HC Deb 09 April 1937 vol 322 cc509-29

11.25 p.m.

Mr. C. S. Taylor

I beg to move, in page 1, line 8, after "ground," to insert "during a period of seven hours."

The object of the Bill is to remove an anomaly which exists in the coal mining industry. In the past it has always been the case that boys could not be employed on top of the ground during night hours, but that they could be employed underground. In the original Bill the prohibition stood at between the hours of 10 at night and 5 in the morning, but an Amendment proposed in Committee upstairs extended those hours from 10 at night to 6 in the morning. That Amendment caused a certain amount of uneasiness among coalowners and also, I believe, among representatives of the miners themselves, because they felt that it would perhaps create repercussions in the industry by upsetting the present shift system and also in a smaller way by upsetting the Saturday afternoon football matches. Since the Bill was considered in Committee, representatives of the miners have discussed this matter with representatives of the coalowners, and they have come to an agreement, which is embodied in this Amendment.

Mr. Alan Herbert

I beg to second the Amendment.

11.27 a.m.

Mr. Whiteley

It is correct, as the Mover of the Amendment has suggested, that when we were in Committee upstairs there was an Amendment agreed to which it was thought would improve this Measure. The original hours in the Bill during which the employment of boys was prohibited were from 10 to 5, and that was unanimously agreed to on the Second Reading, but when the opportunity came in Committee it was felt that that period ought to be increased so as to give the lads an opportunity of being out of the pit for a longer period than from To in the evening to 5 in the morning. The hon. and learned Member for East Leicester (Mr. Lyons) then put forward an Amendment to make the prohibited hours from 10 to 7, but after discussion in the Committee a compromise was come to, and it was unanimously agreed that the period should be from 10 to 6. Now we have an Amendment which comes along and suggests that the prohibition should only apply during a period of seven hours between 10 in the evening and 6 in the morning. That is really taking us back to the original position, and we feel rather strongly that we are going to lose what little advantage had been secured from the unanimous decision of the Committee upstairs. For instance, any coalowner now, if this Amendment were agreed to, could take the afternoon shift right up to a few minutes before 11 at night, and as a matter of fact other coalowners might use the opportunity of taking boys in just a minute or so after 5 in the morning, so that in reality we should get no advantage at all from the Bill.

Therefore, while recognising that there must be some little elasticity, because we know that there are districts in the coalfields where the afternoon shift does not finish until 10.30 and because we know that there may be some cases where a morning shift may go in at 5.45, we feel very strongly that this seven-hours Amendment is wrong and that there ought at least to be a period of 7½ hours if these lads are to get any real advantage at all from the Bill. I hope the promoters of the Bill will consider that suggestion and accept the idea of inserting the words "during a period of seven and a half hours" rather than press the Amendment as it stands.

I want to make our position quite clear. We are at the moment having to accept what we can secure under the existing system, but, as miners, we shall never give up our right to press for the abolition of the legal right to work lads underground between 14 and 16 years of age. That is where we definitely stand, but to-day we have to accept what we can secure under the existing system of working in the industry. We feel strongly that the mover of the Amendment ought to realise the position, because we are not suggesting anything that could create any difficulty in the industry at all. Our suggestion of 7½ hours would allow the amount of elasticity that is necessary, and we feel that it would be for the benefit of the lads connected with the industry and that the House would approve of it as a step forward which ought to be taken.

11.31 a.m.

Mr. Tinker

I want to thank the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) for bringing forward this Bill to prevent boys working underground during certain hours. The 1911 Act stipulated that boys should not be allowed to work above ground between the hours of 9 at night and 5 on the following morning, but there was no such stipulation for boys underground. How such a position ever became the law of the land it is difficult to understand, but it did get into an Act of Parliament. For a long time we have been attempting to get it altered, but customs have grown up following on that enactment, shifts have been arranged, and boys have had to work, and we have always been told that to get this altered would mean extra cost in the working of the mines, that if these boys were displaced, the owners would have to get older boys and the cost would be increased. Therefore, we have never succeeded in getting the alteration made, but now we are arriving at the point, and I hope the Members of the House will not allow an opportunity like this to pass. Since that time the questions of boy labour and times of work have altered altogether, and although we might have accepted the position then, now that we have the opportunity I think we ought to improve upon it.

The hon. and learned Member for East Leicester (Mr. Lyons) tried to prevail upon the Committee upstairs to make some slight improvement in the Bill, and a compromise was arrived at prohibiting boys working betweeen the hours of 10 at night and 6 in the morning. That is not as far as I would like to go, but it was a compromise, and I hope that now the House will not let that compromise go. The promoter of the Bill has brought in an Amendment this morning, hoping perhaps to get the Bill through, not having a grasp of the situation such as working miners have, and thinking that this arrangement would suit certain conditions. It is rather a difficult question, but anybody who will read the Bill will find that the Amendment regarding the seven hours comes in between and makes the whole Bill rather difficult to follow. If this Amendment is carried, we shall have in the coalfield, perhaps in the same county, boys going on after 10 o'clock at night and others not being able to go on because of the method adopted by the coalowner.

We must have uniformity in this matter so that we can say right throughout the country that between certain hours these boys are not allowed to work. If this Amendment is made nobody will know exactly what the time should be. I hope that the Mover will be prevailed upon by the opinion of men who represent the coal-mining community not to press this change. If he realises that we are so keen to get something uniform and to make the life of the lads underground better than it has been, I am sure that he will allow the Bill to stand as it is, and so fulfil his good intentions in bringing forward this Measure. I urge him not to spoil a good Bill by pressing the Amendment, but that he will on mature consideration agree to the point of view expressed by Members who know something about this matter.

11.36 a.m.

Mr. Lyons

As one who was responsible for moving the Amendment, around which discussion now centres, when this Bill was before Standing Committee A, I should like to make some observations about the position as I see it. I want in the main to endorse the robust appeal which has been made by the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker). I took the view then, and I take it now, and I hope the House will take it to-day, that in this year of grace we should not legalise the working of boys underground at 5 o'clock in the morning. I am definitely opposed to it, and I am equally Opposed to taking any steps, a repercussion of which will be that we have helped to legalise in 1937 the employment of boys underground at any place in the country at 5 o'clock in the morning. I say that without any reservations. The original Bill would have made this possible. I put an Amendment down in Committee to alter the hour from 5 to 7. That would have had the effect of making 7 o'clock in the morning the earliest time a boy could be employed anywhere. I took the view then, and I take it now, that that is a fair, and perhaps the earliest, reasonable hour. I was told upstairs that it would upset certain arrangements that were made for shift working and would cause a great deal of anxiety. I did not see why it should, but, in view of that, and to facilitate an overdue reform, I was willing to accept, and did accept, a compromise making the hour 6 o'clock.

My hon. Friend the promoter of the Bill—and I want to add my tribute to what has been said about his good faith in bringing forward the Bill—to my amazement in Standing Committee was the one Member who dissented from the unanimity there finally was about 6 being the hour to be accepted. I said then, and a number of hon. Gentlemen supported me, that if I had known there was to be any dissension by those promoting the Bill, I would have insisted on 7 being the hour, because I believe that there is an overwhelming opinion for 7. I see no real argument or expediency against it and nothing would have induced me to alter 7 to 6 except the fact that I was led to believe it was an agreed compromise that would help the passage of the Bill. The Bill is now reported to the House with 6 as the hour, and I say again that that is the earliest time that can be considered. I would much rather have it 7. The first Amendment put down by the promoter of the Bill was to take away 6 entirely; I was wholly opposed to it, and I would have opposed it to-day. That Amendment has, apparently, been withdrawn, and the present Amendment has been put down. I do not understand what it really means, but I see as a possible outcome of it that we shall have in place after place 5 o'clock as the legal time at which a boy may be employed to work underground.

I do not understand what the full purport of the Amendment will be, but I venture to assert that one of the results will be that 5 o'clock in the morning, the very hour I want to condemn as a time for lads to work underground, will be a legal hour permissible under the Bill. Whatever else it will do, the fact stands out clearly that this will be the legal interpretation of the Amendment, which will legalise the very hour we want to stop. I would like a little explanation of the position. My hon. Friend the promoter of the Bill said there had been some agreement. What does that mean? There can be no agreement other than the agreement of this House to alter provisions which are before the House, and which have been before it on every stage of the Bill. No outside body can be said to agree to a matter like this. I should like to know who agreed, after the very strong statements upstairs, that this proposal as reported to the House is not a practicable one. I listened to what was said by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Blaydon (Mr. Whiteley) just now, when he spoke strongly about the terms of the Amendment. I would remind him of what he said in Standing Committee on the Amendment which I moved making 7 as the earliest permissible hour. The hon. Gentleman, speaking with great experience, and with a knowledge second to none in the House of the position with which this Bill deals, said: We could not possibly oppose an Amendment of this kind. Shorter time for night working by boys in the mines is, one of the things for which we stand. It is essential. Therefore if the hon. and learned Member for East Leicester (Mr. Lyons) presses the Amendment, we shall naturally have to support it.ֵֵ Our job is not to arrange the organisation or working of the mines; that is a matter for the owners. If the Bill be carried with the Amendment, I do not see why there should not be the ability inside the owners' organisation so to arrange the shifts as to make it possible for the Amendment to work very satisfactorily."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT (Standing Committee A), 17th February, 5937, col. 5.] Those were the words bf an hon. Member with great experience and knowledge, and I should like to be told by the promoter of the Bill, who has purported to enter into some arrangement which would cut across the very provisions we passed in Committee and which was agreed to by the miners' representatives? I am not concerned very much whether this is a matter which is stressed by the mine- owners' organisations or by the mineworkers' organisation; I want to say again, as I have said on other occasions in this House, that I do not represent a mining constituency, and that this is not a matter confined to those who represent mining constituencies. It is a question of great human policy whether we should legalise lads under the age of 16 going below ground at 5 o'clock in the morning.

We spent some time this week dealing with a great Measure for national physical fitness. We have spent many occasions dealing with other means of improving the standard of the stamina of the youth of this country. If we are going to legalise boys going underground at 5 o'clock in the morning, I do not care who has consented to it, it will cut across those very principles for which we stand. I am not going to support it. I was very much impressed by an observation made by the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey), with whom on many matters I am in complete disagreement. He made a statement in Committee which is one to which the House might pay great regard. I am quoting only two or three of his sentences, and excluding a lot of his observations which went entirely to support the Amendment I moved making 7 o'clock the earliest hour. He said: Parliament ought to regulate hours in coal mines not only for boys but for men, especially with regard to night work. I would remind the Committee of a statement which I made in the House last Friday. The Gresford disaster, in which 265 lives were lost, occurred at 2 o'clock on a Saturday morning, at an hour at which both men and boys ought to have been in bed. In the interests of increasing the safety of our coal mines I think we shall have to go along the line of compelling the owners to cease getting coal in the early hours of the morning, in order that there may be time for the mines to cool."—[OFFICIAL REPORT (Standing Committee A), 17th February, 1937, col. 13.] That is a statement which is of compelling force, and in the light of those facts I think we should insist that we keep the Bill as it is. It was said in Committee that it would be difficult to make internal arrangements to fit in with these new hours. I am not saying a word now against the organisation and efficiency of the coal industry, but no one can suggest that it is now so perfectly organised that the adoption of this proposal would make things impossible for it. We have heard from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that a far-reaching scheme is to be put forward for the unification of mining royalties, and a scheme of reorganisation in comparison with which any rearrangement which would be necessary to make this Bill as reported practicable would be a tiny one. No argument against the change was really substantiated in Committee, and the case for it is overwhelming.

I am sure that the promoter of the Bill wants to make it as humanising a Measure as possible, and I hope the House will realise what are the implications of this Amendment, because, whatever else it may do, it does legalise work underground at 5 o'clock in the morning by children who ought not to be there at that hour. I am told by those associated with the coal trade that happily—I say that advisedly—the amount of child labour in pits to-day is negligible, and it is getting less. I myself, do not see why children should be employed underground at all. I would stop it altogether. The smaller the number of those so employed the stronger our case becomes, and the less opposition there ought to be to it. I ask hon. Members opposite who have a knowledge of the mining industry, and who claim in debate after debate that they can represent the interests of the workers better than anybody else—a claim which I do not accept as a good one—not to run away from this position because some people somewhere, I do not know who and I do not know where, seem to have agreed that the Bill should be altered so as to whittle away a vital safeguard. After all, this is the sovereign legislature, and it is for this House to make up its mind.

If the promoter of the Bill and those associated with him can give me no better explanation of why the Amendment has been put forward than we have had so far, I shall not support it. I want to see the Bill in the form in which it was reported to the House, and that is with the hour 6 o'clock in the morning. I should like to have seen the hour 7 o'clock, and I only agreed to alter 7 o'clock to 6 o'clock because I thought it would secure complete unanimity, and the support of the promoter and the Department of State concerned. Nobody is begrudging the promoter of the Bill the commendation to which he is entitled for using his luck in the ballot to bring forward a Bill to effect this great change, because it really is a great Bill. It will affect only a small number of young people, but they are lads at the most impressionable period of their lives, and at present they are working in circumstances which are very nearly deplorable. Is it too much to ask the promoter to withdraw this Amendment, and to give the boys that broad measure of emancipation to which, I believe, they are entitled? I would remind the House that those boys have been no party to the discussion of this matter behind the back of this House Their views have not been heard in any negotiations which have gone on between those working in the mines and those who own the mines, yet in this House their interests should predominate over all other interests whether of mineworkers' or mineowners' organisations.

Therefore, while again commending my hon. Friend for devoting his chance in the ballot to a humanising Measure like this I would appeal to him not to limit the benefits of it too much, but to give to these boys the full scope which would be given to them by the Bill as it was reported to the House. It secured almost unanimous approval in Committee upstairs. And I would repeat that we might have gone still further with the Bill in Committee, because if I had insisted on my original Amendment fixing the hour at 7 o'clock in the morning, and had pressed it to a division, it would have been carried. The Amendment was altered to 6 o'clock only in order to facilitate the passage of the Bill, to gel the promoter into complete harmony with us and to save any acrimonious discussion such as might have delayed it. We could have got the hour made 7 o'clock, and nobody could have said that that was a wrong hour; but now that the Bill has come to the threshold of the Statute Bock, as it were, I appeal to my hon. Friend to let it go forward as it is. This is a private Member's Bill and he owes no allegiance in the matter except an allegiance to that in which he conscientiously believes, and I appeal to him to give those boys the security and the safety which they would get by the acceptance of the Bill as it stands and in which form I hope the House will accept it.

11.53 a.m.

Mr. Paling

I had not seen this Amendment until this morning, although I understand there have been discussions elsewhere on this particular point, but I have come to the conclusion that it appears to be of a very dangerous character indeed. The hon. and learned Member for East Leicester (Mr. Lyons) has told us that in Committee the idea prevailed that 7 o'clock in the morning was early enough for a boy to go down the pit, and with that view I agree, but it was pointed out then that it might lead to certain difficulties, because a good many pits start at 6 o'clock, and it was urged that it might be easier to make the hour 6 o'clock, and on the idea that there would be unanimity that hour was agreed upon. But even as the Bill stands, with the hours from 10 to 6 still in, if this Amendment were adopted a boy could go down the pit at 5 o'clock in the morning, and that would clearly be against the express wish of the Committee. If he is out of the pit from 10 o'clock till 5 o'clock that would give the seven-hours' interval referred to in the Amendment. In our neighbourhood there are generally two shifts and the day shift generally start at 6 o'clock in the morning, and the afternoon shift finish about no 10 o'clock at night, and I think a boy would be within the law if he went down at 5 o'clock on the day shift, and still be within the law if he were in the pit till in 11 o'clock on the afternoon shift. On the afternoon shift he would be still excluded from 11 p.m. to 6 in the morning, a period of seven hours. The issue is, therefore, between the day shift and the afternoon shift. The Amendment means that the lad from 14 to 16 would be excluded for six hours during the night from working in the pit. I do not know whether my interpretation is right, and I hope that the Secretary of Mines will tell me, but that is how I see the matter. It depends upon which shift the boy would be on. If he is on the day shift he can start at 5 a.m. and be excluded for seven hours, and if he is on the afternoon shift he can work until 11 p.m. and still get the seven hours off.

Working on the same basis, I see also the question of whether the seven-hours period is elastic. It is not only a matter of the seven hours during which the boy is excluded; he might be fetched in at 1 o'clock in the morning and worked until 2. If he is out of the mine from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. and from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., making seven hours altogether, would that still be permissible under the proposed Amendment? As I see it, it would. The possibilities of the Amendment are almost illimitable. It is because I fear the danger that I am asking the Secretary for Mines to tell us whether the danger exists. If it does, in any shape or form, I shall vote against the Amendment.

11.57 a.m.

The Secretary for Mines (Captain Crookshank)

As the hon. Gentleman has asked me two specific questions perhaps I had better answer now. May I first say a word about the Amendment which has been made in the Bill? The object of the Bill, as I understand it, was not, as the hon. and learned Member for East Leicester (Mr. Lyons) says, to solve entirely the problems of boys' work in the mines. What the Bill on Second Reading was proposing to stop was boys working on the night shift. On that shift it was to be impossible to employ boys at all. It is not the case that the Bill, as originally introduced setting the hours as between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., was aimed particularly at the idea that no boys should work at 5 in the morning, as the hon. Member has just said in his impassioned speech, for in fact under the present law boys may be so employed on the surface. It was a question not so much of 5 o'clock but of the night shift.

Hon. Members who were Members of the Committee will remember that I said then, when we were discussing the Amendment which is now incorporated in the Bill, providing that the period should be from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., that I had not at that stage been in touch with the usual sources in the mining industry with whom I from time to time naturally discuss problems which arise in this House. Hon. Members opposite are aware that during the last year a Joint Consultative Committee has been set up in the industry consisting of representatives of the two sides. The House had accepted the principle on Second Reading that boys could not work on the night shift and had made the hours from 10 to 5, and the Committee had altered the hours from 10 to 6, and I therefore thought that the best thing to do was to ask the Joint Consultative Committee not only about the Bill generally but also whether they could give me any considered opinion from the practical point of view about what hours should be laid down in the Bill, and whether there was anything which I could put before the House this morning.

I received from them a suggestion which I was able to communicate only yesterday to my hon. Friend who is promoting the Bill. The Joint Consultative Committee suggested that the proposed words which my hon. Friend has upon the Paper should be put in. Ten p.m. and 6 a.m. are to be left as the two extremities between which boys may not be allowed to be employed underground, and between those times there is to be a period of seven hours during which boys are not to be employed underground. That is to say, the proposal is to stick to the theory that the night shift is not to be worked by boys, but owing to the difference in practice which exists from area to area and from pit to pit some measure of elasticity is required. It appears to be undesirable to lay down a hard-and-fast rule that the limits should be from 10 to 6, not so much because of the effect this would have on the boys, who are no longer to be working on the night shift, but because of the effect that it might have on the working of the other shifts, the day shift and the afternoon shift. This effect, as I understand it, was what was in the minds of those who proposed the Amendment. The suggestion is that there should be under the law a period of seven hours in which, if I may use the phrase, pits shall be "boy-less"—no boys down there at all in that period, and that that seven-hour period should be within the the period from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

The question was asked by the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Paling) whether it would be possible, for example, for boys to go down at 5 o'clock in the morning on the day shift and other boys to come up as late as 11 o'clock at night after the afternoon shift. The answer to that is "No, certainly not." The intention is that that should not be so. For that would mean that there were six hours only instead of seven hours during which the pit was "boy-less," and that is certainly not the intention. I have not been able to discuss this Amendment with the Government draftsman, but if the Amendment is capable of that construction I am prepared to say here and now that the Government draftsman, between now and the subsequent stages of the Bill, will see that the point is met. It may be that the words should be turned the other way round and that the Bill should start by saying: "There shall be a period of at least seven consecutive hours between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. during which no boy shall be employed etc.," but that is a drafting point, as I understand it.

Mr. T. Smith

Is it not the case that if the Amendment be carried it will permit boys to go down the pit before 6 o'clock in the morning?

Captain Crookshank

Oh, yes, but there would be seven hours out of the eight hours during which boys could not be in the pit. The hon. Member will, no doubt, correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that the general practice to-day in South Yorkshire is for boys to go down the majority of the pits somewhere between 5 o'clock and half-past 5.

Mr. Smith

That is one of the things that we want to stop.

Captain Crookshank

I sympathise with the view of the hon. Gentleman, but that is not what the Bill started to do. The Bill started out for the abolition of work on the night shift, but now the hon. Gentleman is turning it round, altering the emphasis, and dealing with the time at which the day shifts should work. That is a very different point. The Bill dealt with the comparatively small point of removing an anomaly between boys' employment on the surface and boys' employment underground and it is only from that point of view that I am speaking to-day. In order to make that object effective in practice the suggestion of the hon. Member is that you must have some elasticity at both ends, because there is a variation of a quarter of an hour in one place, 10 minutes in another place and half an hour in another. The essential point, which the House accepted on Second Reading, is that there shall be no boys employed on the night shift as such.

If the point made by the hon. Member for Wentworth is valid, and the words are capable of the interpretation which he put forward, it would be desirable to see, if possible, that they are altered elsewhere. That is all I have to say on this Amendment. The inquiries which I made of the Joint Consultative Committee on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) resulted in unanimous advice, and I naturally gave way to it and gave the information to the proposer of the Bill. I do not deny that there is a good deal to be said on the point as to reorganisation of the employment of boys in the industry, but the Bill deals with only that small point. I have no doubt that measures dealing with that matter would receive a great deal of sympathy in all quarters of the House, but that is not, as I understand it, what we are now dealing with. The hon. Gentleman wants to make the conditions and times of labour of boys aboveground and of boys below-ground the same. They have not been the same in the past; the present law is ridiculous in its anomalies; and, therefore, I hope that the House will accept this Amendment, because it will remove one anomaly and one difficulty. As we all know, the path of the reformer is apt to be a gradual one, and it is sometimes necessary to take what one can get with unanimity rather than grasp at something else and get nothing. I hope that the explanation I have given will have cleared up the point which has been put to me.

Mr. Lyons

The hon. and gallant Gentleman has given an indication of what the Government draftsman might be asked to do in a certain eventuality suggested by the hon. Member opposite, but I take it that, even if that position were dealt with by words put in at the beginning of the Clause in the way that the hon. and gallant Gentleman indicated, it would still be one of the repercussions that boys would be allowed to go below-ground at 5 in the morning.

Captain Crookshank

The object of this Amendment, as I understand it, is to make it clear that the period of seven hours, which was the period mentioned on the Second Reading, should be a period during which boys should not be employed in the pit. As the Bill now stands, the period laid down is eight hours, but that does not, as I have pointed out, give the elasticity which may be required either for boys going on to the day shift or coming off the afternoon shift at the other end of the day. If that be the intention to which the House desires to give effect by this Amendment, and if it is really likely to have any such frightful consequences as the hon. Member for Wentworth appears to fear, then, since neither of us is a lawyer or a draftsman, I will certainly have the point looked into. My hon. and learned Friend has asked whether it would be possible for a boy to go down the pit at 5 in the morning. It would be possible under the Amendment, but at the same time it would be impossible for any boy at the other end of the day to be in that pit later than 10.

12.9 p.m.

Mr. T. Smith

It is true that the object of the Bill is to remove an anomaly in mining law which has been well known for many years, but, if the House is going to accept this Amendment, I hope it will do so with its eyes open. If the Amendment is accepted, it will still permit boys to go down the pit before 6 in the morning. Some of us have had experience of going down the pit as boys before 6 in the morning, and we are not only desirous of removing the anomaly which at present exists, but also of stopping boys going down the pit before 6 in the morning. What happens is this—it used to be more prevalent in the old days, when there was more hand-getting of coal and when there were more ponies in the pit. The boy going into the pit at 14 years of age, being enthusiastic, used to like to get down the pit early, say at a quarter past 5, to get to the working place and get the tubs ready for the colliers when they came down later. If this Bill is passed, it will mean that no boy can go down the pit before 6 o'clock. What is necessary to meet that? It is true that on the face of it the number of boys employed in mining is decreasing, but what would happen would be that, where pits start at 6, you would either have to let the boys go down after 6—which, after all, is not an insurmountable difficulty, especially at pits where there are two shafts—or you could readjust the whole hours of coal-mining. It may be asked whether that can be done, but we had the same controversy when, in 1919 or 1920, we reverted from an eight-hour day to a seven-hour day. We were told then that it could not be done, but it was done. It was done by ballot, and I am pleased to say that the tendency was to make the hour for starting work 7 and not 6 in the morning.

If I may venture to state my own personal experience of mining life, I used to have to get up at a quarter past 4 in the morning, because every day I had a 50-minutes walk from where I lived to the pit. There were no omnibuses in those days. Those of us who have had that experience want to stop it, and to make it impossible for boys to go down the pit before 6 in the morning. Some of us would like to see the employment of boys in the pits prohibited altogether, and, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman knows some foreign countries give us a lesson or two in that respect. We are hoping that we shall be able to humanise mining life to a greater extent than is the case to-day. If the hon. Gentleman will not withdraw the Amendment, and if the House agree to accept it, let them do so with their eyes open, knowing that they are still making it possible for boys to go down the pit before 6 in the morning.

12.13 p.m.

Mr. C. Williams

There is one point in connection with this Amendment which has not yet been brought out. I am not a lawyer, and do not pretend to read Bills as a lawyer would read them, but I know that, when an Amendment of this kind is being put into a Bill, it is wise to look at all the possible ways in which it can be read. We have been arguing and assuming so far that the meaning is that between the hours of 10 at night and 6 in the morning there should be seven hours in which a boy may not work. That is the meaning which everyone has put on the Amendment. But it can also be read with an entirely different meaning. The Clause says: No boy shall be employed in, or allowed to be for the purpose of employment in, any coal mine below ground between the hours of ten at night and six on the following morning. As one who is not a lawyer, I read that to mean that no boy may work in the pit during that time for more than seven hours, but that boys could work six hours. If that be so, then, instead of there being, as we all intend, a definite period of seven hours during which no boys can work, it may be possible to read it in such a way that a boy could work for six hours during that period, though he could not work for seven hours. I do not think the point has been raised before, but I think it is one on which we need to be very certain before it is put into the Bill.

12.14 p.m.

Mr. James Griffiths

This Bill has come down from the Committee after a good deal of consideration, which eventuated in a compromise. There was a strong feeling in the Committee, which I share, that the hour of 7 should be accepted, but eventually 6 o'clock was accepted, and now we have the present Amendment. The Secretary for Mines has said that this Amendment is moved at the request or at the suggestion of the Joint Consultative Committee—

Captain Crookshank

I do not want to put the Committee in any false position. I asked them what they thought of the Bill and what they thought of the two different hours which had already been considered, namely, 5 a.m. and 6 a.m., and this was a suggestion to make it workable.

Mr. Griffiths

I gather that the Joint Consultative Committee have suggested that the Bill should be changed in that direction, and that they have suggested these words. Is that right? Have they suggested these very words?

Captain Crookshank

There is no mystery about it. Knowing the interest taken by the House in the Bill and knowing the change between the Second Reading and the Committee stage, I asked for the views of the Consultative Committee on the Bill, and in reply I received information to the effect that from the practical point of view, as they saw it, it would be desirable, in order to achieve the object that the boys should not be employed on night shifts at all, to have some words of this kind within the Bill in order to give the elasticity to which I have referred.

Mr. Griffiths

That statement affects our own people who are on the Consultative Committee and I am very sceptical as to whether they have agreed to these words. I can only think that the matter was probably discussed in a rush in a few minutes. I cannot believe that men who have given their lives to this service can have accepted these words. As the Bill stands there is a definite period, from 10 to 6, that is eight hours, during which no boy is permitted to work underground. As I understand the technical difficulty that arose it was this: That in some collieries the hour of commencing the morning shift is an hour before this, and that it would be impossible for a boy to work on a morning shift if that morning shift began before 6 o'clock. That is the technical difficulty. If there were agreement on the point it would be far better to substitute 5 for 6 in the Bill than have the words of the Amendment, which are capable of all kinds of interpretations.

We are legislating for boys. Are we to be told that this industry cannot change the hours of the morning shift from 5 to 6 or from 5.30 to 6? I have fought all my life the absurd and inhuman idea of starting men at work at 6 o'clock in the morning. In South Wales the general time is 7 o'clock, and in my view 7 o'clock is too early. Let me put this to hon. Members who do not appreciate the matter fully. Old mines are closing. Whatever new employment becomes available it is at pits right away from the old mining centres. The tendency in these days is for men to travel to the pits by omnibuses and trains. The old idea was that the men, as it were, lived at the top of the pits, and could tumble out of their beds straight into the pits. Nowadays when new pits are sunk men sometimes travel 25 miles to their work in the morning and travel back to their homes at night. There are baths at the pits and they are able to wear decent clothes on the journey. But they have to get out of bed at least 1½ or 2 hours before commencing the shift. If you permit boys to begin work at 5 o'clock in the morning, as this Amendment would permit, those boys will be getting up at 3 or 3.30 in the morning. The Amendment means also that boys will be permitted to work on the afternoon shift until 11 o'clock at night and they may not reach home until 1 o'clock in the morning.

These are the days of mechanised mines. We were told this week that 55 per cent. of the coal produced in this country is cut by machinery. The whole atmosphere of the mines is an atmosphere of machinery and electricity. I do not think that any boy of 16 should go down the pits. Generally speaking, the night shift commences at 10 or 10.30 and goes on till the next morning. If the Amendment were accepted there would be overlapping; the boys would go on the morning shift when the night shift was still at work. There could be nothing more dangerous than for boys of this tender age to go down the pit in the early hours before they are fully awake, to reach the coal-face within a few minutes of the time when a machine has finished cutting the coal. I thank the hon. Member for using the opportunity to bring forward this measure of justice to boys who are still compelled by poverty to work in the mines. Who would send his boy to the pit unless compelled by poverty to do so? These boys are compelled to work in the pits and it is the duty of this House to protect them. I join in the appeal to the hon. Member to withdraw the Amendment. I am convinced that it would be a simple matter to adjust the working hours of the pits to suit the convenience of the Bill.

12.23 p.m.

Mr. C. S. Taylor

If I can intervene now I may be able to satisfy hon. Members in all parts of the House. First of all I want to apologise to the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) for not having listened to what he was saying, but I was at that moment having my Bill explained to me by one of the Opposition Front Bench. The hon. and learned Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Lyons) has said that this is a great human problem and that it involves a great human policy. I agree that it does involve a great human policy. Otherwise I, representing a place like Eastbourne, where the sun always shines, would never have dared to bring this Bill forward. But I yield to no one in my desire to help in the solution of a great human problem. The object of this Bill, as was explained by the Minister, is to remove an anomaly, and only to do that. As a Member for a non-mining constituency I would not dare to take it upon myself to reorganise the whole coal industry. My knowledge of the industry is very small. For that reason the object of the Bill is purely to remove the anomaly which has been discussed to-day.

As hon. Members have pointed out, the Amendment may not be worded in the way in which it should be worded. Nevertheless we all know what we mean and what we wish to do. If I give my assurance that before the further stages of the Bill we will look into the wording of the Amendment, and I will promise to consult with representatives of the Opposition, because they were good enough to support the original Bill, I ask the House to accept the Amendment. I am very sorry that the controversy has been allowed to arise, because we all agree that the Bill is very necessary, and I do not want its final stages to be prejudiced purely on a matter of disagreement of this kind. I am not trying to reorganise the whole of the coal industry. I am trying to remove this extraordinary anomaly, which should have been removed years ago, and I hope hon. Members will be satisfied with that explanation.

12.27 p.m.

Mr. Pritt

It would be a very much better course to withdraw the Amendment and, if anything can usefully be said for it, to introduce it at a later stage than to pass an Amendment which everyone, including the mover, realises does not carry out what is intended. It is a very uncertain and dangerous Amendment. I think the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) is absolutely right when he says that, as it stands, you could employ a boy in a pit for 6½ hours at any time of the night. If you prosecute a colliery company for employing a boy during a period of seven hours then the answer, "We only employed him during a period of 6½ hours," is a complete and absolute answer. If you wanted to achieve the object of saying that there shall be a period of seven hours during which a boy shall not be employed, you could do it by saying, "No boy shall be employed in any coal mine below ground during any part of the period of seven hours." Even then you would have the evil that my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Paling) has pointed out, that a colliery could quite lawfully bring half its boys on at 5 o'clock in the morning and let the other half on only at 11 o'clock at night, so that there would only effectively be a period of six hours. There is a lot of badly drafted legislation in spite of all our efforts. If we are to allow such an ambiguous Amendment to go forward simply on the ground that, while everyone knows it is nonsense and extremely dangerous, it can be put right at a later stage of the proceedings, it is making legislation more dangerous than ever.

Amendment negatived.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

12.32 p.m.

Captain Crookshank

May I offer a word of congratulation to my hon. Friend on having piloted the Bill in the way he has done? It is a pleasant thought that one of the youngest Members, who does not work in the coal industry, should interest himself in the employment of boys in circumstances very different from those in which he himself had to work, and that the miners of the country should be able to understand that all over the country there are those who sympathise with their difficulties, even if they sit for residential seats in the South of England.

12.33 p.m.

Mr. C. Williams

This Bill shows what can be done to help in these matters if you have full co-operation between all parties. Some of my hon. Friends above the Gangway have given their support and made very useful suggestions in connection with the Bill and, as a South country Member, with no connection with mining, I should like to emphasise very clearly what the Minister has said, that we in the South country are willing and desirous to help the coal mining industry in every possible way, and I congratulate my colleague, the Member for another health resort, on the fact that he has done what so many Conservatives have done in the past, taken a leading part in benefiting a particular industry.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.