HC Deb 10 July 1939 vol 349 cc1999-2013

Lords Amendment: In page 72, line 33, after "restaurant," insert: other than a restaurant carried on for the use of persons working in the factory.

Sir J. Anderson

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

I think the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) recognises this Amendment. It is inserted to meet a point to which he called attention at an earlier stage. Doubt was then raised whether the Bill as it stood might not have the effect of excluding a restaurant provided on factory premises for the benefit of people employed on such premises. The Amendment makes it clear that such a restaurant is not excluded.

Subsequent Lords Amendments to page 74, line 33, agreed to.

Lords Amendment: In page 74, line 35, at the end, insert: (8) For the purposes of this Act the number of persons who work in or about a mine shall be deemed to be a number ascertained as follows, that is to say—

  1. (a) by having regard to all the people employed in or about the mine and ascertaining how many of them are from time to time simultaneously present in or about the mine otherwise than below the surface, and
  2. (b)if the numbers so ascertained fluctuate, by ascertaining the highest number which, throughout any consecutive period of fifteen minutes, is equalled or exceeded."

Sir J. Anderson

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

This is the substantial Amendment to which the drafting Amendments have been leading up. Hon. Members may remember that when this Clause was under discussion at an earlier stage some question was raised as to its applicability to the rather special case of a mine. The Clause is concerned with the provision of shelter for the persons employed in or in connection with a mine, and the particular point which the Amendment is directed to is the estimation of the numbers of people for whom shelter has to be provided by the mine owner. The case of a mine presents certain rather special features in this respect. There is normally a pool of workers at the mine-head and that pool is added to and reduced in two ways. It is added to by men coming to the surface from work underground and by men coming to the mine-head to go down in the next shift. It is reduced by people leaving the mine-head on the termination of their shift and by people leaving the mine-head to go down in the cages returning to the bottom of the mine. There is a continual fluctuation in the number of people at the mine-head, and the problem Is to determine with precision and fairness what is the number of people which should be taken as a standard for the purpose of the provision of shelter.

This Clause is, I frankly admit, somewhat difficult to understand as a mere matter of words. I have been at some pains to try and understand it, and I think I have succeeded. I believe the effect of it is this, that the mine owner has to ascertain the greatest number of people likely to be found at the mine-head throughout a continuous period of 15 minutes. Any number in excess of that figure that may be at the mine-head for less than 15 minutes would be disregarded for the purpose of providing shelter, because it is assumed, and reasonably assumed, that they would have got away either on their return home or by going down the mine, so that they would not require shelter to be provided for them. This Amendment has been discussed with the mine owners and with representatives of the workers, and I think it is generally accepted that it represents a reasonable settlement of a rather troublesome problem.

1.54 a.m.

Mr. Gordon Macdonald

I want to make quite clear what is involved in this Amendment. We have mines with 250 men working over ground and 2,000 men working underground, and there are times when at least 500 or 600 of these men are on the surface in addition to those working on the surface. At certain times in some pits we have at least 600 or 700 men on the surface, and do I understand that shelter shall be provided for those 600 or 700 men? If it is, who has to decide the number of people? I can understand that the divisional inspector of mines would be the first person to decide and, if that is so, is that to be done in consultation with both sides? I want to be clear on this point.

1.55 a.m.

Sir J. Anderson

The purpose of the Amendment is to meet the very case which has been mentioned by the hon. Member. If it should be shown that such a number will be found at any time of the day at the mine-head for a period of, or exceeding, 15 minutes, then that number must be provided with shelter, and shelter has to be provided for the highest number so found. As regards the method by which the actual number is to be ascertained, what we hope is that the mine owner, in consultation with the representatives of the workers, will normally be able to agree, and there are records which I understand are normally maintained. If they should fail to agree, the authority who would put the final requirement in the notice to the mine owner as to the number of people for whom shelter is to be provided would be the divisional mines inspector.

1.56 a.m.

Mr. H. Morrison

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the Lords Amendment, in line 2, to leave out from the second, "be" to the end, and to add instead thereof: the highest number which throughout any consecutive period of fifteen minutes is present on the surface of the mine. Perhaps it would be convenient to the House if I were to read out the new Sub-section. It is: For the purposes of this Act the number of persons who work in or about a mine shall be deemed to be the highest number which throughout any consecutive period of fifteen minutes is present on the surface of the mine. The Lord Privy Seal said that this Amendment was put down after consultation with the mine owners and the Miners Federation. I should like him to tell us whether the Miners Federation actually accepted this Amendment. I want to call the attention of the House to the actual wording of it. May I call the attention of the House to paragraph (a), which sets out the basis on which the number of persons in or about a mine is to be calculated? It provides that regard must be had to all the people employed in or about a mine to ascertain how many of them are "from time to time" simultaneously present in or about the mine otherwise than below the surface. "From time to time" is not a defined legal phrase. Time to time can presumably be determined by the owners of the mine. Suppose the owner of the mine took out the lowest period of the assembly of persons working on one day and compared it with the lowest point of the next day or at any rate picked out his time when relatively few persons were about because he could determine from time to time.

Sir J. Anderson

The right hon. Gentleman suggests that it would be open to a mine owner to select the times at which he takes notice of the number of people, but has he given due weight to the words in the first line of paragraph (a): by having regard to all the people employed in or about the mine "? The view of the Government is that those words secure that a complete record should be available and should be looked at.

Mr. Morrison

In any case this term "having regard to" is not mandatory. It really is not satisfactory from a legal point of view. It does not determine the issues. I do not like this "time to time" and I do not like the "having regard to" because I think they are going to involve difficulties of legal interpretation later on. You may have a mine-owner who is technically complying with the terms of this Sub-section but who is in fact evading its purpose. Paragraph (b) goes on to say that of the recorded figures and returns he picks out the highest number, during a period of fifteen minutes, present on the surface of the mine. Paragraph (b) does not operate at all unless it be the case that the numbers do in fact fluctuate. If the purpose of the Sub-section is to find the highest number of persons who are employed in or about the mine otherwise than below the surface during a consecutive period of fifteen minutes why not say so? Why go bothering about this paragraph (a) at all. It seems to us that you do not need that paragraph at all. We should merely provide, as my Amendment does, that for the purpose of this Act the number of persons who were in or about the mine should be deemed to be the highest number which, throughout any consecutive period of fifteen minutes, is present on the surface of the mine. That seems to me to say what the Lord Privy Seal's speech said. Is it not better to have this than a roundabout way of getting to this result?

2.3 a.m.

Mr. Mainwaring

If the Lord Privy Seal were accustomed to mining practice he would know that all the men at the pit-head meeting would be a fine example of what you can see at any given time. There is a point with regard to the definition of what is a mine. I have in mind now two sets of shafts belonging to the same colliery but which are one and a quarter miles apart. Would the whole of that belong to the same mine? I do not know whether this pit has been considered. Would they be one mine or would two separate shelters be provided in that case? You can find numerous cases of a difficulty of that kind.

2.4 a.m.

Sir S. Cripps

Can the right hon. Gentleman explain what this means, because I cannot for the life of me understand the words which are in their Lordships' Amendment. If one reads it simply taking the case of fluctuations in the ascertainments it reads like this: For the purpose of this Act the number of persons working, that is to say by ascertaining the highest number throughout any consecutive period of fifteen minutes which is equalled or exceeded. Is a highest number equal to? You are ascertaining the highest number. How do you ascertain the highest number which is exceeded, because that which exceeds it must be higher still. You are ascertaining the highest number and that means that you have to get to the peak at any time which you count. How can you have a number which exceeds that, because you have got as high as you can go. I think it is absolute nonsense. Surely for that reason alone it would be worth correcting their Lordships' English.

2.7 a.m.

Sir J. Anderson

I do not think it is merely a question of correcting the English. It is a question of getting the true conception. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) suggested a form of words which, I think, would not do because his form of words would require that you should find the highest number of people present as a collection of individuals throughout a period of 15 minutes. That would ignore the fact that the composition of this body of people for whom we have to make provision may be constantly changing. Nevertheless you have to provide shelter for the full number if you find that that number, whatever it may be, is likely to be at the mine-head for a continuous period of 15 minutes. I think it is an attempt to express in words a process which becomes perfectly simple if it is set out on paper in the form of a graph. I think it works quite well in a practical way from that point of view.

2.8 a.m.

Mr. E. J. Williams

It is very difficult for the Lord Privy Seal to appreciate what miners thoroughly realise. It should be possible to insert the words "maximum number at any fifteen minutes." I agree that the number is fluctuating and that there are different kinds of mines where you have very large numbers of people, most of them coming to wait for the cages, in addition to the normal number of persons engaged on the surface. The maximum number for any 15 minutes on the surface ready to join a shift or a slant should be the number for whom shelter should be provided. I am not quite satisfied with the reply given to my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald). I want to know how this work is to be carried out. Who is to do the work? Is the Inspector of Mines to ascertain the number or is it the workmen's representative in conjunction with the management of the mine? Are they jointly to see that shelter provision is made for them? I would like to know what is to be done to provide shelter for important key-men on the surface, such as men in the fan-house, men who are in charge of the ventilating plant. It must be appreciated that if the fan house is damaged all the men underground are imprisoned. It has the effect of a bomb striking the very shaft itself. I want to know whether these key-men on the fan-house or on the winding gear are to have special provision. Is there to be provision for the winding-engine similar to that which is being provided for the blast furnaces in this country? Upon these things the lives of 1,000 or 2,000 men in the pit may depend. I have seen the booklet which has been issued, and frankly it does not meet the questions addressed to the Minister. Is this to be jointly done by the men and the management, or by whom? The maximum number who have to descend periodically ought to be provided for without any quibbling about numbers.

2.11 a.m.

Mr. Gallacher

There is a point I would like the Minister to deal with. It is in connection with the situation which would arise at the pit-head when a train comes in with 1000 men and those men begin to make their way down below, and within 15 minutes 400 get below. The aeroplanes might not be sufficienty considerate to wait until the train comes in, and the whole 1,000 men may land on the surface of the pit with only a minute or so to get into air-raid shelters. Because of this 15 minute interval there is only shelter provided for 800 men and there are, perhaps, 1,200 men rushing for shelter. I suggest that the maximum number of men at the pit-head at any regular moment should be the number for whom shelter is to be provided. There are many cases where 1,000 men will come off a train and it may be that the moment they come off the train is just the moment for getting into the shelter. You can have a very serious situation if you do not have the necesssary shelter.

Mr. Benn

May I ask the Lord Privy Seal for an explanation, because the last words of paragraph (3) are extremely obscure? Suppose you take a period of 15 minutes, and there are 200 men present at the beginning of the period and 205 men present at the end. What provision of air-raid shelter do you make?

2.13 a.m.

Sir J. Anderson

I know how this thing is intended to work, and I suggest that if we may look at it first apart from the actual words perhaps we, shall be in a better position to see how far the words serve to give effect to what is intended. You have a fluctuating number of people present at the mine-head. Suppose that that fluctuating number is represented by a curve. It may be a curve that is flat, or one that has several peaks. It is possible, without the slightest difficulty in practice, if you have such a curve available to you on a piece of paper, to set off on that curve a period representing 15 minutes. You may find that you can set off several periods of 15 minutes, each period beginning and ending with the same number of people and, between the limits of the 15 minute period, a higher number of people. If the curve has only one peak there will obviously be only one position which satisfies the requirements of this Clause, and then, no doubt, the wording which has been criticised, "equalled or exceeded," has no application. If the curve has two peaks, you will get two positions in which you can set off against the curve a period of 15 minutes, but one of them may have a higher ordinate—to use a technical term—than another. The Clause requires you to take the higher peak of the two. If the numbers fluctuate, that is if you have a curve and not a straight line, you ascertain the highest number which, throughout a period of 15 minutes, is equalled or exceeded. If the curve were flat at the top it would only be equalled; but if it is not flat at the top that number may be exceeded, and because the curve may have more than one peak then you may have more than one number to which these words have application— "equalled or exceeded." Throughout the period of 15 minutes you take the highest number which is equalled or exceeded.

Mr. Benn

Will the Lord Privy Seal answer the question I put to him? If in fact over this selected period of 15 minutes you start with 200 men and at the end have, say, 220, what provision do you make?

Sir J. Anderson

I suggest that that will not happen because in the process of getting to the highest number you have got so to arrange your drawing that at the beginning and end of the period of 15 minutes you have equality. You cut off the top of the curve.

Mr. Mainwaring

In estimating this number, would they take into considera- tion what happens on pay-day? That would probably give you the maximum number that you would get in an ordinary colliery, when the night-shifts as well as the day-shifts might be together around the colliery offices.

2.18 a.m.

Mr. Grenfell

If I understand this Amendment rightly it does make provision, not only for men who are on the surface but men who will be present on the surface at any given time. It refers to men working in or about mines in making the ascertainment of persons for whom the provision has to be made on the surface by computing the number of people working in and about the mine who may be on the surface at the time. Let me assume that the number of men employed in the mine is 500, and that in the ordinary working of the mine 400 men are required below ground and 100 men on the surface. You then have to make provision for the 100 who work on the surface, because you make no provision for the men who work below. That is the first paragraph (a) in this Amendment. The men come up at the end of the shift, or go down, in large numbers. They cannot be cleared off the surface immediately, and they take some time in going underground when they have to be taken into the ascertainment. That may give at the time 20 or 30 additional men working in and about the mine, who are not regularly to be found on the surface, for 15 or 30 minutes. They go down 20 or 30 at a time. It may be at the end of a shift when men are working below ground and on the surface, the number of men who are computed by this method may increase at the end of the shift or at the beginning.

If I understand it aright, the idea is to find out the total number of men working on the surface and the largest additional number of men there may be in any 15 minutes on the surface, even though not regularly employed there. I do not understand the wording of this proposal or how the biggest figure can be excelled. The right hon. Gentleman has not explained that to us. I think the experts in another place will find it very difficult to show how, when they have taken the largest number, that number can be exceeded. If that point can be made clear I think I can see clearly what is conveyed by this Amendment. I should like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman agrees with me that this computation is not confined to men who work on the surface but may include men who work underground or who in passage from the surface to underground may be near the mouth of the shaft and must be taken into computation.

2.21 a.m.

Mr. Ede

I am bound to say we cannot follow on this side—and I gather from the looks of some hon. Gentlemen behind the right hon. Gentleman that they cannot follow either—his explanation of this particular Amendment. I understood him to tell my right hon. Friend that the two ends of this 15 minutes must be level on the graph. Surely if one is taking a minute-to-minute record there should be no point in the 15 minutes or any previous point at which the number of men will be equal? If at 9.45 there are 150 men there, it does not follow that at 10 o'clock there will be 150. At no period in the 15 minutes measured like that will you get the graph level.

Sir J. Anderson

I do not want to interrupt the hon. Gentleman unnecessarily, but if the curve comes to a peak you must be able to cut off a part at the top by a horizontal line, representing 15 minutes. If you do that, will you not have a beginning and an end of the 15-minute line at the same number of men, and so have a figure?

Mr. Ede

I have spent a good deal of my life constructing graphs similar to this, and I should very much like in actual practice to come across the kind of graph the right hon. Gentleman has been explaining. It is the sort of thing one finds in text-books but which one never comes across when trying to apply it in actual life. I could imagine taking a purely theoretical curve—one that started at the bottom in the morning and went steadily upwards all day and never had a descending line in it all day. That is theoretically possible, but it is quite impossible to imagine that at any given 15 minutes you are going to get the same number at the beginning as you do at the end. It seems to me that the Amendment of my right hon. Friend has all the advantages of simplicity. I cannot imagine how anyone is going to work paragraph (a) when the words "from time to time" mean nothing. It means that you select the times at which you will have your curve, and it would be quite easily possible for these times to be so selected as to enable no fluctuation to occur. If that happens, paragraph (a) does not come into operation at all. Unless there is a fluctuation in the method used by paragraph (a), paragraph (b) does not come into operation.

I suggest that this Clause does not carry out any of the things which the right hon. Gentleman opposite has been talking about. He has assured the House that there will be co-operation between the mine owners' and the mine workers' representatives in carrying out the Amendment. There is nothing in it to call for that. As I read the Amendment, a person in charge of a mine can choose his time "from time to time." It does not specify any number of times during the day. What he has explained to us in his graph has been a constant register of the persons who are at the surface at any given moment, but it does not say so in the Clause, and I can well understand why he asked us not to consider the words of the Clause but to consider the thesis he has worked out which is enshrined in some other Clause but certainly not in this one. I am not helped on this occasion by an explanation from the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), nor has the right hon. Gentleman opposite managed to get any hon. Member on his own side to explain to us exactly what is the legal significance of this Clause. I do suggest that my right hon. Friend's wording is simple. It does mean that you will take the 15 minutes in which the greatest number of men are present on the surface of the mine and that is the number for which you will have to make provision. That is what I gather both sides of the House want to do and surely in a matter of this kind it is as well to put it in the simplest possible language.

2.27 a.m.

Dr. Guest

I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to accept the wording of the Amendment which has been moved from this side of the House and not to be led astray by these mathematical terms, because this mathematical language into which he has strayed is not properly interpreted by the language in the words of the Clause. I venture to suggest that the words of the Clause as put down are really complete nonsense and nothing else. The object of the Clause is obviously to provide protection for the largest number of men at the surface at any given time. That is the simple purpose of the Clause, and how that highest number can be exceeded nobody but abstract mathematicians could possibly understand. In common sense it cannot be exceeded and these words mean nothing. It is a great pity that we have not with us to-night the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), because I notice from the Press that he has been lately turning very frequently for illustration of political things to "Alice in Wonderland." I really think "Alice in Wonderland" and "Alice Through the Looking Glass" are required to explain the nonsensical language used in this Clause. The hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) suggested that Einstein could not have bettered it, but Einstein would in these matters be logical. When you get a mathematician who is a man trained in the use of language he is able to translate his mathematical conception into plain English, and if you have a mathematical conception which you cannot translate into plain English, I must say your mathematics are wrong as well as your English. The essential thing is to get this into plain and comprehensible language because nobody in this House, studying the Clause as it is, would really be able to understand it or interpret it. I am quite certain that whoever did understand it in this House or pretended to understand it would certainly find that if this Clause came to be interpreted in any court of law it would not be understood but would be ridiculed. I want to see a straightforward alteration of the wording of this Clause. The words proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) are quite clear. They give the meaning which the House wishes to convey and I hope the Lord Privy Seal will accept them.

2.31 a.m.

Mr. Spenss

It is now 2.30. In 15 minutes it will be 2.45. There are approximately at this moment 80 Members in the Chamber. At 2.35 there may be 90. At 2.40 there may be 87 and at 2.45 there may be 80 Members in the Chamber. This paragraph (b) means the greatest number which, throughout the consec- utive period of 15 minutes are in the Chamber, and throughout that period there are always 80 Members in the Chamber. The difference between my right hon. Friend's draft and the one suggested from the other side is that my right hon. Friend is trying to get the greatest number which is continuously throughout the 15 minutes in the Chamber, while the other side suggest the greatest number at any time in the 15 minutes. The paragraph is clear. It means the greatest common number during the 15 minutes.

2.33 a.m.

Sir H. Williams

I have listened with great care to my hon. and learned Friend's statement, which merely means the minimum number. That is not the intention of the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Privy Seal. The Amendment moved from the other side does not mean anything at all. Suppose you have three or four hundred men, are you going to count them every minute? You cannot do it. It is plain that both proposals are unworkable.

2.34 a.m.

Sir Joseph Nall

If the Lords Amendment were agreed to now, that would be the final form in the Act and it could not be altered. On the other hand, if an Amendment of any sort to the Lords Amendment were accepted with the understanding that the Lord Privy Seal should reconsider the wording, time would be gained to enable the proper words to be inserted. I suggest that the Amendment to the Amendment now before the House might be allowed to pass on the understanding that the Government will consider it in the next few hours and bring in a further Amendment at the resumed sitting this afternoon.

2.36 a.m.

The Attorney-General

If the Amendment to the Amendment were withdrawn or defeated, my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal would be prepared to move the insertion of new words. This would give an opportunity, if necessary, for further consideration. The words which he would be prepared to move would be as follows: After the words "if the numbers so ascertained fluctuate, by ascertaining" to insert "the highest figure below which throughout any con- secutive period of fifteen minutes the numbers do not fall." The question raised by the right hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) was one of ambiguity or illogicality in speaking of the highest number being exceeded, and I am suggesting that if the House would agree to insert those words that difficulty would be got over.

2.38 a.m.

Mr. H. Morrison

I can only speak by leave of the Leader of the House. To be frank, I do not think the Attorney-General's words materially improve the situation, because we are still on the point of paragraph (a) and certain other words which we think thoroughly objectionable, and the Attorney-General does not propose to alter them. But I understand the Attorney-General to suggest that we should get some words in, and that then there can be some form of consultation between Ministers and those on this side. If they will undertake, should agreement be reached, to put in some better words in another place, and if the Minister can undertake that my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) and perhaps two or three of his mining colleagues will discuss the matter with him to-day with a view to agreement being reached, I think I would be disposed to accept the Amendment. I do not want the Attorney-General to think that I regard the Amendment he proposes as in any way meeting the points of substance raised, but, if discussions can proceed to-day with a view to agreement being reached, I would be disposed to withdraw my Amendment. That is a practical course to pursue.

Sir Geoffrey Ellis

There is also the practical consideration of those who have to provide for it.

2.42 a.m.

Mr. Tinker

I would suggest to the House what might be done would be to take the highest number in any one shift and let shelter be provided for that number. Something might happen at the mine and the men would congregate at the pithead, and there might be a period when there are 700 men there at one time. Before the first cage goes down something might happen, and if it is the intention of this Bill to provide shelter in times of emergency we have to take the extreme point when it can be found that all the men are congregated together. I think the only possible way to provide for this emergency is to provide that in this case the highest number in any one shift shall be provided with shelter.

Mr. Marshall

I think before agreement is finally arrived at the position of other factories besides mines ought to be put before the House. I want to refer to some of the engineering firms in this country.

Mr. Speaker

That does not arise on this Amendment.

Sir J. Anderson

On behalf of the Government may I say that, if the Amendment of the other side is withdrawn and the Amendment of the Attorney-General accepted, we shall certainly go into the matter fully with representative people and do our best to arrive at a form of words on which we may all be agreed.

Mr. H. Morrison

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment. I understand the Attorney-General will move his Amendment, as otherwise we shall have nothing before us.

Amendment to Lords Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Attorney-General

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the Lords Amendment, in line 6, to leave out from "highest" to the end of the Lords Amendment, and to add: figure below which throughout any consecutive period of fifteen minutes the numbers do not fall.

Amendment to Lords Amendment agreed to.