HC Deb 19 February 1952 vol 496 cc145-57

Order for Second Reading read.

9.19 p.m.

The Minister of Fuel and Power (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd)

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

This is an important but, I believe, a non-controversial Bill. Indeed, I think that it is true to say that it is a doubly-agreed Bill in a sense that it relates to and enables to a considerable extent a plan to be put into operation which has been agreed between the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers, and, secondly, because it was largely prepared by the previous Government and is now being introduced by this one.

It was in 1950 that the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker) suggested that there should be talks between the National Coal Board and the N.U.M. on the future of welfare in the industry. Last summer—I think that it was in July—as a result of those talks, there was signed a formal memorandum of agreement between the Coal Board and the N.U.M. with regard to the future welfare arrangements in the coal mining industry. Copies of this agreement have been placed in the Library. The Bill really deals with this agreement and particularly the enabling arrangement which it is necessary for Parliament to adopt if this scheme is to be carried out.

Hon. Members will think it all very satisfactory that there has been so much agreement, but there is an element of sadness in the matter because the plan involves bringing the old Miners' Welfare Commission to an end. Everybody will agree—particularly mining hon. Members—that this has been one of the most successful and popular organisations in the industry during the last 30 years.

Since it is necessary for the understanding of the Bill, perhaps the House will allow me to say a few words it is due to it—about the Miners' Welfare Commission and its work. Many hon. Members here know infinitely more about it than I do and have seen it more in practice than I have. My connection with it was rather fleeting when I was Secretary for Mines before the war—sometimes a shower, in very nice surroundings, after going down a pit, sometimes reflecting what a good form of recreation it was to have a charming bowling green near the pithead, and later, admiring the work done by rehabilitation centres.

When Sir Robert Horne introduced the original Bill in 1920 he described it as an experiment, and it certainly was an experiment. It was an innovation to run welfare on an industry basis, and I believe it is still unique. The Commission grew in a rather slow and experimental way, as one would perhaps expect in this country. It is a little surprising to those of the younger generation, who must think of the Miners' Welfare Commission to a considerable extent in relation to its great work of pithead baths, to realise that at the beginning the Commission were concerned much more with what we now regard as social welfare and that pithead baths did not figure at all largely at that time.

The big change came in 1926 with the Act which made it a statutory obligation on the commission to provide, where reasonably possible, for taking baths and drying clothes—in the almost historic words of that Act. When I was looking up this matter I could not help being somewhat amused, as the House may be, to find in HANSARD the following extract from the speech of Colonel Lane Fox: Part III deals with the question of pithead baths, and provides for the setting up of those baths. [Laughter.] "—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd June, 1926; Vol. 197, c. 394.] That was how the House received it at that time, and yet, as many hon. Members know, the pithead baths movement has made a kind of revolution in the mining industry in this country. It is curious to reflect that in those early days there were fears that men might catch cold when going home—

Mr. Bernard Taylor (Mansfield)

Or lumbago.

Mr. Lloyd

—or lumbago, and yet as time went on some of the very pits which had rejected the pithead baths in the early days came clamouring to the Miners' Welfare Commission to have them installed. Hon. Members will know better than I do that not only the men but also the women had a great deal to do with this matter, appreciating what a difference pithead baths could make to a miner's home. I need not go into details because the House knows this very well. During the war years the Commission did great work with regard to canteens and rehabilitation centres.

It is quite clear that a big change like nationalisation was bound in the end to lead to some consequential changes in the welfare arrangements in the industry. It could be argued that the whole change ought to have been made at the time of the nationalisation statute, but I do not agree. I take the view that the late Government were right in this respect in that they made that great change and gave the welfare arrangements time to be considered and, so to speak, to settle down.

In 1948 a Joint Welfare Council was formed between the Miners' Welfare Commission and the Coal Board. The Coal Board took over the maintenance of the pithead baths and indeed the Board spent more money on welfare than was due from the statutory levy. The way was thus cleared for discussions to take place between the N.U.M. and the Coal Board, as suggested by the right hon. Member for Derby, South, which led to the memorandum of agreement.

This Bill, I would remind the House, is one which deals with the necessary legal mechanics to enable the memorandum of agreement to take effect because it is that agreement which is really the future charter of welfare in the mining industry. Broadly speaking, the scheme divides welfare into two classes, namely, colliery welfare and social welfare, and provides for them to be dealt with in two different ways. Colliery welfare, pithead baths, canteens, medical treatment and cycle stores will become the responsibility of the Coal Board as a normal function of colliery management and there are undertakings that there should be full joint consultation at all levels under the consultation machinery.

Social welfare includes such matters as recreation grounds and centres, youth activities, convalescent homes, scholarships, and so on, and this is to be the responsibility of a newly constituted body to be called the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation. There will be five representatives of the National Coal Board, five of the National Union of Mineworkers, one of the colliery overmen, deputies and shotfirers and one of the managerial grade. In the first instance, the Coal Board will provide £1 million for this organisation. There are provisions for further arrangements later.

To a very large extent this Bill deals with the legal details of the apportionment of the assets and liabilities of the Miners' Welfare Commission between the Coal Board and this new joint organisation. To the layman some of these provisions may seem complicated—they do to me who am not a lawyer—but it is hardly surprising when one remembers that the Miners' Welfare Commission, during 30 years, were provided with some £30 million for nearly 3,000 welfare schemes, largely in the form of local trusts, a good many of which have to be determined under the new scheme.

Before I conclude I think the House would wish me, since we have this opportunity, to pay what might be called a last salute to the Miners' Welfare Commission and to express our appreciation of the men who worked for and are members of it and for what they did. I think I ought to say a special word for the men who represented it as chairmen—remember, all this work was entirely voluntary and honorary—and the great amount of time they put in. Chairman for the longest time was Sir Frederick Sykes who, I know, wanted to be in the House tonight. Lord Chelmsford was another very famous Chairman. I think the late Herbert Smith said that he only knew two good Lords and Lord Chelmsford was one of them.

Then there was Lord Citrine; I suppose he was the other good Lord, except that he came rather later. He told me that in his view the Miners' Welfare Commission had produced conditions of welfare in the mining industry which are better than those in any other country in the world. I must also add a tribute, in conclusion, to the very much loved figure of Professor Edgar Collis, who did such good work in the mining industry.

9.29 p.m.

Mr. Harold Neal (Bolsover)

In following the right hon. Gentleman who has moved the Second Reading of this Bill in such felicitious terms, I wish to assure the House that I have an acute consciousness of the pressure on the Parliamentary time-table and will not detain the House as long as I intended.

First, I wish to congratulate the Minister on the very agreeable legislation that is emanating from his Department. He has made a very good beginning, and we on this side of the House hope he will continue to maintain the reputation he has so early achieved. He appears to be able to hand out bouquets when his colleagues are throwing brick-bats. At a time when his Ministerial colleagues are provoking on themselves a welter of criticism, he brings before us Bills which excite no hostile sentiments in any part of the House. This is the second Bill within the last few weeks which the right hon. Gentleman has sponsored and which I have had the pleasure to welcome on behalf of the Opposition.

As an ex-miner, there is no subject to which I am more emotionally drawn than that of miners' welfare, and I am profoundly pleased to be present to witness this stage of its advancement. It is one of those Bills to which the newspapers pay very scanty regard, but it is of tremendous importance to the mining communities, and can make a valuable contribution to the production of coal in this country.

The Bill, as the Minister rightly says, is the embodiment of an agreement between the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers. The credit for having encouraged the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers to enter into discussions about the future of welfare in the mining industry in the light of the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act belongs to my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker).

The changes envisaged in this Bill are necessary to give legal effect to that agreement between those two bodies. I might be permitted to say in parenthesis that this agreement was signed in July last year at a time when Lord Hyndley was Chairman of the National Coal Board. As everyone knows, he cultivated the good will and respect of everybody in the coal industry, and it was very gratifying to him that one of his last Acts as Chairman of the National Coal Board was to sign a document which was to plan the future welfare of the men engaged in the coal industry.

The Miners' Welfare Fund was instituted by the Mining Industry Act, 1920, arising out of the recommendations of the Sankey Commission in the previous year. So far as I am aware, it was the first and only statutory provision for the social welfare of workers in any industry. The conditions under which miners live and work, the isolation of many of the colliery villages, call for special recognition of the welfare needs of miners and their families.

Broadly speaking, the Miners' Welfare Fund was raised by an output levy of a halfpenny to one penny per ton—it varied over the years—which was subsequently supplemented by a royalties levy of 1s. in the pound, which was earmarked specially for the erection of pithead baths. As the right hon. Gentleman indicated, the Fund was first managed by the Miners' Welfare Committee and subsequently by the Miners' Welfare Commission.

The output levy I have just mentioned terminated at the end of 1951, but the royalties levy remains. The Bill we are now discussing clears the way for future action in, first, ensuring the cessation of the royalties levy and the dissolution of the Commission. Regarding the former, I regard it as a very sensible proposal. A levy is, under a nationalised industry, no longer necessary. It is coincidental that this royalties levy was begun under a Conservative Government and it will end under a Conservative Government.

I should like to add a word of commendation, in respect of the Commission, to those expressed by the Minister concerning the public-spirited men and women who have pioneered and perfected the excellent arrangements which have been such a boon to the mining communities in this country. One of the happiest features of this Measure is the division of welfare functions. Colliery welfare—such as pithead baths, canteens and medical centres, now become the responsibility of the National Coal Board. But these are obligations that are accepted by all good employers. It is perfectly proper that the National Coal Board should provide for its employees washing facilities, meals' services and medical attention as do employers in other industries.

It is not generally known that until a short time ago miners in many coalfields had to pay as much as 1s. per week for the privilege of washing at the pithead baths. In addition, they had to provide their own towel and soap. The provision of pithead baths is the greatest social advantage that miners have secured in my lifetime. We miners were often looked down upon by other sections of the community because we had black faces and dirty hands. Only the miner knows how unwelcome he is as a passenger on a bus with his grimy face and his clothes soaked in perspiration.

In these enlightened days that state of affairs ought not to be permitted. The erection of pithead baths should become a high priority. A good deal has been done we know, but much remains to he done. In the Report of the Commission for 1950 it is stated that 413 baths have been erected, providing washing facilities for 479,000 men. There is a difference between the number of lockers provided and the number of men provided for, but the Report says that there is provision for 479,000 men. Therefore, some 300,000 men still remain to be provided with this elementary amenity of bathing facilities in order to improve their health and their social standing.

In the past money grants for the erection of these baths were made according to the output of the areas. Now, the responsibility belongs to the National Coal Board and the levy has been abolished. Grants can be made to the districts not on the basis of output in the areas but on the basis of the number of men for whom washing provision is not made. It should now be possible to ensure that the building programme is developed on a basis of need. Areas like Ayrshire and coalfields which are being newly exploited should be able to have special attention as a result of this Bill.

Under this Measure social welfare, such as institutes, recreation grounds, scholarships and so on, should not suffer because the name of the organisation controlling that section of welfare activity has been changed. Composed as it is of both sides of industry, it should find no difficulty in continuing the task previously discharged so excellently by the Commission.

Welfare activities other than colliery welfare are now to be described as social welfare. In the past social welfare took many forms according to the wishes of the areas. Some districts provided homes for aged miners. Others provided convalescent homes and the like. Derbyshire, the coalfield which I represent, in addition to having an excellent convalescent home, boasts the possession of two holiday camps. One is situated on the east coast and it has its own modern theatre and excellent provision for sporting and recreational facilities. It accepts 1,000 miners with their wives and children every week during the holiday season.

Adjoining this splendid holiday camp is a paraplegic centre, where victims of this dread disease of the industry can enjoy holidays by the seashore which might otherwise be denied them. I would commend to the Minister these experiments in the hope that these facilities will be provided in other coalfields. In my opinion, nothing is more calculated to improve the morale of the coalfields than happy annual holidays.

I have one fear about this Bill, as it is now presented to us. I do not believe that it is possible for this new Social Welfare Organisation to provide sufficient money to enable the districts to copy the examples which I have quoted. My fear is that the National Coal Board is the ultimate judge of what is necessary in this field, and I can visualise that, when some subsequent application is made by the Social Welfare Organisation, the Coal Board will say: "We can only provide you such sums of money for social welfare as the economic results in the industry will justify." I should be very glad indeed if the fears which I am now expressing should prove to have been unfounded.

It may be that during the Committee stage some of my hon. Friends will require assurances about some of the ill-defined Clauses of this Bill. Generally, however, we accord it our blessing, because it will promote the welfare of the communities upon whom, above all others, we depend for our economic survival. I hope this welfare Bill is a portent that miners will fare well under this Government.

9.41 p.m.

Mr. S. Schofield (Barnsley)

In rising to address the House for the first time, I feel that I must pay my respects to my predecessor, the late Frank Collindridge, who, I think every hon. Member will agree, was respected by all and was recognised as a good Parliamentarian. In fact, it would be most difficult for me to describe in words the love and affection which the people of his constituency felt for him arising out of the services he rendered to them during the 13 years in which he represented them in this House. It was indeed a tragic blow to all who knew him when he died, and, now that fate has ordained that I must follow him, I shall endeavour to gain the same respect from Members of all parties and from all those people whom I am proud to represent.

I have given a very careful perusal to this Bill, and, in my opinion, provided that it is acted upon by those who will administer it in the interests of the miners, it will turn out to be beneficial both to employers and employees. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Neal) has stated that he is an ex-miner. Less than five months ago I was helping to produce coal; I was actually producing coal. I have worked as a miner for the past 20 years, and I have seen some very great changes.

I have seen the laying out of football and cricket fields, bowling greens, the building of institutes, pithead baths, canteens, and, last of all, bicycle store sheds. I remember the time when, as a young boy, going home from the colliery with my rather and brothers, in the days before pithead baths our clothes were in such a condition that we resembled men who had been sweeping chimneys. But things have changed, and changed for the better. The money spent on the installation of pithead baths was money well spent. I think statistics if taken would show that more recruitment is taking place in collieries where pithead baths are installed compared with collieries which have no baths.

Money was also spent on the provision of canteens. I will tell the House a little story relating to my own colliery which produced, approximately, 3,000 tons of coal a day. There was a lightning strike in the coalfield, an unconstitutional stoppage, and there were 20 contractors who were, shall I say, the instigators of this strike. They came to the pit with the intention of pulling out the men. But because it was possible for the men to go to the canteen, that pit worked on that particular day. Had there been no canteen in which to get their "snaps" as we call them that pit would have been out.

I know that the Miners' Welfare Committee of 1920—I am relating a little bit of history now—was the result of the Sankey Commission of 1919 which made certain recommendations. One of its recommendations was a six-hour day, another was the nationalisation of the mines, and a third the provision of funds with which to create welfare for the men in the industry. Had the nationalisation of the mines been taken up by the Government of that time I feel quite certain that the debate that took place approximately a fortnight ago on the financial and economic situation would not have taken place at all, and I should not have had to go through the ordeal of sitting on the last row of benches from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. trying to catch Mr. Speaker's eye. Mr. Speaker did not know me and I did not catch his eye. I decided to pursue other avenues and it has turned out to be very successful.

I want to deal with the Bill as it is and with what I envisage from reading it. There is the division of responsibility for the coal industry welfare. I know that both sides of the industry, the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers, have met to consider what the future welfare might be for those in the industry. Certain suggestions have been made and the Bill envisages those recommendations. It states there are to be two kinds of welfare, colliery welfare and social welfare.

I have touched briefly upon pithead baths. Prior to 1945, the miners of whom I was one, paid the full maintenance cost of the baths. From 1945 to 1947 we paid half the maintenance cost, but after the nationalisation of the mines the miners bore none of the cost at all. But that money was really well spent.

Other duties they were expected to perform included the provision and operation of cycle stores, bus shelters and similar amenities. Bus shelters are most important in my area because after men have come out of the bowels of the earth and have had their bath they do not want to stand around in all types of weather without any shelter. Money would be well spent on the provision of such shelters.

The introduction of industrial medical services and medical treatment centres at the colliery is an innovation. First, ordinary first-aid depots were provided and now the powers that be have decided that those should be enlarged and that the miners are entitled to better medical services than have been enjoyed in the past. I am quite certain that the introduction of these medical treatment centres will be the means of saving life and limb and of insuring that injured men are treated as quickly as possible.

Another most important item is the provision of suitable and convenient housing accommodation for workers in the coal industry. I hope that the miners may, through the efforts of the N.U.M. and the Coal Board secure some priority for housing from the appropriate Government Department.

I remember that some years ago at the colliery where I was working the management asked me to try and find volunteers for a Saturday extended week. Crawling to the coal faces I was meeting with some success when I bumped into one young chap who did not seem to be looking after himself properly. I asked him what were the possibilities of his working on Saturdays. He related his history and told me why he could not work on a Saturday. He was a young married man in his early 30s and was living with his grandfather. His wife lives approximately 15 miles away with the two children and the only time at which he could meet them was on a Saturday and Sunday. As a result of that conversation I sought and was successful in having a house allocated to them. The country is now gaining 10 to 14 tons of coal a week as a result of that man working the extended Saturday.

I am grateful to hon. Members for giving me the best attention that a maiden speaker could have, and in conclusion I must say that I am quite satisfied that if those who administer the funds arising out of this Bill do so in the proper spirit the Bill will turn out to be beneficial both to the employer and the employee.

Several Hon. Members


9.49 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power (Mr. L. W. Joynson-Hicks)

I should like to apologise most profoundly to hon. Gentlemen opposite who, I know, wish to speak and whom I know we wish to hear. Unfortunately, time is getting on, and it is a privilege which I have very long sought since I have been in this House, and with which hon. Gentlemen I know will sympathise, to have the opportunity of congratulating a maiden speaker. I have been in this House now for nearly 10 years I have never had the chance before.

I am very happy indeed to have the opportunity to congratulate the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Schofield), who has spoken entirely in tune with the tone of the debate. He has refreshed the House with the personal experience he has brought to our deliberations and which I know we shall always be glad to receive from him. It is not often that we have an hon. Member with such practical and detailed knowledge of the trade about which he is speaking. I understand that the hon. Member's grandfather broke the flag on the pit when it was opened and that the hon. Member himself broke the N.C.B. flag on the same pit on vesting day. We are very pleased indeed to have his support for the Bill. I should like particularly to thank hon. Members who have spoken on this Bill for the reception which they have given.

This Bill does not involve a great change in practice. It is a change in procedure—a change which, as my right hon. Friend indicated, was necessitated or would in any event have been necessitated as a result of nationalisation, because the procedure of the Miners' Welfare Commission had outrun its course when nationalisation came into operation. What is now intended to be done is for this new organisation, jointly composed in equal numbers of the directors of the Coal Board on the one hand and the National Union of Mineworkers on the other hand, to take over the administration of the social welfare side in its entirety.

I should like to say something on that point in reply to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Neal), who expressed the fear that there might be insufficient money available for the social welfare work for the mining industry to be able to follow the admirable example in regard to social welfare which he has in his own neighbourhood at the Bolsover Colliery. I do not think he need have that anxiety. I think he has somewhat misconstrued the Bill, because it is not left in the last resort to the Coal Board to decide how much money there is to be available for this purpose. The decision is to be arrived at by the Social Welfare Organisation, which is equally balanced, and if, for any reason, they should be unable to arrive at a decision because they are equally balanced, then it is to be settled by agreement between the Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers themselves.

Consequently, having regard to the terms of the agreement itself—and the agreement is quite specific as to what should be provided; namely, that there should be provided those necessary moneys for the reasonable and proper needs for the execution of social welfare —it is difficult to see how those two responsible bodies, working together for the same common object as they are, and imbued with the same spirit, should fail to provide such moneys as are reasonable and proper for the purpose.

Another point arose out of the hon. Gentleman's speech, to which I should like to make reference, namely, the question of pithead baths and the numbers of them. It is perfectly true that there are still more pits without baths than pits with them, notwithstanding all the efforts and great work which has been put in, but if hon. Members will study the identities of the pits which have baths they will see that it is the big pits and the continuing pits which have got the baths. That is the reason why the majority of miners are provided with pithead baths. It is the smaller pits and the pits which are more difficult to provide with baths and less advantageous from the industrial point of view to provide with baths, which still have to have them provided.

My time is up, but we shall have more time on the Committee stage to go into the details of the Bill. I should like to thank the House very much for the reception they have given to it on its Second Reading.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Committed to a Standing Committee.