission, a most able and impartial tribunal, any person may make an application.… In the third place, there was a provision giving power to modify or to annul restrictions, terms and conditions in mining leases which prevented coal being worked efficiently or economically. That applied to coal only, and it has worked well, with general approval, since 1926 to the great advantage of the coal industry.He went on to say:One of the major recommendations calling for legislation is contained in the Bill—namely, to give to metalliferous minerals contained in the Schedule to the Bill, which went through another place without opposition and without amendment, the same facilities already enjoyed by coal under the Act of 1926. Hon. Members must understand that there is one over-riding necessity, namely, that those who make the application must prove to the Railway and Canal Commission that it is in the national interest that powers should be put into operation. Anybody who has seen the working of the 1923 Act in regard to all minerals and the amending Act of 1926 in regard to the coal industry, will agree that they are for the good of the industry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th May, 1934; cols, 2030 –31, Vol. 289.]From that quotation the Secretary for Mines will see that his predecessor was inordinately proud of his adopted child. What has become of this little cherub? Has it fulfilled the promise of its earlier days? Has it survived the first year of its life, or has somebody been lurking round the corner waiting to assassinate it? I ask because I believe that any benefit which the owners of metalliferous mines may have expected to derive from the placing of that small Measure upon the Statute Book has been destroyed by 1901 a decision in the Court of Appeal in a case which was fought on the very evils which this Act was intended to eradicate. Almost every commission which has inquired into the mining industry has reported on the evil effects of wayleaves, and even in the report of the Commissioner for the special areas, which was debated yesterday, appears the statement:It is particularly necessary to deal with the principles affecting wayleaves; the amounts levied at times are quite unwarranted and their unfair imposition tends to hold up the economic expansion of the industry.I will give the Committee a few figures to show the grossly excessive charges which are levied by the owners of surface lands for the right merely to transfer coal from one point to another. In this case a railway was made by the company concerned, because that was the only way of getting the coal from where it was mined to where it was to be used. The land in question had an area of 27 acres, and at full letting value was worth no more than £5 per annum. Time and again the company endeavoured to buy the land and offered a high price, but the owners declined to sell. From 1890 to 1st December, 1931, that iron company paid a total of £164,473, or £6,092 per acre, merely for the surface use of these few acres of land.
The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) referred to wages, and the Secretary for Mines gave us some figures of the earnings of miners. I have always contended, in season and out of season, that the wages paid to miners are far too low for such hazardous work, but I ask the Government, How can any industry afford to pay reasonable wages if it is mulcted in such parasitical charges as having to pay £6,000 a year for a few acres of land used merely to carry coal from one place to another? We have been told that wages have fallen substantially during the last few years, but there has been no fall in this charge, which still remains at £6,000. In one of this morning's newspapers there is a case which I should like to bring to the notice of the Secretary for Mines. It is such an extraordinary story of low wages in the mining industry—of which I know something, though I may not have an intimate knowledge of its technical side—that I am not prepared to accept the statements there made without inquiry. But they are figures into which the Secretary 1902 for Mines might inquire, because if they should be verified they are an outrage and a scandal, and if they are not true then their publication is an outrage and a scandal on the part of the paper publishing them and of the journalist who wrote the story. It says:I am told of nightshift men who are working from 11 to 12 hours every night, afraid to refuse for fear of being sacked and having their unemployment benefits stopped for six weeks.That is a question of overtime, with which I am not concerned at the moment, but as it has been dealt with by the hon. Member for Normanton I expect the Secretary for Mines will refer to it in his reply. Here is what I wish to call attention to:Two young married men, after being out of work for four years, started in a low seam, 18 to 20 inches high, to which they were not used. They worked seven shifts of eight hours between them, and, after offtakes, had only 6s. 3d. to divide.That is after working 56 hours. It is an almost unbelievable story. The wages work out at less than 1½d. per hour. It is a case into which the Secretary for Mines might inquire.
To go back to the instance of way-leave payments which I cited before. The company applied to the Railway and Canal Commission, to "this capable Commission," as it was described by the present Minister of Labour, for relief from these grossly excessive charges, and they won their case. The case was carried to the Court of Appeal, where the decision was reversed. There is no appeal to the House of Lords. While this particular company, like many others, has to carry on year after year without being able to pay a penny to its shareholders or to pay adequate wages to its workers, the wayleave owners, who neither toil nor spin, draw from it every year £6,000 for the use of the small area of agricultural land I have described. I ask the Secretary for Mines whether the Government propose to do anything about it. A question was put on the Order Paper on 8th April, and I was then told that the matter was under active consideration. I refrained from troubling the Secretary for Mines until mid-July, when I put another question, and was then told that the Minister had nothing to add to the reply of 8th April. I suppose the matter is still under active consideration. What I want to see is 1903 not so much active consideration as a little more considered activity. I appeal to the Minister to make representations in the proper quarter to see that the industry is relieved of these grossly excessive Charges.
The Secretary for Mines referred to the iron and steel industry. He knows, as does his chief, the President of the Board of Trade, and as does everyone associated with any of these industries, that there is no direction from which greater improvement could come more quickly to the mining industry than from the iron and steel industry. Everyone knows how closely interwoven and interlocked are the mining industry, the iron and steel industry and the shipbuilding industry; the mining industry being, after all, the foundation of the whole of our industrial life. If anyone can solve the problem of these three industries, he has solved the problem of the distressed areas. An Act to assist British shipping was recently placed on the Statute Book, but from what I hear advantage is not being taken of it to the extent that it might be. I do not know what are the difficulties in the way, but the improvements which we had expected in the mining, the iron and steel and the shipbuilding industries, particularly on the North East coast as a result of the "scrap and build" policy of the Government, have not materialised. I appeal to the Secretary for Mines to use all his influence to see that any misunderstanding which may have arisen as to the provisions of this valuable Measure should be removed as speedily as possible. If there are any flaws in that Act which prevent shipowners from taking advantage of its provisions, I beg the Government to remove them as soon as may be, in order that all three industries may derive the greatest possible benefit from the Measures placed on the Statute Book by the National Government and that we may enjoy that improvement at the earliest possible moment.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. GORDON MACDONALD
Seldom, if ever, have the Estimates for the Mines Department been introduced with more clarity and, I might say, with more charm than they were to-day. I was not disappointed when I heard the apology in 1904 advance which was offered to us, because, generally speaking, apologies in advance are unnecessary apologies, and I felt that it would be so to-day. The hon. and gallant Gentleman certainly presented what are difficult Estimates, very complicated and dealing with many aspects of mining life, in a most charming manner, and we on this side of the Committee, though we differ from him about many things and differ with him about much that he said, appreciate the manner in which the Estimates were presented. Probably these will be the last Mines Department Estimates presented during this Parliament. I would not hazard a guess at the date of the next General Election in the presence of the Prime Minister, but I think I may risk the statement that no other Secretary for Mines will present Estimates in this Parliament.
That being so, the occasion affords an opportunity to look back over the lifetime of the Government and to ask what they have done to make the mining industry a greater asset to the nation. I realise that I must not refer to anything which may need legislation, and I will try to avoid doing so, but one or two things ought to be emphasised. The mining industry to-day is worse as an employing agency than it was when this Government took office. It is also definitely worse from the point of view of the purchasing capacity of the mining community than when the Government took office. Those matters need careful examination. I agree that the industry has improved as a producing agency. Before dealing with any of those aspects of the industry however, I wish to refer to one or two points which, though they may appear to be relatively smaller, are matters of great importance. Overtime has been mentioned, and I would call attention to two passages in the reports of the Divisional Inspector of Mines for the North Western Division, one in the 1933 report and the other in the 1934 report. My reason for doing so is that I do not like the tone of those passages. The Divisional Inspector does not seem to appreciate what overtime means to those employed in the mines and to unemployed miners. He treats it rather lightly. In the report for 1933 he says:It is difficult entirely to avoid overtime in collieries where machine-mining is carried on, managers invariably claiming, 1905 in terms of Section 1 (2) of the Coal Mines Act, 1908, that the men kept in the mine are engaged in work uncompleted through unforeseen circumstances which require to be dealt with in order to avoid serious interference with ordinary work in the mine. If a coal-cutting machine does not complete the cut, there is no work available for men in the following on coal-filling shift, or if the coal is not cleared off a face, the machine cannot make its cut.I feel that that reference is far too lenient towards overtime. Our concern is not that the machine which produces coal has made it difficult to work exactly the same hours as with hand-cut coal, but that that type of overtime can be prevented. It was wrong of the inspector in his report for 1934 to say—and again I object to the tone of his reference—The working of overtime has been found by inspectors when visiting collieries and some complaints about it have been received. It appears to be impossible to eliminate it, but a genuine effort is made to keep it at a minimum.What is a minimum of overtime? Overtime which does not comply with the emergency code laid down. He goes on:The mechanisation of coal production has introduced factors which are non-existent with purely hand work and circumstances frequently arise which necessitate immediate attention. This results in the men so employed being detained beyond the normal end of the shift.When the divisional inspector approaches the question of overtime in that way and in that tone, we doubt whether the inspector deals with the matter effectually. Let us look at this as an unemployed miner would. He stands at the street corner. He has been at that very colliery looking for work, and, three or four hours later than the ordinary end of the shift, he sees a number of miners returning home having got one and a-half shifts. Just imagine how he feels. He has been to the colliery in search of work, and has been told "We do not want any men," but then he sees a number of men who have been working overtime. If hon. Members will view it in that way they will see what it means. It has been suggested that even if we eliminated overtime it would not mean the employment of numbers of miners; we have never contended that it would. We have said that for overtime to be worked as it is to-day, in every colliery in Great Britain, while so many colliers are out of work, is unfair. We lay great stress on the question of overtime. I was exceedingly pleased with the reference which the Minister made to 1906 the Scottish report, when he told us that it was proposed to take definite action.
The question of small mines may be a small one, but I am rather perturbed about the number of small mines that are appearing. My hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) and myself are, as most hon. Members probably know, very fond of walking, and we take our tramps in the fields of Lancashire. If we delay our tramps, we find new collieries opening, and we are concerned about it. I put a question to the Secretary for Mines on 29th April, and in reply he said:In 1934 the number of coal mines in Lancashire and Cheshire employing less than 30 members was 38, of which 16 were supervised by a certificated mine manager."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th April, 1935; col. 43, Vol. 301.]Out of 38 such collieries, 22 were not managed by certificated managers. We think that that is a very haphazard way of carrying on the mining industry. It may be said that such collieries do not employ many miners—only from 10 to 30—and that surely small mines like that could not be expected to have a certificated manager; but the Minister gave a reply at the same time telling me the number of deaths that had taken place at that type of colliery. May I here compliment the divisional inspector, because in his report for 1934 he gives a list of prosecutions, and he tells us that there have been 66 prosecutions in his division instituted by the Secretary for Mines. I find that 35 of those prosecutions have taken place in collieries situated in my division, and that the whole of the 35 have taken place at those small collieries. The divisional inspector found that he had to insist at one of those collieries upon the appointment of a certificated manager. I suggest to the Secretary for Mines that if there is no control whatever by his Department over the sinking of a small mine here there and everywhere it is time to prevent that kind of thing from happening. It is not good for the industry, although it may benefit a few individuals who do it for a short time. Will he also insist that every one of such mines must have a certificated mine manager, because in that way the Minister will help his divisional officer? It is important to us also. It is time that the Secretary for Mines has some control over the sinking of 1907 mines. In the report on the Distressed Areas I find the following reference to the coalfields:Despite the vast reserves of coal [in the different coalfields] more than capable of meeting a shrinking demand, the Kent coalfied was developed in a rural area. London, its nearest important market, can obtain cheap seaborne coal from the North-East Coast. It is difficult to see that the development of Kent coal which has suffered a chequered career, was justified.The Secretary for Mines should deal with this matter in such a way as to prevent mines being worked, and if he fails in that he should insist upon certificated managers.
What has happened during the lifetime of this Parliament? The mining industry is a smaller employing agency than it was when the Government took office. I was rather surprised that the Secretary for Mines emphasised trade agreements so much. I do not belittle the efforts of the Government in that direction, nor do I doubt their motive, but I hope that the Minister will agree with me that there is not much hope in that direction for the mining community. A few more million tons in exports would help a little, but it is not in that direction we expect great help for the miners of this country. Trade agreements have, in my opinion, dismally failed in some directions. I notice that some figures were used by the President of the Miners' Federation when dealing with the change over as a result of the agreements. He gives the exports of Italy, Germany and Poland for the first six months up to the end of March for 1932, 1933, 1934, and 1935. He says that Italy imported in 1932 over 800,000 tons from Germany and in 1935 over 3,000,000 tons. We want to know, is not that position adversely affecting Britain? Poland in 1932 exported to Italy only 448,000 tons, but in 1935 exported over 992,000 tons. Have those figures not affected Great Britain adversely?
Trade agreements are a step in the right direction, but I do not want the Secretary for Mines, because he has been able to get some advantages over the short period, to tell us of the great things which the Government have done for the miners by trade agreements. He has to deal with this question. To-day I asked a question, having special reference to my own district of Lancashire, as to 1908 the total output of coal, and the number of miners who were employed in March, 1931 and 1935. I was told that in Lancashire and Cheshire, in 1931 there were 71,000 miners, and in 1935, 60,000. The Lancashire miners want to know what the Government have done to prevent the increase of unemployment at so rapid a rate in the mining industry of Lancashire. I asked also what wages were paid in the first quarter of 1931, and the figure I received was £2,072,000. In the first quarter of 1935, the figure was £1,800,000. That means that there was over £200,000 less purchasing power in the hands of the miners of Lancashire. That means, to Lancashire, not only that the miners are suffering as compared with 1931, but that their loss of purchasing power is affecting other people directly and indirectly.
We do not think that the Government have a coal policy of any kind. I think that they are largely influenced by the employers in their general policy and particularly in their mining policy. I do not mind the Tory Government being influenced by the mineowners, if that influence is always in the right direction. The Tory party will always work strenuously to help the employing side of industry, and in none more than the mining industry. In my town I have scores of personal friends who are bringing home 35s. a week to keep a wife and four children. I can never understand how it is that when a man is a miner he is treated so differently from men who are something else. There are friends of mine who left the mining industry and work for the urban district council, and others are insurance agents, and they are always better off than they were. Some are Members of Parliament, and they are always better off. I cannot see why, when I was earning my living as a miner, I was compelled to go through agony for years for the sake of my wife and four children. Now the same man is here, and I am able to provide adequately for my wife and four children. What earthly difference is there in me?
The fact has to be realised sooner or later than the miner makes as substantial a contribution to the wealth of this country as any other person. If the wage arrangements and ascertainments are such as to prevent him from getting what he is entitled to, a fair standard of life, I want to know from the Government, 1909 not only if they are going to do something to assist, but are they going to sit down quietly because the mineowners say: "We are not meeting the demands nationally because they are against our interests. We can deal more effectually with these negotiations district by district than nationally. Therefore, no national negotiations"? Does the Prime Minister think that we ought to have national negotiations in the mining industry? Does he think that miners in Lancashire, in Scotland or in South Wales are not all entitled to the same consideration? Does he think that the mere fact that they are divided by geological differences ought to account for different wages? I appeal to him to exercise his influence as Prime Minister to see that the mineowners in this country do their duty.
In Edinburgh to-day they may say, "No, we will not agree to it." That will bring about, as sure as I am here, that which I do not desire and the Prime Minister does not desire, an industrial struggle, the result of which will be serious. I ask him to exercise his influence on the coalowners now and to say: "Our opinion is that the mining industry ought to be regulated nationally. It varies in its geological strata and its underground differences, but, notwithstanding that, we think it ought to be regulated and controlled nationally, and we ask you, as mine-owners, to meet the miners' representatives and engage in a national settlement that will give the miners a higher standard of life." I say to the Secretary for Mines that when we go to the country, in the mining areas we cannot tell the electorate that this Government have succeeded in doing anything that has improved their standard of life. Today they are on a lower standard than they were. To-day the worker is producing more per shift than formerly, and getting less in return.
I quite appreciate what the Secretary for Mines said about dealing with accidents. I believe that the civil servants in his Department are doing very good work in reducing the accidents in mines. I give them credit for having brought about a reduction in accidents. But I ask that while the Minister continues with that grand salvage work it should be realised that the miner in 1910 work wants something more than precautions taken to safeguard him against injury. He wants something that enables him when he has done his day's work to live his life as the rest of us live ours. I wish this debate was taking place in some valley in South Wales or in some derelict village in Lancashire, with all of us there and with the audience composed of unemployed miners, maimed miners and miners on low wages, with their families. Then I think every one of us would realise that we are not doing our duty by that great and brave body of men whose praises we sing in time of war and whenever there are pit explosions—that we are not doing our duty to leave that brave body of men to continue to live the depressed life that they have led now for so many years.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Viscount CASTLEREAGH
I wish to pay my tribute to the new Secretary for Mines, and to wish him every success. If his speech is any criterion by which to judge him, I am sure that my wish will be fulfilled. I always hesitate to intervene in these important Debates, because I have not that sense of personal knowledge of the industry possessed by so many hon. Members opposite. But I can assure them that those of us who, like myself, are on the managerial side of the industry, always pay the very closest attention and the greatest respect to the arguments they advance with such eloquence. The Minister told us that there has been a slight improvement in the coal industry in the course of the past year. There has undoubtedly been some increase in trade owing to the improved output of iron and steel, but I am afraid that in the gas trade the improvement has not been on the same scale, mainly owing to the fact that we have had two hot summers and a comparatively mild winter. Although there has been some improvement, for which we are grateful, it is impossible to say that the coal trade is in a healthy state.
The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) said that miners' wages were low. I thoroughly agree with that. When we consider the work which the miner has to do, and the dangers he faces, and the fact that the mines are working short time, one can only come to the conclusion that miners' wages are 1911 very low indeed. On the other side of the ledger we find that colliery companies are not making sufficient profits to pay adequate dividends on their capital, and in certain cases they are not able to modernise the plant at their pits. I know that hon. Members opposite will say that this proves their case, and that it is due to the breakdown of the capitalist system. I know, too, that hon. Gentlemen will say that the only useful policy is one of nationalisation. They may have an opportunity of introducing nationalisation in the future. They have had two occasions in the past when they might have done so—though, I admit, in circumstances of the greatest difficulty—and they did not do so. What the last Labour Government did introduce was something greatly different, the Coal Mines Act, 1930, which is a great deal better than anything that my party has done. I was not here at the time, but if I had been I should have taken the opportunity of supporting the hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake), who, I think, was one of the very few Conservatives, if not the only Conservative, who had the foresight to support that Measure. I take the view that that was a Measure which was of incalculable benefit—and if that is the type of legislation which we can expect from a Socialist Government in the future then, perhaps, some of us on these benches need not be unduly apprehensive of the statements made by the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps).
It is quite easy to enumerate the ills of the coal trade. The falling off in the export trade is due very largely to the fact that during the War and since foreign countries began to mine their own coal instead of buying their supplies from this country. We have keen and bitter competition in oil. We also have what is, perhaps, the most important factor of all, to which the Minister has referred, and that is fuel economy. Take the gas trade. Since 1913, owing to improvements in technique, the gas trade has come to produce the same number of cubic feet of gas by carbonising nearly two-thirds of the amount of coal formerly consumed. The same principle is at work in the production of pig iron and steel, and again in a similar way in regard to the output of electricity. It is correct to say that the chemists and scientists have been 1912 working dead against producers of coal and in the interests of consumers. On the other side, it is true to say that the mines have very much improved their technique of production. The situation now is that as a result of fuel economy there is a less demand for British coal and that still fewer men are required to produce that coal.
It is easy to enumerate these difficulties, but it is not so easy to find a solution. One school of thought would like to go back to the old war of cutthroat competition and the survival of the fittest. That school, I am glad to say, is very small, and in a very short time I hope it will be extinct. Hon. Gentlemen opposite want nationalisation. Then there is the influential and powerful school which would like to see a drastic policy of amalgamation on the lines laid down by the Reorganisation Commission. I must confess that the idea of compulsory amalgamations is one that does not appeal to me, and I do not think that it would provide a solution of the troubles in the coal industry. I admit, though, that voluntary amalgamation is coming about very slowly, and too slowly for the advocates of drastic compulsory amalgamation. Some measure of amalgamation is undoubtdely a benefit, but to those who support drastic compulsory amalgamation I would like to put one or two simple questions. In the first place, I should like to know how they describe a redundant pit? We are told that we must close redundant pits and concentrate production on the more economic pits. I do not know what is a redundant pit. I know pits that have failed to pay for the last three years and which are now beginning to work comparatively regularly. They were redundant, but they are now paying concerns. Some very old pits in the county of Durham are working very regularly, and some new and up-to-date pits are working only 3½ to four days a week. I should be glad if somebody would provide me with a definition of what is a redundant pit.
Another question I would like to ask is this. If you close down these old pits, what are you going to do with the men who will be automatically displaced? We already have tens of thousands of miners unemployed. I should like to re-employ men rather than add to the number of the unemployed. Are we, by closing down these pits, to increase the number of the 1913 unemployed? Are we to follow the lead of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and put these men on the land? That is not going to be an easy job. My experience of mining in Durham has taught me that a man is a miner by tradition; his father was a miner, and his grandfather and his great-grandfather were miners, and though his occupation is dangerous and arduous he is proud of the fact that he is a miner. It is not going to be easy to find alternative employment for these men. It must also be remembered that when you close down a pit you are not merely putting the miner and his family on the dole. A colliery village is usually an isolated community, and if the pit closes it means that everybody there, the miners, the tradesmen and all the other people are going to suffer.
There is also a material side to the policy of amalgamation. It is a very costly business to close down a pit temporarily. I know that from experience in my own group. You have to keep your main haulage road intact, and you have to keep your airways and your ventilating system in perfect order to prevent the accumulation of gas. You have also to keep your pumps in continuous operation, otherwise the workings would be flooded out. So that if you do all these things and you then want to work that coal again, it is going to be a very difficult and costly operation. If you leave a pit like that, practically sterilised, it may be that coal from that pit will be needed in the near future. It may be that we shall have a shortage or that through improvements in the processes of preparing pulverised fuel, hydrogenation, and low temperature carbonisation we may require that coal which at the moment is virtually condemned to sterilisation. I put these few questions not with any idea of being destructive.
So far I have not put forward anything of a very constructive nature, but I would now like to make to the Minister a few simple suggestions. In the first place I would suggest to the Minister that as soon as he possibly can he should get to work on what is essential in the reorganisation of the coal trade, and that is the unification of coal royalties. I do not want to enlarge on that subject now, because I hope that the Government will give us an opportunity of discussing it 1914 fully at the earliest possible moment. The second thing I would suggest is that the Minister should instruct Sir Ernest Gowers to go slowly on the question of amalgamation and to concentrate his undoubted ability on the question of selling pools for the whole country. As soon as we see that the district scheme now in action is a success we want to set up selling pools in every district. We also want a central body to co-ordinate minimum prices under the various district schemes; it would do a great deal to save the coal trade. In the districts pits belonging to people who wish to evade the Act would be unable to do so, and from the national point of view we could deal with the foreigner on a fair national basis, which is bound to mean an increase in the price of our export coal. I would suggest that Sir Ernest Gowers' undoubted ability might be better employed in dealing with the distributive side than with the productive side, which is as efficent here as anywhere else in the world.
I would also like to refer to the vexed question of wage agreements. I admit frankly that I am one of those who believe in the efficacy of the district agreement—and for this simple reason. I believe that if there is a dispute, say in Durham, that dispute will be decided more quickly, more cheaply and better by the people who live on the spot and know the local conditions than by a mixed tribunal of Scotsmen, Welshmen and men from Nottinghamshire, sitting probably in London. On the other hand, I appreciate the fears and apprehensions of the miners' representatives that there may be a piecemeal reduction of wages district by district without the national power of opposition. I fully agree that if my idea that the coal trade of the future should be organised with stronger forces at the centre is brought about, the case for re-discussion of the wages question with the miners' representatives would be very much strengthened. As I have said, I believe in the principle of district agreements, but I definitely do not agree with refusing to discuss this question, especially in view of the possible future conditions in the industry.
I say this for one very good reason. We have had too much disunity in this industry. We want unity; we do not want discord. We all remember what happened in 1926, and there is not a 1915 Member of the House who does not realise that, if we should have a repetition of that disaster, away would go another huge portion of our export market, and more and more men would be put on the dole. In particular, we should take note, on both sides of the industry, of the excellent advice given to us by the Secretary for Mines to-day, and the broad-minded views expressed by the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald). Surely it is not beyond the wit of man that we should make absolutely impossible any recurrence of what happened in 1926. We are told by some people that the era of coal is coming to an end. I do not believe for a moment that that is the case. I believe that we are on the threshold of a new era of increased production, and more especially of increased efficiency in distribution, in which once again we shall be able to enjoy to the full the benefits resulting from properly organised utilisation of our great national asset.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ Mr. DUNCAN GRAHAM
The Noble Lord the Member for Down (Viscount Castlereagh) has given us, for the first time in my memory, some kindly words for the work which we have been doing during the last 15 years. He admitted that it was the Labour Government that passed the Act of 1930, and I gathered from what he said in that connection that, had he been in the House at that time, he would have supported the Labour Government. That is so much to his credit. It has always seemed to me, when I have listened to speeches from hon. Members on the benches opposite, that they would have us believe that we lack constructive ability, but apparently we did put some constructive ability into the Act of 1930, since it has satisfied representatives of the coalowners as well as representatives of the miners.
I want to congratulate the new Secretary for Mines. It seems to have become almost a custom with us to congratulate a new Secretary for Mines when the Estimates for his Department come before us for consideration. I recall that since 1920 there have been eight Ministers of Mines. That is, on the average, one every two years. I was amused when the hon. and gallant Gentleman indicated to us, just before he finished his speech, that he 1916 was rather fearful of peering into the future. His predecessor has now been promoted to a higher rank than he himself occupies, and two previous Ministers of Mines have gone to another place, so that the chances are that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will come off very well, provided always that he is successful at the forthcoming General Election, and also that his party is sufficiently successful to ensure their sitting on that side of the House in the next Parliament.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman made it perfectly plain that, since becoming connected with the coal-mining industry, he has discovered that it is one of those industries which are fundamental to the life of this country, and I rather think his suggestion was that practically all other industries are more or less dependent on it. I think that that is fairly true. Why is it, then, that a fundamental industry like the mining industry is in charge of a subordinate department in this House? I should say that probably the two most important industries in this country are agriculture and mining. There is no question as to the right of the agricultural industry to have a direct representative in the Cabinet, but the mining industry appears to be looked upon with a considerable amount of suspicion, and very often a considerable amount of prejudice, by the people who really count in the Government of the country. The consequence is that the Mines Department is a mere subsidiary department of the Board of Trade, so that nothing can be done by it on its own account. It has to have the sanction of the President of the Board of Trade, and, in any case, it becomes a second-hand question before it reaches this House. I want to enter a protest against the continuance of that procedure. I hope that if the Labour party, within a decent interval of time, have charge of the Government of this country, they will amend it, if the present so-called National Government is not prepared to do so, and will put the Mines Department in a higher position than it has had during the last 15 years by giving its Minister in this House a seat in the Cabinet.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman also referred to the fact that the industry is a difficult and dangerous one, and we all know that that is the case. He said that 1917 there had been many improvements during the last three or four years. It depends, however, on how far you look back. I can look back for 50 years, and I have seen many changes. Some of them are good, and some are not. In my opinion, working in the mines, from the miner's point of view, has not been improved. I remember that I had to work from daylight till dark, from five in the morning until the same hour at night—a 12-hour day. If, however, it should be my misfortune, as a result of the next election, to have to look for a job at the coal face—I doubt whether I should get one, because I have not been in the mines since 1926—I should without hesitation, as a miner, prefer to work under the conditions of 50 years ago than under the conditions of to-day. There are some old miners still moving about in the mining localities who can tell the younger ones, who have not had a similar experience, about the sort of life that the miner had in those times as compared with the present day. I think it will be found that anyone who has had the same experience will agree with me that, while the conditions then were not such that one would look upon them as heavenly, still they were far preferable in many ways to the present conditions. Why is that? The accident rate is very much higher in the mines now than it was in those days. The men had more time to look after themselves. They were themselves responsible for maintaining the safety of their own place, but now they have to do it by Act of Parliament. If it is a case of putting in a prop to keep up the roof, it has to be done at a certain space—three or four feet—and that may be just an inch or two from the spot where the danger really lies.
I need not stress the question of danger further than to say that the figures given by the Minister to-day are pretty much a repetition of what they have been every year for the last 30 or 40 years. Within my lifetime there have been a great many more casualties in the mines of this country than there were during the War. I do not say that more men have been killed, but there were more casualties, and a casualty is sometimes a very serious matter, as the Minister himself has quite properly said to-day. I have no fault to find with the manner in which he has presented this Estimate, and, 1918 indeed, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ince, (Mr. G. Macdonald) as to the charming manner in which he did so. He was not quite as bluff in putting his case to-day as the last Minister, although we realise that he is equally capable. It is curious that the men at the Mines Department who have never been in the mines know a great deal more than men who have been in the mines all their lives. It is very difficult to get them to take our point of view, and much more difficult to get the Department, and apparently more difficult still to get the inspector, to see our point of view.
I have much that I could say of a pleasurable kind with regard to the Department, and also with regard to the inspectors. I have no personal ill feeling towards them, but I think they are just a wee bit more than cautious. The Minister himself said he was advised that he should be cautious, but if in the future he goes among the miners to any extent he will find that they are very conservative—more conservative even than people who are called Tories. We are all inclined to be cautious. But caution can be carried too far, and I am rather inclined to think that the Department has been a wee bit too cautious in a number of the matters in which we have been particularly interested during the last few years. When the Department came into operation 15 years ago, there were a number of districts in the British coalfield that were not troubled very much with machine mining, but machine mining has now been carried to a very high point in the Scottish mines, and I venture to say that there are few coal-producing countries in the world where the engineering genius and qualities have been higher than in the Scottish minefield.
I am quite willing to admit, having some little knowledge of the geological conditions of some parts of that country, that, had it not been for machine mining, considerably fewer men might have been employed in the mines of Scotland than are employed there to-day. I attribute the fact that we are still able to employ a considerable number of men in that country to the capacity of those who have been in control of the industry during all those years. We never try to depreciate the qualities of the men with whom we come so closely in contact. Generally speaking, the relations between the workmen 1919 and the employers are good. It is only when we come to argue out the question of wages or overtime, or something of that sort, that difficulties arise. I am a little tired, however, of this continual talk of sympathy. There is far too much sympathy. We want more money, better conditions in the mines, shorter working time and many more men employed.
We have recently put questions relating to overtime in the Scottish mines. I have also raised the question of Sunday labour. I am a Presbyterian, and, if I were living here, I do not think that I should go to the English church, so strongly am I imbued with the Calvinistic faith of my forefathers. Everyone imagines that the Scottish people are all very strict Sabbatarians except some of the coalowners. Not only are they breaking the law as far as working time is concerned, but they are breaking it with regard to the Lord's Day. Some of them preach on Sunday, but they allow the pits to be worked on the same day. We have had to protest against that, but we have had very little satisfaction or support from the Department. We are supposed to have some sort of an agreement, but it is something similar to the part of the Act of 1908, which is very often described by the Department as being elastic. The agreement is elastic in the sense that Sunday work is still being carried on, and it should be stopped. I agree that there is necessary work, but it is no greater to-day than it was 50 years ago. When I first went to work in the mines, if I had to work on a Sunday it was after midnight, and there is nothing to prevent the coalowners, and there is sufficient capacity in the managerial staff to organise the industry so as to ensure that work can be carried on without the breaches of the Sabbath Day which are so common in Lanark and elsewhere in Scotland.
Now I come to the question of overtime. When the attempt was made in the first instance to get the Government to appoint inspectors to inquire into overtime, we found a considerable amount of opposition. It was finally agreed to send inspectors into the Lancashire coalfield, and a more or less half-hearted promise was given that, if their report turned out along certain lines, it might be necessary to extend the work of the inspectors. The report stated that there was only 0.38 1920 per cent. overtime being worked. The Lancashire Miners' Association did not agree with that, but in my view the inspectors on this occasion have done their work very well. They have produced a document which goes far to prove the allegations that we have made as to the continual and unwarranted breaches of the Act that were taking place in the Scottish coalfields. After dealing with the difficulties against which the Scottish mine-owners have to contend because of the thinness of the seams, the report goes on to say:There is no escape from the conclusion that the position in Scotland, as evidenced by this report, generally gives ground for strong criticism in many respects. Some managers have made, and are making, persistent and praiseworthy efforts to keep overtime down by having recourse to one or more of the various expedients to which reference has been made above. Others, faced with recurrent difficulties, more geological than mechanical, do not seem to have troubled to look far beyond overtime for a remedy. At any rate, much more could apparently be done to reduce overtime than is at present being done, and the question is one to which Scottish coalowners and colliery managers as a whole should devote careful and continuous attention.That is what the inspectors say, but it is not only a question for the coalowners and the managers. It is a question for the Government as well. It is their business to see that the law is carried out, and the law is being broken to an extent that was almost unbelievable until this report was submitted. The Minister has told us that the managers have been warned that negligence or carelessness in this direction cannot be permitted. The excessive working of overtime by deputies must be dealt with at once by systematic methods of re-organisation. What is the use of talking about laxity in keeping the register, as referred to in the report? The only thing that the inspectors could get was the register, and the register might have been cooked. If it was cooked then, it may be cooked still. There is nothing to prevent it. The inspectors have no power at all to deal with the question. They cannot prevent the employer from working more than the overtime than he is doing, because he can always get off by saying it was due to that section of the Act which gives the excuse for saying that it was an emergency. This question should be settled by the appointment of 1921 inspectors to deal with it alone. The report from Scotland is a proof of the necessity for the appointment of men specially dealing with the question.
There are 195 mines or pits dealt with in the statement that has been submitted here. They are divided into four categories—those in which there is no machinery in use, those in which there is coal-cutting machinery only, those in which conveyors only are in use and those in which both cutters and conveyors are in use. Of mines where there is no machinery at all, there are 10 and there is no overtime over 1 per cent. There are 62 mines which have coal-cutters and 12 of them have over 1 per cent. of overtime. There are five mines with conveyors, of which one has overtime over 1 per cent. There are 114 mines which have coal cutters and conveyors. In 58 of them overtime over 1 per cent. is in work and, over the whole of the 195 mines, 37 per cent. work more than 1 per cent. overtime, and 39 per cent. over 5 per cent. The report proves the absolute necessity for special appointments being made to deal with the question of overtime.
The late Minister rather held the view that the appointment of inspectors for Scotland would finish this question, because it appeared that in Scotland mechanisation in the mine was carried to a much greater extent than in the other colliery districts. That was true at one time, but it is not true now, and I gathered from a statement that was then made, I believe to our Miners' Federation, that there would be no more inquiries into overtime working. Scotland is not now in the position of being the most highly mechanised district. For instance, in Northumberland 10 years ago 25 per cent. of the output was produced by coal-cutting machinery. In 1933, according to the Mines Department report, 81 per cent. of the output was being produced by machinery, Derby had 74 per cent., Warwick 56 per cent., North Stafford 56 per cent., and North Wales 56 per cent.
Where machine labour is being used in any of the districts there is overtime, and the management cannot avoid it. The manager has to look after his job just the same as the miner, and if he does not do the work which he is told to do by those in control of the industry, 1922 he will find himself on the scrap-heap just the same as the ordinary miner. The manager has to look after his own position, and he requires to be protected as much as the miner, and his protection in this connection should lie in the direction of a special inspectorate appointed to deal with the question. In Northumberland and other districts in the British coalfields the same complaints are being made to-day as were made in Scotland, and the Mines Department well know it. It is no use the Minister or anyone else trying to make us believe that the question can be dealt with by the inspectorate. I formed one of the deputations which met the Department at Millbank during the period that the Labour Government were in office, and we raised the same question and were told that we could not prosecute the employers for breaches of the Act on the question of overtime because of a case that was dealt with in the Ayrshire Sheriff Court, the decision of which would require to be overturned in the Court of Session before the Department could take any action. At that time a promise was made that legislation would be introduced to deal with the matter if and when the decision of the Sheriff of Ayrshire was overturned with regard to the working of the eight-hour day.
The time has come when there is a necessity for a complete change and a new Act to be put upon the Statute Book dealing with the mining industry as a whole. The one under which we are working to-day dates back to 1911, and the conditions to-day are nothing like what they were then. Both the employer and the miner recognise that there have been great changes during the last quarter of a century which have rendered that particular Act practically useless. The Act of 1908, certainly as far as the shorter working day is concerned, is practically useless, and we require new legislation dealing with these questions. I hope that the new Secretary for Mines will during the course of his work in this particular office set himself to the task of bringing in legislation to deal not only with the question referred to by an hon. Member from one of the Durham constituencies, but with the mining industry as a whole.
I suggest to the Minister, to the Department, and to the President of the Board of Trade, who is the chief of this 1923 particular Department and is now present, that the time has come when a radical change is required in the law governing the mines of this country so as to safeguard not merely the life of the miner, but the officials in the mines, and ensure that they will be able to put the law into operation without fear or favour, and without feeling that the time may come when they may find themselves thrown out of employment if they attempt to carry out the law as it is laid down in the Statute Book. I certainly hope that the discussion to-day will have a good effect in that respect.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Mr. GODFREY NICHOLSON
I am sorry that the new Secretary for Mines is not in his place, for I should have liked to have said to him how very much I appreciated both the matter and the manner of his speech. There are one or two points with which I wish to deal. The first is overtime, of which we have heard a good deal this evening. I do not think that hon. Members have put the whole side of the picture before the Committee. One of the main functions of the Secretary for Mines will be to get the co-operation of the Miners' Federation and of the men in general in stopping overtime. Speaking certainly for Northumberland, I think that a great deal of the overtime is due to the willingness with which men work overtime.
§ Mr. NICHOLSON
For instance, there are certain classes of employés who regularly work a shift and a half because of the money they earn; I am thinking of locomotive drivers and people of that sort. The second point I want to bring forward is that of Workmen's Compensation, and I hope that I shall not be excluded by the Rules of Order, because I believe that the Home Office have at last arranged to appoint a Departmental Committee to discuss certain aspects of compensation law, and I am certain that the Department of Mines will put forward their own recommendations. The whole working of the Workmen's Compensation Act in so far as it affects the mining industry is profoundly unsatisfactory. There is a lot to be done in looking into the question of nystagmus not only from 1924 the mining point of view, but from the purely legal point of view. It is deplorable that that quite useful little Act of 1931 should have been struck right out by a recent judgment in the House of Lords. The fate of the partially disabled miner, I have no hesitation in saying, is a disgrace to civilisation. I am simply horrified by his lot. I could go into it at greater length but I am a little frightened of being out of order, but I beg of the Mines Department not to neglect that side of their duty. The third point is that I wonder if mines inspectors make quite sure in every case that the managers do not know what districts they wish to go into. The fourth is that I also wonder in how many pits to-day ponies are working two shifts in the 24 hours. I am a sentimentalist, but I do not approach this from a sentimental point of view. In a pit where ponies are regularly overworked, you can be pretty sure of finding other and more serious things wrong, so I recommend the Department to keep their eye on the question of ponies. So much for the specific details which I wish to bring forward.
The Secretary for Mines made an appeal for kindliness, toleration and goodwill, an appeal which I am sure we all echo. It has particular point to-day. I honestly confess that I am profoundly uneasy at the state of feeling in the mining industry. Since the disaster of 1926 the industry has been comparatively peaceful. It has had a realistic approach made to it on all sides. It is the industry above all others that needs realism, and the calm, full consideration of the facts without passion and without emotion, though admittedly with a proper atmosphere of sentiment as distinct from sentimentalism. The old atmosphere of wild words and loose talk seems to be returning. [An HON. MEMBER: "What wild words have been uttered?"] The hon. Member asks, what wild words? Heaven only knows—
§ Mr. NICHOLSON
I do not say my prayers like that. They are wild words when you get a demand for 2s. a shift all over the country without a single indication of how it is to be got or given. This may be the way a child says its prayers; it is childish.
§ Mr. EDWARD WILLIAMS
Do the farmers and the shipowners and other people in this country prove their case when they make an application for subsidies? Surely the miners are entitled to as much help from this Government as the people receiving subsidies.
§ Mr. NICHOLSON
The interruption of the hon. Gentleman is very interesting. I was not aware that the suggestion was that the whole of this 2s. was to be met by the Government.
§ Mr. NICHOLSON
I am glad to hear a representative of the miners say how it is proposed that the 2s. a shift increase should be met. We heard from the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) that nobody in the industry wants conflict. I do not believe that they do. I am going to tell the Committee what I heard on Saturday last. I have the honour to represent a constituency in which every year the Northumberland Miners' Gala is held. It is a great and historic function, and I always attend it as one of the crowd. We had great speakers. We had a man whom I am proud to call my friend, Mr. Ebby Edwards, and we had Mr. Herbert Morrison, and statesmen of the Labour movement; and yet this is the headline that appeared in the following morning's paper:Improved conditions or conflict likely.There is this deplorable talk of strikes and conflicts. We have heard speeches to-day, perfectly sincere speeches, outlining the problem and stating the evil conditions under which the miner works and lives, but they have not suggested what should be done to better them. That is where I see the danger. One would expect to hear from miners' leaders how things could be bettered. At that picnic on Saturday only one memorable word was uttered, and that by the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), who referred to Abyssinia as consisting of "arid swamps." There was not a single word uttered to the miners which offered any leadership whatever. I wonder if really the way that miners should be treated by Labour is to be told that the whole thing can be met by nationalisation and Socialism. I wonder if the Leader of the Opposition, who, I believe, is to 1926 speak at Durham on Saturday, will offer them constructive leadership. I hope he will. The danger is uncertainty, and the preaching of magic words like "nationalisation" and "Socialism" without a suggestion being made as to what the miner should do to better his conditions; and this stressing of the disasters to the industry without one word being offered to the miners on how to avoid accidents such as we heard from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot). In the last fortnight I have appealed to all the friends of the miners in my constituency to whatever party they may belong to try to co-operate in getting something done to improve Northumberland wages, at any rate, something that is practical, but up to now I have not had a single response.
I have appealed to the friends of the miner who delight in demanding action from the Government to try to set up a selling pool for Northumberland county. I am satisfied from my own knowledge—I do not pose as an expert myself—that the experts are convinced that a selling pool for Northumberland would, on the coastwise trade to London, enable an increase of 1s. to 1s. 6d. or even more per ton to be gained without losing trade. That is the line that I wish my hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines to take. I am not blaming anybody, but I am saying that the time has come when somebody has to give the pitmen of this country a lead. I think that their own leaders have failed them completely. They tell them the same old story. The record of their leadership is disastrous. To-day, when something constructive should be done, not a single constructive suggestion comes from the men's leaders. That is why I turn to my hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary for Mines and express the hope that he will do the leading. I hope that he will urge, by all the above-board and subterranean forces at his command, the owners in Northumberland to consider the advisibility and the feasibility of setting up a selling pool.
§ Mr. E. WILLIAMS
Is it not a fact that the miners' leaders of this country have been asking for selling agencies for many years?
§ Mr. NICHOLSON
I made my appeal 10 days ago. Mr. Edwards, the Secretary of the Miners' Federation of Great 1927 Britain, spoke at the miners' gala and referred to me and to my demand for a selling pool. He said:You cannot have a selling pool without nationalisation.Everybody knew perfectly well what I had said in my newspaper article, and there has not been a single response from any miners' leader to say that he would be content to come with me in an effort to get something that could be made immediately useful, rather than running after that wild will-o'-the-wisp, nationalisation.
§ Mr. NICHOLSON
That may have been part of their programme, but they have never been willing to combine with their opponents in advocating that programme apart from the general question of nationalisation. The mining industry has continually fallen between the two stools. The Labour party have gone the whole hog for nationalisation and have been unwilling to take any small but certain steps that could be taken. I make this very definite charge against the whole of the Labour party that they have done nothing but mislead the miners and have failed to seize the opportunities that have been presented to them of getting actual and concrete improvements, possibly small but none the less real and genuine.
Two mornings ago I was reading "Lycidas," and I came across 20 lines, which I shall not quote, which perfectly describe the situation in the mining industry. Milton was describing how the young writers and the young poets of England were left without genuine leaders and were receiving false leadership from men who did not know their job. I will recite three lines:The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed,But swoll'n with wind, and the rank mist they draw,Rot inwardly, and foul contagion spread.I do not care who gives leadership to the miners, whether it comes from this side of the House, from the Opposition 1928 or from the Government, but I do say that the worst thing that can happen to any industry is lack of leadership. Let England beware lest the mining industry lacks leadership and lest the mining districts rot inwardly and spread foul contagion that will take many generations to eradicate.
§ 8.6 p.m.
§ Mr. CURRY
The discussion has ranged over a very wide field, a field much wider than I anticipated when it began. We have heard speeches from both sides of the House, notably the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) and the Noble Lord the Member for Down (Viscount Castlereagh) which indicates that there is on the different sides of the coal industry a sufficient realisation of the seriousness of the position in which the industry stands at present, and sufficient goodwill between the two sides to avoid any disaster in the immediate future if there can be secured that co-operation for which the Secretary for Mines appealed. That is why I deplore, and I say it with all respect, the speech to which we have just listened. If ever there was a time—I speak as one who has spent his controversial life in the heart of the most politically conscious coalfield in the country, that of Durham—when we should refrain from provoking those who are responsible for the leadership of the men, the present is that time.
§ Mr. NICHOLSON
If the hon. Member had listened to the sort of things that I have heard said recently in my constituency he would have been surprised that I was not provoked more.
§ Mr. CURRY
I have no doubt that the hon. Member may have had that experience. I have spent the whole of my life in that experience, but public men must learn to have forbearance and to choose their moments, and I repeat that the present is not the time when we should seek to provoke those who are responsible for exercising restraint over a body of men whose loyalty is without equal in this country, and whose tenacity is also without equal. It may be a very easy thing to get men out, but it is a very difficult thing to get men back, and I should deplore any statement which would deny that presence of the spirit of co-operation which I feel to be the 1929 greatest essential in the difficult tasks that lie ahead of us in this industry.
I should like to add my congratulations to my hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary for the Mines Department. He brings to his Department a charm of personality which never fails. While I wish him every success in his own environment I would only express the hope that he will not bring to his new office that punctiliousness for procedure which he used sometimes to express from the back benches. Undoubtedly; besides that charm of personality to which I have referred he brings to his Department great tact and great ability, and the speech to which we listened to-day raises our hopes that his wonderful gifts will be applied to the great advantage of the mining industry. Those of us who represent mining areas but who are not actually engaged in the industry take part in these discussions with some disadvantage. I always feel at a disadvantage in discussing this industry because of my lack of experience in practical mining, but I have this advantage that I come from a mining home and have lived among miners all my life.
We feel at the present time in Durham county that matters are not as we would like. We feel that there is a resurgence of discontent more vocal perhaps than it has been for 10 years. It springs obviously from the wearing out of the patience of very patient people. That is the realisation with which we must approach our problem, and I trust that we shall hear more of the spirit of the Noble Lord who spoke from the benches opposite, of the stretching out of the hand of fellowship, the common realisation of our difficulties nd the realisation of all that the miners have had to go through in the long and difficult years since the War.
I should like to bring the Committee back to the consideration of the question of safety. I read the divisional inspector's report and I noticed that in his reference to accidents he expressed the opinion that 63 per cent. of the accidents which he had investigated, fatal and non-fatal, might have been avoided if everybody concerned had exercised the ordinary precautions which they ought to have done. I felt that that was an old story. We have been hearing that for some 1930 years and I have always wondered, as one outside the industry, why when that story is so repeatedly told effective steps are not taken to counteract this neglect. Therefore, I am delighted to learn of the growth of the movement to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) referred, the safety classes that are springing up. In Durham and Northumberland the safety class scheme is being well supported. There may appear to be a differentiation between the district from which I come and the Welsh area, but I believe—I hope I shall be corrected if I am wrong—that steps were taken in Wales years ago to bring safety precaution treatment, training or teaching into the evening school curriculum. That will perhaps explain why there is an apparent differentiation.
As an outsider I am thankful for the growth of that movement. I am glad to learn that in Durham almost every education authority in the county is taking its part in financing these classes, and that during last year something like 1,876 boys attended the courses and that out of that number 856 received their badge and certificate. The work is very important and we should express our thanks to those who are engaged in it. I should like to make a brief quotation from the report:All the examiners are agreed that the training given in these classes has had the effect of reducing the number of accidents. One colliery manager said that before training in safety principles was adopted three out of every four boys in employment sustained some kind of accident before attaining the age of 16. The boys have become more observant and have proved their superiority over older boys who have not had the advantage of this training.That must be a great encouragement to those who have spent so much time and energy in promoting this movement, and I trust that they will be successful in constantly reducing the number of accidents. But while we can express our obligation to those who have done this for the boys we must remind the Minister that only he and his Department can see that the ordinary precautions are taken by those who are responsible for the control and management of the industry. With the co-operation of the two, I am sure that the story of accidents day after day will become less terrible than it has been in times past. There is one further point in regard to my own constituency. I am aware that we cannot touch upon 1931 anything which demands legislation, although some hon. Members have gone rather near the mark to-day. I want to remind the Secretary for Mines that on several occasions in important documents, in the Samuel Commission, reference has been made to the question of mining royalties, which is outside the scope of our discussion to-day. In my own constituency there are a number of collieries which are closed down. Formerly they employed numbers of people, and we have been informed by the Under-Secretary of State to the Home Office in his report on the distressed area and also in the report of the Commissioner that these collieries cannot resume work unless mining royalities are unified in some way.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Captain Bourne)
Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that that would require legislation?
§ Mr. CURRY
That is my difficulty. Perhaps the Secretary for Mines will suggest how it might be done. I desire to ask him, in view of the public interest which has been aroused in the area, whether he could call the various parties together in order to see if some arrangement might be arrived at in the district to get something done in the matter of a central pumping station without recourse to legislation. The same considerations apply to the question of wayleaves. I hope that the Minister will be able to bring his good offices to bear in this matter. Then there is the question of the organisation of selling agencies. Having regard to the condition of the industry to-day the Secretary for Mines must be alive to the great importance of expediting the trial of all schemes and appliances which may result in larger prices being obtained by the producing concerns, because it is only when larger prices are realised that there is any hope for an increase in wages. It is important that the hon. and gallant Member should endeavour to bring the various parties together on this point and get a discussion, which is always the prelude to wise action. We appreciate the efficiency of the Department over which the hon. and gallant Member has the honour to preside. The public generally appreciate the enthusiasm and the skill they bring to bear on their work, and the mining community realises that 1932 they desire to make the industry work efficiently and safely in the interests of all engaged in it.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. MILNE
I am sure that I am expressing the feeling of all Scottish Members who represent mining constituencies when I offer my felicitations to the new head of the Mines Department. The hon. and gallant Member has long been known, well and favourably known, to hon. Members, and after listening to his speech to-day I am confident that the interests of the mining industry could not be in better hands. I desire to direct his attention to a matter connected with the administration of his new Department. The United Kingdom, for mining purposes, is divided into districts and one of the districts is Scotland. The Scottish district is one, sui generis. We have our own difficulties and special problems, problems peculiar to Scotland. Although we have our own district in spectors the Mines Department has no home, no habitat, north of the border, no offices, no responsible official permantently stationed there. If you want information from the Mines Department or to discuss any matter with them you must seek your information and your discussions at Cromwell House, 400 miles from Scotland. We have in Edinburgh an independent Board of Agriculture, a Department of Education, a Fishery Board, and we are going to have a Herring Board, but the Mines Department, which is so intimately concerned with the lives of tens of thousands of Scotsmen, has no office, not even a branch office, in Scotland. The Scottish Office itself until quite recently was in the same predicament. It was only a few months ago that the Secretary of State opened in Edinburgh a branch office and placed it in charge of a responsible official. Anybody who has had occasion to do business in Drumsheugh Gardens will agree that its establishment has been triumphantly vindicated.
During the reign of the hon. and gallant Member's predecessor the hardship and inconvenience of the situation was not so apparent because it was mitigated by a special circumstance. The late Secretary for Mines happens to be the Member for Leith, which is situated right in the centre of the mining area, the Fife coalfield to the north and the Lothian coalfield to the south. Moreover, Leith 1933 is not only the seaport of Edinburgh but is the principal port for the export of the Lothian coal and, therefore, the late Secretary for Mines had ever present in his mind the difficulties and vicissitudes of the Scottish export trade; they were forced upon his attention. We cannot expect that the Secretary for Mines should always be a member for a Scottish constituency. The present Minister has not that qualification, but that is his misfortune and not his fault. It is a defect, however, which he can remedy by sending north a deputy to represent him, and I undertake that that deputy will have a most warm welcome in Edinburgh and Scotland.
It might be said, "But there would not be sufficient work for this special official." I hardly think that that is so. [HON. MEMBERS: "Overtime."] My hon. Friends speak of overtime, but I am speaking of conditions peculiar to Scotland. Scotland has its own special problems. Only the other day I was reading the report of Sir Arthur Rose, the Commissioner for the depressed areas of Scotland, who has been working hand-in-hand with the Scottish National Development Council and exploring the possibilities of extracting oil from Scottish coal. If, as we hope, these experiments are successful, how desperately inconvenient it will be for the Scottish National Development Council, Sir Arthur Rose, and all the rest of them to have to carry on their negotiations with London 400 miles away. I can assure the Minister that if he sends a deputy to Scotland there will be no difficulty about accommodation. Temporary accommodation could easily be found, and with regard to the future, plans have been sanctioned for palatial Government buildings on the Calton Hill.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Mr. CHARLES BROWN
I want to add my congratulations to the Secretary for Mines, although I feel that by this time he must be embarrassed by the number of congratulations he has received. He certainly made a most admirable survey, especially seeing that he has not held his office for long. I sincerely congratulate him on the way in which he presented his case to-day. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Nicholson) is not in his place, because he made a most provocative and violent attack on the miners' leaders. I gather that he is very seriously disturbed 1934 because he detects a more militant note in the speeches of the miners' leaders than he had found previously. I was indeed interested in his essay on leadership. I wonder whether he has familiarised himself with the history of the mining industry, because if he has he must know that the miners of this country have scarcely ever had anything that has been worth while unless they have fought and struggled for it. Nothing has ever been given to them gratuitously. As far as I am aware the mineowners have never been actuated merely by philanthropic motives, and the miners have had to struggle incessantly not merely to improve their conditions but to maintain the conditions which they had. If the hon. Member had still been in his place I would have pointed out to him that at any given moment, when the working classes have felt the pressure of economic circumstances, inevitably someone has voiced their feelings, and if the hon. Member detects in the speeches of the miners' leaders a more militant note, it is entirely due to the fact that patience is becoming exhausted and they are wondering if ever there is to be any improvement in their condition.
This Debate has gone on for some hours, and although I would have liked to have made a number of observations on the general matters which arise on this Vote I will refrain from doing so and confine my remarks to a very few minutes. I particularly want to talk about my own county of Notts. That county at the moment occupies a unique position in more ways than one. I do not make the statement in disparagement of any other Mines Inspector's district, but the output per person in Notts is higher than that in any other part of the British coalfield. That is one respect in which we are unique. In another respect we are unique because most of our companies are making good profits. The Stanton Company, the Sherwood Company and others are all making good profits. It is because of those two unique circumstances that I want to call attention to the report of the Inspector of Mines for the North-Midland Division. In that report there are some alarming paragraphs. Not only are we unique in the two respects I have mentioned, but we have the highest fatality rate, from falls on the face, of any part of the coalfields of Great Britain. I cannot do better than 1935 quote one or two passages from the Inspector's report. He says on page 12:This is a most unsatisfactory position and causes me deep concern. The number of persons killed by falls was in fact the highest that the Division has known, notwithstanding the yearly decline in the number of persons employed.He goes on:In my last annual report I pointed out the unenviable position held by this Division as having the highest accident rate in the United Kingdom from falls of ground. Unfortunately this still remains true, as the following statement indicates.I do not propose to read the tabular statement which follows, but let me say a few words about the causes of this abnormal fatality rate in the county of Nottingham. Workers in any industry, and particularly in the mining industry, are given protection against bad working conditions in a variety of ways. First of all they have the protection of the law. If you have an efficient and energetic inspector and the laws are enforced, there may be some improvement in the miners' working conditions. Those two factors ought to operate effectively to improve the lot of the working miners. But I am very seriously perturbed, especially by the report that has come into our hands to-day in regard to the question of overtime. I want to relate the high accident rate in Nottinghamshire to the rapid growth of machine mining, and at the same time to assert that it is not unconnected with the working of overtime. I have, on more than one occasion, raised in the House questions of overtime in connection with the Nottinghamshire coalfield. I was anxious, if another inquiry was held after the Lancashire inquiry, that it should be in Nottinghamshire. The Miners' Federation and the Department however agreed—and I make no complaint about it—that the second inquiry should be in Scotland. I am not now going to ask for an inquiry in Nottinghamshire. I think we have had enough inquiries. I appreciate fully what the Minister said on the question this afternoon, and I only hope that his courageous words will be followed by swift and effective action. But I am seriously perturbed by the tone of the report on the working of overtime in Scotland. There are passages in which the inspectors speak rather strongly about it, but, taking the general tenor of the report, it appears really to be an 1936 attempt to explain and excuse the working of overtime. I do not think that anyone who has given it careful consideration could put any other construction on it. Referring to the regulations under the Act of 1908, which makes overtime permissible, I find this passage:The terms of the Act are intentionally elastic, and, moreover, at the time the Act was drafted the conditions which obtain in the machine-mined pit to-day were not in contemplation.If the terms of the Act of 1908 are elastic, I am certain that the mineowners have stretched them to the utmost limit. I do not see why the inspectors who have made this investigation, should, more or less, seek to excuse and explain away rather than condemn the working of overtime. The inspector for the North Midlands Division in one passage refers to the number of complaints received by him about overtime as being very meagre. I wish he had my experience in regard to such complaints. I receive them incessantly from every part of the coalfield and sometimes one finds curious confirmation of the statements made in those complaints.
Recently, I happened to be sitting on the bench in court when there was brought before us by the Ministry of Labour the case of a miner who was alleged by the Ministry to have signed on for unemployment benefit for a day on which he was at work. The Ministry called the deputy of the mine at which the man was employed to give evidence in support of the charge. The deputy read from the time-sheet the man's hours of employments on two given days. It appeared that on the first day in question he went to work on the afternoon shift at 3 p.m. and returned home at 6 o'clock next morning. The management kindly informed him that he need not go on the afternoon shift on the second day and that he could go on the night shift instead. He went on the night shift at 10 p.m. and returned home about 9 o'clock next morning. In the course of that week the man worked three and a-half shifts. Normally he should have worked those three and a-half shifts in a period of 96 hours. Actually he worked them in a period of 48 hours. As a matter of fact the man did not know whether he was on the afternoon shift or the night shift, and there was a dispute on that question.
1937 It may be said that that is an isolated case to which great importance need not be attached, but I use it as an illustration of verification from the books of a colliery, of complaints such as are repeatedly made about the working of overtime in the Nottinghamshire coalfield. I feel certain that overtime and machine mining linked together, the rush, the hurry, the haste with which men have to work in mines where machines are used to-day, are responsible, in no small degree, for the high fatality rate in the county in which my constituency is situated. There is one other way besides legal protection by which the men can preserve their working conditions and improve their lot. I am more and more driven to the conclusion that if the Statutes which we enact are not more rigidly enforced by a more efficient and active inspectorate, if there is to be shown such an amount of consideration for the colliery owners and employers as is shown, then the only remedy for the men is to band themselves together in a real, vital, active trade union organisation. If the State fails to give them protection, and leaves them at the mercy of the owners whose primary consideration is the making of profits, then they will have to work out their own salvation.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Mr. McKEAG
The hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. C. Brown) will forgive me if I do not traverse the ground which he has covered in his speech, because, owing to the exigencies of time, my remarks must be limited within a narrow space. This is the fifth occasion during the last week or two on which I have sat throughout a Debate in the hope of making some contribution to it, and my pockets are bulging with speeches which, for good or ill, or perhaps as a mercy to mankind, have not yet seen the light of day. I wish to add my voice to those which have already been raised in paying tribute to the new Minister for the excellent speech with which he introduced the Estimates. There was, if I may say so, a Shakespearean touch about it, but I was disappointed with one statement which he made. I had hoped for more detailed information from him on the steps which are being taken by his Department to encourage the increased use of coal. It is true that he dealt with the subject briefly, but, as this is a matter of great 1938 moment to the derelict mining areas, I would like more time to be devoted to it.
We must face the fact that there is a great amount of leeway to be made up in this respect. Before the War, 97.3 per cent. of the British Mercantile Marine was run on coal. To-day only about 50 per cent. is run on coal. There is a drop of no less than 42.7 per cent. Before the War, the Navy used coal to the extent of 98 per cent. Now it is run almost entirely on oil. It would be interesting if the Minister could tell us what loss that means actually in terms of tons of coal per annum to the mining industry, and what it means in terms of miners rendered unemployed. I have no doubt the figures would impress the Committee very much indeed.
I do not despair. Old King Coal is not dead yet, and I submit that there is still a future for the coal industry of this country. In the Debate on the distressed areas last night, the right hon. and learned Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) referred to the strides which have been made in the hydrogenation and coal carbonisation processes at Billingham, and I am sure the whole Committee was very glad to hear from his lips the view that the Billingham process would in all likelihood prove successful. Science is active, and new methods are constantly being evolved, and it may interest the Committee to know that an entirely new process has been discovered which may yet revolutionise the production of oil from coal, a process whereby oil would be extracted and refined simultaneously by the same machine and at a cost far below the present prodigiously heavy expenditure which is entailed. I have devoted some little time to the investigation of this new method, and without wishing to overstate the position at all, I can say that there is every likelihood of the process being successful, with consequent benefit to the mining industry.
It is essential that something should be done, not merely to increase the output of coal, but to increase the numbers of miners engaged in the work of winning that coal. I think the Secretary for Mines said there had been an increase in the production of coal in Durham County of 10.9 per cent. during the last 12 months, but what was the number of men employed? Was it more or less than previously? Had employment in Durham 1939 County been increased or reduced? I ask because the experience of recent years has been that employment has decreased in inverse ratio as production has increased. The experience in my own division bears that out. Only a few months ago over 1,300 miners were thrown out of work by the closing down of the Hetton Lyons and the Hazard collieries, and at least 1,000 of them are still displaced. The Committee will remember the figure which was given by the Secretary for Mines, when he said that the process at Billingham was likely to be so successful as to provide work for 1,300 miners, and yet by the closing down of two collieries alone in my own division over 1,300 miners were thrown out of work.
I would like to have touched upon the question of safety in mines. Representing as I do a great mining constituency, it would not have been unfitting that I should have made some more detailed reference to those considerations, but I will confine myself to one observation. The hon. Gentleman in his speech referred to the great number of accidents in the nature of scratches and other injuries to the hands. I remember very well that in the Debate on this Vote last year I made special reference to the number of injuries caused to the hands of miners, and I mentioned that no fewer than 31,897 injuries in the mines were injuries to the hands of miners. I suggested the wearing of gloves, and I also suggested that there should be special helmets worn by the miners to prevent unnecessary injuries to the head. One hon. Member has to-day suggested that special boots might be worn in order that injuries to the foot might be obviated.
The question arose as to who was going to pay the cost of the provision of these things, and I want to make this suggestion. A very large amount of money is paid away each year, either by coal-owners organisations or by insurance companies, in the payment of compensation for injuries sustained by miners. Then why should not those people provide the funds for the purchase of these materials? Surely it would be an excellent investment. Surely it would be infinitely better to provide a few pairs of gloves and boots and a few helmets than to have to pay away these large 1940 sums of money as compensation for injuries. One hon. Member referred to the question of compensation. I was recently in a hospital ward in Durham County Hospital, and I was called over to the bedside of a miner who was recovering from injuries to his leg. He told me that his wife and three children were living on 23s. a week compensation while he was lying there incapacitated. He was very bitter indeed about it and compared it with the amount that was being paid by way of relief and in other ways to other people, and the comparison was a very shocking one indeed.
The Minister this afternoon ended his speech with a very fine peroration which was an eloquent plea for co-operation and understanding on both sides in the mining industry. I hope that that earnest plea will not fall upon deaf ears. On Saturday of this week a great gala of the Durham miners will he held in the city of Durham, a division of which I have the honour to represent in this House, and I believe that that great concourse of miners will be addressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and also by the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps). I hope very much that the plea which was made by the Minister this afternoon will not fall upon deaf ears so far as the mineowners are concerned, and I equally hope that in the words of wisdom which the right hon. Gentleman opposite will address to that great gathering of miners in Durham city on Saturday he will not forget the earnest plea made by the Minister. The miners are a fine and brave body of men. Many hundreds of them in my division are my personal friends, and I hope with all my heart that every avenue will be explored peacfully and understandingly to secure that living wage which they so much deserve. For heaven's sake let us be spared a recurrence of the terrible and horrible tragedy of 1926.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Mr. DAGGAR
The present Secretary for Mines has already been congratulated upon his appointment, and I have no wish to detract from or depreciate the sincerity of such praise as has been bestowed upon him, because, while it is the policy of all Governments—I am making no exception at all—to make these appointments without regard to 1941 experience or knowledge, I feel certain that the hon. and gallant Gentleman is as capable and has shown as great a capacity as any of his predecessors, some of whom, because of lack of knowledge and experience, were unable in this House to distinguish between a steel prop and a steel arch. But I must admit that upon his elevation I recalled to mind one of the speeches that he himself delivered in this House when the Coal Mines Bill was before it in 1930, when the constitution of the proposed National Board was under discussion. On that occasion he made this observation:My point of view is quite definite, and it is that none of these people"—that is, those representing either the Federation of British Industries or the General Council of the Trades Union Congress—should be the bodies from whom nominees are asked. We want to get some representation of the ordinary, common garden person who is not at all connected with the industry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th February; col. 167, Vol. 235.]After the perusal of that utterance, I wondered in what terms the hon. and gallant Gentleman would describe himself. We know that he is not connected with the industry, but does he consider himself one of the "ordinary" or one of the "common garden" persons? Whichever he may be, I am certain that he has not secured his office upon his own personal recommendation. In any case, he can find consolation in the fact that, as far as we are concerned, we agree he has shown capacity this afternoon in the presentation of his case, equal, and in many respects superior to, that of his predecessors. Be that as it may, I hope that he will not be so foolish as the late Secretary of Mines who indulged in silly predictions, one of which was referred to by my hon. Friend who opened the Debate, with regard to explosions. On one occasion he made reference to the loss of 344 lives in the Lancashire disaster in 1910, and to no fewer than 430 lives in South Wales in 1913, and said:Explosions of such magnitude are a thing of the past, now that the practice of stone-dusting the underground roadways of mines to prevent the coal dust propagating an explosion is universal and enforced by law.It is a strange fact that the article from which that extract was taken was written by the late Secretary for Mines 1942 in the "Liberal National Review" in September, 1934, and that the explosion at Gresford Colliery occurred in the same month, when 265 persons lost their lives in the worst explosion that has happened in this country for the last 22 years. What a tragic commentary on the prediction of a preacher turned politician. A politician who turns prophet is the most lamentable figure on earth. I know that the present Secretary for Mines will not be quite so flippant in his writings. On numerous occasions we on these benches have stressed the need for a new Mines Act. I am precluded from discussing the importance of that, but I am entitled to direct the attention of the Committee to an observation made by the late Secretary for Mines. He said,Different hon. Members who have spoken have raised the question of a new Mines Act. I cannot deal with that question, because it would require new legislation, but I would say to the hon. Member for Abertillery—because he was the first in my tenure of office as Secretary for Mines to raise this question—that when he raised it originally his speech did not fall on deaf ears. I noted it and I am giving it most careful attention … I will give the most careful attention to what has been said about the matter. No one can apply his or her mind to a consideration of the problem of the mines at this time without realising that the coming of the machine has raised a great many problems and difficulties, in regard to some of which we are not quite sure what the correct solution may be."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th May, 1934; col. 1668, Vol. 289.]The latter part of that statement constitutes a part of our case for a new Mines Act. The late Secretary said that he had given and would give special attention to what had been said about the subject. I am anxious to know what the present Secretary for Mines is going to do. Had the late Secretary devoted as much time and displayed as much enthusiasm for this demand as he did in passing a Bill to reduce the penny per ton welfare levy to one halfpenny, it would not have been necessary again to raise this question. We were assured on that occasion that our speeches had not fallen on deaf ears. We never thought that deafness was one of the afflictions of the right hon. Gentleman, but it is obvious that we placed the case into unwilling hands. The mine workers of Great Britain have discussed this question at a special conference. On the 16th April this year, the late 1943 Secretary was interviewed by the officials and representatives of the Mineworkers' Federation, and for some reason or another he asked for a memorandum setting forth in general terms the reason for asking for a new Mines Bill. He promised consideration of the memorandum and said he would give his decision as soon as possible. Since then he has been promoted. I am anxious to know what his successor proposes to do.
The subject of accidents has already been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith), but I desire to emphasise one or two particular aspects of this problem. I have always held that there is need for the compulsory stowing of waste, gobs or goaves. I have pressed this point before, and I shall continue to do so, because, as an ex-miner, I appreciate its importance. Captain Carey, who was head of the Inspectorate in South Wales, as far back as 1923 said:Two explosions, due in my opinion to defective ventilation, have occurred in recent years in this division, and in both instances the packing of the waste had received but scant attention, enabling cavities to be formed which subsequently filled with fire.The late Secretary for Mines, quite unintentionally, admitted the case for the stowing of waste in his reference to the Bentley explosion on the last occasion when the subject was under discussion. He said:The scheme of ventilation was as near perfect as it was humanly possible to make it, but the explosion was in the waste and not at the working place."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th May, 1934; col. 1668, Vol. 289.]Such a thing could not have happened had there been compulsory stowing of what we call the gobs in the mines. The chief cause of accidents in mines is falls of ground, and we should never lose sight of the fact that that is the chief cause. The last report submitted by the hon. and gallant Gentleman's Department makes it clear that in 1933, 454 persons were killed by falls of ground this year and 1,319 were seriously injured. The total number of persons injured as a result of falls of ground causing a loss of three days or more was no fewer than 44,068. This part of the report is signed by Sir Henry Walker, His Majesty's Chief Inspector of Mines, and he makes these observations: 1944In my report for 1924 I stated that I had no doubt that by lightly packing the goaf of longwall workings, and by methods of support which left the minimum of area of roof exposed, both in longwall and bord and pillar (stoop and room) workings, the accident rate from falls of grounds could be further reduced. I remain still of that opinion.Such statements are to be found in reports year after year, but little is done to enforce the introduction of the methods suggested. Listen to this from a similar report for 1923, over the signature of one of Sir Henry Walker's predecessors, Mr. Thomas H. Mottram:In last year's report it was noted that the chief cause of accidents in mines is falls of ground and also that the difficulties in guarding against the risks of falls are well known both to managements and workers alike. Notwithstanding this knowledge, many accidents still occur which ought not to occur.In every year from 1922, to my knowledge, the reports of inspectors of mines contain repeated references to the need for stowing the waste, or "gob," as a means not only of preventing accumulations of gas, without which explosions are impossible, but of preventing accidents from falls of roof. Of what use is it for us to be continually raising these matters in this House if nothing is to be done? Scant consideration is given to the loss of life and to accidents in the mines of this country. What a contrast to the measure of safety enjoyed by the travelling public. Last year only one person was killed out of every 96,000,000 passengers carried on the railways, and one injured out of every 3,000,000. As an ex-miner I am convinced that two methods and two methods only exist for dealing with this problem. One is to demonstrate to the owners that to stow the waste will pay them, and the other is to compel them to stow it. I hope the new Secretary for Mines will not rely too much upon his advisers; not allow them to suggest what he should do but see that they do what he suggests; see that they execute and not instruct; endeavour to make his Ministry a movement and not, as it has been in many respects over the last 20 years, a monument.
I want to raise another phase of this safety problem. It is by no means original, but I think it should again be emphasised. I refer to the right of workmen to appoint their own examiners. Section 16 of the Coal Mines Act of 1911 states: 1945The workmen employed in a mine may appoint two of their number to inspect the mine, and the persons so appointed shall be allowed once at least in every month to go to every part of the mine and to inspect the shafts, roads and levels.I deplore the fact that the number of such examinations shows a marked tendency to decrease. According to an answer given to a question in this House on 10th December last year, the number of such examinations in 1931 was 3,193, in 1932 2,902, and in 1933 2,880. That shows a reduction of no less than 313 in three years. Ninety per cent. of those were in three districts—Durham, Northumberland and South Wales. That leaves 10 per cent. only of these inspections undertaken in the larger part of the coal area of Great Britain.
It is very significant that, according to a statement made by the manager of the Gresford Colliery where on 22nd September last year 265 men and boys were killed, there had been no examination or inspection on behalf of the workmen since 1921. We were told by the late Secretary for Mines that efforts are frequently made to emphasise the undoubted desirability of a much wider exercise of the workmen's rights under the Section I have quoted, and he said that he was glad to have the opportunity of expressing that view again. It would be interesting to know what efforts were made at this particular mine to emphasise the importance of such examinations. Although I question the reasonableness of Parliament in expecting workmen to pay for their own safety in an undertaking which belongs to other persons I hope they will continue to exercise that right.
Next I want to deal with wages, to which references have been made by other hon. Members, some of whom who occupy, or at least adorn, these benches with us. We have been told, with the usual display of political pride, that the total wages paid in the mining industry in Great Britain were higher last year than in any year since 1931. The ex-Secretary for Mines, in order to justify the exalted position he now occupies, has been going about the country emphasising that fact. No one on these benches will dispute that statement; but those who apologise for the Government's inactivity in the matter of miners' wages never mention that that sum was £5,000,00 less than the wages paid in 1946 1931, and that as compared with 1930, a year that is never taken into consideration, it shows a, reduction of no less than £17,000,000, and as compared with 1929 a reduction of £27,000,000. While the average earnings in 1934 were £116 per man employed, that is, £4 more than in 1931, the sum was only £2 more than in 1930, but £2 less than in 1929.
A similar position obtains in South Wales. The average annual cash earnings of mine workers in South Wales last year amounted to £119. That is £5 more than in 1933; as compared with 1931 it shows an increase of £4; as compared with 1930 an increase of £2; but as compared with 1929 it shows a decrease of no less than £10. But the total output per person employed in South Wales showed an increase in 1934, compared with 1931, of no less than 11 tons; as compared with 1932 an increase of no less than 16 tons; and as compared with 1933 an increase of no less than 12 tons. Those are facts which should be taken into consideration when the trumpeters of the Government go through the country advertising the prosperity, the unparalleled prosperity, of miners who get a miserable £116 for working 12 months.
Yesterday we discussed the depressed areas. I submit that, in regard to the cause of the depression, which was not mentioned, no factor has had such an effect as the decrease in miners' wages. In 1920 the total wages paid amounted to £265,000,000 and in 1934 to £88,000,000, a reduction of no less than £177,00,000. In South Wales the total wages paid in 1920 amounted to £66,000,000 and in 1934—and this credit can be given to the Government, if credit they want—the total wage bill had fallen to £16,000,000, a reduction of £50,000,000. If anything has contributed to a continuance of the depression in those areas, it is the reduction of £50,000,000 during that year.
Reference has been made to the output of coal last year as compared with 1933. We do not dispute or attempt to controvert the fact that the 1934 output in Great Britain was 221,000,000 tons and in the year 1933, 207,000,000 tons, which shows an increase of 14,00,000 tons. The Government are legitimately proud of that increase, but why compare 1934 with 1933 to the exclusion of any years previous to 1933? The reason is that if you compare the output of coal in Great 1947 Britain last year with that of 1929, it shows a decrease of 37,000,000 tons and, when compared with 1930, a reduction of 23,000,000. In 1934 there was a slight increase in the amount of coal produced in South Wales, less than 1,000,000 tons. That 14,000,000 tons benefited South Wales, but, as compared with 1929, it shows a reduction in South Wales and Monmouthshire of 13,000,000 tons, and compared with 1930 a reduction of 10,000,000 tons. The coal exports for 1934 were a little in excess of 39,600,000. They show a slight increase over 1933 of 591,954 tons, but compared with 1932, an increase of 761,000 tons. When the figure is compared with 1930, it shows a decrease of 15,000,000 tons in the amount of coal exported. Compared with the year when representatives of the party to which I belong were in office, it shows a decrease of 21,500,000 tons.
The Secretary of Mines referred to the latest figures available, but there is no satisfaction in those. Hon. Members from depressed areas know that the latest figures show that for the first six months of this year, from January to June, we exported a little over 19,000,000 tons of coal. That is a decrease, compared with a similar period of last year of over 441,000 tons. While it is an increase of 46,739 tons compared with 1933, it is a decrease of 9,000,000 tons compared with 1930 and 9,000,000 tons compared with 1929. That strengthens our case, made yesterday afternoon and on previous occasions, that the position in South Wales and in the other depressed areas cannot be dealt with effectively unless, in some form or other, the coal industry is assisted to revive.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman also dealt with the prospects of the coal-mining industry. I hold the opinion which I have expressed on more than one occasion in this House, that unless you revive the mining industry, your depressed areas in every county will not only increase in numbers but will increase in size. The whole of South Wales shows signs at the present moment of becoming one complete, depressed area. That statement may be considered an exaggeration, but its reliability or unreliability is shared by Members of the Government. The President of the Board of Trade, speaking in this House the week before last, made this statement: 1948If coal can be turned to liquid fuel, there is no doubt that it will regain a good deal of the custom which it has lost in recent years.He went on to say that a good deal of the shipping traffic was conducted almost entirely on oil. He said:There are very few passenger vessels which burn anything but oil nowadays, and they are never likely to return to a demand for coal. The kind of oil which they use is just the sort of liquid fuel which can be produced from some classes of coal, and we hope that it may be one of the main uses to which coal may be put, even in the derelict areas, in future.There is no hope in the extraction of oil from coal unless the Government take a hand. It is a scandal that we should import into this country oil at the rate of 4,850,000,000 gallons. I understand that a ton of oil is equivalent to one and one-third tons of coal. In 1930 we imported only 1,280,000,000 gallons of oil, but in 1934 we imported 4,850,000,000 gallons. The Minister's figure of 60,000,000 gallons being extracted is very insignificant, compared with the total imports of oil into this country. The President of the Board of Trade also said that in spite of what the Government have done there were some districts in our great coal areasthat are never likely again to regain their foreign sales.He also said something which I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman will explain. This observation is taken by the same speech:Without assistance now from the Government, it is doubtful whether they"—the coal exporters—"will be able to retain the business which they still hold, and they certainly will be unlikely to obtain new business in future."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th July, 1935; col. 1250, Vol. 304.]What does the Mines Department think that statement meant? I ask the Secretary for Mines to explain it. It supports my contention that unless something be done in South Wales that area will fast become a totally depressed area. The solution is not to be found in the recommendations of the Commissioner for the depressed areas, but in the resuscitation in some form or another of the coal industry in that area. Throughout the report of the Commissioner for England and Wales, plenty of evidence can be obtained in support of my statement. In paragraph 184, he says:Much improvement of the export trade for coal in the near future can hardly be looked for.1949 He goes on to say that increased employment in the coal industry is unlikely to be experienced in the near future. Those facts, he said, had to be faced. In view of the statements which I have quoted from the speech of the President of the Board of Trade, and which are supported by the Commissioner whose report was under discussion yesterday, I am justified in making the observation, which is no exaggeration, that South Wales shows indications of becoming one complete depressed area unless a move is made by this Government. It is no use telling us that we should be content to extract oil from coal to the extent of a miserable 60,000,000 gallons while we import nearly 5,000,000,000 gallons. The low wages paid in the mining industry are a disgrace not only to the Government but to those who support them and the public in general. The accident figure reflects discredit upon the coalowners, the Mines Department and the Members of this House. The means to reduce them are being repeatedly stressed by mines inspectors and people who have had practical experience in the industry. We desire a new Mines Act, with stowing of empty places in the mine and rigid and persistent enforcement of entirely new regulations.
§ 9.26 p.m.
I am really quite overcome by all the kind words that have been said about me to-day, and I must profoundly thank hon. Members in all parts of the House for the very kind things they have said. I thought at the beginning of the Debate that it was likely during the succeeding five hours that a good many questions would be put to me that I should have to answer, and to-night on my way home I think I could quite truthfully whistle to myself:Little man you've had a busy day.To review the Debate as a whole, the point on which most attention was, perhaps, focussed was the question of overtime, arising out of the report published yesterday, but so many other questions have been asked that I think the best procedure would be to try to deal with those specific questions. I appreciate the whole tone of the speech of the hon. Member who opened the Debate on behalf of the Opposition. He started by making a number of observations with regard to 1950 the fatality at Gresford. He expressed some surprise that I had not gone further into the matter. On reflection, I think he will see that this was not the occasion to go into it, if for no other reason than that Gresford was a unique disaster compared with anything we have had in recent years. It raises matters of such great importance that, although the hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Daggar) has told me never to prophesy, I think I can go so far as to say that it is more than likely in due course—safeguarding the words—that we shall have to have special consideration of all the problems that arise out of Gresford.
I cannot say when the report will be available, but the disaster does raise such big issues that I think we had better wait to discuss them in due course.
Plain issues do not always turn out as simply as that. When the hon. Member asks me whether I would take the opportunity of convening a meeting of owners and men on the question of wages, the answer is emphatically, "Yes." The Government have always held the view that it was advantageous that such meetings should be held. As the hon. Gentleman also realises, it is one thing to invite people to meet, but it is very difficult to get them to do so. No efforts on my part will be spared in that direction, any more than they have been by my predecessor. The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) asked whether the general policy of the Government was the same as when he held office. The answer is "Yes." Then the hon. Gentleman went on to say: "Why do not you do it now? Look at what the Labour party did in 1924. They succeeded in getting them together." But look what happened in 1929, when they tried to get them together. They did not succeed. The hon. Gentleman reminded me of one year 1924, but conveniently did not say anything about 1929. As he was Parliamentary Private Secretary at the time, he will know the circumstances of that occasion and how difficult it was. Thus, 1951 when I say the answer to the question is, "Yes," he will also be well aware of the difficulties the problem involves.
Then he asked why, when the Minister of Labour was having his discussions on the subject of the 40-hour week, he did not consult the mineowners on the subject. There is no hidden mystery about it. The answer is that he was having various discussions and that if and when the Council of the Trades Union Congress decides to ask the Government to negotiate with individual industries, and as a result consultations take place with the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, then obviously corresponding discussion would have to take place with the Mining Association. There is no hidden guile about the Government on that point. Then he asked whether, if the Miners' Federation of Great Britain asked for the findings of the National Board to be made binding, what would the Government reply. It is one thing not to prophesy, but it is a worse thing to answer hypothetical questions. I will wait until that question is put to me.
And then it can be answered, but so far as I know at present the Miners' Federation has not made up its mind on that subject. At least if it has, it has not communicated it to me. If and when it does ask that arbitration shall be on compulsory grounds, then I shall be prepared to answer that question. I am sorry that these questions are not particularly inter-connected, but they were all raised in the speech that opened the Debate, and they are entitled to as good an answer as I can give. With regard to safety classes, again I want to pay tribute to Members in all parts of the House for the way they have supported this movement, and have gone about the different areas giving all the assistance that they could. When the hon. Member asked whether they are cramped in regard to financial considerations, the answer, so far as I know, is "No." We have not heard of any cases where that is the stumbling block. If the hon. Member knows of any and would like to talk to me about them, I shall be very happy.
1952 The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot), who was himself so interested in these problems of protective devices, asked why it was that in one mine everybody has a hat and in another no one has. It is like asking why does a miller wear a white hat, or why do I wear one? There are, I suppose, different species.
That is in question. In a good many cases the men receive assistance from the employers. That is a question which opens up another problem. It may be that it is prejudice. It may be that the value of propaganda has not been appreciated.
It may be all sorts of reasons. If they are a really effective device, one would expect that everybody would be using them. I am reminded, in that respect, of what happened during the War. Any hon. and gallant Member who was in France at the time steel helmets were introduced will bear me out when I say that you saw a whole battalion that had been issued with steel helmets carrying them about because they hated wearing them. After a while they began to be worn. Some rather superior person who did not wear a helmet probably got knocked on the head, and then everybody wore them. I hope that in due course we shall find that not only this but all devices which research can find to help safety problems will be generally used. I am very much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for having called attention to the matter of safety classes. He asks why there are such discrepancies between some parts of the country, where these classes have been successful, and other places where they have not been successful. There again I cannot give him an answer. I did call attention to this point in my opening speech with regard to the Swansea district. I think all we can do is for everyone in that part of the world—trade union leaders, work-people, employers, local education authorities, and anyone else who will help—to try to get that form of propaganda going there which has been so successful in other parts of the country.
1953 The hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Dickie) asked two questions. In the first place he asked whether arrangements are in force in all districts for the pooling of quotas and the purchase of quotas. In all districts arrangements are in force for the transfer of quotas at the unfettered discretion of the coalowners, and in many districts, including the North Eastern coalfield, which he represents, there are arrangements for the pooling of surplus quotas. Then the hon. Member referred to the case which might well be described as the Consett case, about which the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Curry) also had something to say; and I observed out of the corner of my eye that the hon. Member for Consett during his speech was quoting from a document which I also received by post this morning, and which I daresay other Members have received.
The position is that the Act of 1923, dealing with working facilities, was amended in 1926, and eventually a case was taken, both in Scotland and in this country, to the Railway and Canal Commission. The Railway and Canal Commission in both cases gave similar verdicts. In this country, however, the case was taken to the Court of Appeal, and the verdict was reversed, so that at the present moment there is one interpretation of the law in England and another in Scotland. Naturally, that calls for the very serious consideration of all of us, because it is a difficult case to decide. Apparently the Courts have not been able to decide exactly what was the intention of Parliament. I cannot to-day take the matter any further than to say that it is receiving the most active consideration of the Government, because we realise the difficulties which a position of that kind inevitably raises.
The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald), who spoke very kindly, asked about the control of small mines, and whether I have any power to prevent little mines, employing, as I think he suggested, about 30 men, from being started at all. I have no power to do that. The Department only comes in if there is going to be any question of danger or safety. If safety questions are involved, that, of course, brings the mine more within my province, but I cannot prevent it from being started. The hon. Member asked whether I could insist upon there 1954 being a certificated manager, and there again I think the answer is that generally speaking I cannot, but as soon as any question of safety arises the Divisional Inspector can insist that the manager should be certificated. Both of these questions, as is so often the case with matters dealt with by the Department, have their origin in the question of safety. The hon. Member rather belittled the value of the Trade Agreements, as did the hon. Member who spoke last, but I would remind them that, in the case of the countries with which we have made agreements, the exports have gone up by 3,000,000 tons, and I think it is, I will not say reasonable, but safe, to assume that, if there had been no agreements, the exports would certainly not have gone up by 3,000,000 tons.
§ Mr. G. MACDONALD
I was very careful not to belittle the value of the agreements. I called attention to the danger of their having adverse effects.
I was thinking of the effect of the trade agreements, and of various negotiations that we have had, on the very district in which the hon. Member is interested, namely, Lancashire. An understanding was reached—it was not exactly a trade agreement in the same sense as the Scandinavian trade agreements—with the Irish Free State, which means an increase of exports from this country to the Free State of about 1,000,000 tons, or something like 40 per cent. in the case of Lancashire and North Wales, so that the fact that we have made an agreement in that case is certainly doing something to help. If 400,000 tons are going from Lancashire to the Irish Free State as a result of that agreement, it has done something to bring work to that district. I think the figure is about 1,500 or 1,600 men.
Hon. Members opposite always keep going back to 1929 and 1930 when dealing with the output and export of coal, but the curve after 1929 went very steeply downwards until 1931, and they were responsible for the administration of this country during a considerable part of 1931. The drop then was very heavy, and, for all that I know, it may have been in the first part of the year. In 1929 the output was 257,000,000 tons. In the three following years it went down to 243,000,000, 208,000,000 and 207,000,000 tons respectively. Last year it went up to 221,000,000 tons, and this year it is also 1955 up. No doubt one could take any year to suit one's argument, but, if one takes five or six years, and sees the figure first going down and now, thank goodness—I am sure everyone is grateful for it—going up, if we find that that increase is a result of an increase in home consumption due to an improvement in productive industry through tariffs, and if we find also an improvement of 3,000,000 tons in the exports to countries with which we have made agreements, I think one is entitled to say on behalf of the Government that their policy on these lines has had some effect. I do not want to exaggerate anything, but the hon. Member must agree that it has had some effect.
The Noble Lord the Member for Down (Viscount Castlereagh) made a speech which I wish had been heard by a much fuller House. If all those concerned in the coal industry on the managerial side made speeches like that, I have no doubt that it would be much easier to get the co-operation which is really vital to the prosperity of the industry. I was interested in his praise of the 1930 Act. There is a point which was taken yesterday, but which was not taken to-day. I can quite see why the Opposition would not take it, because yesterday they were trying to beat the Government with the report of the Commissioner for the special areas. [An HON. MEMBER: "Tried!"] They only tried, because they did not get their Vote.
I will put it this way. Hon. Members opposite were using the Commissioner's report as a weapon in that Debate. They did not call attention to the fact that he says it is urgently necessary to review the possibility of reorganising the sales machinery. I said something in my opening speech about the effect of the Lancashire selling scheme, and expressed a hope that it would be used as a sort of precedent for other areas. I recognise that the conditions in Lancashire are not necessarily the same as in other districts; in fact, they are quite different, but that it was possible to get a selling scheme going at all, in my opinion, was due to the fact that Part I of the Act was on the Statute Book. The Commissioner 1956 says, "Yes, let us urgently review the possibility of reorganising the sales machinery," and then, if you please, reconsider the quota scheme, which he does not like. If you say that selling schemes are desirable, you cannot be so self contradictory as to say that the one thing that makes them possible should be abolished, and that is exactly what he said. When hon. Members were using his report to attack us they did not say anything about that.
If he did, I apologise. I missed three minutes of his speech, and that is all. [HON. MEMBERS: "Last night."] I come back to the Noble Lord because he says that in his opinion the existence on the Statute Book of Part I of the Act is desirable, and should continue. He knows just as much about the Durham distressed area, as he was able to show in his speech, as anyone. If, in his opinion, central selling is a good thing and is desirable, it is rather a pity that Part I should have been called in question at all now by the Commissioner.
The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham) deplored Sunday work. Obviously we all do that, but it is within the four corners of the law to-day, and the only way in which at the moment it can be lessened is by earnest people like himself, who feel strongly on the subject on religious and other grounds, doing all they can to try to discourage its spread. So far as the law is concerned, there is nothing that I can do. When speaking about overtime the hon. Member said that the only thing open to the inspectors was the overtime books, which might have been cooked, but he overlooked the fact that it is definitely stated in the report that the pay sheets were submitted to the inspectors. I know that the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Milne) deplored the fact that I was not Scotch, but I was assuming that Scottish workmen would probably see that they were correct.
The hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. G. Nicholson) asked how many pit ponies regularly worked double shifts. My information is that there are very few that do, and those only on light work. I certainly cannot accept, in view of the 1957 reports that I have on the subject, any general accusations of overwork or cruelty. There may, unfortunately, be isolated cases here and there and, when we hear of them, we try to prevent them. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland asked about the central dewatering scheme. The Commissioner for special areas said that that was still under consideration by the interests concerned and, that being so, we must leave it there. The hon. Member for West Fife, who wants me to have an office in Edinburgh, is very kind, but I have not heard of any previous demand of that kind. It would cost money, and there would have to be a very large demand for us to consider it. I would remind the Committee that the Mines Department is one of the few, if not the only one, whose expenditure is limited by Statute.
The hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. C. Brown) told me that he gets incessant complaints about overtime. We had a special inspection in Lancashire, and we have now had a special one in Scotland. I have already said that I am intending to consult both sides of the industry to see what can be done about reducing it. I should not like to say here and now what might be possible, because I recollect what happened on a previous occasion when my predecessor, Mr. Shinwell, raised this question. The proposal at that time was that it might be a good thing to have overtime committees on which both owners and workmen might interest themselves, and that complaints about overtime should be investigated by that committee before they went to the divisional inspector. I understand that Mr. Shinwell invited the owners and the men in Scotland to make this experiment. The owners agreed, but for some reason nothing happened on the part of the men. It is a pity because, if something could have been done then, we might have been spared all this now. However, it is a suggestion that might be worth reviving. I do not know the reason why the men did not come into it. [Interruption.] Even if it is not correct, the suggestion is, I think, a sensible one, and that is one of the ways in which we might explore this problem, because I really feel very strongly about it. When the hon. Member for Mansfield says he gets incessant complaints about it, as I said in reply to a question the other day, if anyone can bring me cases 1958 —not general allegations that there is a, lot of overtime but specific cases—I shall certainly see that they are carefully investigated. Much as I respect the hon. Gentleman, to get up in this House and say that he gets innumerable complaints does not take us very far.
The hon. Member for Durham (Mr. McKeag) asked me about employment and the outlook in Durham. As I said in my opening spech, part of the improvement of 13,000,000 tons in output last year as compared with 1933 was represented by a percentage increase throughout every district, and in Durham the percentage increase was 10.8. He asked what that represented in terms of output. The increase of 10.8 per cent. means 2,984,000 tons. In the case of the County of Durham I have not got the unemployment figures for last week, but in the week ended 18th December, 1933, the unemployment figure there was 40,345 or 27.9 per cent., and on 17th December, 1934, that is the year in which there was this increase, the unemployment figure was 30,844, 22.6 per cent., or a drop of just on 10,000.
In the few minutes that remain—I am sorry to have left him until the last—I will deal with the speech of the hon. Member for Abertillery. He asks why there are not more workmen's inspections. I also wish there were more. I think they are extremely valuable. He asked me what about the stowing of waste, and said that it should be made compulsory. He probably knows that this is a matter upon which technical opinion differs very much—[An HON. MEMBER: "A question of economy."] I said technical opinion, not economy. Research is going on about roof control in general, and we may get some results from it. He said that it was a dreadful scandal that we had to import, so much oil. The increased consumption of oil both industrially anti for motive power on the road and in ships is, from the point of view of the coal mining industry, deplorable. It is platitudinous to say that, but as I explained when I was speaking earlier, the effect of the measures taken by the Government with regard to duties upon heavy oils imported into this country, the effect of the now very heavy duty on oil for road traffic purposes, has made it possible, which it was not before, for the question of the production 1959 of oil from British coal to be considered and placed upon a productive basis commercially. It was not so before. When he says that what Billing-ham, the low temperature carbonisation processes, coke ovens and the rest are doing is very little, I agree, but it is 3¾ per cent. of our consumption now.
What the future holds, taking his advice, I am not going to say. He told me not to prophesy. But it is a good start, and, as in so many other things with regard to industry during the lifetime of this Government, we have brought about conditions within which it has been possible for industry to go ahead. This is a specific instance of that, and I look forward to the time when, in
§ addition to Imperial Chemical Industries, who have been so forward in the matter, other concerns will find it also possible to develop and get to work on a productive basis. That is the answer to what the hon. Gentleman calls a scandal. For the rest, I would only repeat what I said at the beginning, that I am very much obliged to hon. Members in all parts of the Committee for the way in which they have received me to-day, and I hope that the appeal for co-operation and good will which I made will not have fallen on deaf ears outside, as it has not done here.
§ Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £137,024, be granted for the said Service."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 55; Noes, 332.1961 1963
§ The CHAIRMAN then proceeded, pursuant to Standing Order No. 14, to put severally the Questions, That the total amounts of the Votes outstanding in the several Classes of the Civil Estimates, including Supplementary Estimates, and the total amounts of the Votes outstanding in the Estimates for the Revenue Departments, the Navy, Army, and Air, be granted for the Services defined in those Classes and Estimates.