HC Deb 20 June 1939 vol 348 cc2190-4

Order for Second. Reading read.

12.0 m.

The Secretary for Mines (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

This is a very short Bill, and the issue is a simple one and one generally regarded as non-contentious. I do not think the House would wish me to go into great detail at this time of night, but the position is this: In the Mining Industry Act of 1920, which set up the Mines Department, there was a provision that the annual expenditure on the Department should be limited to £250,000. Since that time there have been very considerable changes in the work of the Department. First of all, there has been a general expansion of the work due to a considerable number of Acts of Parliament imposing extra duties on the Depart- ment, and due also to the work of administering the very considerable number of trade agreements, which have now been entered into affecting some 19 countries, all of which involve a large amount of administrative work. Secondly, the Petroleum Department has been transferred to the Mines Department, and that itself means a considerable amount of extra work. If I may now come to the most important thing of all, there has been a considerable expansion in the safety organisation of the Mines Department. The expenditure on the mines Inspectorate alone, for example, has been doubled since the Department was set up.

The result of the various changes that I have indicated has been that for several years there has been a considerable difficulty in keeping within the statutory limit of £250,000. Last year the expenditure of the Department was £248,700, which, as the House will see, leaves a margin of only a few hundred pounds, and even in present circumstances it leaves the Department in the position of being in continual danger of exceeding the statutory limit of expenditure. But ,of course, there is a new factor of very great importance which really changes the situation completely, and that is the report of the Royal Commission on Safety in Coal Mines. That report undoubtedly means an extra expenditure on the Mines Department Vote, and it ought to mean an extra expenditure. The particular reason why it should do so is that it recommends a further considerable expansion of the inspectorate of the Mines Department. I will not go into great detail now—I do not think the House would wish me to do so—but for those who are not familiar with the changes in the mining industry in recent years, and speaking simply as a layman myself, I would say that one of the things that one notices at once when one goes into the matter is the great and revolutionary change that has taken place in machine mining in recent years, which makes the whole problem, both from the point of view of the organisation and production of coal and that of the Department more complicated, and there will need to be very considerable changes in the inspectorate, such as, for example, more electrical inspectors. I think the House will see that it is really necessary that this statutory maximum should now be removed. In conclusion, I would add that, of course, the passing of this Bill will not affect in the least the necessity of submitting estimates every year in respect of all expenditure on behalf of the Department.

12.4 a.m.

Mr. George Hall

The Second Reading of a Bill dealing with any aspect of the coal industry usually means a very long Debate, but the hon. Gentleman has clearly explained the purpose of this Bill, a Bill which we welcome, which is long overdue, and which I think the Labour Government of 1929–31 would have introduced had it had the time in which to do so. I think there is a desire on all sides of this House that the work of the Mines Department should not be curtailed owing to lack of money. I think it is the only Department which has a statutory limitation of expenditure, and therefore I can say on behalf of my colleagues on this side of the; House that we welcome the Bill and will do nothing to oppose it. The hon. Gentleman referred to various aspects of the mining industry and changes that have taken place; it is a scandal that all the expenditure of the Mines Department on research amounts to only £1,750 per annum. The research into safety methods depends very largely upon the Miners' Welfare Fund. That is an indication that the money at the disposal of the Department is not nearly sufficient. We hope that the increased expenditure which must be incurred, in consequence of the changes referred to, and the important legislation which must follow the report of the Royal Commission on Safety in Mines, will mean not only an increase in safety but benefit for all branches of the industry.

This is not the occasion on which to criticise certain parts of the Mines Department with regard to research and on the statistical side. I would only mention that if one wants information as to the production of oil from coal in a large number of countries, where that work is carried on with much greater expenditure than here, one has to get it from foreign countries. With regard to statistical information about the world coal position, instead of getting it from our own Mines Department one has to get it from the American Bureau of Mines. We hope, with the increased expenditure which must follow the passing of the Bill, that the Mines Department will be worthy of the mining industry of this country.

12.8 a.m.

Mr. Tinker

I think that everybody welcomes the Bill. The Opposition can take credit to itself for urging upon the Department the need for greater efforts for safety in mines. I hope that the Department, in asking for this additional money, will not restrict the work which it has to perform. Attention has not been given to the question of overtime, because of the lack of money and the need for greater efforts on the part of the inspectors, who seem to think that it does not require any attention. When he gets his additional money, the hon. Gentleman will, I hope, tell his inspectors to spend a little more time on this important work. If overtime were put down, accidents would be reduced.

There is another question, relating to the outlets on the long wall face. I want the inspectors to pay greater regard to that matter than they have done. Let them spend a little more time with the workmen, interview them and talk to them, and so find out their opinions on the methods of working. As it is now, the mines inspector has so much in hand that he has not time to find out the actual conditions that obtain. I trust that now he will delay a little when he goes down the pit and find out what the men think of the working conditions and, if the additional money is for the purpose of greater care and safety of the mineworkers, everyone on these benches welcomes it. Again, I take pride that we have caused so much agitation that eventually the Mines Department has seen its way to come and ask for a little more money. At any time, if it means greater safety for the people we represent, we shall give all the help we can to get it through. We have sat here to-night after twelve o'clock to see it get a safe passage and I am very glad it will go through.

12.11 a.m.

Sir Joseph Nall

I do not want in any way to oppose the main reason for this extension. My hon. Friend mentioned that the Department has now taken over the petroleum department. That is one of the side shows on which it is quite uselessly wasting money, because it has been appointing regional officers for the purpose of rationing oil fuel and petrol. The Minister of Supply designate, when Minister of Transport, issued a Yellow Book prescribing what is to be done in economising fuel on the roads in emergencies. The organisation through the Traffic Commissioners is more than adequate, if properly used, to ration or conserve oil or fuel supplies in time of emergency. Why should the Minister of Mines duplicate that in the most extravagant and futile way? They have appointed people who do not in the least understand what they are doing, who are instructed to organise a skeleton staff, which could be expanded at any time, for no purpose whatever except duplicating what is being done by the Traffic Commissioners. My hon. Friend could very well clip off that additional expenditure which is being most uselessly and unnecessarily incurred in duplicating something which is already being effectively done by the Ministry of Transport.