HC Deb 24 February 1938 vol 332 cc655-80

7.59 p.m.

Mr. Tinker

The Parliamentary Secretary said that his right hon. Friend would do everything in his power to preserve the amenities and beauties of the countryside. That brings me to a subject on which I should like to say a few words. For some time I have been pressing the Minister of Health to do something to preserve the amenities not merely of the countryside but of other parts of the country, the industrial areas, by removing the obnoxious pit heaps that exist. The Minister might do something in that direction. I have a Bill on the Order Paper, but every night when my Bill is reached, hon. Members opposite object. I suppose they have been told by the Minister that objection must be taken to the Bill. One has to wait for opportunities like this to have the matter ventilated.

I hope the Minister will not seek to shelve this question indefinitely because there is a deep-seated feeling among Members on this side of the House and in many parts of the country that something ought to be done. I constantly receive letters from district and county councils expressing agreement with the action which I have taken and asking what help they can give me. I have told them to write to the Ministry and to let them know the feeling which exists upon this question. Recently I had a letter from a local authority in whose area a number of pit heaps are burning. They told me that they had done what they could to get the law put into operation but found it very difficult to accomplish anything, because these heaps were not termed nuisances in the ordinary sense.

I understand that in order to establish the existence of a nuisance it is necessary to bring definite evidence of people being affected by it and that is almost impossible in these cases. The men and women affected depend for their livelihood on the very people who would have to be prosecuted. We know that many people suffer in health from this sort of thing, but when we ask them to come forward and help us to establish the grievance, their answer is "Will you guarantee me employment afterwards?" They probably work for the colliery company which owns the pit heap and if we succeeded in what we are trying to do—well we know what the industrial position is and that there would be little chance of work for these people afterwards. Hon. Members on both sides of the House agree with me that something ought to be done and that there ought to be a move forward in this matter. Every Tuesday night I sit here, a lone figure on these Benches.

Mr. Kellys

Not lone.

Mr. Tinker

No not lone but one of very few. I sit here waiting for an opportunity to present my case, but I am met with nothing but futility and objections, and when I rise to make my protest you, Mr. Speaker, have to put me down in accordance with the Rules of the House. I want to warn the hon. Gentleman opposite. I ask him to use his influence with his right hon. Friend to see whether he will not receive a deputation from Members of the House. The chairman of the Amenities Committee is prepared to go with me and with other Members to meet the Minister of Health on this subject and if the Ministry can show me any way of getting over this difficulty without an Act of Parliament, I shall gladly follow their advice. But I promise the hon. Gentleman that he will have the life worried out of him as long as he is in that office if he does not do something to help me to deal with this great grievance. I shall sit here every time there is a Motion for the Adjournment prepared to state my case on this question and believing that by keeping at it I may yet secure that something will be done. I hope that to-night, however, the hon. Gentleman will give me an assurance that his right hon. Friend is at least prepared to meet a deputation.

8.6 p.m.

Mr. George Griffiths

I join with my hon. Friend in asking the Government to do something to remedy the evil caused by these burning muck heaps all over the country. Every week-end I not only see them but feel them. The smell of one comes into my bedroom. I both smell them and taste them. We are desirous that facilities should be given to enable us to ascertain whether or not the House is prepared to remedy this grievous evil. In the county in which I live there are 86 of these burning muck stacks. Altogether I understand there are something like 172, and some of these have been burning for over 25 years. I have lived in Yorkshire for 35 years and I know one that was burning before I went there and has never been put out since. A great many of the population in the mining areas are affected. Like the blind man in the Scripture, "One thing I know." One thing I know is that these burning stacks are a disgrace to civilisation and a detriment to the health of the community. Thousands of people are living within a few hundred yards of some of them. There are in the Normanton Division pit stacks which practically encircle three rows of houses. If it were not for a highway which passes there, the houses would be hemmed in all round by these stacks.

I do not care what medical men may say. They are not always right. Some of them may say that these fumes are not injurious to health, but those who know the people compelled to live close to these stacks realise the effect on the general health of the people. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman opposite me thinks that he can fob us off by saying that he will look into the matter. We want something done by the Ministry of Health. We do not want faith without works. We have had enough of that in the last week. Either these muck stacks should be cleared away, or legislation should be introduced to compel the colliery companies to put out the fires. The true solution is that no colliery company should be allowed to bring the muck up to the surface. It should be stowed down in the pit. That would serve two purposes—first, there would be no fire on top, and second, there would be no subsidence of houses, churches and public buildings. I hope the Minister will give serious consideration to this question and allow my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) and myself to go home with an easier mind on this subject.

8.10 p.m.

Mr. Gallacher

I wish to refer to both the questions which have been raised. I have drawn attention to the question of bings in Fifeshire and especially to the bing at Buckhaven, which has destroyed the whole foreshore and left the harbour so that you can walk about in it dry-shod because of the rubbish swept into it from the bing. Nothing as far as I can gather is being done to remedy that state of affairs, and I wish to support the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) and the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) in their demand for definite action. The suggestion that the mine-owners should not be allowed to bring this rubbish to the surface is a practical solution. If it were stowed below, it would prevent a terrible disgrace to the countryside. In some of the most beautiful parts of Scotland at present one may be suddenly confronted with a big dirty heap of muck from a pit. That is a state of things which ought not to be tolerated.

On the question of the cottages, I cannot understand how the Minister or anyone else can refer to a group of cottages, situated as this appears to be, as a slum. I agree with the hon. Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) that there is a strong argument for retaining certain cottages of this kind in every rural area. They are, in a sense, history in stone. I speak possibly from a different point of view and with a different purpose from that of the hon. Member who raised this question. I understand the traditional value of these cottages and their associations, but I would use them for the purpose of showing to the people of to-day the conditions under which many of the poorer people had to live in a past age. It is desirable, from the point of view of carrying on tradition and keeping a sound association with the people who have gone before us, that we should preserve these buildings. We of the working class would like to see history presented in such forms as this in many areas, and I want to warn Ministers and especially the Secretary of State for Scotland of the difficulties which they may meet before very long, if their attitude to these questions is not changed.

In the Empire Exhibition in Glasgow, they are reproducing or have reproduced a Highland village. I ask the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he has seen the Highland village? He had better watch that the Minister of Health does not get his eyes on it, or he might condemn it as a slum and demand its demolition. Any number of these Highland cottages are slums. I am in favour of maintaining these old-time houses, but not for dwelling purposes. I would have them renovated as far as possible, and try to keep their old appearance, so that they might be used as museums. There are many such places in many parts of the country, and even in towns. In many towns they have old oak buildings that are not used for dwelling purposes, and every care is taken to maintain them, because of their association with the past. I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to take this up with the Minister and to request him not to treat houses of this kind as slums, but to give them special consideration. It may be that demolition is the only thing for these three cottages that have been referred to, but it may be, on the other hand, that there is very good sense in the desire for keeping them in existence.

8.18 p.m.

Mr. James Griffiths

I am sure Members on all sides will sympathise with the object of the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker). I know he has introduced a Bill in connection with this under the Ten Minutes Rule, though I suppose the prospects of getting it through are remote. I want to make a suggestion. This problem is one that is growing in seriousness all over the country. I have had the privilege, as a miner, of visiting coalfields in other countries on the Continent, among them the German coalfields. This has nothing to do with Hitler or the new German regime. It is a legacy from the old regime in Germany. The first notable difference one sees between the German mining districts and our own is the absence there of these ugly pit heaps. They have developed something which we ought to cultivate: a sense of civic pride. The ordinary working man and woman have to spend all their lives in the same village. Their children grow up there. I think we ought to cultivate a feeling that the town or village in which we live is something that we ought to keep clean and beautiful. All over the country we have these heaps. In my own area they are not as offensive as in the area which the hon. Member for Leigh knows, because in his area they have an offensive smell as well; but in South Wales there has been a new device for handling what we call rubbish from the pit—the Mclaine tipper. We have always taken pride in our mountains in Wales, but I say to my fellow-countrymen sometimes that in a few years' time our mountains will be completely obscured by these horrible tips.

This is something that ought to be taken in hand. I do not believe it needs legislation, but only some really energetic administration. Why should we stand for a lower standard of civic pride and cleanliness than they have on the Continent? Why should we not aspire to the heights? I suggest that the Minister should receive a deputation from Members of the House who are interested in the matter: Members who represent mining areas and are keen on finding some solution. The proper solution is to keep this stuff underground. There is only reason why it is brought up and that it is because it is cheaper to do so than to stow it underground—cheaper in money, but not cheaper from the standpoint of human life and of safety. With machine mining, and all the changes it makes, more and more of this rubbish will be brought up unless some administrative action is taken to stop it. I suggest that the Parliamentary Secretary should have a consultation with the Minister of Mines, and that they should jointly agree to receive a deputation. The Secretary for Mines could himself go a long way towards solving the problem. His own divisional inspector of mines at Cardiff, in his last four or five reports, has urged that there should be complete solid packing in the pits in South Wales. The problem could be stopped, at least from growing worse than it is now, if the Secretary for Mines adopted that suggestion. All he has to do is to tell the colliery companies that they have to carry out the recommendation of the inspector.

There are other ways in which something can be done about these pits by administrative action. For some years before I came here I was associated with the work of the Miners' Welfare Fund in South Wales. We have converted some of these pits into football grounds. The Miners' Welfare Fund have done that with very limited resources—made still more limited by the Government's action in recent years. This is not a party matter, but one in which all parties might interest themselves. We are all concerned in keeping these villages clean if we can. Those who go to mining villages are often appalled by their ugliness. People who live in them ought to get some fresh air and beauty. I would join in the appeal that is being made from this side, and which I am sure will be joined in by hon. Members on the other side, to the Minister to receive a deputation, so that this problem can be solved without new legislation and without any great expenditure of money. We can do it from two ends—first of all, by taking steps to keep it in, and then by trying to make a collective effort to do something outside. We might carry the matter still further by having a discussion with the Parliamentary Secretary.

8.26 p.m.

Mr. Bernays

I feel that I must rise to reply, although hon. Members will know that I have had no notice that this question was to be raised.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Dennis Herbert)

I take it that the hon. Member has the leave of the House to speak a second time?

Mr. Bernays

I apologise to the House for not having gone through that necessary procedure. As I was saying, I have had no notice that this question was to be raised, but I feel that I must say how interested I have been in the points raised to-night upon this very important question. I say this particularly because, when I paid a visit to South Wales the other day, when I learnt how to pronounce Pontypridd and Llanelly, I realised how the lovely valleys were being despoiled in the way the hon. Gentleman has told us to-night. I know how deeply hon. Gentlemen are concerned about the question, but I can only say to-night that the inspectors of the Ministry of Health are very active in their duties and are constantly inquiring, supervising and making suggestions, and if hon. Gentlemen who have raised the matter tonight have any particular spots in mind, I shall be glad if they will let me know, and I will see that special inquiries are made.

Mr. A. Jenkins

I would like some explanation of what the Parliamentary Secretary means when he says that Ministry of Health inspectors are continually dealing with this matter. As a matter of fact, these tips have been built up continuously over a long period, and Ministry of Health inspectors have been there, and, as far as we know, have not been at all concerned about it.

Mr. Bernays

The problem of burning tips is a serious one, and if the hon. Gentleman has any particular burning pit in mind in regard to which he is dissatisfied with the work of our inspectors, I shall be very glad if he will let me know and I will have an investigation made.

Mr. Tinker

The Ministry would require an army of inspectors to deal with the tips in Lancashire.

Mr. G. Griffiths

There are 86 burning tips in my division.

Mr. Bernays

With regard to legislation and the Bill about what the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) spoke, I am, unfortunately, precluded by the Rules of the House from referring to any future legislation, but I would say, in reply to the request which he and other hon. Members made that a deputation of Members interested in this question should be received by my right hon. Friend, that I will convey the suggestion to my right hon. Friend, who is always anxious to see Members of this House on any question in which they are particularly interested. I am afraid that it is impossible for me to say more, but I hope that what I have said will enable the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) to sleep soundly.

8.30 p.m.

Mr. Parkinson

I am very pleased to note the sympathetic reply of the Parliamentary Secretary and that he will convey the terms of this Debate to the Minister, but the matter should be taken further than that. Something must be done. The question has been before the House for a considerable number of years and we have not really been able to get anything done to ameliorate the state of affairs. I have in mind the conditions which prevailed at the colliery where I worked in 1891, where a tip was blazing furiously, and is still blazing. One has only to travel north at night-time, when, on leaving Warrington, it is possible to see tip heap after tip heap blazing over the countryside. Not only are they an eyesore but a positive danger to the health of the people. I remember that when I was a member of an urban district council there were one or two of these burning heaps in the midst of the town. We did all we possibly could within the law, and by appeals to the management and others associated with the colliery, but we did not meet with success. People living in these particular areas are suffering from respiratory diseases, which, in our opinion, are directly or almost directly attributable to the fumes from these burning tips. If the Parliamentary Secretary desires the names of the collieries where slag heaps are burning we shall require one or two sheets of foolscap to deal with the Lancashire area alone.

I was interested in what my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) said. I have also been to Germany, where I made some inquiries concerning the absence of pit heaps, and I was told that the law would not permit collieries to bring up the rubbish and deposit it on the surface. They had to store it in their underground workings, and if they took any rubbish out of the colliery and there was a subsidence, they were liable for any damage that was done and to a fine under the law. I do not know how far that sort of thing applies, but it would seem to be a good augury for something being done in this country in view of the fact that the Government are taking over the mineral rights of the country. I do not see any reason why when the Government negotiate new leases they should not insert a clause to prevent collieries from creating burning slag heaps. Colliery companies are not only spoiling the countryside by this practice but are causing the breaking up of the cottage homes of a large number of people who cannot obtain any recompense at all. These burning pit heaps help to destroy the health of the villages, and they are making middle-aged people prematurely old through having to breath and live in the atmosphere which they create.

I appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to do all he can to get the Minister to do something in this connection. The practice to-day is to make huge slag heaps. There is a place in Lancashire where there are one or two very high heaps and they are called Mr. So-and-so's monument, meaning the colliery manager. I do not think that we ought to blame the colliery manager too much, but rather the mine-owner and the mineral owner. The manager is largely in the hands of the directors and has to do what they tell him to do. When they extract minerals from the earth they ought not to be permitted to do something which is detrimental to the community as a whole and to create something which scars the natural landscape. I hope that if the Minister does meet a deputation something will be done as a result. In some cases colliery owners are allowing these burning pit heaps to continue because they think it might be a commercial proposition afterwards. After a slag heap has burnt for a sufficient number of years it leaves a red gravel which has some commercial value as gravel for paths, but I contend that we cannot afford to let our people be sacrificed or our countryside be sacrificed in the interests of a commercial proposition.

We can bring all proof that is necessary before the Minister of Health but we want to know what is going to be done to stop this practice. No pressure so far has been brought to bear in any area, except one in Leigh, to compel colliery owners to stop these fires. They allow them to burn. We are here in this House to protect the well-being of the community as a whole, and while there may be a commercial proposition in this for colliery owners it is not a commercial proposition for people in the areas who as a consequence are prematurely old at 40 and 50 years of age. A large amount of this burning could be avoided. The refuse could be stored underground, but it is much cheaper to send it up to the surface and dump it there. I hope pressure will be brought to bear on colliery owners throughout all our mining areas to see that they put a stop to this practice for the future.

8.38 p.m.

Mr. Jenkins

I want to say a word in support of my hon. Friends who have raised this question. It is one of considerable importance in mining districts. I was dismayed to hear the Parliamentary Secretary say that because he had had no notice of the question he was unable to reply.

Mr. Bernays

I did reply.

Mr. Jenkins

I must have misunderstood the hon. Member. In any case his reply was totally inadequate, and I certainly understood him to say that he had not had sufficient notice.

Mr. Bernays

The hon. Member put to me a question and I was answering the question.

Mr. Jenkins

I certainly expected a more definite reply. The suggestion of a deputation was not favourably received, but more important still is it that this matter has been raised on quite a number of occasions and that no action has been taken to bring about a cessation of this practice. The Parliamentary Secretary said that the inspectors of the Department were continually around the districts keeping a watch and taking all the action they have power to take. In my own division about a year and a-half ago there was an outbreak of fire in one of these tips. Not a large fire, but nobody took any action. There was a substantial amount of sulphur being exuded and people in the district had to live under the greatest of difficulties. In some houses privately-owned, paying very substantial rents, the people were unable at night time to open their windows because of the poison coming from these burning heaps. This went on until the fire burnt itself out. There are other places, however, where these tips have been burning continuously.

In my judgment this nuisance could be avoided in almost every case. It is not difficult to put a fire out when it begins, but it is difficult to put it out after it has been burning for a considerable time. Moreover, there is the possibility of keeping a large amount of this rubbish in the pits. The hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) has already called attention to the fact that the Divisional Mines Inspector for South Wales has for seven years in succession recommended that the rubbish should be kept underground. If it was it would improve the standard of safety considerably in the mine, but because there is no measure of control, no attempt to protect the amenities on the surface, industrialists are allowed to do precisely what they like. Not long since I was in a certain continental country and I saw some lignite mining. A substantial amount of earth was taken off the surface, but behind the mining the soil had to be left in as good a condition as it was before mining began. I inquired into the cost and I found that as a matter of fact it did not increase the cost per ton of lignite by more than £1. It is quite as easy to do this systematically as it is to throw the rubbish anywhere and everywhere, just as we see it at Corby. That is another instance of the destruction of amenities.

I say quite frankly that there has been no effort on the part of the Minister of Health to save the countryside. The Parliamentary Secretary's reply is totally inadequate. The matter has been raised a sufficient number of times to get a reply which is adequate to the problem; and I am disappointed, indeed I am dissatisfied, with the reply. I hope my hon. Friends will continue to press this matter until we get satisfaction. The Minister of Health must understand that some of us have some regard for the beauty of our hillsides and our valleys. I often think what delightful valleys they would have been had not industry come into them, if we could have seen them in their pristine beauty. I remember an old character in the Rhondda Valley telling me that his father could remember when it was possible for a squirrel to travel from Pontypridd to Treherbert without leaving the trees. There is to-day not a tree in the whole valley of 20 miles. All the trees have been felled. There is nothing but rubbish heaps, and there are no amenities.

People are expected to live in such conditions, and yet, when we raise the matter, we get from the Parliamentary Secretary a reply such as we have had to-night. The Ministry of Health have not been doing their job as far as the protection of the beauty of this land is concerned. They are not doing their job at the present time. The Ministry are not prepared to interfere with the vested interests in the industry. To-night, we have heard the terrible story of these burning pit heaps in a densely populated county such as Lancashire. The Ministry of Health ought to take a much firmer stand in this matter. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will report this Debate to his right hon. Friend, and that some action will be taken soon.

8.47 p.m.

Mr. R. J. Taylor

I wish to deal with this matter from two angles. I was astonished to hear the Parliamentary Secretary say that the officials of the Ministry of Health are going round—

Mr. J. Griffiths

Round and round.

Mr. Taylor

Evidently they are going right round and getting back to where they started, and when they write their report, probably they will do the same thing, because I cannot see that they are accomplishing anything. During the last few years, even during the last' few months, new pit heaps have been created There is spontaneous combustion, and in some cases the burning pit heaps are hardly a hundred yards from houses in which people have to live. There is less need at the present time for this refuse to come to the surface than ever there was. If it were not for the speed and the need for these operations to dovetail into each other, and if it were not cheaper to bring the refuse to the surface, I am convinced that it could be stored or packed without being brought above ground. These pit heaps are having a deleterious effect both on the health and the amenities of the countryside. In some villages the tradespeople and the householders generally wage a continuous battle against the effects of the fumes that are given off by these heaps. That means expense, and it means that it is impossible for the tradespeople to keep their shops in the state in which they would like to keep them. Only the people who live in the areas concerned are able fully to appreciate what these pit heaps mean. A coat of paint in close proximity to one of them is eaten off in a week or two. The shops and houses get shabby and look miserable. People are often judged by the coats that they wear, and almost the same thing applies to a shop. If a person sees a shop front which has no paint on it, which has a "dead-and-done" look, he says that the tradesman is not up to date, and he does not give that tradesman his custom. In the districts where there are those burning pit heaps, that state of affairs is not due to the tradespeople, but to the Government's neglect.

There is another point which has to be remembered. A few weeks ago there was a "blackout" in the town of Bedford. I believe that the object was to test some new lights on motor cars in order to see whether it would be possible to have vehicular traffic going normally and regularly during an air raid. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department went up in an aeroplane in order to have a bird's eye view and to see how the "blackout" worked in practice.

Mr. Bernays

I apologise for interrupting the hon. Member, but apparently I did not make myself plain to hon. Mem- bers opposite. I said that I would convey their views to my right hon. Friend and that I was certain he would be willing to receive a deputation. I do not think I can do any more than that. If I may say so, I think that if my right hon. Friend reads all these speeches tomorrow, he will think there is no need for a deputation.

Mr. Taylor

The point I am putting is a rather important one. In connection with air-raid precautions, people are being gathered into big and small committees to discuss what should be done, enormous expenditure is being incurred, and the time of very valuable men is being taken up night after night in deciding what should be done, in the event of war, to protect the civilian population. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department went up in an aeroplane. He sat in the nose of the machine—I do not know whether it makes any difference whether one sits in the tail or the nose—and when he spoke over the wireless, he said that as he approached the town, with all its blazing lights, it was a perfect target, surrounded by the darkness of the countryside; but that when the signal was given; there was absolute darkness. I want the hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary to appreciate what would be the position if there were an air raid in the North of England, in Lancashire or in Yorkshire. With armaments factories in different parts of the country, it is very difficult to say which places are vulnerable and which are not.

I remember that during the War, the first Zeppelins that came to this country came over the town in which I lived, and they approached from the North Sea. In the event of another war, if aeroplanes approached from the North Sea, we should want to darken the town in which we live. Newcastle would get the signal to do so, and we should want all the country to be in total darkness, so that the aeroplanes would have to depend on some scientific instrument in order to be able to set their course. All that will be necessary will be to take a beeline for one of our burning pit heaps. I noticed one last week-end. I was five or six miles away from it and it took me some time to determine whether I was looking at the neon lights of a cinema, until I remembered the location and knew it was a blazing pit heap.

When the Parliamentary Secretary reports this to the right hon. Gentleman will he ask him to visualise the position of our people who are living in proximity to these pit heaps, and ask him what are his proposals for blanketing or damping them down when the sirens give warning of an air raid. Aeroplanes travel very quickly, and, even if there were two or three hours' warning, it would be a physical impossibility to put out these heaps, which are upwards of 100 feet high and a blazing mass of fire. In the plans for air raid precautions a larger contribution should be made to authorities within the proximity of these heaps because they have a much greater danger to contend with. We have Newcastle, with thousands of population, manufacturing armaments and a very important port. The Port of London may not be as accessible in time of war and we shall probably have to use some of the lesser ports. I am not an airman, but I do not find it difficult to see that in the darkness of night an airman would be able to shape his course by one of the pit heaps only 10 miles from Newcastle and find any place he wanted. If we could utilise the refuse in these heaps to pack up underground workings we could employ many more men doing just the work they used to do, and it would help considerably in the unemployment problem. We have not the money to put them out, and if the Government want the citizens of the country protected and do not want the armament factories blown up, they should provide money for this purpose or make the colliery managements keep the stuff underground.

9.0 p.m.

Mr. Ritson

I appreciate the point of the Parliamentary Secretary when he said the Minister would receive a deputation, but I think that a great volume of complaints from this side may serve to impress him. I see the senior Member for Sunderland (Mr. Furness) on the Front Bench. I am living in Sunderland, and he knows that I excuse him because he has to sit there as a Whip with an official muzzle on. My local council has complained bitterly about pit heaps that are not in the borough. We have to take our refuse out to sea beyond the three mile limit, and I sometimes wish that it were taken further out because it washes back with the tide and makes what would be a beach of bright sand very dirty. When we see the effects of these heaps on the surroundings, we can only guess what the effect is on the lungs of the people living in the area. We are told that it is too expensive to put the heaps out and that the only way of dealing with them is to cover them with soil.

The question of air raids is important. I remember during the air raids in the War, when I had some sort of an official position in trying to protect the community, that bombs were dropped on the pit heaps or near them. There is not only the fear that pit heaps may be a guide to towns like Newcastle and Blythe, but the fear that they will be a guide to mines. There are shafts over 1,500 feet deep in that area, and if a bomb were dropped in one of them it would mean a colliery being put out of action and disaster to the men down below, particularly if gas bombs are used. The heaps are beacons to an enemy; they are an invitation. I was in the air only once. I went to an aerodrome with other miners' members at the invitation of the present Home Secretary in view of some questions that had been raised in the House. We were highly satisfied with what we saw. Before I took a flight I was asked to sign a document that if I was killed or injured during the flight I would claim no damages from the State. I am a white, cadaverous looking fellow to start with, but when I signed I went very pale and they took my photograph. I had only that one flight, but I can well imagine the position of a raider in an aeroplane. I could see all over Northumberland and Durham, I could pick out my pit heaps, and I would have been a neglectful enemy if I did not take note of some marks in a vulnerable position.

The amenities of the district are a consideration to be taken into account. Some of my hon. Friends were with me at Bournemouth for a recent event, and I heard from them that they had never seen anything so beautiful for years, and we did express the hope that some of our people could have a look at the beauties of that part of the country after living in surroundings where they smell the pit heap morning after morning and where their wives dare only do the washing on certain days, after having made sure that the wind does not come from the direction of the pit heap, because the clothes are destroyed by the fumes. But clothes are only material things. Human beings, children as well, are living in that atmosphere. We are trying to make an A1 nation while letting them breathe C3 destruction from the day they are born. We are entitled to something better.

I went to the pit at 12 years old, like so many of my friends, worked in the hot pit, naked as on the day I was born, and breathing an atmsophere that you would not let a dog live in. If you were to put daylight into the pits there would not be a pit working for another week. Sometimes we were working in conditions where the pony beside us used up all the oxygen and the lamp went out, and we had to put the pony a hundred yards or so away so that we could get on with our work. Men who have been in such an atmosphere all day ought not to have to encounter the atmosphere of burning pit heaps when they come to the surface, and if they have sent their sons to the war, why should we leave the burning pit heaps to act as beacons to the enemy who come to destroy those who have been left at home?

You may look upon us sometimes as being rather rough and blunt, but never charge us with not loving the country which has given us birth. Some of us are artistically minded, blunt and ungrammatical as we are, and in these days of travel we have been about to see beautiful things and beautiful places. And seeing those beautiful places our people find it more difficult to come back to live in their old surroundings, amid the fumes from these pit heaps, which affect even their furniture and their ornaments. There are these pit heaps, with their misty, stinking, dark gases coming off them, and some of our people are living almost immediately under them.

We have shown that this question is one which must concern the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, and I think that he ought to be here. Though he is responsible for armaments, it is more important that he should do away with these targets for airmen, which is what the burning pit heaps are. The safety of the main lines of our railways is involved, because a lot of these pit heaps are to been seen on the route between London and Edinburgh. I know of five or six between Darlington and Newcastle, and there are scores in other parts of the country. We have been told of the arrangements made for a "black-out" in time of war, but those things would remain as a danger. I have a great regard for the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office, apart from his politics—that is the only thing which is the matter with him—and I am convinced that he would have done a far more useful thing to go up in to the air above the pit heaps than to go to Germany to examine airraid precautions there. I cannot understand neighbours paying visits to show how they are going to kill one another—only keeping back the date.

I understand we have a promise that the Minister of Health may receive a deputation on this subject. I am always afraid to meet the Minister of Health, not because he is not charming, but because he is too charming. When you are coming away you feel that you have got everything in the world—and when you get home you have not even got a shirt on. Do not be shocked when I am talking about underclothing, because we all wear it, and there are no ladies present. We want something done for the health and amenities of the people. I should like the Minister to be as sincere about this matter as I am. I have been brought up in a colliery area, and though I am four miles away from a pit heap I can smell it at any time when the wind is in that direction. Not only do we suffer from the fumes from the pit heap, but there is the air coming out of the colliery itself by the upcast shaft, coming from workings where there are hundreds of men and pit ponies, thousands of cockroaches and millions of mice—all breathing that air, which then comes up out of the pit by the upcast shaft. Whenever I smell it, it takes me back to the days when I had to go to the pit as a boy, and I think of the men who are still working below ground. It is bad enough to have to breathe the air from the upcast shaft without breathing the fumes of a pit heap—a mound of stuff which could be stowed below ground to the safety of the miner and to the saving of a good deal of expenditure on timber.

On this side all here to-night are practical men and we are not putting forward our knowledge of the pits with any desire to boast of it, but only giving those who do not know the benefit of our experience. We are all members of the same great nation and we are proud of it. We are not condemning it, but only asking you to purify it, asking you to give those who have sprung from our loins a chance of living under conditions which will give them better health.

9.12 p.m.

Mr. Charles Brown

I am sorry that the Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Health has left the House. Although he promised that the Minister of Health might receive a deputation of members on this subject, he intervened a little later, out of a desire, no doubt, to curtail the Debate, with the suggestion that if we went on making speeches it might not be necessary for the Minister to receive a deputation. In case that course should be adopted I think it advisable that we should make all the points we wish to make in our speeches here, because then the Minister will have the information if he does not receive the deputation, and if he does receive it he will have had time to consider our points before meeting us.

9.14 p.m.

Sir Edward Campbell

The Parliamentary Secretary was informed by the hon. Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) that he wished to raise a question on the Adjournment this evening and the question was raised and replied to. Then the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) raised a question of which the Parliamentary Secretary had been given no notice whatever, and on which he was not in a position to reply either for his Department or for his chief. He has, however, promised to ask the Minister to receive a deputation, and no Under-Secretary could be expected to do more than that. I realise that hon. Members are very much interested in this subject, but the Parliamentary Secretary does need a meal sometimes, and he has not gone to bed, but only gone to get some very necessary food, and when hon. Members opposite stop talking I hope to do the same.

Mr. Brown

I have no objection to the Parliamentary Secretary having a meal. I hope he will enjoy it, but it is no reason why we should not make our case against these disfigurements. We are much obliged to the hon. Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) for raising the matter of those cottages. A part of his case was that they destroyed the amenities of the neighbourhood where they were situated. My hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) is raising this question which is closely associated with that of amenities. I come from a part of the country which is not unattractive, or was not. Aerial ropeways have now begun to be used by the collieries in the district and they are piling them up in my district. It is on the fringe of the Dukeries, and I rise because of that fact. I suppose most hon. Members know what the Dukeries are; they are part of the area of Sherwood Forest. Important country mansions in the Dukeries are Welbeck Abbey, Rufford Abbey, and Clumber House. The coal measures on the western side have been worked considerably and are now moving steadily east. They are depending more and more upon the Dukeries, in the heart of Sherwood Forest. One of my hon. Friends said that this was not a party question, and I agree with him, but in present conditions people who own coal in this country can protect themselves from disfigurements of the landscape because they have the power and influence to do so.

On the fringe of the Welbeck estate is a colliery known as Thursby Colliery. It is an all-electric colliery, where they do not use steam even to raise the energy to generate the electricity, which is raised elsewhere and transferred to the colliery. When I was there last time there were no disfiguring pit heaps anywhere on that landscape. That shows that what my hon. Friends are advocating to-night could be done, and is done when it destroys the amenities of the great landlords of the country. I do not criticise them for wanting to preserve those amenities, but when they want to preserve amenities they can do it and no development impinges upon the amenities which they enjoy. That is all I want to say to the Parliamentary Secretary. It will be on record, and the Minister of Health may consider it when he turns his attention to the question which has been raised by my hon. Friends.

9.19 p.m.

Mr. Tomlinson

I, too, come from a colliery district, although the pit heaps in my immediate neighbourhood are not burning and are not quite so noxious as others that have been described to-night. Nevertheless, they are an eyesore. Some little time ago a friend was visiting our place for the first time, and brought with him a young boy who had been brought up in the countryside. As they approached Farnworth they came across some slag heaps which were evidently the first that the boy had seen. Turning to his father in the railway compartment, he said: "Daddie, why did God make those hills without grass?" It is strange that a young boy who had been taught something of the beauty of the countryside should attribute to God the making of the slag heaps. I am not surprised that he did so because the only hills he had hitherto seen had been clothed with grass. His conception of hills was that they should be clothed with grass. I believe there is something in that child's remark. If it had not been for the cost of transforming those heaps into something of beauty we should not have them as they now are in the countryside.

A little time ago I was appointed from the Farnworth district to the Lancashire County Council committee on the preservation of rural England, which question has already been raised upon the Adjournment to-night. My friends at Farnworth began to smile at the idea of somebody living in that town being interested in the preservation of the countryside. My excuse for sitting on that committee and doing my best to see that it carries out its work was that, as the industrial towns had been spoiled, I was concerned that what little was left in Lancashire of the countryside should be preserved. I would go further and say that those who have been responsible for the erection of these ugly heaps should have been compelled to remove them when they found it no longer necessary to work the colliery, having taken all out of it that they could. These things are an eyesore in front of other people. It may be said that when people are making their livings in the mine and are dependent upon the wages that they receive, they can put up with the ugliness associated with their work. There is an old saying in Lon-cashire: "Where there's muck, there's money." That saying developed from the fact that you cannot make money without making muck. My contention is that the people who have made the money by stirring up the muck should not be allowed to leave the district in which they made their money and go to live in places like Bournemouth, whilst the people who are left behind have to look at the ugliness the others created.

The Minister of Health has a definite responsibility in this matter. There are certain things which people are not allowed to do in the carrying on of their business. When permission is given to people to carry on an industry there ought to be a definite instruction as to what they may and may not do. It is no good talking about the preservation of the countryside if you give a man a blank cheque to make what money he wants irrespective of the countryside. The Lancashire County Council took it upon themselves some years ago to manufacture tar macadam in order to carry out their road-work, and for that purpose they purchased some slag heaps in Cumberland. When they started on the undertaking there was a Clause giving them permission to do all the work of taking the slag to make the tar macadam, but saying that they must make good the countryside when the heaps had been used up.

I was on the County Council. Some machinery had been brought there and the countryside had certainly been badly disturbed in taking out what was required and leaving the remainder. The landlord was prepared to waive his right to the putting right of the countryside for a certain sum in compensation. The compensation was paid, and the district was left in anything but a reasonable condition. The damage that had been done had been paid for, but you cannot pay for the injury to the people who have to live in close proximity to it. If we are in earnest on this matter, we can do a good deal by insisting on regulations for the putting back of the rubbish underground. I do not know anything about underground working but, if it can be buried underground, it is a crime against the people who live on the top if you allow it to be brought up simply because it is cheaper to do so. We have sacrificed enough in the interests of cheapness. I hope the Minister of Health will be impressed with the necessity of taking note of what has been said with a view to doing something worth while in this direction.

9.27 p.m.

Mr. Sexton

I have a different point of view from that of some of my hon. Friends. Not that I object to what they say—I endorse every word—but I have had a double experience. I have lived beside one of these Vesuviuses pouring forth its smoke, fire and filth and I have had the added experience of going into a rural part of the country as well, and I find exactly the same thing going on there as is going on in the industrial parts. I can well remember going with other boys to what we called the fiery heap, taking with us potatoes that we had scrounged and roasting them in the hot ashes. It was a common playground for boys and a very dangerous one, too. There was danger from burning and from noxious gases. I believe it must be possible to leave most of that rubbish underground, and it would contribute to the safety of the miners and to the health of their wives and families who have to live in the neighbourhood. It would contribute towards the safety of the whole of the public during air raids if they could have the heaps removed. Then there is the question of shoring up and preventing subsidence. I have friends in mining districts who have bought their houses, which are built over the cavities that have been left by the removal of the stone. Some of the houses have cost large sums of money to build and to keep in some sort of state of repair because of the constant falling of the ground. Local authorities and those responsible for places of worship have to bear added expense because of these unsightly and dangerous heaps.

In one of the prettiest dales in this country, in Weardale, we have limestone quarries, with heaps of rubbish left outside. It is possible, and it ought to be made compulsory, for these heaps to be planted with trees to hide the scabs and scars that have been left there. We know the beauty of artificial parks, but there is no beauty like the natural beauty of the dales. In all parts of the House we are very jealous of the beauty of our countryside. We are not talking for talking sake. We are talking in the hope that the Ministry of Health will get busy and do something to remove these things which destroy the natural beauty of the country. The tragedy of it all is that industry has to leave behind it this legacy of unsightly litter. In the last few years we have had a campaign conducted in the Press against the littering of the countryside with paper, tins, cigarette cartons and bottles. Those are easily removed, but the litter that we are talking about leaves a permanent mark on the landscape and should be done away with altogether., The unemployed can be set to work. They have done it voluntarily in some places. They have spread these heaps out and made playgrounds. If we set the unemployed to work on some of these jobs, it would be more worth while than sitting still and doing nothing. Industry goes to different parts of the country. I am afraid we shall have industries going into rural areas and spoiling the country. Before any industries are taken into these beautiful districts it should be laid down that the surface of the land should be left as they found it when they came, in all its virgin beauty. We will do all we can to help the Government in the preservation of the beauties of the country.

9.34 p.m.

Mr. Lawson

It is a good thing that this House should at times forget ordinary topics and discuss matters of amenity. We are obliged to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) for raising the matter, which is of very great importance to the mineworkers of the country. I was glad to learn that my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) had raised his voice about it, because he has been so insistent, particularly about the matter of burning pit heaps, that he is bound to have success ultimately—the success that comes to those who learn to hammer at one question until people get so tired of it that they have to do something about it. This question is more subtle than most people realise. I spent 20 years of my life in the neighbourhood of a huge colliery where the only things that you could see above the long streets were the pulleys. At the end of our street was a huge pit heap. It stretched as far as the eye could see. While one felt a sense of revolt and dissatisfaction as regards wages and matters of that kind, the conditions by which we were surrounded had a strange psychological effect. After being in the pit for 20 years, I went to the western side of the county, and there, although I saw pitheaps, I also saw the trees and the fields; and then I realised that during the first 10 years of my life, which were spent in Cumberland with the sea on one side and beautiful mountains on the other, those surroundings gave me really the best part of my education, much more fundamental than anything I got from books.

Our trouble is that we do not know how to settle these things. A gentleman in my district settled them completely. It was proposed to sink a pit near his house, but he would not have it. It happened that he owned the royalty on the coal underneath, and for some years there was a lot of trouble about it. He finally agreed to the sinking of a pit on condition that it was sunk at a certain distance from his house, which was a castle, that the whole of the plant must be electrified—this was 30 years ago—and that the pit must be surrounded with tall poplar trees. That was done. He also stipulated that all the outhouses must be built of a certain kind of, almost, tiles. When the trees grew, and one stood in the fields and looked at that pit, although it was working, one could hardly tell which was the pit and which was the castle. He arranged, too, that some chemical should be used to kill any smoke. It was done all right, and it can be done all right. I believe that if the Minister of Health had sufficient courage to deal with this matter firmly, no one would be more pleased than the kind of person who has had the benefit of such conditions as those of which I have been speaking.

There is a social sense about this matter which Ministers would do well to apprehend. If they only had the courage, they could, at very little cost, do something which would not only be beneficial to the country at large, but would bring psychological well-being to masses of people in this country. My hon. Friend's area is worse than Durham, and I believe it is worse than the Welsh coalfield. I could stand looking at one pit heap, though that is bad enough; but when you have them scattered for miles round, and burning, they make life, even to anybody like myself who is used to it, almost intolerable. This matter is not difficult to deal with. It can be done, because it has been done, and I hope that the Minister, when he meets the deputation, as I understand he is going to do, will take his courage in his hands and make an end of this question.

Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-one Minutes before Ten o'Clock.